Smooth Smyrna, a John Cotton story

One of the great old names in the pipe-tobacco pantheon is that of John Cotton. Mostly known for their No. 1 (Mild), Nos. 1 & 2 (Medium) and Smyrna blends. My first encounter with the brand was some time ago at the end of the first year I started smoking pipe. I had done some research about the old venerable pipe-tobacco names and while surfing ebay stumbled upon an old sealed tin of John Cotton No. 1 Mild. I can’t remember what I paid but the price was very reasonable. However when I smoked the mixture I was not impressed. I had just started smoking latakia blends such as Old Dublin, Nightcap and Balkan Supreme and found No. 1 Mild too.. Mild.. How wrong I was in hindsight..

The John Cotton re-makes

In 2015 The Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania brought back several old tobacco-brands from the abyss of oblivion under which the celebrated Bengal Slices and some of the John Cotton range. “Ah, they also have re-made Smyrna, I forgotten about that one!” I thought. I always loved oriental forwarded blends so I ordered some tins. And the tobacco did not disappoint me, I loved it! Master-blender Russ Ouellette did a wonderful job re-creating the old mixture. Some months ago I was surfing ebay again and to my surprise I saw a vintage John Cotton’s Smyrna tin up for auction, they are pretty rare. Probably some rich American, Russian or Chinese guy was going to pay big bucks for it so I set my bid not too high, more like a kind of joke than a serious offer. When I awoke the next morning I saw to my amazement that I had won!

Sorting out the history of John Cotton was rather difficult and time consuming. At first I could only find a little bit of information on the internet like the Firesign Theatre & Gresham’s Law document by the great Jon Guss, which mentions John Cotton. Good friend Troy Lloyd had a few pictures but nothing more and there was some loose information on several pipe-fora. But they did steer me into the right direction; the wonderful Scottish Post Office Directories for Edinburgh. There (and in later phone-books) I discovered the history of John Cotton. In contrast with common belief the firm was not founded in 1770. I know, on (old) advertisements and tins it says so, but it is not true. Also Jon Guss says that the first Cotton established his tobacco shop in Edinburgh in 1773. I could not find evidence for that so Jon, if you read this, let me know why you think it is 1773!

  • Edinburgh map of 1774

    1774: The first year I can find anything of a Cotton. Not a John Cotton but George Cottons, the founding father so to say. The following years he moves from location to location throughout the city.

  • 1813: For the first time several tobacconists with the Cotton name can be found: George junior and James.
  • 1820: Tobacconist James Cotton has disappeared from the directories.
  • 1822: James is back together with a new Cotton tobacconist: William.
  • 1826: A very important year because for the first time a John Cotton is mentioned as tobacconist.
  • 1829: One of the George’s and John Cotton are not mentioned in the directory.
  • 1834: A good year for the Cottons, John is back and the remaining George has become tobacconist to king William IV.
  • 1838: James is replaced by Chas W. and because of a royal death George is now tobacconist to the late king.
  • 1839: William Cotton is no longer mentioned but a George S.S.C. is.
  • 1840: Chas is gone, James is back and George is once again a royal tobacconist. Only now to a woman, her majesty Victoria.
  • 1846: Perhaps the Queen herself is not a big fan of George (& Son) Cotton because now he holds the title of “Tobacconists to the Royal Household”. The following years nothing much changes.
  • 1872: For the first time a Cotton (George & Son) is listed on the now famous 100 Princes Street address. John Cotton is nearby on 122 Princes Street.
  • 1879: A mention is made in the Edinburg Gazette of the dissolution of co-partnership between John Cotton and George Cotton, apparently they were partners.
  • 1884: It seems that George Cotton & Son and John Cotton are the only Cotton tobacconists left. The latter is now active on the well known 7 Frederick Street address.
  • 1890: George Cotton & Son loses the “Tobacconists to the Royal Household” title.
  • 1905: Apparently business is going well for John Cotton, for the first time a factory is mentioned on 10 Abbeymount.
  • 1906: An important year, Limited is now added after the John Cotton name and a new factory is put into service on 172 Easter Road. In fact, this building still exists! Today it is a business centre and the original chimney with the letters “JC” on it has survived.
  • 1907: John Cotton Limited gets an office at 11 Duke Street with a secretary: J. Aikman Smith.
  • 1933: Not 1 but 2 secretaries, J. Aikman Smith and Wells at the new office address of 8 Forres Street.
  • 100 Princes Street address

    1935: The first year that John Cotton Limited is active on the 100 Princes Street address although George Cotton & Son also remains there.

