Cigar Boxes & Classic Humidors

    When Europeans arrived in America, they discovered more than tobacco. Numerous fruits and veggies were added to the world's tables. Exotic hardwoods were none the less prized. The islands soon became known for fine woodworking, much of which went into creating chests for the island's cigars so highly prized by the wealthy worldwide. The first one's to start creating boxes for cigars were the Spanish, then after, all export cigar companies by example seem to have used fancy "chests" at one time or another. Cedar was selected the wood of choice due to the abilities to hold moisture, light in weight and good aroma. Which enhance at the same time the cigars flavor. But what is interesting is that the Spanish were the one's who discover the cedar qualities specially to store tobacco for long time, in the same way that we are using today...

Cigar Boxes...

      There are two types of cigar boxes: wood and everything else. Between 1800 and 1960 around 80% of all cigar boxes were made of wood. That amounts to somewhere around eight billion (a reasonably calculated estimate) wooden cigar boxes.  

        Another two billion cigar boxes were made of cardboard, tin, glass, plastic, tin foil, aluminum, pewter, brass, china, ceramics, silver plate and palm leaves.This is an overview of shapes and materials you're most likely to encounter today.

     OLD ABE from 1926 and HARVESTER from 1938 typify what box makers and collectors call NW 50/13 and NW 25/13 boxes.
 

1. Nailed Wood  (NW)

 The most common box was what box makers descriptively and unromantically call a “standard Nailed Wood box,” abbreviated NW.  Other than a change in lid design in the 1870's, Nailed Wood boxes have remained the same for 200 years: six pieces of wood, 14 nails and a muslin hinge.

        Wood can be cut and nailed into an almost endless variety of sizes and shapes of box.  By far the most common 20th century wooden boxes held 50 cigars packed 4 deep 13 across or 25 cigars packed 2 deep 13 across.  The short row on the bottom was completed with a wooden or cardboard “block” to take the place of the missing cigars so all the rows stacked evenly.

 

 

 

Old Style Cheroots box from 1930's is a good example of a NWH - nailed box .

 

2. Nailed Wood with Hardware  (NWH)

  When box makers and collectors refer to a “Nailed Wood with Hardware” (abbreviated NWH) they mean a standard nailed wood box, but instead of being edged and trimmed with paper labels, it is left plain wood. Instead of a muslin hinge, two brass hinges are used. Almost all NWH boxes use the same type hinge.   About 25% of the NWH boxes have clasps (many varieties) and are said to have “full hardware” (abbreviated NWHC). This c1885 NWH 100/20 cheroots box has an overall lid, not common on NWH boxes.  Also uncommon is the very rough wood with distinct saw marks. NWH boxes were used plain or could be ordered sanded and varnished.

    Ad copy on NWH boxes is normally printed directly on the box (POB) one piece of wood at a time by hand-fed steam driven presses. Black is the most common ink, with gold the next most often seen. Red is third, with everything else a distant fourth.  [4233]

        Box makers often integrated die cuts into the designs of NWH boxes. You will find NWH boxes with Standard inner labels, but that's not typical. Box Liners are often blue, pink, or gray paper instead of the more typical cream. NWH boxes were most popular 1885 to 1910, but are not uncommon later. Later ones are inevitably very plain. NWHs remained around until the 1930s (and can be ordered today).

 

"The Boss" from circa 1930's is a good example of the Boite Nature (BN)

 

 

3. Boite Nature  (BN)

    A very specific style which must be all wood, have hinges, a clasp, an inside collar and interlocked corners. The collar is never glued, but remains loose.  The “true BN” does not use an inside paper label and the wood is unfinished. One end of the box is often imprinted BOITE NATURE.  The style is most common from 1920 to 1940 but seen from 1900 to now. Most BN's are 50/13.

        The two biggest users of BN boxes were Jose Escalante (CORINA) and T.E. Brooks (BROOKS & CO.) . Neither brand has collector value, though both have been used to make cigar box musical instruments . BN's were frequently used for private labels for tobacconists, men's clubs, restaurants, and the like.

 

 

"Zerby Special" - circa 1950's a good example of a Semi-boite (SBN) style box.

 

4. Semi-boite Nature (SBN)

 An untrimmed box made entirely of wood that has some of the characteristics of a BN box, but not all, is called a “semi-boite nature” or SBN. For example, an SBN might be made without a collar, or have nailed corners rather than interlocked.

        All cigar boxes are custom boxes to some extent because cigars were measured by 1/32 of an inch, and the box ordered had to fit the cigars made. But when the design of the box changes to something ‘non standard' it's usually called an SBN. Today a great deal of modern cigar boxes are SBNs. Most of the manufacturers of cigar boxes today are located in Honduras, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Spain, Cuba and Nicaragua, the reasons are, manufacturing cost, close to the raw cedar, and to the major cigar manufacturers. There also are some box manufacturers in the United States.

 

 

"OUR BEAUTY" circa 1905 - is a good example of a NWH box style.

 

 

 

5. NWH Box

On NWH boxes is normally printed directly on the box (POB) one piece of wood at a time by hand-fed steam driven presses. Black is the most common ink, with gold the next most often seen. Red is third, with everything else a distant fourth.

 Box makers often integrated die cuts into the designs of NWH boxes. You will find NWH boxes with Standard inner labels, but that's not typical. Box Liners are often blue, pink, or gray paper instead of the more typical cream. NWH boxes were most popular 1885 to 1910, but are not uncommon later. Later ones are inevitably very plain. NWH's remained around until the 1930s (and can be ordered today).

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Classic Humidors...

