Buying the ‘world’s oldest cigars’ helps J.C. Newman Cigar Company keep Tampa tradition alive

The J.C Newman Cigar Company, which has been staple in Ybor City for more than a century, connects past, present and future

"When I look at these cigars, what I see is the same hand-crafted process," stated Drew Newman, 4th generation owner of the J.C. Newman Cigar Company. "The same all-natural tobaccos, the same way cigars were made in 1857 that we roll right here in Tampa every day. Everything that we’re doing here, hand-crafting cigars, is the same way 100 years ago. It's exactly the same way my great-grandfather started the company in 1895."  

The J.C. Newman Cigar Company rolls 65,000 cigars every day, including some by hand.

"There is no textbook for making cigars, no rule book, no degree program. It's a skill, it's a tradition, it's a craft that’s passed down from generation to generation." Newman explained. "It's a product that is made by touch, by feel, by smell. You know when it’s right and you know when it's wrong."

Everyone who is hand-rolling cigars at the J.C. Newman Cigar Company is a Cuban immigrant who has been hand-rolling cigars for 15 to 30 years.

A man hand-rolling cigars at Cigar being lit at J.C. Newman Cigar Company. 

"The same way that they’re made in 1857, that’s the way we roll right here in Tampa today, every day," Drew Newman said. "So, it's like looking back in time while also recognizing the fact that we roll cigars here in Tampa, every day the same way. It's a real privilege for my family and me to keep Tampa's cigar tradition alive and share it with future generations. It’s a great connection from the past to the present to hopefully the future."

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When there was an opportunity to bring another piece of history to present day J.C. Newman Cigar Company, Drew Newman and his family says couldn't pass it by.

"No one has ever seen anything like this," Drew Newman said. "It was such a thrill to open the package and see these cigars that no one has held, no one has seen or appreciated for hundreds of years. Seeing cigars like this that are 167 years old are really remarkable and really makes us proud to have them and share them with visitors who come from all over the world to see the El Reloj cigar factory and Tampa's cigar tradition."

Cigar being lit at J.C. Newman Cigar Company.

Cigar being lit at J.C. Newman Cigar Company. 

Those cigars were purchased by a John Dement 1857 in Havana, Cuba. However, the ship that Dement was on, the S.S. Central America, was set to dock in New York after leaving Cuba, but never made it.

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"The ship was rounding the coast of South Carolina, off of Charleston, and they encountered a storm. It was hurricane season just like we have now…It's hurricane season today and it was hurricane season on September 1857, and unfortunately the storm sank the ship 7,200 ft to the bottom of the ocean and that's where it all rested," Drew Newman shared.

Dement, along with others, were rescued, but their belongings we’re thought to be lost forever.

The 'Ship of Gold' as it came to be named was highly sought after wreckage because of the amount of gold it was carrying to the northeast from California during gold rush.

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Typically, cigars would break down over time but the pressure at that depth of 7,200 ft below the surface, even after 167 years under the water, helped keep them intact.

The world's oldest cigars are on display at the J.C. Newman Cigar Company.

The world's oldest cigars are on display at the J.C. Newman Cigar Company. 

Eventually, 18 cigars were available at auction and purchased by the Newman family.
"Cigars are to Tampa like cars are to Detroit, like wine is to Napa Valley, California. Cigars define the historic nature of Tampa. When the world’s oldest cigars became available, I knew they had to come to one place" Drew explained.

It's just another way the Newman family rolls it all together.