In the 19th century, many people could not read, so store owners placed carvings of various symbols in front of their shops, so passersby knew what was sold inside. A carving of a wooden Indian indicated a tobacco store; a red, white, and blue striped pole symbolized a barber; three gold balls represented a pawn shop; a mortar and pestle indicated an apothecary.
The use of the carved Cigar Store Indian as a symbol in front of a tobacco shop began in England in the early 1600s as the ships from America began to bring back tobacco. The symbolism of the statues was because the source of the tobacco supply at that time was from Native Americans. By 1650 tobacco was growing in popularity, and in London, several cigar store Indians gave rise to what became a form of signage that was used for 250 years. These early carvings were made by carvers who had never seen a Native American, so they were based on drawings or descriptions from those who had visited the colonies. The sculptures were sometimes called “Virginians” or “Virginnie men” to clarify what they represented… read more >