Cigar Industry

Battle of the Boxes

There are fewer humidors on today's market and that's good news for consumers
| By Michael Moretti | From Gen. Tommy Franks, Nov/Dec 03

Things have come full circle in the business of humidors. Ten years ago, a few well-respected brands dominated the market. Five years later, there were dozens, many of dubious quality. Today, the market has thinned and resembles the 1992 market, with the addition of some venerable new boxes.

In our first humidor review, featured in the Winter 1992/93 issue of Cigar Aficionado, we surveyed 11 boxes. Our second test, conducted in the boom year of 1997, featured a veritable fleet of 42. Many proved to be inept at the considerably difficult art of maintaining humidity, and most of those boxes have since fallen by the wayside. This time we focused on a collection of 14 humidors. The personality of this group is that of a seasoned veteran, enduring where the boom boxes could not. We found many pieces of fine quality, and the overall performance of the group suggests that the market has stabilized. The best of these boxes continue to set the standard in the craft of humidor making. 

We began the review by treating the humidors according to the manufacturers' instructions and allowing them to acclimate over one week. Next, we added cigars to each humidor. We tested the humidity regularly, using the same digital hygrometer throughout the testing period. If the humidity rose too high, we added cigars; if it was considerably high, we also added cedar strips. If the humidity was too low, we refilled the humidification system. Our intention was to keep the humidity between 65 percent and 70 percent, the desired range for storing premium cigars. All humidors were kept in the same room, under the same temperatures, for the length of the test. 

After six weeks of testing, we brought each humidor before a panel of judges for discussion and rating, factoring in humidification performance over the test period, the construction of each piece, cost and appearance. The humidors were evaluated and scored using an alphabetical scale. Each humidor was judged on its own merit.


Daniel Marshall Limited Edition 20th Anniversary Treasure Chest

Veneer: Vavona burl; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 150 cigars; Humidification: Daniel Marshall System (one unit); Details: 24-karat gold fixtures, lock and key, magnetic cutter holder, magnetic refill calendar, digital hygrometer; comes with Daniel Marshall stainless steel guillotine cutter and 20 Daniel Marshall private-label cigars; Cost: $895; Contact: (800) 923-2889; Score: A

A celebrated veteran of the humidor business, California craftsman Daniel Marshall finds himself again at the top of the ratings with this large, stylish humidor. It is a great buy, given the accoutrements, size of the box and quality of its construction. The smoky, striking hazel veneer has a shimmering undertone. The humidor includes some nice extras: a magnet to hold a cigar cutter, a second magnetic system that serves as a calendar to remind you when it's time to refill the humidification device, as well as a cedar grate over the top of the humidifier, which dresses up the inside lid, giving it uniformity and balance. There is plenty of room for smokes, and the arched lid safeguards against scratches that might come from a flat top (should someone decide your humidor should double as a coaster or, say, a base for a doll collection). The humidor functioned very well; it didn't need a refill, never fell below 65 percent humidity and never rose above 70. It was still going strong at the review's end.


Davidoff No. 7

Veneer: Rosewood; Interior: Okume; Capacity: 75 cigars; Humidification: Davidoff System (one unit); Details: Magnet for cutter storage, refill calendar, dividers; Cost: $820; Contact: (203) 323-5811; Score: A-

Davidoffs are benchmark humidors, though this particular box is a bit unconventional, looking almost like a Cubist sculpture or some sort of fancified chopping block. This one has a simplicity of design, with a lower price than the usual Davidoff. It certainly performed like a Davidoff: it was one of the easiest boxes to use. Unlike typical humidors, this Davidoff has little lacquer coating; running your hands over the top allows you to feel the grain of the rosewood, which has rich, natural orange, yellow and rose colors. Perhaps most impressive is the complexity of the grain and the skill demonstrated by its maker in matching the lines between lid and box. When closing the top, the seam between the lid and the box is practically invisible. The Okume interior, which is polished and solid, does not produce the fragrant aroma of Spanish cedar. The humidity stayed fairly even throughout the test and the device did not need to be refilled.


