While aficionadas and aficionados smoked cigars wrapped in silk to protect their fingers and gloves from nicotine odor and staining as early as the 18th century, cigar bands quickly established themselves as a marketing tool. They have since become art objects, status symbols, and collectibles.
Before we take a dive into the history and development of cigar bands, let’s first have a look at the terminology. Three terms have become established for the paper bands that are fitted around almost all cigars today: belly band, banderole, and cigar band.
Although the term “banderole” has become established, it is incorrect. Banderoles referred to the tax stamps on tobacco boxes introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. However, the term has become established to describe the paper bands around cigars. The term belly band is derived from the cummerbund, a broad waist sash often worn as part of black tie as an alternative to the waistcoat. The belly band wraps around the cigar in the same way that a gentleman’s cummerbund is worn around the waist. In Cuba, the belly band is referred to as Anilla (from the Spanish word “Anillo,” band). Hence the term “cigar band” is probably the most appropriate name for the paper band, which has experienced a remarkable transformation over nearly two centuries.
From stain protection to marketing tool
The origins of cigar bands are the subject of several legends. For example, one legend has it that Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great smoked cigars wrapped in silk in the 18th century to protect her fingers and gloves from nicotine odor and staining. It was Gustav Bock, a German master cigarmaker who emigrated to Cuba in 1854, who used the paper bands not only to protect his fingers and gloves but also to establish a unique selling proposition for his cigars (see also Cigar history and Bock cigars). Other cigar manufacturers quickly recognized the potential of these cigar bands as an ornament and marketing tool. Thus, more and more factories began putting a band around the body of their cigars.
What started out as plain rectangular or oval bands evolved into colorful objects of art that come in a variety of shapes. Moreover, in the contest for the most distinctive banderole, they were also adorned with creative reliefs, making them not only visually but also haptically appealing. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that cigar bands have also become coveted collectibles. For example, while some aficionadas and aficionados like to keep the bands to keep track of cigars they’ve already enjoyed and those they would like to try, there are even non-smoking collectors who keep thousands of cigar bands in albums and binders. The first passionate collectors were mainly from the USA and later from Europe. The American Joe Hruby was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for his collection of over 165,000 cigar bands. He later expanded his collection to over 221,000 pieces.
Series and types of cigar bands
Similar to stamps and coffee cream lids, some manufacturers developed entire series of cigar bands for passionate collectors. These series depict animals, fairytale characters, well-known buildings, or famous personalities. In addition to these series, there are also three other types of cigar bands. “Classic bands” are older belly bands made in the mid-19th century. “Factory bands” were made by cigar manufacturers and used for their own cigars (as opposed to the bands that printers made for various cigar producers). “Publicity bands” are cigar bands that serve as advertisements for specific events, clubs, products, or organizations. For example, in the mid-1950s, there was a cigar band with the Coca-Cola inscription.
Some bands never adorned a cigar. However, most belly bands have to be removed from a cigar. Be careful not to damage the cigar wrapper and spoil the smoke. It’s best to light the cigar before removing the band and smoke it for a while, which loosens the glue and allows you to remove it more easily. Removing the band bears less risk of damaging the wrapper than trying to peel off the wrapper with your nails. If you are not interested in collecting the band, you can safely leave it on the cigar. For example, you can use the band’s position to mark how far you have smoked a cigar. This allows you to later compare the smoke of identical cigars of different lengths. In Asia, however, removing the band before/during the smoke is somewhat rare since quality cigars and their band are considered a status symbol.