Fidel Castro Cigar Box, 1959

Fidel Castro Cigar Box, 1959

Every so often, an object of historical importance comes along – a piece that relates to and captures a time, while offering an insight into a country’s social and political path. Several months ago, I obtained a small wooden cigar box, gifted to and inscribed by Fidel Castro in 1959, the year of the Revolution. The box is an unlikely survivor of those early years and speaks directly of Cuba’s cigar industry at the time. Please scroll down to see detailed images.

Castro’s handwritten dedication appears over a Cuban flag in the box’s interior and can be translated as follows:

30 November 1959
Cubans, I am witness to the fact that the best tobacco (cigars)
that exists is that of Cuba and I give faith to this.
In Free Cuba
Fidel Castro Ruz
The lid interior carries a colourful graphic of Cuba’s coat of arms and the dedication stamped into the box’s base reads:
A gift to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Cuba
Dr Fidel Castro Ruz
30 December 1959

The box is something of a conundrum. It is not the quality of a diplomatic gift. The date of the inscription does not match that of the dedication (they are a month apart). And then there is the signature. All in all, however, these oddities actually serve to prove the box ‘right’.

Because one wants something this special to be authentic, it’s easy to bend the details and I was aware of this when I researched the piece. The first thing that struck me when I saw the box, through photos, was that there was a relatively lengthy handwritten inscription by Castro. Logic suggested that a forger would probably have kept handwriting to a minimum, as each letter can prove guilt, so this was a good thing. Luckily, the handwriting matched the samples I had come across. The actual signature proved more problematic. It was unlike most Castro signatures from the time. Through my research, however, I discovered that Castro’s signature changed many times and quite radically over the years. In addition, a signature written in haste is very different from a considered one. The problem I had was that none of the early signatures had the i linked to the d, as Fidel appeared in the box. And the very last letter was much simpler in construction than the late 1950’s examples I was looking at. Then, suddenly, this came along:

An authenticated match. When I received the box in June, I was able to see first hand further proof that the handwriting was correct: the ink flow was fluid and there were no ink pressure points where a forger might hesitate for a fraction of a second before continuing. That out of the way, the next question was why, if the box was dedicated to Castro on December 30, 1959, is his inscription dated a month earlier? This discrepancy looks to the very function of the box. As already mentioned, based on its very simple design and construction, this was not a diplomatic gift. The lid carries the words ‘a gift from Centenario’. Most probably, this was a box intended to promote the Cuban tobacco industry in the year of the Revolution. Castro would have known about the box in advance and prepared his considered words for insertion. This is supported by the fact that it would have been impossible for him to write his inscription with the flag paper in situ; the hand cannot contort in that way. Castro knew of the box and wrote his message for inclusion a full month before it was presented to him – hence, the discrepancy in dates. The box would have held cigars and, once empty, probably been given to a high ranking party member. When I received the box, it was also plain to see the age and patina of the wood – something invisible in the photos.

And so the box survives. It carries stories that will never be known, but what we do know is that in 1959, the year of the Revolution, Fidel Castro put pen to paper to tell his countrymen that Cuban cigars are the best in the world.

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