This Article was first published in ‘Cigar World’ the trade magazine of Hunters & Frankau Ltd.
It is reproduced by kind permission

Christie's auction for Havanas

The record price paid at a Christie's auction for Havanas has been shattered three times in under a year. Before their 5th December '96 London sale, which saw Peter de Savary buy 163 cigars dating from the mid 19th Century for f17,000 (£108 each), the top price for a rare stogie was around £50. Then on 18th May in Geneva a box of 25 Trinidads, the Havana that's never been sold commercially, went for no less than £6,950 or £278 each.

1492 Humidor

But just three weeks later on 5th June, back in London, one of the 501 limited edition 1492 Humidors, made to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Columbus in 1992, notched up £15,000 or £300 for each of the 50 Corona Gorda sized cigars it contained. Not bad when you think it went on sale back in 1992 for £850 inc. VAT.

A Million Dollar Signature?

For any lover of cigars, Fidel Castro's autograph is a prized possession, especially if it's on a box of fine cigars.

Over the last four years, cigar boxes signed by Fidel and auctioned at cigar events have raised around a million dollars for the Medical Aid for Cuba Appeal. The first box he autographed was auctioned at the Cohiba Siglo launch dinner in London, in November 1993. Containing 50 Cohiba Lanceros, it raised £12,000, a modest sum when compared to the cash paid at the Cohiba 30th birthday celebrations on the 28 th February in Havana, which were attended by Fidel himself...

Like the Hollywood star who tops everyone by turning up last to the party. Fidel arrived two hours after everyone else, sandwiched between phalanxes of hodyguards. Since this occasion was the 30th birthday celebration for Cohiba, it was apt that he was accompanied by them, because the story behind the birth of Cohiba began with a bodyguard. In the mid 1960s, one of Fidel's bodyguards smoked cigars made by a friend. Curious, Fidel tried one, found it quite excellent, and so Cohiba was born. At first, theContinued from front page brand was only produced for the President and his government, but from 1982 onwards the rest of us were allowed to enjoy them, too.

Over 700 guests attended the party at Havana's open air Tropicana nightclub, citizens of over 40 countries, more than 50 of them British, and over 100 of them American. By the time the guests had reached their puddings, most were convinced that Fidel would not show, but it was at this moment he arrived. The atmosphere that greeted his arrival was quite astonishing. One journalist said it was like Elvis returning from the dead, but in Cuba the presence of the grand old leader has more raw power than that of any mere rock star. Castro seems an eternal figure to Cubans, whether they love or loathe him. After decades in government and countless assassination attempts, Castro remains indomitable, and now possesses the stock only an immortal leader has. Before Castro took to the stage, he is alleged to have said to his bodyguards "I'm not going up there. They'll shoot me." And shoot him they did hundreds of times, most noticeably the American guests, with cameras not guns.

After the lightning of the camera flashes had calmed and some of the guests had climbed down from their tables, Fidel began a 50- minute speech, with crowd-pleasing gags about Clinton and exploding microphones. Then he went on to explain that alas, he'd felt obliged to give up his beloved cigars to set an example to his people and to earn a medal from the World Health Organisation for his pains. These days, Fidel said wistfully, he never touches a cigar - honest, comrades.

The evening's charity auction was an undisputed success: a total of six lots were auctioned, all humidors, filled with Cohibas. The first lot went for US$ 37,000, the second US$ 60,000, the third US$ 45,000. The fourth was a very special lot indeed: to mark the 30th Anniversary of Cohiba, 45 humidors were created, each with its own individual number and filled with Robustos Especiales, a unique size of Cohiba. The No.l humidor was given to Fidel, but he announced during his speech that, since he didn't smoke any more, he wished his humidor to be auctioned for the appeal. This very special lot was signed by Fidel on the stage, and bought by Nick Freeman Chairman of an Havana Importer for US$ 49,000. The fifth lot was another 30th Anniversary humidor, which raised US$40,000, and the final lot was bought by Mohammed Zeidan, a Lebanese cigar merchant. Zeidan successfully bid US$130,000 for a 90- Cohiba cabinet with a gold lid, designed by Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin, and signed by the artist and Fidel. This beautifully crafted Humidor was sold on behalf of La Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Humankind), in Equador. The total raised for the Medical Aid for Cuba Appeal was US$ 231,000, enough to save many lives.

Perhaps the most entertaining thing about the evening, apart from Fidel's unique performance of course, was the Cohibas. Guests were able to enjoy three sizes: Siglo I, Siglo IV and Robusto Especial - the unique size made especially for the 30th birthday event. Fidel abstained, hut admitted longingly to the guests that he still dreams of smoking a fine Habano. "After all", he said "you often dream of things which are forbidden".