Marvelous Marcovitch : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Marvelous Marcovitch

Marcovitch Smoking Mixture

 

If you are a collector engaged in a wearisome and exhausting search for that rare pipe or that seldom-seen tin of tobacco, let the following tale serve as a message of inspiration and a boost to your morale. This is a story of hope, a message of reassurance and encouragement. The lesson is quite clear. If you are determined, tenacious, persistent and persevering, you will eventually encounter and acquire the object(s) of your quest. I am speaking from experience. You see, for me, for just 10 days in March 2010, fantasy dictated reality and the near-impossible seemed entirely plausible. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.

Back in the mid- to late 1970s I was working part time in a tobacco shop in Toledo, Ohio, owned and operated by my good friend, Mike Lora, who diligently kept our shelves stocked with the very best tobacco tins available at the time. Mike was quite a connoisseur of pipes and great tobaccos. He stocked the now-legendary brands such as John Cotton’s, State Express, Bell’s 3 Nuns (from Scotland), Rattray’s (Scotland), Dobie’s Four Square (Scotland), Bengal Slices and the full array of Dunhill tins, along with several of the Dunhill MyMixture blends (e.g., Nos. 10, 27 and 1066) as well. Of course, we also carried the Sobranie blends, including Balkan Sobranie Original and what I believe is the greatest tobacco blend of all time, Balkan Sobranie 759.

Well, the latter is what I have always said in public, and the statement is true for the most part. However, 759 might not have been alone at the top in my estimation. There was another tobacco blend from those times that I always believed was in serious competition with 759 for the distinction of being the best. It was called Marcovitch Black and White.

Both of these English-style Latakia blends were common to us and readily available back then. During those years, I smoked hundreds of bowls of these two tobaccos. When I wanted either of them, I just grabbed a tin off the store shelf and paid for it. At the time neither of these blends had any sort of reputation for being legendary, storied or fabled, although as I recall 759 was better known among our customers. However, both blends seemed to be highly regarded. Marcovitch, however, never attained any degree of notoriety after it became unavailable in the late 1970s. It seems to me that due to what now appears to have been limited distribution in the U.S., it simply became forgotten. On the other hand, in the years after the decline of the House of Sobranie, 759 became elevated by many to its current status as the stuff of myth, fable and legend, the ultimate pipe tobacco.

Sobranie 759 has been praised and exalted ad infinitum, but it is now time to give Marcovitch its due. This blend was unique in my opinion because it was and remains the smoothest blend I have ever smoked. In fact, it was so deeply smooth, it was better described as soft, in a velvety way that caresses the tongue and then charms the taste buds. In terms of simple texture, it was pure silk and satin, with a bit of lace around the edges for added complexity. In terms of flavor, it was the essence of richness, nutty overtones, a touch sweet and ever so seductive. It was not as bold or as multilayered as 759 but it had a harmony, an integrated, orchestrated, subtle synthesis of flavors that defied the usual descriptions.

Right now, you may be thinking: “Huh? Marcovitch? Never heard of it.”

If you have not heard of Marcovich, don’t feel alone. You are in good company. To me, of the all-time truly great vintage blends of the days of old, Marcovitch Black and White is the most rare by far. In fact, it is almost impossible to find. It is so rare that an auction of it comes up on eBay once every three to four years. It may well be the best-kept secret of the vintage pipe tobacco world. Try doing a search for it on eBay and you will most always find some empty Marcovitch cigarette tins or old paper ads for Marcovitch. After all, it was cigarettes for which this once-great British tobacco house was best known. However, their pipe tobacco was a true treasure unto itself, blended at the Marcovitch factory in Piccadilly.

However, I have learned from my friend Neill Archer Roan, who has recently been seduced by the Marcovitch charm, that the coin twist tins of Marcovitch (see photo) were made by no less a company than John Cotton. The older cutter-top tins (see photos), on the other hand, were clearly blended by the Marcovitch company itself. Read Neill’s well-researched comments regarding Marcovitch at his website. Here is the link: http://www.apassionforpipes.com/neills-blog/2010/8/11/the-marcovitch-mysteries.html. With all of that said, you now know just about all that I know about Marcovitch.

Marcovitch Black and White pipe tobacco is so rare that I have never even seen it at a pipe show, save for one time only at the Newark Show in the year 2000. On that remarkable March Saturday, the estate of then well-known Philadelphia pipe tobacco collector, Barry Millroad, was being sold. I have been to several dozen pipe shows over the 10 years that followed, and I have not seen a single tin of Marcovitch at any show since.

Over the years, I have asked some of the best-known and most accomplished tobacco collectors and enthusiasts in the country if they have ever heard of a tobacco called Marcovitch. In almost every instance, the answer was no–only a very few had even heard of it. This was, at first, astonishing to me because Marcovitch was always so common and readily available in our pipe and tobacco shop. When hearing that a well-known and longtime collector or fan of vintage tobaccos had never even heard of Marcovitch, I usually dropped the issue then and there. Why? Frankly, the stuff was so dear and precious to me I was afraid to share any information about it for fear of having competition for something already incredibly difficult to find.

Dozens of times I have marveled at the curious and radically different fates of my two all-time favorite tobaccos. Balkan Sobranie 759 emerged to become the single most expensive pipe tobacco on earth, fetching prices of nearly $800 for a single 8-ounce pull-top tin, while the very nearly equally good Marcovitch fell into virtual oblivion and obscurity with almost no tobacco collectors or pipe enthusiasts remembering it, owning it or even knowing of it. And none that I know of were actively searching for it, save for myself, of course.

