The tradition started during a time when store signs were pictorial because many customers could not read. By the 1800′s the wooden cigar-store Indian figure was kept on the street to lure customers inside a tobacconist’s store.
Historically, the wooden cigar store Indians were carved from a single log. They were painted by hand and usually held a bundle of tobacco leaves or cigars in their hand. It is estimated that more than 100,000 carved cigar store Indians were in use by 1900.
A carved Indian became less common at cigar stores during the 20th century for many different reasons. Sidewalk-obstruction laws, high manufacturing costs, restrictions on tobacco advertising and increased racial sensitivity by shops caused them to be removed. Most of the original vintage figures were destroyed. As a result a well preserved antique Indian figure sells for thousands of dollars.