Packaging Coin Twist Tobacco Tins Part 2.

See here for part 1.

Animation of tobacco pressing cycle – courtesy of Lee’s Trading (Kunming) Co. Ltd – China

Tobacco Press
In the primary tobacco processing cycle, the world over, the tobacco baling press is a one vertical cylinder operation. The moisturised and still warm tobacco lamina (loose leaves without the stems) are conveyed to the press over a conveyor belt and dumped into the press chamber. Due to the absolute disoriented character of the tobacco leaves as the fall into the press chamber the pressing action in a single vertical movement is likely to result in an irregular consistency of the pressed tobacco. Or in other words the single press ram operating in only a downwards direction in the relatively narrow, but very high (5 to 7 metres) press chamber filled with the loosely dumped tobacco leaves results without any doubt in a rather uneven compression of the tobacco lamina. Which consequently results in several “loose” areas, particularly in the utmost bottom corners of the 100-200 kg. tobacco bale or even worse a too forcefully pressed top layer of the bale, giving problems in the secondary process step, when the bales are being disintegrated to feed the lamina into the slicers for the finished product machinery (cigarettes among others). This argument is clearly visible in the animation of the pressing cycle from Lee Trading.

Building extension for a one-direction vertical tobacco press – courtesy of Lee’s Trading (Kunming) Co. Ltd – China

Furthermore, an exorbitant large force must be exerted on the application of a single pressing ram to achieve a sufficient compression of the tobacco lamina in the press box. This large force in one direction enhances the risk of the disoriented tumbling tobacco leaves to break during the pressing cycle increasing the rust of tobacco dust. While it is well-known in the industry, that tobacco is very springy and the chance that the tobacco leaves spring back into the free area as soon as the vertical press ram is lifted back to its original resting position, is very much a possibility, which requires extra pressing time to “deadpan” the tobacco leaves. To make this pressing system more disadvantageous the construction of the exceptionally long hydraulic cylinder to operate in a 5 to 6 m. pressing chamber is very unfavourable, as it requires not only a huge steel platform around it but also the factory building to be some 13 m. high up in the air (as the image shows), which increases the building costs tremendously.

Drawing from patent JPS5341497A

To eliminate all these disadvantages of the existing and well-known tobacco presses I designed, developed and built for Société Nationale des Tabacs & Allumettes (SNTA), a two-step tobacco press (my patent: DE2738663A1 and JPS5341497A) in conjunction with an automatic tobacco lamina crate assembling and filling machine with conveyors, shaping block and pneumatically operated grippers preceding the filling and pressing station (my patent: DE2738664A1). Although the press pushed the tobacco lamina straight into the assembled 100 kg. wooden crates, similar to the idea for Theodorus Niemeyer to press the pipe tobacco straight into the rosette positioned in the bottom of the tin, the similarity stops there and consequently I will not describe the assembling of the wooden tobacco crates here.

Two-step tobacco press – drawing from patent DE2738663A1

Two-step tobacco press
In contrast to the universally implemented tobacco presses with one vertical pressing ram, my tobacco press uses a two-step operation, compressing the tobacco leaves successively by a horizontal and a vertical ram. The press chamber, in which both the horizontal and vertical compressing action is undertaken, is a rectangular parallel-epipedon from which the two side walls are stationary. The back wall is movable as part of the horizontal press ram, which after the horizontal movement forward transforms into the back wall of the vertical press chamber and the front wall, which functions as the stationary wall of the vertical press ram. The top is over a length of 2/3 of the pressing chamber open to allow the entry of the loose lamina from the weighing unit. The other 1/3 is the bottom plate of the vertical press ram.

In the old days tobacco was pressed like this

In contrast to the open top, the bottom of the press chamber is for 2/3 of its length closed and for 1/3 open to allow the vertical press ram to push the comprised tobacco into the under this opening positioned wooden tobacco shipping case. The dimensions of the vertical press ram are equal to those of the tobacco shipping case, so that the press can push the horizontally pre-compressed leaves straight into the shipping case. With both press rams in their rest positions the dimensions of the press chamber is large enough to receive the loosely dumped 100 kg tobacco lamina from the weighing scale positioned on top of the press chamber and fed by a conveyor belt, moving the leaves from the primary processing section of the plant. In addition to the quality of the compression by this two-step pressing device, the whole system has some other very significant advantages compared to the single vertical tobacco press.

The newly built SNTA factory in Algiers. You see on this building no extension in height for the tobacco press

As the image above here shows, the single vertical tobacco press needs a very high compressing chamber, some 5 to 6 metres, and consequently a hydraulic system with a cylinder of another 5 to 6 metres, resulting in a total construction height of some 12 metres and more with a very expensive hydraulic installation to operate it. This requires extra and very expensive building facilities as well as a huge steel construction to secure the operation. The exorbitant hydraulic force required for the vertical pressing of some 100 to 200 kg. loose tobacco leaves, requires a heavy-duty design of the foundation of the press. Remember action = reaction. When you push down with force you have to secure the steel construction on a frame/foundation, which can eliminate the pressing force (if not your press and steel construction is lifted from its feet). This is it. I hope I have clearly explained the operation procedure, as well as the typical advantages of the two-step tobacco press design. Anyway for Theodorus Niemeyer it was sufficient to invite me to consider a redesign in miniature for its 2-oz pipe tobacco tins Flying Dutchman.

Redesign in miniature
In the first part of this article I have already specified the various functions of the automatic packaging for the tobacco tin. Go there to refresh your memory, while here I will concentrate on the pressing cycle. You can argue that the extra costs for the heavy-duty steel construction, the exorbitant long hydraulic cylinder and the extra costs for the height of the building, have nothing to do with the 2-oz tobacco tin, but that’s not quite correct. Pipe tobacco is very springy and the volume of 2 oz (50 gr.) loose pipe tobacco is larger than the volume available by the rosette in its unfolded form. It requires a hydraulic cylinder with significant force to press the tobacco and keep it down into the tin, so that the packaging girl is able to situate the plastic film on top of it, fold the rosette and close the tin with the lid. It is quite a construction (action = reaction) and above all hydraulics are expensive.

Empty Flying Dutchman tin

The automatic line I built was fully pneumatic, including its controls. That means that the two-step tobacco press also was pneumatic, which made it much more cost effective and faster. The front of the horizontal press ram was a half-circle the size of the unfolded rosette in the tobacco tin. Remember after moving forward the front of the horizontal ram becomes the side wall of the vertical press ram. To complete the design the stationary back wall of the press chamber was designed as the other half of the circle, ending up as a full circle when the horizontal press ram was moved forward and the vertical ram moved consequently in a press chamber the size of the inner diameter of the unfolded rosette, pushing the pre-compressed tobacco straight into the rosette situated in the bottom of the tobacco tin. After placing the circular piece of plastic film on top of the compressed tobacco and folding the paper rosette, the top lid of the tobacco tin could be pressed on the bottom and the automatic operation was finished. It was quite a nice design and worked out perfectly.

Anton M. Steeman

Packaging Coin Twist Tobacco Tins Part 1.

