In recent years the celebration of anniversaries has become ingrained in the psyche of Habanos S.A. We have seen specialities launched for the 30th, 35th, 40th and 45th birthdays of Cohiba. The 150th, 155th, 160th, 165th anniversaries of Partagás have been marked, as have the 160th and 165th of Romeo y Julieta and the 160th of H. Upmann. And next year we can look forward to Montecristo becoming an octogenarian brand, which will surely herald something very special.
But there is one anniversary taking place this year that seems to have escaped notice in Cuba.
But there is one anniversary taking place this year that seems to have escaped notice in Cuba. True, it doesn’t relate to a brand, but nevertheless it goes right to the heart of what has given Habanos the global success they have enjoyed for well over a century: quality and authenticity. It is the 125th anniversary of the first Cuban warranty seal.
It was on the 27th March 1889 that La Union de Fabricantes de Tabacos (The Union of Cigar Manufacturers), with Spanish colonial government approval, decided to place a seal on every box of Habanos exported from Cuba. The wording on the seal leaves no doubt about why they did it: “The Cigar Manufacturers’ Union guarantees the origin and legitimacy of cigars which show this seal and will pursue all parties under the law who seek to counterfeit or imitate them”.
Was counterfeit such a big problem all those years ago? The other day, by chance, I found on the internet a quirky pamphlet entitled “Tobacco Whiffs for the Smoking Carriage – First Class” published in 1881, containing a lengthy article on just this subject. The anonymous author acknowledges that “The reputation of Havannah (sic) cigars, as the best in the world, has rightly extended through many generations of smokers.” However he comments that “there has of late been a marked falling-off in quality.”
He cites two main explanations; first, the use of guano (bird excrement) as fertilizer, which has affected the taste, and second, more alarmingly, he reports that an American company has been shipping to Cuba paper suffused with tobacco juice and printed with veins to resemble tobacco where it is used to make Habanos.
In fairness, the “London Journalist”, as he describes himself, confines his quality criticism to the less well-known brands whilst picking names like Partagás, Por Larrañaga, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann and Ramón Allones as being totally dependable. Nevertheless, with stories like that circulating in major European markets, it is hardly surprising that the Cuban industry put its faith in the warranty seal to defend its reputation.
One hundred and twenty-five years and seven designs of warranty seal later, not much has changed.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2014. Read more