De Graaff tobacconist

Nowadays a truly good tobacconist sadly is a rare thing here but decades ago The Netherlands boasted lots of them. Specialist stores where the knowledge of the salesmen was of crucial importance because the clients relied on it. These days we can simply look up information on the digital highway but back then you had to trust the expertise of your tobacco vendor. One of the most well known and respected tobacconists in that time was G. de Graaff in the political heart of our small country: The Hague.

Churchill at the Congress of Europe in 1948 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Founded in 1928 by Gerard de Graaff (who was later joined by his son Frits de Graaff) the business was located at the Heulstraat no. 27. Not far from Noordeinde Palace, Council of State, Council for the Judiciary and the Binnenhof in the old city centre. They got well-known both at home and abroad very quickly, mainly because of their excellent house-brand G. de Graaff cigars, which were made by 5 different cigar factories in The Netherlands. Even the legendary Winston Churchill had heard of them. Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Willem tells: “My father, who had a high ranking job at the Ministry of Finance, knew De Graaff very well because he always bought his cigars there. So when Churchill visited The Hague for the Congress of Europe in 1948 my father arranged some special Cuban cigars for him which came, of course, from De Graaff.” Other famous people who visited the store throughout the years were amongst others Bill Clinton, prince Bernard, Josip Tito, François Mitterrand and Konrad Adenauer.

Frits de Graaff 1978 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

After the war the sons of Frits, Robbert and Gerard de Graaff, entered the business. But soon father Frits realized that letting Gerard and Robbert work together was not a good idea. So Gerard kept himself busy with the production side and Robbert took care of the sales in the store. Frits de Graaff was a remarkable man, a real old world salesman. He lived above the store and was always impeccably dressed, like the true gentleman he was, with his trademark bow tie. Also he was a man of principles, if he did not believe in a brand he would not sell it. Willem tells: When I had my practice in The Hague, around 1976-1980, the De Graaff store had something special, something chic. In that time I smoked MacBaren. When I asked for such a tin at the store Mr. Frits always said that the tobacco contained too much glycerine “Which is not good for your throat!”. Like the polite man I was and still am I then bought a tin of Flying Dutchman, which was much better according to him. 

Frits de Graaff 1982 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Also I know that De Graaff did not sell Peterson because of the P-Lip mouthpiece, the often shabby finish, the many fills and because of the long time it took to break in a pipe. I think he liked Dunhill better, Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Rob tells: Once I was in the store together with Mr. De Graaff. While talking he took a Dunhill pot-shaped pipe out of his pocket and told this was his father’s favourite pipe. You could see the pipe was old and that it had once been a heavy sandblasted Shell Briar but because of the use the surface had become smooth. After his death he kept the pipe and smoked it several times a week. As far as tobacco went Frits de Graaff liked latakia very much. Rob tells: I remember well that I was a boy of about 18 years old when I stepped inside the store to buy a pipe. When the conversation drifted towards pipe tobacco he pointed out “the only tobacco” latakia to me. Besides the pipe I let myself be persuaded to also buy a tin with latakia and indeed, I was swept away. Back in those days that fine tobacco was significantly more expensive than e.g. Mac Baren so I smoked latakia in moderation, because I had to pay for it from the proceeds of my newspaper round. Sadly Frits de Graaff passed away in 1996, Robbert took over the business but he sold the store in 2005. The new owners tried their best but the grandeur of days past never really came back. Just recently I learned that the shop at the Heulstraat no. 27 is closing, the owners want to merge it with another store of them at another location.

