Just when you thought you knew everything about premium cigars, another facet of the cigar industry pops-up, like identifying cigar boxes by their year and factory. So what of it? For one, it’s about making sure you’ve purchased the right box of cigars; secondly, it will refine your cigar expertise; and third, it’s vital information for those who collect vintage cigar boxes.
Factory identification tends to play a bigger role with Cuban cigars because Cuba has altered their factory seals and codes several times over the years. Moreover, unless you’ve really done your homework, trying to identify a vintage box of Havanas can be quite confusing. Since Cubans are still verboten in the U.S., I don’t want to take up too much space on them, but like so many other things pertaining to premium cigars, you have to start in Cuba.
In the beginning…
According to one source, cigars were originally sold in bundles covered with pig bladders, and a vanilla pod would be placed inside the package to stem the odor. These were eventually replaced by large wooden chests that could hold up to as many as 10,000 cigars.
In 1840, English banker, Herman Upmann, opened a branch office in Havana and would ship Cuban cigars back to his London colleagues in boxes made of Spanish cedar due to its ability to prevent cigars from drying-out and extend the aging process. Though it wasn’t until 1844 that Mr. Upmann bought a cigar factory and gave birth to the now famous H. Upmann cigars brand, the cedar box became the standard form of packaging for handmade cigars, and remains so to this day.
Prior to 1960, all Cuban cigar stamps were also printed in English. After that, the Cuban stamps were changed to Spanish like, “Hecho en Cuba.” It wasn’t until 1985 that Cuban cigars were given specific box codes. Until then their boxes had only one stamp which read “Hecho en Cuba.” The idea to begin using encrypted codes was instituted by Francisco Padrón, then-president of Habanos S.A. The new codes included information about the factory, the month, and year of their release.
In 1989, the inscription “Totalmente a mano” (“totally handmade”) replaced the older inscription “Hecho a mano.” Boxes were also stamped “Cubatabaco,” but in 1994 it was changed to “Habanos S.A.,” and in 2004 the Spanish term “Tripa corta,” was added for cigars made with “short filler.”
The Cuban coding system contained letters and numbers that identified the factory in which a particular box was made, while some parts of the codes were used only for internal purposes. Say a box had defective cigars; the code would tell them what factory it was made. And because tobacco quality changes from year to year, encoding dates were also used to establish when the crop was harvested. The coding system is much too complex to explain in detail here. Suffice it to say, the codes have been changed several times over the years due to counterfeiters who have been able to figure them out.
Thinking outside the box
If you pick up a box of premium cigars and turn it over you’ll usually find a stamp of some kind. It could be an imprinted or branded stamp citing nothing more than the manufacturer’s name and country of origin. However, you may also find a second stamp indicating the date, the section the box was stored at the factory, or even the signature of the box inspector. Today the type and number of stamps vary by manufacturer. In some cases they will place the inspection numbers and inspectors name on a tiny piece of paper inside the box. So, let’s get to the details…
According to the Cigar History Museum website, there are two kinds of information on every cigar box: optional information and information required by law. Optional information could be anything from a company guarantee or slogan, advertising, copyright and registration dates, the type and/or source of tobacco, pictures; even hype, whether it was true or not.
There were really no rules, which opened the door to abuse by some manufacturers. For example, under the lid of the cigar box the label might say, “Tampa’s Finest Cigar!” while the label on the bottom of the box might say they were made in an Ohio cigar factory. But if you checked the cigar maker’s I.D., which was required by law, you might learn that the cigars were really made at a backyard barn factory in Connecticut. So, the only information you could trust on a box of U.S. made cigars was the information mandated by tax law, as follows:
- Tax stamps (1863-1959)
- Cigar maker I.D.’s (1866-1960’s)
- Caution notices (1868-1959)
- Tax paid notices (1917-1959)
Therefore, if you’re a collector, the only information you’ll be able to verify are the aforementioned requirements. However, because the federal government changed the requirements so often, it actually helps when trying to nail down the date for a specific box of cigars. Following are the years that regulations governing cigar boxes were changed: 1863, 1864, 1865, 1866, 1868, 1869, 1871, 1872, 1873, 1875, 1878, 1879, 1883, 1891, 1895, 1897, 1898, 1901, 1904, 1909, 1910, 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1926, 1928, 1931, 1932, 1942, 1946, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1976, and even after that.
