A cigar is a tightly-rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is smoked by lighting the tip and drawing the smoke into the mouth.
They are produced by using three types of tobacco leaf; the wrapper is the outer-casing of a cigar, made with the long supple leaves from the widest part of the plant.
The filler is the tightly-rolled bunch of leaves in the middle which provide the majority of the flavour, and the binder is an elastic leaf used to hold the bundle together.
Unlike cigarettes, the smoke from a cigar is usually not inhaled and they are judged on the flavour of their smoke.
This flavour can vary with different strains of tobacco plant, and whether the plants are grown in the sun or the shade.
Sun-grown tobacco plants have darker leaves and produce a more robust, powerful flavour whilst shade-grown plants with lighter leaves give a milder, more delicate taste.
The best quality cigars are hand-made, as the makers are able to keep the tobacco moist throughout the process and use the highest standard of leaves.
Cuban cigars are generally considered to be the best in the world, and are some of the most expensive. This is due to the high quality of tobacco grown in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo and Pinar Del Rio regions, which have the perfect conditions for the plant to thrive.
The country also has a long history of cigar production, and this level of knowledge and experience means the cigar rollers are highly-skilled.
However, the U.S embargo on importing goods from Cuba means their cigars cannot be bought legally in the United States, This has driven prices up further, as well as pushing their sales underground and creating a market for fake Cuban cigars of a lower quality.
The best way to store cigars is in a humidor, which is a box manufactured specifically for the purpose. A humidor allows for cigar storage in a very controlled environment. It allows for the maintenance of peak, stable relative humidity levels, keeping the cigars at the desired 12-14% of total weight in moisture.
Cigars taste better with age, and the market for collectible vintage cigars is a strong one (particularly those dating from before 1920).
However, to ensure they age well cigars need to be kept in specific conditions as the level of humidity in which they are stored can greatly affect the flavour. Different types of cigar are stored better under different conditions, but in general a humidity level of 55% to 75% RH is advised.
People who collect cigars sometimes also collect the ephemera that surrounds them, such as antique cigar boxes and tins, cigar cutters, lighters and vintage advertising signs.
Tobacco was first brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus and his crew, after they were introduced to it by natives of Cuba and the Caribbean islands on their famous voyage of 1492.
People native to North, South and Central America had already used tobacco for centuries, and its use soon caught on in Europe.
The habit of smoking tobacco became a common practice of Spanish and European sailors, and it spread through Spain and Portugal during the early part of the 16th century.
Spain began to import large quantities of tobacco from Cuba during this time, and its use spread to Germany, Holland and England.
It was believed to have medicinal qualities, and was recommended for toothache, falling fingernails, worms, halitosis, lockjaw & cancer.
Smoking was further popularised in the English Royal court by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh after they returned from the Americas.
The primary use of tobacco during this time was in pipes and it was not until the start of the 18th century that cigar production began in Spain, using imported Cuban tobacco.
The rest of Europe continued to use pipes as their main method of smoking tobacco, and although there was a small level of cigar production recorded in Germany, Holland and France it was not hugely popular or widespread outside of Spain.
However, in 1762 the English captured Havana from the Spanish and took control of the city for nine months.
During this time the vast number of ships and crews that passed through the trading port spread Cuban tobacco and cigars across the world, and the Spanish secret was no more.
Over the next few years century cigar shops and factories appeared in Britain, and their popularity caught on throughout North American port cities. By the end of the 18th century there were cigar factories across Europe and several in North America.
By 1796 most of the cigars smoked in U.S. came from the U.S. or Europe, although most cigars advertised in U.S. claimed to be from Havana.
The 19th century saw companies importing and exporting cigars across the globe.
In Europe in 1826, cigars were categorised as five different types: Havanas, Imitation Havanas, First Quality, Second quality and Third Quality. After taxes, Imitation Havanas cost equivalent of $3.50 per box of 100 at retailers. Lowest quality retailed for a penny or less.
In 1865 the cigar box was born, as a response by the American Government to the tax evasion methods of cigar manufacturers.
Before that time it was almost impossible for tax men to count a cigar factory’s inventory, due to their sheer number and lack of labelling.
In 1865 a law was passed requiring that every domestic cigar be packed in boxes of 25, 50, 100, 250 and 500, whether the factory rolled 50 cigars each day or 50,000.
In New York, cigars were made by rollers working in their own homes.
It was reported that as of 1883, cigars were being manufactured in 127 apartment houses in New York, employing 1,962 families and 7,924 individuals. A state statute banning the practice, passed at the urging of trade unions on the basis that the practice suppressed wages, was ruled unconstitutional less than four months later.
The industry, which had relocated to Brooklyn, then returned to New York.
During this time there also began the dubious practice of fake cigar auctions, where victim would be tricked by con artists into buying boxes of ‘cigars’ made from cabbage leaves and brown paper marked as ‘Havanas’.
In 1915 the first cigar-making machine was built and the strong distinction between hand-made and machine-made cigars, which still exists today, was born.
During the 20th century cigars were surpassed by cigarettes in terms of popularity and production.
Hand-rolled cigars began to be seen as luxury items, and during the Depression of the 1930s Americans could no longer afford to import Cuban cigars, turning to those produced with home-grown tobacco and rolled by machine.
In 1962 the U.S issued an embargo on imports of all Cuban goods in response to Fidel Castro’s communist dictatorship.
Real Cuban cigars became high-priced black market items, and to this day are illegal to buy, sell or import in the United States.
Types and manufacturers
There are many various types of cigar, which can vary depending on their size, age, the type of tobacco plant used and where it was grown.
For collectors these variations are important factors in judging the quality and value of a cigar.
Another vital factor is the particular brand, as many collectors choose to focus on the products of a specific company.
The world’s most expensive cigar
The most expensive single cigar ever sold at auction is a half-smoked 4" La Corona cigar belonging to Sir Winston Churchill.
The British Prime Minister, famed for his legendary love of cigars, stubbed out the cigar as he rushed to a vital war meeting in 1941 and it was retained by a Downing Street aide as a gift for her son.
The cigar, along with the letter that accompanied it at the time, sold in January 2010 for £4,500 at an auction by Key's auctioneers in Aylsham, England.