Klaas and myself

My own story with De Graaff began in 2011. I was just discovering the realm of the dark leaf when I began exchanging messages and tobacco samples with Klaas. Because of him I was able to try wonderful blends like Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture, GL Pease Westminster and De Graaff Kegelbaan Mixture and Back in Town. The last 2 were house-blends. I knew sh*t about pipe-tobacco in those days but what I noticed was that they were all of very high quality. Klaas saw that I really enjoyed the De Graaff tobaccos, generously gave me some tins and told the following story: I discovered the De Graaff house-blends fairly late, in the 90’s, but I was immediately smitten. I really invested in them and bought loads of tins. Suddenly at the end of the 90’s I was told in the store that the house-blends were being discontinued. I panicked a bit and decided to buy all the tins I could get my hands on. In the store and in other tobacco shops in The Netherlands who also carried the De Graaff house-blends. Of course during the years I smoked a lot of them but I still have some left. The only thing I always wondered was where those fabulous tobaccos were made. It was a well kept secret that De Graaff never told to anyone..


Throughout the years I smoked some excellent De Graaff blends which were given to me by Klaas and another forum member. Also whenever I was in a tobacco-shop I asked if they had some old tins stashed away somewhere. Now and then I even got lucky and I was able to buy some old De Graaff tobaccos meant for home-blending, which I did and created lovely blends with them. But when I heard that the actual shop at the Heulstraat was closing down I decided to write a blogpost about De Graaff and do some research. At that point all I had were the names of the 2 sons of Frits, Gerard and Robbert. So I asked yet another forum member, Rudi, who had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for years, if he had a contact address or something like that. He didn’t but he pointed me towards a Belgian man who made cigars for Gerard. I contacted him but he knew very little, only that, very sadly, Robbert had passed away a few years ago. Damnit! Robbert was the mastermind behind the pipe-tobaccos, so I was pretty gutted when I heard that. Then I decided to use an old contact of mine, Louis Bracco Gartner, founder of the Historical Tobacco Museum in Delft and the Tobacco History website. He helped me before with my Diepenveensche Tabaks Centrale blogpost and when I mailed my questions to him he responded with “call me, I know more.” So I phoned him and he turned out to be friends with Gerard de Graaff. I got the mail-address of the latter, contacted him a couple of times and got no response besides a mail which said I had the wrong man and that he did not know anything about pipe-tobacco..

So I phoned Louis again, told him this (according to him the mail-address was correct) and said I only wanted to know where De Graaff house-blend pipe tobaccos were made. “Oh but I know that!” “Ehmm.. Excuse me??” “Yes I know that, the house-blends were made by Dunhill in London.” Wowwww…. I was gobsmacked.. Made by Dunhill.. Hmmm, the 60’s and 70’s ok, Dunhill was still Dunhill, but during the 80’s and 90’s Dunhill blends were made by Murray. Those tobaccos were not highly acclaimed, not just by me (I smoked some) but also by others. The De Graaff blends I smoked dated from the 90’s and were of exceptional quality, way better than Murray-era Dunhill. Then from out of the back of my head I remembered I read something on the Dunhill page of the great late John Loring. Something about blends still being made (in the 80’s and 90’s) at the Dunhill Duke Street shop: One exception to the 1981 blending transfer (from Dunhill to Murray) should be noted. The Dunhill Duke Street shop continued to offer custom blending for the next two decades and as part of that continuation, a small batch blender in London (I suspect with Dunhill associations) continued to produce a number of My Mixture blends available only from the Duke Street shopSo it could very, very well be that that was the way the De Graaff house-blends were made.

Now about those house-blends. I don’t know precisely when the first pipe-tobacco house-blends were made but Rob has to say this: It must have been 1967 when I first visited De Graaff. I remember that in the room where the pipes were there also was a display with pipe tobaccos, sold under their own name. A couple of years ago I luckily had downloaded through the Wayback machine the original house-blend descriptions from the old De Graaff website. Here they are with notes from myself and pictures:

-Abu Riha-
Exceptional aromatic flake with a good deal of Latakia, as well as Turkish, and Red Virginia tobaccos. Excellent composition over a glass of Single-Malt whiskey. I smoked some tins of this one and I can best describe it as the prefect marriage between Smoker’s Haven Krumble Kake and Esoterica’s Penzance. In fact, it looked and tasted so much like those blends that I decided to mail J.F. Germain (and added some pictures) and they responded: These are very interesting pictures, we did not make any tobacco for De Graaff but I understand why you ask the question the tin and the tobacco look like Penzance from years ago.

