Glossary  -  Definitions

Hyman’s Cigar History Museum Exclusive 

© Tony Hyman, all rights reserved

Format and introduction changes: May 17, 2010

Introduction expanded: June 10 and July 7, 2011

Additional text December 12, 2011

Additional entry March 4, 2012

        Many languages are idiomatic, filled with slang and constantly adapting. Cuban Spanish is spoken at a very high speed, perhaps the fastest of all Spanish speakers. That makes it difficult for non-natives to understand much of what is being said.  Ev en more than you might believe since Cuban lightning speech is filled with slang. The use of a modern dictionary to read 19th century cigar labels can result in "translations" far from their original meanings.

    Words and phrases with one meaning in 19th century Cuba seldom have the same meaning on 20th century cigar labels from Europe or the United States. German and American label artists rarely spoke Spanish, and used words creatively, in ways that “looked right.” The result is “Spanglish,” a language with meanings vague at best.  Cigar labels from both Europe and North America are filled with Spanglish.

    One of the most common is "Fabrica de tobaccos." In Cuba that meant "cigar factory" and is used that way on Cuban labels. U.S. label artists used it to mean "made of tobacco."     In 19th century Cuba "tobacos" are “cigars” not tobacco. 

    In Mexico and some South American countries, cigars are "puros." North  Americans use it on labels as “pure."  When a pre 1920 Cuban señora asks for a  "cigarro," she’s boldly asking for a cigarette. All those Cuban trade cards that say "Cigarros Exquisito" are cigarette cards, once very popular in Cuba.    On the island where cigars began, “manufactura de tobacos” was a  “cigar maker." In Spanglish, it’s used as if it means “made of tobacco.”

    Cuban tradition demands the quality grade of the cigars be marked on the box.  No workforce turns out perfect cigars every time. The job of the [sorter] was to divide them into quality groups and into color groups. He called them firsts, seconds and thirds, primeras, segundos  and terceros.

    Some cigar makers decided calling their cigars ‘tercera’ might hurt sales. Instead of making better cigars they changed the name. They added a new grade on top, called ‘flor fina’, making fina (1’st) their seconds and segundos” (2nd) their 3rd grade. Now the lowest grade of the three original grades is ‘second’.  Got that?

   In all fairness, note that segundos can be odd lots, leftovers, wrong length, wrong color, etc.  Even better, when an order reaches a factory for 50,000 cigars of a particular size, shape and blend, the foreman orders 55,000 to be made. If only 3000 are rejected, the other 2,000 goes into the seconds pile as well.

    In the U.S. and Europe, those words are mere decoration to reassure the customer that he's getting something good. In modern times, cigars usually have only two grades, firsts (which they sell) and seconds (which they also sell).

    "De las mejores vegas de la Vuelta Abajo" is a phrase more common in Spanglish than in Spanish. The Vuelta Abajo (always capitalized) is a region in Pinar del Rio Province in Western Cuba. This area was first planted in the 1700s and greatly expanded in the 1830s. It is considered to be the finest of the world's cigar tobacco growing regions. There are 25 distinct Cuban tobaccos, 9 of which are grown in the Vuelta Abajo.  A "vega" is a tobacco plantation, historically about  sixteen acres.  The phrase is intended to make you believe the tobacco comes from one of the best farms in the Vuelta Abajo region, but those words appear on scores of stock labels used by anyone and everyone.

    My focus in this document is on words you are likely to run across in cigar literature written during the 19th century through the beginning of the machine era in 1920. Names and terms are those reported or used by 19th century writers, visitors to Cuba, industry publications and as found on pre 1920 boxes, catalogs and other artifacts.

   Today’s cigar industry has added worlds like ‘robusto’ that were never seen a century ago, and changed the definition of others such as ‘cigarro’ which a century ago meant cigarette. These modern words and definitions are usually not included herein as the web has many small cigar glossaries which cover only these modern words. I didn’t feel it necessary to duplicate their efforts.

   For more definitions detailing the Cuban industry, Mary Coult’s 1952 DICTIONARY OF THE CUBAN TOBACCO INDUSTRY should prove helpful. Ernst Voges’ international TOBACCO ENCYCLOPEDIA (for which I’ve written dozens of definitions) is the most complete modern work and is highly recommended. 


ad valorem

Taxes based on value, usually taken to mean the retail selling price. Ad valorem taxes are commonplace and controversial since it can be argued that the selling price includes the usually high ad valorem, thus it’s a tax on a tax.


Substances added to tobacco and/or cigar boxes to flavor, make pleasantly odoriferous or to mask bad tastes and smells. Commonly used since the 1600’s, though generally denied by the industry. Flavoring formulae used by cigar factories were frequently secret and guarded. Some were quite elaborate, involving a dozen or more chemicals and natural substances.


Harmful additives.  In the 19th century, journalists, researchers and government investigators agreed that 15 - 20% of tobacco was adulterated. Pot smokers from the 1960’s remember a similar situation. Or not.


The sequence of drying, curing, blending and storing tobaccos from field to finished cigar, which can take three or four years.

air cured

Process for curing both burley and cigar tobaccos. Tobacco is hung in specially designed barns for roughly six months, during which it loses moisture and chlorophyll.


(Cuban Spanish) A warehouse in which tobacco is stored by a cigar or cigarette manufacturer. Also an establishment for the sale of wholesale leaf tobacco.


(Cuban Spanish) A dealer who sells wholesale leaf tobacco.


[1] A silvery metal  used in printing, the burnished powder of which is used to create “silver” ink. [2] soft shiny metal used in manufacture of cigar boxes and five-packs since the turn of the 19th century; [3] metal used in thin sheets in lithographic printing, replacing limestone, brass and zinc for some press plates.


(Spanish) Yellow.  A seldom seen color of Cuban tobacco.  In 19th century, this was a favorite color in the lowland countries of Europe. Yellow tobacco is primarily used for cigarettes.  See also: claro;  colorado;  colorado claro; colorado maduro; maduro; oscuro; pajizo

American cigars

(Early 19th century term) Cigars made without binder from Virginia tobacco, thought to be sweeter and lighter than those made from Cuban tobacco or Cuban strains grown in the Northern US.


Capitol city of Holland (The Netherlands) which was, along with London, one of the great centers of world tobacco trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.

anillador / anilladora

(Cuban Spanish) Cigar factory worker who puts bands on cigars. Usually a woman.


(Cuban Spanish)  Ring; cigar band; decorated paper band often identifying the maker and/or vitola/frontmark.  See also: cigar band.

apartador / apartadora

(Cuban Spanish) One of many names given to men and women who grade and sort tobacco. Escogedores, revisadores, rezagadores, repasadores and apartodores are also used depending on the region of Cuba and the sopecific leaf being examined.


(Spanish)  Rice; a type of cigarette paper used in Cuba by the 1840’s.

art work

Any original hand-painted "sketch" created as an original artistic concept from which copies were manufactured in quantity. For any label to have changes in design (redesigned), an original art-work had to be made or revised. Sections of a work, especially the  title, could be changed  without affecting the rest of the work.


(Cuban Spanish) According to Fairholt, a bundle of  51 cigars made in Seville and sold in Spain.

Bahia tobacco

Grown in Brazil as filler and wrapper since the 1500’s, most is used locally or shipped to Europe. Also called Brazil tobacco.


(Cuban Spanish) Stemmed binder leaf used in a cigar factory to wrap the bunch of filler. Stemmed binder was used in the highest grades of cigar instead of capote, which is binder leaf that has not been stemmed.


(19th Century Cuban Spanish)  Flag; a cigar which “stands out like a flag” to a cigar selector as not being uniform in color;  classed as seconds they are usually sold to local individuals or to small chinchalles who marketed them under a different marca.


See cigar bands.


(Cuban Spanish) The drying room: a department in a cigar factory where the filler is dried and blends are made.


(Spanish) Literally, a barrel.  In the stemming department of a factory, it is the work table of the female stemmers. When seeking a job, she asks for un barril. In factories, barrels are used to hold the filler in the drying and blending department. In the wholesale leaf trade barrels are used as an export container for stemmed tobacco.


(Cuban Spanish) The practice os sprinkling high quality, but gummy, filler tobacco with a solution of betun, a liquid made from fermented tobacco stalks and stems.


A mixture of water and fermented tobacco stalks and stems used to moisten tobacco in the factory before it is cased for fermentation.


The piece of tobacco leaf used to shape and hold the filler in a cigar. The binder is unseen by the smoker as it is covered by the wrapper.  Prior to the 1860’s most cigars were Spanish hand made, made without binder, the wrapper holding the filler bunch together. This was a difficult-to-make product, the best of which were made by very skilled workmen.  When German, Dutch or English factories introduced the cigar mould in the mid 19th century, the use of binder and wooden moulds became the practice since the combination enabled less skilled (and lower paid) workers to make cigars. Use of binder became the typical practice more than a century ago.

blue mold

Serious plant disease resulting from an airborne fungus that affects tobacco plants when summers are cool and rainy. Can make an entire crop unmarketable in days.


Boxmaker’s and collector’s abbreviation for a standard type of all wood cigar box called a “boîte nature.” see boite nature


(Cuban Spanish) Lithographed sheet of paper covering the cigars in a box. In the U.S. it is called a “flap” if attached to the front of the box or “floating flap” if not attached. Sometimes incorrectly called a “top sheet” by label dealers, a name more correctly reserved for the piece of box wrap used on the top of a cardboard box.

boîte nature

(box makers’ term) Wooden cigar box originally made of mahogany, but now mainly of redwood. It is glued, with machine-made locked (interlocking) corners and a collar running around the inside edge which helps to keep the box airtight when shut. In addition, it has two hinges and a clasp which were nailed to the box prior to World War Two and generally machine stapled thereafter. Boxes must match all these characteristics to be classified as a boite nature box. Packages that meet some ot all of these characteristics are known by some box makers as semi-boîte nature boxes, and are custom designed for each customer. Traditionally, boîte nature packages had no advertising labels either inside or outside the box; instead the marca, brand name, and/or maker was printed in an oval, or similar form, in black ink directly on the box lid inside and out. First seen around 1900. Most commonly used for 5¢ cigars in the 1920’s and 30’s. Abbreviated BN.  <See examples


(Cuban Spanish) Bunch; body of the cigar, consisting of filler and binder before the wrapper is applied. Used to refer to mould-made cigars.

bonded warehouse

A high security building in which tobacco imported into the U.S. from Cuba was held until taxes were paid or it was transshipped. Cigar factories were set up inside bonded warehouses and taxes paid on the resulting cigars, a cheaper rate than paying on cigars imported from Cuba.  Bonded warehouses were in Tampa, Key West, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Trenton and New York. Manufactured in Bond stamps become a guarantee by the U.S. government that the cigars were made entirely of Cuban tobacco. Tampa and Trenton produced the most Bonded cigars. <more>

book style (also, Booking)

(modern use) A rolling method by which the cigarmaker lays the filler  leaves atop one another, then rolls them up like a scroll. Book style,  or booking, is common in Honduras. The alternate style is based on the old Cuban method called entubar.


