You immediately associate a cigar with its band. Cohiba with its red dot. La Gloria Cubana with Lady La Gloria. Punch with its red with gold trim.
But it wasn’t always that way. Cigars didn’t always come with bands, and their origin is disputed. Here are three of the prevailing legends about the history of cigar bands.
Catherine the Great
One legend takes us back to 18th century Russia, to the court of Catherine the Great.
The tale has it that the monarch was unhappy--her cigars were leaving stains on her regal fingers. Clearly, this wouldn’t do. So Catherine ordered that her smokes be wrapped in silk before being presented to her.
Did Catherine make such a demand? Maybe, maybe not. In any case, her order probably would have been carried out by someone in her own court and would have had a questionable influence on the cigar industry as a whole.
The next fable in our cigar band history brings us to 19th century England. Imagine a British aristocrat out on the town. In his tailored suit and top hat, he looks the epitome of high society---except for his white gloves. They’ve been stained where he’s been holding his stogie.
So were cigar bands first created to prevent this fashion faux pas? Again, it’s hard to say. Some say that Cuban cigar makers wouldn’t have cared about the gloves of a wealthy British gentleman, at least not enough to alter their business practices. Though one must admit that the story at least makes sense.
Our last tale owes its origin to 19th century German swindlers.
As that century began, Germany was the world’s foremost supplier of cigars. However, Cuban cigars were still recognized as the best, and so even though they cost far more than their German counterparts, they were in much higher demand.
Seeing an opportunity, some German manufacturers began selling their lower-grade cigars under Cuban names. To combat this practice, Gustave Bock, a cigar maker who had immigrated to Cuba from Europe, began placing a paper ring adorned with his signature around all of his cigars. This caught on, as records show that by the middle of the century, all Cuban manufacturers had followed suit.
So which tale is the truth? Well, all of them may be partially true, but the last legend seems most likely. In any case, cigar bands are a fascinating part of our history and culture, and however they were born, we’re thankful they were.