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Odd Cigar Facts

According to Huron legend, long long ago there was such a famine that all the tribes gathered in council to call on Great Manitou for help. Great Manitou sent a beautiful naked girl down from the clouds. She sat on the ground in front of the people, putting her palms on the ground to help her sit. She said she was sent to bring food. Then she returned to the sky. Corn sprouted up where her right palm had touched the ground. Potatoes grew where her left palm had touched. Tobacco sprouted from, well, from the place which touched the place she sat on. Corn and potatoes nourish the living; we know that. But why tobacco? Because dead spirits have no mouths to eat corn or potatoes with. That's why they crave tobacco smoke. The aroma nourishes them.

Mayan cup A 10th century Mayan pot from Guatemala depicts a man smoking tobacco leaves tied together with string. The Mayan god named L, a god of pleasure, is often shown smoking. We don't know how many centuries before these Mayans man smoked tobacco. We do know that cigar smoking dates back at least that far. Some scholars trace it to Mexico in the first century. I don't know why. The Mayan word for smoking is sikar, and that's most likely where we get the word "cigar".

When Columbus first landed at Guanahani, two of his men sent to explore reported that the natives carried burning sticks wherever they went, to breathe the aromatic smoke. Arawaks on Hispaniola gave dried tobacco leaves to two of his crew. They remarked how these leaves spread a peculiar pleasant fragrance. In Cuba, Columbus found Tainos smoking tobacco leaves twisted up in palm leaves and corn husks. Rodrigo de Jerez was the first of them to actually try smoking one. Rodrigo's cigar was said to be as big around as a man's arm. That mighty stogie started the whole thing. By the time Columbus returned to Spain bringing tobacco leaves, Rodrigo was smoking a cigar a day. But then he made the mistake of lighting up in public. The Inquisition promptly threw him in prison for three years. Poor Rod was the world's first victim of anti-smoking fanatics.

Ships soon began to carry Cuban tobacco home to Europe. Spain. claimed a tobacco monopoly for Seville. From there, it was shipped to Asia. Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, took some cigars to France. Nicotine is named after this Nicot. Cigar smoking spread to Italy with an ambassador of Pope Borgia. Hawkins took it to Britain; Raleigh popularized it. A Spanish galleon took tobacco seed to the Philippines. It was grown in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Turkey', Switzerland. That Spanish monopoly claim persisted all the way until 1817; but had not prevented a thing. By the time the monopoly claim came to an end cigars were already popular all over the world. The United States alone burned 300 million cigars a year by the Civil War, when FX Smith's Sons first began to roll them. FX Smith's Sons alone, in its heyday, rolled 9 million a year.

Prohibition has been about as ineffective as monopoly. Tobacco was forbidden in Spanish American churches, ironically. And Spain also got a Papal Bull prohibiting smoking in Seville, home of the monopoly. King James hated the stuff. But he needed money, and he was the one who discovered how easy is to levy a sin tax on tobacco. Richelieu learned from that, and levied a tobacco tax as well. In Russia, the first Romanov Czar declared smoking a deadly sin. He established a Tobacco Court. You could get in deep trouble for even having the stuff in your possession. The court would slit your lips, or flog you with "the knout", basically a cat-o-nine tails with hooks in the ends, soaked in milk to make it heavier. Twenty blows could kill a man, usually be breaking his back. Some smokers were castrated. If they were rich, they might be exiled to Siberia so that their property could be confiscated. Turkey, Persia and India gave the death penalty for smoking a cigar. Even Japan banned smoking. Today, Japan has one of the highest incidence of adult smokers in the world, and, ironically, one of the lowest incidence of lung cancer. Similar to Greece. But nobody wants to find out why. Switzerland even added anti-smoking to the Ten Commandments. The Nazis banned smoking on public transit, promoted anti-smoking education, limited tobacco rations, raised the tobacco tax, banned tobacco advertising, banned smoking in public places, restaurants and coffeehouses. Hitler was a heavy smoker in his youth; but once he gave it up, he said that tobacco was "the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man, vengeance for having been given hard liquor". I'm just giving you the facts here.

In 1909, Twain said: I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together'. Just as silly as prohibition were fanatics who claimed tobacco cured just about everything. It was said to prevent bubonic plague, when the Black Death made its last appearance in London. The famous diarist Samuel Pepys tells how he bought roll-tobacco to smell and chew, when he saw some houses marked with a red cross and boarded up because of plague. Boys at Eton College were told to smoke every morning to ward off the plague. One of them later told a historian how he was flogged when the masters found he was not smoking his daily ration.

None of this nonsense on either side discouraged cigar lovers. Cigars were an affordable, everyman pleasure. However, many notable men of the time smoked cigars too. Freud smoked an incredible 20 cigars a day. He lived 84 years before he died of euthanasia. He picked up the cigar habit when he graduated college, in order to replace the cocaine addiction he had acquired there. Mark Twain admitted to smoking 20 cigars a day; but his family claimed the actual number was closer to 40. Twain lived to be 75. That's a lot of cigar boxes.

Not everyone smoked their cigars. Ulysses Grant chewed on his. Ten cigars a day. When a reporter wrote that Grant liked cigars, people sent him 20,000 cigars as gifts. Prince Albert, later crowned King Edward, smoked a dozen cigars a day, and a dozen cigarettes, too. When Victoria died, Albert was diagnosed with appendicitis a mere two days before he was supposed to be crowned. There was serious doubt whether he would make it to the throne. Back then there was no such thing as appendectomy, so it was nearly always fatal. Two famous surgeons of the time performed a ground-breaking operation. Two days later, they found Albert sitting up in bed, smoking a cigar. In what looks to be another ground-breaking event, some enterprising ad man performed what appears to be the first photo-shopped ad, combining Grant's love of cigars with then King Edward's name. Look at these two pictures side by side:




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