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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Vintage Dunhill tobacco made in… Germany!?

IMG_2000A while ago I was surfing on the German ebay, looking for some goodies. There I stumbled upon a couple of vintage Dunhill tobacco tins, one Standard Mixture Medium and one London Mixture. Unfortunately the description said that both tins were opened yet full. I figured that I could probably re-hydrate the tobaccos and since the price was right I decided to take the risk and bought both tins. When I received and opened the package I saw to my utter delight that the London Mixture tin was still sealed. Yesss! Without much thinking I happily put both acquisitions in my tobacco-closet.

Freunde Der Tabakpfeife forum

Freunde Der Tabakpfeife forum

Some months ago I was going through my vintage tobacco stash, looking for something I can’t remember, when I saw the old London Mixture tin again. I took a better look at it and suddenly my eye fell upon a sentence at the downside: Hergestellt In Deutschland. What!? Made in Germany!!?? I always believed vintage Dunhill tobaccos were made in the UK, first by Dunhill themselves and later in 1981 by Murray (and from 2005 until now by Orlik in Denmark). As you can imagine my curiosity was awakened. So I started asking around on international pipe fora. On the forum I did not get much further despite friendly reactions. Kind of logical because that is more American-orientated. Then fellow Dutch pipe smoker Huub came to the rescue: “Arno, I am a member of a German forum, Freunde Der Tabakpfeife, I shall try to gather some information there.” And lo and behold, in no time Huub could tell me several people reacted to my question of the origins of the London Mixture tin. I also became a forum-member there and looked into the thread Huub had started for me.

German made Dunhill tobaccos

Advertisement of German made Dunhill tobaccos

There I found a lot of information and several leads. It turned out that my tin was made under license of Dunhill by German tobacco company Von Eicken who also produced other Dunhill offerings at the time. I barely could believe this and as proof an old advertisement for German made Dunhill tobaccos was uploaded on the FDT forum. In a book about old companies from Hamburg I read more about Von Eicken.

The old Von Eicken factory in Hamburg

The old Von Eicken factory in Hamburg

As early as 1770 Johann Wilhelm von Eicken began trading with colonial countries and produced his pipe and snuff tobacco in Mülheim. In 1866 Carl Heinrich von Eicken took over the management of the company. He discontinued trading with the colonial countries and presses ahead with the production of tobacco products. Another tobacco factory in Hamburg was purchased in 1886. The Hamburg factory was not spared in WWII, it was partly destroyed during air raids in 1943. The plant in Mülheim was completely destroyed during air raids by the US Air Force. Shortly before the end of the war the closure of the factory in Hamburg was ordered by the Nazis in 1944. The building was required for the production of X-ray machines.. Old and sick Hans von Eicken handed over the company to his son Wilhelm just a few months before the war ended.

von_eicken1Official permission to resume manufacturing tobacco was granted in 1949. US Virginia tobacco, essential for production, was available in late autumn of the same year because of the Marshall Plan (93,000 tons of tobacco were shipped free of charge to Germany!). In 1963 Von Eicken was granted the exclusive import and distribution rights for Mac Baren tobacco in Germany and distributed this successfully until 2008. In 1983 the decision was made to relocate the factory to Lübeck. Marc von Eicken was the 8th generation to join the company in 1997. Since then he is running Von Eicken together with his father Johann Wilhelm.

hitler-neville-chamberlainThe most interesting thing I read in the book (and saw on the FDT forum) by far was that Von Eicken already made contact with Dunhill in 1926, permission to produce tobaccos in license was granted in 1938. 1938… With a shock I realized that Adolf Hitler reigned over Nazi-Germany in that year. So one of the quintessential British companies gave a tobacco license to a company in Nazi-Germany?? Yes, but it is not as black and white as you read it. In 1938 most Western countries had adopted an optimistic view about what Winston Churchill later called “the gathering storm of war in Europe”. I mean, a policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler was initiated in Great Britain by Lord Halifax and US president Roosevelt had signed the US Neutrality Acts. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, met Hitler in his Munich flat. Later that day he flew home and waved the joint declaration of peaceful intent, which they both signed. He also remarked that “all this will be over in 3 months” and “I believe it is peace for our time”.