-Back In Town-
One of our most successful mixtures, an ex-cigarette-smoker assisted in composing this blend. A fine composition of light and dark Virginia’s, Syrian Latakia, Kavalla (Macedonian tobacco) and Carolina Cavendish. A medium mixture with a pleasant flavour. A pleasant flavour indeed! This is one of the De Graaff classics, Syrian latakia, Kavalla, nomnomnom! Perfectly blended, very harmonious.

-Carl’s Own Blend-
Carefully composed by the HOUSE OF GOOD TASTE. Is the choice of a man of FINE TASTE. Born and bred in the THEATRE OF ROYAL TASTE. Full-flavoured mixture on the basis of Virginia tobaccos (Flue Cured East Carolina and Georgia) and a small quantity of Latakia. Sadly I never smoked this blend.

This blend has been already produced for more than a century for the discerning smoker. Very mild, not burning the tongue. For the morning. I once had a sample of this blend but can’t remember it any more..

-De Kegelbaan-
An unique blend of first class tobaccos: Syrian Latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and Turkish tobaccos (Yenidshe). Mild taste, cool, slow burning. This is another big classic, I just finished a tin and only 1 word: exceptional. And not just a couple of times, no every time! The Yenidje is immediately recognizable (for those that have smoked Yenidje Supreme) and sings together nicely with the Syrian Latakia and Virginia’s. The Brown Cavendish mellows it all out a bit. I think that the creator Robbert De Graaff tried to imitate the old Balkan Sobranie with this one if I see the ingredients. And for me he absolutely succeeded!

-Golden Virginia-
Cool, somewhat sweet Virginia Bright Leaf. This is one of the oldest varieties of “flue cured” tobacco. Pleasant taste. I used this blend a couple of times in home-made mixtures. It reminded me a bit of Dunhill Flake, but then in a ribbon-cut. I had several tins but threw them away in a fit of cleaning rage before I could take a picture..

Jebeli is also called “Abu Riha” (Father of the pleasant smell) by the Syrian population. The flavour is acquired by drying the tobacco over a fire of camel-dung (nice commercial story but not the truth..). Tobacco especially for mixing. And that is precisely where I use it for. When you open a tin, whoaaa… It smells so damn good! Also when you smoke it straight it is very yummie. On the tin it says Mountain Blue Syrian, of course made famous by Balkan Sobranie 759, the stuff of legends.

-No 27-
This tobacco gives evidence of craftsmanship. Composed of the best Golden- and Middle Belt Virginias, Corolina Cavendish, completed with a pinch of Lousiana Perique, for the perfect taste. Especially made for those smokers who prefer a Virginia blend. This tobacco is particularly aromatic and yet mild of taste. The only thing I can remember about this one is “tastes a bit like Dunhill Elizabethan“.

The Perique tobacco is unique, its history is dating back to the Choctaw and Chicasaw Indians. It adds a spicy flavour to all tobacco blends. It is without “bite”, although it is far too heady to be smoked straight. Well, Aleister Crowley did! I use it only for home-blending.

-Seamen’s Club-
Matured dark Virginia. This warm, dark tobacco is mild in taste and can be smoked pure or in mixtures. Unadulterated Red Virginia, I used it many times in home-blending for some Virginia backbone.

Excellent burning qualities. Suitable for mixing, can also be smoked pure. Extremely mild with sweet undertone. I used this once in home-blending, it tastes like there is some Kavalla in it.

De Graaff also had house-brand pipes. Several Dutch Pipe Smokers members have such a smoking device. They were made in London and later in France. But where? No idea.. So I mailed Louis again, he asked around and came with a name: GDD! Ehrrr, I guess you mean GBD? He wasn’t sure but I now know it was GBD indeed, just look at the picture beside this paragraph. Where the pipes were made in France I sadly do not know..

