I worked for the U.S. government and have two friends I met when I was working on Fidel Castro’s detail back in 1995. I’ve maintained a good relationship with them over the years and they even helped me during a big counterfeit Cuban cigar investigation I worked back in 1998.
Back in 1998 the US Attorney General for the southern district of Florida contacted our office and asked us to initiate an investigation into the countless counterfeit Cuban cigars floating around the Miami area. I have always found it rather comical that the reason the Attorney General wanted this investigation initiated was because every time he purchased a Cuban cigar in Miami it was counterfeit. He didn’t have a problem that the cigars were illegal to buy or possess, but that they were counterfeit.
My friends in the Cuban government sent me a dozen boxes of genuine cigars to use as comparatives in my investigation. They have always been extremely kind to me and have shared a wealth of knowledge about Cuban cigars with me over the years. I can comfortably say they are also the reason why I got into Cuban cigar smoking and collecting.
Anyway, the story behind these cigars is that I was gifted them from a family in Spain who had ties to big Cuban business. My friends father worked in Cuba in the 40’s and was gifted the box and other cigars over the years in Cuba. The box has no warranty export seal nor a Spanish import seal. This wasn’t common to see, as virtually all boxes have the Cuban warranty seal. However this box has no warranty seal and was filled with unbanded montecristo cigars.
From what my Cuban government friends told me, in the 40’s it wasn’t uncommon for some cigars to come unbanded due to shortages associated with WWII. I have smoked other pre-Castro Montecristo and other cigars in Cuba that were unbanded. They came directly out of boxes owned by my government friend. If you look at the branding on the bottom of the box I believe you might be able to see that the Menendez Garcia brand is an older version than the same brand from the 1950’s.
My friends also explained that before the industry was nationalized by Castro, owners would grab a box and fill it up with cigars to gift to friends. (I suppose the same could be done today, but I never asked that question). Because these boxes were not intended for sale (inside or outside of Cuba) they didn’t have to put warranty seals or even bands on the cigars if they chose not to.
I suppose for me the biggest way to determine a cigars authenticity is to smoke one. I have had pre-embargo montecristo cigars before and I feel comfortable saying these are the genuine article. As you are aware, the cap on many pre-embargo cigars was finished differently, without the triple cap so well known today. These cigars have the same look, and smell of pre-embargo montecristo cigars I have tried before. The smell of old pre-embargo cigars is certainly unique and once you smell it I feel you won’t mistake cigars with that kind of age on them for something younger. They still have good strength and a myriad of complex spice, flowers and earth notes.
These cigars were not box pressed but still maintain their round appearance. They could originally have had somewhat of a box press to them, but several cigars were smoked by the owner over the years. This fact has allowed the cigars more room to breathe and maintain their rounded shape. I’m certainly not a pre-embargo expert and always welcome the input of fellow aficionados.