Traditionally, in the 1700’s and 1800’s, prior to the U.S. Civil War and tax laws which regulated the number of cigars in a container, a box of cigars held 1,000. When consumer size packaging was developed, smaller packages were named in accordance with the fraction of a standard “box” they represented. What you and I call a box of 100 cigars is known as a 1/10 box, a box of 50 as a 1/20 box, one of 25 as a 1/40 box, etc. These fractions remained the way orders and invoices between dealers and manufacturers were sent until the end of revenue stamps in 1959 which facilitated odd size packaging. These fragment centered descriptions are still seen today.

box press

Tool used to shape moist cigars into a squarish shape prior to their being put into their retail cigar box. See hand tools.

box wrap

(box makers’ term)  Form of contemporary cigar box labeling consisting of three pieces of lithographed paper which literally wrap around an unprinted machine made cardboard box, covering all outside and some inside surfaces thus allowing colorful labels to be inexpensively machine applied. Consists of wrap, top sheet and inner label.


Formerly important German cigar and tobacco center.


Generic term for certain types of quality wide-leafed cigar tobacco, especially grown in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Mexico.


Independent person who brings cigar manufacturers together with wholesalers and retailers, often creating custom brands in the process. Brokers frequently buy and sell factory odd lots, left-overs and rejects.


Often referred to as "gold-bronze" (or incorrectly, as "Gold leaf"). Lithographers used a fine metallic powder, made from bronze dust/powder (or aluminum, for a silver effect), which was applied in a machine called a "Bronzer" after all the other colors had been laid-down. The label received a sticky base of clear varnish in the appropriate areas, and the bronze was sifted, or "dusted", onto the surface where it adheres to the sticky areas. This gave titles, borders and art-work a gold, glistening effect, without the expense of real gold or other precious metals.


Small cigar factories, usually family enterprises or those employing less than four persons, frequently only one. Sometimes defined as less than 10. Generally characterized by on-premises retail sales. Named after Ohio, the “buckeye-state” because that state’s mid-19th century propensity toward tiny factories.


The name or emblem of the lithographer, box maker or union local which appears on a box or label.

bulk, to

The job of piling the bundles (matules) one above the other in the tobacco barns for the second phase of curing, which lasts until the tobacco is sold or graded.


Body of the cigar, consisting of filler and binder before the wrapper is applied. Usually applied to machine or mould made cigars.

bunching machine

Mechanical devices for making the bunch have been in development since the 1850’s, with greatly increased output attributed to particular successful styles. In 1850, an all Spanish hand made roller could make about 300 cigars a day.  Modern bunch making machines using rolls of reconstituted tobacco can roll 5,000 or more cigars an hour.


When labels were printed in the litho house, finished orders were separated into piles of 100, 500 or 1,000, depending on the order. The bundle was quickly inspected ("fanned") for defective prints, and then wrapped in brown paper, or tied with string. A sample of the contents was pasted on the outside of the package before shipping or delivery. also a batch of  25, 50 or 100 cigars tied together, more often called a “wheel” or rueda. Factory rejects are often sold in this manner, without a box.

burro (also called bulks)

The pile in which cigar tobacco is fermented, a process which can take place on farms, wholesalers or factories. Bulks can be six feet tall and are carefully monitored. If the heat level inside them gets too high, the tobacco can literally catch fire like a compost pile. The skilled workers who monitor temperatures will take the pile apart to slow the fermentation.


Cuban farm of slightly less than 33 acres.


(box makers’ term)  Wooden retail cigar box fronted by one or two doors, in which the cigars can either lie flat or stand upright, often partitioned, or richly inlaid. May or may not have drawers or legs bringing it to a height of 28” more or less. Exotic woods were commonly used and the cabinets were normally fitted with metal hinges and a lock. Together with chests, cabinets were among the first type of cigar packaging used by Cuban and Spanish factories for presentations to guests, famous persons, royalty and other valued customers. They could hold from 100 to as many as 5,000 cigars.  <see examples>


(Cuban Spanish) Cigarette package made of cardboard or lithographed paper and usually containing 14, 16 or 20 cigarettes.


(Cuban Spanish) Small box or package, usually for cigarettes.


(Spanish)   Box.  Wooden box in which Cuban cigars are retailed, usually containing 25 or 50 pieces (i.e. 1/40th or 1/20th format).


A type of modern African tobacco with strong flavor and aroma developed from Sumatran seed and commonly used as wrappers.

Canary Islands

Spanish-owned islands off the coast of Africa which has developed as a cigar industry in the modern Castro era. Cigar boxes marked as having come from the Canary Islands are post-1960.


(Spanish)  A broad shallow basket for carrying tobacco leaves in Cuban fields or factories.


Green wrapper grown primarily in Cuba. The color is attained in the curing process. Also called double-claro.


A circular piece of wrapper leaf glued to the head of a cigar for appearance.


(Spanish)  The outside wrapper leaf of a Cuban cigar.


Leaf cut from ground suckers, generally from Remedios or Santa Clara area of Cuba. Heavy and gummy, it often adds flavor and odor to cigar tobacco blends. ALSO: very popular heavily advertised brand of NYC cigar named after R. Capadura Brown, an 1870’s manufacturer, distributor and entrepreneur. Brand was eventually absorbed into Straiton & Storm, and thereafter into General Cigar, who ultimately resold it.


(Cuban Spanish) Unstemmed binder leaf, in contrast to banda.


Four hands of tobacco form a carrot. A hand is a bunch of 35 to 70 leaves, the better the quality the fewer the number.

casa de tobaco

(Spanish)  Curing barn on a Cuban vega. After the tobacco has been cut in the field, it is carried to the curing barn where it goes through the curing process. If the tobacco is cut in mancuernas (two leaves with a section of stalk between them) planters usually hang it on poles placed on frames out doors, usually in the field, until it wilts. It is then taken into the

curing barn. Curing barns run east-west so that the sun heats only the rear ends of the building in the early morning and late afternoon. Depending on their location, barns are roofed or completely covered with palm leaves.

caution notice (CN)

Notice required by the U.S. government to be pasted or printed on all cigar boxes 1868 to 1959 which cautions retailers to destroy the revenue stamp and not to refill the cigar box once emptied. <more>

Cedar (Spanish cedar)

Smokers believe, and manufacturers claim, their cigars are “packed in cedar.” The truth is little if any cedar has been used in cigar boxes for a century or more. The so-called Spanish Cedar” is really a form of mahogany. Most wooden boxes today are redwood because it’s fine-grained, knot free, insect resistant and relatively inexpensive. All it lacks is that wonderful cedar aroma, available in bottles and sprayed on boxes since the mid 1800s.


(Spanish)  Cedar, the traditional wood for cigar boxes because it is aromatic and impervious to insects.  Cigars en cedro are typically individually wrapped in an ultra thin sheet of cedar then put in glass or aluminum tubes. The Cental American Honduran cedar once used by the cigar industry is a hardwood, distinctly different from the soft North American red cedar.  Generally a misnomer as most ‘cedar’ used by the cigar industry is mahogany or redwood sprayed with cedar scent.


Cellophane was first used to protect individual cigars in the mid 1920’s and remains popular with makers of inexpensive and medium priced cigars today. The use of individual cellophane wrapping made it possible to print short run special advertising, such as for political candidates, weddings and births on the wrapping for each finished cigar. In cigar factories large and small, school-age children were hired to slip the cello tubes around cigars in the 1920’s and 30’s, especially when decorated wrappers were printed for the holiday season. One old timer remembers being paid “a penny a hundred and glad to get the work.” In he late 1950’s only the bakery and meat industries used more cellophane than tobacco manufacturers.


(Modern Spanish)  Tool used to measure or confirm the diameter - circumference (ring gauge) of a cigar. Basically a piece of wood with one or more holes drilled in it through which the cigar is passed.


(Spanish)  Curved flat blade about 4” to 6” across with no handle used by Cuban and other Latin cigar makers;  called a “Cuban blade” in the U.S. where knives with handles are preferred by most cigar rollers. It is also used flat in rolling (evening) a cigar.


Used to cover tobacco fields to lessen the effects of the sun’s rays and thus obtain wrappers of a light color. Calixto Lopez is credited with introducing cheesecloth into Cuba at the beginning of the 1900’s, using it on his farm named Cuainacabo in Pinar del Rio. Cheesecloth is often used in the Partido and Vuelta Abajo regions.


Specific type of thin cylindrical cigar open and square cut on both ends.  Wrappers on cheroots, like those on stogies, were frequently rolled perpendicular to the bunch rather than on the diagonal like cigars.  Cheroots typically are rolled without binder. Though some were made in the US, the world centers of cheroot production were Manila, Burma and India. Cheroots, stogies and tobies are each specific forms and shapes of cigars. It is NOT CORRECT to use “cheroot” or “stogie” or “toby” as a synonym for cigar.


(box makers’ term)  Fancy Cuban and Spanish retail size cigar box similar in purpose and overall design to cabinets but lacking doors, typically opening from the top.  The general configuration is more like a trunk than a cabinet. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s many U.S. manufacturers of 5¢ cigars offered their wares in a great variety of simple but attractive chests in an effort to entice customers to buy the entire box. Unlike fancier Cuban chests, the inner label of depression era chests was frequently glued to a mirror on the inside lid so the smoker could offer the box as a jewelry or accessory box to a lady friend.  A popular packing for Cuban and other high grade cigars today. <more>


(Spanish)  Bedbugs; small cigar factories, called buckeyes in the U.S. Usually less than four workers. Sometimes legally defined as less than 10. Small, their output was low, and generally intended for a local clientele.

chromolithography or chromo

The technique of making multi-colored pictures, printed from a series of stone or zinc plates, the impression from each being in a different color.


HISTORY: The story of cigars begins before recorded history when that first human used burning rolled up tobacco leaves for pleasure.  Various South and Central American civilizations carried on the practice and by 1500, when the New World met the Old, the Indians of the Americas used tobacco in every form known today and a few others best forgotten.  The Caribbean Taino encountered by Rodrigo de Xeres and Luis de Torrès reportedly smoked cigars. Until the late 1700’s cigars made in Cuba stayed in Cuba and most of the tobacco sent to Spain for use by the crown stayed in Spain. It wasn’t until the occupation of Havana by the British in 1762 that most Europeans and Americans got their first taste of Cuban cigars.

        After the liberalization of Cuban trade laws in the early 1800’s, cigars became all the rage in Europe and the US, with more than 5,000 factories established in the United States and  virtually every European country before 1850. Development of numerous strains of good quality cigar tobacco in the northern US, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Sumatra kept the cigar market full of quality products, especially during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th, a period referred to as the cigar’s Golden Age (1878 - 1915). As many as 30,000 factories made cigars in a single year, offering cigars under more than 1,000,000 brand names, mostly custom.  Approximately six billion US cigars were produced annually, few of which were exported. Makers of cigar moulds offered more than 3,000 different sizes and shapes of cigar, from three inches to nine, with most turn of the century cigars bulbous in shape and between four and five inches long. 

