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Porto Rico Tobacco Corporation stock certificate September 18, 1916

The early explorers found the indigenous population cultivating, blending, rolling and smoking tobacco. Europeans had never seen tobacco rolled into tubes for smoking. The natives of the region called the whole process sik’ar, which was then taken immediately into the Spanish language as cigarro. Snuff was all the rage in Europe in the 1450s. With the arrival of cigarros, Puerto Rican tobacco became the ultimate luxury of the royalty in Europe for almost two hundred years! More than half the shipping tonnage between 1460 and 1660 contained cigars from Puerto Rico.

As cigarros made their way through the castles and courtyards of Europe, the beggars in Seville began the practice of taking up the discarded cigar butts, stripping them down and rolling the remnant tobacco in small pieces of paper calling the result papaletas. The pitifully poor French population copied the practice, calling their end product cigarettes. You should know that cigars can not be made from modern cigarette tobacco.

Puerto Rico - tobacco drying barn, circa 1911

From 1900 until 1927 Puerto Rico produced around 35 million tons of tobacco a year. The Hoja Prieto has always been the most important of the plants grown here. It is primarily the most flavorful wrapper leaf grown in the world. The Hoja Prieto was used exclusively on the best premium cigars made in the world. Record exports were made as late as 1957 to North America, England, Spain, France, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and other main cigar making areas of the world. Until that time, Puerto Rico was the fifth largest exporter of tobacco in the world after the U.S., Mexico, Venezuela and Africa.

Porto Rico American Tobacco Corporation (now Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation)

Porto Rico Leaf Company was organized and chartered by Spain around 1506. This became Porto Rico Tobaco Company and later Porto Rico American Tobacco Corporation in 1898, which in turn became Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation (PRTC) in the 1920s and has operated until today. PRTC started making Don Collins Cigars in 1991.

In the year 1899 and thereafter, either the American or Continental Companies, for cash or stock, at an aggregate cost of fifty millions of dollars ($50,000,000), bought and closed up some thirty competing corporations and partnerships theretofore engaged in interstate and foreign commerce as manufacturers, sellers, and distributors of tobacco and related commodities, the interested parties covenanting not to engage in the business. Likewise the two corporations acquired for cash, by issuing stock, **642 and otherwise, control of many competing corporations, now going concerns, with plants in various states, Cuba and Porto Rico, which manufactured, bought, sold, and distributed tobacco products or related articles throughout the United States and foreign countries, and took from the parties in interest covenants not to engage in the tobacco business.

The Porto Rican-American Tobacco Company (Porto Rico)-Capital $1,799,600. In 1899 the American Company caused the organization of the Porto Rican-American Tobacco Company, which took over the partnership business Rucabado y Portela,-manufacturer of cigars and cigarettes,-with covenants not to compete. These companies became consolidated in the late 1800’s as Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation, our company name today.

The most reputed tobacco growing district of Cuba, Vuelta Abajo, became the major theater of operations during the 1897 and 1898 campaigns of the second war for Cuban independence (1895-1898). The conflict dislocated production and the relocation policies of the Spanish regime severely constrained the time that growers and work hands could dedicate to the plantations.

At the end of the war, large areas of the heavy and sandy clay soils were barren and laid to waste. Seed for the 1898-99 harvest was scarce and needed to be imported from other areas as corporate and individual planters required excellent seed to maintain the markets and international reputation of their leaf. According to the authoritative Angel González del Valle growers generally imported it from Puerto Rico. Tobacco leaf was the third leading export before the U.S. invasion and, soon after, it would be second only to sugar.Tobacco cultivation and growing in Puerto Rico experienced three major changes during the second half of the nineteenth century. The first refers to the nature of the commodity produced in the mountainsides and the narrow river-valleys of the eastern highlands identified in Map 1. The leaf that slowly ascended and spread to the Cordillera Central was not the leaf consumed domestically as chaws of tobacco and the inferior grades exported for the inexpensive markets in Europe; it was a superior leaf, if employed, in the manufacture of cigars. For instance, a nineteenth-century observer considered the leaf from Cidra excellent and, as early as 1878, merchants and manufacturers, who were then called fabricants, identified the tobacco of the highland municipality of Sabana del Palmar by the trade name of Comerío and considered it the best in the island.