  • 1954: Suddenly there is a George Cotton Limited and the 100 Princes Street address is no longer mentioned. Only the 172 Easter Road factory is named.
  • 1955: George Cotton Limited is no longer mentioned, only John Cotton Limited remains on the factory address.
  • 1962: John Cotton Limited is acquired by Gallaher.
  • 1963: John Cotton Limited is no longer mentioned in Edinburgh. The address now is in the Trafalgar House, Waterloo Place in London.
  • 1968 and beyond: I can’t find John Cotton Limited any more in the phone-book. Some later addresses I found on the internet and the No. 1 Mild tin are 65 Kingsway, London W.C.2 and P.O. Box 14, Rowdell Road, Northolt, Middlesex.
  • 1972: A memorandum is written about John Cotton smoking tobaccos manufactured in Denmark (by Erik Stokkebye): Harvest Gold, Burley, Rich Mellow Virginia, Honeydew, Gaelic Mixture and Danish Aromatic.
  • 1986: In a Gallaher document John Cotton’s No. 1 Mild and Nos. 1 & 2 Medium are mentioned. After this date I can find nothing, the brand disappeared.

Now a comparison between the vintage and re-made John Cotton Smyrna. I had some help in the person of Robbin, an experienced vintage blend smoker with a good tasting palette.

Package/tin:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: 
There were several kinds of tins in which Smyrna came. I have seen pictures of knife-cutter tins, rectangular ones and the version I have is a round 50 gr. one. The background colour is white with on it the well-known lion holding tobacco leaves in red. The letters “John Cotton’s Smoking Tobacco” are in black and “Smyrna” in between them is in red. On top of the tin it says “Made in the United Kingdom”, on the bottom is a banner with in it “A blend of Smyrna and other fine tobaccos”. For me the whole has a kind of weird Wild West appearance because of the used fonts. Hell, “Smyrna” even has bullet holes in it! I don’t know what the original graphic designers smoked when they designed the tin, but certainly not Smyrna!
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: Also a round tin and ladies and gentlemen graphic designers, this is a prime example of excellent tin-artwork. I like it way better than the old design to be honest. The background is beige with on it the lion in gold. In the middle is a classic looking dark-green banner with in the text “John Cotton’s (in serif font) traditional English pipe tobacco mixture (in a sans-serif font).” The edges of the banner are in gold and together with the lion are made with embossed printing. Below the banner is the name of the blend, Smyrna, also in a serif font. The golden embossed printing combined with the fonts make this tin look real classy.

Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: Upon opening the tin I am greeted by a simple white carton with nothing on it. Hmm, at least the inlay in my old No. 1 Mild tin had some printing on it. When I remove it I see a colourful ensemble of latakia, Virginia and Turkish strands with quite a lot of the dark leaf in it. The cut is a good ol’ fashioned ribbon cut.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: When I open the tin I see a transparent plastic inlay upon the tobacco. Oh well, better than nothing. Compared to the vintage Smyrna the tobacco colours in this version are similar but brighter. Also there are more lighter strands in my opinion. The cut is a thin ribbon cut.

Smell from the tin:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: This blend surprised me, after all these years I thought the latakia had toned down a bit but no, when I first smelled it, whoaahh.. Definitely not Syrian latakia but strong assertive Cyprian. For the rest I detect a little woodsy sweet and sour odour.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: Yup, there is latakia in this one, no question about it. But besides that the (fresher) smell isn’t that different from its older brother. Despite the presence of more lighter tobacco-strands. However I do detect a tiny little bit of topping, coumarin (a chemical also to be found in for example cinnamon, tonka-bean and deer-tongue), which I can’t smell on the vintage version*. 

Taste:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: Ahh.. This is how I want all my tobaccos to taste like at the first light. Almost no bitterness, the Turkish and latakia are fighting about the main role and it is full, round and smooth as Ellen her bottom. A bit further the grassy, earthy Virginia comes into play a bit more. Towards the middle the superb Turkish are winning the fight and the whole becomes a big rich flavour-bomb; cedar, spice, sweet, sour, chocolate creamy, leather you name it, the blend all has it. Robbin remarks that this part also reminds him a bit of red wine. Towards the end of the bowl the different components really become one and burn down to a fine grey ash.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: I can remember the first time I smoked the re-made version, I instantly fell in love with the taste. Cyprian woodsy and leathery latakia that is kept under control by the grassy Virginia and spicy and sour Turkish, yummie! Now I have smoked the vintage version I am a bit amazed that the latakia there seems more powerful as the re-made one. Despite the unquestionable presence of the fresh dark leaf the newer leans more on the Turkish and Virginias in my opinion. Or at least, they are more detectable, the taste is more clear. Perhaps everything has melted so together in the old one that I get this result. I can also taste a tiny little bit of the coumarin topping which for me is pleasant*. Towards the middle the Turkish come even more forward and it more or less stays this way until the end.

Miscellaneous:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: The tobacco had the perfect moisture when I opened the tin and the ol’ fashioned ribbon cut made filling the bowl and smoking the pipe easy. The nicotine level is just above medium and there was absolutely no tongue bite.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: I had to get used a bit to the springy, thinner ribbon cut but after a couple of times you know how to best fill your bowl. Simply don’t press the tobacco too hard. The blend does not bite but if you puff too hard an fast it can burn hot. Vitamin N level is medium.

Room-note:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: For a latakia blend the room-note is pretty decent! I could smoke it without a complaint from Ellen. The next morning a lovely incense smell lingered.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: This one has one of the best room-notes I have ever smelled for a latakia mixture. Like the old one incense-like and perhaps enhanced by the coumarin*.

