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Has England historically been the foremost manufacturer in the pipe tobacco industry?


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It has been my observation that prior to recent decades with the introduction of Cornell & Diehl, GL Pease, and the late McClellan's that the American pipe tobacco industry was mostly relegated to OTC/ codger blends such as Prince Albert, Sir Walter Raleigh, Captain Black, etc. Whereas across the pond many of the more respected blends such as Samuel Gawith, Germain's, Dunhill, Presbyterian, Balkan Sobranie, State Express, Benson & Hedges, Capstan, Three Nuns, Robert Lewis, James J. Fox, John Cotton's, Rattray's, Fribourg & Treyer, St. Bruno, etc, were available and seem to be held in higher esteem than your typical OTC blends. I am a relative young pipe smoker in my early 20s and was curious to hear about any older and more experienced pipe smokers' opinions on this matter. It seems like back in the day it was typical for a pipe smoker to just buy a tin of Prince Albert and smoke it. Were imported tobaccos back in the day only available in speciality tobacconists? I would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on this matter, thanks in advance.

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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Indeed, England was the world leader in the manufacture of high-quality pipe tobacco. Around 1980, a process of outsourcing production began in most of the best manufacturers, with consequent changes in the blends quality, but the worst was yet to come. At the end of last century, the rights to the main brands were acquired by large industrial groups with an almost general degradation of quality. Of course, there have been exceptions and some mythical blends have been saved, or its character has not changed much. In my opinion, the leader now is the US, where a bunch of master blenders are working hard to make blends that recover the splendor of the good old days.

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Indeed, some of the English brands are now gone,,,but I do remember the perfectly delightful ones from the 1950's and 1960's.

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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The Golden Age. I was lucky to smoke a lot of tins of Dunhill, Sobranie, Sullivan and John Cotton dated from 1975 to 1979. They were glorious, but many veteran smokers insist in the fact that the 50´s and 60´s were even better. 

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Ted
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 Ted
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I think as English speakers (for the most part here on the forum) it is natural that we are going to be most familiar with English tobaccos, especially since so much of the writers and literature that has been popular in the US since it’s founding have been English and of course have glamorized English tobacco and pipes. But it’s worth noting that most (with a few exceptions) historical English blends were blended with tobacco grown here in the US. The English started the world tobacco trade when New England was a colony of Britain, growing it here and shipping it worldwide. Not extensively true anymore of course, especially since aside from Samuel Gawith/Gawith Hoggarth, there aren’t any significant tobacco producers left in the UK. As Juan mentioned above, in the 1980’s, tobacco production shifted to major conglomerates and tobacco grown around the world became more common, while the only major growing of tobacco in Ireland began to dwindle. Obviously things like Latakia and Orientals were from different areas from the start, but those are fairly recent developments in the scope of almost 500 years of tobacco. The English had access to those items that weren’t very common in the US, so they did produce blends that were a notable departure from what was available here in much of the 20th century. That also created a mystique around their blends. 

Meanwhile, in the US, there were hundreds, if not thousands of tobacco blends that were made in the 19th and 20th centuries that are forgotten today. Far more than were ever produced in the UK. The important shift in that wasn’t about the blends themselves, it was because starting in the 1920’s, cigarettes vastly overtook pipes as the preferred way to smoke in the US. Pipe smoking became a smaller and smaller market here. This didn’t happen quite as dramatically in the UK or Europe, so as US pipe tobacco producers went out of business here, the market was still holding strong there. 

The UK was seeing a drop in pipes in favor of cigarettes as well and although later than the US, their market shrank to tiny numbers as well. 

Where this wasn’t happening is Scandinavia/Denmark. They became the new spot for pipe tobacco starting in the 1950’s, with the new expansion of Mac Baren into the US market being the best example. They are the world leaders in pipe tobacco today and pretty much have been for about forty years now. STG being the largest producer in the world. Between STG and Mac Baren, almost all of the old English blends and brands ended up with them, along with some of the biggest US brands, such as Lane and others. Others went to the other big market which is producing a large selection of pipe tobacco today, Germany. 

Germany for centuries has a thriving market with lots of companies producing lots of blends, but with the British/US relationship well cemented, they couldn’t break into the market here, so in the 19th and 20th centuries, there were lots of German tobaccos that Americans didn’t know existed. 

To summarize my very rough history above and more specific to your question. First, I started smoking a pipe in 1982. At that time, there were a lot of US blends available that are now gone and a lot had disappeared in the 70’s. Plus there were many more small scale blenders then. So there was substantial selection of US tobaccos available. They’ve just been gone for a long time now and mostly forgotten. The cornerstone American blends, such as Prince Albert, et al, were the only major survivors. In 1982, you could go to most tobacconists and choose from a large selection of American blends, as well as tinned blends from the UK and Denmark. I will only mention the ones still around, but there was a massive selection of blends also available at certain local tobacconists going back a century or more, such as LJ Peretti, Wilke, etc. 