Ton, the father of a good friend of mine

As I told in my Humble Beginnings part 1 blogpost one of my influences to start pipe-smoking is Ton, the father of a long time friend of mine. The last half year we spoke quite a lot with each other. We can get along great, I mean, he smokes pipe, I smoke pipe, he likes whisky, I like whisky. ‘Nuff said right? Ton is what I call an old school pipe-smoker. He smokes from just a couple of pipes until they are utterly used up to the point that he has to hold them together with duct tape. As far as tobacco goes he only smokes a couple of blends (preferably Amphora) and that’s it. So I helped him get some other pipes and pointed him towards the blends of Motzek, which have a good price/quality ratio. Ton is a retired packaging engineer so when the subject came up I asked what he had done in the past. To my surprise it turned out that he was one of the pioneers if not the pioneer in the automatization of the packaging of the (for us pipes-smokers) well known coin twist tobacco tin. So I asked him to write a guest-blog about this. Beware, it sometimes gets a bit technical but nonetheless it is a very interesting read!

Flying Dutchman

In the world of pipe tobacco the so called 50 gr. “coin twist tobacco tin” was (and still is) one of the most popular packages for pipe tobacco. One of the well-known brands in this category was Flying Dutchman, manufactured by the Dutch tobacco company Royal Theodorus Niemeyer Ltd. in Groningen, currently part of the multinational British American Tobacco (BAT). In that epoch, we talk about the 50’s and 60’s of the last century, the whole process of filling and packing the coin twist tin was a manual process. During the mid-70’s, when all types of industry were looking into automating manual production processes (particularly packaging consumer goods, as labour costs were increasing) Theodorus Niemeyer invited my engineering company (which specialised in packaging technology) to design and build an automatic packaging line for the Flying Dutchman 50 gr. coin twist tobacco tin.

Packing the old way in the 3 Nuns factory

The packaging line had the following operations to perform:

  • Picking a tin bottom from a large box in which they were freely stored and align it properly into the conveying system of the packaging line.
  • Separating one single paper rosette from a fiercely pressed stack of rosettes, (we used an air stream to separate the rosettes from each other) and place the rosette into the bottom of the tobacco tin.
  • The third step was the most important and complicated one. Weighing 50 gr. loose pipe tobacco and nicely press it into the rosette placed in the bottom of the tin in such a way that after pressing the rosette could be folded close, like flower petals close for the night. As said this was the most critical step as tobacco in general is very springy and tends to return to its original volume (which was larger than the volume of the unfolded rosette), consequently making it almost impossible to fold the rosette over the tobacco and close the tin.
  • In the manual operation the packaging girls could correct by holding the hand press down for a longer period and put the cap of the tobacco tin immediately on top of the bottom using the cap as second press to keep the springy tobacco under control.
  • As the automatic packaging line had to replace a row of packaging girls, we didn’t have the luxury to hold the pressed tobacco down for an extended time. And that brings us to our patented tobacco pressing system. More about that in a minute, as it’s the heart of the development and based on one of my patents.
  • The last steps of the automatic packaging line are the positioning of a thin circular piece of plastic film to cover the “open space” on top of the tobacco after the paper rosette is folded closed.
  • And finally the selection, aligning, positioning and pressing down of the lid of the tobacco tin.

Royal Theodorus Niemeyer tobacco factory in Groningen

It is important to keep in mind that it was the 70’s of last century and there were not yet available any electronic devices, no pc’s or plc’s, no computerised automatization. Everything had to be executed either pneumatically, mechanically or electrically by means of relays and similar devices. This made for huge and complicated control panels. I have a second observation to make. As I designed and built this Theodorus Niemeyer packaging line, as well as the two tobacco packaging lines on which this was based, some 50 years ago, I have unfortunately no technical drawings or photographs to show any more.

The invitation by Theodorus Niemeyer to design and build the tobacco packaging line had a prelude, as I had just finished a large project for the design and construction of two tobacco packaging lines for Société Nationale des Tabacs et Allumettes (SNTA) in Algeria. Although the Algerian tobacco lines were large installations for the leaves and stems tumbling out of the primary processing section and pressed and packaged in large 100 kg. wooden folding cases, Niemeyer obviously had the impression that the revolutionary pressing cycle I had developed for the Algerian lines could be built in miniature for their 50 gr. Flying Dutchman tobacco tins.

And that brings us to the heart of the problem of packaging loose tobacco. In other words I have to explain the special design of the press cycle for the Algerian lines to justify the reasoning that Theodorus Niemeyer thought a miniature design for the 50 gr. Flying Dutchman was feasible to solve its problem. I’m well aware that most readers of this blog have at least basic knowledge about processing tobacco, but it is essential for this article to know something about tobacco processing and consequently I take the liberty to include a section about this topic. Note: As I said before I have no photos, images or drawings of the original SNTA packaging lines I developed. It’s too long ago and by wandering throughout the world I lost all of my archives, documents and much more. To illustrate this article I use some images from Lee’s Trading (Kunming) Co. Ltd in China. I have no experience with this company, so don’t see it as an endorsement, there is no commercial interest involved from my side. The pictures are for illustration purposes only.

Tobacco Processing
Tobacco leaves undergo a number of processes before they finally become the finished product, as a cigarette, rolling tobacco, pipe tobacco or another tobacco product. Whilst there are commercial variations in tobacco processes, particularly in respect to the different consumer products, the basic process steps can be divided into two distinct phases:

  • Primary processing where tobacco stem is separated from the leaf (lamina) and both leaf and stem prepared to the stage at which it is ready for inclusion in the finished product.
  • Secondary processing includes forming the cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco or any other consumer product and packing.

Some factories at which tobacco materials are produced undertake both primary and secondary processing. Others undertake either one or the other alone, either sending the tobacco which has been subjected to primary processing elsewhere for secondary processing.

Tobacco lamina after threshing

And that was the situation in Algeria. The new to-be-built plant in Algiers, the capital of Algeria at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, was a typical primary processing plant and distribution centre, supplying the pre-prepared and pressed tobacco in wooden boxes to the secondary processing plants (cigarettes) spread throughout the country, even in the far south halfway the Sahara desert (I had a beautiful trip to visit this plant going over the Atlas Mountains). The preliminary processing of tobacco involves curing the leaf (either by air, heat or sunlight) followed by threshing to separate the lamina and the stem. The tobacco is first subject to a conditioning process using steam to ensure that the tobacco is sufficiently pliable to allow the subsequent processing steps to be completed without damage to the material. In some circumstances additional materials may be added at this stage for flavouring the tobacco.

Horizontal threshing unit – photo courtesy of Lee’s Trading (Kunming) Co. Ltd – China

Although the composition of tobacco threshing and re-drying varies due to different factories, all threshing and re-drying lines include three basic procedures: threshing, lamina and stem re-drying and the pre-pressing and packaging procedure. The threshing unit is one of the key equipment in the primary process step and it has decisive effects on the quality of finished products. Precise separation and counter-flow winnowing ensure good lamina-stem separation results. Following the threshing cycle the loose and pre-processed lamina are conveyed to the pressing and packaging system, where the lamina with required moisture and temperature is pressed into shape, then packed and strapped in bales for easy storage and transportation. The system has a metering check weighing function.

See here for part 2: https://dutchpipesmoker.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/packaging-coin-twist-tobacco-tins-part-2/

Happy Easter 2017!

