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Davidoff / Hunters & Frankau


The brand name Davidoff originates from the surname of its Russian Empire-born Jewish founder, Zino Davidoff who ran a tobacco specialist shop in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1936 to 1994. He was known as the "King of Cigars".

After the Second World War, Zino Davidoff decided to acquire a license to produce his own series of cigars. As he had discerning international customers, he named the various formats of this “Château” cigar series after famous Bordeaux vineyard estates. The first in the series was the “Château Latour” in 1946.


In 1967, Zino Davidoff was approached by Cubatabaco, Cuba's state tobacco monopoly, about creating a line of cigars carrying the “Davidoff” name. The cigars were rolled in the newly established El Laguito factory in Havana, which had been established to roll Cuban President Fidel Castro's own personal cigars, named Cohíba.


In 1968, the first cigars carrying the name “Davidoff” were released.

The first formats were the No. 1, the No. 2 and the Ambassadrice.

In 1970, Oettinger AG, located in Basel, Switzerland, acquired the

rights to the Davidoff trademark.


In 1971, the Davidoff “Mini Cigarillos” (short fillers made of 100% tobacco)

and, in 1972, the first Davidoff pipe tobaccos were released.

As of 1975, the cigars of the Château series were delivered in cabinets

bearing the Davidoff logo.


In 1976, the “Mille Series” and, in 1977, the “Dom Pérignon” cigar, named after the champagne, were released. In 1986, a limited release of “Anniversario” cigars were produced, to celebrate Zino Davidoff's 80th birthday.


The Zino Davidoff Group was spun out of Davidoff in 1980 to exclusively market non-tobacco luxury goods such as watches, leather goods, pens, fragrances, eyewear, coffee, and cognac. Public health researchers have suggested that this was in order to engage in trademark diversification (also known as "brand stretching") to promote the tobacco products, because it allows for advertising the brand in the face of restrictions on the direct promotion of tobacco products.


After numerous disputes over quality and ownership rights, Zino Davidoff and Cubatabaco decided to end their relationship. Leading up to this, in August 1989, Zino had publicly burned over one hundred thousand cigars that he had deemed of low quality and unfit to sell. All Davidoff products produced in Cuba were officially discontinued in 1991. An agreement was signed that no more Davidoff cigars from Cuba would be sold.


In 1990, after discontinuing Cuban-made products, Davidoff started to produce cigars in the Dominican Republic. After numerous test runs, Zino Davidoff found a partner in the local producer “Tabadom”, owned by Hendrik Kelner.


In 1991, the first Dominican-made Davidoff cigars were launched, continuing the product lines and cigar formats of their Cuban predecessors. With the move to the Dominican Republic, the Château series was renamed to “Grand Cru”, and the individual formats were numbered instead of carrying the names of vineyard estates.


In 1991, the limited release called “Aniversario” became an ongoing cigar series, called the “Aniversario” series. In 1992, the “Special” cigar series was released, with the format “Special R” as the first product. In 1994, the 87 year old Zino Davidoff died in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2001, the “Millennium Blend” cigar series was launched. In 2010, Davidoff Cigars released the “Puro d’Oro” series.


In 2013, Davidoff Cigars released the “Nicaragua” series, which was the first product line of Davidoff to incorporate tobaccos from Nicaragua into the cigar blend, and the first series since the Davidoff Cuban products which made use of tobaccos not sourced in the Dominican Republic. Moving forward, Davidoff Cigars started to make use of tobaccos sourced from other countries than the Dominican Republic to diversify their product portfolio.


In 2015, Davidoff Cigars released the “Escurio” series, which contained tobaccos sourced from Brazil. In the same year, the cigar line “Winston Churchill” was launched. In 2016, Davidoff Cigars released the “Yamasa” cigar series.

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Originally the Hunters were an established family in the medical profession. Quite how and why the dynasty transferred its allegiance to cigars is not clear. Records show that one John Hunter, a surgeon in the City of London, decided to branch out from his profession and import leeches. Perhaps his dealings in tropical climes, where leeches flourished, brought him into contact with the cigar industry and as the enthusiasm for bloodletting declined he felt cigars offered a brighter future!

Certainly the Hunters had picked on a growing industry. In 1823 a modest 261 lbs. of cigars, around 15,000 pieces, were imported to Britain. By 1840 the weight of imports had grown to 234,000 lbs., about 13 million cigars.

As the taste for cigars increased in Britain, so the Hunters’ business flourished.

In 1873 John Hunter, grandson of the founder, felt he needed to broaden his base in the trade and started a programme of merger and acquisition which 13 years later put him at the head of a public company.

First he founded a company with Frederick Tayler, which took him into cigar manufacturing, an industry then in its infancy in Britain.

Then in 1882 Hunter & Tayler bought the long established company Wm. Leech and Sons who held a strong position in the Havana trade as a founding company of Havana Cigar Brands Association.


Founded in 1790, we are the UK’s leading independent cigar importer.

We are the Exclusive UK Distributor for all Havana cigars (Habanos) as appointed by Habanos S.A., the Havana-based company responsible for distributing Cuban tobacco products worldwide. We also export Havana cigars to our agents in the Republic of Ireland, Gibraltar and the Channel Islands.

