Friday, December 13, 2013

Close - but no cigar

Where did the expression, "Close - but no cigar" come from?
The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first such instance was from March 6, 1930 from the Cleveland Ohio Plain Dealer, where a bowling match was described:
"Peters..toppled the maples for 120, 100 and 100. Scott was right behind him with 113, 115 and 117. Close—but no cigar."
"Toppled the maples" should have become embroiled in our language too, meaning winning with a bang.

Some people take chances while visiting Cuba and smuggle cigars back into the US. If you're caught, not only are the cigars confiscated, but a fine as large as $25,000 can be imposed.  Those airport sniffer dogs are likely pretty good at locating an item with such an aggressive aroma as a cigar.  We went the safe route and brought home a scrap book full of cigar labels and a couple of cigar box labels.

Where did we find these? The tour gave us a break from our packed schedule to allow us to wander a book fair in Havana. We had 45 minutes. As we started walking among the vendors we realized there was a treasure trove of antique books on sale plus the usual stuff: lapel pins, Cuban military insignia and a ton of fake Fidel and Che memorabilia. It was overwhelming; time was very limited.  As a tchotchke acquisition strategy we had to pick out something to shop and bargain for. I homed in on a Cuban scrapbook filled with so-called vintage cigar labels.

I'm sure they're fakes; since I've been home I've been searching them on the net and you can buy replicas, bad and good, for prices all over the map. Worthless or not, they're still interesting. I've found myself engrossed in stories about the various cigar companies and I've bumped into some fascinating history about cigar bands. This is from Cigar Aficianado

However, by 1900, four of every five American men smoked cigars, and brand competition was fierce. Printing costs had been reduced, and attractive custom bands were priced at an irresistible 70 cents per thousand--2 billion bands were sold that year in the United States alone. Catalogs contained hundreds of stock choices, so generic bands could appear on dozens of different cigars at an even lower cost. Even inexpensive cigars could afford lovely, full-color bands such as those sported by Tansil's New York City knockoff of the classic Cuban Punch.
European bands were typically sold as part of a matching set including inner and outer box labels, edging, top brand, flaps and band--all marketed and sold as a package. The more individualistic U.S. cigar makers chose each element of their packages, sometimes buying labels, bands, flaps, inner paper and edging from five printers.
Bands arrived cut to shape and wrapped in thread-tied bundles of 100. Before bands were applied (almost always by women) cigars were rolled, aged, selected, packed, pressed in boxes and then removed for banding and reboxed. Traditionally bands were put on by hand, secured with a dab of plant-based glue, which the worker delicately applied with the tip of her third finger. (The operation hasn't changed much to this day.) This operation is not as simple as it sounds because bands must be put at the same height on each cigar and the glue must not ooze out, causing the band to attach itself to the cigar and risking damage to the wrapper when removed. In cigar states like New York and Pennsylvania, children were usually hired after school for the less demanding job of packaging cigars in foil, cellophane or tubes.
With 2 billion bands a year deposited in ashtrays, dropped on floors or left on cigars which were later tossed into gutters, it's no wonder that collecting bands became a turn-of-the-century mania. Cigar companies sold complete sets of colorful new bands for a dime. Albums to hold them were given away by promotion-minded tobacconists and shopkeepers.
In its drive to smash competition, the American Cigar Co. offered premiums in exchange for bands. Its huge, illustrated 1904 catalog included nearly everything a homemaker could desire. A set of children's silverware or four-collar buttons could be had for collecting a mere 50 bands. Amass an additional 179,950, and a baby grand piano would be delivered to your door. You could sleep in a four-piece bedroom set made of bird's-eye maple for a mere 44,000 bands, ride in a rubber-tired surrey for only 32,000 and kick your own football for a paltry 1,200. If the mechanical wonders of the modern age were your forte, a year's subscription to Scientific American was a scant 600. For purposes of redemption, cigar bands from American's 28 brands of cigars could be mixed with the tin tags from the company's chewing tobacco as well as paper coupons from smoking tobacco and cigarettes.
"I can remember going for walks with Mom when I was around six years old," says Carl Eike, now retired in Tucson, Arizona. "She would hang onto my hand so hard it would turn white, because every time she'd let go, I'd dive into the gutter for another cigar band off a butt." Tales like this leave little doubt as to how turn-of-the-century children earned the sobriquet "guttersnipe" as they searched for the 150 bands needed to claim a baseball glove at one of the more than 20 redemption centers located from coast to coast.
Bands that weren't turned in were often pasted on. The art of decoupage with bands reached its zenith in the first decade of this century. Magazines published tips on covering ashtrays, vases and other objects with decoratively placed bands. Truly ambitious hobbyists spent weeks carefully covering chairs, desks and even dining-room tables with arrangements of matched bands.
All this came to an end as tens of thousands of cigar companies rolled their last leaves in the 1920s and '30s. Demand and competition declined, the variety of cigar brands dropped dramatically and interest in bands began to wane.

This punch label seems to my uneducated eye to be authent

Can I import Cuban cigars into the U.S.?

No. The allowance for bringing in up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars if you were on authorized travel to Cuba is no longer in effect. All importations of Cuban cigars are illegal, including Cuban cigars that were acquired in other countries (such as Canada, England, or Mexico).
There is now an across board ban on the importation into the United States of Cuban-origin cigars and other Cuban-origin tobacco products, as well as most other products of Cuban origin. This prohibition extends to such products acquired in Cuba, irrespective of whether a traveler is licensed by Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to engage in Cuban travel related transactions.
Criminal penalties for violation of the Regulations range up to $1,000,000 in fines for corporations, $250,000 for individuals and up to 10 years in prison. Civil penalties of up to $65,000 per violation may be imposed by OFAC.
Foreign residents and visitors to the U.S.(i.e., French, Mexican etc) may not bring in goods of Cuban origin under any circumstances.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to see that scrap book the next time we get together.