Also see this post: Smokin’ Easter

Pleasures of life in Belgium 2017

Shitty weather…

Halfway March it was time again for the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium). Normally for me this always marks the beginning of spring. You know, sunshine, flowers, birds and bees, girls in short skirts etc. But when I awoke the sky was dark-grey with rain coming out of it and it stayed that way throughout the day, even in Belgium. Argh… This year about 60 people attended and like the previous time Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there.

Mark on the left

In the morning I drove to Deventer to pick up Mark at the train station. When I had parked there I got a message from him. He had to go for a no. 2 when he would come out the train so it could take a while. Well, when nature calls you have to answer right? Surprisingly quick he came walking to the car. “Damned, there was a line where I wanted to change money and there is a long row before the toilet. But I know a McDonald’s just before we get on the highway, let’s go there.” Not wanting Mark to explode in my car I put the pedal to the medal and in no time we had reached our destination. While Mark was inside unleashing hell I texted Ed, who was waiting on the carpool spot further along the route where we were supposed to meet him. “Mark is doing a no. 2 at the McDonald’s in Deventer, you know he likes to take his time so it could be a while until we get to you.” But Ed, who was waiting in the rain, had no patience. “I am not going to wait in this shitty weather, I am coming to you, stay there.” So when Mark came back to my car with a face of relief I said we had to wait for Ed. Luckily he got here fast so we could begin the journey to Belgium. The only sad part was that Johnny, who normally is also driving along with us, could not make it due to private circumstances.

Frikandel XXL 🙂

After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel. Like always the first thing was to stop at the local liquor store. This time I did not need much. Last year I had bought so many beers that I still had a reasonable stock in my cellar. The only thing I wanted to buy was some bottles of Piedbœuf Brune, a table beer of only 1.5%. Not because I like to drink it, but I use it to make hachee. After that we went for something to eat. Throughout the years I discovered that the snack-bars in Wuustwezel have a kind of rotating system about who is open on Saturday afternoon. So this time snack-bar Manneke Friet was the one we could go to. Only thing, the tiny place had no room where you could sit and eat, you could only order food. Which resulted in the snack-bar being crammed with lots of hungry pipe-smokers. I choose the long frikandel XXL with mayonnaise, curry and onions. We took the food to the location of the meeting, the Bellekeshoeve, where we could eat it. When we arrived and I unwrapped the frikandel I immediately got a friendly pat on my shoulder from pipe-maker Meindert who said with a wink: “You will keep your thick head if you eat that stuff!”

Freek on the left

When I had finished the long frikandel I was looking forward to a glass of delicious dark Vlaamsche Leeuw beer. But to my astonishment it was not available. I looked at Jan, the organizer, and he apologetically shrugged. His supplier could not get the mouthwatering brew. So I opted for another beer instead. It were all Belgian beers so in essence I could not pick wrong. I then bumped into Freek. Earlier on the forum he offered a jar of Tinder Box pure latakia for free. Since I was almost out of blending latakia I responded. Since I was the first I got it! The generosity of some people knows no bounds. Throughout the years Klaas gifted me quite a lot. Samples of Balkan Sobranie, Upper Ten tobaccos, De Graaff tobaccos etc. Now he had a tin of John Patton’s Latakia Junction for me, thank you very much!

Me, matron and Jan

And still the Pipe-God was not finished blessing me. Matron called the Fuming Four and Florian together, all members of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. Who also belongs to that exclusive society of fine gentlemen is Bob Gregory, the master-blender from Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. He had given Matron some tins to divide under the KPC members. They were packed per 2 so you could not see what tins you got. I choose… Wisely! When I opened my pack I saw a tin of St. James Flake and Kendal Cream Deluxe Flake. I have never smoked the latter so I am very curious! Afterwards I had some time to chat with Matron, who surprisingly knows a bit of Dutch. Turned out that in time he still looked like a young god he had a girlfriend from the Dutch province of Friesland. When I walked around a bit I was stopped by stone-cutter Martin Romijn. He showed me his new shirt which was pretty hilarious, and beautiful! On it was an image of a pipe-smoking weasel. The story behind it is: the town where the meeting is held is called Wuustwezel. If you roughly translate that to English it is something like “fierce weasel”. Hence the picture on the shirt.

My François Dal tomato shaped pipe

Suddenly Nick called for attention. Like the last years he had been busy with the forum pipe and he wanted to unveil the new pipe-maker. It is… Drumroll… Bruno Nuttens! He is a French pipe-maker (with Belgian roots) and is going to make a cutty shaped pipe with a beautiful silver coloured ring. Since my pipe-cabinet is getting a bit too small I don’t know yet of I will be ordering this one. But it is a beauty for a good price, that’s for sure. One of the reasons that my pipe-cabinet has almost no more room walked around in Wuustwezel: maître pipier and pipe-maker François Dal. Since some time he is a member of the PRF forum and he continues to impress us with his craft. He brought some of his pipes along and I immediately fell in love with one of them: a tomato shaped beauty with flawless cross-cut and flamed briar. I smoked it several times now and I can honestly say it already belongs to the top smoking part of my collection.

No one can smoke a cigar as tasty as Ed

Sometimes I looked around and thought I had gone to the wrong meeting, a cigar smoker one. Many folks around me were smoking the phallus-shaped rolled tobacco leaves. Don’t get me wrong, I like them very much, especially in the summer, but on a pipe-smoker meeting.. Mwah.. At the end of the afternoon the delicious mandatory sausage rolls were served. I am a big fan of the Brabants worstenbrood but these one are also very yummie! Slowly it got dark outside and the Bellekeshoeve quieted down a bit. I sat at a table with d’Artagnan and had just fetched some tobacco from a jar I brought with me. As a mean of experiment he added a bit of the Tinder Box latakia. I did the same and.. Great! How easy it sometimes is to blend a decent tobacco..

Before we knew it it was time to go home. We almost were the last ones left so we did not have to say goodbye to many people. The ride home was pretty silent from my side, I was tired. I had spoken to so many people.. But it had been utter fun! I would like to thank Jan for organizing the whole, the bar-crew for serving us delicious drinks and Ed and Mark for the conversations on the road. By the way, Mark made a brilliant and funny photo-bomb! As usual I was oblivious to it all..

All pictures were made by Dirk, Klaas, Nick, Marielle, Roelof, Thomas and myself.

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The quest for forum tobaccos – Part 3: Flatlander Flake

The “old” forum tobaccos

In 2012 I started my quest for forum tobaccos. That is, special tobaccos for the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers forum (PRF). That often difficult journey (which you can read about here) ended at the end of 2013 and resulted in 3 delicious tobaccos: an aromatic called Genietmoment, a VaPer named Janneman Flake and a Balkan-blend with the name Brullende Leeuw. All made by a German tobacco company in cooperation with the wonderful Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco. After a years rest of the forum tobacco business it started to itch again, I was looking forward to a next phase of the project.

So, from which pipe-tobacco manufacturer would I like a forum tobacco (I already had decided it was going to be only 1 this time).. Sadly not an American company, import-wise that is waaaay to difficult (although I would have LOVED to work together with for example GL Pease, Cornell & Diehl or McClelland). It had to be a European one. On top of my wish-list was the quintessential English tobacco manufacturer Samuel Gawith. But how to get them to participate?

It is said that the secret ingredient for Gawith’s Black XX is Bob’s chest hair..