Rather than having to memorize all those years, Tony Hyman, cigar historian and curator of The Cigar History Museum, developed an easy way for cigar smokers and collectors to identify vintage cigar boxes. You can find it on cigarhistory.com’s Easy Dating page.
Show us your brand!
Cigar maker ID’s also played an important role in finding tax evaders. Since they were required by law all a tax inspector had to do was check three vital facts: 1) who was the manufacturer, 2) the location of the factory, and 3) the number of cigars in the box.
During the past two centuries, six different methods have been used for dating cigar boxes as shown in the following timeline:
Type I: Hot branded (1866-1872+) – This information was referred to by the federal government as the “factory brand” because it was required to be hot-branded with iron dies like those used on old crates and barrels. Since only several thousand cigar factories were in operation during the hot brand era, boxes from this period are extremely rare, and branding iron-type boxes even rarer.
Type II: Round with name (1872-1880) – After 1872 boxes could be engraved with a round ID containing the maker’s name in the top part of the circle, the tax district and state in the bottom of the circle, and the number of cigars in the center. This form was used during the 1870’s, making it easy to identify boxes from that decade.
Type III: Round with factory number (1880-1883+) – In 1880 the manufacturer’s name was replaced by a federally assigned factory number placed at the top of the circle. This requirement only lasted several years, when the Type IV I.D. was introduced in 1883. The catch here is that round type III I.D.’s are not reliable for dating because, even though they were not required, they were still legal even after 1883; so many companies continued with the type III I.D. for many years.
Type IV: Three line I.D. (1883-1910) – In 1883 the three line I.D. had become the standard and was used on 95% of all wooden cigar boxes through 1918.
Type V: I.D. w/notice (1910 – 1959) – As noted above in 1910, the 3-line ID was still used after 1910, but also printed on the bottom was the Caution Notice, followed by the Tax Paid notice during the 1920’s, and often printed as a single line. The law also required the Caution Notice to repeat the factory number and tax district. As cardboard boxes became more the norm, these I.D.’s were more often printed, rather than engraved.
Type VI: Novelty I.D.’s – Though a minimum type size was specified, manufacturers had a lot of leeway as to what style of I.D. they wanted to use on their boxes. It could be the company’s trademark with an animal, like an eagle, or any number of images, some of which could be quite detailed. To cut costs, several 19th century factories put their I.D. in a single line imprinted on the top of the box under the top brand. Because of the large variety of novelty I.D.’s that were used they are not as reliable for box dating.
Identifying cigars by their boxes today
When it comes to box designs, today, just about anything goes. From the simple bôite nature Spanish cedar boxes used for Davidoff cigars (and many other manufacturers), to the sculpture-like boxes of Perdomo’s Edición de Silvio cigars, to the traditional “Renaissance period” style boxes like La Aroma de Cuba, to CAO’s Concert series cigars whose boxes look like mini-guitar amps, designers continue to amaze cigar smokers with their ingenuity.
In addition to the required I.D.’s and familiar country of origin seals that overlap the top and side of most cigar boxes, you may find the following on the bottom of some boxes: a label with a bar code and a sticker identifying the lot and inspector’s initials (often written by hand); imprints of the factory name & logo; serial numbers, plus the aforementioned pieces of paper with the inspector’s name, box lot, etc., and finally, the most obvious of labels, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Warning.
So, the next time you’re significant other drags you to an antique store, a yard sale, or you just happen to be in a cigar store that has some vintage cigar boxes, you’ll know what to look for. In the end, it’s just another part of the premium cigar experience.
