Tag: 4noggins

Another Dutch invention: the modern corncob pipe

legend-corn-cob-smoking-pipe

Two Legend corncob pipes

We Dutch invented a lot during the centuries. From the microscope in 1590 to modern capitalism in the 1600’s to Wi-Fi in the 1990’s. So you could say that the Dutch people have a history and tradition in inventing and discovery. One of the inventions I am most proud of (although it is an American icon) is the corncob pipe in its current form.

The history of the corncob pipe begins with the native Americans, who showed the European colonists the multiple usages of corn. Then Henry Tibbe, a Dutch wood-turner, emigrated to America from Enschede in 1867. After fire destroyed his home and factory in Holland he brought his family and his skill as a wood-turner to Washington, Missouri. Soon after that, he set up a small woodworking business making spinning wheels, wooden handles, furniture etc.: H. Tibbe & Son Co.

Henry Tibbe

Henry Tibbe

Some time in 1869 a local farmer whittled a pipe out of  a corncob. He liked it so much that he asked Henry Tibbe to try turning some on his lathe. Apparently the farmer was pleased with the pipes he got so Henry made a couple more and put them for sale in his shop. They were such a fast-selling item that in no time he was spending most of his working hours making pipes for his customers. Soon Tibbe went into full time production of corncob pipes.

Unfortunately the corncob pipe tended to burn out easily. Luckily Henry Tibbe had an idea for fireproofing it. Tibbe’s 1878 patent describes his process for fireproofing by applying a plaster of paris type substance to the outside of the corncob, then sanding the bowl smooth after it dried. This procedure not only fire proofed the cob but also hardened it, allowing it to be worked on a lathe.

MMBy 1878, with increasing demand for his corncob pipes, Tibbe had moved his business to a new location and increased his production by employing a steam engine to turn the lathes and operate the other machinery. In January 1883 Henry and his son Anton applied for a U.S. patent for a trademark for their pipe, calling it the Missouri Meerschaum. They choose that name because Tibbe compared his light, porous, cool smoking corncob pipes with the more expensive meerschaum pipes. In 1896 Henry Tibbe died. Anton took over and in 1907 the H. Tibbe & Son Co. became the Missouri Meerschaum Company.

The two story brick building

The two story brick building

During the years that followed, Missouri Meerschaum pipes became increasingly popular. A large distribution system was established for the sale of Tibbe’s pipes. The wooden building which originally accommodated the H. Tibbe & Son Co. was soon replaced by a two story brick building. Later this building had a third floor added and over the years more additions were built.

momeerschaum2

The current building.

Ownership changed hands in 1912 when the company was purchased by Edmund Henry Otto. Still Anton Tibbe supervised the company until 1921. He then disposed of his interest in the pipe factory, retired, and moved to California where he died eight years later. The company remained in the Otto family for over fifty years. In 1978  it was acquired by Fendrich Industries Inc. of Indiana. They owned it until 1983 when it was sold to John and Geraldine Brandenburger. In 1988 the company was purchased by the present owners: Michael Lechtenberg, Robert Moore and Larry Horton.

Corncobs waiting to be turned into pipes..

Corncobs waiting to be turned into pipes..

In the early days cobs from an ordinary cornfield served nicely for the pipes. Now the pipes are made from a special white hybrid corn which was developed by the University of Missouri. This variety produces big, thick and tough cobs. The reason why the cheap Chinese-made copies do not work and burn through the bottom after the first smoke. The corn is grown on 140 acres in the Missouri River bottom which is owned by the company. Employees do the corn picking and carry the corn to the crib area. Also located in the river bottom. The corn is shelled using only old, out of production shellers which date back to the 1930’s. This because the newer shellers break up the cobs.. The cobs are then stored in the upper two levels of the factory for about two or three years until they are ready to be processed.

A glimpse inside the factory.

A glimpse inside the factory.

These days about 30 to 40 employees work in the same old brick building of Henry Tibbe. They produce, pack and ship around 3,000 (!) pipes per day to nearly every state in the USA and lots of foreign countries. The making of corncob pipe has not changed much since those first pipes were made. It still takes a lot of hand labour. Some operations have been automated by cleverly adapting machines from other uses.

The shaping of a cob during the production process.

The shaping of a cob during the production process.

