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Art in a Box

Traditional Humidors Get a Shot of Creativity and Color from French and English Design Teams
Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

Look around the office of any cigar smoking executive and you'll probably spot a humidor. And, whether the box is an antique or was recently manufactured, it will have several, seemingly de rigueur signature elements. It will be some shade of brown; It's shape will be square (or squarish); And, no matter how the gloss or lacquer highlights the grain of the wood, the humidor will be conservative and elemental. Just as the grass is green, a humidor (perhaps, reassuringly to some people) will never startle or excite the imagination.

Or so it always seemed. But just as cigar blends are now becoming more diverse with the advent of a wider cigar smoking public, humidors are also changing in shape, color and design. Since our humidor test nearly two years ago (see Cigar Aficionado, Winter, 1992) Dunhill and Elie Bleu-- manufacturers already well known for producing high-quality humidors--have made tremendous strides in technology and box construction.

Perhaps the most intricately crafted humidor today is made by David Linley Furniture Ltd., for Alfred Dunhill. Linley (son of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon), a custom furniture manufacturer based in Gloucestershire, England, was commissioned by Dunhill in 1993 to design and create five humidors, with each box a miniature version of classic British architecture. The boxes were then recreated, with production limited to a total of fifty "apex" units for the entire run--and a limit of 125 smaller "disciple" boxes designed as companions to the oversized treasures. (Disciple boxes are also sold separately, although they were intended to match the apex humidors and highlight a specific aspect of the architecture, such as a unique capitol or column.)

The architects whose works are emulated--Inigo Jones, Christopher Wrenn, William Kent, John Soane and Augustus Pugin--are said to be masters of various historical stages of English design, making the set of humidors a sort of purchasable homage to the men and their work.

Living up to the Linley name, these pieces are beautifully finished. A combination of wood choice (no less than five woods are utilized in each design) polishing and expert hand fitting allows Linley craftspeople to create the illusion of 3-D. On the Inigo Jones box, Queen's House in Greenwich, windows appear to be recessed, while the sills jump off the flat surface. The seam on the bottom accessory drawer is invisible, so that only the owner knows how to open it (far more discreet protection than a key hole).

A rubber gasket lines the inside bottom rims of both apex and disciple box lids, and top lids are counter-sunk, to insure a tight (and dampened) closure.

A crowning touch on the inside lid of each apex unit is a plaque indicating the number of the humidor within the production run ("number one of five," for example). There's certain caché to owning such a humidor, and the $14,000 price tag ensures this. The disciple boxes are not numbered, but because of limited production $1,950 for a 50 cigar box (the price is the same, believe it or not, for the 100 capacity unit), seems like a wise investment for what is likely to be collector's item.

Dunhill has also come out with some mid-line humidors. Made in France, these models are made to compete with other makes.(Retail prices range from $560 for a 25-cigar unit, to $800 for a humidor which holds 100 cigars.) The woods--mahogany, walnut, macassar, thuya and walnut--are pretty standard, but these boxes are made of solid wood--often, to save money, manufacterers will use pressboard in between layers of rarer woods--which makes them very heavy and sturdier than most humidors in this price range. With nice marquetry touches, beveled corners and raised inside linings, the new Dunhills are made with excellent care and craftsmanship.

Dunhill stores also provide a unique touch in humidor service--bespoke boxes. If, like many cigar smokers, you want something very much your own, Dunhill will custom-make your humidor. The store will provide you with a form and "swatches" of wood. From there, you give them the measurements, the wood, even a logo, and they'll build you a box. It won't happen overnight, and it's not cheap, but it will be a one-of-a-kind humidor.

And, as if Dunhill hasn't broken enough new ground, each new Dunhill humidor--from the $560 model to the Linley Apex unit--features a new humidification device. Dunhill has eliminated its quaint but inadequate water vials and replaced them with a modern, lid-mounted system which is easy to monitor for correct moisture content.


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