have been guilty of several monographs. They are all
upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one 'Upon
the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.'
In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar,
cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating
the difference in the ash."
given the enormous amount of references to it, tobacco
is a very important supporting character in the Canon.
Whether Holmes is studying it, writing about it, or
smoking it, it seems to always be wafting in the background.
But to properly explore the world of tobacco, we must
first look into the processes and types of tobacco.
From there, we can explore types of pipes (the most
popular form of consuming tobacco in the Canon), touch
upon cigars and cigarettes, and then properly explore
the tantalizing tobacco references in the Canon.
dried and cured leaves of of the nightshade family,
was traditionally smoked by many Native American cultures.
Mayans of 1,500 years ago smoked tobacco and used it
as snuff. In their civilization, it was thought to have
magical powers. Tobacco contains nicotine, a stimulant.
From Native American cultures, the practice of smoking
tobacco spread eastward via seamen to Europe. The cigarette
was introduced in 1828 in Spain, but it did not eclipse
the popularity of the cigar and pipe until the early
the leaves of these plants are grown, they are harvested
in one of two ways. "Cut" tobacco is when
the entire plant is harvested by cutting the stalk
off at the ground. "Pulled" tobacco is
when individual leaves are pulled off the plant
as they become ripe. After harvesting, leaves are
sorted into quality types.
leaves are then cured to reduce the moisture content
in the leaves from 80% to about 20% by one of several
different methods. Tobacco can be fire-cured (often
over low fires with aromatic woods to infuse aroma
and body), heat-cured (smokeless) by flues, air-cured
(usually hung in a roofed, open-sided building to
dry for 4-8 weeks), sun-cured (where leaves are
exposed to the sun to remove most of their moisture
before being air-cured), steam-cured (as in Swedish
'snus'), or a combination of these methods. There
are countless varieties of tobacco plants that are
cured using these different methods. For instance,
"Brightleaf tobacco" is heat-cured, "White
Burley" (or "Burley") is air-cured,
"Virginia" tobacco is flue-cured, and
many "Oriental" tobaccos are sun-cured.
tobacco varieties belong to the Nicotiana genus including
Nicotiana Tabacum and Nicotiana Rustica. Varieties vary
from the small-leaved aromatic tobaccos to the large,
broad-leaved cigar tobaccos or "Shade Tobacco."
Perique, an extraordinarily strong flavored tobacco,
is made only in St. James Parish in Louisiana and has
a complicated curing process. Other types of famous
tobaccos include Latakia (Cyprus and Syrian grown tobacco
fire-cured with aromatic woods), Kentucky (fire-cured
Burley tobacco), Havanna, and Cavendish (flue or fire-cured
Virginia tobacco undergoing a special curing process).
varieties used to make snuff, chewing tobacco, and to
fill cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and pipes must
be cut depending on its use. And, of course, there are
several different ways to cut it, including plug, loose,
flake, twist, curly cut, bird's eye, ribbon cut, shag,
and crumble cake.
Plug tobacco is created when the leaves are pressed (by
large presses exerting great force) into slabs about
3/4 cm thick. This makes it easier to transport,
store, and infuses certain taste qualities into
the tobacco. This was the most common method of
cutting tobacco for over a century, when transportation
could take many months.
tobacco molds were sometimes placed in the bottom
of the mold (for chewing or pipe tobacco) which
would imprint the symbol or name of the manufacturer.
A sheet of molds was 12" square, and each
mold produced 24 plugs. A blank tin was placed
on top and pressure was applied. After leaving the
curing room the tobacco was sheared into plugs,
wrapped and boxed for sale. Bar Plug tobacco was
sold sold by vendors to consumers in inches. Tobacco
companies supplied stores with plug tobacco iron
cutters to make measuring and cutting easier.
Plug cutters were common from the 1800s to the
1940s, and they came in many different styles
and shapes Individuals could also buy simple (and
less precise) cleaver style tobacco cutters for
Plug Tobacco Mold
Plug Tobacco Mold
cut, Navy Cut, or Cut Plug was plug tobacco cut
into broad, thin slices. A flake is a thin layer
about 1-1.5 mm thick produced by cutting a slab
of pressed tobacco.
Cut is when pressed tobacco is cut into 3-5 mm thick
slices, and then those are cut crossways so that
tobacco cubes are made.
Cut cut tobacco is flake tobacco whose slices are
stacked in piles and cut crossways to a width of
1-1.5 mm. The mass of tobacco cubes that is formed
in this way is once more put under the press and
again cut into slices. The result is that a slice
of tobacco crumbles into small fragments with the
minimum of effort.
(Bogie, Pigtail, or Rope) cut is actually rolled tobacco. It was originally used (chewed) by sailors on wooden boots
where smoking was a fire hazard. Much like a cigar,
tobacco leaves of different types are placed on
one another, plaited, and covered with a wrapper
leaf. Originally, this was one of the most common
types of finished tobacco as it could be cut and
smoked, chewed, or rasped to a coarse powder and
snuffed. The roll is about 1-2", and it is
extremely strong and sweet.