        Highly competitive, with low profit margins the rule, cigar makers and retailers are famous for gimmickry in cigar shape, brand names, advertising images, and packaging.

        The cigar industry began a decline around 1920, the result of increased competition from the modern blended cigarette, changing tastes, women smokers, a faster paced urban life, and the influence of the movie industry in which cigarette smoking was portrayed as chic. The fully automated machine-made short filler cigar first appeared on the market in 1917 and had taken over the low and medium priced industry by the end of the 1920’s, driving most hand made shops out of existence.  The Great Depression put yet more marginal makers out of business, reducing the total number of cigar factories worldwide to less than 4,000 by the start of WWII. 

        Cigar history in the National Cigar Museum arbitrarily ends with the changes in the tax and packaging laws of 1959 and the Castro revolution in Cuba. Corporate buy-outs and subsequent closings of marginal brands, and flood of Cuban factory relocations changed the cigar business into something quite different from its previous Golden Age.


cigar bag

Simple rectangular paper bag in which cigars bought individually by customers were packed to protect them against damage. They sometimes have narrow partitions, also made of paper, on the inside to keep the individual cigars separate and to provide an additional protection for the wrappers.  All forms are generally printed with the brand name of a cigar, the cigar maker or other advertising. Mostly used 1850 to 1930.

cigar band

Removable paper ring wrapped around individual cigars or small bundles of cigars, usually containing the brand name of the cigar or the semi-meaningless word “Havana.” Theories abound about who, where, when and why the first cigar was encircled with a paper band. English authors report receiving cigars banded with fortune-cookie style epigrams as early as 1810. Downright silly legends relating bands to tobacco stained fingers, demanding queens and other folk tales give way to the practical business decision by leading mid 19th century Cuban factories to market their product with each cigar exposing their brand name as part of their effort to thwart rampant counterfeiting by English and other merchants.

    Bands with prize awards printed on the back existed as early as the 1860’s in the U.S.  Cigar bands attained little popularity until the 1890’s when printing technology permitted cheap gaudy embossed red and gold bands, pictorial bands, and simple monochromatic bands at very low cost.  Collecting bands was one of the largest hobbies for kids from 1895 to 1930, resulting in thousands of small band collections continually turning up in estates today.  A famous set of bands depicting US Presidents from Washington to Teddy Roosevelt (1904-08) was sold for decades in glassine envelopes in dime stores for less than a quarter yet brings $50 up for a mint set today. Few American cigar band sets are known, whereas European bands were continually issued in sets widely available through dealers or on the internet today.  Band collecting, long moribund, has undergone great revival in recent years resulting in rising prices for pictorial, large, or otherwise unusual bands.

cigar boxes

Cigar boxes are containers in which cigars are retailed in contrast with decorative wooden after-market boxes called humidors sold empty by tobacconists and department stores, artisans and specialty shops to enable smokers to store cigars on a desktop. The classic form of cigar packaging, made from a variety of woods such as Cuban and Honduran mahogany, redwood, basswood, and more than twenty other rare and common woods. Cigar companies, box makers and collectors classify wooden cigar boxes as (1) trimmed nailed wood, (2) nailed wood with hardware, (3) boite nature, (4) semi-boite nature, (5) chests and cabinets, (6) uprights and (7) novelties or custom work.  Boxes have been made of dozens of different woods, tin, aluminum, brass, silver plate, glass, plastic, cardboard, and other materials. Boxes are normally made to hold 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 or 250 cigars, though a few other sizes are permitted. They are often richly decorated. Nineteenth century cigar factories, large and small, frequently assembled their own boxes, often the task of children in a family enterprise. <more>

COLLECTING: Collecting decorated and novelty cigar boxes is an increasingly popular hobby in both Europe and North America. Trimmed nailed wood boxes with interesting labels, novelty boxes in unusual shapes and printed tin boxes are the most popular.  Salesmen’s samples, vanity labels, and various themes such as sports, medicine, politics or pretty girls are frequently objects of collector’s attention. A handful of 19th century boxes have sold in excess of $1,000 but wonderful early 20th century examples can be found as cheap as $20. Boxes made after 1960 are often inventive and can usually be obtained for less than $10 each. Great caution is urged regarding “prices” in price guides as they are rarely accurate regarding tobacco collectibles in general.

cigar labels

Paper used to “trim” a cigar box includes: (1) one-inch wide edging, (2) a printed 6” high by 4” wide outside label which was glued on the outside lid or on one end of the box prior to 1880 and a 4” by 4” label used thereafter, (3) liner, blue at first but white/cream later on, which covered the inside sides and bottom of the box, (4) an inside cigar label which covered the inside lid, (5) liner on the insides and inside bottom, (6) flaps of paper that lay between the cigars and the label on the closed inside lid, (7) top ovals, (8) nail/signature tags, (9) banners applied to the inner label and (10) price and other decorative inside tags. At first, inner and outer labels were black and white, though U.S.  boxes with colored labels have been found as early as 1860’s. Cigar labels of the 19th century, and from some companies up to the 1930’s, were generally stone lithographs.  Labels were usually designed by staff artists or by free lancers who sold them to one of the two dozen or so cigar label printers that accounted for 90% of the label business nationwide. The earliest labels are remarkable examples of the finest black and white pictorial graphics of the day. Labels from the 1880’s are frequently recognizable by a naive quality accompanied by soft pastels or flat bright colors.  The gilded and embossed 1890-1920 labels took on an entire new look, brilliant in color and execution, achieving what many collectors and commercial art historians regard as the high point of commercial illustration art.  As cigar markets softened and fewer cigar companies were competing in the 1930’s, cigar labels became simpler though frequently employing dramatic color and design to rival the best of the past.  Twentieth century printing technology enabled cameras to play a larger role in cigar label production resulting in interesting vanity labels and lower prices for stock labels sold to cigar companies.  Cigar label salesman called on large cigar makers, wholesalers, and box makers offering a steady line of new labels based on the latest sports hero, theatrical offering or natural disaster.  Label collecting has boomed as a hobby in the past twenty years. As a result, catalogs from US, European, and Cuban label printers bring premium prices from collectors today.  More than 1,500,000 different cigar labels were made between 1860 and 1960.  US cigar boxes were also required to carry an additional label called a Caution Notice (1868-1910). After 1910, the Notice was printed directly on the box. 

cigar packaging

Until 1865, cigars were generally shipped in wooden boxes or crates of 250, 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000 from factories in Cuba, Spain, Philippines, Sumatra, Hamburg, New York, Philadelphia and other cigar making centers. Wholesalers and retailers repackaged the cigars in sizes to suit their customers.  Most retailers sold cigars loose from large plain boxes, frequently with little or no indication of the cigar maker or brand name.  Starting in the early 1830’s, Cuban cigars were branded with the maker’s marca, a combination of brand name, maker and other optional information.  Most marcas were oval, but type, decorative elements and graphics were often combined to more fanciful designs to be burned or stamped on packages to identify the contents and maker. 

        In the second quarter of the 19th century, small, sealed and guaranteed consumer size packaging was popularized by Cuban cigar makers in an effort to thwart misrepresentation of European cigars as Cuban by European retailers.  These smaller packages were designated according to the fraction of 1,000 they represented.  Boxes of one-hundred were referred to as 1/10ths.  Boxes of 50 were 1/20ths and boxes of 25 were  called 1/40ths. In the U.S., larger retail boxes of 250 and 500 were reserved for the very cheapest of cigars.  The opposite was true in Cuba where large packages held the finest cigars by the finest factories. In  the mid-1800’s, government action in both the U.S. and Cuba officially regulated cigar packaging to boxes of 25, 50, 100, 200, 250 and 500 cigars so they would be easy to count and tax. 

        Smaller size packaging for cigars became popular in the early 1890’s as boxes of 5, 10, 12 and 13 were introduced in response to small inexpensive packages of cigarettes beginning to flood U.S., South American and European markets.  Cigars were packaged in individual cork-sealed glass tubes in the late 1800’s, but these were always packed inside a cigar package of legal count. Packages of 3, 7, 8 and 20 were introduced by the mid 1920’s. Government regulation of box sizes ended in 1959 permitting modern cigar makers the greatest latitude in package sizing.

MATERIAL: Cigar packaging has traditionally been in mahogany, incorrectly identified by early Spanish explorers as “Spanish cedar.”  By the early 1900’s, cost cutting and forest stripping turned the box and cigar industry to redwood and dozens of lesser woods frequently covered with a thin veneer. These were typically trimmed with paper labels with pictures and/or text (see below). Experiments began with hand soldered tin boxes in 1870 but tin did not become popular for cigar packaging until the 1890’s after printing technology was developed which enabled full color graphics to be printed on tin.  Tin cans reached their height of popularity in the 1920’s, used by makers of cheap cigars to cut the high costs of post WWI lumber.  Advertising copy was either printed on the tin or pasted on paper labels. Tin has continued to be used in creative and colorful ways by a handful of modern companies.  Tax officials in the U.S. lifted their restrictions requiring boxes to be made of wood in 1870, resulting in great experimentation in the packaging industry.  The Golden Age (1880-1920) saw cigar boxes made of cardboard, tin, brass, silver plate, aluminum, glass, plastic, pottery, custom materials and various combinations of the above. These same materials remain popular for cigar packaging today.

DECORATION: After 1820 when Cuba cigar makers were permitted to ship directly to customers worldwide, barrels and crates of Cuban cigars were branded with the maker’s marca, a combination of brand name, maker and other optional information.  Most marcas were oval, but type, decorative elements and graphics were often combined to more fanciful designs to be burned or stamped on packages to identify the contents and maker.  U.S. and European cigar boxes were of simple design, frequently carrying only a word or two, sometimes a simple picture on one end of the box.  Cigar makers in the U.S. and Europe seldom wanted to be identified as cigar consistency and quality were serious problems. That changed somewhat in the 1870’s with the introduction of newer better cigar tobaccos and humidified showcases in which to display them. Colorful inside labels began decorating boxes in an effort to attract the eye of the smoker by using pictures, puns, literary references, and every other topic imaginable.  Baseball players and boxers, actors and actresses, poets and playwrights, politicians and bankers, generals and gamblers, children, pets, racehorses, railroad trains, dancing friars, dogs, cats, pigs and goats,  even a pigeon who flew from Pensacola to Philadelphia in 23 hours got pictured on a cigar box. In 1914 there were 30,000 cigar factories, most of them located in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey and Ohio producing nearly 150,000 brands of cigars all packed in boxes. It is estimated that as many as 2,000,000 different brands of cigars appeared on the market between 1860 and 1960. Modern cigar packaging tends to be semi-boite nature with many clever and innovative boxes seen during the past three decades.

cigar press

Iron press in which wooden cigar moulds are clamped and tightly pressed for a few hours to help form the shape of the bunch. Different from a box press. See hand tools.

cigar tubes

By the late 19th century cigar makers were packing individual large cigars into glass tubes as protection from drying out and to make an attractive presentation in an open box.  Glass tubes were frequently associated with expensive cigars sold in boxes of 10 or 25 and remain in use today.  Screw top aluminum tubes to hold individual cigars for retail display first appeared in the early 20th century. They were especially popular in the 1950’s for Manufactured in Bond 30¢ brands such as Garcia y Vega and Bering.  Aluminum was lighter than glass, and less breakable, but had the disadvantage in not displaying the actual product.  To protect cigars from rubbing against aluminum, thin sheets of wood resembling cedar loosely lined each tube.  A few cigar makers have experimented with plastic tubes, but the marketplace does not seem to be impressed.

