Uncovering The History Behind Tubed Cigars

The H. Upmann cigar factory

Tubed cigars are just as entwined with the Cuban cigar scene as cedar humidors, labelled hand-crafted boxes and elegant accessories, but do you know when they first appeared and how?

Origins of tubed cigars

It all began in England at J. Frankau & Co. Ltd, which was the building block business for Hunters & Frankau. The death of founder Joseph Frankau meant his son Arthur was fast-tracked to the helm. Arthur established links with the Upmanns in Havana and during the 1850’s became the sole UK distributor of H. Upmann cigars. Unfortunately, he suffered a premature death in 1904, which led to another son stepping up for the business; his son Gilbert, at the tender age of just 21.

Gilbert Frankau was renowned for his fiery temper, but despite this side, he successfully became a big player in the cigar industry. Unlike his father, and his grandfather, Gilbert didn’t quite have the golden touch within the family business, and after almost bankrupting the company other members of the family intervened. What’s more, the Upmann family also ran a banking sector and which, sadly, went into liquidation in 1922. The issues with banking business alone had the potential to take the cigar factory down with it! They decided the business should be sold and went through with the sale of the business to a rival importer, Braden & Stark, in 1916.

A new era for H. Upmann Cigars

New owners Otto Braden and James Stark saw the potential in the H. Upmann cigar brand; Otto Braden had the foresight that these cigars could well become extremely valuable in the long-term.

During the sale talks, the board minutes of 4th September 1922 recorded that:

“Mr O. Braden should proceed to Havana in order to assist there in the settlement of the affairs of the H. Upmann factory which has become involved in the failure of the Banking House of H. Upmann & Co, in order to make certain the continued supply of the brand and the retention of the agency.”

Otto was given the green light to spend a total of £10,000 towards the acquisition of the factory in order “to secure the continuation of the sole agency of the Brand to this Company”.

Mr Braden had to take two trips to Cuba before finally in 1925 he secured a deal to acquire the brand and their operational factory. He allocated the management to a Cuban company by the name of Compañia Frankau de Tabacos S.A. while Otto Braden stayed on the board as its president. His endeavours were fruitful and he brought success and riches back to the H. Upmann brand.

The introduction of impact extrusion

It was in 1930 that 47-year-old son, Waldo Braden, took over the business after Otto sadly passed away. Two years later Waldo decided that the Cuban cigar industry was in need of a way of keeping them safe and guarantee their condition if they were to be distributed to a wider consumer base. He found a solution; a process called ‘impact extrusion’, which when using aluminium could produce a tube, perfect for holding cigars. What made this addition more appealing was its cost-efficient price.

However, the shareholders and Braden’s colleagues didn’t agree with his proposal, as they believed that Cuban cigar smokers wouldn’t be interested in buying and smoking cigars that were isolated and packaged in a single tube.

Regardless of what some would have seen as a notable setback, Waldo decided to carry on despite peers’ opinions and designed the cigar tube. He patented a deal which was called the ‘Solo-Seel’, covering all the manufacturing costs and development out of his own pocket. In 1933 he went back to the board of directors and shareholders and to boast his finished product. Albeit a bit grudgingly, the board allowed him to carry out some distribution tests with his new addition, launching in December of that year.

Just as Waldo had predicted, the tubes were a complete success, and by the following May the company snapped up Waldo’s offer of the right to use his aluminium cigar tubes exclusively for the H. Upmann brand until 1939. Waldo received a payment of £200 and royalty fees of a halfpenny per tube sold.

The success of Solo-Seel tubes didn’t go unnoticed, with J. Frankau publishing an advert in Tobacco Magazine depicting a graph of the cigar tubes’ month on month sales. Things were looking up for Waldo Braden, and it seemed as though the sky was the limit!

The last tango

Frankau’s chairman James Stark’s health was deteriorating, and it was decided that the company should once again be sold. The man to take over the reins this time would be D. G. Freeman of J. R Freeman & Sons.

In 1935 the sale of J. Frankau, which included all of the businesses belonging to them was put to the board with all agreeing to the sale except one… Waldo. Waldo tried everything he could to hold up and hopefully collapse the deal; he even stole the keys to the company’s safe!

After all his shenanigans to try and scupper the deal, the final straw came when he admitted that he was overcharging them an unauthorised margin on the Solo-Seel sales and he was subsequently fired. This brought the curtain down on his short yet impactful foray into the cigar industry. This didn’t affect his legacy though, with his steel-tubed cigar casing still being used today; in fact, in 2015 40% of all Havana cigars sold in the UK were in tubes!

You can pick up some fantastic tubed cigars at Havana House either online or in-store. Why not get in touch or visit us and see which of these superb stogies you’ll be coming away with?


Image: enrique1363 under Creative Commons.

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