Go into any humidor, and you’ll find 90 percent of the cigars displayed in the same way: inside a cigar box. Originally, cigar boxes were used to protect cigars during transportation. But in more recent times, cigar boxes have evolved into a utility to attract customers, celebrate special releases, and describe the cigars they contain. Currently, box production is one of the limiting factors in the cigar supply chain, and some manufacturers have resorted to shipping cigars to retailers in bundles to cut down the wait time. While cigar packaging isn’t something that most consumers knowingly seek out, they’re a critical component of the product cigar manufacturers put out.
Most historians credit Cuban manufacturer H. Upmann with being the first to package cigars in boxes for shipment. This was done to protect the cigars from damage during transport via ship to the United States, but it also had the added benefit of better maintaining humidity. These boxes were originally made with Spanish cedar, and later glass and tin. In 1863, legislation was passed that required cigar manufacturers to package their cigars in boxes. Later, this legislation was amended to require those boxes to contain either 25, 50, 100, or 250 cigars. Although it has since been repealed, the law was originally passed to ensure that the proper amount of tax was collected from retailers.
Traditionally, cigars are arranged in one of several distinctive styles.
Cabinet selection. These boxes typically have a slide-top lid and hold either 25 or 50 cigars.
8-9-8. Though varied in shape, the cigars are contained within the packaging in 3 rows of 8,9, and 8, respectively, and are held together in this shape by a ribbon.
Flat Top. Cigars are packaged in two layers and stacked on top of each other, traditionally with a top row of 13 and a bottom row of 12.
Recently, manufacturers have been experimenting with new presentations. A couple of our favorites include the Oliva 135th and ADVentura Conqueror, both of whom feature eye-catching designs that display their cigars in unique ways. One of the more modern takes on boxes is the Crux line, which features a minimalistic design. While it’s standard for manufacturers to label their boxes with the line name, cigar size, and even manufacturing dates, it’s becoming increasingly popular for the packaging to include visuals of tasting notes and strength level. These visual cues help educate customers about what they’re buying and also serve to make the jobs of tobacconists easier.
The cigar box is so instrumental to cigar manufacturers that several have integrated box factories into their organization. Plasencia, Perdomo, and Eiroa are three such examples. All maintain strict quality standards for the raw materials used as well as the finished product. Spanish cedar is still the gold standard for cigar boxes, but it can also be costly, often adding as much as $2 to the cost of each cigar. For lower-priced cigars, other woods like eucalyptus, white oak, and yellow popper—in addition to paper and cardboard—are used. While some high-end boxes are still hand-painted, many manufacturers employ screen printing to produce boxes more quickly and cheaply. Wooden boxes use a combination of lacquer and stain to bring out their natural beauty.
Cigar boxes have become so ubiquitous that they’ve gone on to serve secondary purposes. Going as far back as the Civil War, cigar boxes were repurposed into fiddles, and cigar-box guitars were an essential part of the blues movement during the Depression when many artists were too poor to be able to afford traditionally built guitars. Famed artists such as Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones), Paul McCartney (The Beatles), Billy Gibbon (ZZ Top), and Ed King (Lynyrd Skynyrd) have all played cigar-box guitars. There’s also a variety of art made out of cigar boxes.
Cigar boxes can also be used for the continued proper care of cigars. For example, if your cigars ever become over-humidified, you can use a technique called dry-boxing. This is done by placing the over-humidified cigars into a box without humidification for a couple of days, which is a significantly more controlled process than just leaving the cigars out to dry.
Although they’re sometimes taken for granted, cigar boxes are an integral part of cigar culture. So the next time you’re in the humidor, take a few minutes to look at the packaging. Few products have the detail and craftsmanship that cigar boxes do.
Check back in next week, where we’ll be taking a closer look at box-pressed cigars—where the box actually shapes the cigars contained within them!