Actually that was pretty easy. Every year on the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund I encounter the charming Bob Gregory at the stand of Samuel Gawith (merged together (again) with Gawith & Hoggarth in 2015). On the 2015 edition I took the bold step of asking Bob if Gawith was prepared to make a small batch of a special forum tobacco to be made by him and myself. To my surprise Bob immediately said yes, on the condition that the forum members would buy a minimum amount of 200 tins of 50 grams, and gave me his email so I could send him further details. Yessss, step 1 was taken!

Elbert Gubbels

Now step 2, getting the tobacco legally in The Netherlands. Gawith did not have a Dutch importer but I knew that someone was very interested in that job: Elbert Gubbels of Gubbels Pipes (Big Ben etc.). After years of being busy with smoking pipes Elbert was looking for a business expansion with pipe-tobacco. Fred and I made sure to let Elbert know that working with a high quality pipe-tobacco manufacturer such as Samuel Gawith was a smart move. He agreed with that and assured us he would talk to Bob about importing Gawith tobaccos to The Netherlands. In short, the next phase of the project could begin!

Back home I immediately mailed Bob, I already had an idea in my head of what I wanted. With the last forum tobaccos the high seller was Janneman Fake, a VaPer and a kind of blend that appealed to a lot of forum members. This time I wanted something similar yet different. First the cut, not a flake but a plug which is more special. Further I am a big fan of oriental tobaccos so I thought, Virginia/perique/oriental.. Hmm.. That could work! Also I was inspired by a blogpost by GL Pease about his wonderful Embarcadero blend. There he admits using a pinch of latakia in his Fillmore offering. A trick to extra season a tobacco, the same as someone would season a good steak to make it an excellent one.

So I wrote to Bob that the ingredients should be Virginias (in the vein of Full Virginia Flake), orientals (sadly Gawith only has an assorted blend of orientals and no specific varieties), a bit of perique, a smidgen of latakia and I told him what, very roughly, the levels of the different tobaccos should be. I was going for a sturdy yet mild, exotic and not overpowering blend with some fine nuances. Now I hear the PRF members saying: “What?? There is latakia in the new forum tobacco?? You said there wasn’t!” True, I lied, I admit and I am sorry. Because some members don’t like latakia I was afraid that they would not buy the tobacco simply because the dark leaf was an ingredient (although used very, very sparsely). So all you latakia haters who now smoke the blend and love it: got ya!

Bob being busy

While I was waiting for an answer from Bob I made the list on the forum where everyone could sign up for the tobacco. Remember, we had to order a minimum of 200 tins and I was crossing my fingers to say the least we made it to that amount. I did not need to worry. On 20 September 2015 forum-members could order and on the 25th I already had my 200 tins! In the meantime Bob had been busy with the plug: Dear Arno, this morning we made a trial cake of tobacco. This will be baked tomorrow and then we will test the tobacco for 7 to 10 days. After that time it will be cut and samples sent to you. The 25th I informed him that we managed to cross the 200 tins border. That is very good news Arno. I will now go downstairs to the production area and see what the cake is like. (10 minutes later) Interesting!!! The cake is made and the aroma is intriguing. I have cut a plug and will send to you for your opinion. Please allow it to dry a little as the tobacco is still very young.

Sample-round 1

On 22 October 2015 a package arrived at the office for me. Hmm, rather large, I thought, can’t be Gawith, such a box for only a sample? But the sender was indeed Gawith and inside was a massive 250 gr. slab of pressed tobacco! Wow! With the previous forum tobacco I only got small sample bags of which I could barely smoke 4 pipes. At least I could provide decent samples for my testers this time. So I cut the tobacco up in smaller pieces and send them to my testing panel, a select group of forum members and friends. Of course I also smoked the plug and to my relief it already was pretty good. In short the testing panel and I came to the conclusion that the plug was ok, the basis was good. So I mailed Bob that the Virginias in combination with the oriental, perique and smidge of latakia were to be found very interesting taste-wise. However, halfway the bowl it seemed that the “middle” taste-tones were lacking a bit. The plug had good “subtones” and “overtones”, but the middle was a bit “empty”, sort of. Like someone of the testers said: neither fish nor fowl. So I suggested an increase of the level of Oriental to Bob to fix this. The perique level was ok but the latakia could be even less. By the way, I did not tell the testing panel it contained latakia but some detected it.

Sample-round 2

It took some time before Bob responded, on 23 November he send this: Arno, I have noted your comments and will work at it. For now we are extremely busy, so if you do not mind, Arno Plug will have to go on to the back burner. Be assured that I will take a long look in a couple of weeks. About the name “Arno Plug” were some funny comments on the forum, I don’t understand why.. Finally at the beginning of February 2016 the second sample-slab of tobacco arrived at the office. But when I smoked the first pipes I was not happy.  I asked Bob to raise the oriental content but now the blend was really lacking midrange taste, my fault. The Virginias no longer supported the oriental so the whole balance was off. From the other hand the perique and latakia content were perfect. Still I did not send this sample round to the testing panel, it was not better as the first one. I mailed Bob my findings and waited again.

Then it began to rumble about the cut of the forum tobacco. It was going to be a plug but Gawith was slowly beginning to object to this: Regarding the packaging of SG plug, we have one packing for this in the UK and that is a 250g box. Generally speaking, it is very expensive to cut a plug to 50g, it requires constant trimming to size and we end up with excessive waste, the cost of which has to be added back to the end product weight. We can do this in a tin but the price will shock you. Can the product which you require not be taken in the standard 250g box? It would certainly have a more attractive price for you. You could of course also take the product as a bulk product and pack it yourselves. I told Bob that we could not take the standard 250 gr. box or the tobacco as bulk. This because in The Netherlands no sales of bulk tobacco is allowed, only sealed tins and pouches are permitted. On 8 March the final verdict fell: Dear Arno, with regard to the Forum tobacco, we are not prepared, on the basis of time/cost to pack this product as a 50g Plug. We are, however, prepared to go with a 50g flake product.

Flatlander Flake

Damnit! I already “sold” over 200 tins as a plug and now it suddenly was going to be a flake. I explained the situation to the forum members and asked them if they were willing to accept the new cut. Luckily the most heard response was: “A plug is more special but a flake is also ok, easier to handle”. *Pheww*! Only 1 member wanted to cancel his order because of this. The new flake also needed a name so I asked the forum members for suggestions. The best came from Jef (nickname NoneNicer): Flatlander Flake. He was inspired by the book “Flatland, a romance of many dimensions” written by Edwin A. Abott. The book is about dimensions and we just went from 3D (a plug) to 2D (a flake), very appropriate. Plus that when I read the name I immediately got inspiration for the tin artwork. I asked Bob what the dimensions of the label were and started to work. I ended up with a picture of the flat lands around the village where I live. With some Photoshop I made it look like a painting. I added the Samuel Gawith logo, some info, of course the name, send it to Bob et voilà, I was ready.

