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Al Capone and Cigars
No doubt about it! Al Capone is known the world over as a cigar smoker. Many photos were taken of him with a stogie in hand. In his early years, Capone could usually be spotted smoking a cigarette, but as his prominence in the Chicago took flight Capone was now smoking the gentleman's weed. Not only was the cigar a man's duty, but what brand of cigar you smoked showed what social standing you had.
It's been over three decades I have been researching the Capone subject and I could find not one piece of evidence as to what brand cigars Capone smoked. Specifically the Cuban brands he preferred. Until now!
One brand made on American soil Capone was seen smoking by someone interviewing him was Cornelius Vanderbilt. During his 1931 interview he noted Capone repeatedly lighting his Hav-A-Tampa cigar. So we know Capone smoked Hav-A Tampa.
Hav-A-Tampa was a cigar manufactured in Florida. The tobacco was imported from Havana and or mixed with other tobaccos. The Cigar itself was constructed in the U.S. thus now called a "Clear Havana". That meant the tobacco cleared Customs and entered the country. These cigars were not made in Cuba.
Florida was now a cigar manufacturing center that competed with Havana in making cigars for the masses. Many Cubans that exiled to Florida knew how to roll cigars and with the importation of the Havana leaf rolled by an expert Cuban roller you could enjoy a fine cheroot at home. Cuban cigar embargoes were not a thing started by John F. Kennedy as there was always problems of Cuban cigars flooding the market both legally and illegally. Certain quotas were imposed on Cuba by the Government of the U.S. to give fair competition for U.S. cigar maufacturers. But even so, many people still wanted the best, the authentic hand rolled cigars from Havana. Capone was no exception and had no trouble getting access to them. By 1932, Capone was gone to prison and La Corona brand now under American interests no longer wanted to pay the high import fees of already rolled cigars coming from Cuba. They found it cheaper to import all the tobacco leaves from Cuba and have them all rolled at a similar La Corona building erected in Trenton, New Jersey.
Now that we all know that Al smoked the local stogie called Hav-A-Tampa, which were clear havanas. But how about his Cuban choice? Through Miami newspaper publisher Fred Girton's account of his many times attending Al Capone's parties at the Miami home we finally get to know what Cuban cigar Capone favored. Which one? The most expensive Cuban cigar smoked by rich people and big shots in that era was La Corona Coronas made at the Corona cigar factory in Havana. (The factory building still stands today). The La Corona Cuban brand is today extinct although Honduras still makes a crappy cigar using their same logo and label. The Cuban La Corona brand later had the tobacco from Havana shipped to the U.S. and assembled there making the stogies more affordable to the masses. The brand ceased to exist in the 60's but made a brief and short lived comeback in the 80's-90's. I was lucky enough to find and purchase 3 well preserved La Coronas dating from over 60 years ago. Back in Al's era, the La Corona cost $1 per stick while the working man was smoking 5 cent cigars.
La Corona Corona newspaper ad from June 19,1930.
Al Capone's Art Nouveau Bronze Humidor that came from Marshall Fields and was used at 93 Palm Avenue, Miami Beach.
La Corona Coronas 1926 tin.
Al Capone enjoying a Cuban La Corona at home in Miami, March 1930.
Al Capone's favored Havana cigars. An authentic Cuban 1931 La Corona Coronas cigar box.
(Mario Gomes collection)
American made brands at that time included Hav-A-Tampa, William Penn, White Owl, Robert Burns and Van Dyck,
El Producto, Rocky Ford, Langsdorf, El Toro, Nottingham, Bering, Antonio y Cleopatra, Flor El Todo, Garcia y Vega, Juan de Fuca, Admiration, Ben Bey, Careme, Dearest & Best, Pollacks and Sano.
The Cuban brands from Havana were La Corona, Partagas, Bock y Ca, Henry Clay, Belinda, Romeo y Juliet and Larranga.
In the early 1920's, you could spot Capone taking a drag of a cigarette rather than a cigar.
July 7, 1931.
Capone with cigar running to court with Phil D'Andrea following right behind.
Cigar in hand. On his way to the Atlanta state penitentiary May 1932.
Smoking a cigar while playing cards with a Federal Marshall on the train to Atlanta May 1932.
The big shot relaxing with a fine stogie after his release from the Baltimore Hospital in 1940.
A smiling Capone with stogie in hand making his way through the crowd.
Florida, February 17, 1941.
Florida, February 17, 1941. A dapper Capone with cigar listening in amusement to the charges read by his last attorney Abraham Teitelbaum.
Capone makes an appearance accompanied with brother Ralph and his lawyer for a closed session with government lawyers. They question his ability to pay back $201,347 still owed to the government.
A smiling Al Capone in front of his brother Ralph's Wisconsin lodge August 1946. This was 5 months before his death. Note his right pocket (your left) is stuffed with his beloved cigars. Note that contrary to what movies and books will tell you, Al wasn't as crazy as most were lead to believe. He had his moments of lucidity, even near the end of his life.
(Photo by the kind permission of Mr. Corey Hart)