Alfred Dunhill jr. sells pipes in the ruins of the bombed store

Alfred Dunhill jr. sells pipes in the ruins of the bombed store

For Dunhill 1938 was a year of consolidation. A royal warrant from the freshly crowned King George VI was received and agencies were appointed for countries around the world. The main agent for Dunhill in London, the firm Abel & Imray, attempted through a local attorney to register the names “Dunhill”, “Rich Dark Virginia”, “Standard Mixture” and “My Mixture” in Germany. Sadly the firm was informed by the German authorities that it could not use its chosen representative because he had been “disbarred from practice” for being Jewish. I guess Von Eicken fitted the bill better. Alas, in the end Hitler’s play for more time (so he could complete his weaponry) was successful. On 3 September 1939 Great Britain and France declared war on Germany and in 1941 the Dunhill store was bombed..

Herr Johann Wilhelm Von Eicken

Herr Johann Wilhelm Von Eicken

Despite the knowledge at the FDT forum and things I read I still had some questions. So I boldly decided to mail Von Eicken themselves in the hope to verify and gain some information. And lo and behold, a couple of days later I got a mail back from the older director, Herr Johan Wilhelm Von Eicken. His answers were very short, sometimes I did not know what he precisely meant but anyway, I was thankful. Below are the questions I had and the answers to the best of my abilities.

Nazi anti-smoking poster

Nazi anti-smoking poster

Why did Dunhill give a license to produce their tobaccos to Von Eicken?
The answer is pretty simple: economical reasons. In 1929 Dresden internist Fritz Lickint presented statistical evidence through a published case-series study which linked lung cancer and tobacco usage. So the Nazis began one of the first public anti-smoking campaigns in modern history. Hence the term “anti-smoking Nazis”.. A motivating factor was Adolf Hitler’s personal distaste for tobacco. Despite the fact that he was a heavy smoker in his early life. He used to smoke 25 to 40 cigarettes daily but gave up the habit, saying that it was “a waste of money”. Another motivation behind the Nazi campaign against smoking were their reproductive policies. The campaign included banning smoking in trams, buses and city trains, promoting health education, limiting cigarette rations in the Wehrmacht, organizing medical lectures for soldiers and raising the tobacco tax. So to get their tobaccos to the German consumer Dunhill first had to import their tobacco into Germany and pay import-duties. And on top of that the increased tobacco-tax made their offerings even more expensive. But with the tobacco made in Germany they avoided the import duties, enter Von Eicken. After the war the Deutsche Mark had little value as opposed to the British Pound thus everything coming from Great Britain was expensive. So once again The Von Eicken factory came in handy for Dunhill.

Original Dunhill London Mixture tin

Original Dunhill London Mixture tin

Did Von Eicken use the same recipes as the original London made ones?
Herr Von Eicken wrote that their Dunhill tobaccos were a close copy to the original. But according to some members the German Dunhill offerings were, uhm, not so good. FDT member Uli says: “As a student I started smoking in 1959. Soon my favourite tobacco became Dunhill Standard Mixture and it was (amongst other Dunhill offerings) made in Germany. One time in Switzerland I bought myself an original Dunhill tin, the difference was striking! After that I never bought a German made Dunhill tobacco.” German friend and walking pipe-smoking encyclopaedia Rainer confirmed this. He told me that an old pipe smoking friend of him said that the German made London Mixture was awful compared to the original.. Great, I thought, I apparently bought a tobacco tin that can rival with the dreaded Clan (by Theodorus Niemeijer)…