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(Spanish)  Cigarette.  Popularly used in Latin countries and in pre-1950 US. When, during the 1950’s, General Cigar Co. began heavily marketing an addition to its popular ROBT. BURNS line, a cigarette-like 5¢ machine made cigar which they called a cigarillo, the definition popularly changed to refer to that type product. Typically modern cigarillos are made from finely chopped cigar tobacco machine wrapped in a homogenized paper-like leaf product called HTML. Collectors of antique or Cuban advertising or packaging need to remember that through most of history “cigarillo” means cigarette.


(Cuban Spanish) Cigarette factory.


(Spanish)  Small (less than 2” long) Cuban cigarette, generally made from lesser grades of cigar tobacco.  At least one popular and expensive mid 19th century Cuban cigarette maker claimed to use Vuelta Abajo tobaccos exclusively. In Latin countries, cigars were called “tobacos” or “puros.” German and American label designers confused the word ‘cigarro’ with cigars, using it interchangeably on US and German cigar labels, making the word generally meaningless except on products originating in Cuba or a Latin American culture. Collectors of antique or Cuban advertising or packaging need to remember cigarro means cigarette.

cigarro en papel

(Spanish)  Cigarette wrapped in paper, rolled with cigar tobacco in Cuba, more generally simply called a cigarro.


(Spanish)  One of the five most commonly used color classifications for cigars. Describes a tan or light green colored cigar. See also: amarillo;  colorado;  colorado claro; colorado maduro; maduro; oscuro; pajizo

Clear Havana

Cigar made entirely of Cuban tobacco but manufactured in the United States or elsewhere.

The center of clear Havana production in the U.S. was New York City until the first two decades of the 20th century when clear Havana production became centered in Florida.


Cigar Maker’s International Union. Founded in 1864.  In 1880 the CMIU adopted the “blue label” stamp to be placed on every box of cigars rolled by Union workers. That date appears on all stamps issued between 1888 and 1974. Samuel Gompers, founder of the AFL in 1886, was President of NYC CMIU Local 144. Once powerful, progressive and influential with more than 25,000 members, a series of bad decisions and mechanization combined to make the CMIU ineffectual after WWI. Ultimately, the few remaining members were absorbed into the Grocery Clerks in the 1970’s.

color mark

A small piece of paper, stencil, rubber stamping or pencilled notation indicating the color of the cigars in a box. In addition to the five traditional marks used in the U.S., (claro, colorado claro, colorado, colorado maduro, maduro) you will find, particularly on boxes after 1960, marks such as mild, candela, English Market, double claro, dark, etc. In 19th century Cuban factories the men who sorted cigars by color prior to packing were capable of sorting into 30± different shades, assuring perfect uniformity of color in the top row of a box of cigars. This skill made them the highest paid workers in the factory. Only the five basic color marks seem to have been used on boxes, however.

color separation

A photographic negative exposed through a filter which records only one of the primary colors; the film being a gray tonal record of the intensity of the color it is reproducing.


(Spanish)  One of the five most commonly used color classifications for cigars. Describes a red brown cigar. See also: amarillo;  claro;  colorado claro; colorado maduro; maduro; oscuro; pajizo

colorado claro

(Spanish)  One of the five most commonly used color classifications for cigars. Describes a medium brown cigar. See also: amarillo;  claro;  colorado;  colorado maduro;  maduro; oscuro;  pajizo

colorado maduro

(Spanish)  One of the five most commonly used color classifications for cigars. Describes a dark red brown cigar. See also: amarillo;  claro;  colorado;  colorado claro;  maduro; oscuro;  pajizo


(19th Century Cuban Spanish) Cigars made from small unstripped leaves.


Former category in the classification of Brissago and Toscani cigars. 1) Brissago comuni The lowest classification in the grading system, based on general aesthetic criteria. Nowadays they are considered as waste. 2) Toscani comuni Grading given to Toscani cigars with irregularly-coloured wrappers; or, following the introduction of mechanical production, short filler cigars.


(modern Spanish) Cigarette tobacco in the field, especially in Dominican Republic.


Type of cigar which, after being made, is pressed in moulds to take on a rectangular cross section with a double bend in the middle. Almost always sweetened with various sugars and/or liquors. Most popular in the 1950’s, a beginner’s cigar for many smokers, the style can be traced back as far as 1900 with certainty (probably earlier).


    The largest island in the Caribbean, located at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. It was on Cuba that Columbus first heard of people smoking, although he had already been presented with dried tobacco leaves, which he did not know how to use, on San Salvador. The Taino Indians, members of the Aruakos tribe who lived on Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, cultivated tobacco and had developed drying and manipulation techniques for the preparation of chewing tobacco, snuff, cigars and a form of cigarette wrapped in leaves.  The Taino are known to have mixed coca leaves in with chewing tobacco, a practice learned from South and Central American Indians.

Cuba is rightly renowned for its cigar tobacco. Most famous is that from the Vuelta Abajo in the Pinar del Rio region of Western Cuba.  First planted in the late 1700’s, planting was greatly expanded in the second quarter of the 19th century when demand for Cuban tobacco skyrocketed throughout Europe and the US.  Vuelta Abajo tobacco is the standard against which all other cigar tobaccos are measured. Tobacco from this and other regions of Cuba provided the original seed from which nearly all modern cigar tobaccos have been developed.

Prior to 1800, Cuban cigar factories supplied cigars primarily to local residents, with only one maker permitted in the late 1790’s to ship directly to Spain (variously reported as late as 1810). For the first fifty years after Spain opened Cuba’s doors to limited trade around 1818, the number of tobacco farms and cigar factories in Cuba multiplied dramatically.  Most were short lived, due to attrition, absorption, or mismanagement.  One international directory compiled in the early 1870’s in the heart of the Ten Year’s War (see below) lists 200+ marcas  being supplied to the export cigar trade by 200 companies, each of which owned as many as twenty other marcas (brands they were entitled to make), absorbed from former rivals or partners.

The entire 19th century in Cuba was witness to continual, seldom overly popular, but frequently bloody uprisings against Spanish control.  As a result, both Cuban Spaniards and Cuban creoles (mixed bloods of Spanish, Indian, Black, European and Caribbean backgrounds) often moved to the United States, settling primarily in New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Key West, the four cities most easily reachable by boat. In the 1840’s, Key West began its then tiny ventures into the cigar making business, selling primarily to New York and Philadelphia.  Cuba’s devastating 10 years war (1868-78) nearly destroyed the island physically and economically with some estimates reporting 25% of the male population dead.  Skilled cigar makers and factory managers fled northward, primarily to New York City, to help the great expansion of US cigar factories which began in the late 1870’s.

As the cigar factories of Havana consolidated, the once small factories scattered throughout all of Cuba became larger Havana centered operations.  The impersonalization of factories containing up to 1,000 employees led to increased alienation of the workers and moves toward unionization, another factor which encouraged experienced cigar makers to take their vitola to New York and start over.

The war left the country wrecked, the population more than decimated, fields burned, government money embezzled, rail lines in shambles, sugar plantations burned or plundered, so the situation was favorable for foreign investors. After 1880 Cuban cigar factories and fields came increasingly under the control of American, British and German interests. By World War One, less than 50 independent Cuban factories remained to supply the world’s export market. Famous Cuban marcas such as La Corona, Bock y Ca., Antonio y Cleopatra, A de Villar de Villar and Henry Clay were ultimately owned by American Tobacco Co. and moved to an air conditioned US Bonded factory in New Jersey during the 1930’s. In the 1960’s, many of the remaining famous marcas were taken by their owners to Honduras, The Canary Islands, and elsewhere.

Debates still rage over ownership of various marcas and quality of product being sold, but customers world wide continue to absorb this tiny island’s entire production.

The Cuban cigarette industry was thriving by the mid 1800’s. Very short hand rolled cigarettes, frequently using high grade cigar tobacco, were extremely popular with the total output split 50-50 between local consumption and export, largely to Europe and South America.  The largest and most famous of Cuban 19th century cigarette brands was Susini’s La Honradez, the subject of books and articles in Europe and a popular tourist stop for visitors to Cuba.  Honradez is credited with creating the earliest tobacco item designed to be a collectible in the 1850’s when they began wrapping each pack of 10-25 cigarettes in colorful cartoon wrappers featuring jokes, fables, uniforms, moral lessons, famous people and of course, pretty girls. The frequent changing of labels was an effort to thwart European pirate wholesalers and retailers who were marketing fake Honradez cigarettes. Honradez was a target of forgers because their cigarettes cost three or more times what domestic cigarettes cost worldwide...and were regarded as the world’s finest. As cigar companies were bought by foreigners, so too were the cigarette companies, most of which were shut down. What remained of the Cuban cigarette industry marketed domestically, as it was not in a position to compete against the marketing power of American, British and French cigarette makers.

Cuban blade

A type of flat, curved, handleless knife used in cigar manufacture. see Chaveta.

Cuban Guarantee stamp

Collectors frequently find a large green stamp on Cuban boxes, guaranteeing them to be the product of Cuba. The first version of this instantly recognized stamp was created by tobacco manufacturers belonging to the Union de Fabricantes de Tabacos de la Habana and legitimized by the Spanish Crown in 1889.  This red and black stamp bore the name of the Union, the seal of the King, and the seal of the Governor-General of Cuba. The name of the company on whose box of cigars the stamp was used was overprinted in dark blue on the diagonal across the middle of the stamp. When Palma became the first President of the new Republic of Cuba in 1902, a new similarly colored seal was created, replacing the seal of the King with that of the Cuban Republic and the seal of the Governor General with a picture of Columbus.  This seal lasted until 1912 when a universal seal (the familiar green “Cuban Government’s Warranty for Cigars Exported from Havana”) was created, embracing all makers, not just Union members.  This seal was approved by the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor who ordered it pasted on all boxes of cigars packed for export.  It carries the date Julio 16/1912 as do all versions of the stamp since. A redesign took place in 1924 which included new text written in English, Spanish, French and German. The design and size (6.75” x 2.37”) remained the same until Castro and the early 1960’s. A serial number was added in the early 2000’s. <more>

Cuban hand made

Cigars rolled by hand without a binder leaf.

