Posted October 10, 2000, 4:45 p.m. e.s.t.
It pays to be famous -- even when it comes to selling cigars.
Christie's October 5 auction in London drew record prices, including one lot of cigars that sold for more than $1,600 apiece. The more than 400 boxes of cigars drew more than $833,000 in bids.
One of the highlights of last Thursday's auction was the sale of 43 boxes of smokes from Lady Mary Soames, the daughter of British hero Sir Winston Churchill. Bidders paid just over $219,000 for the cigars, from corona-sized, four-decades-old Don Candido Dunhill Seleccion Suprema No. 50s ($2,940 for a cabinet of 50) to robusto-shaped Dunhill Cabinettas ($9,075 for a cabinet of 25) made in 1980.
"It was a combination of the quality of the cigars and their provenance," said Brian Ebbesen, who heads cigar sales for the London-based auction house. "The cigars were in superb condition."
What was most obvious about the four-hour sale in one of Christie's King Street auction rooms was that the people attending the auction had very little to do with the majority of the buying. Most of the bids came from the five or six employees manning telephones during the sale as well as a big, husky man bidding while seated in the front of the room. He was buying "for his boss," as he put it.
I asked the man, who looked like a bodyguard, who his boss was, and he didn't give me an answer. I wasn't about to push the issue. I did overhear him say that his boss lived in Hong Kong and gave him explicit orders to buy, buy and buy. Nonetheless, he didn't acquire all the boxes in the sale. In fact, a good number went to an anonymous American on the telephone as well as a couple of other high rollers from Hong Kong.
The American set a new world record price for cigars paying $4,950 for a paper box of pre-embargo Partagas Lusitanias with pointed ends. The cigars came with individual cedar tubes but $1,650 a cigar sounds rather high to me, even if money is no object. Nonetheless, they were probably the most beautiful individual cigars offered in the sale. When I looked at nearly all the lots a few days before the sale, my mouth dropped open in awe when I took one of these rare Lucies out of their cedar tubes. It was hard not to light it on the spot.
The same shaped-cigars in a partial cabinet of 50 (only 25 were left) cigars from the late 1960s sold for $16,500 a few lots farther into the sale. A better buy, but not a giveaway at $660 a stick. Shaped Lusitanias (50 in all) made in 1995 were included in a humidor to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Partagas. Selling for $14,850, this lot also included 50 robustos and 50 coronas. A decent buy, since the limited-edition humidor (only 150 were made) usually sells for 20 or 30 percent more at auction. Shaped Lusitanias are supposedly to be part of a limited-edition humidor to celebrate the 155th anniversary of Partagas, which should be available in November in Havana (Click here for details). If Cubans make any more of these "limited-edition humidors," they won't be very special anymore, but that's another column.
What was truly special, and sold for a lot of money, were Cuban Davidoffs. Of course, Davidoff cigars have not been made in Havana since the early 1990s, so they are becoming rarer and rarer all the time -- and a hell of a lot more expensive. The giant sized 80th Anniversarios went for crazy prices. A box of 20 sold for $17,325, more than $866 per stick. The other four boxes, two containing 10 cigars, one with five cigars and one with six, didn't sell for much less. Dom Perignons and Chateau Latours also went for megabucks, averaging about $400 and $125 per stick, respectively.
Davidoff Chateau d'Yquem, extremely rare and made only for a few years in the early 1980s (the size was replaced by Mouton Rothschild), went for a bomb -- 25 cigars for $10,725.
Cuban Dunhills, another brand lost in the turmoil of the early 1990s, went for high prices. The Robusto Cabinettas reached a new high -- $9,075 for a cabinet of 25.
"Dunhills were as strong as ever, especially with the Cabinettas," said Ebbesen. "In over a year, they have gone from £3,000 to £5,500, not including the 10 percent buyer's premium."
Not all the cigars in the auction, however, were terribly rare. Thirty to 40 percent were simply good-quality cigars with six to 15 years of box age. They ranged from double coronas to robustos to petit coronas, and covered all the brands from Montecristo to Partagas. They sold for about two or three times U.K. retail price for newly released Cuban cigars. "For normal cigars in the sale, people seem the most interested in large-sized, big-gauge ones," Ebbesen said.
Not everything sold, however, a number of pre-embargo cigars from the 1950s didn't find bidders, and there was little interest for current-production cigars, those with a year or two of box age. Christie's is no longer going to sell such young cigars.
Even a box of 50 Diplomatic Trinidad cigars didn't go, and it had the signature of Cuban President Fidel Castro, which came from a 1994 dinner hosted by Cigar Aficionado. The asking price was between $16,800 and $21,000 -- no takers.
It came as somewhat of a relief that these cigars didn't go for crazy prices. I guess not everyone famous can fetch high prices for rare cigars -- even Fidel Castro.
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