Dunhill Thuya Humidor

Veneer: Thuya burl; Interior: Mahogany; Capacity: 50 cigars; Humidification: Dunhill Humidity Control System (one unit); Details: Nickel-plated fixtures, dividers, lock and key; Cost: $1,010; Contact: (800) 860-8362; Score: A-

A marriage of quality components such as Thuya burl and nickel-plated hardware, the understated Dunhill says class without having to shout it. Similar models rated in our earlier tests did very well, and this latest model performed up to the Dunhill standard, keeping it near the top of the group. Sleek and elegant, with sharp edges and pointed corners, this model features nickel-plated fixtures and an exotic, dark burl veneer reminiscent of a leopard pattern. The design is simple, not employing fancy marquetry. The humidor is a breeze to use. The humidification system comes sealed in plastic, already treated with a chemical solution. Filled up once, it lasted for the duration of the test. The humidity started off a bit high at 73 percent, but it evened out nicely by the second week -- which was before the recommended four-week break-in period. It is expensive for its size and may not be as visually arresting as some of the other boxes, but the Dunhill is well-made and a reliable choice.


Elie Bleu Limited-Edition Vegas Collection

Veneer: Dyed-marble sycamore; Detailing: Mother-of-pearl; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 50 to 75 cigars; Humidification: Elie Bleu System (one unit); Details: Silver-plated fixtures, lock and key, analog hygrometer, two cedar trays; Cost: $2,700; Contact: 011-33-1-48-99-64-64; Score: A-

Part of an Elie Bleu special-edition line, this humidor would be ideal for any gambling man. It was, perhaps, the most unusual-looking humidor in the test. Crafted in the shape of a huge die, complete with mother-of-pearl inlays for the dots, the polished sycamore veneer exterior shines like a pane of ebony glass, with rounded edges and a seal that puffs like a soft kiss when closing. With a price tag approaching $3,000, this is a lot to spend on a humidor of such small size, but what is lost in capacity is made up for in material, style and reputation -- Elie Bleu is among the premier names in the business. The humidification system and hygrometer are plated in silver. The interior lines and angles of the wood are cut perfectly, fitting in silky, even seams. The pale Spanish cedar lining has a beautiful bouquet and is smooth as silk. Two trays separate the humidor into three levels. They are not very wide -- probably large enough for corona gordas at best. The humidity in the box remained fairly even early on, but the humidification device had to be refilled by the third week of testing, perhaps a week earlier than would be expected. The humidity at the bottom level was consistently about five percentage points below that of the top and middle. It could be a flaw in the design, or the perfect place for long-term aging of prized cigars for those who prefer their smokes at 65 percent humidity.


Prometheus Red Madrona Humidor

Veneer: Madrona; Interior: Mahogany; Capacity: 250 cigars; Humidification: Prometheus Optima System (four units); Details: Nickel-plated fixtures, lock and key, digital hygrometer, trays, dividers; Cost: $2,500; Contact: (323) 869-9200; Score: A-

This humidor performed better than any other in the test, keeping the humidity at a solid 70 percent for practically the entire duration of the review. "Big Red," as it came to be known, took a week to reach the proper levels of humidity, but once it got going, it just kept rolling without a hitch. The humidor's design is simple, though some may find the red a bit loud -- especially given the size of the piece -- and the color seems to obscure the fine grain of the wood. The marquetry on the borders does not line up at the corners. The inside is attractive, with cedar trimming the humidifiers and the hygrometer. A strange, fruity, banana-like smell was unmistakable when opening the lid. (It dissipated fairly quickly after opening.) It's a pricey humidor, but it's one of the biggest we tested, with a boasted capacity of 10 boxes of cigars.


