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History of the Cigar Box Opening Tool

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

If you’ve ever tried to tear open a fresh box of cigars from start to finish with your bare hands, you understand why cigar box opening tools exist. Sure, you can perform the operation with a razor blade, a scissors, or even a butter knife, but it isn’t easy. You can also unintentionally stab yourself in the process.

A good cigar box opener is like a bottle opener for cigar boxes. Cigar boxes are one of the most unique forms of consumer packaging. Most are made of cedar or a comparable wood. They are often adorned with colorful labels and embossing. It’s a shame to destroy the beautiful art found on a cigar box in the process of opening it. With a cigar box tool, you can easily open your cigars with care and precision and preserve the label on the box. The empty packaging is ideal when you need a cigar storage box for traveling, shipping cigars, or giving cigars as gifts

Prying Open History

H. Upmann was the first brand to package cigars in boxes in the 1830s. It was a clever way for the brothers who owned H. Upmann to promote their banking business. Boxes were widely adapted by other manufacturers in the 1860s as a means for the government to accurately track and tax cigar production to fund the Civil War. Cedar cigar boxes also proved effective in keeping cigars fresh and repelling beetles, just as they do today.  

The first cigar box openers were glorified pocket knives used by cigar retailers who opened and closed boxes throughout the day for customers. Walk-in humidors where cigars could be displayed in an open box were years away from being invented. Closing the boxes back up was critical for keeping the cigars inside fresh.

Box Openers Replace Business Cards

By the turn of the century, cigar distributors and manufacturers printed their brand names on cigar box tools and passed them out to the retailers who sold their products, like business cards that wouldn’t be thrown out. Cincinnati-based Brunhoff Manufacturing Company, the largest maker of cigar lighters and cutters in 1907, believed handing out cigar box tools was a great way to establish trust with retailers. A good cigar box opener is a handy tool for today’s cigar lovers, retailers and consumers alike.

Anatomy of a Cigar Box Opener

The Wedge

A cigar box tool is a narrow metal tool, a little shorter than a butter knife, but made of stronger alloys, sometimes with a wooden handle. On one end is a wedge, or a dull blade. Once you’ve removed the cellophane from a new box of cigars, the wedge can be used to slice through any stickers or labels secured over the lid of the box. One type of cigar box is called a semi-boite nature box, a plain cedar box with two hinges at the rear and a clasp on the front. The wedge on a cigar box tool is a practical device for popping the clasp open, which is often sealed with noticeable pressure.

A box tool is also useful in opening another kind of box called a slide-lid box. Once any seals or stamps covering the lid have been cut, the wedge is useful in prying the lid open which often requires some force initially.

The Nail Claw

The most common type of cigar box is called a dress box, or a semi-plain box. Dress boxes are made of wood or stiff cardboard and are finished with overlays of decorative paper embossed with intricate logos, often bigger images of what is found on a brand’s cigar band.

Dress boxes are sealed with a small brass nail on the center of the top of the box. Because the nail is driven into the lid of the box with much force, a stiff instrument (the wedge) is required to split the lid open and separate it from the box. Typically fashioned into one side of the wedge on a cigar box tool is a small nail claw. Once the lid is open, it’s best to remove the nail with the nail claw so that you don’t accidentally stick yourself when you’re opening or closing the box.

The Hammer

If you do wish to reseal a cigar box lid with the nail, cigar box tools feature a small hammerhead on one side for pounding the nail back in. You can also use the hammer to pound the nail out of the lid to remove it.

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