Introduced in 2008, My Father Cigars are blended and handcrafted by Jaime Garcia, son of the now-legendary Don José “Pepin” Garcia. Made at the My Father factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, the tobaccos used for these cigars are grown on their own farms and rolled in the finest Habano-Rosado Criollo-seed wrappers. Cigars made at the My Father factory in Estelí tend to have a reputation that precedes them, so you expect an excellent cigar, and the My Father edition is no exception. I was pleased to have the opportunity to write up this My Father cigar review, and take a real analytical look at this terrific cigars. It’s no wonder these smokes have exploded in popularity since coming onto the market, winning over all different types of smokers. The My Father Cigar Factory even took home the #1 Cigar of the Year award for 2012 for their outstanding Flor de last Antillas cigar. Alright, enough about the factory and the reputation, let’s get to the review! Continue reading
There’s been a lingering question out there when it comes to smoking, and it’s in making the distinction between premium cigars and cigarettes. The question has bubbled to the surface again in the face of pending FDA cigar regulations, many of which are modeled after regulations already in place for cigarettes. The folks pushing for these regulations frequently take the viewpoint that tobacco is the same in any form, therefore, they feel regulations should be uniform as well. This thought-process leads us back to our original question – what are the differences of cigars vs. cigarettes? The answers, unsurprisingly, run as wide a range as the number of people who you might ask for guidance. But today, we’re going to draw some major differences between premium cigars and cigarettes – and I got nominated, since I’ve had my fair share of both. I’m not afraid to admit it – I was a cigarette smoker for many moons, and many Marlboros; today, I smoke cigars exclusively. But let’s be clear – smoking, isn’t just smoking. Continue reading
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet him, chances are you’ve noticed it too. Whether he’s talking to customers or retailers – anybody, really – Rocky Patel exudes a genuine passion for premium cigars. And that’s pure Rocky: the hardest-working man in the cigar business; a guy who logs more than 300 days on the road a year, yet still relishes the opportunity to travel the world and putting his cigars in the mouth of his consumers. Continue reading
OPERATOR: Hello, Cigar Order Hotline. How may I help you?
OPERATOR: Certainly. Can you tell me what cigars you’ve been smoking?
OPERATOR: I see. Those are machine-made cigars.
CALLER: What does that mean? Continue reading
It’s happened to everyone who smokes premium cigars – the bad burn caused by poor cigar construction. Whether it’s the cigar going out on you too fast, canoeing, or the wrapper coming undone, a bad burn is one of the most frustrating things that can happen. Since a bad burning cigar requires so much extra work, maybe a better word would be “irritating.” Often times, you’ve spent so much time getting the cigar to straighten out, you don’t even remember how the darn thing tasted.
There are several factors that contribute to a bad burning cigar. Some of these I’ve touched on in past articles. For example, it could be the wrapper was too delicate, too thick and oily, or just an inferior quality or poorly cured leaf. Other factors can be a wrapper leaf that’s too dry, which tends to cause the leaf to unravel. It could also be due to poor rolling. Either the bunch wasn’t rolled carefully enough, or during the bunching process some of the binder, which aids in the burning of a cigar, got tucked into the filler. The result is a canoeing cigar, because there’s nothing in those spots to help the wrapper along. Continue reading
AS AN AVID CIGAR SMOKER you’ve probably heard a lot about FDA regulation of premium cigars. The fact is that earlier this year, the Federal Drug Administration was given the authority to regulate tobacco products. According to a recent report from Cigar Rights of America (CRA):
In the July 7 Federal Register, FDA restated its authority to issue regulations deeming ‘other tobacco products’ to be subject to their domain [when the legislative intent was cigarettes and smokeless products]. They further stated ‘The scope of the proposed rule deeming cigars to be subject to FDA’s jurisdiction that was previously included in the Unified Agenda is being broadened to encompass products that meet the statutory definition of tobacco product.
Therefore, unless action is taken quickly, the FDA plans to start their new timetable for such regulations this coming October.
Fortunately, House Bill H.R.1639, the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act, was introduced. This bill seeks to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to clarify the Food and Drug Administration’s jurisdiction over certain tobacco products, and to protect jobs and small businesses involved in the sale, manufacturing and distribution of traditional and premium cigars. At last count H.R.1639 had at least 45 co-sponsors in The House. Recently, added support of the bill is due to the fight not only from CRA and The International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR),
but from concerned citizens like you who have taken the time to write your representatives in Washington.
Thankfully, another major hurdle was cleared when co-sponsors Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) of Florida. introduced S1461, the companion bill to HR1639. S1461, like HR1639, seeks to separate cigars from cigarettes and other tobacco products in order to keep them safe from FDA regulation. Like The House version of this bill, it is called the “Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2011.”
