Some time ago while browsing on the British ebay I saw an old still full and sealed tin of Carreras’ Craven Mixture. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered reading about it. After a quick Google search I knew it. It was the blend famous novelist and author J.M. Barrie called “Arcadia Mixture” in his famous “My Lady Nicotine” book. The ebay tin looked pretty good so I decided to bid on it. To my pleasant surprise I won it for very little money. The lady from who I bought it was somewhat worried when she had send the package: “You are not going to smoke it right? It’s OLD!” I answered “Madam, I have every intention of smoking it!” And so I did.
Craven Mixture originally was made by the Carreras Tobacco Company. The House of Carreras was a tobacco business that was established in London in the 18th century by a nobleman from Spain, Don José Carreras Ferrer. In the early 18th century Carreras began trading in London. This was a time when cigars were increasing in popularity and Don José became a pioneer in his field. However, although business went very well it did not become a major company until his son, Don José Joaquin, began to specialise himself in the blending of tobaccos.
By 1852 Don José Joaquin Carreras had established himself near Leicester Square. In 1853 he was granted the high honour of being the sole supplier of cigars and tobacco to the Spanish Legation (a diplomatic representative office lower than an embassy) in London. Don José’s fame as a skilled tobacco blender soon spread. He produced special blends to suit the individual tastes of the highest members of society. Fashionable and distinguished customers visited his showrooms to select their own tobaccos. One of Don José’s most famous customers was the third Earl of Craven. A special blend, yes you guessed it correctly, Craven Mixture, was created specially for him.
Carreras soon opened another shop. This time in the Arcade in London’s newly developed and fashionable Regent Street W1. Here he was visited by royalty from many countries. Some of Don José’s tobacco brands became world famous. As well as Craven Mixture, you had Guards’ Mixture, Hankey’s Mixture and others. Over one thousand brands of cigar (!) could be bought from Carreras. Together with snuffs, cigarettes, pipes and other tobacco related items. The business remained in the hands of the Carreras family until 1894 when Mr. W J Yapp took control. In 1903 Carreras leadership fell to Bernhard Baron when he and Yapp both became directors.
J. M. Barrie, best known as the creator of Peter Pan, was a valued customer during the 1890’s. When he wrote “My Lady Nicotine” (which was published in 1890) he centred the story around a mythical tobacco called Arcadia Mixture. It did not take long before Carreras realised that the only tobacco Barrie bought was the Craven Mixture. In January 1897 Barrie confirmed to Don José that Arcadia Mixture and Craven Mixture were one and the same. Shortly after that Carreras began using Barrie’s endorsement in his advertising. Craven Mixture sales increased rapidly at home and abroad.
In the stories of Sherlock Holmes the blend also appears. It was Dr. Watson’s favourite pipe tobacco. Holmes recognized it by it’s characteristic fluffy white ash. It was said to be of such extraordinary character and delicacy that it stopped all conversation.
After some very, very successful decades the Baron family (which had held a controlling interest in Carreras since the early 1900’s) decided to sell their shares in 1958 to Rothmans. Carreras Rothmans Ltd. was formed in 1972, when Carreras Limited was used as the vehicle for the merger of various European tobacco interests to form Rothmans International.
Nowadays Craven Mixture is no longer made. Although McClelland re-created the blend: 221b Series, Arcadia. Cornell & Diehl also made a re-creation: 531, Yale Mixture.
Ok, enough history. Let’s go back to the tin I purchased. I date this one to the 1930’s because of the mention of Arcadia Works on the tin (post-1928) and the resemblance to the tins on the advertisements you can see in this post. Besides a little rust the knife-cutter tin looked just fine, the foil below the lid was intact. Still, you can never know how the tobacco in the tin behaved after about 80 years. There can be microscopic holes which let the air out, the inside could be very badly rusted etc.. So a bit nervous I pulled the little knife on the lid away, took a deep breath and placed it on the foil thus penetrating it. To my absolute delight I heard a 3 second long hiss of escaping air and smelled the ancient tobacco. Yessss!!! That meant the tin still was sealed! Quickly I cut away the rest of the foil by turning the lid around. I could not believe the tobacco inside was still moist and springy after all this time. The smell was a bit sour, like a pile of autumn leaves on the earthy ground.
