Rings Around Cigars: The Cigar Band
The Band The History and the Romance of Cigar's Paper Ring
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95
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Myron Freedman, head of the International Label, Seal and Cigar Band Society for most of its three decades says the hobby of band collecting is almost dead in the United States. "There are only two or three of us old timers left and almost no new collectors under 30. When someone new forks out the six bucks to join our club, it's almost always because they found a small collection of bands and are hoping to sell it for a fortune. When they find out they're only worth five cents each, they lose interest and drop out. The next issue of the club bulletin will probably be the last."
Though few in number, U.S. band collectors are still actively searching for new additions to their collections. Ohioan Joe Hruby, with more than 216,500 bands to show for his 70 years' collecting, says he still finds bands he can use. "I recently bought a collection of 400 bands that contained 200 I didn't have," he says enthusiastically, adding that the same week he examined a collection of 5,000 that didn't offer a single new one. "Age is everything," says this active octogenarian. "I'm mostly looking for pre-1900 bands now."
Band collecting thrives in Europe. European printers and cigar makers still crank out sets of colorful yet inexpensive bands (less than $3 for a set of 20). Despite active band-collecting clubs in Spain, France and Belgium as well as Australia, prices for bands, as with most modern "made-for-collectors" items, remain low.
Cigar bands inevitably raise the question of the proper etiquette regarding their removal. Just as there is no complete agreement on the origin of the band, differences of opinion exist on contemporary band manners. Etiquette guides of nineteenth-century England, the land from which most manners were dictated, insisted that only the lower classes failed to remove the band. These same guides did approve, however, of turning the face of the band toward one's fellows if "the cigar was of sufficient quality to impress them."
Most modern U.S. tobacconists tell customers that band removal is a matter of choice, but agree that nearly 70 percent of cigar smokers follow tradition. Interestingly, all the tobacconists queried said they personally removed bands, except, predictably, those smoking their own house brands who view the display of the band as inexpensive advertising.
Charles Levi, owner of Iwan Ries in Chicago, advises customers to leave the band on. "Cigar wrappers are more delicate now than they used to be so there is a greater danger the smoker will damage the wrapper in removing the band," he says. "Some people leave a Montecristo or Cohiba band on in hopes of impressing someone, but the more secure, modern urban professionals don't give a damn about showing off and remove the band."
G. Cabrera Infante, the author of Holy Smoke, advises, "The band, though placed around a cigar last, must always come off first, no matter what bogus connoisseurs might tell you." A few lines later, though, he adds, "On the other hand you can leave the band if you want to advertise what you smoke, [but] on the other hand, if you don't want to appear too nouveau riche, you can strike off the band--and throw it away."
Davidoff called it "personal choice," claiming that in today's world there is no great shame in leaving the band on a cigar, citing references to both practices in the literature. He personally removed bands only after a few puffs when the cigar was well lighted and "running."
Anwer Bati in The Cigar Companion (Running Press, $24.95, 1993, 224 pages) joins the "personal choice" bandwagon, but notes that the British still consider it "bad form" to advertise the brand you are smoking. He follows Davidoff's lead in suggesting you not remove the band until you have smoked the cigar for a few minutes. The heat of the smoke, he claims, will make the gum on the band less adhesive and easier to remove without tearing the fragile wrapper.
The debates over bands may seem much ado about nothing, but the next time a little girl's face lights up as you slip a cigar-band ring on her finger, tell her one of the romantic legends if you choose. Just thank Gustave Bock for making her smile possible.