I hope that gives some answers to your question and was more information you were looking for!

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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In Spain, the vast majority of quality tobaccos available were English or Dutch. American tobacco has had a very limited presence on Spanish shelves. Half and Half, Prince Albert and some aromatics. C&D and G.L.Pease arrived in 2015, but they disappeared within a couple of years. Thank God in that time I was able to accumulate a reasonable stash. So American tobacco is largely unknown in Spain and I would dare say in Europe. Thanks to websites like this, we have more information in Europe, but it is very difficult for an European to access American tobaccos. The ones I have tried have the same quality as the best English brands in their heyday, and of course, they are much better than the new versions of the great English classics. Only Samuel Gawith, Gawith & Hogart and Germain continue with their usual character, and a few, made mostly in Germany, have retained a part of it´s character. Mac Baren has done a good job with Capstan, and their HH series are very solid smokers.

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Ted
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That is interesting to hear. I know nothing about the history of smoking in Spain. I always assumed that cigars had probably played a bigger role than pipes in years past since Spain had historic connections to countries that produced cigars. Is that correct?

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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Yes, Historically most of the countries that produced cigars belonged to the Kingdom of Spain. Spanish conquerors of the New World discovered tobacco and brought cigars to Europe. Cuba was a Spanish province until 1898. That historical fact is the cause that cigars have been the kings for centuries. Spain is the cigar smoker's paradise. Not only of Havana Cigars, which are our preferred ones, but also from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Filipinas... (I like to smoke Havana Cigars from time to time). Not to mention that the price of cigars in Spain was the cheapest in the world. But things are changing, especially since the great Havana cigars experienced a price increase of more than 300%.

I was told a tale in Sevilla about the first victim of cigar smoking. (Of course I cannot guarantee its veracity). One of the sailors who returned home from Columbus´s first voyage to America had acquired the habit of smoking cigars and smoked secretly. His wife caught him blowing smoke out of her nose and mouth and she ran out into the street in terror screaming that her husband was possessed and was blowing smoke out of her mouth and nose. Immediately, The Inquisition took up the matter and sentenced the smoker to die at the stake for being demon-possessed.

Pipe smokers in Spain have always been a minority, therefore we were not a good business and the offer of tobacco brands was always scarce. Me, and many others, could smoke a variety of fine English pipe tobaccos because of travel to England or Canary Islands and could find a huge variety there.

When the Spanish State's monopoly on tobacco disappeared at the end of the last century, the situation for pipe tobacco improved, with more brands appearing on the market. The tobacco market in Spain is highly regulated by the government, which sets prices (Identical throughout the country) and grants licenses to stores to sell tobacco, called "Expendeduría" or "Estanco". Mail or internet commerce of tobacco is strictly forbidden, even into the country!. If you need tobacco you must go personally to buy.

Today there are still very few pipe smokers in Spain, but we have a better supply of tobacco than countries like Portugal, France or Italy, but not as good as Germany. And our opportunities of smoking good American Blends are very very scarce. My wish list of American Tobacco is very long.

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Ted
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Thanks for taking the time to write that! I find it very interesting. It sounds difficult, but If you ever think of any way I could help you acquire American blends, please feel free to let me know. 

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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Thank you very much Ted.

There is not any tool in this forum to make private contacts. My e-mail. [email protected]

 

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Lee
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Fantastic summary! 👏

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CRASHtheGREY
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Sutliff has been around for 174 years. Seems like a pretty long American history. 

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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I read very good things about Sutliff.

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CRASHtheGREY
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They are pushing into some incredible new ideas lately, too.

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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I saw that Per Jensen, Mac Baren´s Master Blender, created six blends for them and have very good reviews. I have smoked 3 blends from Per Jensen and are superb.

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Sir Otter
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I want to mention for the American smokers that HU Tobacco from Germany, is some of the best stuff in the world on par with Samuel Gawith, C&D, and G.L. Pease. 

I strongly recommend trying to get your hands on a few tins, pretty sure most German tobacco websites are willing to ship to the USA (although not within the EU because of the regulations here). 

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Ted
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I’ll second that! I’ve got a lot of HU blends I’ve ordered from Germany and they are fantastic. Edward G, Dockworker, Flanagan Flake and Krater Plug are special standouts to me. 

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Lee
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A great question and some interesting and informative responses here! Thanks to all contributors. I can only add that I agree with the common thread: English tobacco led the way for a long time (using tobacco grown all over the world). The contacts acquired through colonialism benefited the English tobacco blenders significantly.

These days, German blenders are certainly providing stiff competition, with American blenders now leading the way (in my humble opinion). I love how there are companies selling pure tobacco leaves in the States, for those wanting to experiment themselves. It seems like tobacco is making a comeback, after efforts to stifle its consumption. I’m jealous, living here in the highly-controlled and protectionist state of Denmark!

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Lee
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For example:

https://www.leafonly.com

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