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Cigar box fever

For some, the allure of exotic cigars stowed away in a humidor is worth pursuing time and time again.

But for Tony Hyman, it's not the high-priced cigars from locales like Cuba that drew the Shell Beach resident to perform more than 55 years of research - it's their boxes.

Hyman - a Shell Beach resident and, as an author of more than 200 articles on cigars, their boxes and history, perhaps the leading authority on cigar boxes, - is slated to appear on the front cover of this winter's edition of Cigar Magazine.

Not that it's his first moment in the spotlight.

The teacher and historian has also appeared on “Oprah” - twice.

He's had one of his Marsh Wheeling cigar boxes propped in Hollywood films like “The Green Mile” (remember the box Tom Hanks' little mouse lived in?), exchanged information with experts in the cigar industry and compiled history synopses for their families.

It begs the question of how Hyman, who grew up in Redlands, veered away from the “typical” collector pastime of baseball cards, coins and his father's hobby, stamp collecting.

It started at the age of 6, Hyman explained, and was perpetuated by the goal to be the best at what he did. That included having the best collection of whatever it was he set his mind to.

Cigar boxes seemed like a nice fit.

“Well, part of it was curiosity; part of it was the fact that nobody else was doing it,” said Hyman, one of only a handful of cigar box collectors nationwide.

Compiling the “best” collection of coins or baseball cards just didn't seem plausible, especially coming from a poor family, he said.

Cigar boxes ... now that was a different story. It begins in Redlands.

“We had two liquor stores that had cigar counters, a post office with a cigar counter, and all the restaurants had cigar counters,” Hyman recalled.

It wasn't long before Hyman's interest peaked in the mysterious, undocumented world of cigar box collecting and culminated in a rich history of their every label and composition.

“I brought home a dozen boxes, and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Wow, these are all different,' and literally, virtually out loud, said, ‘I wonder how many different kinds are there?'”

Library research at age 12 with an adult book card generated no documentation of cigar box lore, which just added fuel to Hyman's fire.

“I knew how to research, and I couldn't find a thing about them - that piqued my curiosity even more,” he said. “Nobody knew anything about these things, and so there was a certain magic to me in finding something that nobody knew anything about .... and I could collect them.”

The nature of his quest seemed fitting for Hyman's personality.

“I am fundamentally one of those people that like surprises,” he said. “Some people like order in their lives; some people like consistency and don't care for surprises - they want regularity. I like surprises, and this was the perfect opportunity, because every day I would learn something new.”

He later found “how many are there” was a question that would require a lot of effort to answer.

His basement filled with a melange of cigar boxes and collectibles - everything from Spanish cedar boxes made for ex-Cuban presidents and dignitaries to Depression-era boxes doubling as jewelry cases for the wife to rip-off boxes tainted by copyright infringement - indicates he may, in fact, someday find the answer.

“It's still true that I can go on eBay and still see a box that I have never seen before, every single day of my life, and I can find two or three things worth buying - unfortunately - every week of my life,” Hyman said.

Beyond obtaining more cigar boxes to add to the thousands he owns, stowed away deep in a ventilated basement, Hyman is working on updating a Web site dedicated to cigar history.

Source: Santa Maria Times