Dutch tobacco cultivation (no, not weed…)

Fisherman sitting with pipe by Van Gogh

Fisherman sitting with pipe by Van Gogh

For generations tobacco has had a big influence in Dutch society. After the discovery of America by Colombus in 1492 tobacco and related products found their way to Europe.

Tobacco has initially known various applications (medicine etc.). But its claim to fame is (of course) that of a stimulant. From ±1580, pipe smoking and later sniffing and chewing were in the Netherlands the ways of enjoying tobacco. After about ±1850 until the Second World War the stimulant of choice was mainly the cigar and to a lesser extent chewing. The cigarette (the newest in the line of tobacco products) broke through into the mainstream after the Crimean War of 1855. French, German and English soldiers brought oriental varieties with them. In the 19th century the cigarette won more and more territory. First the Russian ones dominated, then the Egyptian cigarette, in between the Great Wars the English and after the Second World War the American cigarette became the smoke of choice. Because of this the consumption of pipe tobacco made a slow but steady decline.

Gouda clay pipes

Gouda clay pipes

In the early days pipe smoking offered many jobs and a source of income for pipe makers and related professions. Especially clay pipes, with the main production city of Gouda (yes, the famous Gouda clay pipes), formed an early pre-industrial industry. This gave a stimulus to the formation of mostly local tobacco factories.

A doctor from the city of Middelburg, Casper Pelletier, mentioned in the year 1610 that the cultivation of tobacco was first observed around the market town of Veere (on the island of Walcheren in the province of Zeeland). Not strange considering that Zeeland merchants (along with English) had trade relations with the Amazon region and the entire Venezuelan coast where tobacco was grown. Tobacco not only made a good price but was also a popular exchange medium. But the transport was very risky.. Perhaps the reason that from that point on Walcheren itself began growing tobacco.

Tobacco barn in Amersfoort.

Tobacco barn in Amersfoort

Within a few years it became clear that the sandy soils in the region of Amersfoort would be better suited for growing tobacco. In 1636 there were 50 tobacco growers established around Amersfoort. In 1670 there already were 120 and ten years later even 200. Cultivation in the areas around Nijkerk, Elst, Wageningen, Amerongen and Arnhem went pretty well. Also in other parts of the provinces of Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel tobacco was grown.

Not entirely coincidentally Amersfoort was the first place where tobacco of any magnitude could come into existence: 1. The farmers had enough and fertile soil. 2. They showed the courage to start something new. 3. They had the big cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht as a market nearby. 4. They had exclusive knowledge which was still (very) rare in those days.

Without the agricultural and business know-how that was needed, this successful start would have never succeeded. This knowledge then still came from an Amsterdam-based Englishman, one Christopher Perry. The same as with the manufacturing of clay pipes, it were the English who a few years before us started with cultivating tobacco. And they learned my ancestors the profession.

Inspection of tobacco in Frascati aan de Nes, 1927

Inspection of tobacco in Frascati aan de Nes, Amsterdam,1927

From the beginning Amsterdam occupied the most important place in the tobacco trade and native cultivation. From Amsterdam the growing of tobacco in Utrecht and Gelderland were guided and stimulated. The use of garden frames and drying barns were Dutch inventions and were continued abroad. More and more farmers made ​​the shift to cultivating tobacco. This labour-intensive industry led to employment and produced more money than the traditional agricultural products.

Amateur cigarettes

Amateur cigarettes

However, at the end of the 18th century there was little left from the once famous “Amersfoort” tobacco. The native varieties were less suited for mixing with tobacco for pipe and cigar. The Second World War caused a minor revival due to the scarcity of tobacco from abroad. Half of The  Netherlands tried to produce sufficient home grown tobacco. Which was transformed into amateur cigarettes and loose tobacco in the still working factories. It tasted not really good but it was better than nothing.

Blue mold fungus

Blue mold fungus

Finally, the fungus “Blue Mold” put an end to the Dutch tobacco cultivation in 1959. It spread throughout the whole of Western-Europe but the Dutch farmers did not get any compensation from the government (unlike farmers in Belgium and Germany). So the time (3 to 6 years) to grow new fungus resistant crop was too long..

Here are some pictures of Dutch tobacco cultivation:

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