A humidor is any container designed to store cigars, cigarettes, or pipe tobacco at the ideal level of humidity, which is 68 to 75 percent. They can be made of wood, glass, pottery, metal, or plastics and come in a wide range of sizes. Some are small enough to be carried in the hand, holding 2-10 cigars; others take up whole rooms, used by cigar stores to hold thousands of their wares.
As a collector, you’re more likely to come across desktop humidors in the form of boxes or jars designed to hold dozens to hundreds of cigars. Particularly charming desktop humidors have built-in pipe stands and Lazy Susan bases. Table and cabinet humidors, which have legs and rest on the floor like furniture, can store a couple thousand cigars.
While some humidors are lined with mahogany, the most popular wood for the interior of humidors is Spanish cedar because it holds more moisture than most woods and is not given to warping in high humidity. This salmon-red, tight-grained wood, which is not actually cedar but a member of the mahogany family, also repels tobacco beetles, which are the size of pinheads, eat tobacco, and lay eggs in cigars.
Spanish cedar can also infuse the cigars it surrounds with a pleasant spicy scent, which is why some cigars are sold in Spanish-cedar sheets. However, Spanish cedar dents easily and is not ideal for a beautiful veneer or marquetry, which is why humidors are generally built with a hard wood like cherry on the exterior.
Maintaining the right humidity level is vital to a cigar’s flavor, which is why, regardless of its material, a humidor must have an airtight seal. If the storage is too dry, a cigar will become stale and brittle. If the storage is too moist, the cigar will lose its flavor and attract beetles.
All humidors have a means of maintaining humidity. Antique humidors have a space or metal container in them for a wet sponge. Humidity was also achieved by adding water droplets to a tissue. Today, smaller humidors may also employ silica gel beads or high-tech polymer acrylic fleece, while larger humidors are sometimes equipped with electronic sensors that detect when the humidity inside needs to be adjusted.
Humidity level is measured through a device known as a hygrometer, first conceived by Leonardo da Vinci in the 1400s. Swiss physicist and geologist Bénédict de Saussure perfect t...
Early tobacco curing barns were built out of Spanish cedar, which is very common in Central America where tobacco is grown. Before the 18th century, Europeans mostly smoked tobacco in pipes, and cigars first became popular there in the 19th century. The first cabinet humidor was thought to have been invented by an Irish furniture maker Terence Manning, who brought home exotic woods and cabinetry techniques from South Africa in 1887. His family became known for their handcrafted humidors, and their techniques spread throughout Europe and America.
Earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain humidors—like those made by Royal Doulton, Delft, and Limoges—resemble cookie jars, and often have a place inside the lid to hold the sponge. Antique pottery humidors, which were often figural, were sometimes shaped into racist caricatures of African Americans or Native Americans. What’s more troubling is that the collectors market for such items is so strong, replicas of majolica pieces from Austria and Germany are being made now. If the clay is red or tan rather than white, then you know it's a knockoff.
Particularly rare examples of Black Americana porcelain humidors were made in Japan during the Nippon period (1891-1921). Only a handful of such patterns are known, including a design showing a black man in a hat playing a banjo. In this case, the replicas are much more common than the originals, so buyer beware.