The quest for old cigars — why you should be careful

Image by James J. Fox

Old cigars are a prized possession. But it was not always like that. There is a new wave of cigar buyers that seem to search exclusively for old (sometimes very old) cigars. We’re talking vintage cigars here, with 20+ years.

“And that’s when all the crazy things start happening. You start to search for 10-year-old boxes and then 15-year-old boxes and vintage boxes (25+ years) and Pre-Embargo boxes. And all of a sudden your wallet dries out and your kid’s college fund is gone. Yeah, we know we’re exaggerating but you get the point, it can get crazy expensive.”

At this point, we all know that a bit of aging can be very beneficial to the overall experience but it also can mean the opposite. A cigar can lose a lot of its punch if it stays on the box for too long. But this is not what we’re here to discuss, otherwise, this article would’ve had another title. What we really want to talk about is how some tricks and schemes are manufactured to fool you when searching for old cigars.

The only people that can stop reading these words are the cigar sommeliers out there that can detect if the roller had a cup of coffee in the morning and breathed on the leaves. Besides those individuals, this will serve everyone.

Getting your game right

At this stage, if you are looking for old cigars, you already know a lot about the industry and you now want to try different and more exotic things. You are starting to know more and more about the box codes and how they work, the best crop years and the factories they were rolled in. Then you taste that 7-year-old Partagas Series D No. 4 that an old friend gave you and you think: “hum… this is quite nice! I wonder if every old cigar tastes the same…” or “I wonder if even older cigars taste better than the recent ones I’ve been buying…”

And that’s when all the crazy things start happening. You start to search for 10-year-old boxes and then 15-year-old boxes and vintage boxes (25+ years) and Pre-Embargo boxes. And all of a sudden your wallet dries out and your kid’s college fund is gone. Yeah, we know we’re exaggerating but you get the point, it can get crazy expensive.

This is why you have to be extra careful when buying old cigars, because there are a lot of tricks that can, well… trick you into buying something that is not really what you are searching for. Here are some examples:

Image by albert_sa

Old boxes with new cigars

The title says it all. Some scammers keep the empty cigar boxes stored and when the time is right, they fill them up with brand new cigars and off they go. You are now ready to buy new cigars for double or triple the price. To make it even worse, the person who reported this to us was an employee of a very well-known cigar store. Don’t get it wrong, the cigar community is still one of the most honorable and serious of them all, but dishonest people are everywhere, even among us aficionados. This trick is almost impossible to detect because of two things: lack of sufficient knowledge combined with the natural thrill of the hunt. Adrenalin is high and your judgment gets blurry because you think you found the deal of the century. How do we know this? You guessed it, we’ve been there and we have bought “fake” old cigars.

The old band switch

This one can be done separately or as a part of the previous one. Have you ever seen those cool images of people that keep the cigar bands? There is nothing wrong with that. As long as you keep them to yourself. However, this trick is as simple as it is hideous. You just find a cigar with the same length and ring gauge (there are enough cigars just on the Habanos portfolio for this to be possible), you replace the new band with the old band and off you go. You now have a perfectly legitimate “old” cigar, ready to be appreciated by someone who just got scammed. At this stage, you can think “ok, but I know my cigars and I know the smell of old and new cigars. How can I be fooled?” Old cigars have a very distinctive smell. We could use a thousand-word explanation and it would still fall short to describe it precisely. Just do this experiment: put a really old cigar, with that beautiful smell they have, together with 10 new cigars for a week on a ziplock bag or humidor and by the end of the week, everything will smell the same. True story, we’ve tested it. It’s crazy how chemistry works, but it works.

No bands needed

In the old days, it was not that uncommon to have bundles of 25 or 50 cigars without a single cigar band. If you search Google for old cigar boxes, like the classic Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1 or the Double Coronas, you will see that they were shipped in cabinets of 50 without the cigar bands in place. For a forger, this is a dream because then it just requires the box and cigars with the same size.

Now, does this mean you are smoking bad cigars? No. Does this mean that you are smoking fake cigars? No. But that’s not the point. The point is that you are not getting what you are paying for and that always sucks. Please develop a solid relationship with your cigar provider, being it a store, a friend or someone that sells cigars for a living and is highly recommended in the cigar community.

What to do as an alternative?

The only way to be sure is if you buy the boxes yourself and age them. Is it hard to wait 20 years? Oh yes. Yes, it is. And the better the cigars, the harder it gets. But think about it on a positive note, this way you will have a story to tell your friends and you will learn the process of aging cigars along the way.

Be safe out there!

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