Price:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: I paid €61 for it, not too bad!
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: At 4noggins you pay $11.99 (± €10,03) for a 1.75 oz. tin.

Conclusion:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: It is an excellent blend, I can understand why people still speak with respect about the old John Cotton Smyrna. It totally talks the talk and walks the walk so to say. I had many very pleasant evenings smoking it. It is a blend that demands attention, grabs you by the balls and does not let loose. For Robbin and me one of the remarkable things was that the latakia had not really subdued, it was still powerful. We both rate this mixture a 8.5 out of 10.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: First of all Russ Ouellette did a wonderful job re-creating the old blend. It is not exactly a copy but according to Robbin more an excellently executed remake. When I smoke it and I keep in mind the ageing process, well, in 30 years it could be where the vintage version is now. And that is a compliment! Robbin and I both rate this mixture a 8 out of 10. Oh, and that vintage No. 1 Mild I thought was too mild, I love it now. But I have to end this blogpost in a sad way. Probably the new version will not be amongst us much longer. See this Facebook message from one of the founders of the The Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania, Dan Z. Johnson: 

Buy It While You Can
With the FDA Deeming Regulations poised to take effect in about two weeks, I have some sobering news for our friends. Unless something changes, there will not be another production run on the 5 original Standard Tobacco Co. of PA blends. Once the current inventory of War Horse, Bengal Slices and John Cotton’s is sold, there will be no more. Ever.
I’ve held off making this announcement until I was certain that the end is near. August 8, 2018 is the cut-off date for selling post 2007 blends such as ours without an FDA Substantial Equivalence (SE) approval. Since it now appears highly unlikely that we will get an SE, and since our distributor does not want to get stuck with product that they can not sell, their plan is to sell out existing stock and not re-order.
Caveat: If we sell out of everything quickly, the distributor might change their mind and do another run, but that is doubtful given the glut of new, last ditch blends clogging up production and warehouse space. Also, if the FDA is forced by congress to change the grandfather date to include post 2007 blends such as ours, then we are free to continue production. That, however, is exceedingly unlikely at this point in time.
I can’t tell you how sad and disappointed I am to have to tell you this. It’s not where we wanted to be at this point in time, but I wanted to give you all the opportunity to order your favorites before it’s too late.

* EDIT 25-9-2017: In the comment below this post Russ Ouellette says that there is no top dressing on the re-made Smyrna. So I don’t know what I smelled and tasted, but certainly no coumarin!

EDIT 16-1-2018: I received a mail and picture from Andrew Robertson. Apparently his mother worked at the Cotton’s factory in Easter Road, Edinburgh from 1935 until she joined the army as a Radar Operator in 1941. The picture was taken outside the Cotton Factory at Sunnyside on Easter Road Leith circa 1939. Andrew’s Mother, Alice Bowie as she was then, is 2nd on the left of the back row, immediately behind the foreman. His mother’s friend May Wilkie is standing on the right of the picture. Andrew’s mother always explained that she and May made “cocktail” cigarettes similar to the Sobranie brand.

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Dutch Pipe Smoker on Instagram

After a short lesson in “Insta”, as my young and hip nephew calls it, this old bugger is also active on Instagram! Sometimes a picture says more than a 1000 words so to say. Please follow me there! See the link below.

https://www.instagram.com/dutch_pipe_smoker/

Island of the Gods Part 2.

See here for part 1.

Another traffic jam, this time because of a cremation

It was time to begin with our scooter round-trip. Some people say that driving scooter on Bali is very dangerous. Bullshit! Like I previously said, the traffic in (South) Bali can be chaotic (imagine a four-lane way with as many cars and scooters that can fit beside each other) but compared to Western countries it goes slow. We rarely drove faster than 60 km/ph. You just have to use your common sense. Normally the scooters drive fully on the left and the cars to the right of them. But when it is busy or in a traffic-jam (and they have a lot of those) the scooters go wherever they can find a gap. After some riding we found out, when it is busy, try to follow a local to make your way past all the vehicles. Luckily we had one advantage: positive discrimination, we where white-skinned. Every Indonesian knows that foreigners can’t drive, therefore they try to avoid us like the plague. Which is very handy if you want a bit of space around you. Furthermore Indonesians are very polite drivers, no swearing, no inappropriate hand gestures, no irritation. I already miss it…

Also a lot of roads in Bali are made for scooters, not wide, if you drove there with a car it would be difficult. In any case I would not recommend driving a car simply because you miss a lot. Would you rather be in an air-conditioned box looking through a window or on a scooter in the wind, feeling the sunshine on your skin and experiencing all the sights and smells? It is so much fun driving through the villages, to see the colourful people, houses and temples, waving and saying “hallo” to children, smelling the incense from the daily offerings. Or riding over narrow roads through lush forest covered areas over large hills ending in spectacular green rice-terraces views. Besides, the Indonesians find it hilarious when they see a big white man on a scooter passing by. “Look! A sunburned foreigner trying to drive! Whahaha!!” When you leave the touristic South you’ll often find locals staring at you or taking pictures of you. Like the policemen we encountered in the North. Imagine a group of smiling police-officers making photos of you with their smart phones and friendly waving you goodbye after you showed them the correct documents while speaking a few words of Indonesian.

