About two years ago, a good friend of mine called me up and told me he had purchased a sealed box of Dunhill Selección Supremas that he had never heard of or seen before. He asked me to take some photographs of the box, and I told him I would be happy to. In fact, he had a sealed box of Partagás Dunhill Selección Suprema No. 281 from the 1950s, a Selección Suprema that no one he or I talked to had ever heard of before. In fact, we did not even know the vitola or what the condition of the cigars was until we opened the box.
What some people may not be aware of is that for a time, Dunhill marketed and sold cigars with other cigar manufactures in Cuba, and released these creations in joint ventures called “Selección Suprema”, most notably El Rey del Mundo, H. Upmann, Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo, Partagás, Por Larrañaga, Ramón Allones and Romeo y Julieta.
In 1907, Alfred Dunhill opened his first tobacco shop on Duke Street, London. Before the Cuban Revolution, Dunhill had numerous distribution and marketing agreements with several Cuban cigar manufacturer, selling exclusive and hard to find brands such as Don Cándido and Dunhill’s own Selección Suprema line, with various sizes from many famous cigar makers such as Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta.
After the Revolution, Dunhill’s unique relationship with Cuban cigars would continue with the communist government’s tobacco monopoly, Cubatabaco. Dunhill was given the exclusive rights to three different brands: Don Cándido, its own Don Alfredo, and La Flor del Punto, plus the numerous Selección Suprema sizes produced by the marques that had survived nationalization.
In 1967 the tobacco branch of Alfred Dunhill Ltd was sold off and became its own separate entity. In 1981 tobacco blending (of the Dunhill pipe tobaccos, at least) was transferred to Murrays, of Belfast. In 2005 it was transferred to Orlik of Denmark, renewing debate about blending/flavor changes in Dunhill’s pipe tobaccos.
Per WayneN, a Cuban cigar expert on the International Cigar Club:
According to Cubatabaco records, all Dunhill Selección Suprema cigars of various brands and the 3 Dunhill Exclusive brands (Don Cándido, Don Alfredo, Flor del Punto) were discontinued in the year 1982. 1982 was the year the contract for the production of the Dunhill brand was started. (Dunhill cigars were not available for sale until mid to late 1984.)
In fact, here is a page from a 1959-60 Dunhill Catalogue that details them:
The only vitolas that Partagás is widely known to have worked on with Dunhill is the Partagás Dunhill Selección Suprema No. 151, a 4 7/8 x 34 Small Panetela, the No. 153, the No. 154, and the No. 777. However, there are always other cigars coming to light that had limited availability or were not previously known.
Here is what the box for the Partagás Dunhill Selección Suprema No. 281 looks like:
- Cigar Reviewed: Partagás Dunhill Selección Suprema No. 281 (1950s)
- Country of Origin: Cuba
- Factory: Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagás
- Wrapper: Cuba
- Binder: Cuba
- Filler: Cuba
- Size: 5 1/8 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 28
- Vitola: Petit Panatela
- Est. Price: $75.00 (Boxes of 50, $3,750.00)
- Date Released: 1950s
- Number of Cigars Released: n/a
- Number of Cigars Smoked for Review: 5
The cigar is quite small with about a 28 ring gauge and a cap that can only be called sloppy. The wrapper is a light greenish brown color quite rough looking with multiple veins, but smooth to the touch and is obviously old with a parchment-like quality. It has decent give when squeezed, and the wrapper has almost no smell at all, perhaps a little aged wood. The cold draw brings a strong flavor of peas and wood.
The first third of the Partagás Dunhill Selección Suprema No. 281 starts off equal parts bitter and sweet, but I can taste undertones of cedar and leather, and there is a surprising amount of spice on the tongue. The bitterness fades fairly quickly, leaving the indeterminate sweetness as the main profile note. There is a tiny amount of pepper on the retrohale, but it seems to be disappearing as quickly as I notice it. There is an almost shocking amount of smoke production, and the ash is the epitome of “salt and pepper”. The draw is effortless, and the burn line is so straight, I can’t stop looking at it. Overall strength is a nonissue, not even close to the medium mark yet.
It’s mostly the same in the second third profile-wise, although the bitterness has receded quite a bit to more of a background note. Other than the same cedar and leather as before, the sweetness is now strong enough to be identified as a maple flavor that get surprisingly strong at points during the second third. Both burn and draw remain phenomenal and the smoke production continues to be impressive. Strength is holding steady below the medium mark and does not seem to be going anywhere fast.
The final third of the Partagás Dunhill Selección Suprema No. 281 has a bit more bitterness present, but also adds a huge note of lemon zest—almost out of nowhere. The profile is a bit more sweet and creamy with other notes of hay, leather, aged wood and even a bit of a nutty note. The spice and pepper are still around holding steady and the construction ends the cigar the same way it started it: perfect. The nub is cool to the touch and easy to finish. As predicted, the strength remains south of the medium mark, and the smoke production remains constant until I put the Dunhill down.
- The ash of this cigar is one of the most interesting I have seen, salt and pepper combination on the outside, and it looks like it was cut in concentric circles all the way around as I smoke it, as if someone put rubber bands on the ash.
- The same WayneN from the ICC forum had an interesting theory on the Selección Suprema series as well, saying:
My interpretation of Dunhill “Selección Suprema” cigars. They were not cigars made from better tobaccos but SAME cigars imported by Dunhill and aged further for 10 months in Dunhill’s inventory. Period. IMO they are not better cigars or different cigars. And this correlates with my own personal experiences and other Hong Kong veteran smokers.
- Interestingly, back in the day, Dunhill not only marketed in cigars, but also in pipes, pipe tobacco, pipe tobacco pouches and various accessories. You can see a fascinating catalog of their merchandise from 1959 here.
- I was present when this box was opened for the first time, and the smell that came from the cigars was incredible. The box itself is a work of art, and the joy I felt when we saw the two bundles of 25 sticks was indescribable.
- The cigars that were found in this box were two unbounded bundles of 25. From what I have been able to gather, cigars in cabinets of 50 were typically—although, in true Cuban fashion, not always—unbanded, thus the lack of any ornamentation on these.
- This cigar has copious amounts of smoke that came from it for the entire smoke, along with a surprising amount of spice on the back of the tongue and pepper on the retrohale. Very surprising for a cigar of this age and ring gauge.
- The construction was absolutely phenomenal on all samples I smoked, both the burn and draw were Perfect for each and every cigar, and the nub never got hot at the end, amazingly.
- Since I only know of and have only seen one box of these in my life, I have to conclude the only way you can get one is to know the same person I got mine from. Sadly, I don’t think he is selling any more of them, not even to me.
- The final smoking time averaged about 40 Minutes.
I was extremely surprised by the amount of complexity and flavor this cigar has left in it after all this time. It was fairly complex, was not even close to expired and had quite a bit of pepper, smoke and distinctness left. Despite its age, the construction was amazing on all samples, and profile-wise, the Partagás Dunhill Selección Suprema No. 281 beats 75 percent of the cigars on the market now. Add the unique and rarity of the cigar and the experience of this cigar is hard to deny. A wonderful find and a wonderful cigar.