The history of the Dunhill Cuban cigars was presented at the III International Symposium “Habana/Habanos” 2009. It is an event gathering historians, museum workers, researchers of different branches, journalists, collectors, artists, trader, sommeliers with the purpose of, a.o., sharing researches and accumulated experiences on the Habanos economy and analyze the links between the tobacco industry and the Cuban national history, culture and identity.
We had the special opportunity to record the lecture for you.
Alex Iapichino (listen to our 2019 interview) is General Counsel and Group Company Secretary of Naked Wines plc, the leading direct to consumer online wine retailer, with operations in UK, USA and Australia. Alex joined Naked Wines in June 2017, after having held senior in-house roles with a sovereign wealth fund and a private equity and advisory business. Alex also worked as in-house counsel at Bunzl plc, a FTSE 100 distribution and logistics conglomerate, advising on all aspects of law. Prior to that, Alex practiced law for over 10 years at the London office of Simmons & Simmons, where he specialised as a corporate lawyer. Alex lives in London and is an avid smoker, passionate about Cuban cigars.
Scroll down for the full transcript of the lecture.
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THE HISTORY OF THE DUNHILL CUBAN CIGARS
If you can find one, it is worth buying a Dunhill Cuban made cigar. There are few about these days: occasionally some come up for sale at vintage cigar auctions in London, others are sold by famous cigar merchants wanting to dispose of the contents of a private keep of an untraceable customer. But those are rare occasions and one must consider himself fortunate to get hold of what many consider the ultimate Havana cigar.
The reason for their scarcity value – they are not made any more and are still sought by many, cigar collectors and aficionados alike. Dunhill stopped producing cigars in Cuba in 1989, when there was an amicable parting of the ways between Alfred Dunhill Ltd, the English company which at that time owned the Dunhill trademark for tobacco products, and Cubatabaco, the Cuban company which was responsible then for the manufacture and distribution of Cuban cigars around the world.
In post-Revolution Cuba there has been only one other non-Cuban company that was allowed to market and sell Cuban cigars with its own brand: Davidoff of Switzerland. At the time (as is still the case today) the Cubans would only manufacture cigars for which they owned the trademark or tradename. Dunhill and Davidoff were the exceptions to this rule. As for the Davidoff, it is the trademark which is the key to the success of the Dunhill range of cigars.
A bit of history
But it wasn’t cigars that helped establish the Alfred Dunhill company in the first place. Mr. Alfred Dunhill started selling motor accessories back in 1893, and only later in 1907 did he become involved with tobacco, opening his first shop at 30 Duke Street, Mayfair, London.
As is the case today, personal service, attention to detail and exceptional taste were the order of the day, as a sales assistant would escort a potential customer around the shop discussing their individual smoking (and non-smoking) needs. Pipes, pipe tobacco, hand made cigarettes and cigars were all available. As well as imported Havanas such as Beck, Sol and Carolina, there was also a British made cigar Coronette de Ora priced at 36 shillings per 100 units!
Business was soon thriving and new cigarette and pipe manufacturing premises were established as well as an additional shop in Soho, London.
Mr. Alfred Dunhill was certainly inventive, and it is thought he may well have developed the first traveller’s humidor. Airtight cigar tins for the traveller, the yachtsman or the cigar smoker resident abroad became available around 1912. They were much appreciated when in 1914, during the 1st World War, cigars labelled for the war campaign were shipped to the British troops in these airtight tins.
In 1921, only fourteen years after the opening of the first shop, Alfred Dunhill received its first Royal warrant as Tobacconist to Edward Prince of Wales.
Another most important customer was Winston Churchill. Throughout the 2nd World War, Dunhill supplied him with his favourite cigar, El Trovador. Bill Carter, the longest serving member of staff, was often to be seen delivering these by hand, as well as to King George VI. For his services, Mr. Alfred Dunhill was offered an MBE decoration after the war was over, but he insisted that it went instead to the indefatigable Mr. Carter.
War wreaked havoc in Central London, and on 17th April 1941 at around 3.00 am in the morning, the Alfred Dunhill shop was hit by two parachuted land mines destroying much of the premises in Duke Street. In a typically English fashion, Mr. Alfred Dunhill maintained his self-control: undeterred by the tragic consequences, seated at a simple table amongst all the rubble, he was busily selling pipes to passers by and well wishers the next day.
The post war years saw the expansion of Dunhill continue. Shops were opened in the USA, Canada and later in a number of prime locations in the Far East. Famed for luxury goods, cigars however remained a fundamental part of the business.
The USA was a very important market for Dunhill cigars, but in 1959 with Fidel Castro coming into power, a completely different perspective was put on the cigar industry. As a result of Castro’s communist beliefs, President Kennedy declared an embargo on all imported Cuban goods to the USA. Availability of Cuban and Cuban made Dunhill cigars was wiped out overnight. Many of the American principal cigar distributors had to go elsewhere for their supplies such as the Canary Islands and at the same time many of the famous Cuban cigar producing families settled in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua, which emerged as the new cigar making countries.