Cut and Spun Cut tobacco is when a twist (see above)
is prepared in the shape of a roll 1-3 cm in thickness,
left to mature, and then cut into thin slices resembling
Eye (mentioned briefly in SIGN) is when the tobacco
is prepared and cut by the Curly Cut method, then
partially rubbed. As a result, little coins
of 0.5-0.7 cm diameter resembling Birds eyes
remain in the rubbed tobacco.
all of the above types of tobacco are being prepared
for the press,Loose Cut tobacco is separated and
skips the pressing stage, going directly to "casing"
where it is rolled in a special drum with natural
additives, matured, and shredded into strings with
a diameter of 1.8mm.
Cut, as its name implies, is a long, even, thin
strip of tobacco made by cutting the leaf lengthwise.
Ribbon cut was the forerunner for the cut used for
cigarettes (industrial and hand rolled) and cigarillos,
depending on the width of the ribbon. Originally,
Ribbon Cut had a width of up to 2 mm. Medium (or
Fine Medium) Cut is of a slightly smaller width
than the traditional "Ribbon Cut." This
is currently the most universal type of cut, being
slightly smaller than Ribbon Cut and much larger
than the ultra-fine Shag cut. Shag (or "Fine
Cut") is the smallest cut possible (including
widths as small as .5 mm), and it would only be
smoked in very small pipes.
famous "shag" tobacco of the Canon was
much coarser than today's shag, and it was considered
inferior to other tobaccos. Alan Smith in "A
Three Pipe Problem (Pipes & Tobacco, Summer
1999) notes that shag was "manufactured of
the strongest and very worst kind of leaf, and [was]
chiefly consumed by the poorer classes." It
was very strong and odorous.
are also artistic cuts (Wild Cut, Exotic Cut and
Hand Cut) where the cut is characterized by the
irregular width of the tobacco ribbon. It resembles
the tobacco cuts of the past that were made by hand
rather than machines.
"This is Grosvenor mixture at eight pence an ounce,"
Holmes answered, knocking a little out on his palm (YELL).
I have been unable to find mention of a Grosvenor mixture
although, considering the thousands of mixtures there
must have been at that time, this isn't abnormal. Indeed,
in addition to all the standard tobacco shop mixtures,
tobacco shops could also create a special blend for
any customer demanding one.
As for Holmes,
he smoked "Black Shag," described above. This
would have been cheap, coarse, and strong tobacco. Although
not directly mentioned in RETI,
he is still clearly smoking black shag (an odorous tobacco)
as "his pipe [was] curling forth slow wreaths of
acrid tobacco." Clearly Holmes was not a connoisseur
of fine tobaccos - he was addicted to the nicotine and
the more of it, the better. A current tobacco company,
McClelland's (est. 1977), has a 221b series including
a "Black Shag." But the "Black Shag"
they have marketed since 1978 is not the black shag
of Holmes, for it has more flavors and is more exotic
than any tobacco Holmes would have smoked. He often ordered
his black shag from Bradley's (also the tobacco shop
that Watson ordered his cigarettes from).
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
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. By the time
of CROO, Holmes
notes that Watson smokes "that Arcadia mixture
of your bachelor days." The Arcadia mixture was
an expensive, high-grade tobacco. Watson probably tired
quickly of the novelty of the ship's mixture and potency.
As a man of the gentler arts, he appreciated a lighter,
richer tobacco than the shocking, heavy tobacco primarily
made for the nicotine content. He may have even smoked
Arcadia before taking on ship's, and then returned to
it after tiring of ship's tobacco. Arcadia was one blend
sold by Carreras Ltd. of London. Hall believes the switch
from ship's to Arcadia might have been made after Watson
met Mary Morstan, his future wife "because a refined
lady would not take kindly to the rank stench of corded
plug, particularly when smoked by the man she intended
McClelland's has an "Arcadia" mixture
out in addition to "Honeydew" which is
mentioned in CARD.
The container used to send the ears to Sarah Cushing
had contained half a pound of "honeydew."
After curing, honey can be added to tobacco to give
it a unique flavor and to prevent its drying out.
where does one put all of this tobacco? For
Holmes, in a rather unconventional place, namely
in the toe end of a Persian slipper (MUSG,
NAVA, EMPT). Near the fire and open,
this would have inevitably dried out the tobacco.
Henry Zecher says in his "Sherlock
Holmes and the 21st Century" , "By
keeping [tobacco] in his Persian slipper, or
in pouches over the mantle, he kept it perpetually
dry, which caused it to smoke faster and hotter
did, however, have a few more conventional tobacco
pouches to hold his tobacco when he was traveling
as evidenced in DEVI
and in DYIN
when Watson notes he "came to the
mantelpiece. A litter of pipes, tobacco-pouches,
syringes, penknives, revolver cartridges, and
other debris was scattered over it." Watson
also stored his tobacco in a tobacco pouch (CROO).
for this article was culled from "Tobacco
Info," among others.
note: Tobacco use carries significant risks to develop
various cancers, strokes, cardiovascular and respiratory
more information on tobacco and the Canon, the definitive
article online is John Hall's 140