Bob still had not send a reply but after some pushing from my side he finally did on 4 April: Dear Arno, I have no news as yet. I have to wait until Mr Gubbels enters into an agreement with Gawith Hoggarth. Until this happens I cannot make or ship. This may not happen until after May 20th in which case I may have wasted money on labels we cannot use. Until I know what the market is doing I will not move. I know this is frustrating but the problem is small compared to our having to change label designs and health warnings for all EU markets, also to possibly change the type of tin we use. The problem at which Bob was pointing was the new tobacco regulation guideline TPD2. That required that Flatlander Flake had to be produced before 20 May 2016 otherwise we 1. could throw away the labels that were just made and 2. horrible pictures would be put on the tins. Luckily a couple of weeks later Elbert Gubbels committed himself to Gawith. He was going to import several Samuel Gawith tobacco to The Netherlands including Flatlander Flake. But our troubles were not over yet.

An example of TPD2 approved artwork…

A silence fell until 10 June when Elbert mailed me: Dear Arno, an update regarding tobaccos from England: I have just been in contact with Bob Gregory and an appointment is scheduled in Kendal. After much hassle we finally have the permit to buy tax seals. We hope to be able to import tins with no unsightly pictures on front and back. Regarding the status of your forum tobacco order: this will at least have to get the ugly pictures because the tobacco is not yet manufactured / packaged. All tobaccos produced after May 20 this year are obliged to get the pictures on the cans. It all goes not smooth. Of course there is the fact that we have received permission / a license so late. Bummer, artwork with nasty pictures.. “Oh well, at least a forum tobacco is coming!” I thought.

Respect for this man!

The next months Elbert got busy with the whole process of importing the Gawith tobaccos. Which was hell for him. This because it was the first time he did anything like that. Only a few companies import tobacco into The Netherlands so there was no one who told Elbert what to do, he had to find out everything by himself. You have meet all kinds of bureaucratic requirements and every time Elbert thought he saw the light at the end of the tunnel our dutiful civil servants conjured up another wall. Very frustrating so I have nothing than the utmost respect for the man because he stubbornly kept going on. In the mean time I discussed the final number of Flatlander Flake with Elbert, he would import 300 tins.

Yeahh!! No gruesome images!

Things started to move again when Bob asked for the Flatlander Flake artwork, again, at the beginning of August. A good opportunity to ask for the 3rd sample round but I got no response. Halfway September was the Inter-Tabac Fair in Dortmund so I mailed Bob several times and begged him to bring new Flatlander Flake samples, again no response. As you can read in the corresponding blogpost the bastard (love you Bob!) did bring 2 tins of the final product with him (No more sample rounds, he said..). I noticed the content of the tin I opened was still very fresh but I tasted potential! I have to reluctantly admit I could hug the man at that moment. In October one of the big PRF meetings was held in Heukelum and only just before the date I received 2 sample-tins from Elbert, with the new artwork. To my amazement and delight it did not have the gruesome images, only text warnings. How they did it, no idea, but to be honest I don’t care.

Tax seal

Slowly the date that the forum tobaccos arrived in The Netherlands was getting closer. Tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen was doing the sales, as an importer Elbert Gubbels could not do that. At the beginning of December Willem rang me up: “I received the tins, but there are only 288 of them..” What!!?? I ordered and “sold” 300 so I was 12 tins short. I phoned Elbert to asked what happened. Apparently he had send the mandatory tax seals to Gawith so they could attach them to the tins. Only, those seals come on rollers of 144 pieces. So 2 rollers of in total 288 tax seals were received and processed by Gawith. The 12 remaining tins they had send to The Netherlands without anything on them. Which was discovered by our hard working customs office.

Burning Flatlander Flake the wrong way..

They phoned Elbert and he went like “Oh sorry, perhaps I can pay the taxes for them now? I mean, it is only 12 tins.” At which the customs office burst out in anger and even threatened to call the police on Elbert.. In the end he was forced to burn those 12 tins in front of 2 customs officers who especially had to come to the Gubbels factory, I kid you not ladies and gentlemen, I have photographic proof of that. Totally insane, like those tins contained hard drugs! Luckily Gawith had some leftover stock of Flatlander Flake. Just before Christmas Willem organized 3 days on which the members of the forum could pick up their forum tobacco tins and the rest would be send by post. I was there on one of those days and the ambience was just great: happy forum members, Willem played the role of gracious host, there was a cosy Christmas market in the centre of Zutphen, finally all was well.

So now you probably all expect a glowing review by me about Flatlander Flake. Well, in The Netherlands we have a saying: “Wij van WC eend adviseren WC eend. (We from Toilet-Duck (a company) advise Toilet-Duck)” We Dutch use the slogan any time people or companies are clearly recommending their own stuff. I won’t do that, the lucky ones who have obtained a Flatlander Flake tin have to make a judgement for themselves. I can only say that I am very happy with the final result, I think it is a unique flake, especially within the Gawith range. It is interesting, smooth and mellow with grassy, sweet candy-cane-like tones yet the perique gives it some peppery kick which is rounded off by a slight smoky after-taste by the pinch of latakia. You can smoke it in all kinds of pipes where the shape of the bowl defines which ingredient comes out more. For example billiards enhance the Virginias and pots/princes the oriental content. However I do advise to smoke slowly, almost sip it. If you have the patience to leave the tin shut I predict you will be in for a treat after some time. Virginias and orientals age very well.

I would like to thank Bob Gregory, Elbert Gubbels and Willem Schimmel, without them Flatlander Flake would not have been possible. Also I thank my girlfriend Ellen for enduring my moods and billows of smoke. And of course I thank all of you forum members who have bought the tins (sometimes vast amounts!) without knowing what the final product was going to be like. Thank you for having faith in me!

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2017 PRF-pipe made by Sabina Pipes

Sabina Santos

Sabina Santos © Sabina Pipes

As some of you know annually the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) has a forum pipe made by a (well-known) carver. Throughout the years people like Elie, Dirk Claessen, Ian Walker and the Big Ben and BriarWorks International companies delivered us exquisite smoking gear. This year organizing it all was a joint venture of Nick (from Massis Pipes) and Shaun. I’ll give you Nick: After Shaun had managed this project for several years to a successful conclusion on his own and a first ‘cooperation version’ with Dre in 2015, we now opted for a similar direction as last year where Shaun will take care of the financial side of the story and I keep myself busy with contacting the pipe maker and later the distribution of the pipes. After a lot of consultation and contacting several pipe makers and factories, we finally came to a decision. It is with some pride that I can announce that the 2017 PRF Pipe is the first to be made by a woman, to be precise Sabina Santos from Portugal.

Rusticated and Honeycomb version © Sabina Pipes

Rusticated and Honeycomb version © Sabina Pipes

Sabina is relatively new in the world of pipe-making (she recently celebrated her 3rd birthday as a pipe maker), but has already managed to develop an unique style. Moreover – fun fact for our forum – her roots lie in the Netherlands. She was actually born in Tiel and spent the first three years of her life there. As a result she is very excited that we have chosen her this year, as evidenced by the total package and the price at which she is willing to do this for us. After extensive consultation we opted for a squat Rhodesian, the signature shape of Sabina. She works exclusively with wood from the world’s best briar supplier Mimmo Romeo. The mouthpiece is made of black acrylic, the accent ring is made of “turtle” acrylic. The top of the pipe will always be finished smooth. At the bottom you have the choice between two options: rusticated or Honeycomb. The rusticated version is €142 and the Honeycomb €157 including shipping costs. As always the forum pipe is supplied with a certificate from the maker. But especially for us Sabina has decided to make separate pipe bags and put our logo and the text “by Sabina” on the cork tags. Normally Sabina engraves her pipes by hand or let them engrave by laser at an additional cost. However, especially for us Sabina has decided to have her logo, the serial number and PRF logo laser-engraved in each pipe without extra cost.