Bluebird, an excellent taxi company

Navigating though Bali during the scooter trip was surprisingly easy. Since half a year I have a smart-phone (before that I had those simple unbreakable Nokia telephones that you can use as a brick for your house) and in Bali I had bought an Indonesian SIM-card so everywhere I went I had internet. Marcello advised me to download the Waze app on it. In essence it works the same as the Google Maps app only it uses less battery energy and internet data. I plugged my ear phones in the phone and when I was driving I would hear something like “Over 800 metres go left”, “Over 200 metres go left”, “Go left”. It worked perfectly! Later I discovered that I could also put my music on which would automatically go softer when Waze had to say something. I can tell you it is quite an experience to ride through tranquil villages while Death‘s Evil Dead is blasting in your ears. Another app I frequently used was the Bluebird one. If you ever need a taxi in Indonesia (because you don’t want to drink and drive), get a Bluebird. Indonesian taxi drivers are sadly well known for trying to scam you. Longer routes, not putting on the metre (Oh sorry, it’s broken.. Yeah right..) etc. Bluebird has none of this. You can order a cab with the app. Immediately you see which driver you are going to get with a number that corresponds with the one on the car. You also see a little map where you can follow your taxi so you know when it arrives. When inside the metre starts at 7,000 Rp. (about €0.50). Afterwards you get a mail in which you see the route you drove and the amount of money you paid. Ideal!

Ngurah Art Pipes

During the meeting with the Bali Tobacco Lovers group they had shown me a couple of  pipes that were Indonesian made. There were some nice ones but nothing that really piqued my interest. In the mean time I had added some Indonesian friends to my Facebook when I saw that someone of them had liked a post of Ngurah Art Pipes. It was a picture of a beautifully sculpted Ganesha pipe. Woww, that is very, very nicely done, I thought to myself when I scrolled further along the page. Suddenly I saw what was to become my souvenir of this whole trip: a breathtakingly sculpted Boma pipe. Boma was first known as an evil demon. After death he was transformed into a benevolent spirit and guardian. His image is placed above and beside doors and windows to offer protection to the inhabitants and to maintain the fine balance between the forces of light and dark in the universe. Immediately I messaged Ngurah if the pipe was still available. Soon I got a reply, unfortunately it was already sold but he could make a new one. Yesss!!! The costs would be $100, expensive for Indonesian standards but pretty ok for Western. I did not want to haggle so I said that he could go ahead. I had already planned to attend yet another Bali Tobacco Lovers meeting on my last evening in Bali and asked him if he could come there and have the pipe finished. No problem.

Ellen at the Sekumpul waterfalls

I will give you now what were for us highlights of the scooter round trip. First nature-wise. Bali has a lot of stunning waterfalls which you can visit. We went to the jaw-dropping Tegenungan and Sekumpul waterfalls. Both fully accessible but I warn you, you have to be in a pretty good shape because a lot of climbing stairs and walking over rocks is involved to get there. Hiring a guide at Sekumpul is advisable, you learn a lot more about the environment, support the local people and you make sure you don’t break your leg (there have been cases..). Further there are natural hot springs in Bali which are good for all kinds of ailments. We visited the Banjar hot springs, I cannot describe how good it feels to relax in the warm water. At Lovina in the North you can spot dolphins. There are trips at 6:00 and 8:00 am, take the last one because then it is less crowded with boats and you can better see the jumping and twirling aquatic mammals. If you want to dive or snorkel, go to Menjangang Island, one of the most beautiful places in the world to do that. We only snorkelled but I will never, ever forget the magnificent coral reefs and colourful fish. And last but not least you have the majestic rice-fields all over the island. Some of the most beautiful are at Jatiluwih with stunning views.

Nomnomnom!

Eating-wise Bali is also a top destination, I already told you about the warungs. Further I can recommend eating seafood on Jimbaran beach. There are a lot of restaurants there but Roman Cafe is one of the best and with reasonable prices. You can choose which fish you want and then it is grilled above a fire of coconut shells and served with rice and an array of tasty sauces. And if you say that you stay at Home Bali Home they put you in front, right at the water. We went for mussels, squid-rings and Barramundi. To eat there on the beach with your feet on the sand while the sun is setting, just magical. A lot of restaurants are also to be found on Bali. Our favourite was Dapoer Chef Wayan, I admit, I am no lover of vegetables but the way the chef made them.. Wowwww… Ambrosia for my taste-buds. And if you ever on Bali have the opportunity to eat a proper Indonesian rijsttafel, please do so, you won’t regret it.