Should the FDA regulation include premium cigars under their umbrella here’s what will happen:
- You’ll pay extremely higher prices for premium cigars.
- Flavored cigars will disappear.
- New blends would be subject to inspection, testing, and approval by the FDA, virtually tying the hands of manufacturers.
- Cigar box artwork will be disfigured by health risk warning labels.
- Marketing of premium cigars and in-store tasting events would be muzzled, nor would cigar stores be permitted to have walk-in humidors, and finally…
- NO MORE MAIL-ORDER CIGARS
And that’s just for starters.
Please contact your U.S. Senators today! The last thing you want is the FDA having a say in how your favorite premium cigars are blended, imported and sold. In the meantime, we will continue to keep you updated on any further developments about these bills that come our way.
Cigar retailers including Famous Smoke Shop desperately need House and Senate support for and co-sponsorship of HR1639 and S1461 respectively, and we need you to urge them! It’s the best thing you can do today to help save your cigars from being regulated by the FDA; and believe me, as if government wasn’t big enough already, the last thing you want is the FDA having a say in how your favorite premium cigars are imported and marketed.
Right now is the perfect opportunity to tell your Senators about how FDA control of cigars will affect you as a consumer. To do so, simply follow these steps.
- Go to IPCPR’s Legislative Action Center
- Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and on the right side of your screen, you will see a text box for entering your zip code. Enter it and click “Go.”
- On the next screen, you will see your two U.S. Senators and under them you will see a pre-fab letter you can use or edit to add your own wording.
- Finally, preview your message, and if it’s satisfactory, click the “Send Message” button.
Luckily, Congress is listening to us. We have a great opportunity to nail this one down, so don’t delay, and pass this blog on to your cigar smoking amigos.
A few days ago, while admiring the cigars along the Famous Smoke Shop retail store shelves, a colleague of mine said, “There are just too many cigars.” As I continued to browse, I thought about all the cigars I’ve smoked over the years, yet there were still a decent number of them I hadn’t smoked, and I wondered if I ever would. Then came this email from a customer with the subject line, “cigar bucket list,” which inspired me to write this post:
I have a list of eight cigars I’m looking for and wondered if you carried them…
- Liga Privada No. 9 by Drew Estate Parejo Oscuro
- Ashton Cabinet Vintage #10
- Padron 1926 40th Anniversary Torpedo
- Davidoff Millennium Blend Lonsdale
- Benji Menendez Partagas Master Series Majestuoso
- Montecristo No. 2 Torpedo
- Fuente Fuente Opus X Reserva D’Chateau
- Padrón 1964 45th Anniversary Series “A” Double Corona
Now there’s a nice, tasty list if I ever saw one, and there are several cigars on it that I still haven’t gotten around to. Experienced cigar smokers will not only recognize the brands in the list, they’ll also recognize them as being pretty pricey, too. Well, why not? After all, it IS a cigar bucket list.
So, I went back into the store and began poking around, this time paying a little more attention, and realized that I had smoked about 95% of the cigars, by brand mostly, at least once. (I even felt a little sense of accomplishment.) So, I looked at the much bigger list of the cigars on our website, combined that with some web surfing, and finally came up with my own cigar bucket list. Since everyone seems to like Top-10 lists, here’s mine, in alphabetical order.
- Arturo Fuente Añejo Reserva No.77 Shark
- Ashton Estate Grown Vintage 20 Year Salute
- Cohiba Behike BHK 52 (Havana)
- Davidoff Special C Culebras
- Diamond Crown Maximus #2
- Fuente Fuente OpusX BBMF Maduro
- Hemingway Classic Sun Grown
- Padron Family Reserve 45th Anniversary
- Padron Family Reserve 46th Anniversary
- Partagas Serie P No.2 (Havana)
Since I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, the list will continue to grow. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll get to savor most of them and knock them off the list.. In fact, there’s one cigar I was going to put on the list – the Room 101 #305 – but thanks to a recent visit to our offices by Christina Eiroa (of Camacho Cigars),
he just happened to have a box of 101s with him. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and one or two more will fall into my hands by the good graces of another manufacturer, but I won’t hold my breath.
So, now I turn the list over to you. What cigars would you put on your cigar bucket list? Please be my guest by putting your own cigar bucket list in the comments box.