To be very clear, this is a fake tin

To be very clear, this is a fake tin

Did Von Eicken kept producing Dunhill tobacco in Nazi Germany until 1943, when their factories were bombed by the allied forces?
According to Herr Von Eicken there was no leaf tobacco available in the war, so, no. Tobacco rationing was imposed in the beginning of the war and almost 70% of the available smoky leaf was diverted to the armed forces for the remainder of WWII. Also I can’t imagine that such a luxury product as Dunhill tobacco was bought by the struggling German population. But one has to admit, it is a tantalizing thought that perhaps some tins were made at the end of 1938 and beginning of 1939. That would really be a kind of sinister holy grail of Dunhill tobacco.

logoWhen did Von Eicken stop producing Dunhill tobacco in license?
Once again I had to lean on Rainer because I did not understand the answer of Herr Von Eicken.. According to Rainer sometime before 1976 when he started to buy pipe tobacco the original Dunhill tobaccos became available in Germany and Von Eicken ceased their production. Perhaps Dunhill noticed that a lot of German pipe-smokers bought their tobaccos abroad.. Who knows.. One thing is sure, when Murray took over Dunhill production Von Eicken no longer made their version.

IMG_2006Back to the tin of German London Mixture I bought. You can see a George VI crest with a reference to the “late King”. So according to John Loring this tin was made between 1954 and 1962. Personally I believe it is closer to 1962 than to 1954 because of the price you see on the tax-seal, DM 7,50. This because Rainer says that halfway the 1970’s such a tin costed around DM 8,00. But still, in the “worst case scenario” my tin is 52 years old, yiehaaa!!!

IMG_2018Of course I had to open the tin. Rainer constantly kept semi-seriously nagging me to “write the blog and afterwards sell the sealed tin for a huge sum” but that is not me. So on one of the last summer days I cracked the still intact vacuum seal. On top of the tobacco was a paper insert placed with the text “This tobacco is packed freshly cut. Many smokers find that tobacco smokes cooler when quite dry. In such cases it is advisable to have the tin open for a while.”

IMG_2023With the paper insert removed the tobacco looked just fine in my eyes. No mould or anything like that, just mostly dark coloured ribbon cut strands with some lighter ones. Despite that the vacuum seal had been intact the contents were a little bit on the dry side but still perfectly smokeable. The smell of the tobacco inside was a bit strange. I noticed that the strength of the latakia had diminished and what was left is best described as a McClelland latakia tobacco with instead of the ketchup odour a bit of a sweet liquorice smell with a rotten edge. The original Dunhill tobaccos were (in)famous for their “rotten” smell so probably Von Eicken tried to mimic this.

IMG_2024I filled a 1962 Root Briar Dunhill prince with the German London Mixture and set fire to the old tobacco. I was aware that people said that the German version was awful compared to the original but all by all I had a decent smoke. Nothing spectacular but just.. Decent.. I had no old original London Mixture tin so comparing it was difficult. Only thing I had was a tin of the Murray version, so in the next days I also smoked that one. In the afternoon the Murray version, in the evening the Von Eicken one. Of course the Murray tobacco was fresher, the latakia more present and pungent. But when I adjusted the taste in my mind I found some similarities. The original description for London Mixture read: “A delightfully harmonious blend of matured Virginia and Oriental tobaccos, soft and mellow, cool and fragrant.” Mr Pease said about the original: “It had a richness, a sophisticated elegance, and a complex nature that kept it from being tiring. It was full enough to satisfy, but never overbearing. It was comfort food for the pipe.” I could find myself in these descriptions. Both blends were very harmonious, one good taste throughout the bowl without a roller-coaster ride of different flavours, comfort food. The Murray version had a certain richness and was soft and mellow. On the other hand The Von Eicken blend bit me sometimes and lacked the complex nature.

All by all it was a fascinating experience smoking the German made London Mixture. Especially with the story behind it. I would like to thank Huub, Rainer, the folks at the FDT forum and Herr Von Eicken for their help and input.