CODES There are two basic codes on cigar boxes; one for the production year, the other the factory where the cigar was made. This coding does not, however, provide information on the age of the tobacco used, at the time of production.
HISTORY OF CODES Over the years, both codes have been changed several times. In addition, there was a period, before 1985, when date codes were not used. One way to determine the approximate age, of one of the pre-1985 cigar boxes, is to look for the stamping, also called a hallmark, on the underside of the box. The hallmarks are actually branded, and, if in doubt, you should run your fingers across it to make certain the hallmark is not just a stamp, one indication of a ‘fake’.
Prior to 1961 (pre-revolution), the stamp said "MADE IN HAVANA-CUBA”. After Castro took over the country, the stamp was changed to "HECHO EN CUBA". "HECHO EN CUBA" in a simple font encircled by a straight-sided oval and was added in 1960 to replace the same words, formerly in English, "Made in Cuba."
In 1985, Cubatabaco, formerly the worldwide distribution company for Cuban cigars, now called Habanos S.A., began the use of date codes. In addition to the date codes, between 1985 and 1995, a tobacco leaf, was burnished in with an ‘iron’, above the word ‘Cubatabaco’. In 1989 Cubatabaco added a stamp to the box, ‘Totalmente a mano’, inscript.
In 1994, the Cubatabaco logo was changed to ‘Habanos S.A.’. Habanos S.A. had purchased 50% of Cubatabaco, at the time. In September 2000, the parent company of Altadis USA, completed the purchase of 50% of Habanos, S.A. Habanos is the owner of most of the Cuban trademarks in the world, the franchiser of the Casa del Habano shops and owns parts of its distribution network. On all export boxes, since October 1994, you will find "Habanos s.a." in stylized letters, on the bottom. Of course, if the box was bought in Cuba, it will not have this mark, and one ought to be cautious about buying it, unless its provenance is known.
Until the middle of 1999, Factory Codes were either stamped within a rectangle, or alone, on the boxes. Since the codes had been ‘broken’, Habanos S.A. started to ship boxes with a new code, although many factories did not conform to the update. Therefore, for a brief time, different coding was employed for product made at the same time in different factories. It is an issue one will never resolve.
The date codes are seemingly ever changing. Coupled with the factory codes, many of which were combined for several years, it often becomes an impossible task to determine the date of the box and exactly where it was produced. The real question is, however, to what extent this information matters to the end user. It was thought that certain factories received better tobacco leaf and, thus, the search for the factories on the top of the distribution list. The distribution of the raw material is supposedly no longer an issue, just the production numbers.
BOX CODES Cubatabaco began using box codes in 1985, and the code was:
Say it twice and Ali Baba’s cave opens for you! The above code was used, beginning in 1985 to indicate the date of production. The code is very simple; the first two letters on the box refer to the month, the last two the year. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, as when the month was not represented by two letters.
In 1999, the date code was changed to:
As of January 1999 this code was changed. One example is, a box marked ECA UDCC, indicates manufactured at the Jose Marti factory in July of 1999.
Every box of Habanos cigars has a stamped enigmatic series of numbers and letters on the bottom, intended to thwart counterfeiters. The following codes are of use for cigars shipped prior to June 1999. Habanos S.A. changed to a new coding system and will be changing it regularly. The new codes are for factory only, the date is now clearly revealed.
The following are examples of some codes which have been deciphered so far; the task has become more difficuly since the factory codes are constantly changing :
Carlos Balino, formerly El Rey del Mundo
Briones Montoto, formerly Romeo Y Julieta
Fernando Pérez German, formerly Partagas
Miguel Fernández Roig, formerly La Corona
Jose Marti, formerly H. Upmann
Juan Cano Sainz, formerly Por Larrañaga
Heros de Moncads
To make matters more difficult, the following are also codes for 1999.
Alas, in May 1999, the codes were again changed. The codes were temporary, although several factories did not make the change. The temporary codes are:
NEW YEAR 2000 DATE CODES
From January 1, 2000, all boxes of Cuban Cigars have carried an ink stamp showing the first three letters of the Month and two numerals for the year this century; note that the month are in Spanish, so the full table looks like this:
The following are only some decoded examples for 2000 through 2006, the new Date Codes are five digits; XXXYY, where the first three digits represent the month and the last two digits, the year:
PLEASE REMEMBER THAT YOU MAY RECEIVE BOXES WITH FACTORY CODES WHICH HAVE YET TO BE DECIPHERED; 'BREAKING' THE CODES IS A CONTINUING CHALLENGE TO ALL OF US IN THE INDUSTRY.