My Sabina-made forum pipe

My Sabina-made forum pipe

When I saw the first example pictures I just had to order the pipe with the unique honeycomb finish. I always loved the Rhodesian shape and already had my eye for some time on the pipes Sabina made. Despite she only has been carving for 3 years she makes wonderful and creative pipes with a good eye for lines and shapes. At the day of Christmas Eve my doorbell suddenly rang. “A package sir, merry Christmas!” Quickly I ripped it open and to my utter delight it was the forum pipe! I loved the size and shape of it with the delicately done honeycomb finish. Unfortunately I had caught a cold that lasted for several weeks so only at the beginning of the new year I finally could smoke the pipe. And I was not disappointed, it is a good smoker and will earn a place in the pantheon of my smoking pipes. I mailed Sabina and asked if she was willing to do an interview for this blog, and she was.

Sabina and her family © Sabina Pipes

Sabina and her family © Sabina Pipes

When how and where did you learn to carve and shape briar wood to make smoking pipes? During my professional job (I have a Communication Degree but I always worked in a Financial area) I always missed an activity in which I could express myself. When my husband, a long time pipe smoker, began to explore the pipe making as an hobby, I began to find it very interesting too. After all we take a block of wood and carve  it into a pipe! Amazing! I’ve been following  his development and I began to love the idea of carving a pipe. So I wanted to learn and try it. When I was pregnant, I decided to be a stay at home mother. However I missed an occupation that I could conciliate with the role of a mother and one in which I could give wings to my creativity. So I decided to go ahead with the idea of making a pipe. I carved my first pipe, a Poker, on July 2013 and it was the beginning of my journey as pipe maker. I feel that I learn every time I carve a pipe. Pipe making is really a delight! When I started making pipes, as my son was newborn, I only had time to make the drills in the workshop and finish the pipes in my kitchen while the baby was sleeping. For that reason, each one of my pipes is unique because it tells a story, my story as a pipe maker and a mother. Each person who gets one of my pipes, also receives a part of me. Now, I work in my workshop in part-time. It’s very relaxing being at the workshop  carving a pipe. A unique piece, made by me with all my love and care.

Morta Rhodesian © Sabina Pipes

Morta Rhodesian © Sabina Pipes

What kinds of woods do you use for your pipes? I only use Italian briar and sometimes I use Morta (Bog Oak). I also use some exotic woods for accents. I tried several briar suppliers but now I exclusively work with Mimmo Romeo.

© Sabina Pipes

© Sabina Pipes

What materials do you use for your stems? During some time I used pre-made acrylic stems which were hand finished by me. Then I started making my own stems and now I prefer to use German ebonite and cumberland.

Workplace © Sabina Pipes

Workplace © Sabina Pipes

Can you tell something about the equipment you use for the making of the pipes? I was lucky and from the beginning I already had a workshop with some machines and tools my husband bought. After some time I took control of the workshop an now it is my “cave”. The main machines and tools I use are a metal lathe, a powerful Dremel, a sanding disc, a sanding belt and files. My workshop is my space, my world, where I can find myself. There, I can finally give wings to my creativity! Working in a workshop is something much more masculine, I think. It is not every day I meet a woman working in the middle of machinery, wood and dust. But I just love it!! I mean, I’m a woman, a wife and a mother, that loves make up but I also love to work in my workshop! I love work on  lathe and my Demmel is my best friend!

© Sabina Pipes

© Sabina Pipes

When making pipes, do you have a favourite pipe shape and if so, why that one? I love Rhodesians and all the related family. I carved several Rhodesians and in the future I would like to explore the Bulldog and Eskimo shapes for example. I love the hand-feel of the Rhodesian and it is also a great shape to play around with finishes, for example a smooth top and rusticated bottom.

Dark Soul Pot © Sabina Pipes

Dark Soul Pot © Sabina Pipes

You are very creative with coming up with new finishes, my compliments! Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Soul collection and how you make them? Many thanks! I love rusticated pipes and some of my favourite pipe makers are Masters in rustications. I always loved the work of Konstantin Shekita, he carves some stunning lattice pipes. The inspiration for my Soul pipes came from his work. I love the concept of the lattice and as in Portugal we have a traditional hand craft, “Renda” (hand made lace), I decided to give it try. So I took the concept of the Portuguese “Renda” and applied it to my pipes. My Soul pipes are quite unique because the lattice is all open, just touching the pipe in the top and near the stem. So in the end you get a visual effect of a pipe inside the lattice, despite they are carved from a unique piece of briar. To carve this pipes I use my Dremel and lots of patience and love.

Bone Honeycomb Poker © Sabina Pipes

Bone Honeycomb Poker © Sabina Pipes

Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Honeycomb pipes and how you make them? I like to play around with rustications and one time when I was exploring the effect of a rustication with “holes”, an image of a Honeycomb came into my mind and I started to recreate it. Nowadays it is a kind of signature rustication from me.

Iced Green Prince © Sabina Pipes

Iced Green Prince © Sabina Pipes

Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Iced Green pipes and how you make them? They look like they have been in the fridge for some time! The inspiration came from one of my husbands hobbies. He likes to paint war miniatures and has great techniques for that. I liked one of these techniques, the “Dry Brush” and decided to give it a try on my pipes! The first attempt was with blue and I also made one in red but the Iced Green one is the most popular for sure.

Broken Shanked Rhodesian © Sabina Pipes

Broken Shanked Rhodesian © Sabina Pipes

Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Broken pipes and how you make them? I really like the idea of something broken but beautiful at same time. I like the philosophy of a “Broken Body, Strong Mind”. Other pipe makers already explored the idea of a broken shank; Ser Jacopo, Werner Mummert and Eder Mathias for example. As it is something I love, I decided to give it my own approach and created the Broken Pipes. When we look it seems the shank is broken but in fact we have a regular pipe ended in plateaux skin with a hand made stem with a plateaux skin ring chosen by me especially to match with the stummel.

Soul Rhodesian © Sabina Pipes

Soul Rhodesian © Sabina Pipes

On which pipe you made are you most proud? The Smooth Soul Rhodesian. I was sanding all night until 5 AM because I was super excited to see the result.

Morta Bent Billiard © Sabina Pipes

Morta Bent Billiard © Sabina Pipes

What makes a Sabina pipe a Sabina pipe? You have certain “golden rules” that you apply with every pipe you make? What makes a Sabina Pipe is my own style I guess. I still have lots to learn in order to improve my skills. But during this 3 year journey I always tried to follow my own style. I like to play around with textures and finish and I don’t have fear of it. Despite there are lots of more conservative pipe smokers, there are also many space for new creations and that is the beauty of the pipe community. I also love a classic pipe, but always with a twist, something that gives it an unique personality.

© Sabina Pipes

© Sabina Pipes

Do you smoke pipe yourself? If so, what are your favourite pipes? I started carving pipes a long time before I tried to smoke one. First I fell in love with the shape and then I started wanting to try it because I should know my work and how a pipe should be smoked. But I’m not an experienced pipe smoker, I just smoke occasionally.