I grabbed my old patent era Dunhill shell briar prince, filled it up and lit it. I was rewarded with a very smooth smoke and taste. Of course the ingredients had decades to blend inside the tin. The mixture is fairly strong in the nicotine department. After only one third of a bowl I already found myself running to the fridge for some fruit-juice to temper my fast aggravating queasiness.. Identifying the individual elements in this mixture is pretty difficult. As far as I can taste after one bowl this blend contains Syrian latakia. At least, after smoking quite a lot of McClelland Three Oaks Syrian past week I can pretty safely say it is Syrian. Besides the typical smoothness and smokiness of the Syrian dark leaf I also detected Virginias. I do not think a lot of bright Virginias were used since the blend is not really sweet. Orientals I did not detect. The flavour is quite straight, pure, strong and unified. The smoke has a constant and consistent taste and body from start to end.
No one who smokes the Arcadia Mixture would ever attempt to describe its delights. J.M. Barrie. Well, I just did.
Very cool story Arno! I’m so happy that the tin survived intact after so many years. Perfect choice of pipe too. Enjoy!
Thanks! I was also flabbergasted that the tin survived the years so well and that the tobacco was still fresh and springy 🙂
J.M. Barrie stated: “One need only put his head in at my door to realize that tobaccoes are of two kinds, the Arcadia and others. No one who smokes the Arcadia would ever attempt to describe its delights, for his pipe would be certain to go out”.
Beautiful huh? 🙂
As usual, a great article and review, Arno. I’ve always wondered about the origin of this blend, as my surname and the subject of tobacco seem to have numerous points of intersection through history.
My father’s family is from North Carolina, a state in the southeast U.S. that is the leading producer of tobacco in the country. The state was, in colonial times, once part of the larger Province of Carolina, and was under control of eight Lords Proprietors, including William Craven, First Earl of Craven.
To this day, many Craven families can trace their history back through North Carolina, if they don’t still live there, and there is a county within the state named after the Earl as well. Though I doubt my lineage could be traced to the Earl and his extended family, it is interesting how often my name is in some way associated with tobacco. I’ve even recently learned that American master tobacconist Steven Brooks has a line of tobaccos called “Lord Craven’s Private Reserve” for sale at his shop and website, houseofcalabash.com. At some point in the future, I will have to sample a few of these and see what the latest generation of my homonymous tobaccos have to offer.
Thanks Herb! Carreras often used the Craven name for tobacco items. In 1921 they introduced the first ever machine-made cork-tipped cigarette. Brand name Craven A. Thanks for the small history lesson, maybe you have a drop of blue blood inside you 😉
Sadly I can’t order at Steven Brooks House of Calabash store being from Europe.. The same goes with blends from Russ Ouellette. Two master blenders from who I tasted nothing (yet).. I hope those newer Craven blends are to your liking!
I don’t believe we were ever able to get Craven Mixture here in the States, either, though Craven A cigarettes are (were?) imported to some small degree.
It is amazing that your tin survived in such good condition after all these years. Jar it up and enjoy it on special occasions. Cheers, Arno!
Noooo idea, I have no knowledge of countries that Craven mixture got imported to..
Yes it also amazed me! The inside of the tin was totally rust-free. I took the tobacco out, put a layer of foil inside the tin and then placed the tobacco back. In a few weeks there is a Dutch pipe smokers meeting and I take the tin with me so everyone can smoke some vintage tobacco 🙂
Pracht van een artikel weer – heel hartelijk dank voor het leesvoer,wordt telkenmale zeer gewaardeerd . (en nu naarstig op zoek naar een verkooppunt voor de C&D variant vandeze craven tabak.. niet enkel als groot Dr.Watson fan ben ik nu toch wel zeer nieuwsgierig geworden..)