Pura Ulun Danu Beratan

I think it is hard to find a better destination as Bali culture-wise. Balinese Hinduism, the main religion there (the rest of Indonesia has Islam), makes sure of that. It is ingrained in every aspect of daily life; the small and big rituals and temples, the colourful clothes, the offerings etc. For example everywhere across the island, on streets, before shops, on crossroads you see little palm-leaf baskets called Canang sari. In those are things like betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, betel nuts and yes, tobacco. Incense sticks are burned with them and they can be topped of with some money but I have also seen things as a lollipop. It is ok to walk on them, sometimes they are really in the way.. The most important, largest and holiest Hindu temple is Pura Besakih and is truly a sight to behold. Built on six levels and perched nearly 1000 meters up the side of mount Gunung Agung it is an extensive complex of 23 separate but related temples. For years tourists got swindled and harassed there but since this year that is all forbidden. The entrance now is 60,000 Rp. and a guide is included, who you don’t have to take. If you take him, give a tip afterwards. It was a bit cloudy when we were there but if the sky is clear you have breathtaking views. Unfortunately you can’t see everything if you are not of the Hindu religion but at least you can take a peek through the gates. Another stunning temple is Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, a so called floating temple because if the water in lake Beratan is high enough (and it luckily was when we were there) it seems to, indeed, float. Other great places to go are the mini-Borobudur, Brahma Vihara-Arama and the luscious royal water garden of Tirta Gangga where you can walk across the water on small stepping stones.

Hanging out with the guys at the base of the Kawa Ijen volcano

During the scooter round trip we also had an excursion to the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java. The idea was to climb it at night because then the present sulfur makes for an almost magical light show. We went there in the evening by a ferry which only took about 45 minutes thank the heavens. This because the sea was pretty rough and I got sea-sick. Really a shame because Ellen and I were talking to a friendly Javanese English teacher who had just made an excursion with his class when I started not feeling well. When we arrived I had to pose on several pictures with his students with my sea-sick head.. Solid ground, I thought I was saved, just a little ride in the car and then we will be at the damn volcano. A nice woman, Dewi, waited for us with her husband and they took us there. A 1 hour long ride in the dark with lots of twists and turns followed. So I also got car-sick. When we arrived the weather was horrendous, rain was pouring down and it was misty. I was so ill that I decided to stay at the warung at the base of the volcano but Ellen went for it together with a group of other tourists and guides. Fortunately I soon felt better and had a splendid night together with some Indonesians who were also there. I had to laugh a bit, they were shivering from the cold, dressed in long pants, hats and thick sweaters while I was perfectly ok sitting in just my shorts and shirt. In the morning Ellen came back, she had not seen much of the “magical” sulfur light and sunset but was nonetheless proud of her achievement.

Back at Home Bali Home after the scooter round trip I was smoking a pipe when the lovely daughter of Marcello, Jade, suddenly approached me. “What are you doing? What is that?” she asked with a curious voice. A bit surprised that she didn’t knew what I did I answered that it was a pipe, that you smoke tobacco from it, that you don’t inhale, that you not get the same addiction as with cigarettes (although I urged her to never ever begin smoking), that for me it is almost meditative etc. She liked the smell of the Vooroogst tobacco in the tin and was fascinated by the smoke coming from my corncob pipe (is it really made out of corn??). We talked a bit further about her life, school, her dreams and I came to the conclusion that she was a bright young lady with no doubt a promising future.

The following day we left for Kalimantan to go on a boat and see some orang-utans. At the end of the afternoon we arrived and our guide, Nisa, was already waiting for us at the airport. At first I thought that we had a small girl of about 16 as a guide, but that could not be, she had to be at least 18, 20. When we went on board of the klotok I could not resist asking her age. I almost fell overboard from surprise when she told me: 33. The klotok was more luxurious than I expected. The upper deck was for Ellen and me and included a table with some chairs, a hammock, two mattresses (which were put together in the evening so we could sleep on them with a mosquito net above it) and on the front 2 deck-chairs. We even had a Western style toilet and hot shower! The deck below was for Nisa, the captain, the helmsman and a little girl with her mother, the cook. Who could by the way create fantastic dishes! We were surprised at the quality of the copious lunches and dinners she made for us in the tiny kitchen. The klotok trip was just fantastic, sailing on a clear river that got smaller and smaller right through the tropical rainforest while spotting wild animals. We saw amongst others gibbons, a hornbill and proboscis monkeys. Suddenly Nisa became very enthusiastic and pointed to the side of the river. There, between some trees was a baby orang-utan, curiously showing itself to us. One of my highlights of the Kalimantan journey. That and waking up early in the morning with the sounds of the jungle, precisely like on one of those CD’s! By the way, at the hotel we had in Pangkalan Bun we could really notice that Indonesia in general is a smoker friendly destination. To my amazement there were no no-smoking rooms available and you could smoke anywhere (even in the breakfast room the next morning).

