Cuban Box Codes
You already noticed that every box of Cuban cigars has a strange stamp on the bottom. Probably you also know that it designates the factory and date of production. But do you know how to understand it?
Till 1985 not a single box of Cuban cigars had any codes. Nothing except for the proud inscription Hecho en Cuba. Neither the dates, nor factory names. Francisco Padron, who was the president of Habanos S.A. at that time, entered the modern history of Cuban cigar industry with a decision to define the manufacturers and to introduce production identification. In 1985 stamps with information about the factory, month and year of production appeared. But this information was encoded...
Two Spanish words of five letters each were chosen for date coding: Nivel and Acuso. Their letters corresponded to numbers from 1 to 0. The code consisted of four letters. The first two corresponded to the month, the second two - the year of release:
N I V E L A C U S O
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Factory codes consisted of two or three letters, which were an abbreviation for post revolutionary factory names.
For example, FPG OAUC means that cigars were made in Partagas factory in June, 1987. Does any aficionado know that factory founded by Haime Partagas in 1845, now in the Cuban state annals is named after Fransisko Peres Germana, the hero of the Cuban revolution (this gives a code FPG)?
Codes were necessary purely for service using. Particularly, to reveal those who make defects. Actually, the Spanish words are translated as level ("nivel") and accusation ("acuso"). By that time the number of complaints regarding poor quality of Havanas overflowed and this brought out the necessity of strict punishment against careless employees including factory directors.
What Happened After?
The first system of codes existed for almost fourteen years. Probably because there were almost no foreign tourists on the Island. However after the USSR dissolve Cuba stopped receiving financial help. In order to support the state Cuban government opened their borders for tourists. The tourists (first of all, aficionados) have revealed the mysterious cigar codes visiting factories and systematizing the data.
In December 1998 this information appeared in the Internet and Habanos decided to change the codes.
The phrase Codigo Uneta was taken for a basis. The first word is the "code", the second - the name of the organization which supervised the work of all factories - La Union de Empresas del Tabaco de Cuba (now it's Tabacuba). To fit 5 letters format, the word Codigo lost the last 'o'. The correspondence of letters to figures has been changed as well: the word Codig corresponded to figures upside-down 98765 and Uneta - to figures 01234. Thus, the word for decoding was quite strange: Netagidocu.
C O D I G U N E T A
9 8 7 6 5 0 1 2 3 4
N E T A G I D O C U
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Besides if earlier the date was stamped in a format "MMYY" now the sequence has changed: the first two - last figures of year, then month.
They have also introduced a new letter designation for factories. It consisted of three letters and had no rule except one: first letter stood for the province from which the cigars came. Letter "E" corresponded to the factories of Havana city, "T" - Havana province, "O" - Cienfuegos province, "N" - Granma, "U" - Houlgin, "G" - Pinar del Rio, "C" - Sancti Spiritus, "D" - Villia Clara, "A" - Santiago de Cuba.
For example, if the stamp on the Montecristo Especial box was EAT CCUE it meant that these cigars were made in the Partagas factory in February 1999.
Having appeared in January 1999, the new codes existed only four months. After they were cracked and the key has appeared on the Internet, www.cigarnexus.com, Cubans were forced to replace the coding again.
From May 1999 till January 2000 the designation of date of manufacture looked in the following way:
EPOO - May 1999
ESOO - June 1999
EUOO - July 1999
EAOO - August 1999
EOOO - September 1999
LEOO - October 1999
LLOO - November 1999
LROO - December 1999
ELOO - January 2000
Since January 2000 Cubans stopped hiding the date of manufacture and made it quite clear: first three letters of month (in Spanish) and two last numbers of year.
ENE - enero - January
FEB - febrero - February
MAR - marzo - March
ABR - abril - April
MAY - mayo - May
JUN - junio - June
JUL - julio - July
AGO - agosto - August
SET - setiembre - September
OCT - octubre - October
NOV - noviembre - November
DIC - diciembre - December
Factory code now consisted of 2 - 4 letters and could change from time to time. It was selected with the help of computer, and same factory could have two codes at the same time. Thus it is much more difficult now to tell precisely the factory and the city in which the cigars were made. In such chaos even checking inspectors not always receive the duly information on the stamps in time to reveal those who make poor quality cigars. The only good way for us, fans of Havanas, to 'keep abreast' - is to bypass all Cuban factories and 'read' the codes every few months.
Checked up: good draw!
We should also mention about an additional stamp on the bottom of a box - revisado, that means 'checked'. And that's how it appeared...
On the occasion of a new millennium Cuban authorities decided to release 200 000 000 cigars (Cuba hadn't produced such volumes of cigars after revolution). However the crop of 1999 turned out to be not really good and the quality of tobacco appeared mediocre. The decision of the Party was not affected in any way, besides they put additional lines of sorters and twisters, which weren't qualified enough (it is clear - professionals were engaged already).
As a result only one hundred forty five cigars have been sold out of 200 000 000. The information about bad crop has reached consumers and smokers didn't want to buy these Havanas. Even official distributors refused from buying cigars of 2000 year production.
When it was clear that these cigars won't sell out, the direction of Habanos S.A. decided to give them another chance. It was impossible to change the quality of tobacco, but technical problems could be corrected.
They opened a box, checked the draw, blend and taste and tried to "repair" the cigar. If they succeeded the cigar was returned to the box, otherwise - destroyed. All "checked " boxes were marked with a stamp revisado, which served as a guarantee to smokers that all problems were eliminated. While opening a box for check, the guarantee seal was cut and when a stamp was put the new seal was attached above the old one.
About other inscriptions in brief
Before the revolution of 1959 all stamps were in English: Made in Cuba or Made in Habana-Cuba. Since 1960 - in Spanish: Hecho en Cuba. Till 1994 all boxes were stamped as Cubatabaco, after that - Habanos S.A. In 1989 Totalmente a mano inscription has appeared (old inscription was Hecho a mano), and in 2004 - Tripa corta (or TP), informing about short filler.