Our range includes all 27 world famous Havana cigar brands, comprising over 240 products, as well as fine cigars from Nicaragua and Honduras (La Invicta) and Switzerland (Villiger).  We are also the distributor for Colibri lighters & smoking accessories and Hine Cigar Reserve Cognac.

The Havana cigars we import are identifiable either by the EMS stamp, applied to all boxes and packs destined for the UK domestic market or the H&F stamp on cigars intended for UK travel retail outlets and our export markets.



History does not record whether John Hunter knew Joseph Frankau but it is likely they were acquainted as they shared the same trade in a similar location.

Joseph Frankau, , a German Jew, came to London in the late 1830’s from Frankfurt. Early commercial records list the company of Friedlander & Frankau as traders in leeches and cigars.

By 1844 the firm of J. Frankau & Co emerged at 33 Great Ailie in the City of London in the same business.

In that same year Herman Upmann gave up his European banking career and set up in Havana as a banker and cigar maker. As the century progressed the association between J. Frankau & Co and H. Upmann became closer and closer resulting 70 years later in the Frankau's owning both the factory and the brand at the outbreak of the First World War.

The Frankau dynasty followed the classic pattern of family businesses. Joseph, the immigrant, worked hard to establish the company. Arthur, his Eton educated son, built on those foundations to create a sound business, but under Gilbert, the third in the line, the company lost its way.

Arthur was probably responsible for this turn in events because of his marriage to a lively lady named Julia Davis! She became a celebrated novelist under the name of Frank Danby producing a series of books lampooning well known figures at the time with titles such as 'Pigs in Clover' and 'An Incomplete Etonian'.

Her literary ambitions rubbed off on Gilbert. Having been catapulted into the family business on his father's death in 1904, he wrote his first novel in 1904 and then left England to travel in 1912. He served in the Great War with distinction and afterwards became as famous a novelist as his mother had been. In 1916 the family decided to sell J Frankau & Co to rival company Braden & Stark.

Gilbert's last contribution to the trade was to write a novel entitled 'Peter Jackson - Cigar Merchant' in 1919, which recounted his wartime experiences and gave a fascinating insight to the trade before the First World War. Artistic talent lived on in the Frankau family with Gilbert's daughter Pamela, also writing novels and his Brother, Ronald, pursuing a career in show business.

Ronald's grandson Nicholas also took to the boards and is to be seen today in repeats of television's ‘Allo, Allo’ series.


James Reykers Freeman

At the same time as Joseph Frankau arrived in London, James Reykers Freeman set up business as one of the first British cigar manufacturers in Hoxton, East London.

George Freeman

The business prospered though four generations – as J.R. Freeman it passed to George Freeman, then to the legendary "G.G." Freeman and onto Robert Freeman the father of Hunters & Frankau’s present Chairman, Nicholas.

Donald George Freeman

It was D.G. who, with his father, moved the main factory from London to Cardiff in 1908 where it remains today. He masterminded the introduction of brands like King Six and Manikin.

Together with his three sons. DG built J.R. Freeman into the second largest cigar manufacturer in the UK with a thriving export business.

Early in the 193O's Freemans bought J. Frankau and one of their first moves was to sell their share in the H. Upmann brand to Menedez y Garcia for $100,000 while retaining the UK rights to the brand, just as Hunters had done with Ramon Allones.

During the Second World War, Frankau, under the Freemans, pioneered the expansion of the handmade Jamaican cigar market and, in partnership with Menedez y Garcia, set up a factory on the island which served them until Havanas returned to the market.

Robert Freeman

In 1947 Robert Freeman was approached by Gallaher Ltd to buy his business. He agreed and JR Freeman and J. Frankau passed to Gallaher and Robert became their main board Sales Director.

In 1953 Robert Freeman left the Gallaher board leaving JR Freeman behind but taking J. Frankau with him. He then extended his position in the Havana trade with the purchase of John Hunter Morris & Elkan. Thus 163 years later the lineages of John Hunter and Joseph Frankau came together. However, it was decided that two houses of such long tradition should trade separately.

Together the two companies had a formidable range of brands with sole agencies for Montecristo, H. Upmann, Ramon Allones, Cabanas and Santa Damiana from Havana.

With the company going from strength to strength Robert Freeman decided to join forces with leaf brokers Siemssen Threshie to form the Siemssen Hunter Group and went public.

For the next 22 years Siemssen Hunter developed its activities in cigars and tobacco with the addition of W.P. Solomon & Co and diversified into publishing, at first under the chairmanship of Robert Freeman and subsequently under Roy Siemssen.


Nicholas Freeman, the current Chairman

In 1962 Robert's son Nicholas joined the group on the cigar side, confirming his position as the fifth consecutive member of the family in the cigar business. He masterminded the amalgamation of John Hunter, Morris & Elkan and J. Frankau & Co into Hunters & Frankau, in 1963, which coincided with the firm's move to premises at 10 Snow Hill, London EC1. From then on Hunters & Frankau rapidly increased its share of the Havana market. It was the first company to seize the opportunity presented by the explosive growth in the catering industry at that time. David Baxter, the company's MD, pioneered restaurants and hotels with Havana cigars and was responsible for creating the first restaurant humidors - as familiar a sight today in restaurants of quality as are champagne buckets.

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