By Barry Singer
Last month we looked at Churchill’s cigar buying habits before the First World War. These habits evolved over time. During the decades between the world wars (his “Wilderness Years”), Churchill purchased his cigars from a rather surprising source.
Churchill’s expensive taste in cigars had always run to Cubanos, with Romeo y Julieta and Camacho his preferred brands. While in New York late in 1929, however, he came across a cheaper alternative. Returning home, he wrote on 16 January 1930 to the personal assistant of his friend Bernard Baruch, the aptly named Mr. Creditor:
“I bought some cigars at the cigar stall in the Equitable Building which I like very much as they are both mild and cheap. They are in a box marked ‘Royal Derby’ and are ‘Longfellows.’ I should be much obliged if you would order for me, either from the stand or from the makers, one thousand of these cigars and have them addressed to me at above address. They say on the box that they are sold at no more than 20 cents, so I enclose you a check for $200.00, but should they cost more please let me know. There will of course be duty to pay, but that I understand will be collected at the docks here.”
For the next ten years, this would be Churchill’s most constant cigar order: cheap American-made cigars purchased in secrecy from the Equitable Cigar Stand in the lobby of Bernard Baruch’s office building at 120 Broadway, just around the corner from Wall Street.
Once Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, however, he was sent countless boxes of fine Cubanos by London cigar dealers and well-wishers around the world. His New York orders ceased. This resulted in an amusing footnote to history. In July 1943, a reporter for the New Yorker interviewed John M. Rushbrook, the cigar-stall proprietor who had been supplying Churchill’s inexpensive cigars. Rushbrook expressed genuine concern about Churchill’s new smoking habits: “he’s afraid the Cuban cigars will ruin his digestion, or worse.”
Barry Singer is the author of Churchill Style (Abrams Image, 2012) and the proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City.