Griffin's Eye Maple Yellow Marquetry

Veneer: Maple; Detailing: Sapele; Capacity: 120 cigars; Humidification: Griffin's System (one unit); Details: Gold-plated brass fixtures, lock and key, tray; Cost: $1,280; Contact: (800) 232-8436; Score: B+

This bright yellow piece with a black-and-white checkered border is suggestive of a 1950s New York City taxicab. It was a bit slow pulling out of the gates, staying stubbornly below the desired humidity level during seasoning. However, after about three weeks, it started to hum, never falling below 65 percent or going above 70 percent and showing no need for refilling at the end of the test. The humidor is functional and attractive, but does not include the little extras found in many top-end models. It also had a slight lacquer smell on the inside and seemed a little overpriced for what it offers, but it is from the Davidoff family, so it remains a good choice if you're looking for a basic humidor with a good reputation.


Manning Ebony Macassar Humidor

Veneer: Ebony Macassar; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 200 cigars; Humidification: Paradigm System (two units); Details: Gold-plated brass fixtures, lock and key, trays, dividers; Cost: $1,950; Contact: (800) 414-8522; Score: B+

The Manning descends from the hands of four generations of Irish cabinetmakers, but the humidor brand is somewhat new to the market. (Manning first appeared in our 1999 review.) The box has a soft seal and an attractively grained and fragrant interior, and it displays evidence of remarkable care and craftsmanship. The veneer is exquisite, with an exotic pattern, like tiger skin. The magnets that secure the humidification units are located behind a sheet of wood on the underside of the lid, hiding them from view. The humidor feels as sturdy as it looks and is well made. Tending to run a little dry, the humidor soaks up a lot of water and seems to need ample time for treating. (The instructions say only two days, but two weeks is more realistic.) The humidifiers had to be refilled twice during testing and a wet paper towel had to be added the first week to get the humidor up to speed. The humidity levels were not as predictable as for some of the other humidors in the test, but its performance hinted that it would improve over time.


Avo Rosewood Signature Model

Veneer: Rosewood/Palisander; Interior: Okume; Capacity: 50 cigars; Humidification: Cigar Master System (one unit); Details: Dividers; Cost: $950; Contact: (800) 232-8436; Score: B

This little humidor is a capable performer, but seems more suited for a smoker's day-to-day needs, say in an office, rather than for long-term home storage. The rosewood veneer has a lacquer finish and a crosshatched design that's a bit hackneyed, detracting from the overall appearance. In terms of performance, the humidity fluctuated a bit, getting slightly high, and required some cedar strips to get back on track. The claimed 50-cigar capacity is an overestimation, as things got pretty tight inside with only 20 cigars. Oddly, the humidification device is mounted on the inside lid by a plastic clamp, which cheapens the look and makes it difficult to remove for refilling. This is a fine humidor, but with virtually no extras and limited space, the price should be lower.


Signature 100 Stick Humidor by Jeremy Simpson

Veneer: Pommell Sapele, machine acrylic edging; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 100 cigars; Humidification: Aztec Clay System (two units); Details: Gold-plated brass fixtures, lock and key, analog hygrometer, dividers; Cost: $1,600; Contact: 011-63-47-252-3896 ; Score: B

The subtly crested shape and light color borders of this Philippine-made humidor contrast with its dark, veiny veneer in an eye-catching combination. It's reminiscent of a collector's box that might store military metals or antique revolvers, which makes sense given that the parent company, Simpson-Le Queux, also produces such items. Although the gently arced lid is a bit heavy, it releases a pleasant puff when dropped. The humidity stayed fairly even and the hygrometer functioned well, although the gauge was difficult to read. The clay humidifier was efficient, but it could be a bit messy to refill -- spilling red, clay-dyed water if tipped too far. If only this humidor could duplicate its outer beauty on the inside. The fixtures are of lesser quality and could be a problem in a few years. The dividers are difficult to organize and crowd the tray space, and there really is not enough room for the advertised 100 cigars -- unless they are petit coronas. This is a pretty humidor that functions well, but the details indicate that it might have some problems in the long run.


