Want to Collect Cuban Cigars? Here’s What to Know

Some key information to help you navigate the market.

By Renick Blosser

So, you want to add some Cuban cigars to your growing collection.  You have heard great things and want to try some…if they are real, that is!   

*Disclaimer:  I have been collecting cigars for about 25 years and in this blog I’ll share the knowledge I’ve gained during that time.  Do I consider myself an expert?  Nope.  There are very few people I consider an expert in the cigar world, myself included.  I do, however, have plenty of knowledge I am happy to pass down from my own cigar journey and I LOVE to continue learning. One thing I’ve learned is that there are always people with more knowledge and history than you. Connect with them and keep learning!

An accepted belief is that there are a more fake Cuban cigars in the US than real ones.  But EVERYONE you ask thinks they have the real deal!  How do you know what’s legitimate? Save yourself a lot of money and frustration with these pointers to give you a decent advantage over the casual cigar collector on determining whether your Cubans are legitimate.

First off, realize that this rabbit hole can go as deep as you want and takes a lot of patience, making connections and gaining trust, and being willing to learn.  It also takes A LOT of time.  So it can often be intimidating, which leads to many not doing any homework at all and trusting their “guy” who knows a guy, who knows a guy, whose cousin works at the El Laguito factory and can get “real” Cohibas for them.   Don’t listen to that guy.  He’s lying.  In fact, if you visit Cuba you will be tempted to buy many discounted cigars by people with these types of stories.  Avoid that mistake at all costs.  Stick to the well-established shops.  And what about online?  I’d estimate 80 percent of the online vendors I see are either outright scams or have counterfeit cigars.  So be cautious and ask someone who has dealt with several legitimate ones for their opinion.   

Date Codes and Warranty Seals

There are a lot of different areas we could look at for authenticating cigar boxes.  Stickers, inserts, measurements, cigar heads, spacing and font type, even microprinting or UV light markings.  However, one of the easiest to start with is date codes.  Date codes are your friend.  Get to know them.  Learn how to check them.  For this initial blog, I focused on the current box code system that has been in place since 2000.  For older boxes there is a different system.  And for very old boxes you need to break out the ruler and do some serious research.

The system put into place in 2000 uses a 3-letter code for the factory that rolled the cigars, a 3-letter code for the month they were rolled, and a 2-digit numerical code for the year.  Look at the bottom of the box (in some cases like jars, special humidors, etc. you may have to look for placement on the outer cardboard) and find this code.   

Some of my favorite boxes of cigars have date codes that mean something to me.  I have two boxes for each of my daughters’ birthdays.  Once a year I smoke one from each box.  My advice is stock up early on those if you like the idea.  The further out you get, the tougher they are to find, and the prices start getting hard on the wallet.   But when I open the humidor and see these four boxes it makes me smile.   I love having them to smoke on their birthdays.  I’m hoping when they are 18, they have one with me…jury is still out on that.

Deciphering the code is easy for the year and month (SEE FIGURE 1).  The factory code is a bit more complicated.  2003 and earlier factory coding didn’t change frequently.  After 2003, however, they change often.  I do not have every code memorized and I find it much easier to look them up as I come across codes I don’t know, and verify the factory as needed.  Some codes (like the Partagas or the El Laguito factories) people “chase” every year when they see them.  This means they think those are higher quality cigar types…some people don’t care or simply don’t know.  That is a much longer discussion than we have time for today, but it is always a fun debate.

*Figure 1

MONTHCODE FOR MONTHYEARCODE FOR YEAR
JanuaryENE20000
FebruaryFEB20011
MarchMAR20022
AprilABR20033
MayMay20044
JuneJUNetc.etc.
JulyJUL 
AugustAGO 
SeptemberSEP 
OctoberOCT 
NovemberNOV 
DecemberDIC 

Warranty seals are another thing that have changed a lot over the years.  For this discussion, let’s stick to the past decade: late 2010 and forward.  The great thing about these seals is most counterfeiters don’t bother investing time and energy into faking them with real numbers, since a vast majority of cigar smokers (especially in the US) aren’t going to know what to do with them or how to check them.  There are some extremely high-end fakes coming out of Hong Kong and other areas that actually will put some time in counterfeiting,  but those are generally going to be for boxes running a thousand bucks or more – not what the average collector is going for.

Checking this warranty seal and running the serial number is probably your biggest advantage in determining if something is real or not.   Here’s the rub: the website to check them is finicky.  It currently won’t work on an iPhone and is best used with Internet Explorer on a laptop computer when the rest of the world has moved on to other browsers and phone use. Why? 

Cuba isn’t exactly a bastion of technology and communication infrastructure.  It’s frustrating, but absolutely worth the time to get out the laptop and dust off that old IE.  Here’s the website…and if you do everything correctly, what it will give you on information that leads to savings is significant.

Additional References

I always have www.cubancigarwebsite.com open on my computer.  I consider it one of the best online resources for looking at box codes, sizes, release years, packaging, bands, etc.  On this site you can also build an online humidor where you register and keep track of what you have, see connected friends’ online humidors, and even offer each other trades!  It’s a great resource.  It is maintained and supported through donations, so if you use it a lot, keep that in mind.

I absolutely LOVE learning about and discussing cigars. There are tons of other resources and topics we can discuss in future blogs.  So if you found this information valuable, have information you’d like to share or have other questions, let me know in the comments!

One last bit of advice before travel to warm places resumes (hopefully soon): NEVER buy glass/clear-top boxes of Cuban cigars.  Never.   A story or blog for another time, perhaps.

For comments, passing along your own knowledge or ideas for future blogs I can be reached at Renick.blosser@gmail.com


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Comments

12 Responses to “Want to Collect Cuban Cigars? Here’s What to Know”

  1. Vigilant says:

    Great question! Reach out to Renick Renick.blosser@gmail.com and he’ll be happy to answer!

  2. James says:

    How many times does the microscopic serial number appear on the Warranty Seal itself?

  3. Jesse J says:

    This is a well written, informative and i hope just the beginning of many more from Renick. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

  4. Vigilant says:

    Thanks! More to come from Renick on these topics so stay tuned!

  5. Gustaf McDalphaun says:

    X-posted Herf Daddies

  6. Dalé...#isay_whynot says:

    excellent appetizer to the world of Cuban cigars. keep it up brother

  7. K Watters says:

    Great Read!

  8. Ski says:

    Very informative! Hope to read more of your blogs!

  9. Russell R Raftary says:

    I have never had to worry about fakes. I do go to Havana 2-3 times a year for the past few years. I do get most my cigars from the stores, but I also do get some from friends in Havana. The numbers have matched the correct box and cigar. Sometimes I purchase fresh rolled from the rollers at Hotels like the National.

    I do not buy off the street.

    Coming back to the USA one can bring back 100 cigars each without duty. Over that limit there is a duty to pay $0.50 I think for each stick. But since I usually take a few folks with me that do not smoke I can get their allotment.

    If you do not have a receipt for the cigars you are taking out of the country Cuban customs will confiscate any over 50. This way they are trying to keep counterfeit cigars from leaving as well as stolen cigars from the workplace.

    Since I could not go in 2020 and most likely will not go until December 2021 I will not be saving many cigars for the future as I am about down to my last 100.

  10. Greg K says:

    Whether you are a novice or expert collector of cigars, this information is GOLD! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Matt S says:

    Fantastic introduction to collecting CCs!

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