Dinner parties center around them. Magazines and books are written about them. Make no mistake, that pungent, sweet aroma filling the air is exactly what you think it is. The cigar is back.
For decades, staunch cigar lovers have endured harsh criticism and have been ostracized from public places. So, why after decades of disfavor, is the cigar reclaiming its reputation as the most gentlemanly of pursuits? Some speculate that as life becomes increasingly complex, the simple pleasure of unwinding with a fine cigar and a glass of port has taken on a renewed importance. Whatever the reason, the cigar's resurgence cannot be denied. And, as more and more cigar afficionados surface, the demand for all things related has skyrocketed. Antique humidors, cutters and lighters are also enjoying increasing popularity and are being quickly scooped off of the market.
History names Columbus and his crew as the first to actually observe people smoking in the New World more than 500 years ago. Thick as a man's wrist and wrapped in corn husks, these early models bore little resemblance to today's cigar.
Though American by invention, it was Spanish-ruled Cuba that elevated the cigar to an art form. It would remain a distinctly Spanish pleasure for almost 300 years before it spread across Europe. Russian Empress Catherine II is credited with inventing the cigar band. She had special silk bands created to protect her fingers from being stained, a practice which continues even today.
By the mid-18th century, the cigar had crossed the Channel and quickly became popular among the English elite. In 1803, Napoleon invaded Spain and discovered the pleasure of the Cuban cigar for himself, making the cigar's hold on Europe complete. It became a symbol of wealth, elegance and power all across the Continent.
The American Civil War ushered in the cigar's American following. Images of war heroes like Generals Grant and Sherman brandishing fat cigars spread across the country as the War Between the States raged on. Politicians, milionaires and generals weilded their stogies as staffs of authority, importance and prominence.
Indeed, by the end of the war, the cigar was an integral part of the Victorian gentleman's attire in America and abroad, and the industry exploded. Special rooms were allocated and outfitted accordingly with handsome cigar boxes, fine lighters and comfortable furnishings. They were the gentleman's retreat where he and his guests could retire after a fine meal for a Cuban cigar and a glass of port while the ladies remained in the dining room, chatting away.
In 1901, Queen Victoria's son Edward VII further elevated the cigar's station when, upon his coronation he declared, "Gentlemen, you may now smoke." The cigar and Edward reigned supreme.
The cigar dominated the tobacco market until the late 1920s when the inexpensive cigarette overshadowed it in popularity. Another blow came in 1961 when President Kennedy declared an embargo on all Cuban goods, including the coveted hand rolled Cuban cigar (JFK secured for himself 1,200 H. Upmann Petit Coronas before the embargo was enacted). That embargo is still in force today, making it illegal to import Cuban cigars to the United States.
It's Not Just a Cigar, It's a Lifestyle...
Enthusiasts will agree, the cigar is one of life's simple pleasures. Over the centuries, numerous accompaniments have been created to enhance that pleasure, including humidors, cutters and lighters. Each is in high demand among collectors and smokers.
The cigar even drew the attention of renowned makers such as Tiffany, Fabergé and Cartier who produced the world's finest cigar cutters and lighters out of gold and sterling, some even encrusted with diamonds and other precious gemstones. They found and eager and waiting market.
The cigar cutter is perhaps the most basic cigar accompaniment, as it has become somewhat gauche to bite off the end of the cigar with your teeth and send it flying. The cutter is used to open the end of the cigar and allow the smoke to flow smoothly. There are various types of cuts depending on the cutter.
Cutters, both pocket and tabletop versions, are among the most collectible of cigar accessories. The first cutters were large, ornate models found in tobacco shops where men would gather to purchase and smoke cigars. A gentleman would buy a cigar, ceremoniously lick the end, use the communal cutter and lean toward the large lighter to draw in the first few puffs. This ritual practice lost favor around the turn of the century upon the discovery of communicable diseases being spread through saliva. In 1913, the government issued a warning that these public cutters did indeed promote the spread of such diseases and encouraged smokers to use personal cutters, resulting in flourishing sales of portable cigar cutters.
Boardroom cigar lighters are also popular among collectors. As the name suggests, these large but movable lighters were used in boardrooms where cigars were often an integral part of important business meetings.
The cigar humidor is probably the most important accessory. The humidor's primary function is to keep cigars at the proper humidity, thereby ensuring freshness for extended periods. There are as many varieties of humidors as there are cigars, ranging from the very basic to the very elaborate. Most fine humidors are lined in Spanish cedar which keeps the cigars smelling fresh and helps to absorb excess moisture. The humidifier, however, is the real key to a good humidor. Most importantly, it should be filled with pure, distilled water, for tap water's impurities will seep into the cigar, altering the taste. A hygrometer inside the humidor indicates the humidity level. Ideally, it should be kept at 70 percent humidity. Cigars that have been allowed to dry out can be rejuvenated by placing them in a humidor for several days.
Early cigar smokers generally kept their cigars out in the open in handsome dispensers or tucked inside extraordinary boxes. These containers were, and remain, the finest ever crafted. Only the best materials such as rosewood, satinwood and mahogany were used to create these splendid containers. Today, most of these antique boxes have been refitted with modern interiors of Spanish cedar and equipped with humidifiers and hygrometers.
This allows the cigar lover to enjoy modern convenience and the old world elegance that can only be found in antique cigar boxes and holders.