This summer I bought this incredible piece of aged wood in an antique shop in Santa Barbara. I intended to use it as a frame for my art. It was labeled as an antique German cigar mold. Once I got home I was able to open the mold and take a better look at it. It is marked: “Hier offnen schliessen”. Translated, that means: “here open closed”. More writing, “Schwetzingen” (a German town). Before using it in my work, I decided to look into its history to make sure there was no connection to Germany during the war. I was relieved to find it was a product of the 1950s. But that wasn’t all. Turns out, the real story behind cigar molds is very interesting, and relevant.
You see, cigar-making was at one time a serious artisan’s trade, done only by master craftsmen. Then the industrial revolution changed everything and with the invention of the cigar mold, unskilled immigrants were housed in filthy, diseased American tenements to grease the pockets of cigar makers, signaling the (near)death of a master trade. The end. No, not the end. Unions fixed things up a bit for workers for a time, until post WWII brought back a flood of unskilled immigrants willing to jump picket lines and then cigarettes became popular and that was basically it, the end of a master trade. Except it wasn’t. Fortunately, quality cigar makers supposedly still use “hand-rollers” so the trade survives. Sort of. If you believe Wiki.
So why would I feel awkward about using a piece of old wood as a frame for my art? Because even though this particular mold is modern compared to those of the 1850s, it is evidence of an era of virtual slavery, the near-death of a master trade, and the beginning of our current era of passably good products made on the cheap by unskilled labor (which has nearly destroyed craftsmanship in America!) Not getting good vibes from this thing. Haven’t even mentioned that tobacco causes cancer.