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5 Things you need to know about cigar boxes!

Imogen Wright


Cigar boxes, some can be plain, others can be very glamorous. Our eyes are drawn to them and equally our mind is drawn towards the premium cigars inside. If you're buying a luxury-class cigar, there is an expectation that the packaging lives up to the brand image. But though they're equal parts storage unit and marketing tactic, cigar boxes have a story behind them.

Whether it's because of their practicality or our general mentality to hoard, cigar boxes tend to live long after the smokes are nothing more than just a memory. While many get thrown away, it's not uncommon for smokers to repurpose them into Spanish cedar drawers that hold everything from cigar cutters, matches and other accessories, to paper clips and whatever else that happens to be laying around the house.

Even though ultimately, it's the tasty contents of inside the box that captures our attention, how about shifting gears and take notice of the box itself as here are 5 things to think about while you do:

1. The First Cigars in Boxes Were H. Upmann

Upmann, you associate the name with a fine smoke but the name means much more as it was the brothers Upmann (allegedly) that were the first to package their cigars in a box but funnily enough those very first cigar boxes didn't have Upmann cigars in them as there wasn't an H. Upmann brand to be had during that time.
Getting to know the Upmann's:

- The Upmanns were a family of German bankers and sometime around 1840, brothers Herman and Angust Upmann convinced their father to open a bank branch in Cuba.

- Herman benefitted from the deal as not only was the bank a success, Herman was also quite the cigar enthusiast with his relocation to Havana a no brainer.

- Shortly after the move Herman began sending cigars from various Cuban factories back to Europe, packaged in cedar boxes stamped with the bank's name given as gifts to the most influential clients not to mention marketing purposes.

- In just a few short years, Upmann was immersed in cigar exporting and by 1844 had invested in a factory to produce his namesake H. Upmann cigars.

- The bank unfortunately didn't take off and went onto fail, as did the cigar venture until it was purchased from bankruptcy.

2. Cigar Boxes Were Mandated by American Law in 1863

Americans were making their way through their smokes at an unstoppable pace in the mid to late 1880's and the number of stateside factories were growing by the day. During this time, there wasn't much government regulation regarding the manufacturing of cigars.

In an effort to change that, the US Government decided to lay down the law as they set out strict guidelines in how cigars were to be made, packaged and sold. Not only was the process of making, packaging and selling a cigar made and how many to a box, the materials used for box making also had its own regulation.

Only cigar boxes made of glass and/or wood were permitted although tin boxes were eventually allowed a few years later but by 1878, laws had been relaxed to allow for novelty packaging. Since then, creativity and ingenuity have reigned. Take this empty Behike Varnished Box for example:

3. Cigar Boxes Make Pretty Good Instruments

With cigar boxes becoming legally required, the very good question of what to do with them once empty soon arose. You could just use them for everyday storage or for decoration or you could go one step further and make music.

In America, as early as the Civil War, soldiers were making fiddles out of them to pass the time in camp between marches and battles. Artists had the skills to make the music, but not the coin to buy the real instruments, so they made their own with found items.
Famous face, Ronnie Wood, member of the Rolling Stones even used one as Paul McCartney also played a slide cigar box 4-string while fronting the Foo Fighters on TV.

4. Cuban Cigar Boxes Have Secret Codes

When it comes to Cuban cigars there is a science in figuring out what some of the stamps and marking mean both inside and on the box. Some will help in determining the age of the box or its collectability if empty.

Fun facts:

- Up until around the time Castro "nationalised" the island's tobacco industry, the stamps on Cuban cigar boxes had some printing in English

- After 1960, Cuban stamps were printed in Spanish where it was the norm to see "Hecho en Cuba."

- In 1985, Francisco Padron - the president of Habanos, S.A., at the time - instituted an encryption system that allowed you to determine information about which factory made the cigars and when

- Within 4 years, Hecho a mano or translated "made by hand" was replaced by "totally handmade" Totalmente a mano.

- In 1994, Cubatabaco - the state-run tobacco monopoly that had been producing and distributing Cuban cigars - was replaced by the newly-formed Habanos S.A.; so were their stamps on the boxes

Padron's coding system uses a combination of numbers and letters - some of the code ID'd the factory where that specific box was made, other digits and letters were useful for internal reasons.

5. You Can Keep Cigars in A Sealed, Wrapped Box for Longer Than You Think.

"How long can you keep cigars in a sealed and wrapped box?" Just one of the many questions which is always raised and it's a good question to ask, especially if you are organised and buying cigars as a gift weeks in advance but there are a couple of things you should know about keeping cigars fresh for the long haul outside of a humidor.

Top Tips

- Resist the temptation of removing the outer shrink wrap or cellophane from the box. Yes, there will be a temptation to have a sneak peek but make sure you keep the box sealed.

- If the box has to live outside a humidor ecosystem for longer than you would like, be sure to pick a spot in your house that's cool, and just a little damp. Try to replicate the shop environment the cigars were in

- If you have one big enough, try sticking the box in a large Tupperware with a Boveda pack or a humidifier.

If you don't have a way to store the cigars appropriately, you can get away with it for about a month before the cigars start to dry out - even with that outer wrapper.And there you have it, 5 things you need to know about cigar boxes!