That oval or other design on the top of a cigar box is a direct descendent of the first markings on hogsheads, barrels and crates of tobacco and cigars shipped from anywhere to somewhere else between 1762 and 1862.  It was called a marca in Cuban cigar-speak and a “mark” in U.S. forms-speak, and a “top brand” among box makers.

        Around 1800, Cuba was opened for international trade in tobacco and cigars...and the boom was on. Those-in-charge quickly determined that a registry of names and marca design would be a good idea.

          All Cubans used marcas on cigar boxes intended for export (which is where the money was). Long before the end of the U.S. Civil War and the Start of Cuba’s (1868-1878 mas o menos), hot branding the top of wooden containers had become a thing of the past.

[[illus branding iron]]

        Early engravings and shipping documents show that barrels, bales, crates and seroons were branded or stenciled on the outside with the mark of the packer/shipper. The originating vega (farm) or its owner was sometimes included. The originating and receiving ports might also be indicated. At first simple (or fancy) initials were all that were needed “to make your mark” [ or marca ] on  a crate.

        After the U.S. Civil War, international travel and commerce expanded at a frenzied pace. As commerce grew, becoming ever more complex, requiring more markings, more paperwork and more red tape and fees, a high degree of similar thinking spread through Cuba. The old “kiss rule.” KISS. = Keep It Simple Stupid,” universal words of wisdom. Most marca-users stuck with the tried and true.

       The first registered examples of Cuban cigar trade marks were ovals, and it continued to be a popular shape. It’s a practical design, and one well adapted to a printing press (every box maker had one). An oval is a structurally sound design and practical form for die makers to create and press operators to use.

        The “typical” pattern was an oval containing the name or the initials of the factory owner who made them, most often in the top or center of an oval. Along with identifying the maker, the important name of “Havana o Habana” was typical, but far from universal.


Collectors and curators BEWARE: a top brand, marca, or label that reads “Havana” is not necessarily from Cuba. It is also a type of tobacco grown in the United States.

        This Exhibit features Cuban marcas in business at various times between 1850-1910.


Cuban Marcas (Top Brands)

1850 to 1910

A Cigar History Museum Exclusive 

© Tony Hyman

Uploaded June 24, 2011

Additional material: July 9, 2011

Additional material: July 29, 2011