The Big Little Story of the Origins of Smoking Paper

By: Kannabia Seed Company Culture

Humanity has been smoking herbs for millennia, using pipes, bongs and rudimentary braziers, but it wasn’t until after Christopher Columbus brought tobacco from the Americas to Europe that we started using rolled paper as a means to inhale smoke. How did this invention, which has barely changed for centuries, come about?

Magic, religion and medicine were all reasons why tobacco was consumed profusely in the “New World.” In fact, the indigenous people on the Caribbean island that Spanish sailors reached in 1492 were found holding small embers of smoldering tobacco. Columbus even received dried tobacco leaves as a gift when he landed on the island of San Salvador.

But it was two crew members who are credited with observing smoking for the first time when exploring what is now Cuba. On his return to his native Ayamonte, one of them, Rodrigo de Jerez, took the habit to Spain.

In fact, his fellow residents were so frightened when they saw smoke coming from his nose and mouth that they informed the Inquisition, as they were convinced that “only the devil could give a man the power to blow smoke from his mouth.” Jerez was jailed for 7 years (and you thought smokers had it tough today)! By the time he was finally released, smoking cigars had become all the rage in Spain.

The beginnings of inhalation

The birth of the modern rolled cigarette goes back to 1614, in Seville, when King Philip III demanded that all tobacco grown in the newly discovered territories be sent to a central location in the city, to control prices and avoid gluts in its supply. Hence, Seville became the world center of cigar production.

Although only aristocrats could afford pure cigars at the time, they often threw their butts on the ground, where beggars and peasants retrieved them and rolled up the leftover tobacco using used newspapers. Due to the scarcity of tobacco, and their desire to enjoy every last bit, they began to retain the smoke in their lungs (inhaling).

This practice took root and spread among the working class until it became commonplace. Thus was born the modern hand-rolled cigarette. This custom ultimately reached a small town on the shores of the Mediterranean destined to become the genuine birthplace of rolling paper.

The dawn of rolling paper

Alcoy, in the province of Alicante, was founded in the 8th century by the Arabs, who brought with them the art of making paper, which they had learned from the Chinese (in addition to gum arabic, which would later be used for adhesive strips). In 1154 Alcoy became the first city to manufacture “paper made with molds,” known for its durability and texture. Over the following centuries it established itself as the paper capital of Spain.

Illustration of the method to manufacture paper in molds

Of course, the Alcoyans saw those people smoking using newspapers, and concluded that it was unhealthy, probably seeing the green smoke and sparks coming off that early smoking paper, which contained lead, cadmium and only-God -what else in the ink. So, they decide to create a special paper just for smoking, one that didn’t have newspapers’ ink chemicals.

This was really the first rolling paper in the world, and it is believed that by the 16th century a primitive form of it was being manufactured in Alcoy. Those early versions were made from recycled hemp pulp and other textiles, and sold as giant sheets that were folded into squares and then cut.

By 1780 the area of Alcoy boasted 35 paper factories. It wasn’t until later that this rolling paper or papel de encigarrar, as it was known in Spanish, would take the forms we are familiar with today.

The advent of smoking paper

The practice of pre-cutting and packaging the paper in a kind of protective booklet was not adopted until the early 19th century, when a monk from Xátiva (Valencia), Jaime ViIlanova Estingo, came up with the idea of folding those large leaves like a booklet. The first factory turning out this new format was opened in Alcoy in 1815, and the making of these booklets then spread among the producers of paper.

Subsequently, in the 1830s, the first workshops dedicated exclusively to this product were opened. As the activity boomed, to avoid litigation between different producers, commissions of cigarette paper manufacturers were constituted to examine and approve brand designs.

Surprisingly, the first 10 trademarks registered in Spain were all for rolling paper, and by 1850, there were around 50 registered trademarks. The first and oldest that still exists today is Pay-Pay, founded in 1703 in Alcoy. Another of the first Spanish manufacturers still on the market today is Bambú, which also opened in Alcoy, in 1764, although it originally produced paper for Bibles. The packaging of brands like Carabela and Marfil became authentic collector’s items, and can be purchased today at auctions.

Different brands of cigarette paper

Made in Alcoy, the birthplace of rolling paper

In any case, Spain was always (and still is) a leader and a brand, in its own right, when it comes to the manufacture of cigarette paper. In fact, Josh Kesselman, founder of the US brand RAW (one of the biggest in the sector today) and a businessman who began doing business in this area back in 1995, had it clear: why decentralize production if everything needed was in Spain?

Thus, he began using a “Made in Alcoy, Spain, The Birthplace of Rolling Paper” stamp to advertise his products, which recently resulted in a lawsuit for deceptive business practices filed by rival Republic Technologies (the owner of brands like OCB). The judge ruled that RAW’s claim that its papers are handmade by Alcoy artisans is false.

In fact, RAW’s paper is manufactured about 500 kilometers away, in Saint-Girons, France, by the paper conglomerate Schweitzer-Mauduit International, and is then sent to Iberpapel in Benimarfull (also in Alicante) to be placed in its packaging. But that, of course, is another story, but the above one is absolutely true, not a bunch of hot air.

Kannabia Seeds Company sells to its customers a product collection, a souvenir. We cannot and we shall not give growing advice since our product is not intended for this purpose.

Kannabia accept no responsibility for any illegal use made by third parties of information published. The cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption is an activity subject to legal restrictions that vary from state to state. We recommend consultation of the legislation in force in your country of residence to avoid participation in any illegal activity.

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