  Royalty, nobility, politicians and wealthy folks in general have ordered their cigars in fine chests and cabinets since the 1700's. In broad terms, Cabinets are larger, had doors and the cigars were likely to stand on end.  Chests were smaller, had lift-lids, the cigars laid on their side, and looked more like a personal humidor of today. 

During the Victorian age prominent families of Europe and America, including the Hapsburg's, Morgan's and Vanderbilt's, ordered their cigars from Cuba by the tens of thousands, often packed in fine cabinetry.  Boxes were generally inlaid, monogrammed, or labeled with the family crest.  Few have survived, the following are some examples of "fancy humidors" and their history. All Cuban export cigar companies seem to have used fancy chests at one time or another.  

 

President Miguel Gomez Personal Humidor - ca. 1908's

 

 

 

Jose Miguel Gomez, running an orderly and somewhat anti-foreigner campaign, became the second President of Cuba in 1909.  After Gomez was elected U.S. troops once again left Cuba to the Cubans.  Gomez took over a Cuba largely physically recovered from the recent wars, with a prosperous economy, and a moderate but not insurmountable public debt.  Gomez was congenial and popular, and joined the tradition established by Cuban leaders for the previous 400 years by becoming rich in office  and helping friends share the profits. This exquisite chest was custom made for him with cigars by HOYO de MONTERREY.

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General Mario G. Menocal Personal Humidor - circa 1913's

In 1913, conservative General Mario G. Menocal was elected due largely to divisiveness among the opposition.  Paternalistic in an “el patron” tradition, among many other accomplishments, Menocal unified the armed forces, regulated tobacco exportation, and otherwise appealed to a large segment of the working class despite his aristocratic, mill operator and military background.  After 420 years of Spanish, English and U.S. rule he established a Cuban monetary system. Until then, Spanish, English, French and American money were accepted currency for daily trade. Huge numbers of small denomination coins were issued as all but the wealthiest bought life's necessities on a day by day basis.  His custom chest held 25 cigars by PUNCH, a brand first registered in 1840.  Luis Corujo took over the brand in 1874.

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Fulgencio Batista Humidor & Cigar Box by H. Upmann

Continual U.S. behind-the-scenes intervention, near civil war, some strikes, and a murder or two during the 1930's let the U.S. backed Gen. Fulgencio Batista become in charge of the government and set up a series of puppet presidents until 1940 when he him-self was elected president and began to orchestrate a regime of graft and corruption on a scale previously unknown in a nation with 450 years of serious practice. Batista did make an effort to improve conditions for Cubans other than himself, sponsoring welfare laws, public works improvements, pensions and insurance for government workers, minimum wage laws, rural schools and other reforms, personally pocketing only a reasonable share of the various earmarked funds. Rather than hold an election in 1952, Batista declared himself President in violation of the Cuban Constitution.  He pledged order,stability and no more labor unrest, music to the ears of the U.S. government and businessmen as well as most Cubans. Rather than hold an election in 1952 Batista declared himself President in violation of the Cuban Constitution. He pledged order, stability and no more labor unrest, music to the ears of the U.S. government and businessmen as well as most Cubans.  So cynical had the Cuban population become about its own government, that there was little opposition when Batista simply took over, promising to hold free elections again, some time down the road.  Cuba's last President before Castro's revolution, Batista smoked cigars by H. Upmann, founded in 1844.

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Hija de Cabañas y Carbajal - circa 1850's

 

 

 

 

  Wooden box with heavy black paint? with gold trim, probably stenciled. Apparently made for the general trade, but held high quality expensive cigars.  Circa 1850's.     This brand was registered officially in 1810, though some reports says it was in business in the 1790's. In 1848 the brand obtained its present name. H refers to Hija (daughter).  The brand was purchased by the Tobacco Trust, then resold in 1932 to Tabacalera Cubana.

La Escepcion  de Jose Gener  1870's

 

 

 

     One of Cuba's more important 19th century brands packed in a gorgeous  serpentine chest in Chippendale style.  The brand was created in the 1850's by Jose Gener y Batet and has been a ‘sister' brand to HOYO DE MONTERREY. Circa 1875's.

 

Fonseca  by  F.E. Fonseca

 

      

 

Opening factories in New York City (at age 20) and Havana (4 years later), F.E. Fonseca (1868-1929) specialized in private brands. He was known as a tobacco expert and became a friend of politicos and other celebrities worldwide. Among smokers who commissioned him to make their private brands were Edward VII of England and Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm. Can you decipher the stylized monogram?  

Circa 1910's Custom Humidor

 

 

Josè Piedra “mechanical” gem

Unusual ‘mechanical' which coverts cigars laying flat into uprights. Boxes that have pivots or hinges other than the lid are called mechanicals.  Date unknown but believed to be relatively new compared to other boxes in this exhibit, around 1970´s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Por Larrañaga Tobacco Bale Humidor, circa 1906

Distinctive limited edition tobacco bale box presented by Por Larrañaga Cigar Company, just after the turn of the century (1906 ca.). Measures  7” x 7.5” x 4.5” and has a relatively plain Larrañaga paper label inside. A real classic piece.

 

Particulares de Segundo Lopez y Ca. - ca.1900

Rose inlay on a book shape box of a brand and maker non-well known

 

Rotary Convention gift by  El Rey del Mundo -  ca.1928

  

In March of 1928, Rotary International held their convention in Havana.  G. Franklin Lenz gave these book shaped curved spine beauties as gifts to (some?) attendees. Cigars by El Rey del Mundo, a prominent brand founded in 1848. The name translates “King of the World” and in the 1950's it was considered to be the most expensive cigar in the world and a favorite of the very wealthy.

 

 

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11-17-2015