Of course there is much more to tell about De Graaff, especially their cigars, but since this is a pipe-smoking blog it is enough for now. One last thing, here is a PDF document of 2 interesting old booklets/flyers from De Graaff, in Dutch.. I would like to thank all the forum members and people who have helped me and made this blogpost possible!

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Pleasures of life in Belgium 2016

Group picture

Group picture

Like every year for me the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium) halfway March always marks the beginning of spring. The lengthening days, the slowly rising temperatures and the anticipation of the meeting make all the shadows in my mind from the dark, grey and rainy winter disappear. For some reason (probably the location in Belgium near the Dutch border and cheap beer) the Wuustwezel meeting always has been the best attended one. This year about 70 people applied and like last year Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there. Tobacconist Rudi even brought a special guest, more about that later.


Gates at the Deventer train station

The day of the meeting began at 07.30 am but I was already awake because of my bad back… Great, ageing… But when I came from under the shower and had a small breakfast (their would be plenty of food and drinks during the day) I felt re-energized and ready for the day. Normally good friend Ed would have picked me up but he moved away from his old town near me to a location pretty far away due to some private stuff. So now I had to first pick Mark up at the train station in Deventer. I parked my car there and texted him where I stood but no response. And I waited, and waited.. In the end he turned up. At the train station they have small gates and Mark’s public transport pass malfunctioned so only after a lot of trouble with the security guards he could get through. That soon was forgotten and we drove to a parking lot somewhere beside the highway where Ed waited for us together with Johnny.

Pipe-smokers munching away

Pipe-smokers munching away

After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel where, just like the other times, our first stop was the local liquor store. Only once a year I get the chance to properly re-fill my beer basement and I take that chance with both hands (while carrying a stocked beer-crate of course). “No cash payment  because we got robbed” said a sign on the door. How sad.. I mean, Belgian beer is so delicious that one could steal it but to actually do that.. Bastards.. Inside the store I noticed I was not the first Dutchman there that day because the shelf with the delicous St. Bernardus Abt 12 was already half empty. Luckily there was enough left and together with my standard favourites and a few tips from Johnny my beer basement bulges out again now. Then we went to the snack-bar. Unfortunately Zodiac from last year closed down permanently. No not the recession, the owners were old and decided to quit. Thank the fried-heavens another snack-bar was open, the one we went to in 2014: Fritsnack, with the remarkable choice of Dutch (sweet) and Belgian (sour) mayonnaise. I went for the Belgian one this time together with a snack called “Twijfelaar” (doubter), which includes small bits of all their meat snacks on one stick, very yummie! Half the establishment was already taken by hungry familiar looking pipe-smokers under which Matron and Florian (this time with no hang-over from the previous evening). Matron had brought the prices which I won at the KPC raffle with him: a tin of Bothy Flake and Holger Danske Royal Navy Flake. Thanks! I sat across Arjen who had a big portion of fries (and in Belgium that is BIG, I had a medium fries which was too much for me..) together with two more snacks. While we were talking I watched with amazement how he devoured it all in no time. Wowzers!

Rob and his home-made tin-guitar

Rob and his home-made tin-guitar

When we arrived at the Bellekes Hoeve, the location of the meeting, organiser Jan sat beside the door to collect the money for the traditional Belgian sausage rolls and rent of the place. Which by the way was only €1 per person due to the fact we drank so much last year. Jan used the profits he made then to keep the entrance fee low for us. First thing I did when I put away my belongings and shook a few hands was order a Vlaamsche Leeuw at the bar. Utterly delicious! Which was also the opinion of Matron, Florian and Ed who all praised the Belgian beer. Then I bumped into Rob who had made a guitar out of an empty tin of WO Larsen Indigo, hilarious! On a table I made some space to place a mason jar which had to serve as a money box. In September my girlfriend Ellen is going to climb the Mont Ventoux in France for a cancer fund. Louis, one of the forum members, suggested that I put a money box at the meeting so people could make a small contribution. Well, small, in the end €131,60 was put in the mason jar! So unbelievably great! By the way, supporting Ellen is still possible through this site.



