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The cigar lithography

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Today I would like to discuss about the bands and labels printing. Among the less apparent cigar industry linked professions, the Lithography printing is definitely a major one.

In my very first Cigar Clan blog entry, I said that one of my desires was to share with you all some aspects of the cigar industry that might be less known or less obvious for the cigars aficionados. To satisfy the curiosity of the most enthusiastic amateurs, some stories or some professions are indeed worth being brought to the great public.

 

Some years back during a cigar tasting in Belgium, I came upon a very interesting person: Edmond Van Den Hole. Being a fantastic person and the conservator of the Cigars and Pipes Museum of Geraardsbergen (Belgium), Edmond shared with me some of the knowledge he acquired during his life-long discoveries in the world of Cigar and Old smokers.

 

“As a child I was very much fascinated with the old cigar boxes richly decorated with exquisite lithography artworks. Also how beautiful shines a nice gold foiled and embossed band when rolled around a cigar? I found them magical!

In fact, my city of birth, Geraardsbergen, was until recently a center of this very specific activity of the Cigar labels printing. The technology used was lithography printing (stone pressing)…” And then Edmond started explaining his passion…around a nice cigar!

 

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How is printed an old cigar label? Lithography works thanks to the properties of mutual repulsion between oil-based and water-based liquids. Here are the few steps of limestone lithography printing used to produce old cigar labels:

 

- The artist sketches his artwork on the limestone with an oil-based – hydrophobic – drawing solution. This will serve as the printing plate.

 

- An aqueous solution (generally gum Arabic slightly acidified with nitric acid) is applied to the stone and will create a hydrophilic layer on all non-drawn surfaces (artwork’s negative). Slightly absorbed into the pores of the limestone all around the artwork (still protected by the drawing solution), this aqueous layer will later repulse the printing ink.

 

- Now, a hydrophobic solution (usually turpentine) is applied to remove the oily-based drawing solution. However a thin film/layer of it will remain bonded to this drawn surface of the stone, still rejecting the aqueous solution but ready to accept the oily-based ink.

 

- The stone being kept wet, the water will naturally be attracted by the hydrophilic layer.

 

- The printing ink is then rolled over the surface. Being oil-based, the ink will be repelled by the wet hydrophilic layer (the artwork’s negative) and accepted by the hydrophobic drawn surface (the artwork’s positive).

 

- Finally, stone and paper are pressed. The paper then absorbs the ink off the stone.

 

Now the cigar bands and labels are nice and colorful. For multicolor lithography, separate stones are used for each color layer of the final artwork. Each stone then goes through the press with its specific ink. The finest lithography labels can amazingly have up to 24 ink layers.

Beyond ink layers, the gold foiling and embossing are still 2 additional press operations.

Superposed on one unique paper, the multiple and aligned ink layers will blend nicely to give life to the multicolor lithography.

 

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Today, printing with such a lithography method is no longer possible. For this reason, collecting these nice a colorful cigar bands and label is a flourishing activity practiced by numerous aficionados.

 

So if you come across an old cigar box and have in your hands nice garnitures, vista, labels and bands, think of Edmond… Analyze with attention and try an observation with a magnifying glass... You will certainly appreciate!

 

Quality of a Lithography

 

Precision – Like for a painting, old Cigar lithographies can be analysed from far with a distance or from very close with a magnifying glass. The litho can then reveal a nice variety of splendid miniature paintings and their precision. The design drawn by the artist if formed by a multitude of dots very similar to the current concept of pixels of our camera pictures or PC screens.

 

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  • Colour quality – T
  • Embossing precision – T
  • General aligment – T

 

Yours,

Didier Houvenaghel

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