The cigar has a lot of history, a lot of trivia, and a lot of interesting facts. However, it’s often easy to become so consumed with actually smoking the cigar, the luxury of its aroma, its flavor, its essence, to remember any of the legends and tales cigars light a match under. But, to miss out on these is to miss out on a lot of the cigar’s culture, miss out on its extravagance, and destroy its past. So take a moment every now and again to enjoy some cigar tidbits…before they go up in smoke.
The First Connoisseurs
While Christopher Columbus, in addition to being credited with the discovery of America, is generally allowed to get away with writing “cigar inventor” on his resume, he wasn’t actually the first person to come up with the concept of smoking tobacco. According to archeological discovery, the inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands and Mesoamerica smoked cigars at least as far back as 900 A.D. This discovery was made when researchers discovered a ceramic vessel at a Mayan ruin in Guatemala that was decorated with a painting of a cigar-smoking man. This man, likely deceased, was not available for comment.
The Invention of the Cigar Band
To the non-smoker, the cigar band may sound like a group of musicians who get together in a smoky basement, belting out songs about tobacco and singing “The Blues” over the Cuban Trade Embargo. However, to the cigar smoker, the cigar band is an elemental part of the cigar, full of color and history ceramic smoking pipes.
The cigar band, or cigar ring, is a circular piece of paper that’s wrapped around the head of most cigars. In legend, it’s said to have been invented by either Spanish Nobles or Catherine the Great, the women who reigned as Empress of Russia in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The reason for the invention, as the legend attests, was because these nobles, fond of cigars, were not fond of the stains cigars left on their gloves. Thus, they invented a band where they could place their fingers, keeping them stain free while smoking.
However, other legends state that the invention of the cigar band was the genius of Gustave Bock, a Dutch advertising guru. His reasoning for the invention was simply to help keep the cigar together, binding the wrapper to the filler in a more cohesive manner.
Whether invented by European nobility or as a promotional tool, the cigar band carries with it a lot of lore. To start, most cigar bands are printed with the name of the brand, the country from which it came, and an indication as to whether or not it was hand-rolled. In addition, the cigar band is said to have been used in many wedding ceremonies of yore, when the groom could either not afford a wedding band, misplaced it, or asked for a woman’s hand in marriage under spontaneous, and expedited, circumstances. For some women, diamonds are forever, but for others, infinity belongs to the cigar band.
One of the most popular sayings, Close by no cigar, is a euphemism for getting near success, only to have it evade you at the last moment. Though no one is 100 percent positive as to the origin of this saying, it’s highly speculated that it came from old carnival games and old slot machines. When first invented, the carnival games wouldn’t pay out with plush toys stuffed with Styrofoam and the slot machines wouldn’t pay out with hard cash. Instead, the winners would receive cigars, leaving the loser to, of course, only take solace in the fact that they were close.
The Zippo Lighter
A lighter known for speed, perhaps marketed to the cigar smoker on the go, the Zippo lighter was invented in 1932 in Bradford, Pennsylvania by a man named George G. Blaisdell. It was invented not only to light a cigar at a more rapid rate, but to provide cigar smokers with a portable convenience – something that could fit in a pocket, a briefcase, or a golf bag. It is rumored to have been named “The Zippo” because Blaisdell liked how the word “zipper” sounded.
From Henry Clay to JFK
The brand Henry Clay is named for the 19th century senator from Kentucky. He was known as an illustrious leader, a statesman and orator who often eased disagreements among fellow leaders. Henry Clay, like the cigars named for him, was renowned with the ability to evoke a sense of calmness, leading those into the room into a compromised agreement. In 1957, JFK, a cigar lover himself, named Henry Clay as one of the top five US Senators in the history of America.
The Smoking Jacket: Smoking Hot Fashion
The smoking jacket, nowadays, is rarely worn, with one occasionally popping up in portraits hanging above fireplace mantels. But, during Victorian Times, smoking jackets were all the rage. Because people believed that women had tender nostrils, and would thus be sensitive to the aroma of tobacco, men often donned a smoking jacket before lighting up a cigar. While it initially was worn to appease women, smoking jackets, made of expensive material, eventually became a sign of status.
Cigar tidbits are a dime a dozen; there are enough out there to fill the world’s largest ashtray. From lore to factual information, cigars have been a part of the world for longer than most other things: if they could talk, they’d probably never shut up, engaging smokers with stories and tales. When it comes down to it, the cigar is simply multi-talented; it’s rich with the lives of the puffers of yore, and enriching the lives of the modern-day smoker.