Cuban seed tobacco

Tobacco grown from seed originating in Cuba but planted elsewhere.


Company founded in 1962 in Havana as exporter of leaf tobacco and tobacco products principally to Spain and the Netherlands. Between 1985 and 1994, the name appears on the bottom of boxes exported from Cuba.


(Cuban Spanish) Bunch of dried leaves tied at one end.


(Cuban Spanish) Bundle of three cigars twisted together and tied. Said to have been designed to keep cigar factory workers from stealing cigars. Traditionally workers were allowed as many as three smokes a day, but abused the privilege. By issuing workers a culebra with its distinctively malformed cigars to smoke, owners were able to identify ”extras” that workers tried to smuggle out when leaving at the end of their work day. That’s the “story” but in viewing hundreds of pictures of Cuban factory workers, I’ve yet to see anyone smoking a culebra. They’re generally smoking giant broomstick cigars.


(Cuban Spanish) Quality leaves near the top of a tobacco plant.


(Cuban Spanish) Removing the midrib / stem. Wrapper leaves have the entire mid-rib removed. Some factories remove only the thicker part of the stem (about half way up the leaf) on filler leaves, thus, they believe, facilitating a particular style of bunch making.


(Cuban Spanish) A stripper, usually a woman or either-sex child, who removes the midrib of a tobacco plant. This operation can be done at the factory, the wholesaler, or in private residences as was the case in home manufacture in small towns, farms and tenement houses throughout the 19th century. In the case of wrapper the entire midrib is removed, separating the leaf into two parts. In the case of filler, one-fourth, one half, or three-fourths of the length of the midrib is removed.

dressed box

(limited modern usage) A trimmed nailed wood cigar box. Possibly a translation corruption of trimmed.

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(box makers’ term)   The inch wide paper trim which decorates the edges of nailed wood cigar boxes, covering up nails and wood joints. By the end of the century, tens of thousands of colored, pictorial, often custom edging was available.  Part of the basic “trim” of a nailed wood box.


(Cuban Spanish) A brand or brand name in Cuba.

elaborador privado

(Cuban Spanish). A cigar maker who works in his own home, assisted only by family.


A quality much sought after in wrapper as it makes them fit the body of a cigar perfectly.


English Market Selection, a designation given to some light colored cigars. It refers only to color, not to taste or moisture content.

end labels

Smaller form of outer label which does not overlap onto the top and bottom of a box of 50 cigars.


(Cuban Spanish)   Small Cuban factories with no marcas who, in the 19th and early 20th century, quietly supplied cigars to major brand name makers whenever they were unable to keep up with demand. The practice or buying up cigars from small makers and reselling them under a different prestigious brand name was widespread among New York City factories as well.


(modern usage) A rolling method contrasting to booking in which the roller folds each filler leaf back on itself, before bunching the leaves together. Fans claim better air flow and a more even draw and burn.


Goods, usually paper or cardboard, created to have a short useable life: labels, letterheads, handbills, trade cards, catalogs, and the like.


(modern usage) Cooling cabinets, rooms or closets in which cigars are stored to mellow and “marry” their flavors. This process could take a few weeks (today) to a few years in some Cuban factories of the past.


(Cuban Spanish) Expert leaf selector and grader; a packer.

fabrica de tobacos

(Spanish)  Literally: Cigar factory. Frequently seen on cigar labels. Gringos frequently misread it as “made of tobacco,” a mistake intended by the label designers.


To gain their distinctive color and taste, harvested tobacco leaves are gathered in large bulks (or piles), moistened and allowed to ferment, pretty much like organic gardeners build compost piles. Bulks are monitored closely, and re-stacked regularly (called “working the bulk”) to prevent burning. Fermentation eventually stops naturally. More than 1,000 chemicals have been identified in raw untreated tobacco. Fermentation releases ammonia, among others that adversely affect taste and color.


(Spanish) Term describing a cigar not made in the common broomstick shape. Before the machine age made broomstick cigars common, most cigars were figurados in that they had bulbous middles, tapered ends, rat tails, and other shaped elements.


(Spanish)  The department in a factory where cigar boxes are papered.


(Spanish). The inch wide trim which decorates the edges of cigar boxes.  Called edging in the US.


The center mass of leaves in a cigar;  the part of a cigar that determines its taste and burn. Filler is usually classified as long or short, the length of the pieces used. Long filler is considered the best, as it promotes more even burn and taste. Called tripa in Cuban.


During hand rolling, the small piece of leaf used to close the head of the cigar. Gets its name from its generally rectangular shape.

flat ten

Box of 10 cigars packed in a single row. Usually tin, but other materials as well.

flat top

Any box of cigars in which all the cigars are in the top row.


The end of a cigar that gets set on fire. The head goes in the smoker’s mouth. Generally called a the “tuck” end in English.


Fanciful name on the front of many U.S. cigar boxes which indicates the size and shape of the cigar sold under that marca. There are more than two thousand frontmarks, some quite strange. Only a few frontmarks (blunts, panatelas, perfecto) approach standardization. Most frontmarks individual meanings in each company. Many are unique to one manufacturer.  If some writer or smoker pontificates about the exact ring gauge, length and shape of a frontmark (“A Regalia is 4.5” long, tapered on one end and...”), take his comments with a grain of salt, adding quietly to yourself “for that particular brand this year.” If, God forbid, you have a sadistic streak you might ask the speaker to describe a Bayonette, a Kindergarden, a Broncho, a Caballero, a Torpedora, a Crusader, a Brownie or an Opera Bouquet. A name is just a name despite all the romance applied by ad agencies.

full BN

(box makers’ term)  Alternate name for a boîte nature cigar box to differentiate it from a semi Boite nature box.


(Cuban Spanish) Free cigars smoked by cigar makers as they work, typically large size made of the highest grades of tobacco available in the factory. Strikes and vandalism resulted whenever a company attempted to discontinue the practice. American Tobacco Company saved an estimated $50,000 a year in lost tobacco by moving their premium brands from Cuban factories where free smokes were traditional to New Jersey’s air conditioned no-smoking factory in which cigars were primarily rolled by women.

Also: can refer to crudely finished cigar with a shaggy untrimmed foot and a twisted head. This meaning is slang and seen in both masculine and feminine form (fumo and fuma) in the literature, possibly the result of sloppy reporting of a foreign word [?].


(19th Century Cuban Spanish) The room in which cigarmakers work.


(Cuban Spanish) A hand or bundle of 25 to 40 leaves tied together with string or with a tobacco leaf midrib after curing; four gavillas form a manojo (carrot). Eighty manojos form a bale of tobacco ready for market.


(Spanish)  Tobacco grown in El Oriente, the Province of Santiago de Cuba, the second largest region of cigar factories in Cuba. Gibara, also called mayari or yara, is a coarse distinctive tasting tobacco loved by locals who used half the crop themselves.  The remainder was shipped to Austria, Spain, Italy and other countries where a government monopoly existed.  Most of the leaf is suitable only for pipe tobacco.  It is the least expensive of Cuban leaf.

gold leaf

Often incorrectly used to describe the gold color common on cigar labels. Lithographers used a fine metallic powder made from bronze dust/powder (or aluminum for a silver effect), which was applied in a machine called a "Bronzer" after all the other colors had been laid-down. The label was printed with a sticky base of clear varnish in the appropriate areas, and the bronze was sifted (or "dusted") onto the surface where it adhered to the sticky areas. It was then burnished by revolving brushes to make medallions and other art-work glisten without the expense of real gold or other precious metals.


(Cuban Spanish) Vegetable gum (gum tragacanth) used to seal the head of a cigar and make minor repairs elsewhere.


(Cuban Spanish) Tool used to trim the end of a cigar during manufacture. A “tuck cutter” in English. See hand tools.

gum tragacanth

Sticky gum obtained from Greece and Asia Minor used to seal the head of cigars made by hand or mould. Also used to fix imperfections, minor leaf tears, etc.

Habanos, S.A.

The official exporter of Cuban cigars. In a joint venture with Altadis, controls the worldwide distribution and sale of Cuban cigars. Company officially owns the marcas (trademarks) of all Cuban export brands (except in the U.S.).  Helpful in dating boxes because that name will be found on all boxes of Cuban cigars exported after 1994.


In the grading room, tobacco leaves are made into bundles called hands. This is done by arranging the leaves with the stems together and tying them at the top, near the end of the stems, by means of another tobacco leaf prepared for this purpose. The number of leaves in a hand varies. The hands of wrapper contain a counted 35 leaves. Bunches of filler may have as many as 70 leaves, but the engavillador (buncher) is skilled at estimating and bunches so those of a particular grade a quite uniform.   Four hands form a carrot.

Hand rolled

A cigar rolled entirely by human hands. Originally, in the last half of the 19th century, a cigar made using a mould was not considered to be hand made, and men who used moulds or who worked in factories where moulds were employed were not permitted to join the Cigar Makers’ Union. Using moulds was scorned, declared women’s work, true in that moulds permitted untrained female rollers by the tens of thousands to enter what had been a highly skilled workforce prior to the appearance of moulds. The increased production and much shorter learning curve of moulds soon made their adoption almost universal, and the definition changed. Today, rollers who use moulds are considered hand-rollers.


(box makers’ term) Hinges and clasps applied to a cigar box.


Capital city of Cuba. All tobacco shipped from Cuba historically tends to be called “Havana,” though none is actually grown in the city. Also, historically Havana referred to various types of cigar tobacco originally developed from Cuban seed and grown widely in MD, PA, NY, OH, WI and CT.  When the word “Havana” appeared on a box of U.S. made cigars, it often had the latter meaning or indicated that a handful of Cuban tobacco had been mixed with the barrel of Connecticut from which their cigars were rolled. Cuba sued in U.S. courts to stop cigarmakers from using the word “Havana” but not surprisingly given the venue, lost. It became an almost meaningless designation because anyone could, and did, use the word. Today, with the U.S. largely out of the cigar business, Havana is more likely to actually refer to Cuba.The city is also spelled Habana.

Hecho a mano

(Cuban Spanish) Found on the bottom of a cigar box from Cuba. Means “made by hand” but, in the modern era, includes cigars made with machine bunched filler that are merely wrapped by hand. A modern cigar that is totally hand made (using moulds, however) includes the word totalmente. Hecho a mano on a pre WWII box meant mould made, but with no machine involvement, including the use of table-top bunch-making machines, the use of which in the U.S. did not discourage manufacturers from designating their cigars as “Hand Made.”


(19th Century Cuban Spanish) The branded marca on the lid of a cigar box


A unit of measure for commerce and shipping consisting of  a barrel of tobacco weighing between 800 and 1,400 pounds. Larger hogsheads were usually from “Western” states of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky as river freight charges were often by the unit not the weight. For “averaging” purposes, the 1,000 pound hogshead was the Southern “standard” and the 1,300 pound hogshead the Western standard as much as there was one.

Honduran cigars

Any Honduran boxes found by collectors today are likely to have been made after 1962, after Cuban cigars were banned from the U.S. markets.


