As we’ve discovered, the world of vintage cigars is poorly defined, and even less understood. With some information from a few specialists, I found out that vintage buyers can be divided into two distinct groups.
Dr. Maximilian Herzog, owner of three cigar specialist stores in Berlin, is regarded as a shrewd broker on the vintage market. His website is a key resource which allows buyers to select the exact year of the cigars they desire. “There are two completely different groups of vintage buyers,” explains Herzog.
“One group is looking for the very best smoking experience. They track down specific box codes and limited edition cigars and look to smoke cigars at their peak. The other group consists of collectors or investors who wish to buy rare and vintage cigars simply because they like to have them. They may also collect with an eye to making money on the investment in, say, 10 years’ time.”
Amir Saarony, author of the book Partagás El Libro, and a vintage cigar broker and collector, also agrees there are two types of vintage buyer. “There are collectors who buy for vanity, others for a personal obsession to possess that which is rare,” he says. “Many of these buy for investment purposes as well, knowing that over a period of time their collections will accrue greater value.” This sector, says Saarony, tends to comprise of younger buyers who are more patient to see values rise over time.
“The second sector comprises of smokers, who tend to enjoy smoking something which is rare and difficult to attain. It’s a badge of success for their collecting and generosity. Sometimes their purchases are made as a group, where each member gets to enjoy the thrill and spoils.” This group usually comprises of older buyers.
Two distinct camps pursuing the same precious cargo.
In the USA, there is an active market in pre-embargo cuban cigars, which can therefore still be imported, bought and sold in America. There’s also a small but thriving niche for aged and vintage New World cigars.
New World vintage buyers are generally categorized as those purchasing exclusively to smoke; they enjoy the flavors of well-blended New-World leaf. And are more concerned with smoking a cigar at its best than at its most collectable – which is what first attracted Jonathan Fiant. His passion for vintage cigars led to the creation of a new, unique business, Cigars by Jonathan, based in Houston, Texas.
“I procure vintage, aged, rare pre-embargo and New World cigars, bringing them to the market for my clients to enjoy,” he explains. “I build relationships with my clients, get to understand their palates. I’m always looking for cigars that may have been overlooked, and match them with the right owners who’ll not only cherish and enjoy them but will also retell their story long after they’ve been smoked … With age, some of these [cigars] have turned into true gems. I take it upon myself to find that ‘needle in the haystack.’”
Such “needles” in Jonathan’s portfolio include pre-embargo Cubans dating back to the early 1900s, and rare and hard-to-find modern productions from the likes of Illusione, Benji Menendez and La Flor Dominicana.
In a small but growing market, Fiant says that prices can range from $20 to $1,000 (EUR 18.00 – 930.00) a cigar. He currently stocks Avo Limited Editions, including the 75th Anniversary released in 2001, Illusione Nosotros, a 2009 release; and a personal favorite, the Benji Menendez Partagás Master Series Majestuoso, originally released in 2009. He also has the Fuente Fuente OpusX; Arturo Fuente Añejos; Padrón Series 1926 Maduro and Natural, and Tatuaje Reserva Cojonu 2003, 2006 and 2009, among many others. Fiant sees exciting times ahead: “Sales growth has been in double digits every year since we launched in 2011!” But still, the biggest draw for vintage buyers – collectors and smokers – is the beloved Cuban cigar, proven by the biannual influx of worldwide enthusiasts to the C.Gars Ltd auctions, London.
Which specific cigars and vintages set these collectors’ pulses racing?
Cuban Davidoffs, Dunhills and other early Habanos Limited Editions from the 1990s remain hardy perennials. I wonder how many smoker-collectors would dare to break the 1990 Cubatabaco 1492 Humidor, containing 50 cigars? It recently sold at auction in London for more than £25,000. Other recent “hot lots” include highly collectable ceramic jars, like the Cohiba 30th Anniversary or Montecristo Millennium, and commemorative humidors like the Limited Edition Hunters & Frankau Por Larrañaga Magnificos humidor from 2008.
“Everyone has their own personal ‘Holy Grail,’” says Nic Barker, cigar consultant at London’s JJ Fox, which has a vast collection of vintage cigars hidden deep in its vaults under St James’s Street. “Popular sought-afters include Davidoff Dom Perignons, Dunhill Don Candidos and Cabinettas and, more recently, Cohiba Sublimes 2004 and the 8-9-8 format for both Ramón Allones and Partagás. We deal with a range of customers from around the world – highly experienced smokers who know how to appreciate fine, aged sticks.”
The “big name” Cuban brands always attract attention from vintage enthusiasts. Ten Cohiba 30th Anniversary Robusto Especiales made in 1996, for instance, recently fetched more than £3,500 at auction, and the 2010 Partagás 165th Anniversary humidor of 100 cigars sold for nearly £6,000 – priced at around £2,000 on first release.
“I like to just buy and keep quiet,” Italian collector Gino Iannillo tells me during a discussion on the various attitudes of the market’s key “players.” “Each person can be in love with a brand and or a type of product. Some want pre-Castro, others just humidors or jars. Dunhill and Davidoff cigars are the most searched these days, I think, but not necessarily the best cigars to smoke now.
“It’s not always easy to find merchants you can trust, but both the La Casa Del Habano and JJ Fox in London are very good”. It’s a valuable insight into a mysterious world. The vintage cigar market can be an enigmatic place, with many buyers and sellers unwilling to reveal their sources, collections or investments for fear of alerting their competitors. Thanks to the generous assistance of a few select insiders, my inside view has been revelatory. My education continues.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2015. Read more