Many cigar smokers throw out those paper bands encircling their favorite stogies on the way to smoking them. As for the boxes the cigars come in - what about them? Old cigar advertisements, humidors that no longer humidify, and other cigar-related accoutrement are often subject to the same ignoble fate. But for others that cigar band, that old humidor, that cigar box, are all bits of history - collectibles that evoke the magic and mystery of smoking.
What are cigar bands? Why are they important? As with so many other aspects of cigars, the answer to that question begins in Cuba - early-19th-century Cuba, to be exact. Already that island nation was recognized as the world's cigar capital. In those days, cigars were minimally packaged, often receiving no more than a wooden box or barrel inscribed with the manufacturer's name. No indication of the manufacturer's identity was inscribed on the cigars themselves. In other words, it was a counterfeiter's paradise. Makers of cheap European cigars could bundle their badly-made wares into boxes marked "Cuban," and these knockoff, proto-pawn cigars could then be pushed off on in the European market on unsuspecting customers who thought they were getting fine imported Cubans.
Gustave Bock, a Dutch immigrant who owned a cigar factory in Cuba in the 1830s, is credited with being the first to place a paper band around his cigars. (Bock's "cigar band" was just a paper ring with his signature on it.) Many other makers adopted this practice, to the point where, by 1855, most Cuban cigar exporters were using them. Cheap color printing and paper-embossing spurred this development, leading to a "Golden Age" of cigar advertising. Cigar bands had that combination of ephemerality and workmanship that so often draws collectors.
While they were often well-made, they weren't intended to last - so they gave collectors a challenge, as baseball cards, comic books and cheap children's toys would later in the 20th century. And they always gave off a whiff of nostalgia.
Then there are those boxes. From mug-shaped boxes to gameboard boxes, cigar makers have creatively packaged their wares ever since an 1878 federal decision allowed packages of cigars (a heavily-regulated good, in the post-Civil War economy) to be mailed in any shape or size that could be stamped. Again, a golden age resulted: the late-nineteenth century saw some of the goofiest, cleverest, and most memorable product design lavished on cigars, including: the Immense Cigar box - a giant, two-foot-long cigar-shaped wood box holding within it 100 small cigars; the 1877 Piper Heidsieck champagne-bottle packages, of which only twenty-five were made (all by hand); Cheese It Cigars - round cheesebox-shaped cigar package of 1880; and many others.
From a slightly later period, there are the novelty boxes of the 1930s: padlocked-box designs such as the Hudson Treasure Chest; the Dutch wooden-shoe-shaped Karel I box, which was sold as a souvenir to passengers visiting Holland by boat during the Depression; the Kaveewee truck - a little red delivery van, with a stogie-chomping driver painted on the sides and front; the radio-shaped cigar boxes given away by Emerson, the electronics company; or the many book-shaped cigar boxes dating back to the 19th century. (For example, a 1936 box with a red "spine" reads "Democratic National Convention 1936.")
Or the once-ubiquitous red-cedar boxes embossed with the words "The Sweetest Story Ever Told." Foster, Hilson and Company's mailbox-shaped cigar box, as well as the calendar-and-thermometer combo boxes given away in the 1880s by, most likely, a bank (the three existing Frank Pchaski cigar boxes that match this profile all have different year calendars on them), are also classics.
CAO's recent commemorative Sopranos box may well appreciate in value as these have. Which brings up one point: if you want to collect cigar memorabilia, start with the stuff that isn't memorabilia yet - funky new items at your own favorite cigar store. If your favorite brand offers a limited-edition cigar or tries a change in its band, make sure to save these.
Where would a new collector find some of these older, rare and interesting items? Well, if you're really lucky, you can find a closed-down cigar factory somewhere that has yet to be picked clean by collectors. Most likely, however, you'll begin where collectors of many kinds begin - at eBay, or at real-world auctions. Auction websites such as Ruby Lane or the Heritage Auction Galleries also frequently sell valuable items.
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