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Summer 98
Volume III
Issue 3

Back Issues!

The Havanas:
Past, Present, and Future

by Nathaniel Lande and Andrew Lande

They came. They came this past February from all over the world, a fellowship of enthusiasts to Havana to celebrate the commercial launch of the legendary Trinidad, a cigar formally reserved for Cuba's political elite. Attendees at the event included the nobility of the cigar world: The great Simon Chase, this year's Habanos Man of the Year; Nicholas Freeman and Wyndham Carter of Hunters and Frankau; the gallant Irishman, Oliver Caffrey; David Ilario from Spain's Epicure; Josep Cases from Andorra; Chris Boone of Dunhill/Rothmans; Sylvia Poethek of Berlin; to name a few. They were joined by over 500 makers and shakers, lovers and smokers, diplomats and fellow travelers, for an event that commenced with the 1st International Seminar on Habanos and was capped by the Grand Smoke at the newly refurbished and re-fitted Havana Libre Hotel.

Cuba's has been a long history filled with romance and revolution. Sitting at dinner, smoking the Trinidad, one could not help but reflect upon the amazing history that brought this event through the smoked clouds of history.

The first cigar factories appeared in 1676 in Seville, Spain; by 1731 the royal cigar factories had been established there. By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Spanish puros were lighting up the continent. The Italian ports at Venice and Genoa became key spots for shipping cigars to central Europe and Russia. Tobacco escalated in value. Pirates seizing vessels often found the cargo bays carried not gold and precious metal but a bounty of cigars and tobacco.

The booming cigar industry encouraged the Spanish to perfect the process of growing, fermenting, and curing a leaf flexible and strong enough to hold the puro together while, at the same time, blending in with the burning tobacco. Although the first cigars were not as smooth as they are today, their construction and manufacturing have under-gone remarkably little change over the centuries.

Spain's manufacturing cartel was quickly challenged. By the mid-18th century, Louis XV had pushed French industry into cigar manufacturing. In 1779, Peter Wendler, a German painter, was granted a five-year concession by the papal government in Rome to manufacture bastoni di tobacco - "tobacco sticks," or cigars, and by 1800 the Italian and German industries were manufacturing cigars. The New World joined the competitive arena when the British colonies in North America, specifically Connecticut, began rolling cigars in 1810.

During this period, the leaf grown in Cuba was being shipped to Spain to be made into cigars. When it was acknowledged that Havana cigars survived the trans-Atlantic voyage much better than the leaf itself, the fabricas, or cigar factories, were born in Cuba. They sprang up from the 18th-century tobacco plantations, each offering its own brand or brands of cigars, much as vineyards produce their own wines.

The first names to be registered in Havana's trademark office, entered in 1810, were forerunners of a flourishing industry. An entry (preserved in the Cuban National Archives) for a permit issued for the establishment of one factory and shop reads: "Francisco Cabanas, born in Havana, single, has opened a shop in Jesus del Monte Avenue, which previously operated at 112 Jesus Maria Street." In 1810 this fabrica had 16 workers; by 1833, cigars made by Cabanas were being sold in a shop in London. These house labels identified the cigars being produced; each maintained its own distinct flavor through carefully guarded blends and variations of plant types and processing techniques.

With Havana's emergence as a port of call, Cuban cigar makers, descendants of the Spanish colonists, gained easy access to markets, not just in Europe, but in the rest of North America. On June 23, 1817, Fernando VII of Spain signed a royal decree that allowed free trade for the island of Cuba. The subsequent boom in cigar sales filled the port of Old Havana with ships bound to distribute Cuban cigars the world over. The steamship ensured rapid distribution of Cuba's superior brands, further diminishing the predominance of the Spanish factories. So began the golden age of the Havana. Between 1830 and 1850 the great brands, many of which survive today, were founded: Por Larranaga, 1834; Ramon Allones, 1837; Punch, 1840; H. Upmann, 1844; La Corona and Partagas, 1845; as well as Vuelta, El Figaro, El Rey del Mundo, Romeo y Julieta, Jose Gener's Hoyo cle Monterrey, Belinda, and Bolivar.

In 1850, paper bands were introduced into the design of cigars as a means of distinguishing prestigious brands. They were created by Gustavo Bock, a Dutchman who introduced them as a signature for his own cigars. Colorful and artistic, the bands around the cigars and the boxes that stored them reflected a cigar's individual character, much as cigars themselves were crafted to have a particular taste, feel, and aroma. Power brokers, heads of state, kings and monarchs, presidents and dictators, companies and countries - all wanted a custom-designed band. This rush for cigars established the reputation of the Cuban cigar as an accouterment of wealth, power, and prestige.

By controlling the growing, producing, and packaging of the product, Cubans accomplished what their Spanish, British, and other European competitors had failed to achieve: They combined the art of cultivating tobacco with the craft of manufacturing a cigar. As a result, the development of the cigar industry in Cuba was as much a story of the men and families that produced them as it was a story of the cigar itself.

Continued on next page...


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