Makram Salha is not only a passionate cigar smoker; he probably has one of the largest private collections of vintage cigars in the world. And it all started with wine.
“My father used to take me to wine auctions in the UK, teaching me about wines and prices. Every now and then they put cigars in the catalogs, so I decided to start researching cigars.”
His first purchase was a box of 1980s Bolívar Gold Medals.
“I bought a few boxes for GBP 110 each. I smoked one – unfortunately, because later I realized the price went up by about 25 times. I have no regrets. At the end of the day, it’s about enjoyment, right?”
Makram made his first intended collector’s purchase when production of Cuban Davidoffs was halted to move it to the Dominican Republic. He bought several boxes of the Dom Pérignon and the 80th Aniversario in tubes.
In total, Salha has about 400 to 500 boxes, with everything from five to 25 cigars. Basically they are all Cuban, but he does have a few individual non-Cubans as well.
“I have some Arturo Fuentes from the late 1990s, for instance, when they were impossible to get. I had to bribe someone to get them,” he smiles.
The most valuable item in the collection is a box of Cohiba 40th Anniversary cigars, the original Behike.
“I have a friend who bought a box for USD 135,000 last year, but it dropped in price when the 50th Anniversary came out. Now it’s maybe worth around USD 100,000.”
Another rarity is a box of Bolívar Armonías made for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“There were of course 2008 boxes made at the retail price of CNY 8,888.88, but they were very scarce. When Sir David Tang, the former owner of Pacific Cigars, visited Lebanon my dad told him I wanted a box and he just laughed. Eventually, a friend of mine in China actually found two boxes for me at the airport, believe it or not.”
Salha’s most cherished box is one he got immediately after he bought the Cuban Davidoffs. A former employee at Dunhill told him that they still had boxes of Cuban Dunhills at their London store. “He said to tell them I was a friend of so-and-so, and they’d give me some boxes,” he recounts. He was able to buy two boxes of Dunhill Estupendos and two of the Dunhill Havana Club cigars, but that wasn’t enough.
“The Estupendo is one of the best cigars I’ve ever tried, so I sent my wife to the same store, and she came out with five boxes of each.”