Homogenized Tobacco Leaf, a trademark of General Cigar, inventors of a tobacco product made like paper and shipped and used in rolls for binder and wrapper for machine made cigars. HTL is cost effective in that it permits using stems and scrap, thus not wasting leaf and leaf parts.


Device used to maintain relative humidity between 65% and 73% which most experts consider ideal for cigar storage. If you  own one, make certain to use only distilled water, never tap water.


After-market box purchased empty from tobacconists, artisans or specialty shops, the purpose of which is to hold cigars in a home or office. Humidors usually contain various devices for regulation or measurement of humidity and temperature. Humidors are in contrast to cigar boxes, which are retail packages sold full of cigars, but may be designed to become humidors once the original contents are smoked.


Legal identification required on all boxes of U.S. cigars 1866 to 1959 consisting of the maker’s name or federally assigned factory number, state and tax district in which the cigars were made and the number of cigars in the package. The only info on a U.S. cigar box guaranteed to be accurate.


(Cuban Spanish)   A grade of Cuban tobacco made up primarily of stained and damaged lower leaves from a tobacco plant. This grade was the lowest quality, typically exported or used for domestic cheap cigar filler. The worst looking leaves were ground up for snuff or cigarettes.

inner labels

(box makers’ term) Labels intended to cover or partially cover the inside lid of a standard nailed wood cigar box.  First appeared on U.S. cigar boxes in the 1860’s, popularized in the 1870’s, still in use today.  Designed and created by lithographers and printers worldwide, inner labels were offered from catalogs and postal mailings to large cigar makers, but primarily offered to retailers and small cigar factories by box makers and cigar brokers. Highly collectible today as early examples of commercial art.

inset lid

(box makers’ term)  A cigar box lid that sits on top of the front and back panels, but inside the sides of the box. A design improvement made in the early 1880’s that prevented lids from twisting off. Contrast with over-all lid (also called lid over all).

Jamaican cigars

Cigars and other tobacco products have been manufactured in Jamaica since the 1700’s, at first exclusively for the British market. Since 1960 Jamaica has become an important source of imported cigars in the U.S.  Any Jamaican box found by collectors today is likely to have been made after 1960.

Key West cigars

Originally, cigars made in Key West, Florida, but in the 19th century became a generic term for Key West style cigars, which are clear Havanas (made entirely of Cuban grown tobacco) and hand rolled without a binder leaf.

labels, cigar

Decorative paper or foil trim applied to a nailed wood or other cigar box.  A label set usually consists of inner label approximately 6” x 9” and an outer label approximately 4” x 4”.  Smaller outer labels in a 2” x 4” format designed for the ends of boxes are called end labels. A full set of labels, called trim, may also include matching nail tag, top oval and edging. Full sets are more common in the European market.


(Cuban Spanish) Giant farms with thousands of acres.


(Spanish)  Reader or lecturer in a cigar factory.  Readers were typically paid by an assessment against each worker, though in some factories the lectore was paid in cigars, each roller donating a few as he left the factory. The custom of having someone read during boring tasks originated in convents and prisons and spread to cigar factories in the 1860’s. The first Cuban factory to adopt a reader was El Figaro, one of the top cigar and cigarette makers of the day. Partagas followed two weeks later. Lectores read what workers wanted, inevitably starting the day with a newspaper.   Classic novels, scientific papers, adventure stories, philosophic treatises, letters from home, international and national news, local news and gossip and revolutionary and union propaganda were all part of a cigar maker’s day. Lurid romance novels were favorites of women in those factories which provided a reader for the strippers. Many credit or blame lectores for the fact that cigar workers were the first Cuban workmen to form protective associations. Readers typically worked for a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon. They were always men, but could be of any race or color.  The most popular lectores lasted a decade or more and frequently dramatically acted out the various characters in a novel. Readers served at the will of the workers, so those who weren’t entertaining seldom lasted. Factory owners replaced lectores with radios in most factories during the 1920’s, in large measure to counter-act Unionizing.


(Cuban Spanish) Havana cigars made in Havana as opposed to “clear Havanas” made entirely of Cuban tobacco elsewhere in the world.


(Cuban Spanish) Employee of cigar and cigarette factories who blends tobacco from various sources to create the distinctive taste of the finished product. The success and fame of a brand depends largely on the skill of the blender.


A rock consisting of mostly calcium carbonate, which when crystallized by heat and pressure becomes marble. In printing, limestone blocks were 2" to 5" thick, with a flat top and bottom, polished smooth and used to make plates for printing. Stones were quite heavy. A greasy impression would be made on the stone, the surrounding surface etched. The porous stone was then made moist, thereby, allowing printing from the waxy raised impression and not the damp, wet stone.


White or other light colored paper which covers the inside sides and bottom of a “trimmed” cigar box.  Cigar boxes from the 1870’s frequently used blue liner; other colors, including yellow and pink, have been seen infrequently. Lead foil was a popular liner in boxes designed for the Christmas trade. Boite nature boxes are not lined.


A printing process invented in the very late 1700’s based on the repulsion between grease and water. The design is put on a limestone surface with a greasy material, and then water and printing ink are successively applied; the greasy parts, which repel water, absorb the ink, but the wet parts do not. See Offset lithography.

Little Dutch

Popular cigar tobacco developed in Germany, perfected in Ohio, and since the 1870’s grown primarily in Ohio.


(box maker’s term)  Interlocked corners on BN and SBN boxes. Often incorrectly called “dovetailing” or ‘machine dovetails” by amateurs, antique dealers and eBay sellers.

long nines

Popularly believed to be an early 1800’s type of US cigar based on an oft-repeated single reference approximately two centuries old. Unfortunately, there is no surviving packaging, advertising, or engraving to substantiate their existence, nor any pre-Civil War print source which  describes them with any accuracy.  In the US before 1850, a great many cigars were manufactured by farm wives during snowy winters and traded to traveling peddlers in the Spring.  Bartering this crude non-standard farm output may have given root to the appellations “short sixes” and “long nines” as nothing by that name appears in the Cuban tradition followed by cigar factories in US or European cities.


The second pair of leaves up from the bottom of a tobacco plant.


(Spanish)  One of the five most commonly used color classifications for cigars. Describes a very dark colored cigar.


(Cuban Spanish) Two or sometimes three tobacco leaves harvested with their connecting portion of the stalk. This system of cutting tobacco is unique to Cuba.


(Cuban Spanish)   A carrot. Bundles of four gavillas (hands) tied together with fiber make a carrot, which consists of  varying numbers of leaves of cured tobacco. Eighty manojos form a bale ready for market.


(Spanish):  Company mark and brand name. After 1818 when Cuban cigar makers were permitted to ship directly to customers worldwide, barrels and crates of Cuban cigars were branded with the maker’s marca, originally simple initials hot branded into the crate, barrel or bale. As the number of shippers increased, more informative marcas appeared oval in shape, combining brand name, maker and city of origin. Before the U.S. and Cuban Civil Wars, typeface, decorative elements and graphics were already being combined to more fanciful designs to be burned or stamped on containers to identify the contents and maker. The 1847 FIGARO box seen <here> is a good example. A marca (brand name) was frequently sold to another maker, with some long-lived popular brands being made by four or five different owners of the marca.  Cuban companies are  popularly called by their marca rather than the name of the actual maker.


(Spanish)  An inexpensive distinctive tasting Cuban tobacco grown in El Oriente Province. Also known as gibara. Tobacco from Eastern Cuba is almost entirely exported to Spain, Germany and the Netherlands to supply European tobacco monopolies.

media rueda

(Spanish) Half wheel; a bundle of 50 cigars.

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A lightweight, soft, easily carved white or cream colored mineral (hydrated magnesium silicate) mined in Turkey and elsewhere used to make pipes and cigar holders. Austria, France, Turkey, Budapest and the United States maintained large factories and sold meerschaum products widely and very inexpensively in the 19th century. Huge range of size and quality of material and workmanship exists. Many meerschaum items thought to be pipes were actually cigar holders as it was not uncommon for cigars to stand straight up in some holders. Dogs, women, skulls and men’s heads are four very common themes.


(19th Century Cuban Spanish) Wheat bread kneaded into a ball and used as paste for the heads of 19th century cigars.

mold  / mould / molde

Wooden device invented in England or Germany in the mid 1800’s for purpose of enabling semi-skilled workers to form cigars with less training than the three years typically required for an all-by-hand cigar roller.  A bunch (filler and binder leaf) is placed in the mould to help shape the bunch into the desired vitola.. The adoption of moulds by factories worldwide was inevitable as more cigars could be made faster and cheaper using this handy device.  In the 19th century cigars made using moulds were not considered hand made and workers using them were not permitted to join the Cigar Maker’s International Union.  Today cigars made with moulds are described as hand made.

nail tag

Label stuck on the outside front of a trimmed nailed wood cigar box, over the nail which seals the box after it is filled with cigars.  Nail tags may be pictorial or not, with or without the brand name of the cigar. When a guarantee and maker’s facsimile signature are on a nail tag it is referred to as a “signature tag” or in absence of a signature, a “guarantee” tag.

nailed wood box

(box makers’ term) Wooden cigar box made of six pieces of wood nailed together, usually with 14 nails. The hinge which attaches the lid was made of muslin. The lid can be of the drop-in or over-all type, i.e. it can fit flush with the front within the sides of the box or lie atop both sides and front. Nailed wood boxes are traditionally trimmed with edging, inner and outer label identifying the brand name, and a white paper liner covering the inside sides and bottom. Boite nature boxes are not lined. Nail tags, signature tags, top ovals, various types of flaps, color mark, and distributor’s label are other optional trim. NOTE: modern cigar ad men refer to these as “semi-plain,” “current,”  or “dressed” boxes, terms unknown before 1960. A complete exposition of Nailed Wood and other types of boxes can be seen elsewhere in the Museum. Start here.

nailed wood with hardware box

(box makers’ term)  Wooden cigar box made of six pieces of wood nailed together.  Brass hinges (called “hardware”) are used to attach the lid rather than a muslin strip.  Nailed wood with hardware boxes are not usually trimmed with paper labels but advertising copy, decoration, and illustration (if present) is printed directly on the box, generally by steam or hydraulic presses one at a time. Abbreviated NWH or NWHC (when a clasp has been added.  Used primarily in the United States from 1870 to 1930. Their greatest popularity was during the 1878-1915 Golden Age.  Quite elaborate nailed wood with hardware boxes were printed in red, blue, silver and gold, and frequently had die cut paper additions. To see an exhibit, go here.

non-tobacco ingredients

Sounds ominous in the warnings on 1960’s and later cigar packages, but means that HTL (homogenized tobacco leaf) was used as filler, binder, or wrapper in the machine manufacture of the cigars.  HTL consists of paper like rolls of mashed, pulped, wetted, and bound together (glued) tobacco scraps enabling manufacturers to avoid virtually all plant waste. Also called reconstituted tobacco. Cellulose, an insoluble substance derived from plant glucose, is used as a binder (glue) triggering the warning.

novelty box

Since the law of 1878 liberalized permissible cigar packaging cigars have been packed in an amazing array of shapes including books, log cabins, deed and cash boxes, game boxes, trunks, suitcases, vehicles, jewelry boxes, attache cases, bottles, beer steins and mugs... and many more. If a cigar box was made to be reused as something else, or is shaped like something other than a cigar box,  it’s a novelty.

offset lithography

When printing by “direct lithography” an image in drawn in reverse is printed onto the paper directly, creating a positive image. When printing by “offset lithography” a positive image is transferred to a rubber-covered cylinder (reversing the image), and then the rubber transfers the image to the paper leaving a positive image.