© Sabina Pipes

João Reis © Sabina Pipes

What (beside your own pipes) are your favourite pipe-brands/makers? That would provide an extended list… For example, I really love the work of the pipe makers João Reis, Konstantin Shekita, Alex Brishuta, Chris Asteriou, Uwe Maier… But there are many others in my top favourite list… Again, I like the work of pipe makers with an unique style.

em_1582What is your favourite tobacco-blend (to smoke or to smell)? I like to smoke aromatics, especially with a Cherry taste. I usually love the smell of all pipe tobaccos, but some of them are a bit strong for me to smoke. For example my husband likes Latakia, Perique, Black Cavendish… All strong stuff for me.

© Sabina Pipes

© Sabina Pipes

Any last words for readers? If there are some readers who have a dream  (pipe making for example) I would like to say to always follow your dreams and always give something you really want a try. Learn from the mistakes and get stronger with each fall.

As I write this Sabina is in Denmark to improve on her already considerable pipe making skills by learning from masters like Tom Eltang, João Reis, Tao, Kai Nielsen and Kurt Balleby. Below are pictures of the process of making the forum pipe in general and of course images of my own forum pipe.

https://www.sabinapipes.com/
https://www.facebook.com/sabinasantospipes/?fref=ts

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State Express London Mixture

© GL Pease

State Express London Mixture © GL Pease

The first time I read about State Express London Mixture was years ago in an article by master-blender GL Pease. It was about re-hydrating the bone-dry contents of an old tin of this classic English blend. What struck me most was not the story (although since then I often used the described re-hydration methods), but the picture on top of it. It showed the lid of a State Express London Mixture tin and I immediately fell in love with it. It had a classy, luxurious, nostalgic old world appearance which instantly appealed to me. So I went searching on e-bay and pretty soon I stumbled upon a sealed and unopened tin from the late 1980’s. To my utter joy I won the auction and soon I had the object of my desire in my possession. With trembling hands I pried off the lid and heard the beautiful hiss that indicates the air-seal was still intact. I filled up my pipe and here comes the sad part, at that point I only had been smoking pipe for about a year so I could not appreciate the blend. My taste-buds were not developed enough. I stashed away the tin until a year later when I re-hydrated the contents and tried it again. This time I was able to enjoy the mixture and acknowledge the genius of the blenders. It tasted absolutely great, a harmonious yet adventurous blend of bright golden Virginias, Syrian latakia and the costly Greek and Turkish (oriental) tobaccos Samsun, Izmir, Xanthi and Cavalla.

img_5587I always kept searching for another tin but that proved to be rather difficult. Or it was empty, or the seal had been broken, or it was too expensive or the seller did not want to ship to The Netherlands. A couple of weeks ago on an evening I spotted a tin. It looked somewhat rusty on some spots but eejj, that is the risk you have to take. But I kept that in mind, set the bid not too high and went to sleep. The next morning I saw to my utter amazement that I had won the tin! Needless to say, I was a happy man. When I received the package (with some extra customs office costs.. Grrr…) I had to laugh. In the box was a message which read: “This tin is old and contents are not for use! Frankly, it would choke a horse!” “Well, we will see about that madam ebay-seller!” I thought. I could not wait to open the tin. I felt like Howard Carter when I pried open the lid but unfortunately no hiss this time and indeed the contents seemed mummified. Of course I immediately started re-hydrating the blend.

img_5594In the mean time I started digging for information about the tin. On the seal it said “US Distributors Faber, Coe, & Gregg Inc. Newark, New Jersey 07108”. I had no idea so decided to ask for information on the PipesMagazine.com forum. Luckily Jon Guss roams there and Jon is a first class researcher and author of many pipe and tobacco related books and articles. He saw my question and responded: There are two key indicators that enable me to date it to within a relatively narrow span: the measurement of the weight of the contents, and the reference to a Newark address. When first released (about 1967) SELM (State Express London Mixture but shorter) tins were denominated in ounces; sometime over the course of 1972-73 this was switched to 50 grams (listed as 1 3/4 oz in the States). As for Faber Coe’s location, their NJ headquarters address changed from Newark to Clifton in the second half of 1978. Your tin therefore dates from 1972-78. That could be narrowed a bit further by consulting RTDA annuals for 1972 and 1973, neither of which I happen to have handy. But in the scheme of things knowing your tin is forty years old plus or minus a couple of years is a pretty good outcome. So in other words, I could have a birth-year tin in my hands! Whoohoo!

Ardath tobacco offices and factories in 1914

Ardath tobacco offices and factories in 1914

I was already happy with this bit of information but Jon came with even more! A history of the blend and Ardath, the manufacturer: State Express London Mixture was made by Ardath Tobacco Company, Ltd. There is info readily available online about Ardath (much of it wrong or misleading), but in a fairly small nutshell what later became Ardath Tobacco Company, Ltd. was founded by Albert Levy in 1895. He was joined by a partner, Barnett S. Gluckstein, in 1903. In a complex set of transactions apparently triggered by his desire to retire, in January of 1926 Gluckstein sold his shares “to a financial house in the City” and a holding company was created which held all the outstanding shares (Gluckstein’s and Levy’s) of Ardath.

british_american_tobacco_logo-svgAt the time it was coyly announced that British American Tobacco Company Ltd. (BAT) had acquired an “interest” in this new holding entity, and a collaboration in overseas markets was to begin immediately. Levy, who remained as head of the company, announced that despite BAT’s interest, the business of Ardath would be “carried on independently, exactly the same as before”. Half a year later it became clear that the new holding company (“Universal Tobacco Company”) was in reality controlled and managed by BAT, and Ardath had become in essence a subsidiary. The long sad litany of events Ardath suffered under its new master, including the eventual outsourcing of its manufacturing and closure of its factories, is wholly irrelevant to the story of SELM. Likewise the convoluted relationship between BAT, Imperial, and what remained of Ardath’s brands and the geographic rights thereto.

The famous State Express 555 cigarettes

The famous State Express 555 cigarettes

More to the point, by the time SELM came on the stage in the late 1960s Ardath had been a creature of BAT for generations, and what remained of the original company was apparently mostly a collection of brand names (along with a distribution function tacked on later). By then State Express, originally a cigarette brand trademarked by Ardath in 1896, was one of the largest assets left over from the Ardath acquisition, and had been exploited over time through a series of brand extensions and entries into international markets. SELM, a new pipe tobacco based on the marque, was developed in the mid-1960s. It was then trademarked in a variety of countries, including Canada (March 20, 1967), Australia (April 21, 1967), the U.S. (April 4, 1968), Germany (March 30, 1969), and Kenya (1970). It was advertised for sale in the US by the end of 1968. Internal company documents make it clear, however, that despite the various international trademark filings the blend was “created largely with the U.S. market in mind”.

State Express London mixture trademark

State Express London mixture trademark

As far as I can tell SELM was only ever available in 2 ounce (from launch until about 1972-73) and 50 gram (1972-73 onward) rectangular tins. The product was considered to be successful enough that two expansions were considered: a) introduction into the UK (per documents dating to late 1974), and b) development of a cigarette incorporating SELM tobacco. It’s not entirely clear to me whether either ever got off the ground. I should add SELM had a run of a bit over two decades. It was withdrawn from production sometime between 1989-1992: SELM appears in the 1988 RTDA almanac, but the US trademark was allowed to expire on November 3, 1992. It remains possible that the blend continued to be available in other countries thereafter, but given the importance of the US market to the brand that seems unlikely.