Cheap 300 Cigar Treasure Dome

Veneer: Amboyne wood; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 300 cigars; Humidification: Lamsia System (two units); Details: Brass fixtures, lock and key, analog hygrometer, trays, dividers; Cost: $199.99; Contact: (888) 674-8307; Score: B-

Given the name, you might not expect much from this humidor, but the form and look are surprisingly pleasant, with attractive fixtures and countersunk side handles that do not interrupt the shape. The interior is pleasing, with inlaid trim around the hygrometer and humidification system as well as a lattice system on the bottom tray, which allows for humidified air to flow beneath the often overlooked bottom-tier cigars. The box even has a pleasant smell. Upon close inspection, however, the humidor shows signs of fatigue that will likely worsen over time. The fixtures are a bit loose and the interior seams were slightly separated by the end of the test, indicating that the gaps will increase in the future. The humidity levels ran very high, starting at 76 percent, rising as high as 78 percent and dropping only below 72 percent by the sixth week. The analog hygrometer flat out didn't work and stayed at 50 percent throughout the entire test. Although the humidor's performance was less than average, it was rewarded for its size and unbeatable price.


Diamond Crown -- The Biltmore

Veneer: American hardwood; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 100 cigars; Humidification: Diamond Crown System (one unit); Details: Brass fixtures, lock and key, digital hygrometer, trays; Cost: $675; Contact: (800) 477-1884; Score: B-

Plain and serious, this humidor is for the buttoned-up smoker. Diamond Crown has been selling humidors for eight years, and they have maintained a consistent look and rating. This humidor is spartan: there is no thick coat of lacquer on the outside, no exotic burl -- just a reddish-brown hardwood grain that gives the box a natural, unassuming appearance. The large, dangling brass handles on the sides convey a classical style, although they do not reflect the skill of craftsmanship seen on most humidors, which tend to have countersunk handles. The brass fixtures are muted, having a smoky appearance rather than a polished gleam. The humidification system was very easy to use and refill. While the humidity sometimes differed by four to five degrees from week to week, it always stayed in the desired area of 65 to 70 percent. The lid seal is very loose, which could account for the fluctuation in humidity levels. Instead of a soft puff when you close the lid, you get a hard slam, indicating that the lid is not flush with the inside of the box and the seal is poor.


Michael Dixon Quilted Maple Box

Veneer: Quilted maple; Interior: Spanish cedar, African Sapele; Capacity: 100 cigars; Humidification: Humigar System (one unit); Details: Gold-plated brass fixtures, dividers, analog hygrometer; Cost: $795; Contact: (301) 432-6131; Score: B-

This attractive box has many attributes, but niggling problems kept it from scoring higher in our ranking. It has a brilliant look, with a bright orange veneer of quilted maple that shimmers in the light and vividly contrasts with the ebony borders, which are made of bloodwood. However, there were problems with the locking system and major difficulties with the lid. After functioning properly during the treating period, the locking mechanism failed in the first week of official testing. It continued to turn, but was not hooking to the lid, making it impossible to secure the lid. The lid itself was no longer flush with the box, forming a small gap in the seal. These problems could have been caused, in part, by the hinges, which appeared unusually small for a humidor of this size. (We encountered similar problems with the Michael Dixon humidor rated in the 1999 review.) The problem with the lid didn't seem to affect the humidity, however, as levels were fairly consistent throughout the test.


