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Old Havanas

The best aged cigars, from 30 to 60 years old, are refined, stylish powerhouses of flavor.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 2)

Nonetheless, serendipity does occasionally occur, and those who follow the market tend to come across the older stocks more frequently. "They pop up in the most interesting places," says Jacobs. "But you have to ask around. It's like collecting [rare] fountain pens. You have to look everywhere: collectors, stores, restaurants."

The most common way to buy aged cigars is through a cigar merchant who is holding stock for clients who decide to sell them. The past five years have been very good for buying customer reserves from merchants in the United States and England. London's Robert Lewis and Dunhill as well as Dunhill in New York updated their reserve lists a few years ago and contacted their clients who hadn't touched reserves for years. Many decided to sell.

Updating of client reserves is an ongoing process. For example, London's Robert Lewis (now James J. Fox and Robert Lewis after a merger last December) still has 2,000 to 3,000 cigars on reserve and pending a response from owners who are classified as inactive. Some haven't been in contact with the shop for more than a decade.

In most cases with unclaimed reserves, merchants try to contact family members or wait for some communication. A former employee with the Dunhill humidor room in London, however, decided a few years ago to sell some of the unclaimed customer stocks to private individuals and auction houses. One American client was sold six boxes of pristine-condition, pre-embargo cigars for about $1,900. The employee was arrested by the Metropolitan Police and received a two-year suspended sentence in the London criminal courts. The American was reimbursed by Dunhill, but he apparently would have preferred the cigars, considering their rarity.

"The only old cigars in England outside of cigar merchants in London would be the ones which are in family possession," says Sautter, who has sold nearly 10,000 pre-embargo cigars in the past five years. "The stuff is still there and stocked away unless someone decides to get rid of it. They are given and forgotten."

Every now and then such stocks surface. Chase recently came across a few boxes of pre-Castro cigars from a plumber in the north of England. "He had a couple of boxes of Romeo y Julieta petit coronas from the '30s, still in their original wrapping and unopened," he says. "In addition, there was one box of Henry Clay in the same size. They were especially interesting because they were rolled in Trenton, New Jersey, with Cuban tobacco."

In another instance, a few years ago Sautter received a telephone call from a man who said that he had some interesting, old cigars for sale. "He told me where he bought them, and I knew that they could be anywhere from 20 to 30 years old, since the shop went out of business years ago," Sautter recalls. "I told him to bring them down to London so I could take a look at them, but the man replied that he had loads of them." Sautter could barely control himself when he heard that the caller had 150 boxes of cigars; so he decided to drive up to North Wales, a five-hour trip, that weekend.

When he arrived at the address, Sautter found himself in front of a massive country manor, whose owner had recently died and whose widow wished to dispose of anything connected with her husband's two favorite pastimes: vintage cars and cigars. "There were 50 cars or more in one garage, Bentleys, Jensens, Aston Martins," he says. "After looking at the cars, I looked at the cigars. They came down in cardboard boxes with the name of the merchant marked on them. They were mostly Montecristo No. 2 (torpedoes) in cabinets of 50 cigars."

A rare find indeed. Sautter offered the manager of the estate a hefty price for them, and although the man agreed to the sale and told Sautter the cigars would be sent to London in a few weeks, he later passed on the message that the woman was no longer interested in selling. "I don't know why to this day," he says. "I was very disappointed."

Every aged-cigar aficionado has a similar story about the one that got away. Nevertheless, a few well-placed calls with cigar merchants in the United States and Britain often bring results. The key mature-cigar merchants in London include Dunhill, James J. Fox and Robert Lewis, and Desmond Sautter; in the United States, try Dunhill in New York and San Francisco, and Nat Sherman in New York. These merchants usually hold reserves of cigars for their clients in humidified storage areas and lockers--much the same way that high-class wine merchants hold cases of wine for customers. In addition, keep an eye out for charity auctions and the occasional sale at Christies in London.

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