The production begins with the cobs being dropped into a chute which sends them down to the lowest level of the building. The remaining husks are removed and then the cobs are put into multiple gang saws. There they are cut into uniform lengths. The corncob pieces then fall onto the conveyor belt of a grader that sorts them by size. Tobacco holes are bored into the cobs and then most go to one of the four turning machines to be shaped. The pipe style is determined by the turning or shaping process. Some larger pipes are still turned by hand. The white plaster of paris type coating is then smeared on the bowls. They are sanded smooth after a day of drying. A boring machine bores the stem hole. The bowls are then varnished either by being tumbled in a cement mixer or run through a lacquer spray booth. Then they go to the finishing room where they have a metal ring attached to the wood stem that has been printed to look like a cob. The plastic or acrylic mouthpieces have a filter inserted and then they are hammered into the stem. The stems are glued into the bowls, a label is placed on the bottom, the pipes are packaged and tadaaaa! Ready for shipment.

Pipes of all sizes are made, but most set you back less than $10!

Pipes of all sizes are made, but most set you back less than $10!

There are lots of different styles of corn cob pipes being produced today. Most styles also have a variety of bowl shapes and come with either a bent or straight stem.

Here are some corncob pipe facts and tips:
– As I said before Missouri Meerschaum uses plaster of paris and lacquer to finish their pipes. A black stain is applied on a few models. Usually it does not cause a problem on the inside of the bowl but sometimes it can be a nuisance. So if you want to you can lightly use sand paper to remove anything and everything other than cob from the inside of the bowl.
– The wooden shank that extends inside the bowl is sometimes removed by cob smokers. With the models with hardwood bottoms this is no problem. But other versions will become more prone to burnout if the inner shank is removed. Then again, I seldom read someone had a burnout. But to be safe I would not advise Dutch pipe smoker forum-member Jos to buy cobs.. If you still really want to remove the inner shank then please use these inside the bowl.

Cob with some glue residue inside the bowl.

Cob with some glue residue inside the bowl.

– The glue used in making cobs is non-toxic. So if you see some residue inside the bowl, don’t be alarmed. You can leave it or carefully scrape it out with a small knife.
– Let the cake in the bowl build up a bit. It allows the cob to absorb moisture better and this results in a cooler and drier smoke.
– Because corncobs pipes can absorb a lot of moisture you have to be careful with damp weather. The cob then needs some extra drying time.
– I smoke all kinds of tobacco in my corncob pipes except for latakia. Some way or another there is no match.. However, Semois and other burley based tobaccos taste great in cobs.

Here are some links where you can buy corncob pipes:
Aristocob
Missouri Meerschaum
4noggins

And if you (unlike me) are very handy with tools you can read here how to make your own cob.

rodland_corn.cob.pipe_lodefLast but not least, for the woman pipe smoking fetishists (I know there are a lot of you perverts, I can see it in my website-stats!) here is a *ahum* nice, classy picture of a young woman with a corncob pipe.

Latakia Lover

Latakia

Latakia tobacco

Yes I admit.. I am a lover of the dark leaf that many pipe smokers love and even more wives and girlfriends hate: latakia. But I did not always like it..

fire_curedFirst something about latakia. What is NOT used in the process of making it is camel dung.. Many people think that because of the odour it gives when it is burned. Also latakia is not a ready tobacco. It is an oriental from which the leaves are hung above a smouldering fire so long that the leaves go from a light colour to dark brown or even black. Hence the name, the dark leaf.

Part of the Latakia port in 1935

Part of the Latakia port in 1935

Like so many things the discovery of latakia was unintentionally. Somewhere in the 1800’s in the northern part of Syria near the port city Latakia a bumper crop of tobacco was left in the storage attic of a house for many months where it was exposed to household fires and smoke. The following spring the unique flavouring and taste of the left behind tobacco was discovered. At the beginning of the 20th century latakia was used to spice up the then popular Turkish cigarettes. Later when ordinary domestic cigarettes rose in popularity the use of the dark leaf declined. Now it is only found in pipe tobacco blends.

There are 2 kinds of latakia: Syrian and Cyprian.