After we came back from Kalimantan on our last evening in Bali I had one more place to go to: Kopi Zeen to again meet the Bali Tobacco Lovers group. When I arrived I already saw Ngurah sitting. “I think you have something for me.” I said to him with a grin. At which he produced the stunning Boma pipe he had made for me. I think I could not stop smiling while I closely examined it. The craftsmanship and level of detail, wowww… He certainly earned his money. Ngurah also showed me some other pipes he made, skull pipes but also normal ones, all made from exotic woods. By the way, mine was cut from sapodilla wood, never heard of it but it smokes just fine. I was also delighted to finally meet Handoko, he even knew some Dutch words! It turned out that he is a leather craftsman, he showed me some pictures of the beautiful things he made. So soon I will give him a order to make a new pipe-bag for me. When I was talking to one of the members I sadly heard that Indonesian master-blender Punakawan recently had died during my stay in Bali. Such a shame, also because I was going to buy some of his blends. Another member had a tin of Squadron Leader, ah, finally some good ol’ latakia. Vooroogst is nice but sometimes.. The rest of the evening was wonderful again and time flew away. When I was about to leave the members presented me a cool Bali Tobacco Lovers t-shirt and Monoss wanted to give me a giant sized bag (I think a kilo or more!) of pipe-tobacco. I had to kindly refuse the latter, not because I did not want it but because of the damn customs office in The Netherlands. I can only import 100 grams and I already had the Java tobacco..

Just before we went to the airport the next day Marcello suddenly produced my hat, which I thought was thrown away. Someone had put it on a place he hadn’t searched before. I silently thanked the Buddha statue. The flight home unfortunately went a little less smooth. At the Ngurah Rai airport a customs officer noticed the Zippo fuel in my hold baggage. I tried to play the dumb tourist but he did not fall for that, I had to leave it behind. And in Hong Kong a stern female customs officer wanted to look into my hand luggage because the scanner beeped. She searched and searched and finally showed me a pack of pipe-cleaners and asked what that was. Damnit, those things have an iron wire.. Fortunately a male colleague of her saw me sweating and explained the purpose of them after which I could go on. Ellen angrily hissed to me “A man and his hobby….” Luckily the rest of the journey went well.

I had an absolutely fantastic holiday and if you ask me what the most beautiful was I don’t have to think long: all the people I met in those 3 weeks. Just go there, off the beaten path and you will see I am right. I want to thank Marcello, Jolanda and Jade for their hospitality at Home Bali Home and for organizing the scooter, Java and Kalimantan trips with the 888 Pure Travel agency. And of course thanks to the wonderful Bali Tobacco Lovers members for their kindness and generosity! You guys rule!

Here a short video of my second Bali Tobacco Lovers meeting made by Baskoro:

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Island of the Gods Part 1.

Indonesia

Normally my girlfriend Ellen and I stay for holidays in more or less nearby countries like Germany, Belgium, France or Spain. But we had saved some money so this year Ellen, who has travelled much more and further as myself, wanted to go far away from Europe again. Ok, I said, where precisely do you want to go? Since we both have a preference for Asia the choice was pretty easy: former Dutch colony Indonesia. We checked some travel agency sites for round trips but I had a bad feeling with them. Being in a group of other Dutch tourists, doing things together, frequently travelling long distances with them in cramped vans and visiting overcrowded tourist attractions is not my idea of a vacation. I want to be able to choose my own tempo, see as few tourists as possible, meet the locals etc. On the wish-list of Ellen was visiting the Borobudur, experience a sunrise from a volcano and see orang-utans in the wild.

Marcello, his wife Jolanda and daughter Jade

Luckily a niece of mine (who also happens to be my godmother) had a tip. 2 years ago she and her husband (who comes from the Indonesian Maluku Islands) went to the island of Bali to the bed & breakfast of (Dutchman) Marcello Supusepa, Home Bali Home, in Jimbaran and had a great time there. Marcello also has a travelling agency, 888 Pure Travel, which organizes trips throughout Indonesia, so my niece said that I should send a mail with the wishes of Ellen and me. No sooner said than done or we had a reply. Marcello suggested that we made a scooter round-trip through Bali (and see amongst other things the mini-Borobudur), shortly visit the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java and travel to Kalimantan to go on a boat and see orang-utans. It all sounded good to us, the price was ok so we booked the 3 weeks trip.

At a tax free shop at Hong Kong airport

5 May Ellen and I packed our belongings and went to the train station in Olst, the journey had begun. Amongst other things I had brought with me 4 corncob pipes, a Zippo pipe-lighter (with some fuel), a tin of Vooroogst tobacco, a tin of Flatlander FlakeSamuel Gawith Elmo’s Reserve snuff and some Oliver Twist tobacco bits. Of course I had the last 2 items in my pocket and the rest in the hold baggage. At the Cathay Pacific desk where we had to hand over our luggage we were lucky. The evening before I checked in online but there were no more seats beside each other available. Oh well, I thought, so be it. But the nice lady behind the desk offered us 2 places together at the emergency exit. That means more leg space so of course we gladly accepted it. I had never been in a long flight before (the longest was to Egypt, about 5 hours) but 11 hours… Pffff… Luckily I could watch movies and series and before I knew it we arrived at our first stop, Hong Kong. Sadly the transit time was too short to visit Hong Kong city so we stayed at the airport where I took a stroll. As a (pipe) smoker you can smoke at the airport, they have special smoking rooms. Although I won’t advice going there. They are small and overcrowded with nicotine-needy cigarette smokers, just look at this video.. In the tax-free shops I could find some pipes and tobacco to my amazement. Although pretty expensive, Davidoff pipes and tobacco and Dunhill tobacco.