For Marielle I had some Amphora pouches. The evening before the meeting she asked on the forum if anyone had some and could bring it to Wuustwezel. Last year on the Inter Tabac host Brian Levine gave me some Amphora pouches since MacBaren produces them. I never smoked Amphora and to be honest the blend not really seems my cup of tea, so giving hem away to a lovely lady was pretty easy. And in return she gave me a tin of one of the only aromatics I smoke: DTM’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew. But I had more for Marielle. For some years I own a small 1980 Dunhill group 1 pipe which in essence is a ladies pipe. It came from the time when I snatched up every Dunhill below a certain price but I never had a click with it. So Marielle could have it, I mean, a pipe is meant to be smoked. But surprisingly she did not want it. What I did not knew was that Marielle is a filter-smoker and the Dunhill is non-filter. So she said “Give it to someone who really wants it and is really going to smoke it.” Ok, so if any female pipe-smoker reads this and you want this Dunhill, mail me at with a picture of yourself while smoking pipe and perhaps you are the lucky one! And gents, please no pictures of yourself in a dress or lingerie while puffing away ok? Thank you.

Per Jensen and his wife

Per Jensen and his wife

Talking about Amphora and MacBaren, Rudi tapped me on the shoulder, “Look there, our special guest, he wants to speak you”. I turned around and saw Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren who I already met at the Inter Tabac. Wow! I know he goes to big American meetings but a humble Dutch/Belgian one.. So nice to see and speak to him again. He brought all kinds of MacBaren tobaccos that are not for sale here so we could try them out. I lit up a pipe filled with the excellent HH Pure Virginia. Per had a question for me, he was busy with re-creating an old Amphora blend but he could not find any info of it. So if I perhaps could dig up some information. I’ll do my best Per! Of course I also had question for Per. This year I am busy with a new forum tobacco made by Samuel Gawith, but over 2 years perhaps MacBaren is a nice option. So a bit hesitant I asked Per if he was interested in producing one of our forum tobaccos. Hesitant because I know MacBaren only produces large quantities and around 250 tins is just total peanuts for such a company. But surprisingly he was willing! I get back to you in 2 years Per!



The generosity of the people on the forum never ceases to amaze me. I saw Freek sitting and he motioned for me to come closer. Last year at the Heukelum meeting I got a bottle of Westvleteren blond from him. One of the best blonde beers I ever drank. But now with a sly smile he produced 2 bottles of the mythical Westvleteren 12! “Here, these are for you. They were a gift to me but I don’t really like the beer.” Wowowowowowow!!! I mean, Westvleteren 12 is chosen as best beer in the world multiple times. What Balkan Sobranie is in the pipe-tobacco world, Westvleteren is in the beer world in my opinion. Last week I drank one bottle and I must say, a truly exceptional brew! Thanks Freek!

Klaas on the left

Klaas on the left

Still with a smile I bumped into Klaas, one of my pipe tobacco mentors. “Arno, I enjoyed your Upper Ten blogpost so much, here is a tin of De Graaff Kegelbaan for you.” Wow again! One of the earlier latakia blends I smoked through Klaas was the no longer made Kegelbaan, one of the house-blends of the once famous tobacconist De Graaff in The Hague. This mixture is really something special and spoiled my taste buds. It contains Syrian latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and the elusive Yenidje. Thanks Klaas! Later I spoke with Andre, who has a very good site where he sells refurbished estate pipes for beginning pipe smokers or people with a small budget. At Heukelum he gave me a blasted Orlik bulldog, a surprisingly fine smoker, and now he produced another Orlik, a good looking billiard. I could also have that one. Thanks Andre!

print-19-mar-2016_em5-7612Suddenly every one was being hushed to silence. Nick took the floor and directed himself towards Arjen. In a couple of months Arjen is getting married with a lovely Canadian woman called Misty. Behind his back the forum members collected money so we could give them a dinner at a restaurant. Well, we ended up with giving the soon to married couple a 5-course meal at the fancy Las Palmas restaurant, a night at the Hotel New York Rotterdam and two glasses and a bottle of bubbles.