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Syrian latakia is derived from a tobacco leaf known as “shekk-el-bint.” When it is harvest time the plant is cut and the leaves and flowers are laid on the ground to dry in the sun. When they have dried they are taken to storehouses, where they are smoked for a period of 13 to 15 weeks. The smoke is made by primarily using nearby hardwoods and pines, probably from the Baer forest, such as Aleppo pine, Turkey oak and Valonia oak. Also lesser amounts of other aromatic species like Lebanon cedar and Greek Juniper were used. When all is ready the tobacco is known as latakia and is referred to by the Syrians as “Abourihm,” which translates as “king of flavour”. Regarding taste Syrian latakia has a mellow, wine-like, wood-like character. Famous writer Charles Dickens was a big fan of Syrian latakia: “Syria provided the finest tobacco  in the world, the Latakia, in the neighbourhood of the ancient and renowned port of Laodicea (Latakia) at the foot of Mount Lebanon. And as Syria provides the finest tobacco in the world, the Prince of Syria, the Emir Bekir, had the reputation one most deservedly, of furnishing to his guests a pipe of tobacco far more complete than any which could be furnished by any rival potentate in the East.

Prime example of a blend with Cyprian latakia: Penzance

Prime example of a blend with Cyprian latakia: Penzance

Cyprian latakia comes from a Smyrna or Izmir-type tobacco plant that is known as “Yellow Cyprus.” The Yellow Cyprus leaves are harvested by de-stalking them and are made on long poles to be hung in a tobacco shed. The leaves are then smoked over open smouldering fires. These fires are made from hardwoods, some pine and aromatic shrubs and woods such as prickly cedar and myrtle. It has been reported that the Mastic shrub is primarily used in the smoke generation for Cyprian latakia. The following formula may approximate the shrubs and woods used for the fire/smoke-curing process: Mastic 90%, Myrtle 4%, Stone pine (this one or this one) 4%, Cypress 1%, Other 1%. The taste of Cyprian latakia is more assertive, sweet and leathery.

blendingWhen you mix latakia with other tobaccos you have to be careful. Although some others like to smoke it almost pure.. With percentages around 3% to 5% you just start to notice latakia. The sweetness of the Cyprian variant comes alive around 10%. The wine-like character of the Syrian variant begins to emerge at 10% to 12% until it dominates the blend around 30% to 35%. The maximum of Cyprian latakia is around 40% to 50%. However, higher percentages (60%) are possible but then a very skilful blending hand is needed.

Peterson Old Dublin

Peterson Old Dublin

I first read about latakia in Janneman’s Pijpenboek. I was growing a bit tired of all the aromatic tobaccos I was smoking. I wanted to taste something new. And I got just that.. My first choice of a mixture with latakia was Peterson Old Dublin simply because it was the only one that the Rokado tobacconist had in stock. At home I anxiously opened the tin and smelled the contents. Whooaahh!!! My nose went open instantaneously. What the……. “Does anyone smoke this??” I thought.. “Wel ok, let’s give it a try.” I picked a Peterson (how fitting), filled it up and lit it. Whooaahh again!! Like smoking wood from a fireplace! I did not really enjoy that first bowl but I was intrigued. After a couple of pipes I liked it a bit more but I still had some reservations. On a visit in Germany I bought a tin of Dunhill Nightcap. “Let’s try that one, maybe it is better.” Well, it was not.. Way too much nicotine for me at that point. I got sick and put the latakia mixture tins aside.

PS_BSA couple of months later a pipe of me was fixed by a fellow pipe-smoker from Belgium. As a payment he wanted tobacco in stead of money. I knew he liked latakia and I wanted to give him something special. So for the first time I ordered some blends from The States. Peter Stokkebye Balkan Supreme and McClelland 3 Oaks Syrian to be precise. Balkan Supreme came in a zip-lock bag which I put on a shelf in the kitchen. One evening I sat in the living room and suddenly I smelled something very nice. “What is that??” I wondered. I followed my nose to… The zip-lock bag with Balkan Supreme. Of course I could not smoke it, it was the payment for the fixed pipe. But when I visited the fellow pipe-smoker I asked if I could try the tobacco. And luckily I could. It was di-vine! Quickly I ordered a bag of Balkan Supreme for myself.

Old tin of Balkan Sobranie

Old tin of Balkan Sobranie

From then on my love of the dark leaf and the search for new (and vintage) latakia mixtures began. In the time that followed I was able to smoke classic vintage mixtures like Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture, Balkan Sobranie Mixture 759, State Express London Mixture, De Graaff Kegelbaan, Smoker’s Haven Exotique and many more.

