Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Who knew cigars were manufactured in Paris? I didn't. It never figured in my research on the arrondissement where I'm setting a story. But now after discovering this, there's little that remains of what was a booming industry here.
It turns out that in the 19th century cigar assembling was a thriving business and employed hundreds of people in many factories where you'd least expect it.
Below the Bastille in the area of what was,  and still contains, artisans of the furniture trades.
Today the only remnant of the factory is the gate.
But in the 1850's the consumption of cigars selling for 15 centimes had reached such proportions that it was almost impossible to meet the public demands. The merchants of Havana threatened to increase their prices. The idea, by a Monsieur Rey a tobacco engineer (tobacco engineer?), was to buy leaf tobacco in the best plantations in Cuba, ship them to Paris and make them into cigars.

He succeeded and established the Reuilly manufacturer in 1855 where workers were trained.  Each year about 240,000 kilograms of tobacco harvested in Cuba arrived at Reuilly, and were stored in vast, dimly lit cellars of even temperature. So successful was the manufacturing that the factory at Reuilly provided luxury cigars to connoisseurs in Paris, to cafe owners, casinos, restaurants and to London and courtiers of the Queen, charging them 25 to 50 centimes. A bit of a price hike but the tobacco came directly from the Cuban plantations. At it's height, the factory employed 748 people of which 700 were women.
Who knew the Parisians and the English royal court had such an addiction?
Women were considered desirable workers because of their small hands. To make a quality cigar it required a two year apprenticeship. Working at the cigar factory was considered a good job in the working class. At that time, when many of the female working class had few options apart from back breaking labor in the laundries or piecemeal sewing, the advantages were unheard of - job security and retirement at sixty years old. 
Here's a translation of a visitors account of his visit to the Reuilly factory at that time:
"When one enters two hundred women turn their heads, whisper, and, under the look of the counter-master, get back to their job quickly.
Every worker has in front of her a roll, debris of tobacco, a small pot of glue, a wheel-shaped trench and a perforated zinc plate whose opening represents the exact shape that the cigar must have, this last tool is called the caliber or the jig. Tobacco which must form the inside is assembled on a board of vulcanized rubber, stretched, then arranged in such a way that there are no creases. And with one blow of the palm of the hand - at once fast and precise - it rolls them in a leaf which is the souscape, it is almost a cigar, but a cut cigar which lacks the skin. The first quality is then removed by roller, and by two pieces of sliced ​​trench cut into strips of 4 to 5 centimeters and is glued slightly at the end so that the cigar, perfectly maintained and imprisoned, offers enough resistance to stay together; then, with the aid of a very ingenious instrument, which gives all the cigars of the same species an equal length, the end is cut, and the operation is finished. A good worker, not wasting time and working ten hours, can make 90 to 150 cigars of choice in her day. "
Here's a picture of it today - the factory was demolished but the gates remain and the ghosts of the workers.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Cara, the Bastile is where I have stayed the last few times I have been in Paris. It’s been far too long. I will share this with my friends whose place is near there. I bet they don’t know. Thank you!

  2. Now, if only the factory we're positioned on a pier (to facilitate the unloading of tobacco leaf from Cuba) some wag like EvKa might stain to make a pun along the lines of what one cigar aficionado might say to another "So, would you like to go for a roll in the quay?"