In the late 1960s/early 1970’s, Alfred Dunhill re-launched Cuban made cigars on to European markets under the Don Alfredo and Flor del Punto brands. In America in 1981, Dunhill Montecruz and Dunhill Ramon Allones were available, both produced in the Canary Islands. However, in the late 1980’s, manufacture of Dunhill Cuban cigars ceased and production of the Canary Islands cigar moved to the Dominican Republic.
Today, the Dunhill tobacco trademark is owned by the Swiss international luxury goods group Richemont.
The Dunhill “Selección Suprema”
Initially Dunhill sold Havana cigars produced by the leading Cuban brands: Partagás, H Upmann, La Corona, Cabañas, Romeo y Julieta, Ramon Allones, Hoyo de Monterrey, Bolivar, Por Larranaga and La Flor de Cuba. These were ordinary production cigars coming out of the factories in Havana, with one important difference: selection. Dunhill put in place a system that made sure that the most meritorious products of leading Havana makers were set aside to form its “Selección Suprema”: the output of a few highly skilled workers in each factory whose cigars were worthy to be graded “supreme”. The selection process would take place in Cuba where the finest cigars of each brand would be chosen by Dunhill’s agents, put aside and form part of the “Selección Suprema” range. The boxes and cabinets of Havana cigars found at the Dunhill shops would therefore be marketed differently to ordinary cigars sold elsewhere, as they would have the “Selección Suprema” words added before the designation of the particular vitola – in the case of Dunhill cigars this would be represented by the vitola number, another marketing innovation of the English company. This systematic process, according to a Dunhill publication of the time, guaranteed that “[i]n such cigars the distinct and jealously-prized characteristics of each brand are brought to perfection”.
Dunhill “Selección Suprema” cigars were packed in cabinet bundles of 50 or boxes of 25, as well as in gift cabinets of 100 or more (up to 1000 cigars in some cases).
Although hard to come by, intact Dunhill “Selección Suprema” boxes and cabinets can still be found at cigar auctions or in keeps of customers of well known cigar merchants in London and abroad. And what a site it is when a well conditioned one can be found!
Dunhill exclusive brands: Don Candido, Don Alfredo and Flor del Punto
Alfred Dunhill Ltd also had three exclusive Cuban brands it used to market and distribute under its name. Some of these were existing brands (such as Don Candido), others were newly created (such as the Don Alfredo), others less certain (Flor del Punto).
Of these three brands the Don Candido is the oldest and by many considered the ultimate Dunhill cigar ever produced. According to the Illustrated Encyclopaedia it was created in 1935 by Candido Vega, owner of the El Rey del Mundo factory in Padre Varela No. 90, Havana, where it is believed the Don Candidos were made (although official records show that production was also at the Briones Montoto factory). Don Candido cigars came in nine versions, from “Selección No.500” to “Selección No.508” and included the following seven vitolas de galera: mareva, cervante, campana, entreacto, corona gorda, panetela larga and an unusual parejo measuring 48×165, the largest cigar of the line.
The Don Alfredo brand was introduced in the late 1960s and ended production when the Dunhill brand was started in the early 1980s. It was offered in six sizes (mareva, cervante, piramide, corona, corona grande and perla) corresponding to a different Selección number, from “Selección No.51” to “Selección No.56”. As the name suggests it was created by Cubatabaco specifically to pay homage to Alfred Dunhill.
Very little is known of the Flor del Punto. It was created in the mid to late 1970s and is believed the cigars were produced in the Partagás factory. There were six known sizes (cervante, corona, mareva, carolina, and two unusual parejos measuring 40×160 and 42×160, respectively), although it is likely this brand came in at least one other shape as the known numbering goes from “Selección No.301” to “Selección No.307”, suggesting there was also a “Selección No.306”.
These three brands have achieved today worldwide fame and recognition. The Don Candido and Don Alfredo in particular are by general consensus some of the best cigars that have ever been produced in Cuba. Selection was once again the key success factor setting these cigars apart from its competitors. The sourcing of the material, the curing of the tobacco, the blending, the quality controls standards and the final packaging were all tightly controlled processes that more or less guaranteed a consistent and high quality product with tremendous aging potential.
The Dunhill Cigar Rooms
Another important aspect that should not be underestimated is the conditioning process that Dunhill cigars underwent once they reached the Dunhill cigar rooms in London. And now I would like to spend a few words on this.
Mr. Alfred Dunhill believed that the Havana cigar, once it leaves Cuba and reaches Britain, starts to deteriorate. In his opinion a newly-imported cigar is subjected to a process of “drying-out” which – and I quote – “inevitably destroys much of the delicate flavour and bouquet of the cigar, while these qualities are again impaired by the subsequent exposure during storage: by the time they reach the smoker these cigars are travesties of what they should be and no longer representative of the care and skill lavished upon their cultivation and manufacture”. To restore a cigar’s condition a long and complicated process of maturing is essential. The maturing is in fact an extension of the fermentation or ageing of tobacco which all imported cigars must undergo before they are smoked and which, through loss of moisture, causes a radical change in the composition and quality of the leaf.
