JJ Fox of St James’s, one of the best known tobacco shops in the world is celebrating its glittering history with a special release of 225 boxes of Padrón cigars.
It all started in 1787, when Welshman, Christopher Lewis, opened his first tobacco shop at 14 Long Acre in London’s Covent Garden. He had no idea his family business would last five generations. Or that it would survive two World Wars, and smoking bans. Or that ten reigning British monarchs, except Queen Victoria, would become regular customers, as did most of the world’s most famous smokers.
Back in 1787, despite Christopher’s connections in the City, his fledgling business was on the point of closing when his cousin, Robert Lewis, stepped in to save the day. Robert was a pharmaceutical drug broker who introduced Christopher to his friend, John Harrison.
The three managed to put the small tobacco shop back into profit from the steady sales of tobacco, snuff, pipes, pouches and smoking sundries. Their shop sold Britain’s first Cuban seegars (as they were then known) in 1830. In 1834-5, the firm opened a shop in St James’s Street, in the heart of the hub of British society and never looked back.
While Britain’s smoking history was being made, Ireland’s leading tobacco firm, James J Fox, was formed in Dublin in 1881. Fox opened its first tobacco shop in London in 1947. On 14 September 1992, James J Fox took over Robert Lewis’s business, uniting two of the most respected names in the cigar world.
Both companies now trade as JJ Fox (St James’s) Ltd and run the cigar departments of Harrods and Selfridges. The story of their joint business is set out through the exhibits in their 19 St James’s Street Fox Museum, which includes the world’s oldest box of Havana cigars – made in 1851 for the Great Exhibition, Sir Winston Churchill’s favourite chair – where the great man sat on frequent visits to the shop, details of former customer Oscar Wilde’s debt, and eight of the company’s Royal Warrants granted over the years. Plus five huge hand-written ledgers of customer records from 1880-1905 noting the smoking requirements of the Bengal Lancers’ Mess, Russian Royal Family, and European Royalty.
Customers to what is believed to be the UK’s, and probably the world’s, oldest tobacco shop have also included countless ordinary hard-working smokers. Including a long-distance lorry driver who regularly parks his vehicle on the yellow line outside 19 St James’s Street while he slips inside for yet another box of his favourite cigars.
He, and other loyal customers, and suppliers, will be invited to several smoker-friendly events planned for JJ Fox’s 225th celebrations, including a special party on 20 September 2012 at 19 St James’s Street. What will get everybody salivating is the opportunity to sample a new, specially produced, unique, hand-rolled 52 x 6” Padrón cigar. It will be available in numbered boxes of 10, one for each year of the company’s history. The cigars promise to be a full-bodied, complex smoke for they were manufactured in June 2012 at the Padrón factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, from leaves aged a minimum of ten years from the very finest tobacco.
As for JJ Fox’s future, that stands on the 350 vitolas (25 Cuban brands, 17 non-Cuban) it stocks in its walk-in humidor, and the aged Havanas it finds for cigar passionados. “Tradition and history are important for our business”, said Rob Fox, director. “But all our efforts and time are focussed on what today’s cigar consumers’ demand. Ultimately, getting that right will determine how many more anniversaries we can enjoy.”
JJ Fox (St James’s) Ltd
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2012. Read more