For thy Sake, Tobacco

Summer 2005 CSANews Issue 55  |  Posted date : May 20, 2007.Back to list

Those who travel to Cuba will discover the tempting charms that lure more than two million visitors every year – the mysterious realm of pleasures, fantasies, myths and legends that are evoked by the smoke rings of the island's well-known Habanos (Cuban cigars).

You don't have to be a smoker to get carried away with the fascination of Habanos. This world-class product is one of Mother Nature's most outstanding creations. Its expansion around the globe has inspired millions of people, regardless of industry, ethnicity or religion. Cuba's Jose Matri simply states that Habanos, "is the nice plant that gives off smoke: the man's companion." And what a companion it is. We can cling to its constant company at any time, even in solitary and nightly hours – the time when our minds work in very mysterious ways. Habanos is known to soothe our soul, drive out thoughts and help us achieve insight and creativity.

The history of Habanos provides one of the most amazing examples of trans-culturalization, from its discovery and expansion by the Spanish Conquistadors, to its eventual introduction to the Old World. Nobody knows with certainty who exported the first Cuban cigar to Europe. Perhaps it was Christopher Columbus and his sailing mates returning from their first voyage. He surely could not have imagined the commercial mightiness of the "precious herb" and "burning stubs" that aboriginals smoked on the islands of the archipelago (now Cuba). Soon tobacco, like sugar, became a major export in the transatlantic trade industry.

In Cuba, the cigar industry and its workers played an outstanding role in advancing the country's cultural values. The interest in aesthetics took place in the late 18th century, when particular attention was paid to better boxes and cases, as well as to the size and form of the cigars. It was at this time that the first ring sizes appeared. In 1830, several brands and their accompanying ring sizes glutted the British market and were showcased in London. The opening of the British market was so sensational that Cuban cigar makers created a special cigar ring, aptly named London.

In 1831, a small workshop in Havana printed out the first drawing for wrapping cigars. Just a decade later, printing presses had taken over this function, producing one-tint lithographed labels over sheets of hued paper. This created a personalized identity for each and every brand of cigar. Over time, as many as 600 different brands of Cuban cigars have existed. Today, there are approximately 40 registered trademark brands.

The cases and boxes were just as exquisite as the cigars they contained, and were constructed from aromatic and leak-proof Spanish cedar. A man known as Senor Rojas made gorgeous cases for the Baron of Rothchild and for several members of the European royalty. From this point forward, the use of French metal chromolithographic machines, lace and plaited paper, and Cuban, French, Spanish and German creativity combined to develop a new expression of art that was found on cigar cases and boxes, labels, rings and additional accessories.

The art of collecting cigar rings spread like a prairie fire and, beginning in 1934, numerous collector clubs opened in the U.S., Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, France, and of course, Cuba. The Cuban Association of Cigar Ring Collectors was founded in 1955. Its present membership reaches 300 affiliates from Cuba, Canada, Italy, Spain and the U.S. Rings depicting flags, wildlife, flora, heralds and trademarks are the most popular. Many people have now turned to the hobby of collecting cigar box and case labels, a new trend that is rapidly growing everywhere in the world.

Habanos, the exceptional product cultivated on Cuban soil, has left an impression on some of the world's most inspirational people, such as painters and sculptors, wood, stone and metal carvers, architects, writers, musicians, photographers, scientific researchers, world leaders and movie stars. How can visitors to Cuba not be enthralled by such a driving force of history and culture? No other country creates such an exceptionally exquisite and sought-after product as the Habanos. They may come close – but no cigar.