Valentine Maestro Antuono
Antuono played in the rise of the cigar making industry.
Val M. Antuono was just twelve years old when he arrived in America with his father Vincent and two brothers in 1886. He was still experiencing the pain of losing his mother Sarah the year before. His father wanted to start a new life with his sons and America was the place to do that. They first arrived in New York but shortly thereafter settled in Tampa knowing that there were lots of jobs to be found.
The cigar industry was in its infancy and many immigrants were arriving each day as cigar factories continued to be built. His father, Vincent, was able to eventually open a small grocery store on Lafayette Street (now Kennedy Boulevard).
Antuono attended local schools but as soon as he was old enough, he secured a job as a cigar maker with the producer of Tampa’s first manufactured cigar–Sanchez y Haya. Later, he began working at the Pendas and Alvarez Cigar Factory.
In the early 1900s, after years of making cigars at his workbench, he decided to try opening his own cigar business. He borrowed $150 and purchased a bale of tobacco and convinced his father to let him make cigars in the back of his grocery store. He hired 2-3 workers and cigar production began and Antuono was on his way to greatness!
Business was good and he soon moved into a building across the street, made cigars in the back and opened a cigar shop in the front. His business was known as “Val’s Corner” and was a well-known and respected business for years. He developed his C.H.S. brand of cigars early in his career and although he made other cigars, his C.H.S. cigars continued to be his best-known and most successful cigar. It was the first Tampa nickel cigar to reach prominence.
His next move took him to a loft at the corner of Franklin and Jackson Streets in downtown Tampa and when he outgrew that space, he purchase an old West Tampa cigar factory in 1910. It was the Pendas and Alvarez Factory, the one he had worked at as a young man. He was now prosperous enough to grow his business even more.
By 1918 Antuono’s factory was recognized as one of the largest factories of its kind in Tampa. In this same year, because of labor unrest, he decided to try something new. He offered his employees interest in the business. He sold stock on credit and easy payments so they might share in the profits of the company. They rewarded him by going on strike a short time later. Refusing to be discouraged, Antuono purchased back the stock from his workers.
Antuono had always been an advocate of an “open shop” in his factory and he refused to recognize any labor union. He had for many years stood alone among Tampa cigar manufacturers in adhering to this belief. During the long 1920 general strike, all the manufacturers of the city adopted Antuono’s long-standing policy and the result was the union lost the bitter battle. It was a decisive victory in establishing the “open shop” as a permanent thing in the cigar industry.
In addition to cigars, Antuono opened a beer and wine distributorship in Tampa called “Val Antuono Distributing Company” which was located at 1310 Spring St. The company produced “Union Beer” and a California Claret wine called, “Valvino” and named after his young grandson. He also made numerous real estate investments both in Tampa and in Indian Rocks Beach where he built a lavish home in 1911 that Antuono called, “Valview, but the locals called it “The Castle.” Antuono’s favorite way to relax was taking time out of his busy schedule to fish and many pictures found in The Tobacco Leaf show him holding up his catch of fish.
Val Antuono was honored with the “Cavaliere of the Order of Italy,” bestowed upon him by King Victor Emmanuel.
Val M. Antuono
Val M. Antuono, an industrialist, capitalist, real estate developer and most importantly, a cigar manufacturer was born in the small Italian town of Santa Croce, near Naples on June 14, 1874. He was twelve years old when he arrived in the United States in 1886. His father was Vincenzo Maestro Antuono and his mother was Sarafina Muccaro. His mother died in Italy in 1884 when Antuono was just 11 years old. He spoke both English and Spanish.
He married Jennie Geraci, originally of New Orleans on April 7, 1894 in Tampa. She was the daughter of Domenic and Mary (Lolla) Geraci. Her father was a wholesale produce merchant. Together they had two children, a son named Fred Maestro Antuono (1895-1951) and a daughter named Mary (later Hampton 1896-1985).
Antuono died at the age of 66 on April 2, 1941 at his home in Tampa. Noteworthy pallbearers included D. B. McKay and Carl and Angel Cuesta. His wife Jennie died after him at age 78.
He was well known for his small cigar shop called, “Val’s Corner,” and later for his cigar manufacturing company producing the well-known C.H.S. brand of cigars. By 1923 his factory was producing 110,000 cigars per day.
Tampa Historian Tony Pizzo wrote that Val M. Antuono also financed a school for young people to learn how to make cigar.
Featured in Cigar City - Issue 11 - 2007