A few years ago, I was catching up with my good friend Hamlet Parides, who was running the Partagás factory in Havana at the time. Parides, one of the world’s very best cigar rollers, has since relocated to the USA.
Bizarrely, I first met him in Brisbane, Australia. He was on tour for the cigar industry, doing demonstrations. He is always great fun – I have always thought he could do stand-up comedy – and each meeting with Parides has (pleasurably) cost me a good nights’ sleep.
Back in Havana, Parides was a bit of a local rock star. In those days (not sure much has changed), walking the streets of Havana, one would be endlessly accosted by locals claiming that their cousin’s neighbor’s son was a roller and had snuck these cigars out of the factory and you could have them for just . . .
In truth, they might have been rolled by a local farmer or possibly be wrapper leaves around newspaper or banana leaves. They would plead, in broken English, for you to buy these absolutely genuine cigars with the most hangdog expressions you’ve ever seen.
Eventually, I would use my truly minimal Spanish, “Hola. Amigo Hamlet.” At which time, the broken English would disappear, I’d be asked if I really was a friend of Hamlet and then they’d apologize profusely and I’d go on my way. You have to love Havana.
One day, a few of us were having a chat in the backroom at the factory – it was known as the VIP Room, but it was really a place where Hamlet could disappear with his friends for a cigar and a few rums. The door suddenly opened and a well-dressed tourist stepped in, Canadian from the baseball cap logo.
“So what is this place?”
“So who are you?”
We explain that Hamlet is the chief roller at the factory.
“So why are these cigars all so expensive?”
We discuss pricing but he keeps insisting that he can get the same cigars on the street for a fraction of the price. He will not believe us that they are all fakes. Eventually, we give up and wish him well. No doubt he returned to wherever, delighted with the bargain-priced cigars he got in comparison to the fools paying full whack.
Forgive this rambling digression but it was to introduce the concept of reliable sources for your cigars. There is very little as important as a trusted source in pursuit of this hobby.
You need to find a good, reliable supplier or, better still a few, from whom to acquire your purchases because, trust me, there are many places – not just the streets of Havana – where you will end up with fakes. They are ever present, some much better than others.
A quick tip: Cohiba has never released any of its cigars in glass-topped boxes (actually, no Cuban producer has). If you have a box with a glass top, you have fakes.
Fakes are, of course, a problem for so many luxury, and not-quite-so-luxurious, products – wines and watches included.
Which brings us to auctions and Bond Roberts
Wine auctions have long been an essential source for many collectors. In recent years, however, some establishments offering fine wines are selling fakes – sometimes deliberately, though usually unintentionally.
Cigars have been little more than an occasional afterthought for auctions, but this has changed. The first thing to stress (especially since I have gone on about fakes for so long) is that, knowing the team behind the new international cigar auction site Bond Roberts, I believe you can have complete trust in the cigars on offer.
Any seller needs to go through the hoops to establish that he or she and their cigars are genuine before they will be offered. The importance of this cannot be overemphasized.
Bond Roberts is a joint venture between Rob Fox of James J. Fox and Rob Ayala of Friends of Habanos. They refer to the operation as, “a transparent cigar exchange where technology, oversight, and member participation come together to offer the largest continuous selection of aged, vintage, and rare Cuban cigars to the global market in a secure trading environment.”
JJ Fox is surely the world’s most respected merchant of cigars, based in St. James Street, London, with a distinguished history of more than 225 years and a star-studded client list ranging from endless royalty to Sir Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde.
Friends of Habanos has not been with us for quite so long, but in the couple of decades it has existed it has established itself as the largest and (dare I say it) most trusted retailer in the southern hemisphere. Ayala has built his forum from a couple of friends to a community of more than 30,000 cigar lovers from all corners of the globe.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should declare that I have known Ayala well for many years. From memory I was member number five on the forum and have shared many cigars, endless discussions, and the odd fishing adventure with him. I can state categorically that his knowledge of cigars far exceeds his ability with a fishing rod.
I can also state that, for full disclosure, I have neither bought nor sold any cigars on Bond Roberts – just observed with great interest.
Rob Fox, managing director of JJ Fox, believes that Bond Roberts takes cigar auctions “to a new level by creating an online platform to allow for much greater consumer participation in that market. It allows sellers and buyers transparent access to auctions at low commission rates; more sellers and more buyers creates a more efficient marketplace, meaning that an increasing number of collectible cigars end up in the right hands.”
Rob Fox also identifies an area that appeals to many: “Few consumers have the market access or time to go to traditional auctions to find a box of cigars produced in the year and month of your child’s birth. Bond Roberts’ functionality allows for buyers to get an email anytime a box from a particular month and year is listed, and a 21-year-old vintage box of cigars makes for a pretty unique twenty-first birthday present.”
