When I was a teenager, smoking cigarettes was a big deal. I had a few schoolmates who started smoking as early as 14. Sneaking out of class and going for a smoke in the restrooms was ‘cool’. Holding a cigarette in your lips was ‘cool’. It helped give you a rebel attitude. You know, the usual stuff. I was never really interested in smoking, though. My mother made sure of that by letting me try one of her Dunhill cigarettes when I was seven or eight years old. I started coughing and the whole experience, albeit very brief, was so disgusting that I never had any doubt regarding cigarettes: no, thanks.
Then, when I was 21, I discovered pipes and cigars. And that was a totally different way of smoking. For the past twenty years I’ve been an occasional cigar smoker, and a ‘seasonal’ pipe tobacco smoker (meaning I tend to smoke pipes only during the cold season). Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different tobaccos, blends and brands, and I’ve kept many of the pouches and cans. The practical reason was to bring them with me to quickly show tobacconists what I wanted without having to spell out English, Dutch or Danish brand names for them. But I have also held on to pipe tobacco pouches and cans because some of them feature a really nice package design.
I wanted to share here some of these designs. The scans aren’t perfect, and there are traces of tobacco here and there. Empty pouches of pipe tobacco can be difficult to place inside a flatbed scanner.
Amsterdamer. Dutch by name but manufactured in France (at least at the time the pouch was purchased, 17 years or so ago.) I love the Hollandsche Rooktabak in script typeface under the illustration. Note also the health advisory (“Smoking causes cancer” in Italian) — at the time it blended more with the package design and was less glaring than it is today.
Balkan Sobranie №759. A strong British tobacco I can’t find anymore (though admittedly I haven’t really looked online). This pouch in particular still holds a few grams of tobacco, which has held up pretty well over the years. I used to smoke this alone as a substitute for a cup of coffee (no, really), or mixed with other milder mixtures for a sweeter smoke. This has been difficult to scan due to the highly reflective golden elements of the design. The health advisory is barely visible, thankfully.
Three Nuns. One of my very favourite British brands. Sweet and a bit spicy (thanks to the perique type of tobacco present in its blend), it’s another I can’t find at local tobacconists. The design of the pouch is nothing to write home about, though I like the Three Nuns sort of modern blackletter typeface. I think this pouch might be more than 15 years old: the health advisory wasn’t yet directly printed on the pouch itself, but added later with a sticker.
Park Lane №7. Made in Denmark. Purchased in Italy some 5–6 years ago. On the back of the pouch, there’s a little reference table: Body: 2 • Aromatic Taste: 4 • Room Note: 3, where 1=low and 5=high. I like the sober, elegant look of the package, it almost feels part of a set of complimentary items they give to customers at luxury hotels.
Saint Claude. This was a gift from a friend after a visit to France, mid to late 1990s. This looks like a label from a good Trappist beer.
Skandinavik Mixture. Another Danish tobacco, among my favourites to be smoked at any time of the day. Rich, fruity flavour, a bit toasted. Above you can see the previous package design which I find definitely better than the bland, more recent redesign below. (I can’t say with precision when they changed it. Let’s say that the pouch above is approximately 10–12 years old, while the pouch below is a couple of years old at most.)
Old design: Thankfully, the health advisory was printed on the back of the pouch, so that the elegant Navy-themed front design was not affected. I really like the dark blue background, the gold of the rope around the ship and the silver on the borders of the pouch. New design: the change in typeface makes for an uninteresting and average-looking package. (And don’t get me started on things like the ugly kerning of Skandinavik or the choice to capitalise the final K…)
Borkum Riff — Bourbon Whiskey flavour. I discovered this Swedish brand by accident: I was looking for my usual Skandinavik at a tobacconist’s in the centre of Milan some 15 years ago, and he suggested I gave this a try. It’s the only brand among the ones I used to smoke that I can easily find here in Valencia. I’ve tried many flavours and I like almost all of them. Its Bourbon Whiskey and Cherry flavours are rich, sweet but not exceedingly sweet.
Borkum Riff’s packaging has always sported an elegant, refined design. Among the brands I know, Borkum Riff is one of the few which always bothered to make an effort at designing also the inner side of the pouch, as you can see above. This is an old design, the current looks like this. As the linked review says about the current design, From a marketing and branding perspective this is an improvement because of better imagery consistency, but I really prefer older versions, like the one above — or, even better, this one below:
Borkum Riff — Black Cavendish. This pouch was sold to me at a later time than the one above, but I believe the design came before. It’s really luscious and imposing with that big coat of arms on the front. But look on the inside, the beautiful calligraphy rendering the Latin motto Verus amicus est tamquam alter idem (A true friend is like another me.) Design-wise, this is my favourite tobacco pouch of the collection.
In Part 2 I’ll share a few more pouches and some tobacco cans. Stay tuned if you like this sort of thing.