Nowadays recommended latakia mixtures are:
– 4noggins: Britt’s Balkan
– Ashton: Artisan’s Blend*, Consummate Gentleman*
Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture (by J.F. Germain)
– Charles Faimorn: Lancer’s Slices
– Cornell & Diehl: Star of the East flake, Red Odessa
– DTM: Midnight Ride, Bill Bailey’s Balkan Blend, Old Ironsides
– Dunhill: Nightcap*, Early Morning Pipe*, Standard Mixture Mellow*, My Mixture 965*, London Mixture*
– Esoterica Tobacciana: Penzance, Margate
– GL Pease: Abingdon, Lagonda, Westminster, Odyssee, Samarra, Ashbury
– Hearth & Home: Magnum Opus
– HU Tobacco: Brullende Leeuw, Balkan Passion, My Special One, Olaf’s Favourite English, Khoisaan, Masai, Tuarekh, Tigray, Zulu
MacBaren HH Vintage Syrian
– McClelland: Frog Morton, Blue Mountain, Wilderness, Old Dog
Peterson Old Dublin*
– Peter Stokkebye: Balkan Sasieni, Balkan Supreme
Presbyterian Mixture
– Rattray: Black Mallory*, Red Rapparee*
– Robert McConnell: Scottish Blend*
– Samuel Gawith: Squadron Leader, Skiff Mixture, Perfection*
Sillem’s Black (one of the only aromatic latakia mixtures)
Solani Blend 779 Gold*

* Available in The Netherlands

UPDATE 15-06-2017:

IMG_0762

Cyprian pipe maker Yiannos Kokkinos and my friend

Recently a good friend of mine went on holiday to Cyprus. Amongst other things he wanted to score some Cyprian latakia. After a visit to pipe-maker Yiannos Kokkinos he was directed to the West of the island to a village called Neo Chorio. Because there, in the Akamas region between Neo Chorio and the town of Polis were the tobacco fields where the Yellow Cyprus was grown. WAS grown yes. Several locals said in interviews (my friend had an interpreter with him) that 10 to 15 years ago tobacco production stopped in Cyprus. According to them nowadays the “Cyprian” latakia is produced in the Izmir region of Turkey. Afterwards it is shipped to the Turkish part of Cyprus where it is sold to tobacco brokers as Cyprian latakia. Luckily the quality has not been compromised because of this, I mean, I have not hear anyone complaining that their Cyprian latakia blends tasted worse than before. This story has been confirmed by Per Jensen of MacBaren.

The New Balkan Sobranie

Old tin of Balkan Sobranie

Old tin of Balkan Sobranie

Sometimes a product that is no longer available becomes legendary. This was the case with the Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. Yes, WAS. In the first years of the new millennium only a pouch version was available. According to many a weak version of the original from the 70’s, 60’s and before that, it still was widely loved. But despite the large demand the tobacco became less and less available and the production finally stopped at the beginning of the 2000’s as one can read in Jon Guss’ excellent Dating Of Sobranie Tobacco Tins. In the 90’s Balkan Sasieni was offered by former Sobranie owner Isador Redstone as a substitute but it never took off the way Balkan Sobranie did.

1In the years that followed Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture became a legend. Together with Balkan Sobranie Mixture 759 and Balkan Sobranie Virginia no. 10 it became kind of the Holy Grail of the pipe tobaccos. On ebay, astronomical amounts were (and still are) asked and paid for these tobaccos. It only was a matter of time that someone would want to bring out the legend again. The pipe smoking market appears to be becoming larger thus the time was right for a new version, a new “vintage” of Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. Because it is with this tobacco as with wine. The year tells you how good it is. 1970, oh tremendous!!! 1981, transition year to the Gallaher production, good but really just not it. 1999, pretty nice but nothing compared by the old original.

Balkan Sobranie made by JF Germain.

The new Balkan Sobranie made by JF Germain.

2011…….. Arango Cigar Co. became the one that acquired the rights of Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. But having the rights is 1 thing, bringing out the tobacco on the market is something veeeery different. So they have found J.F. Germain & Son willing to make the tobacco. In my honest opinion the best choice that they could have made! This because J.F. Germain & Son is the maker of some other legendary tobacco, Penzance. But also of the Smoker’s Heaven tobaccos that for years counted as THE replacement for the original Balkan Sobranie tobaccos. Nice detail, previously the House Sobranie made the Smoker’s Heaven tobaccos.. So J.F. Germain & Son have experience in “imitating” the House Sobranie products. Also they have men in service that formerly worked for the House Sobranie. Interesting..

balkan_sobranie_new_artworkPackage: A 50 gram tin with a somewhat cheap version of the old stately artwork. The classic image of the two women with carts on the background seems a bit blurred. Like someone with no graphical knowledge roughly copied an old tin and placed in some new text.. Once open the tobacco rests in a paper as is often customary with on top of that a thin round insert with nothing on it.