WinslowYou probably know the feeling when you see a pipe and that it just speaks to you like in, I am beautiful, I will smoke good, buy me! I got that when I looked at a pipe amongst Rudi’s wares. A gorgeous D-grade Winslow bamboo. It was precisely what I was looking for, a small to medium sized pipe in which I could smoke Virginia or VaPer mixtures and flakes. And Winslow bamboos are relatively rare. I already have one (a B-grade) which is a terrific smoker. I must say, all my Winslows are excellent smokers and I can’t say that of all my Dunhills.. Rudi saw me (almost drooling) looking at the pipe but the only thing holding me back was the price. But Rudi knew he had the fish on the hook and only needed to haul it in. He made me an offer I could not refuse, a discount. I immediately shook his hands, the deal was closed.

IMG_0138I am a big fan of Lemmy from Motörhead and so is Matron. When we heard about his death we were both devastated. During an e-mail conversation we came up with the idea to bring a toast to Lemmy in Wuustwezel. Of course that would happen with the favourite drink of Lemmy, a Jack Daniels/cola. So I brought half a bottle of Jack with me (the other half I drank on the evening of the day I heard Lemmy died..) and to my delight I saw that Matron had taken 2 Motörhead shirts with him. His shirt was without sleeves. “You know, this shirt once had sleeves. But on a day when I was hiking I realized I forgot to bring tissues with me when I just had taken a shit. So I ripped off the sleeves of my shirt…” The shirt he had for me was a perfect fit, “size fat bastard” he said to me with a wink. We filled our glasses and raised them in honour of our fallen hero. R.I.P. Lemmy!

My acquisitions

My acquisitions

In the morning when we drove to Wuustwezel Johnny said “Always when I go to a meeting time suddenly goes very fast from the moment I enter the building until I leave it.” I also precisely had that. It was a fun day as always, I had spoken with lots of people, also did not speak with lots of people (better next time!), the sausage-rolls were delicious, the tobaccos great, the beer tasty etc. Around 20.30 we shook hands with the remaining forum members and half an hour later (you know how it goes..) we finally sat in the car on our way home. After a long journey which seemed short we arrived at the parking lot beside the highway. It appeared our cars were well guarded by some men around and in a van who were.. Ehmm.. Jerking off. So we hastily said goodbye to each other (and of course wished the masturbating men a pleasant evening) and went on our merry way.

I want to thank Jan, Sas, Miep and Dirk for organising the meeting and keeping us all hydrated. All pictures were made by Klaas, Jan, Dirk, Nick and Jef.

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oremy_28oremy_71EDIT 09-05-2016: The Dunhill ladies-pipe has a new owner! Lots of pictures of ravishing pipe-smoking ladies were send in. Some even showed me totally new and quite interesting ways to smoke a pipe.. And no you pervs, I won’t show those photos! In the end there was a clear winner: Italian pipe-smoking lady Emilia. She is the vice-president of the Pipa Club Italia and owner of one of the biggest pipe-smokers website communities: Fumare la Pipa. She started smoking when she was 21 years old. Her first pipe, a Savinelli, was given to her by a friend. Her second pipe she bought at the Peterson factory during a study-holiday in Dublin. Today Emilia attends many events where she had the opportunity to meet many pipe-smokers and pipe-makers (like Tom Eltang and Manduela). For 90% Emilia smokes Italian made pipes. Her favourite is the Kronos pipe, made by Bruto Sordini from Don Carlos. Surprisingly (for a woman) Emilia likes the taste of latakia! Her favourite tobacco is GL Pease Maltese Falcon and she often likes to smoke Tuscan cigars. Emilia is also participating in the slow smoking Italian Championship for several years. Last October she even contented in her first World-Championship in Italy near Venice: 71st out of nearly 300 participants. Currently she holds the women’s title in Italy. Emilia, I wish you lots of happy smokes with your Dunhill!