The cigar band was introduced by the Dutchman, Gustave Bock, one of the first Europeans to get involved in the Havana cigar industry, somewhat after the introduction of the cigar box and labels, and for the same reason: to distinguish his brand from the many others on the market. His lead was soon followed by all the other brands, and cigar bands are still used by almost all handmade brands. When bands were originally introduced, other manufacturers followed Bock's example and had them made in Holland. Some cigars, sold in "Cabinet Selection" packaging, usually a deep cedar box containing a bundle of 50 loosely packed cigars tied together with silk ribbon, are sold without bands. This "half-wheel", as it is called, of 50 cigars is the way cigars were normally presented before the band was introduced. Some Honduran handmades are also often sold in Europe without bands (and usually singly), primarily for trademark reasons.
The band also has other minor functions, such as protecting the smoker's fingers from becoming stained (this was important when gentlemen wore white evening gloves) and, some claim, holding the wrapper together, though no decent wrapper should need help.
The cigar bands of older brands tend to be much fancier (with gold leaf in abundance) than those of modern brands. Those aimed at the very top of the market in particular: Cohiba, Dunhill, Montecristo, and Davidoff, for instance, are all simple and elegant.
The bands on non-Havana cigars with Cuban brand names tend to be similar to the Cuban originals, although they vary in small details (a typical one being that they bear the date of origin of the brand in the space where the Cuban version says "Habana"). Some Cuban brands use more than one band design, Hoyo de Monterrey, for instance, or Tomeo Y Julieta, where the Churchill sizes have a simple, slim gold band, but other sizes have red ones.
Band on or off?
Every beginning cigar smoker faces this question: should I leave the band on or take it off? How to smoke cigars – with the band on or off – has been debated without end since about 1850 when Gustave Bock introduced the first bands. Why?
Bock’s Havana-made cigars – like the Fuente Fuente Opus X or Padron 1964 Anniversary Series today – were copied so widely so he put bands on to identify them as authentic. Up to that time, all cigars had been sold without bands or cellophane. In the early days, bands were placed toward the center of most cigars.
(There’s also considerable speculation that bands came about because of the wide use of light-colored or white gloves in high society where cigars were fashionable and the wrappers stained the gloves, but Bock is widely credited with putting bands on his cigars first.)
The question of whether to smoke a cigar with the band on or off is purely a matter of personal choice. In Britain, it has traditionally been considered a matter of "bad form" to advertise the brand you are smoking, an inhibition which does not apply elsewhere. If you insist on removing the band, it is best to wait until you have smoked the cigar for a few minutes. The heat of the smoke will help to loosen the band from the wrapper and will make the gum on the band less adhesive and easier to remove. If you try to take the band off the cigar before starting to smoke it, you will risk damaging the wrapper.
During the "Golden Age", collecting cigar bands became a very popular and inexpensive hobby, especially among children since the colorful bands were often found littering streets and public places, waiting to be picked up. As part of their marketing efforts some manufacturers also produced sets of bands aimed specifically at young collectors and gave them away as promotional items, though the bands themselves were never actually wrapped around a cigar. Cigar bands were often incorporated into "folk art" such as decoupage and collage. A variety of blank albums were manufactured specifically for displaying cigar band collections, much as they are today for coins, stamps and photographs. The hobby of cigar band collecting is known as vitolophily.
The value of old cigar bands varies somewhat depending upon the condition, age, design, and place of origin, but aside from a relatively few rare or unusual exceptions, old cigar bands are not particularly valuable collectibles from a monetary standpoint. This includes the majority of the bands displayed in the museums.