How to identify cigars by their box codes

Factory identification tends to play a bigger role with Cuban cigars because Cuba has altered their factory seals and codes several times over the years. Moreover, unless you’ve really done your homework, trying to identify a vintage box of Havanas can be quite confusing.

In the beginning…

According to one source, cigars were originally sold in bundles covered with pig bladders, and a vanilla pod would be placed inside the package to stem the odor. These were eventually replaced by large wooden chests that could hold up to as many as 10,000 cigars.

In 1840, English banker, Herman Upmann, opened a branch office in Havana and would ship Cuban cigars back to his London colleagues in boxes made of Spanish cedar due to its ability to prevent cigars from drying-out and extend the aging process. Though it wasn’t until 1844 that Mr. Upmann bought a cigar factory and gave birth to the now famous H. Upmann cigars brand, the cedar box became the standard form of packaging for handmade cigars, and remains so to this day.

H. Upmann is a brand name of premium cigar, established on Cuba in 1844 and is among the oldest in the cigar industry.H. Upmann is a brand name of premium cigar, established on Cuba in 1844 and is among the oldest in the cigar industry.

Prior to 1960, all Cuban cigar stamps were also printed in English. After that, the Cuban stamps were changed to Spanish like, “Hecho en Cuba.”  It wasn’t until 1985 that Cuban cigars were given specific box codes. Until then their boxes had only one stamp which read “Hecho en Cuba.” The idea to begin using encrypted codes was instituted by Francisco Padrón, then-president of Habanos S.A.  The new codes included information about the factory, the month, and year of their release.

In 1989, the inscription “Totalmente a mano” (“totally handmade”) replaced the older inscription “Hecho a mano.” Boxes were also stamped “Cubatabaco,” but in 1994 it was changed to “Habanos S.A.,” and in 2004 the Spanish term “Tripa corta,” was added for cigars made with “short filler.”

The Cuban coding system contained letters and numbers that identified the factory in which a particular box was made, while some parts of the codes were used only for internal purposes. Say a box had defective cigars; the code would tell them what factory it was made. And because tobacco quality changes from year to year, encoding dates were also used to establish when the crop was harvested. The coding system is much too complex to explain in detail here. Suffice it to say, the codes have been changed several times over the years due to counterfeiters who have been able to figure them out.

Thinking outside the box

If you pick up a box of premium cigars and turn it over you’ll usually find a stamp of some kind. It could be an imprinted or branded stamp citing nothing more than the manufacturer’s name and country of origin. However, you may also find a second stamp indicating the date, the section the box was stored at the factory, or even the signature of the box inspector. Today the type and number of stamps vary by manufacturer. In some cases they will place the inspection numbers and inspectors name on a tiny piece of paper inside the box.

So, let’s get to the details, there are two kinds of information on every cigar box: optional information and information required by law. Optional information could be anything from a company guarantee or slogan, advertising, copyright and registration dates, the type and/or source of tobacco, pictures; even hype, whether it was true or not.

Identifying cigars by their boxes today

When it comes to box designs, today, just about anything goes. From the simple bôite nature Spanish cedar boxes used for Davidoff cigars (and many other manufacturers), to the sculpture-like boxes of Perdomo’s Edición de Silvio cigars, to the traditional “Renaissance period” style boxes like La Aroma de Cuba, to CAO’s Concert series cigars whose boxes look like mini-guitar amps, designers continue to amaze cigar smokers with their ingenuity.

In addition to the required I.D.’s and familiar country of origin seals that overlap the top and side of most cigar boxes, you may find the following on  the bottom of some boxes: a label with a bar code and a sticker identifying the lot and inspector’s initials (often written by hand); imprints of the factory name & logo; serial numbers, plus the aforementioned pieces of paper with the inspector’s name, box lot, etc., and finally, the most obvious of labels, the UK Health Warning labels.

So, the next time you’re significant other drags you to an antique store, a yard sale, or you just happen to be in a cigar store that has some vintage cigar boxes, you’ll know what to look for. In the end, it’s just another part of the premium cigar experience.

Totalmente a Mano – Tripa Larga

Since 1989 boxes of classic, Tripa Larga – long-filler – Habanos have been hot-stamped with the words Totalmente a Mano –Totally by hand’–.

Totalmente a Mano – Tripa Corta





Boxes of short filler Habanos are also hot-stamped with the words Totalmente a Mano – Totally by hand – and since 2002 ink stamped with the letters TC (Tripa Corta – ‘Short Filler’).




There are also some boxes of cigars that are inscribed only with “Habanos s.a.” and “Hecho en Cuba” (Made in Cuba) omitting the words “Totalmente a mano” (Totally by hand).

These are machine made cigars which are .not essentially covered by the Habanos Denomination of Origin (D.O.P). Most of them are covered by the “Cuba. Tabaco Mecanizado” Denomination of Origin (D.O.P.) for machine made cigars.

Factory code and box date


There are two ink-stamps on the bottoms of Habanos boxes. One is a secret code that tells the industry which factory made the cigars. The other is the month and year when they were boxed.

The dates are not in code and the year is simple enough. The system started in 2000 with ‘00’, then ‘01’ and so on. However, unless you know a little Spanish, the months    may need deciphering.

They are:

  • ENE (Enero) January
  • FEB (Febrero) Frebruary
  • MAR (Marzo) March
  • ABR (Abril) April
  • MAY (Mayo) May
  • JUN (Junio) June
  • JUL (Julio) July
  • AGO (Agosto) August
  • SEP (Septiembre) September
  • OCT (Octubre) October
  • NOV (Noviembre) November
  • DIC (Diciembre) December

Havana cigars improve with age in a humidor, so the date is important to connoisseurs.