It may not be Balkan Sobranie, Three Nuns, or one of the Cottons, but Edgeworth Slices sure has its fans. I’ve run across several tins of the Liggett and Myers version over the years, and when I’ve given it to a friend who I know loves burleys, the gratitude is almost overwhelming.
This is the only full tin of the original version I’ve seen, however. I was thrilled to get it. I love the tin art. And, much to my surprise, I love the tobacco, too.
Larus and Brother, the Richmond, Virginia-based originators of the tobacco, went out of business in 1974. Although one sees the Larus tins for sale with some regularity, a full tin is a rarity. A tin with smokeable tobacco inside is rarer, still, because the tins relied on a cellophane wrapper, not on a seal. Obviously, the producers never expected their product to have to survive years – let alone decades – or they might have developed a more robust packaging solution. Cellophane is only slightly less durable than dragonfly wings.
A wonderful friend gave me this tin recently, knowing how much I love vintage tobaccocco tins. It was in remarkably good condition, but no way no how did I expect the tobacco inside to be anything other than Pharoah-dust. Ever the eternal optimist, however, I decided to open it anyway, primarily so I could photograph the tin’s internal surfaces and packaging. When I discovered a block of sliced plug still in excellent, if only slightly drier than it should be, condition, I was surprised. I immediately jarred it up and decided to give it a try. If this tin were produced in the very last year of Larus’ production, the tobacco would have a minimum of 39 years on it. I hoped that the nicotine strength might have faded by now.
As I have written here before, I am a not a nic-hit fan. I have to be careful with nicotine-laden tobaccos. Very careful. Although I enjoy the flavor, I do not enjoy feeling like I’m seated in a Tilt-a-Whirl carnival ride having recently eaten a bad oyster.
As I contemplated opening this tin, I wondered if it would be possible to date the tin with more precision than pre-1974. I started doing some research, looking at old catalogs, advertisements, and trade publications. Clues may be out there, but to date I’ve been unable to arrive at information with enough specificity and reliabity to make any useful assumptions. Truth be told, I’m not even certain that the tin I got is an actual Larus production tin. It is conceivable that Liggett and Myers acquired some old tins when they acquired the rights to continue to market the brand. Given Larus’ production levels and early L&M’s levels, I believe it is a safe bet that this tin is Larus’ production, but I cannot be certain. My research did lead to some interesting background on Larus and Brother, however, and it was fun to know a bit about a company that produced such a storied brand.
The Virginia Historical Society’s archives tell us:
In 1877, Charles Dunning Larus and Herbert Clinton Larus purchased the Harris Tobacco Company at 1917 E. Franklin Street in Richmond, thus forming the partnership of Larus & Brother Company. Herbert Clinton Larus died in 1882 and his nephew, William Thomas Reed, became general manger and partner in the company. For the next ninety-two years, the Larus and Reed families operated one of the nation’s most successful small tobacco firms. Known internationally for its Edgeworth pipe tobacco, Larus was an important member of Richmond’s tobacco community until 1974, when it closed.
Larus & Brother Company originally manufactured chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco in a plug form. A year after its founding, Larus began operations at the state penitentiary and continued there until 1897, when the company moved to 7 S. Twenty-first Street. Operations continued at this location for more than three-quarters of a century as the company expanded to occupy most of the block bounded by Main, Cary, Twenty-first and Twenty-second streets. In 1900, Larus incorporated and issued stock.
In 1903, Larus introduced its Edgeworth trademark. Edgeworth Sliced tobacco, the first nationally advertised pipe tobacco, came packaged in sliced form instead of the more conventional plug form. Nine years later, Edgeworth Ready-Rubbed was introduced as the first pipe tobacco ready for smoking, as it came pre-sliced and “rubbed,” or broken into smaller pieces. Edgeworth quickly became America’s best-selling pipe tobacco in its price class.
To read more about the company’s history, click here.
Larus’ advertising is a case study in and of itself. Mostly, they employed a strategy where they published a letter from an Edgeworth smoker along with an invitation to both tobacco shops and smokers to give Edgeworth a try. One memorable letter told a story of a mountain climber leaving samples of Edgeworth at the top of a mountain for subsequent mountaineers to enjoy upon a successful climb. Amazing. One of my favorites is the ad with the advice at right. My wife was speechless upon seeing this; striking her speechless isn’t easy, either, I might add.
Upon opening the tin, I was amazed at the sweet aroma wafting from the tin; it smelled like the molasses candy I used to suck on as a kid. Indeed, expect that the tobacco was flavored with molasses.
As one would expect of a burley-based tobacco with so much age, the flavor was mild and sweet. I rubbed out the flake, so it lit and burned beautifully, and I smoked slowly and carefully to derive as much flavor as possible while exercising vigilance for any effects from the nicotine.
I was surprised to discover a slightly piquant quality to the tobacco. I’m not sure what produced it, but the flavor was somewhat similar to the faint cayenne traces I’ve tasted in Bengal Slices.
I chose to pair my recently acquired Loewe “Military” pipe for the Edgeworth smoke. I have little experience with smoking burleys, but I knew that I wanted a smaller chamber circumference to limit the amount of nicotine dry-distilled into the smokestream. The Loewe has a stinger that subtly constricts the draw, too. I wasn’t worried about a wet smoke, at all, even though there was sufficient moisture to rub out the flack without having the tobacco transform to crumbles and dust. Call me nostalgic, but I also like pairing older pipes with older tobaccos.
This was one of those experiences that make pipe-smoking so rewarding. To be able to taste a tobacco that was once the nation’s leading brand, and that was once a staple among soldiers in both the first and second World Wars – this is a treasured experience.