Vintage Cubans Heat Up At Auction

Vintage Cubans Heat Up At Auction
Cigar auctions offer the chance to acquire aged rarities. A unique Trinidad humidor signed by Fidel Castro sold for $172,000.

How much would you pay for an aged cigar? For one anonymous collector the answer is apparently more than $1,000, as a half dozen Dunhill Estupendos recently sold at auction for a record-setting $6,200. The sale underscores a resurgence in cigars being sold this way after a period of flagging interest.

The Dunhill cigars in question were rolled in Cuba in the 1980s and are examples of the brand that have not been made since 1991. They are considered among the finest cigars ever made, having rated a perfect 100 points on several occasions in this magazine’s Connoisseur’s Corner. British retailer C. Gars Ltd. conducted the sale last November. It is one of two cigar auctions it features every year in London. The most recent one took place as this issue was being printed.

Cigars have been sold at auction for more than 100 years, but the renowned auction house Christie’s had been on a seven-year hiatus before it too held a cigar auction in November, in Geneva. It was a fairly modest affair, with about 60 lots of cigars (most containing two boxes) selling for around $1,000 per lot, or $500 for a box of 25.

In May of this year, Christie’s held a far more illustrious cigar auction, with boxes of Cuban Davidoffs, which sold for $3,680 per box, and a one-of-a-kind Trinidad Humidor. The large piece had been made for the 2001 Festival del Habano auction, and contained 124 cigars, including 33 Trinidad Laguito No. 1 cigars, lanceros measuring 7 1/2 inches by 38 ring gauge, the same dimensions as the old diplomatic Trinidads. The piece was signed by Fidel Castro. It sold for $172,000, compared to the pre-sale estimate of $85,000 to $128,000.

Diplomatic Trinidads had also been the hot cigar at auction during the cigar boom. In May 1997, a Swiss collector paid $11,400 for a box of 25 diplomatic Trinidads, or $456 per cigar, a record at the time. A new auction high was set in April 2000, when a Partagás Fabuloso Diadema from the 1970s sold for $880.

That record was shattered in November at the London C. Gars Ltd. auction when the six Dunhill Estupendos sold for £4,000 ($6,200), or £667 ($1,034) per cigar. The seven-inch-long, 47-ring-gauge Dunhills come packed in distinctive individual white tubes.

“Davidoff and Dunhill prices are on the increase, and remain the Holy Grail cigar for many collectors,” Mitchell Orchant, owner of C. Gars Ltd., said after the November auction. “Dunhills have always been more desirable than Davidoff and the interest in good quality vintage Dunhills with provenance increases year on year.”

Boxes of pre-embargo Cuban cigars (sometimes referred to colloquially, if not accurately, as pre-Castro Cuban cigars) have waxed and waned in value. In the mid 1990s they sold for up to $6,000 per box at auction. By the year 2000, with cigar sales in decline, those boxes could be had for $1,000 to $2,000 per box. In November, they sold for £900 to £1,900 (as much as $3,000) per box of 25. Boxes of 50 sold for as much as £5,500 ($8,400).

But just because a cigar is on the auction block doesn’t make it a gem. The November C. Gars auction also saw quite a few boxes of Cuban cigars from 1998 to 2003 sell, and those were troubled years indeed for cigars from Havana. If you buy at auction, do your homework first, and remember: age can make a good cigar great, but it won’t turn a bad cigar into a good one.