Dank! Hmm.. Ik zie net dat deze tabak niet bij 4noggins verkocht wordt.. Je kan het ook direct proberen bij Cornell & Diehl (http://www.cornellanddiehl.com/) maar dan zal het wel iets duurder zijn.. Misschien is dit wel interessant als je een Dr. Watson fan bent:
“In STUD (A Study in Scarlet), Watson notes that he smokes “ship’s.” This is a coarse, strong, and rough-cut flake, likely a generic seamen’s tobacco possibly rolled into a twist (see above). In his article “140 Different Varieties,” John Hall notes that Watson smokes the “‘ship’s’ tobacco that your great, great grandfather smoked–“not for those of weak constitution. It’s almost odourless and tasteless, but the mere act of inhaling gives a blast of nicotine to the back of the throat which makes your eyes water.” After noting the more generic ship tobacco, Hall also puts forth the supposition that it might also be “‘Schippers Tabak Special’ made in the Netherlands.” But I think it is more likely that it is the generic ship tobacco, likely in a twist. Watson probably took to it on his return voyage from India while passing time with the crew”
Great article, Arno! Craven was widely available in the US for many years. I’ve still got a few tins, though my supply has certainly dwindled, and none are as old as that beautiful tin you found. I, too, find the stuff quite strong. In fact, my first and most dramatic experience of “pipe sickness” came from a bowl of Craven, smoked carelessly as I was driving home from the pipe club. I just managed to make it into the house when I noticed the beads of sweat on my nose, followed by a feeling of unease, and then worse. I can still recall the spinning of the room just before the waves of nausea crashed hard. I very nearly gave up the pipe that day. I learned a valuable lesson that day, I suppose, or began to learn it. Once you begin to notice the effects, it’s already too late!
Thank you mr. Pease! I’ve smoked a couple of really old tobaccos (e.g. 50’s St. Bruno) and every time the nic hit me like a bomb.. Is it something with those old tobaccos that they just were more powerful in the nic department? Or is it a side effect from ageing?
Well, I as soon as I noticed the nicotine I stopped an grabbed some (sweet) fruit juice. I must say that the effect subsided within about 10 minutes.
By the way, what do you think were the ingredients of the old Craven mixture? If I see the tobaccos used in McClelland’s Arcadia I think they were a bit off..
Aging can’t really make a tobacco stronger – the nicotine level is what it is. But, Aging can change the pH of the smoke, which will alter how readily the nicotine is absorbed. The more alkaline the smoke, the more nicotine you’ll get into your bloodstream. I would think that after so many years, the sugars have been fairly well reduced, which would result in a more alkaline smoke, so that may be why some of these old tobaccos affect us more dramatically. On the other hand, it’s also possible that they were just made stronger then, when men were more manly. 😉
I’m not sure what was in the old Craven, though I should probably do some more thorough investigation. My memory of it tells me it might have had some dark-fired leaf in the mix. I think I may have some jarred. I’ll have to give it a closer look. I’ll be sure to have a full meal before smoking it, though.
Thnx for the explanation! But brings aging not out the sugars in the Virginias? If you zoom in on the tobacco in one of the pictures you can see tiny spots of sugar crystals on it. But for some reason I tend to believe that the blends were stronger then and that we men were more manly 😉
Some Kentucky you mean? Hmmm… I have to smoke it more..
Wow! What a writer you are! MARVELOUS! And. At the end, of your marvelous article on James M Barrie ‘s tobacco choice, you even crossed sword buttons with the venerable fellow AND WENT AHEAD to, full thrust, describe the taste of Craven Tobak. I knew my only professional courtesy would be: to send to you a note and tell you how stunningly your words kept my interest. I was researching Barrie’s use of a pipe– if any — for an illustration to a book/ screen play/ background story to PETER PAN (Pietro Panini, a dark flying boy from North Africa, who inspires Barrie to adopt a Caucasian version). This! In my research, i found your fully fascinating essay/ lecture/ article on the tobak appreciated and approved by Barrie. If ever this African American version is made into a live action movie, you’ll know that you helped my research prove more accurate than without your competent description of James M.’s Habitat and traits. I am honored to have read your words. You inspire! And I appreciate your word smithing for its extraordinary value. Respectfully submitted for your consideration Gregg Oreo Long Beach Ca Etats Unis