Too Precious to Smoke
Cigar collecting is all about having money to burn. A collector seeks out the rarest smokes, keeps them judiciously humidified, perhaps for years, and then—most likely on a whim—lights up that prized panatela or cherished Churchill and savors every puff as it is gradually reduced to ashes.
Indeed, there are few other hobbies in which collectors destroy their prized possessions for the sheer pleasure of it. But lately that perspective has been shifting toward that of the wine aficionados who curate their cellars based not only on the pleasure principle but also on their ever-increasing values. A growing interest in cigars as collectibles has helped drive pre-embargo Cubans to staggering prices that held through the Great Recession. And some of the more coveted current releases, Cuban and otherwise, are being quickly snapped up and stored by the purchasers, who wait for enough demand to warrant selling to eager private parties or at auction. Small wonder, then, that counterfeiting has assumed epidemic proportions and that cigars, once a symbol of luxuriant relaxation, are now perceived by many as an investment.
"Interest and prices in good-quality pre-embargo Havana cigars are now at an all-time high," says Mitchell Orchant of C.Gars Ltd., a prominent U.K. cigar merchant and cigar auction house. "This is where we predicted the market would go, five years ago. Early buyers have seen substantial increases in values."
Cigar collecting has existed for more than a century, as evidenced at James J. Fox cigar merchants in London, where families have stored boxes of Havanas for generations. But only since the late 1990s have auction houses such as Butterfield & Butterfield (now Bonhams) in the United States and Christie’s and C.Gars in London sold cigars, often at the end of a wine and spirits auction. Cuba began holding charity auctions of limited-edition Havanas in the 1990s, most notably during the Festival del Habano each February. Collectors, particularly those in the United States, are more likely to seek a tobacconist that specializes in ultra-premium cigars, since many have direct contact with the distributors and the factories.
Havanas are the most universally collectible cigars today, with current offerings like the Cohiba Behike 56 bringing $53 each and past releases like the no-longer-produced Cuban Davidoff Dom Pérignon fetching $550 apiece or more. The rarest category of collectible Cuban cigars was produced before February 3, 1962, the date President John F. Kennedy signed Proclamation 3447, which banned all U.S. trade with Cuba. Pre-embargo Havanas are the only Cuban cigars that Americans can legally possess, provided there is documentation—such as a tax stamp or a sales receipt—proving that the cigars were purchased before the embargo. These cigars command premium prices if they have been stored correctly, not only because they can be legally bought and sold in the United States but also because many of them have mellowed and matured, like a fine vintage port. A pre-embargo Montecristo No. 2 is worth $350 or more today; by comparison, a newly released Cuban Montecristo is about $17.50 in Europe. The prices at cigar lounges and restaurants can be even more staggering. At the Wellesley in London, a 40th Anniversary Cohiba Behike from 2005 is about $7,200. The French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley recently added a rare-cigar list that includes a 1961 Romeo y Julieta 5 × 40 Belvedere Corona for $350.
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