(Spanish)  One of the six most commonly used color classifications for cigars. Describes an almost black cigar. See also: amarillo;  claro;  colorado;  colorado claro; colorado maduro; maduro;  pajizo

outer label

(box makers’ term) Cigar label used on either the right or left end of a U.S., European, or Cuban cigar box.  Prior to the 1870’s, outer labels were in vertical format, approximately 6” high by 4” wide and most often of entirely different design than the inner label (if there was one). End labels wrapped onto the top of the box forming a seal to show the box had not been tampered with. When tax stamps took over that role, the industry slowly saw the wisdom  of using smaller labels. Europeans continued to prefer the vertical format well into the 20th century. US boxes from the 1870’s inevitably have inner and outer labels that don’t match. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that boxes consistently have 4x4 outer labels that are excerpted from the center of the inner label. The 4” by 4” format perfectly fitted the end of a standard box of 100 cigars, and decoratively overlapped onto the top and bottom of a 50 or 25 box.  Outer labels that are printed the size of the end of the box and do not overlap tops of 25 and 50 boxes are called end labels.

over-all lid  (lid over all)

(Box makers’ term)  A lid which rests on all four sides of a nailed wood box, in contrast with an inset lid which sits on the front and back panels but inside the two sides of a box. Over-all lids were bad technology for commercial packaging as they were easily twisted off, and are seldom seen after the early 1880’s except on drop-front boxes. This change in lid type is the only design difference in nailed wood boxes for for nearly two centuries.


(Spanish)   Bale of tobacco which has not been graded. These bales generally weight 200 pounds or more.


(bpanish)  Straw; the lightest color of tobacco, generally of an inferior grade with no gumminess in the leaf.


(Cuban Spanish) In pre-Castro Cuba, a panatela was a round thick cigarette. In the 20th century U.S. the word came to mean a slightly longer thinner-than-normal cigar, at first made primarily by stogie makers, but by the 1940’s Panatelas had become widely popularized by various national brands like ROBT. BURNS, WHITE OWL, and ROI-TAN.

papel oro y plata

(Philippines)  Tinfoil. Literally gold and silver paper.


(Cuban Spanish)   A tobacco sharecropper, typically working or living on the land belonging to an absentee owner, either a foreigner or a Cuban living in Havana.


Cuban tobacco growing region located in Havana province and including a portion of Eastern Pinar del Rio.  Good, but not the very best tobacco, generally used to make low priced cigars and cigarettes for local consumption.  A great deal of partidos was exported to Key West, Tampa, New York City, London and Amsterdam to be blended into 5¢ and 10¢ cigars as well as less expensive “clear Havanas.”


(Spanish)  Cigar case.


(Spanish) Tobacco leaves shredded into fine strips or scraps for smoking or chewing. Sold primarily in cardboard or paper-wrapped packages. LA ESCEPCION and other famous Cuban companies sold scrap, but little found its way into the U.S., most of it being consumed on the island or shipped to other markets worldwide. Cubans make a distinction between six different types of picadura depending on where in the factory the scraps originated and how they were cut. Also (less commonly) PICADURA was a brand of U.S. cigars made in NYC during the last half of the 19th century. There is no indication that Cuban scrap was used in its manufacture.

pig tail

Cigars which have their flag twisted and tied in a knot, easily bitten off. See rabo de cochina. By Civil War days the knot had pretty much disappeared. The new “pig tail” had a head twisted in a curl.

Pinar del Rio

West Cuban province where the best Cuban tobacco is grown in the Vuelta Abajo.  First cultivated in the 1700’s, planting greatly expanded in the 1830’s. It is justifiably world famous, producing the highest grades of Cuban filler.  Prior to 1960 most of this region was owned by foreigners.


Also known as bloom, this white powder forms on the outside of a cigar, the result of oils exuding out of the cigar and crystalizing. Wipe it off, and smoke the cigar. It’s not mold and won’t hurt you.


(Box maker’s term)  Printed on the box, as opposed to paper labeling.

pocket tin

Popular box of ten cigars packed 10/5 (two rows of 5 cigars each) first legal in 1910.


(Cuban Spanish) A box used to press finished cigars to prepare them for being packaged for sale. Also the press used to assist in baling tobacco.


(Cuban Spanish) A word used in classifying and grading Cuban tobacco, but one with many different regional meanings and a huge number of subtle sub-classifications depending on size, color, texture, elasticity and gumminess. If you didn’t grow up in the Cuban tobacco industry, don’t use the word as you are unlikely to use it correctly or with the right modifiers.


(Cuban Spanish) What cigarmakers call those makers who can charge very high prices for their cigars. Success in the export market was the goal, because it meant charging more.


(Spanish) Slang for cigar, especially in South America and Mexico. In Spanish countries, particularly in Cuba, cigars were most often called “tobacos.” A slang name, puro, meaning pure, was given in the mid 18th century in part to distinguish them from the paper-wrapped cigarette which was becoming popular in Cuba at that time and in part to indicate they were all Cuban tobacco. The name still exists in present day vernacular to mean a cigar made from the tobacco of only one country. Widely corrupted on cigar labels to suggest purity of the contents.

¿Quien sabe? 

(Spanish)  “Who knows?” Said with the proper Latin shoulder shrug, it also means “Who cares?”

rabo de cochina

(Cuban Spanish) Literally, a pig’s tail. A type of cigar with a twisted tip, generally made by tobacco planters for their own use.

rat tail stogie

Type of stogie made in the U.S., normally in two parts, filler and wrapped outer leaf, but with one or both ends trailing to a longer than usual two inch point. One end is sometimes cut at the factory.


(Spanish)   Scraps left from manufacturing cigars, frequently sold to cigarette companies or to makers of chewing or smoking tobacco. See picadura.


(Cuban Spanish) One of the earliest vitolas (frontmarks), first appearing in the early 19th century. Though size shape and blends change over time, in Cuba the designation is generally reserved for high grade luxury cigars. Though many cigars were designated as Regalias by U.S. cigar makers, historically Spanish words have little or no meaning in the U.S. cigar industry and any cigar could and would be called a Regalia.


District in the Santa Clara and Camaguey provinces in the center of Cuba which produces the largest amount of Cuban tobaccos. Remedios tobaccos are of high quality and are used as wrapper, filler and binder. They have a strong flavor and aroma and blend well. About 25% of the crop was used locally in the 19th century, with the best leaf exported to the US and the lower grade leaf exported to Germany, the Netherlands and other European cigar producers. By the mid 20th century, nearly all tobacco from this region was exported.


(19th Century Cuban Spanish)   Illicit trading and smuggling of cigars and tobacco products, the penalty for which was death.  It is estimated between 1700 and 1900 one-half of the entire Cuban crop was lost to entrepreneurs smuggling tobacco, tobacco seed, and cigars to British, French and Dutch colonies as well as to the United States. Smuggling was immensely profitable given that the Spanish ordered all tobacco shipped 3000 dangerous miles across the Atlantic to be sold in the mother country at low fixed prices, frequently to be paid in scrip or devalued currency, yet Cuba was surrounded by foreigners less than a day’s sailing away who were willing to pay top prices in gold and silver. High incentives and Cuba’s 600+ natural boat landings made smuggling almost impossible to stop.


(Cuban Spanish)   A selector who sorts cigar wrappers into color and quality, determining which should be used for which size and grade of cigars. These highly skilled men work both in grading houses and in the factories themselves.


(Cuban Spanish) A word used in classifying and grading Cuban tobacco, but one with twenty different regional meanings and a huge number of subtle sub-classifications depending on size, color, texture, elasticity and gumminess. If you didn’t grow up in the Cuban tobacco industry, don’t use the word as you are unlikely to use it correctly or with the right modifiers.

rezagos de escogida

(Cuban Spanish)   Cigars rejected for flaws in color or manufacture, usually  sold at large discounts under the marcas of lesser companies. Some U.S. companies, especially drug store chains, offered “Resagos” (similarly afflicted cigars) at inexpensive prices.

ring gauge

The diameter of a cigar, measured in millimeters in Cuba and Europe


(Cuban Spanish) Wheel; a bundle of 100 cigars.  A half bundle was called a media rueda.  Cigars were tied into bundles to make them easy to count and pack. It also made them easy to handle. In a Cuban cigarette factory, a rueda was a large 2 or 3 foot diameter wheel composed of a large number of paper-wrapped bundles of cigarettes ready for market. When cardboard boxes and the later cup-pack, became the standard packing for cigarettes, ruedas became rectangular.


Also called “off color” “resagos” “throw-outs” “rejects” “defectives” and other similar names, these are cigars which for one reason or another are unsuitable for selling under the maker’s brand name at full price. Usually unbanded and sold in monochromatic boxes.

semi-boîte nature (SBN)

An all wooden box having some but not all the characteristics of a boite nature box. SBN boxes are not trimmed in the traditional manner but may have one or two paper labels, especially on boxes made after 1960.


A type of Cuban tobacco grown between the Vuelta Abajo and Partidos region, generally considered of high quality, frequently used as both wrapper and filler.


Obsolete 19th century name for a bale of tobacco wrapped in cowhide rather than palm leaf. Encountered in early shipping and warehouse documents.

short sixes

A pre 1860 type of crude, otherwise nameless, generic US cigar, undocumented as to maker or other information. Use of the term is based on limited print references. A six inch cigar was not short, so the precise meaning of the term is unknown.

Spanish hand made

Traditionally, a specific type of two-part (filler & wrapper) cigar made entirely by hand without the use of moulds or binder leaf. It’s how all cigars were made prior to the introduction of moulds around 1850.

standard box

Former standard size of cigar “box” holding one thousand cigars. When consumer size packaging was developed, smaller packages were named in accordance with the fraction of a standard “box” they represented. A box of 100 cigars is known as a 1/10 box, one of 50 as 1/20 box, one of 25 as a 1/40 box, etc. These fractions are still used to allocate orders and invoices between dealers and manufacturers.


A technique in which light and shades are produced or translated by irregularly spaced dots, for getting tones, by hand, on lithographic plates (stones).

stock label

The dozen or so large label printing houses in the U.S. produced catalogs of readily available labels for which the lithographic separation stores had already been created and were in storage ready to be printed quickly. Labels could usually be ordered one of three ways: [1] with the brand name created by the printer, [2] with a brand name selected by the factory, distributor, wholesaler, retailer or box maker ordering the label or [3] blank, with no brand name, a custom name to be added later by a local job press or by the box factory. Blank labels were kept on hand by box makers to fill quickie custom orders.