The conditioning of Dunhill cigars took place in three different rooms, the Maturing Room, the Keeping Room and the Humidor. Each of these had constantly controlled temperature and regulated humidity and continually renewed and purified air flow, freed of any out-door impurities.
The Maturing Room was used to slowly mature and ripen Havana cigars until they reached a condition that was preferred by the European consumer of the time, who generally smoked drier cigars than those found in Cuba. The maturing process, which lasted twelve months or more, required a constant control of temperature and humidity. During this process cigars were tested at regular intervals to ensure that each was mellowing at the correct rate. Dunhill claim that no cigars were sold until they had reached the appropriate level of maturity.
The Keeping (or Storing) Room is where cigars were transferred once they were brought at the correct condition and were kept here until they were required for smoking. Customers of Dunhill would store their purchases in private cedar wood cabinets and withdraw them, as required, once they had reached an ideal age of maturity.
The Humidor was set up so that it reproduced the humid conditions and warmth of Cuba. Here is where a selected quantity of “green” cigars or cigars considered to be too “fresh” would be kept. Also cigars of domestic manufacture were stored here, indicating that different conditioning was thought appropriate to apply to cigars of non-Cuban provenance.
The Dunhill Havana Cigars
In the late 1970s negotiations between Dunhill and Cubatabaco ensued for the introduction of a prestigious range of handmade Havana cigars under the “Dunhill” name. The “Dunhill” brand was to replace the three existing Dunhill Cuban retail brands, Don Candido, Don Alfredo and Flor del Punto, with one authoritative internationally distributed trademark. The objective was to create a new brand of Havana cigars, produced to the highest quality specifications of the English importer, to be marketed worldwide.
The collection was seen as a tribute to the heritage of the company and its founder: it was to be based on specifications originated from Mr. Alfred Dunhill himself in the 1920s and put to fruition by his grandson, Mr. Richard Dunhill, the then Chairman of Alfred Dunhill Limited.
An exclusive manufacturing agreement was entered into between Alfred Dunhill Limited and Empresa Cubana del Tabaco (Cubatabaco) at the beginning of 1982 for “the manufacture and sale of the finest quality hand-made Havana cigars under the “Dunhill” brand”. It covered matters such as the quality of the cigars, advertising and promotion, sales and marketing, payment terms and pricing, presentation and termination rights.
The product was to be positioned at the top of the luxury sector of the handmade cigar market and compete against Davidoff, the Swiss brand, and was to have the following features:
– hand selected colour matched wrappers
– a secret blend of prime filler and binder
– handmade by the finest and most experienced rollers
– matured before shipment in the Dunhill Havana room in Cuba
– conditioned and stored in the cigar humidors of Alfred Dunhill’s shops.
The “Dunhill” cigar range included eight sizes, all handmade and featured:
– the Atado, 175×28 (a panatela larga)
– the Varadero, 129×42 (a petit corona)
– the Mojito, 142×42 (a corona)
– the Tubos, 155×42 (a corona grande)
– the Malecon, 165×42 (a cervante)
– the Estupendo, 178×47 (a churchill)
– the Havana Club, 235×47 (a gran corona); and
– the Cabinetta, 124×50 (a robusto).
The packaging consisted of boite nature layer boxes of 25 (Varadero, Mojito and Malecon), boite nature layer boxes of 10 (Estupendo), dressed label layer boxes of 25 tubes (Tubos), traditional cabinet selection bundles of 25 (Atado and Cabinetta) and individual cedar boxes in packs of 10 (Havana Club). There were also gift packs of 3, 4 and 5 for selected cigars.
The distinctive Dunhill cigar ring appeared on every cigar, regardless of size or pack configuration. The design incorporated the Dunhill “d” logo embossed in gold against a strong red background contained in the Dunhill hexagon. The words “Dunhill” and “Havana” appeared to the left and right, respectively, of the central logo. The ring was produced in two sizes, one for the panatela larga and the other for all other sizes.
As we all know the manufacture of the Cuban “Dunhill” cigars did not last long. The exclusive manufacturing agreement was in fact terminated in 1989 and production discontinued shortly thereafter when Cubatabaco ended the practice of manufacturing cigars for non-Cuban brands.
Alex R. Iapichino
London, April 2009
 About Smoke – An Encyclopaedia of Smoking, Alfred Dunhill Ltd., c 1932.
 An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of post Revolution Havana Cigars, Min Ron Nee, Interpro Business Corporation, First Edition, January 2003, page 125.
 Min Ron Nee describes the Don Candido as “monumental”, see An Illustrated Encyclopaedia, page 128.
 About Smoke – An Encyclopaedia of Smoking, Alfred Dunhill Ltd., c 1932, page 109.
 See Cigars – Selección Suprema, Alfred Dunhill Ltd., date unknown.
 Draft dated 6 October 1981 of the Exclusive Manufacturing Agreement.