By 1888, the men and women from the highlands had gained considerable experience with different varieties and growing and harvesting methods that their agricultural practices were clearly distinct from the traditional ones:31

Havana seed has been taken to Puerto Rico several times, and it has not kept its superior qualities; on the other hand, an indigenous seed provides the exquisite tobacco of Cayey, Caguas, Comerío and Morovis. By 1895, merchants and smokers alike associated the tobacco of the highlands rather than that from the northern plain or the hills to the southeast with the best Cuban tobacco. For instance, La Flor de Cayey factory: established, as it is, in one municipality of the island that enjoys the most legitimate fame due to its extensive tobacco plantations, bordering Caguas and Aibonito . . .it has become the Vuelta Abajo of Puerto Rico, it uses superb leaf. In [the 1888 Universal Exposition of] Barcelona it summoned much attention and attained, in justice, a gold medal. From that time [1860s] the intervention of some intelligent manufacturers and the increase of domestic demand, because of the shortage of Havana leaf, insured more attention on cultivation. Nowadays, the improvement is such that nobody seeks tobacco from Havana. The wrapper harvested summons prices ranging from $50 to $100 per hundredweight in their [Puerto Rican] factories. The Cuban wars for independence and the intervention of the United States in the second conflict disrupted planting, manufacturing, and commerce which resulted in benefits for Puerto Rican growers and exporters and markedly so during the second war. These fluctuations did not go unnoticed as Miguel Meléndez Muñoz, a sociologist and acute observer, held that the local economy became a thriving beneficiary of the paralyzation and ruin of Cuban industry and agriculture.

Again, Puerto Rican leaf exports present a steep rise during the second Cuban war for independence (1895-1898). In 1896, the Spanish authorities established that tobacco production in western Cuba was destined to supply the Spanish monopoly and colonial manufacture. However, as war continued to ravage the tobacco growing areas, Cuban merchants and manufacturers increased their dependency on Puerto Rican leaf44 to the extent that Cuba became the leading market for Puerto Rican leaf exports. The Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation, maker of Don Collins Cigars has been the leader, without question, in the production of the best quality leaves then and now.

In summary, domestic growers expanded and transformed tobacco agriculture along three dimensions by the end of the century. First, highland planters shifted to a leaf that fitted the model of the Havana cigar. Second, such leaf began to substitute imports from Cuba and Virginia to the extent that domestic production supplied local demand. Lastly, domestic leaf exports increased across the board but, significantly, Cuba itself became a major recipient of wrapper and filler for Havana cigars.

Don Collins storefront, today in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico



1. González Fernández (1996), pp. 310-312.
2. Lestina (1940), p. 45-46.
3. González del Valle (1929), pp. 61-62.
4. Ceballos (1899).
5. Abad (1888), p. 318; Kimm (1964), p. ix.
6. Sonesson (2000), pp. 172-173, 209-210
7. Aguayo (1876), p. 58. Van Leenhoff (1905), p. 12. The twentieth century witnessed, still, a third harvesting technique called deshojado or primed where the leaves were picked one by one as they matured individually.
8. Abad (1888), p. 353.
9. Infiesta (1895), p. 214. Atienza Sirvent (1890), p. 11. Atienza Sirvent, an authority on tobacco, was less generous. He placed Vuelta Abajo, naturally, first followed by the Philippines on nearly an equal footing. On a second tier came the Canary Islands and Puerto Rico, in this order, which competed favorably with Cuban leaf planted in Partido.
10. Journal of Economic Literature CUBA REPLANTED WITH PUERTO RICAN TOBACCO 1899. Classification System: N16, N36, N56, N66
11. Memoria (1877); Villa (1876); Porto Rico tobacco (1877), p. 1.
12. Delgado y Martín (1892), pp. 64-65; Hernández (2005), pp. 15, 25-26.
13. Baldrich (1994), pp. 20-23.
14. González Fernández (1996), p. 310.
15. Rivero Muñiz (1965), p. 316.
16. del Valle (1969), p. 568.