This Article was written in 1994, and first published in Cigar
World the trade magazine of Hunters & Frankau Ltd.
A Hundred and fifty years of H. Upmannship
From 1844 to the present day the Upmann name has been associated with the Frankaus in Britain
When Herman Upmann opened the doors of his factory for the first time on 15th October 1844 at Calle San Miguel in the heart of Old Havana, he may well have pondered what the future held for his enterprise.
This 19th Century advertisement bears witness to H. Upmann & Co as both bankers and cigar makers.
In the three years since his arrival in Cuba from Germany with his brother Augustus to set up a branch of the family bank, life had been hectic.
The Havanas he had sent to his European clients as gifts in boxes stamped with the banks emblem had proved so popular that he had decided to invest in a cigar factory whilst calling on two cousins, Albert and another Herman, to come out and manage the bank.
The Havana trade was booming. Virtually all the voracious demand for cigars in Britain, Germany, France, Denmark and to a lesser extent in Spain and America was met from Cuba.
Growth would continue unabated for 11 years until it peaked in 1855 with exports running at nearly 360 million pieces that year.
He could not have foreseen that sales would never again reach this pinnacle because, in the face of recession, most of the European markets including his native Germany, would develop their own cigar industries to compete with Cuba.
As luck would have it he had already forged a link with a prosperous British company which would help him survive this, the first challenge to his business.
Joseph Frankau had left Germany for London some two years before Herman Upmann headed for Havana.
He set up J. Frankau & Co in 1840, which is listed in contemporary directories as trading in the odd combination of leeches, sponges and cigars.
Whether or not the two émigrés had been acquainted in their homeland is not recorded although it seems likely as Upmann, the banker, had a passion for Havanas while Frankau knew his cigars and doubtless had needed a banker.
Whatever the case, care of the H. Upmann brand on the British market was put in the hands of J. Frankau & Co where it remains to this day as a company within the Hunters & Frankau Group.
The association between banking and cigars may seem more appropriate to us today than Frankau's leeches, sponges and cigars but nonetheless it nearly caused the downfall of the brand seventy seven years later.
In any event the rest of the 19th century saw success for the Upmanns in both their ventures. Herman rose to become a leading figure of the cigar industry in Havana.
As Don Herman Upmann he is listed amongst the five major factory owners who formed the Havana Cigar Brands Association in 1870 to fight against imitators of Havanas around the world.
A remarkable piece of late 19th centry poster artwork displaying H Upmann's confidence in the brand
Obsessed with the quality of his cigars, he decided to put his signature on each box when labels were introduced during the 1860's, a tradition which is maintained to this day. He also entered his cigars at many of the world's trade fairs and won a total of ten gold medals.
By the late 1880's, it was clear that he could no longer meet demand from his current factory. The decision was taken to build much larger premises. So, as his business career was drawing to its close, he opened a brand new factory on Calle Carlos 111 in 1891.
The Frankau's fortunes had prospered along with the Upmann's. Joseph was able to send his son Arthur to Eton and Oxford, from which he emerged well prepared to build on his father's success.
Economic growth in Britain and the continuity of the link between the Frankau and Upmann families did much to support the brand during these years.
However, the storms of the early years of the 20th century proved too hard to weather for both families.
Arthur Frankau died in his mid-50's, leaving the company in the hands of his son Gilbert whose interests lay in literature rather than commerce, and whilst Herman Upmann had several heirs his guiding hand was sorely missed.
The Havana trade was thrown into a turmoil in 1903 when US tobacco magnate, JR Duke, attempted to corner the market through his Havana Tobacco Company.
The Frankaus stood shoulder to shoulder with the Upmanns and the other "independent" Cuban manufacturers against the American invader.
They survived but soon afterwards Gilbert Frankau was infuriated to have his loyalty spurned when the Upmanns, with whom J. Frankau had never signed an official contract, entered into agreements with other British importers to distribute certain sizes of the brand.
The Great War further damaged the relationship and in 1916 Gilbert sold J. Frankau & Co to a rival concern called Braden & Stark.
Soon disaster was to overtake the Upmanns.
Needless to say the war had interrupted the Havana trade with Europe. In 1919 and 1920 demand went sky high but then it crashed. The Upmann bank failed to anticipate events. It went into liquidation and was followed by the cigar company in 1922.
J. Frankau & Co under its new owners leapt into the breach and bought the factory and the brand, creating a local Cuban company called J. Frankau S.A.
The factory on Calle Carlos 111, just 30 years old, was sold to finance the deal and manufacturing moved to a more modest premises on the corner of Calles Belascoain and San Rafael.
The British based Frankau company was an importer not a manufacturer, so it appointed two Spaniards Jose Salaun and Francisco Fernandez along with a German, Paul Meller, to manage the factory on its behalf.
Capital was short and two more moves were needed in the late 20's to maintain production.
In 1931 a new name appeared on the British scene - Freeman. The Cardiff based JR Freeman company had been making cigars in Britain since 1859.
At this time it was managed by D.G. Freeman the grandson of the founder. Keen to develop into fine cigars, "D.G.", who was best known for his Manikin and King Six brands of popular cigars, decided to buy J. Frankau & Co from Braden & Stark and thus he acquired the H Upmann factory and the rights to the brand worldwide.
From the start "D.G." had been unhappy with the arrangements in Havana. Although he was a manufacture he felt the brand would benefit from Cuban management and ownership.
From experience of buying tobaccos in Cuba he knew the Menendez family who were in the leaf business. He was aware that Alonzo Menendez had just set up a manufacturing company with Pepe Garcia, the former manager at Partagas.
On a famous occasion in l935 "D.G." met with Alonzo Menendez at a bar called the 'La Reguladora' just across the street from the H. Upmann factory.
They entered at midday, then disappeared. Both their families grew increasingly concerned as time passed without a word.
Finally, ten days later, Pepe Garcia received a cable from Alonzo in New York informing him that they had purchased H. Upmann from J. Frankau for the sum of $250,000 (£100,000).
Menendez y Garcia reorganised the brand's production and almost immediately added a new name to the range of cigars they produced at the H. Upmann factory - Montecristo.
The Calle Amistad factory, home to H. Upmann for the past fifty years
Nine years later in 1944 to coincide with the centenary of Herman Upmann enterprise, they moved into a brand new building situated in Calle Amistad, right behind the Partagas factory where both H. Upmann and Montecristo have been made for the last half century.
With ownership in the hands of the Cuban people since 1960 both brands have grown in stature on the world market.
Since 1970 Montecristo has been the most popular of all the brands made in Havana and H. Upmann remains much appreciated by connoisseurs, particularly in Britain where sales have increased steadily in recent years.
At celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary in Havana Nicholas Freeman, "D.C.'s" grandson, was proud to present to factory director Benito Molina, a framed picture of a priceless solid silver H. Upmann cigar box made in Russia in the 1890s with a plaque inscribed to commemorate the 150 year relationship between H. Upmann and the company of which he chairman, Hunters & Frankau.
Herman Upmann and Joseph Frankau may wish that their families had retained their interests in the brand but they would doubtless rejoice in the knowledge that the cigars they cherished had stood the test of time.