James Leavey's Corner
Investing In Humidors

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Investing inhumidors

by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

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James Leavey

This must be the first time in historythat a perfectly legal product, i.e. premium cigars, remains on sale and yetits users are actively discouraged to actually enjoy it.  It's rather likebuying an ice cream, and then told you mustn'tlick it in public.

The way things are going with thegrowing clamour for bans on public smoking, Britain's cigar aficionados willbe given two choices: either stop smoking or be prepared to store yourfavourite tubes of hand-rolled tobacco – indefinitely. 

Or at least until the nexttobacco-friendly BBC Antiques Roadshow comes along.  You never know, oneday, hopefully, all those boxes of cigars will be worth something – if onlyto future sociologists who will use them to demonstrate how, once upon atime, consenting adults could ignite and smoke tubes of premium, hand-rolledtobacco in public without getting arrested.

Of course, what you should becollecting are the finely crafted boxes cigars are stored in.  Forget aboutall those cheap cigar humidors from China, whichare about as attractive and useful as a Tupperware box.  Now's the time tostart investing in finely crafted humidors, especially the renovatedantiques that have been sold by Wendy Salisbury for the last 33 years.

But let's start at the beginning. 

During the 18th and 19th centuries,British artisans and cabinet makers created containers from a myriad ofmaterials to hold everything from cutlery to cosmetics.

“These boxes, crafted from a varietyof exotic woods including mahogany, walnut, macassar, amboyna,  rosewood,and coromandel, were an indispensable part of Georgian, Regency andVictorian life,” said Salisbury.  “The gentlemen of the period carrieddressing-cases, wine coolers and gun boxes and the ladies treasuredneedlework boxes, writing slopes, and tea caddies - all functional,decorative, and today, eminently collectible. 

“The boxes were adorned with ornatemarquetry, decorated with Tunbridge-ware, embellished with brass handles andfretwork, mother-of-pearl and abalone inlay, pewter and silver stringing,and ebony and ivory edging..  The dressing-cases were made for travellingwith gold or silver-topped crystal jars and bottles to hold powders,perfumes and pomades with individual sections for manicure sets, moustachebrushes, glove stretchers, and button hooks. Workboxes would house tapestrysilks, pearl beads, buttons, and crochet hooks.  Jewellery boxes, lined insilk moir‚ and velvets, often hid secret drawers, as did the writing boxesfor the necessary concealment of illicit billets doux.  Ah! les liaisonsdangereuses... The servants would ensure that each box was packed completeand ready for travelling and would personally carry it onto the stagecoachoften hiding the precious jewel boxes under the ladies' skirts to keep themfrom the highwaymen. “

Down through the centuries, many ofthese boxes have endured but their contents, sadly, have not.

“Rather than leave them languishingempty in a cellar or attic, we search the stately homes, auction rooms andantique fairs to seek out the finest quality boxes for restoration andconversion,” said Salisbury.

“Today they are enjoying a newincarnation as cigar humidors, for which our cabinet makers have selectedthe finest cedrosa olorosa and hand-crafted for each one a bespoke lining.In the lid of the box, a rubber seal has been applied to create an airtightenvironment in which to store your cigars.  Each box is a unique andexclusive possession providing the discerning connoisseur with a classicaddition to their home or office interior.”

For Salisbury, it all started in 1972when she bought a beautiful antique box in Portobello Road market for £24. “It was a lot of money in those days,” said Salisbury.  “At the time, mythen fiancee was a cigar smoker and I wanted to give him a present.  But Ididn't want to give him a plain, square Dunhill box – which was prettystandard at the time.   I was into antiques and valued one-off pieces.  ThenI rather cheekily phoned the Dunhill workshop and asked to speak to thegentleman in charge of the humidors, and a chap came to the phone and I dida bit of a Mata-Hari and asked him if he would interested in converting thebox in his spare time. Eighteen months later, I had a workshop in Camberwellemploying six men.  What had happened in between was that I had got that boxdone and a friend has ordered one for her husband, and then another friendordered one for her boyfriend. Suddenly, I found I had a business - fromnowhere.

“So I went round all theantique markets, auction rooms and fairs buying antiqueboxes that were converted by my team, for commissions.  Then I startedtaking them into shops – my first customer was Robert Lewis in St James'sStreet, then along came Asprey and, eventually, Dunhill, and exporting tothe USA and Italy.  It became a very good ongoing little business, and wasknown as Touchwood Design.”

Salisbury's latest venture isimporting ancient antique safes from the Far East: “...which are large, verybeautiful objects,” she said, “some of them the size of a fridge/freezer...”and starting a new business called The London Antiques Ltd.

“These safes are being converted intohuge humidors, or cocktail bars,” she said.  “The first one is ready, I'vegot another two in progress, and another 28 waiting to be done – they'llretail for a minimum of around £10,000.  I anticipate they will go intoclubs, restaurants and private homes – and some specialist cigar shops.”

Meanwhile, Ashton, one of the greatnames in cigars has now become one of the great names in humidors, at leastaccording to Mark Acton of Tor Imports.  “All Ashton humidors arehandcrafted in Ireland utilizing traditional techniques and the very finestmaterials in the world,” he said.

“Completing an Ashton humidor can takeup to 26 weeks.  Every hand-fitted joint is seamlessly smooth and allhumidors gleam from a 40-step, hand-rubbed velvet-gloss finish.  Attentionto detail is meticulous.  Veneers are selected, book-matched and in-laid byhand, each with an artistic flavour providing uniqueness to each humidor. They're a great piece of furniture, and a good investment for the seriouscigar smoker.”

Ashton's current range offinely-crafted 'Savoy' humidors includes Bubinga (r.r.p.£99), the SavoyGlass Top Humidor (r.r.p.£115), and, not least, Savoy Travel Humidors (madefrom genuine black leather and available in two sizes only for r.r.p.  £75or £110).

Tor Imports also representPrometheus's famous range of elegant humidors, including the Milano Series,all made in Italy (r.r.p. From £325).

So, even if you do quit smoking cigars– do hang onto the boxes...


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