A little over a year ago, we launched an exciting new feature on our website called the "Cigar.com Luxury Collection." While we try to be all things for all cigar enthusiasts, I have always thought we excelled in a few areas; mainly customer service, having a knowledgeable staff of cigar experts on hand, but also maintaining a collection of incredibly unique, rare cigars for the most discerning collector. Looking back on Cigar.com’s fifteen year history, I have been asked to find some very interesting and specialty items ranging from famous humidors such as those owned by Napoleon, Batista, and even George Burns, all the way to cigars that have been out of production for a century or more. The challenge in finding such amazing treasures is frankly one of the most exciting parts of my job. In my search for the obscure, I tend to stumble upon other unique items that I simply cannot pass up. So as our own “mature cigar collection” grew in size, our “Cigar.com Luxury Collection” was born and many of these rare, unique items I’ve come across over the years are now available to our clients.
In spring 2013, I was searching for a box of Hoyo de Monterrey cigars from the 1960s when production was moved from Cuba to Tampa, Florida with the onset of the Cuban Embargo. On my quest, I discovered an admirable collection of mature cigars. Among the collection was a box of Partagas, which caught my eye because of its tax stamp. I have always been a big fan of Partagas. The brand maintains a rich history that, throughout the years, has always been represented by some of the industry’s greatest cigar men. Over time, the brand has pioneered several new concepts that have shaped the cigar industry in general. Going back to my earlier comment, having written in the past about Cameroon wrapper and the face of Partagas, cigar master Benji Menendez, I could not resist discussing this brand and its historic roots, all of which collide in this 35-year-old box of vintage cigars I randomly stumbled upon.
While the date of 1845 on Partagas cigar bands denotes the traditional beginning of the pre-revolutionary history of Partagas, the true history of the brand is believed to be even older but unfortunately, there are very few records about its history before 1845. The original owner, Jaime Partagas, immigrated to Cuba from Spain in the early 19th century and first started his career as a tobacco grower, cultivating some of the most coveted leaf in all of Vuelta Abajo, Cuba. While his farms were certainly ideal, it is widely believed his tobacco was most sought after because of his processing methods in curing and fermentation. During this time, fermentation was a simple procedure and Jaime Partagas is credited as being one of the first leaf growers to really start experimenting with different processes. While growing tobacco, Jaime operated a small Chinchalito, which was typical of the era in which the very first Partagas cigars were made.
In 1945, thanks to the money he earned from the high demand for his tobacco, Jaime Partagas opened “Real Fabrica de Tobaco Partagas” on Industria Steet in Havana. The factory was massive, certainly one of the largest of its kind at that time. Interestingly, the factory is still in operation today under the same name and is Cuba’s oldest cigar factory. Jaime and his Partagas brand continued successfully, providing cigars for some of the world’s wealthiest family’s until the mid-1860s, when Jaime Partagas was murdered under mysterious circumstances. After Jaime’s death, his son Jose would carry the family torch until the late 1800s, when the family sold the factory and brand to Jose Bances who, just a few years later, then sold the assets to Ramon Cifuentes and Jose Fernandez.
Today, the name Ramon Cifuentes and Partagas go hand in hand. Throughout the early 20th Century, more partners came and went but by the time Ramon passed away in 1938, the Cifuentes family was the sole owner and Ramon Cifuentes Jr. took the helm. As the family acquired a handful of other notable brands such as Bolivar and Ramon Allones, the factory would be one of Havana’s largest producers in the 1950s, rolling one in every four cigars exported from Cuba.
After the revolution, the Castro regime seized the factory and in 1961, the Cifuentes family left Cuba in search of new opportunities. By the late 1960s, Ramon Cifuentes met with the Cullman family, owners of General Cigar, and a new partnership was formed. At the time, General Cigar had a formidable cigar and tobacco operation in Jamaica and was forging the post embargo landscape of the U.S. cigar market. In Jamaica, Ramon was instrumental in the development of the Macanudo brand, which debuted in 1968. This era also marked an important time in the Partagas history books as Ramon would meet Benji Menendez at the factory in Jamaica and a long relationship would be forged; Benji would become Ramon’s mentee, teaching him all of the secret crafts of the Cifuentes family so that he would one day, as he does today, represent the Partagas brand.
In the early 1970s, the Cullman family discovered what is today one of the industry’s most popular wrappers: Cameroon grown in Central Africa. As the Cullman’s hurriedly began purchasing as much Cameroon leaf as they could, Ramon Cifuentes fell in love with the majestic leaf as he started blending some of the finest creations of his life. Not since he left Cuba had he seen such a wonderful tobacco. In fact, he admired the tobacco so much, that he felt it was time for him to reintroduce his family’s Partagas brand to the U.S. market, this time with a toothy, oily Cameroon wrapper and a blend of Cuban-seed, Jamaican long fillers. During its time, the Jamaican-made Partagas was one of the strongest cigars on the market, a big departure from the culture of the day which called for mellow-bodied cigars adorning Connecticut wrappers. Cameroon wrapper grew quickly in popularity thanks to Ramon and the Cullmans. Such notable cigar makers as the Fuentes and Newmans would later migrate their production to this wrapper. After a little more than ten years in Jamaica, the Partagas brand would move to the Dominican Republic as Hurricane Gilbert proved fatal for the Jamaican cigar industry. The blend, being made today under the watchful eye of Benji Menendez, stays true to the post-revolutionary roots of the brand, still adorning a wrapper grown in the same region of Cameroon.
WHAT A FIND!
Going back to the box that motivated me to write this article; we located it still sealed in its original packaging, complete with cellophane with the price embossed on the outside: $1.50. Based on our research, we were able to date it sometime between 1974 and 1978, making it one of the first production Partagas boxes outside Cuba and one of the very first cigars ever rolled with Cameroon wrapper. While I knew the box would lose value once it was opened, I simply couldn’t resist. I knew they had been well kept but thoughts were racing through my mind: “Would they be smokable? Maybe it will be a box of broken cigars and lose tobacco? If they are in good shape, what will they taste like?”
Once I cracked the seal, my awaiting eyes were greeted with familiar tinted cellophane that only comes from long term aging, which cloaked two pristine rows of premium handmades. I gently removed one cigar from its cellophane and surgically cut the cap. What a smoke! Because it was blended to be a stronger cigar for its era, the rich and hearty tobaccos had tamed gracefully over 35 years. While the smoke was smooth and buttery in texture, it still had several pronounced flavors and a fine balance of competing aromas. Be sure to check out this very rare box along with some of our other prized finds in our one and only Luxury Collection!