Specific type of thin rough cigar, generally 5” to 7” long, though some have been as long as 9”, probably the “long nines”  in early literature. Stogies are made without binder, the wrapper typically rolled perpendicular to the filler, usually with one open end and one rat-tail or twisted end.  Made primarily in West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio from local low grade, frequently dark colored, tobaccos. Wheeling and Pittsburgh have been centers of stogie production since the 1840’s. Most stogie workers were ethnic Eastern European women or farm girls. The word stogie is not accurately used as a synonym for cigar or cheroot.  In the year 2000, stogie maker Marsh Wheeling was the oldest surviving US cigar company, founded in 1840.

Syroco wood

Patented resin-based product invented in Syracuse in the 19th century used to mould a wide variety of products to look like carved wood. The 1939 World’s Fair cigar box is the best known use for cigars, though other cigar boxes were made from this product. The company is still in business.

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tabaco del sol

(Spanish)  Sun grown tobacco.

tabaco en rama

(Spanish)  Leaf tobacco.

tabaco tapado

(Spanish)   Tobacco grown under cheesecloth.


(Cuban Spanish)  Cigars. Fernandez de Oviedo, writing in the early 1500’s, reports that Indians called their rolls tabaco, the name which Cubans have used for cigars ever since.


(Spanish) A tobacconist. Also a small factory which retails its product directly to smokers.


(Cuban Spanish)   A cigar roller.


(Spanish) Piece of lithographed paper, usually but not necessarily round or oval, which covers the nail which seals a box of cigars.  Called a “nail tag” in the U.S.


(Cuban Spanish)   Bales of tobacco relatively standardized at 80 carrots (manojos).  Each manojo is a bundle consisting of four gavillas each made up of 25-40 leaves tied together. The number of leaves varies with the quality and purpose of the tobacco. Bales are usually wrapped in palm bark which is wetted and tied.  Wehen dry, bales  are very hard.


One of the four great addictive alkaloids (tobacco, chocolate, tea and coffee), tobacco is a highly malleable plant grown worldwide, which quickly takes on the characteristics of local soil and climate. In the Western Hemisphere there were two main wild varieties cultivated by the native populations. From Southern Mexico north, the so-called “Indian tobacco” (nicotiana rustica) a dark strong weed was grown. From Central America and the Caribbean south was found the milder larger leafed nicotiana tabacum used for cigars. In the 1800s cigar tobacco cultivation spread from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Brazil to the Philippines, Java-Sumatra, India, the northern United States and Canada, with lesser amounts grown elsewhere including Florida. Tobacco grown in Virginia and the southeastern U.S. is chemically different (acidic), processed differently, and used in cigarettes, smoking tobacco, chaw and snuff.

top brand

(box makers’ term) General term for the markings on the top of cigar boxes, which were originally burned in with a branding iron, but since the 1860’s have been printed on with a hydraulic or steam press.  The practice of using a top brand originated circa 1800 in Cuba, where top brands are referred to as marcas. When the top brand is applied in the form of a die-cut paper oval or other printed shape, the box is said to be “trimmed with a top oval.”

top ovals

(box makers’ term)  Small lithographed pictures, which may be oval, round, rectangular or irregularly shaped, applied to the top of cigar boxes. In contrast to top sheets, top ovals do not fill the whole space on the lid.

top sheet

(box makers’ term)  Lithographed paper labels, textual or pictorial, often with a simulated wood grain, which are pasted to the top of cardboard (seldom wooden) cigar boxes.  Top sheets, unlike top ovals, cover the entire surface.  Not to be confused with inner labels designed to cover the inside lid.  Sometimes incorrectly used by label dealers to refer to unattached flaps.


(19th century Cuban Spanish)    Literally “twisters.”  Reference to cigar rollers who sometimes twisted the ends of a few different frontmarks (vitolas) of cigars. Also used to refer to cigarette makers as all mid-19th century Cuban cigarettes had twisted ends.  The making of culebras, three cigars twisted together may also have a part in the origin of this infrequently seen term.

Totalmente a mano

(modern Cuban Spanish)  Made entirely by hand. Found on the bottom of Cuban cigar boxes made between 1989 and the present.


A large fat cigar. May Coult’s outstanding 1952 Dictionary of the Cuban Tobacco Industry added that manufacturers didn’t feel they got paid enough for them.


(19th Century Cuban Spanish) Wheat; a type of cigarette paper. see arroz.


(box makers’ term) Paper labels, applied to the outside and inside of nailed wood cigar boxes to provide information or to attract a customer’s eye.  Basic trim consists of (1) edging, inch wide strips of white or fancy paper which covers all edges of a cigar box, thus covering nail heads and wood ends to make an attractive package, (2) outer or end labels on one end of the box to identify the brand, (3) inner label affixed to the inside lid, and (4) liner covered the four inside sides and the inside bottom of the box, keeping oils from cheap woods and the cigars from intermingling. Nail tags, signature tags, top ovals, various types of flaps, color mark, and distributor’s label are other optional trim. The fabulously trimmed cigar boxes from 1870 to 1930 have become hot collectibles. Boite nature boxes are not lined or otherwise trimmed, although a few will have an inside paper label.


(Cuban Spanish)  Filler.  The bunch of leaves making up the inside of a cigar, stogie or cheroot. Filler. Also used to refer to tobacco unsuitable for wrapper. Literally “guts.”


(early 19th century US) A type of two part cigar, consisting of filler with a half  leaf wrapped around it and the ends twisted together.  Similar, but less pointed than a ‘rat tail’ stogie.  Capped cigars with rounded, torpedo, or conical heads seem to have arrived into mass markets by the 1830’s. See entry for torcedores (Cuban cigar rollers, literally ‘twisters”). More commonly::  a form of  chewing and smoking tobacco where leaves are twisted together into a short “rope” about 18” long, then twisted back upon itself. Available for hundreds of years, into the early 20th century.


(box makers’ term)  Cigar box in which cigars stand on end. Upright packaging dates from the mid 1800’s.  Uprights have been made of wood, cardboard, pewter, brass, tin, foil, silver plate, glass, pottery, plastic, styrofoam and other materials.  Uprights are typically round, square or oval but have been shaped like bottles, mugs, steins, Indians, duck decoys, and Cuba’s distinctive tree trunk shaped arboles. Uprights usually hold 25 or 50 cigars but are also known to have been used for 10, 12 and 100 cigars as well.

vanity label or box

(box makers’ term) A cigar box with a label that mostly or entirely consists of a reproduced photograph, usually of men, men’s pets and children, men’s athletic teams and clubs, men’s accomplishments or possessions, men’s businesses... the world of vanity labels and boxes is VERY male. Vanities also display local landmarks, civic vehicles, club members, anything a customer wants or believes will sell cigars. Some are very short lived, created for a specific event or fund-raiser, a few (WHALEBACK and WOODCHUCK CLUB) lasted for decades. The rarest form of vanity labels are actual photographs produced in a darkroom on photo paper, not the standard newspaper-like photos.  First technologically possible in the early 1890’s, vanity labels were most common between 1900 and 1910. Photographs have been found on boxes as early as the 1870’s.


(Spanish) Box containing several different sizes, shapes, colors or types of cigar. Called an “assortment” or “variety pack” in the U.S.


(Spanish)  A tobacco farm.


(Spanish)   A tobacco farmer. The name is also given to a cigar crudely twisted in the home of the grower for family consumption.


Refers to a type of flue-cured tobacco, also called “bright tobacco,” used primarily for cigarettes and pipe tobacco. Most common type of tobacco exported to Europe from Colonial days to the present. Tobacco used in early 19th century “American” cigars.


(Cuban Spanish)   The label on the inside lid of a cigar box.


(Cuban Spanish)  Single word used to describe the size and shape of a cigar, including length, girth, and weight.  Common vitolas include Conchas, Regalias, Perfecto, Londres, Demi-tasse, Churchill, etc.  Cuban companies routinely offer 50 or more vitolas, frequently in excess of one hundred. La Corona once claimed the capability of making more than 1,000 sizes and shapes of cigar. Called a “Frontmark” in the US  cigar and packaging industries because it’s printed on the front of a wood box. Cuban vitolas were most often on the end of the box but also found on the front.


The hobby of cigar band collecting.

Vuelta Abajo

Famous tobacco-growing district in the province of Pinar del Río in west Cuba. Both sun and shade grown tobacco is produced, being used as wrapper and filler and, in the case of the upper leaves, for cigarettes. The crop is sown in winter and is not irrigated. The tobacco is mild and aromatic and suitable for blending. Grading is into the main categories of capas (wrappers) and tripas (fillers), with each of these categories being subdivided many times. It is said that a true connoisseur can tell the difference between Vuelta Abajo  tobacco grown on neighboring farms or across a road.


Outside leaf on a cigar, selected for color, physical perfection and ease of handling. Wrapper from Sumatra was especially prized in the last quarter of the 19th century because it was lightweight, fine veined and stretchy. Has little to do with the taste of a cigar despite popular belief to the contrary.


(Cuban Spanish)  The thick woody sheathing leaf base of the Royal palm, generally 1.5 to 2 meters long. Used to wrap bales of tobacco, and other around-the-farm uses.  Also a small bundle of cigars sold by Cuban street vendors.


(Cuban Spanish) Inferior grade of cigars wrapped in palm bundles and sold by street vendors .


(19th Century Cuban Spanish) A distinctive tasting cigar leaf grown in Eastern Cuba and the cigars made from it.  Highly favored in 19th century England and the cigar of choice in Santiago de Cuba and other parts of El Oriente Province in Eastern Cuba.  Most yara is used in Cuban cigarettes and cigars aimed at a particular market of smokers who enjoy the distinctive taste. Though some is exported, more than half the crop is consumed in Cuba.


(Cuban Spanish)  Badly made cigars.

A few additional related words

you may see when reading about Cuba.

acayetl : The Aztec word for cigar made from yetl tobacco, about which we know little.

bohio: traditional dirt floored rural housing made of bamboo, palm and thatch, still used in Cuba today.

bozales: negroes who cannot speak Spanish. The U.S. pejorative “bozo,” meaning someone inept, is likely to be a corruption of this word.

caserios:  very small villages...wide spots in the road.

criollos: creoles, offspring of non-Spanish Cubans; mixed bloods or foreigners of any color or race.

emancipados: indentured “free” slaves.

guagiros:  rural folks.

ladinos: Spanish-speaking negroes.

negros de nacion:  African blacks.

Peninsulare: Spanish born resident of Cuba.

pueblos: villages.

refrescos:  whipped drinks based on tropical fruits.

Victoria:  four wheel carriage.

volante: traditional horse-drawn 2 high wheeled taxi in 18th and 19th century.

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