©PipesMagazine.com

©PipesMagazine.com

Composition: The composition is that of the pouch version and the ’80’s Gallaher version. A fine cut mix of dark and light Virginias, Macedonian tobacco and Cyprian latakia. Originally there was Syrian latakia in it but for yeeaaars that was no longer the case.. Anyway, there is more latakia than in the pouch version. The tobaccos is a ribbon-cut with small strands, resembling Esoterica’s Margate and Smoker’s Haven Exotique. Both made by Germain.

noseSmell from the tin: Yummie! What’s in there, you smell! Together with Penzance some of the best tin-smells ever. Dark, earthy, leather.. Yeah! However, one time when I quickly opened a tin at my office to just smell it my colleague, who was just walking in, asked if there had been a fire somewhere. Ah, the mark of a good latakia blend.

011Taste: Regarding taste the tobacco is a good mix of the pouch version and my 1981 tin version. What I was missing in the 1981 version were the oriental tobaccos that halfway the bowl began to sing the dominant part. Something that was better in the pouch version. Just lit you almost taste the pure latakia. Something like an espresso without sugar. And the same beginning as with Mixture 759. Here you can really notice the freshness of the dark smoked leaf in the 2011 version. After a few puffs the sweetness comes forth, the Virginias. And yesss, halfway the bowl the oriental tobaccos are coming to the front. The last part of the bowl is the best as all the different tobaccos harmoniously sing together. And not unimportant, the topping is also spot on! I can instantly recognize latakia holding Dunhill tobaccos when I smoke them. They all have a little bit of the same taste, something typical Dunhill. This is also the case with Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. The same topping as the 1981 and pouch version. Absolutely wonderfully done by J. F. Germain & Son who prove their well earned reputation!

blaghRoomnote: The old Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture was (in)famous for it’s for most people baaaad roomnote. If you smoke yourself you will not notice that but people around you will utter their displeasure. As with my girlfriend hehehe.. I had never smoked a version of the tobacco in her presence but when I was puffing away a “Jeeeezzz.. What are YOU smoking?? This is really your most fowl smelling tobacco! Gross!” escaped her lips. Despite that I was allowed to finish the bowl, the darling. So here also: points for authenticity!

pipeCombustibility: Good, despite you got to get used to the almost shag-like cut. You do not need to tamp it a lot and it burns down nicely to a grey ash. Although, you may want to let the tobacco dry a bit before smoking. It comes pretty wet out of the tin.

Miscellaneous: I’m a bit of a nicotine wuss so I do not smoke it on an empty stomach. Medium nicotine strength.

moneyPrice: At 4noggins a tin of this new version costs $11.49. And it is worth every dollar cent! IF you can obtain it. Because this is the weak spot of J.F. Germain & Son. All tobacco is made the old fashioned way. Really great because you can taste the love and craftsmanship. But producing vast quantities, no, they cannot do that. If you want to obtain a tin you have to keep an eye out on international fora and tobacco sites, be sure you are on retailer mailing lists and just be VERY lucky because when it is available, *poefff* it’s already gone..

©PipesMagazine.com

©PipesMagazine.com

Conclusion: Applause! In my honest opinion J.F. Germain & Son has succeeded in producing a worthy version of the legendary Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture! Is it as good as the 70’s, 60’s and before version? No.. I smoked 70’s Sobranie and that was just heavenly. There was yenidje in that one but that has become very scarce.. Is the tobacco as good as the beginning of the 80’s version? Better! Is the tobacco as good as the ’90’s and beginning of 2000 version? Better! In short, Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture is back! And for now it seems it’s here to stay. Now I really hope that Arango and Germain also will bring out Mixture 759 and Virginia no. 10 again. One can only hope and pray..

UPDATE December 5th, 2013:
It is over a year ago that I was able to buy a tin of the new Balkan Sobranie. So last week I mailed with Rich Gottlieb, the owner of well know internet tobacco store 4noggins. I asked him if I missed any shipments from Germain containing the legendary blend. I did not not miss any.. He hasn’t had the stuff for over a year and does not know if there will be a next shipment..

UPDATE March 10th, 2014:
A couple of days ago the new Balkan Sobranie has surfaced at the Pipe Guys and now at 4noggins and other retailers! I am glad it is still being produced after a long silence!