The two Robs (they claim that the name Bond Roberts comes from the bond that the two Roberts have established, although I suspect that at least one of them likes the vague connection that some might assume exists with 007) were inspired to offer this service to cigar lovers because they were all too aware that a large percentage of the world’s aged and vintage cigars were locked away in private collections, not least because both of them have helped their clients build those collections.
They knew that these clients often wanted to sell boxes of cigars, whether they be excess to requirements, to free up funds to enable further purchases, or because interests had changed. But there was no efficient system in place enabling this. Establishing a market and a simple system for these clients was important. So, too, they knew that there were many more clients keen to access these older cigars.
Using the Bond Roberts auction site
The system is very easy to use. Link onto the site and register. You will receive a daily email listing the cigars that have been put up for sale. The cigars will remain available for around three days and you can follow the progress of bids, whether or not the reserve has been met, and the time remaining. Bids increase by $5 each time. Simplicity itself. Or simply go to the site and go to those cigars that are of interest.
As well as the information mentioned above and detailed photographs of the cigars, there will be information as to the storage conditions plus a rating given to the seller based on past experiences. You’ll find full details of the cigar itself including year of production and packaging, the box code, and even the country and source of original purchase. About the only thing it doesn’t provide unfortunately are sample cigars to try.
Also important for a venture like this is a wide range of quality products. If it is just a way to shift excess stock of regular production cigars, then little point in bothering. Fortunately, this is anything but that. Following the items offered for some time has been a fascinating experience. Always fun to see what boxes you own might bring; similarly, what boxes you desire might cost. There are surprises, records, bargains, and a never-ending array of brilliant cigars to dream about.
The focus is very much on “aged, rare, and vintage cigars.” Bond Roberts defines “aged” as more than three years old, “vintage” as in excess of 10 years, and “rare” as Regional and Limited Edition cigars.
Included in forthcoming auctions are some of the rare Fox brand Cuban cigars including the Hoyo de Monterrey Royal Hunt and Punch Néctares.
To date, the star performance has been a box of Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva 2009 (15 to a box). The opening price was $475. Thirty-one bids later, it was sold for an astonishing $12,005. Another box is scheduled for sale later this year.
Examples of some astonishing results
At the time of writing, an appealing box of Cohiba Espléndidos from 2012 sold for $805 (good buying, I would have thought). There were four bidders chasing this box. They had been stored at 69 percent humidity and 19°C. The box had originally been purchased duty free in Croatia.
Another box of Cohibas, the Pirámides Edición Limitada 2006, ten cigars in a black lacquered Boîte Nature Box, went for $1,405 (15 bids).
Looking at a Regional Release, a cabinet (50 cigars) of Ramón Allones Estupendos Edición Regional Asia Pacifico 2007 went for $1,725 after 42 bids (it was cabinet 49 of 200 and the notes indicate that two of the cigars had cracked feet). Such descriptions ensure that potential buyers are fully informed, one of the factors that has made this such a successful operation.
Recently, a box of the Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 (25 cigars) went for $1,110 after an astonishing 69 bids. I say “astonishing” as these are one of my least favorite cigars. Clearly, I am swimming against the tide on this one.
Far more exciting, for me at least, was a cabinet (50 cigars) of Punch Super Selection No. 1 2008 that went for $1,200 after 29 bids (three cracked feet). Also, a box of ten Montecristo Sublimes Edición Limitada 2008 went for $675 (32 bids).
A box of one of my favorite Cubans, the Partagás Serie D No. 4 (25 cigars from 2011), was passed in at $665. Some boxes will inevitably be passed in, but it is not a common occurrence. Another favorite, a cabinet of Por Larrañaga Petit Coronas, also from 2011, sold for $580 after 24 bids. And yet another much-loved cigar, a 25-box of Partagás Lusitanias from 2003, went for $805 after 28 bids.
As with all auctions, there is an occasional surprise. A very fine offering, the Cohiba Reserve Series 2003 Reserva Selección, a varnished Boîte Nature Box of 30 cigars, went for an amazing $4,605 (91 bids), a new world record for those cigars.
These are exciting smokes that for too long snuck under the radar. No longer. It is anticipated that at least one more box of these will be available on Bond Roberts before the end of the year, and it will be fascinating to see if this price was a blip or if a new and deserved standard has been set.
This will give you a good idea of how the system works and what you can expect. It is likely to become an integral tool for serious cigar lovers for many years to come, allowing them access to cigars they perhaps thought they’d never have a chance to buy.
For more information, please visit www.bondroberts.com.