Often missed, is the hidden aspect of visiting a traditional tobacconist in person that online shopping cannot provide. Experiencing the complex aromas of pipe tobacco, accurately described by Peter Ross in this article from The Scotsman. Aromas taking our guests back to the 19th century England, precisely to the Beastmarket Hill in Nottingham.
There, in a small agricultural store selling seeds and manure, the ambitious owner, son of a solicitor from Essex John Player decides to create extra revenue by selling loose tobacco from jars and hand-made cigarettes weighted on the shops scales made of fine cut or rough cut tobaccos to suit the customer’s individual needs. Little did he know that in few years, his “packs” of cigarettes are going to fuel one of the biggest industries in history.
After successful 15 years, with many customers connecting his name with tobacco, the shopkeeper acquires a factory in Broad Marsh to produce hand-rolled cigarettes on what was then considered a mass scale, trying to meet the demands of the growing local market. The importance of marketing was clear to John who in 1877 registered company’s trademark, a drawing of Nottingham Castle that was used on pipe tobacco tins until the 1960’s.
His timing was perfect, in 3 years time, an american inventor James Alfred Bosnack is going to change the cigarette industry forever with his cigarette making machine.
With secured position on the market and plans to mass produce cigarettes in convenient packs for quick, over the counter sales, John, now important player in Nottingham buys land in Radford for three new factory blocks. One is used to start off the automated production of cigarettes in 1884 while the remaining two are leased to lace manufacturers until they are required for tobacco use later.
Later that year John Player dies of liver cancer at the age of 45 and the business is controlled by family friends until the sons, William Goodacre and Dane Player, take over in 1890s. They did well, so well that the competition in the US started to respond to the events in the UK tobacco market. To avoid a takeover, the Player brothers merged “Player’s” with Imperial Tobacco Group moving the head office to Bristol but keeping their own identity with cigarette brands such as Navy Cut, No. 9, John Player Special, and Gold Leaf; loose tobacco brands such as No Name; and its distinctive logo of a smoking sailor in a navy-cut cap.
John Parker established a business that continued to grow for decades after his death. Starting as a small factory employing 150 workers producting hand made cigarettes and peaking with a 11,000 strong man-force in the 50s’ making the last English-produced cigarettes in the Horizon factory closed in 2016.
The mass production of cigarettes is no longer profitable and a lot has changed but the pipe smokers community is still alive with active participants in Facebook groups, online forums such as Speak Easy or Reddit! with variety of contributors from all over the world.
Remaining traditional tobacconists understand best that you can’t replace the visit in a tobacco store with online experience. No matter how good the website is, the shop is required to provide the full experience and the opportunity to chat about the pipe tobacco blends, plugs and flakes.
Such is The Pipe Shop, family run with it’s story starting in 1957 when docks worker, Mr Boyle opened a small shop in Leith, Edinburgh. His daughter Elaine and son in law, Alan Myerthall taking over the shop in 1972 adopted to the changing markets allowing The Pipe Shop to thrive even in modern, harshly regulated tobacco market as described in this 2017 article from Pipes and Tobacco magazine. Now under the control of Alan’s son in law Steve and daughter Ruth the shop is offering the well established blends and other specials such as special made, own Port O’ Leith Snuff from Sir William Scott’s as well as cuban cigars and other related products to those seeking the old way of shopping for pipes and tobacco.