Michael Stuart Design Ltd. -- Ferrari Humidor

Veneer: Acrylic paint over mahogany frame; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 250 cigars; Humidification: Elie Bleu System (three units); Details: Chrome fixtures, trays, dividers, analog hygrometer; Cost: $6,999 (exact price depends on custom specifications); Contact:; Score: D+

This bold muscle car of a humidor is impossible to ignore. It has a shimmering coat of fire-engine red paint, accented with heavy metal chrome fixtures reminiscent of its namesake sports car, and is finished with a crown of pointed cap nuts. It can hold 250 cigars, making it one of the largest humidors in this test. A gearhead may fall madly in love with this custom-made piece by Michael Stuart Barber, but he would have his heart broken if he didn't watch it carefully. The performance of this large humidor did not live up to the standard set by the company's Harley-Davidson model, which was rated B+ in the 1999 humidor review. Although a novel idea with admirable style, the Ferrari humidor seemed thrown together. Fixtures were loose, a screw was missing (which could have been missing from the start or have fallen out during testing) and the thin sheet of cedar on the inside of the lid was separating by the end of the test. The humidity level was unpredictable, fluctuating greatly in the first couple of weeks, then rising to the mid-70s by the end of the test. The interior aroma is suspect, with an overpowering cedar smell. It is custom made and priced accordingly, but hardly seems worth the amount.


Arlin Liss Humidor

Veneer: Maple burl; Interior: Mahogany; Capacity: 100 cigars; Humidification: Cigar Oasis Electronic Humidifier (one unit); Details: brass fixtures, trays, dividers, lock and key, digital hygrometer; Cost: $2,500; Contact: (804) 378-2871; Score: D

One word describes this newcomer to the pages of Cigar Aficionado -- hubris. Trying to give the customer the most it can, this humidor aspires to reach too far and falls considerably short. The physical size of the humidification unit is far too large for the box, as is the hygrometer, leaving little space for cigars and practically drenching the ones that fit inside. At one time, humidity levels in the Arlin Liss rocketed up to 86 percent, and the piece fell far short of its boasted 100-cigar capacity. The humidor is powered by an active humidifier -- the only one we've seen in a desktop humidor -- which proved to be more of a burden than a bonus. Most desktop humidors rely on passive humidifiers, which employ a sponge and/or chemical compound to regulate humidity without the use of electricity. Active humidifiers -- in this case a Cigar Oasis -- use fans and require electrical power to operate. This anchors the Arlin Liss to a location with a close outlet where it must be plugged in. The high humidity appeared to affect the interior seams, which were separating by the end of the test and looked as if they would fall apart over time. In addition, the humidor's design lacks the sophistication of the other humidors in the review. It is far overpriced for its size and quality, trying to impress with innovation as opposed to providing substance. V

"I strongly disagree with the review of the Arlin Liss Humidor. I purchased an Arlin Liss Humidor approximately 2 years ago. When I made the decision, I spoke to Arlin about the type of wood I wanted and the exact design of the box, capacity, humidification method, and hardware. His communication during the process was terrific. He emailed me photos from the rough wood (figured walnut) he used and throughout the process. It took less than a week. When I received the box, I was amazed at the craftsmanship. It holds approximately 50 cigars and keeps them at perfect humidity. Never had any issues with this box and it looks great. I would definitely recommend Arlin for a custom box of the highest quality. " —January 22, 2014 11:03 AM
"The Treasure Dome got one over a year ago for $100 on CBid, very good quality and performs flawlessly.Change out the foam in the humidifiers for beads and salt calibrate the stock Hygrometer. Very nice spanish cedar interior and tight fitting lid. Top rate craftmanship and materials. Will hold 300 corona size easily.A sleeper really get one while still available cheap because they are worth a lot more." —October 4, 2013 14:00 PM
"I bought a Daniel Marshal Bally humidor that was listed on their special sale list. These are supposed to be humidors with minor cosmetic issues but perfect working condition. I did so after reading the rave reviews of this brand on the CA site. When I received it the box had a significant gap in the front causing it to leak enough air so that humidity never rose above room air. It must have been shipped this way. So now I'm out $500 plus $60 shipping both ways and am having a terrible time with customer service. I will never do business with them again. When you call, you get an answering machine. My Diamond Crown made in China works flawlessly. Daniel Marshal should be ashamed to have his nameplate in that garbage that should have been put on the burn pile. Beware of this manufacturer! :-(" —June 14, 2013 22:20 PM

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