Ellen at the pool at Home Bali Home

After another 5 hours of flying we arrived at the destination: Ngurah Rai International airport near Denpasar, Bali. Marcello was already waiting for us above the busy entrance hall but had some trouble spotting us. After some texting we found each other. “I was looking for a bald man and now you are wearing a hat!” he said with a big smile. Marcello is a jovial, friendly and easy going type of person with a good sense of humour. We put our bags in the back of his car and he invited me to sit in the front. I opened the door, saw the steering wheel and so and while laughing Marcello said “Oh? Do you want to drive?” Ah yes, they drive on the left in Indonesia so in cars everything is also reversed. I was glad I did not accept his offer because the traffic we encountered on the way to his Home Bali Home bed & breakfast, woww… Chaotic busy.. Suddenly it occurred to me that the scooter round-trip through Bali wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.. When we arrived at Home Bali Home after a short drive I made a capital mistake. My hands were full with bags so I put my hat on the statue of a Buddha with the intention of getting it later. We put away our luggage in our lovely room, changed into our swimming clothes, went for a dip in the pool and relaxed the rest of the evening. The next morning I suddenly remembered my hat but it was gone. I asked Marcello and he said that was not a smart thing to do of me. He is not really religious but his staff is (all of Bali is!) and putting a hat on a Buddha statue equals putting a hat on a statue of the crucified Christ for example. Probably someone of his staff just threw my (expensive) hat away.. Whoops.. But I could not blame them, my mistake, it was a good lesson.

Myself with a plate of the most delicious nasi goreng in front of me

The first days, before we were getting our Indonesian driver’s license needed for the scooters, we were being driven around by Tata, our Balinese driver. We visited a Buddhist temple, a beautiful part of the coast with some high waves, did some necessary shopping (we needed a powerbank for our smart-phones and snorkel gear) and ate at a warung. I really came to love those places which you can find all over Indonesia; delicious, traditional, rustic, local and cheap food. Often we dined for no more than €2 per person, including drinks! Heaven for this cheap Dutchman. And being Dutch we already knew a lot of the dishes offered since, I said it before, Indonesia is a former colony of us and many Indonesians started restaurants here. Dishes like Nasi Goreng (fried rice with small pieces of chicken/sea food, vegetables and egg), Ayam Goreng (fried chicken), Sate Ayam (chicken on a stick with peanut sauce) and Babi Kecap (pork meat in kecap sauce) were no stranger to us. But if you go to a warung, go early or have a late lunch. The food is made in the morning so most places close around 18:00 pm because the Indonesian hot climate and stuff to eat does not mix well..

Bali Tobacco Lovers

Before we went to Bali I searched on the internet for a group of pipe-smokers there, but could not find one. When I am in another country I always love to meet local pipe-smokers. However, there was a facebook group of Indonesian pipe-smokers and they pointed me towards some Balinese ones. I addressed one of them, Handoko, and he was being really nice to me. A smokers group, Bali Tobacco Lovers, existed but getting pipe-tobacco on Bali was impossible. Cigars and cigarettes were available but there were just too few pipe-smokers to make it interesting to sell pipe-tobacco for any vendor. I also asked him about Soppeng tobacco, which I had read about in this excellent article. But alas, Handoko had heard about it but it was not available on Bali.

Kretek cigarettes

Handoko also mentioned that cigars were available at most Circle K supermarkets. So when we encountered one I could not resist asking the clerk inside if they had some. He produced a few thicker cigars, I am not sure if they were short- or longfillers, but they were expensive, almost Dutch prices. And I just wanted thinner, simple and cheap Indonesian made ones. Also at some other Circle K supermarkets I was not successful, bummer! After we had lunch Tata was smoking a cigarette. Normally I really dislike cigarettes (one of the best things I have done in life, getting rid of the cigarette addiction) but this one actually smelled pretty nice, a bit like clove. I grabbed his pack, looked at it and saw “sigaret kretek“. I could have one, lit it up (while not inhaling the smoke) and I immediately liked the taste; tobacco with smoky and slightly sweet clove. So later I bought some packs myself, ideal for a nice quick smoke when I did not have the time or patience for a pipe and did not feel like snuffing or chewing.

In the evening we went to buy an Indonesian SIM card (really cheap and having internet everywhere was mandatory for our coming scooter trip) and just as we calmly walked along a street Tata enthusiastically shouted at me “Mister! Mister! Look! Tobacco!” and pointed toward a small stall. He already knew I smoked pipe and was looking for tobacco. There were all kinds of loose tobaccos, finely cut but perfect to put in a pipe. Through Tata (who functioned as a translator) I asked the old man behind the stand where his tobacco came from: Java, all of his tobaccos came from there. And which tobacco was the best he had? With a big smile he pointed to a heap and said: just like Marlboro! Ehrrr, well, needless to say I took something of his “second best” heap (even in my cigarette smoking days I avoided Marlboro like the plague, yukyukyuk..). To my nose a grassy Virginia with a bit of an exotic smell, interesting! The price was to laugh at for Western standards: about €1,25 for 100 gr. And I did not even try to haggle! When I put it in my pipe back at Home Bali Home I was pleasantly surprised. A mild smoke (no bite at all) with a fascinating flavour, a bit like a Virginia with a tiny little bit of Lakeland aroma. Normally I am not a fan of that but now.. Only thing was the nicotine content, whoaahh… It blew me out of my slippers!