Now, however, because of a great stroke of good fortune, I am revealing Marcovitch to the pipe tobacco world once and for all. I hope it is an inspiration to you for your collecting quest. You see, I have been less than forthcoming with you, my fellow tobacco lovers. I openly admit to holding out on you. I have mentioned my Marcovitch secret to almost no one save for a few friends in the pipe world, who previously knew nothing about it. A very few, such as Marty Pulvers, actually remembered smoking Marcovitch in the now hazy and obscure days of yore.

As I said, I tell almost no one about Marcovitch because I did not desire any competition in searching for this extremely rare and wonderful tobacco. I would apologize but I am not all that sorry. I am indeed sorry that Marcovitch never attained the exalted heights of its shelf brother, Balkan Sobranie 759, and I am sorry that it is no longer made. On the rare occasions when I have opened a tin for friends, they have nearly always marveled at its velvety softness and deliciousness, and then openly wondered how this incredible blend could become so virtually unknown. I should mention that after Marcovitch disappeared from England, the name appeared in a different tin made in Switzerland. I am sad to say it, but that tobacco is quite poor and bears no resemblance in any way to the original Marcovitch.

With that as background, I now would like to tell you about the single greatest pipe tobacco score of my life, as evidence that we should not give up our quest for that special pipe or tobacco. This score is behind my finally revealing Marcovitch to the world. Since 1999, I have been faithfully and diligently checking for Marcovitch tins on eBay every week. Over the past 11 years, I have seen only three unopened, sealed tins of Marcovitch Black and White appear on eBay and I acquired all of those. This condition of severe scarcity was, for me, about to radically change.

In mid-March of 2010, an eBay auction appeared that offered an astonishing nine tins of sealed, unopened, 2-ounce tins of Marcovitch Black and White. I was utterly spellbound at the very thought of this often-wished-for dream come true. A long-sought holy grail was now appearing before me. The first few seconds of beholding the auction of those nine tins on screen seemed like a chimerical, surreal vision appearing before my thunderstruck eyes. The seller said that eight of the tins were still in the original box and that there was one extra tin. He also said, upon my asking, that the tins had come from a widow whose pipe smoking husband had died 12 years earlier, and that the tins had been kept in a closet since the 1960s.

It was a long week as I followed this auction several times a day with fingers crossed. Finally, simply because no one knows of this tobacco, I won the auction and all of its nine tins for $102. That’s $11.33 per tin, a price cheaper than most contemporary 2-ounce tins. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and sent my payment within seconds of the close of the auction.

Then the seemingly impossible seemed instantly plausible. Within minutes of my payment I received an e-mail from the seller thanking me for my payment. He then informed me that he had another 32, 2-ounce tins of Marcovitch, all of which were still in the original four boxes of eight tins per box. He told me that he would sell all 32 tins (!) to me for $280. That’s an unbelievable $8.75 per tin. My hands were actually shaking with excitement as I sent him the payment.

In the end, I managed to acquire a total of 41 2-ounce tins of Marcovitch from the seller. That’s more than five pounds of Marcovitch! When the tins finally arrived a few days later, I was thoroughly exhilarated to see all those tins of Marcovitch in literally perfect condition, without a speck of rust, and each tin I saw looked like it was brand spanking new. I was swimming in memories. I was staggered, stunned, reeling and delighted. Several times over the next three days, I just stared at those tins. It honestly seemed as if the world of fantasy had actually imposed itself upon so-called reality.

But this minor tale is not quite finished. Just a couple of days after the glorious arrival of the 41 tins of Marcovitch, a friend called and told me of an eBay auction of nine old tins of tobacco, some empty, some sealed, and all very old. There were two tins of great significance in this auction, which I managed to win. One was a sealed 4-ounce cutter top, or knife-lid, tin of Savory’s Baby’s Bottom in fantastic condition, probably from the 1940s or 1950s. Dunhill bought Savory’s in 1938 and this tobacco was part of their line for the next 20 or so years, from what I have been able to gather.

However, most amazing of all the tins in that batch was, you guessed it, a 2-ounce cutter-top tin of Marcovitch Black and White. At the time, it was the only cutter-top Marcovitch tin I had ever seen, and as luck would have it, this tin just happened to be sealed, unopened and in excellent condition. If finding a sealed, unopened coin-twist tin of Marcovitch is highly improbable, then finding a sealed cutter-top, great-condition tin of Marcovitch is just this side of miraculous. Truly, for those 10 days, the gods of tobacco had smiled upon me. And now, at last, I have such an abundance of Marcovitch in my possession that I can freely reveal my secret quest with no hesitation. It’s time the pipe world accepted this little-known marvel of a tobacco into its lore, tradition and everyday parlance.

In closing, I share this improbable story with you not to boast upon an acquisition, as it is unlikely that more than a few will care about Marcovitch pipe tobacco. However, there is a greater lesson involved here. The search for that special pipe, rare tobacco or precious humidor may well result in great success. Perseverance and determination may well be rewarded, and there is always hope. It might also be said that much of the pleasure of collecting can be found not only in the acquisition but in the pursuit itself. In the end, perhaps the journey is just as significant as the destination.

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Category: Feature Article, Pipe Articles, Spring 2011

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