Now over to the review of the blend, I go a bit back and forth between the 1970’s and 1980’s version.

img_5556Description from the producer – Package/tin:
At the bottom of the 70’s tin you can read: Bright Golden Virginia and dark latakia spiced with rare Greek and Turkish tobaccos. Further on the bottom is a sticker with the image of the blend inside. On the 80’s version this sticker is omitted. There is also (I guess on even older tins) a bottom which held an English penny to help open the tin. The frontal image on the lid is together with the old Balkan Sobranie and Marcovitch artwork the most beautiful I have ever seen. It is an old looking stylized map of Anatolia (or Asia minor) and surrounding areas with on the bottom left a sailing ship and on the bottom right a mariner’s compass. In the map are the names of the places where (most of) the ingredients originate from like (Syrian) Latakia, Samsun, Izmir, Xanthi and Cavalla. Above the card in a classy golden looking rectangle is the name of the blend. “State Express” in serif characters and “London Mixture” in a script font. On top of it all is a coat of arms, the royal warrant, granted to Ardath by King George VI in 1946 and again later by Queen Elizabeth II.

img_5565Once you remove the lid of the 70’s version you are greeted by a golden wrapper, the 80’s one has sober wrapping which repeatedly states “Supreme British Tobacco”. On top of the golden wrapper is a small but wonderful booklet. It contains information about the State Express brand, the London Mixture blend and has a beautiful (educational) illustration of the tobacco leaves used in the mixture. On the backside of the front lid of the 70’s version the royal warrant is repeated together with the name of the blend and the description of it. The 80’s version is empty, I guess they had to cut back costs.. A pity, because as Jon Guss his father would say: packaging is marketing. A wise man.

img_5578Ingredients/Contents/Cut:
In an old document I found the recipe of State Express London Mixture, it consisted of 35% bright flue cured golden Virginia, 25% orientals (Samsun, Izmir, Xanthi and Cavalla) and 40% (Syrian) latakia. In the same file the manufacturing process is also explained, an interesting read which you can see here. Upon opening the 70’s tin I was greeted by the beautiful sight of 1 whole oriental leaf placed upon the mixture. According to information given to me by Jon there once also was a version with 2 different varieties of oriental leaves laid crossways over the blend. The 80’s version tin contained no whole oriental leaf at all, once again, perhaps they had to cut back costs. The mixture itself looks identical in both tins, I guess the contents have darkened in colour by age. Dark brown/black latakia, light orange/green and dark yellow Virginia and darker orange/green and light-brown orientals. The cut for both versions is a typical ribbon cut, although the 70’s one had a few chunkier pieces.

noseSmell from the tin:
Both versions smell aged, I can’t really describe it, those who have sniffed the contents of 20+ year tins know what I mean. A kind of “musty but in a good way” smell. If I look (smell) beneath that I am a bit surprised that the latakia is so toned down. Ok, that is common with the ageing of the dark leaf and Syrian latakia is not as assertive as its Cyprian cousin but still, there is 40% of the stuff in the blend. For the rest the hay-like, raisin Virginia dominates with mildy pungent underlying notes of the exotic oriental tobaccos.

011Taste:
Both versions were an absolute utter delight to smoke, but there were differences. They start with a kind of strong black tea taste in which the dark fruit sweetness of the Virginia and exotic orientals slowly become more and more prominent. Like with the smell the latakia also tastes toned down. Don’t get me wrong, it is ideal for the blend, it really is in perfect sync with the other ingredients. And you get used to it, after having smoked SELM for days and days I wanted something a bit different and lit up a bowl full of (the new and excellent) John Cotton’s Smyrna, which has a moderate amount of Cyprian latakia. My taste buds who are used to a good portion of the dark leaf went like: whoaahh, latakia bomb! Anyway, the difference between the two vintages becomes apparent halfway the bowl when the oriental tobaccos take main stage. The 80’s version is taste-wise like a roller-coaster. Essences of fragrant exotic herbs and spices roll around your taste-buds with every puff while still being in harmony with the other ingredients. A true delight for the adventurous pipe smoker. The contents of the 70’s tin have melted together more. No big highs and lows here, I compare it with the curry I make, there is a kind of great basic taste and if you pay attention you can discern some ingredients. All the while with both versions the Virginia together with the latakia provide a sweet and smoky backbone. In the last third of the bowl the mixture gains flavour and intensity. The Virginias sing together with the orientals while the latakia softly but surely hums underneath. The 70’s version even has a kind of cigar-like heaviness in the end.

10679974_10205010273567619_6481518945363759545_oMiscellaneous:
I had to laugh when I read more of the old document because the maker of State Express London Mixture had a, ehmm, more limited view of how long a tin on the shelf should last than we have nowadays. It states: “Should be smoked as soon as possible for maximum taste. Tendency after three months to noticeable loss of flavour. Loss of colour in ‘Brights’ increasingly noticeable after three months.” Perhaps the man who wrote that is related to the e-bay woman who sold me the 70’s tin. SELM is a smooth smoke, no bite whatsoever. Nicotine-wise it is moderate, I am under the impression that the 70’s version contained a bit more of vitamin N. Burn-wise both vintages were excellent, no trouble at all throughout the bowl, only some fine grey ash was left.

thumbsRoom-note:
Despite the toned down latakia Ellen really did not like the smell of SELM. She even became short of breath from the smoke.. “*coughs* Perhaps the e-bay woman was right that it would choke a horse!” I on the other hand quite liked it (that is why it is not a full thumbs downs room-note). When I came into the living-room the mornings after I smoked it I detected a quite pleasant smoky, herbal odour.

moneyPrice:
Years ago I paid $100 for the 80’s tin. At the time not so much because the dollar was low and the euro strong. Good ol’ days.. So with that price in my mind I was absolutely not sure if I would win the auction for the 70’s tin. I had a lower budget so I set a not too high maximum bid. In the end I won the vintage State Express London Mixture for $30.

img_5583_1Conclusion:
For me State Express London Mixture belongs in the same pantheon of legendary pipe tobacco blends as for example the Sobranie mixtures, Marcovitch and the old Dunhill offerings. It has an unique old world quality inside and on the outside of the tin. Sadly blends like this one can’t be made today. Syrian latakia is no longer made and sourcing the specific oriental tobacco varieties is nearly impossible. Something which I really regret because for me the key to adventure in pipe tobacco lies with the latter. Well ok, perhaps McClelland could pull it off with their stock of Syrian latakia and Grand Orientals series. But still, there is more to pipe tobacco than just putting ingredients together. I can’t really choose between the 2 vintages. The 80’s version was a fantastic roller-coaster taste-wise. If you hit a piece of oriental leaf in the bowl *booom!*, lots of flavour! On the other hand the 70’s one had an absolutely great basic taste with more subtle flavours of herbs and spices from far away. But it is not only the ingredients, also the classy look of the tin is absolutely superb. When you see it it almost calls out to me: “See the exotic places mentioned on my luxurious lid. I promise that if you smoke me and close your eyes your mind will be transported to far away countries where you will experience all their delights.” And I must say in all honesty, it did that to me, it was that good.

I would like to thank Jon Guss for his essential contribution to this blogpost.

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