A very unique item in the Western Illinois Museum is the focus of the current Artifact of the Month. A small box, just over 8 X 5 X 2 ½ inches in size, which is ornately decorated with a portrait of General Alexander Macomb, fits that bill. Made to hold cigars, its origin dates back to the early 1900s and to a man, Charles Goodwin, who was born in McDonough County. A brief history of the tobacco industry brings a better understanding of what information has been unearthed about this particular box.
Tobacco is a crop that goes back to the days of the Pre Columbian Americans. In 1492, Christopher Columbus not only discovered America, but he also discovered that the “natives” in the Bahamas were growing tobacco. In 1612 Virginia harvested its first successful crop of tobacco in the colonies and within seven years, it was their largest export. The earliest cigars were basically tobacco leaves which were loosely rolled up and smoked. However, as interest in cigars increased in the 19th century, tobacco leaves were processed, including a curing and fermentation process, and then rolled more tightly by hand or machine into an enjoyable cigar. It was not uncommon to find several types of tobacco in one cigar. By 1880, there were cigar factories in all but two of the states in the Union, and by 1898, yearly consumption of cigars had passed four billion. And, along with cigar production, came the need to package and/or box the cigars for resale and cigar packages of various types came into being.
Cigar containers were made in many different shapes and sizes, and from various mediums. These containers which held cigars for retail sale were made of cardboard, thin wood, glass, plastic, or metals. The containers held anywhere from a few cigars to as many as 100 cigars. The most common and affordable of these were boxes for cigars made of cardboard and lightweight woods, but, depending on the labeling and appearance of the box, these inexpensive containers are often highly sought after by cigar box collectors today.
The Gen. Macomb box (as his name appears on the box), donated to the museum in 2014, is a nailed wood box which was made to hold 50 cigars. The lid fits into the box, rather than laying on top of the box, and when closed, the lid is held snug by a very small nail. This size of cigar box is known to collectors as a 50/13, which means that the box held fifty cigars with thirteen of them on the top layer. Other common sizes of cigar boxes include the 50/17, 50/10, 100/17, 100/13 and 100/10.
The top of the box is imprinted with a decorative image, which includes two crossed swords behind the words Gen Macomb. The top also includes the factory number and taxing district, Factory No. 342, 8th Dist. Ill. 50. The factory number has yet to be identified, but it is assumed – or hoped – that it belonged to Chas. Goodwin. The 8th District Illinois was linked to Springfield, Illinois, and by 1905 there were only four taxing districts in the State of Illinois, the other three being out of Chicago, Peoria and Cairo. Each district had a tax assessor and a tax collector. The 50 on the label, again refers to the number of cigars in the box. On the end of the box, the word Colorado is stamped. Perhaps the box itself or the wood it is made out of came from the State of Colorado.
As with the task of dating any artifact, several things were taken into account to determine an approximate time period when the cigar box was made and taxed. One of these things was the legal notice, or caution notice, which appears on the bottom of the box. The one on the Macomb box is somewhat plain compared to others. It contains the factory number and tax district, as well as a legal statement, which informs the buyer that the manufacturer has complied with the requirements of the law and that neither the box nor the tax stamp can be reused. This style of caution notice dates the Macomb box after 1880.
One of the most important clues in dating a cigar box is the revenue stamp affixed to the box. The type of revenue stamp found on the box helps to narrow the date of a box. An eight inch revenue stamp is glued to three sides of the Macomb box, securing the contents until the buyer opens it. The stamp has black ink on blue paper and has the number 50 on it, indicating the number of cigars, and includes a portrait of Henry Clay. While Clay’s image appears on revenue stamps dated between 1878 and 1915 and again from 1942 to 1958, this particular revenue stamp for 50 cigars appeared only between 1910 and 1915. This narrows the date of the box to a five year window, about as close as we are going to get to an actual date.
An ornamental label with the name of the manufacturer, Chas. Goodwin, Macomb, is glued to the back of the box. Goodwin’s name also appears on a label inside the box below another label which covers the entire underside of the top. This label is very colorful, depicting two flowers sitting at the upper corners of a red border which surrounds an image of General Macomb. This type of labeling was listed in cigar catalogs as a vanity label or portrait label. These labels portrayed people who were remembered as a favorite person, such as Lord Byron or President Lincoln, or of anyone who might be a political figure on the campaign trail, to the cigar maker himself, to that of a picture of a cigar maker’s child. In this case, the “famous figure” on the box is General Macomb, a man who is important to the town bearing his name. During the War of 1812, Gen. Macomb commanded the land forces at the Battle of Plattsburg, while Commodore Macdonough (for whom the county is named) commandeered the naval forces on Lake Champaign,. It’s not known why the cigar box was made featuring the label portraying Macomb, but by narrowing the date of the box to the 1910-1915 window, one might assume that the box was made to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Gen. Macomb’s victory in 1814.
The inside label of Gen. Macomb has the name F.M. Howell & Co., Elmira, New York stamped on it. Opened in 1883, the business was well known for the cigar labels that it made. A second business name, Calvert Lithograph Company of Detroit, Michigan, appears on the caution label on the bottom of the box. This company was one of the best in lithography at the turn of the 20th century. These labels were probably requested by and made to order for Charles Goodwin.
Two different labels, one on the outside and one on the inside of the box, contain the name Chas. Goodwin, Macomb, IL., manufacturer. Goodwin was one of six children born to Washington and Mary Goodwin. Born in 1867, Goodwin first lived in Chalmers Township before his family moved to Macomb. The 1900 Federal Census lists Goodwin as a pottery laborer, but in the 1901 Macomb City Directory, he is listed as a cigar manufacturer. In that directory, there are also three other manufacturers listed. Goodwin’s business address is 33 E. Side Square. In subsequent years, he is also listed on N. Randolph and South Side Square. Between the years 1910 and 1915, which is believed to be the date of the cigar box, his business address is 129 South Side Square. During that time, Goodwin is advertising as the “largest line in the county – pipes & smokers articles” and that you should “smoke ‘Home Stock’ 5 cents and smoke ‘Dia’ 5 and 10 cents.” He also advertised that his “cigars are GOOD and WIN.” By 1924, Goodwin had sold his business and is working as a cigar maker for AF & HK Dawson, and within a few years he had established the Goodwin Furniture Store in the 100 block of W. Jackson. He owned and ran the store until his death in 1938. Buried in Oakwood Cemetery, his obituary proclaims that his “business and private life were guided by principles of fairness and a spirit of friendliness which earned him the respect and high regard of the entire community.”
What we’ve learned about the Gen. Macomb box is that different components of the box came from around the country and were brought together to make a cigar box with an interesting history. A local man can be credited for creating the Macomb box and selling his cigars in it. This beautiful box can be seen on display at the Western Illinois Museum, 201 S. Lafayette Street. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission to see the artifact and to visit the museum is free, but donations are appreciated to help support the museum.
By the way, the box was empty when it was donated to the museum, so what happened to the cigars that were in the box? They probably went up in smoke.