Our Indonesian scooter driving licenses

The next day Marcello had arranged that we were going to get our Indonesian scooter driving licenses. A regular Dutch driving license is not enough since Indonesian scooters are qualified as motor cycles (the bloody things can go over 140 km/ph!). All we knew was that we had to go to the Denpasar police station. Indonesia is a kind of country where you can still “arrange” things if you have enough money and know the right persons. And that is exactly what happened. The driver who brought us turned out to be a kind of Indonesian CIA agent. He dropped us off at the police-station and said we had to wait. Soon an officer walked outside and asked “Mr. van Goor”? Yup, that is me. Ellen and I followed him inside where there were lots of waiting rooms packed to the brim with Indonesian people. We went upstairs into an overcrowded room with 1 officer behind an old computer. All the files on his desk were immediately pushed aside and ours were placed there. A picture was made, a fingerprint was given and we had to write down our autographs. All under the eyes of the many Indonesians in the room, we felt pretty embarassed to say the least. After that we went down again, there was a large desk so we thought we had to wait there. Some minutes passed by when the first police officer showed up again. “Your friend is waiting outside.” But we did not have the licenses yet.. “Your friend is waiting outside.” Ok, we went outside and lo and behold, there was our CIA driver again. With the licenses.

Ellen and me on the scooter

Back at Home Bali Home the scooters already were there so we could practice. I had never driven a scooter before and Ellen only had some experience on a moped. Luckily Tata rode with us to teach us the finer points of driving on Bali. Almost immediately our new driving licenses came in handy. The South of the island is infamous for its corrupt police officers (really??) who like to stop tourists on scooters (who almost never have the correct driving license) and extort money from them. About a kilometre on our way we were stopped by some police officers. “Your ID”, one of the policemen said with a grin that read “I am going to get soooo much money out of you.” So I showed him my fresh driving license and I really wish I could have made a picture of his face. His eyes were full of unbelieve, how the hell did that fat, white tourist get such a thing?? He was so surprised that he almost saluted me when he gave back my license. Kind of logical, tourists don’t get those thing easy, so when one is in possession of one it probably means he has friends in high places, higher than a common police officer that is.

Endi and me

That evening I had an appointment with the Bali Tobacco Lovers group. Earlier Handoko referred me to Endi, the organiser of the group and owner of Kopi Zeen, a coffee bar in Kuta. I was very welcome there and he tried to get as many members to attend. When I arrived I was not sure I had the right place but Endi recognized me and he greeted me warmly. Proudly he showed me his coffee bar and of course I ordered an (excellent) Indonesian cup of the dark liquid. We sat together and I showed him my tin of Vooroogst. On the lid it says “Java Lumadjang Pijptabak” and Endi almost fell out of his chair when he read it. “I grew up near there!” When the others of the Bali Tobacco Lovers group arrived he let them all see the tin. Also I gifted them the tin of Flatlander Flake. They knew Samuel Gawith but for some reason it has a reputation of strong tobaccos there. The pipes they brought with them were not spectacular, what we would consider as B-brands in the West. Although some of the members owned Dunhills! Also they had several ok looking Indonesian made pipes of makers I never heard about.

I was a bit surprised at all the pipe tobacco tins the members brought with them like Sillem’s Black, Erinmore Latakia Supreme and some MacBaren ones. But it was not easy for them to get those. They have to order them online at high (Western) prices in tobacco shops in Indonesia or other countries in Asia. A colourful member, Monoss, complained to me that they could get about every tobacco in Indonesia except latakia. Together with other members he had recently bought a bag of 1 kilo of latakia somewhere for quite some money. “Can you buy latakia cheap in Belanda (Indonesian for The Netherlands)?” he asked me hopefully. Sadly not, I also have to buy it in the USA.. Also a lot of home-blending is done with the various import and local tobaccos and I discovered the Balinese have a taste for “smoky-sweet”. So latakia with a bit of sweetness just like Sillem’s Black or HU Tobacco’s ChocoLat. Endi had a home blended mixture with some added wine which tasted good. Monoss also made a blend of his own, I can best describe it as an Indonesian Balkan blend. It was absolutely wonderful. Also I let one of the members try some Elmo’s Reserve snuff. He got tears in his eyes so to say. At the end of the evening Endi had a gift for me, a tin of Indonesian made Punakawan tobacco with in it his home-made blend, a flake consisting of Indonesian tobaccos and a bit of the Punakawan mixture. I thanked him (and the others) thoroughly for this and the wonderful meeting I had.

See here for part 2.

Here a short video of my first Bali Tobacco Lovers meeting made by Baskoro:

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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