The Pa­per that Spruces Up Cigars


Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - CONTENTS - BY / ZOILA LAPIQUE PHO­TOS / EX­CE­LEN­CIAS ARCHIVES

Bands al­ways bear the Ha­bano brand name printed in pa­per or carry in the mid­dle, in a cir­cle, the faces of the char­ac­ters used in the la­bels or other dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments. It's our be­lief that the use of bands started fully back in the 1870s or 1880s with the so-called brand­ings or la­bels that were used to cover the cigar boxes, as well as each and ev­ery Ha­bano in par­tic­u­lar.

Faces of world per­son­al­i­ties ded­i­cated to dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties have been linked to the cre­ation of Ha­bano brands, de­pend­ing on the mar­ket they are meant to pry into, ei­ther in Europe, the U.S. or the rest of the Amer­i­cas. There are good cases in point, like the ones ded­i­cated to Queen Vic­to­ria and her son, King Ed­ward VII of Eng­land, or Span­ish King Al­fonso XIII, who is de­picted in sev­eral mo­ments of his life­time. Other in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters are Venezue­lan free­dom fighter Si­mon Bo­li­var, U.S. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill dur­ing World War II, a deep-rooted Ha­bano smoker.

It was also com­mon­place to stamp the names of places on the bands, such as as­so­ci­a­tions, fancy clubs, dif­fer­ent events –like base­ball games, horse races, theater plays and the like.

Ev­ery so of­ten, the art of lithog­ra­phy is as­so­ci­ated to to­bacco. Per­haps few peo­ple know this link­age was born out of mu­sic as far back as 1822, when a French­man named San­ti­ago Lessieur y Du­rand opened a work­shop to re­pro­duce mu­sic scores in a news­pa­per called “The Mu­si­cal Jour­nal”, a joint pub­lish­ing ef­fort with Span­ish mu­si­cian En­rique Gon­za­lez.

Let's not for­get that to­bacco en­dured a cen­tury-old em­bargo in Cuba (1717-1817), and there­fore it was only sold to Spain through three dif­fer­ent sea­ports just to feed the nec­es­sary raw ma­te­rial for the for­mer Seville fac­tory. That prompted a surge in to­bacco smug­gling, with Cuban and for­eign ves­sels scour­ing the is­land na­tion's coasts as the use of to­bacco in Europe was clearly on the rise in a va­ri­ety of ways: snuff, rape, in car­rot­shaped con­tain­ers full of to­bacco pow­der and as rolled cigars in a mul­ti­tude of forms and sizes –they even­tu­ally gave birth to the name vi­tola. Each and ev­ery Ha­bano could be told apart for both their thick­ness and spe­cific size.

Ha­banos were named after the port where they used to be shipped over­seas: the port of Ha­vana. They were packed de­pend­ing on the vitolas, in boxes or cases made of cedar and with la­bels glued

A cigar From Manicaragua With a lovely band That fits the wrap­per, And in­stead of a filler I found her let­ter For me more beau­ti­ful Than the sug­ar­cane flower

on the top con­tain­ing the fol­low­ing in­for­ma­tion: brand name, a draw­ing of an im­age that some­times stood for the name of the brand, the name of the fac­tory and the owner, the fac­tory ad­dress and, above all, the key­word: Ha­vana, in­di­cat­ing the ori­gin of the very best to­bacco grown and man­u­fac­tured in the whole world.

More la­bels popped up as time rolled on in a bid to stave off forgery and im­i­ta­tions around the globe against the ma­jor out­puts com­ing out of the Cuban fac­to­ries. Some ma­jor stand­outs back then were hierro, vista, bofe­ton, pa­peleta, tapa­clavo, filetes and anil­las (bands).

This much brings to mind the verses of Cuban poet Gabriel de la Con­cep­ción Valdés (Placido), who was ex­e­cuted by a fir­ing squad in 1844, en­ti­tled“the Sug­ar­cane Flower”, in which he de­scribes two lovers in a coun­try­side dance and how they let each other know about their love:

Bands have been pre­cisely one of the best-known, most sought-after and col­lectable-prone la­bels through­out his­tory, not only be­cause of their func­tion, but also due to its lo­ca­tion around the cigars.

One par­tic­u­lar band is the one that car­ries the im­age of the Vir­gen de la Cari­dad del Co­bre, Cuba's pa­tron saint. This one clearly il­lus­trates the mix­ture of all those sto­ries and re­al­i­ties that round out Cuban to­bacco's grandil­o­quence and au­tochthonous char­ac­ter. This is no doubt a com­bi­na­tion of art and tra­di­tion, the iden­tity of a na­tion whose his­tory is in­com­plete with­out men­tion­ing one of its most rep­re­sen­ta­tive el­e­ments: the Ha­bano.

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