The Influential Drucquer & Sons, Ltd

Drucquer & Sons was a place where pipe enthusiasts worked or gathered, enthusiasts who loved tobacco, like pipe enthusiasts everywhere. The famous tobacconist shop, however, has taken on a mythology of its own and is spoken of with respect and admiration. And why not? It's natural to look back in time at the seemingly insignificant and retrospectively clothe it in legend, especially when it turns out to be as influential and important as Drucquer & Sons.

We're almost required to think in terms of legend, given how little is known about the company, especially its early history. Founded in 1841 in London by John Drucquer, it evidently did well enough to maintain a good business for generations. A Drucquer catalog from the 1970s mentions that Charles Dickens at least once bought pipes in that London shop.

We can infer that many famous people living in and passing through London must have visited the tobacco shop, but no records have survived. We know only that the company was moved to Berkeley, California, from London, in 1924 by John Drucquer III, whose two sons sold the store to Robert Rex in 1964. Rex had been working at the shop for two years before purchasing it. That's usually about how long it takes for someone to realize they want a long-term relationship with pipe tobacco.

Digital scan from Drucquer & Sons catalogue (c. 1970).

Rex sold the shop in 1982 and became a winemaker, which is more closely related to tobacco blending than most realize. There were a couple of other owners afterward, but the shop diminished and closed around 1990. The era of Robert Rex, however, is most interesting.

At that time, most of the shop's employees were graduate students from Berkeley who were interested in tobacco. We know that because Greg Pease, of G.L. Pease Tobacco, was one of the students working there. "I walked in," says Greg, "and basically never left." He'd been spending so much time in the shop, and had started helping out so much, that Robert Rex finally hired him. That's where Greg Pease first experienced tobacco blending.

It was an intellectually rich environment, and we experienced a profound camaraderie, all of us passionate about what we were doing. - Greg Pease

Robert Rex was ahead of his time, bringing chemistry to tobacco blending and developing techniques for aging tobacco, and his blends were popular all over the world. Greg says he received his pay in pipes, which was his preference. "I was the only student walking around campus smoking Dunhills and Charatans," he says.

The unique atmosphere of the place, says Greg, was what made it such an incredible shop. "It was an intellectually rich environment," he says, "and we experienced a profound camaraderie, all of us passionate about what we were doing."

Drucquer & Sons is where Greg learned to restore pipes, but the tobacco is what enthralled him. It wasn't just tobacco to him; it seemed to take on a texture and redolence of old-world tradition and quality, and its transformation from mere components to a balanced blend transfixed him. That experience was obviously life altering; today he's among the most respected tobacco blenders in the world.

Digital scan from Drucquer & Sons catalogue (c. 1970).

When Greg Pease reconstructed the Drucquer & Sons tobaccos that are made today, he did so from memory. Though it had been decades, he remembered most of the recipes, forgetting and reconstructing some of the details that he needed to figure out again, but achieving remarkable success. "I've had mail from people, for example, saying that the new Inns of Court is exactly like it was. Inns of Court is a special tobacco; it appeals more to me now than it did when I was young, because I'm more aware of nuance."

It was the aroma, though, that perhaps most confirmed he had gotten these tobaccos right. "They triggered memories just like the old days," he says. Like a key fitting a lock, the aromas were so accurate that they transported him to his youth in the bustle of one of the most influential tobacco shops ever to open doors, where he first plunged his hands into pungent tobacco.

...Inns of Court is a special tobacco; it appeals more to me now than it did when I was young, because I'm more aware of nuance. - Greg Pease

Drucquer & Sons made an indelible imprint in the history of pipe tobacco. Unfortunately, it's another historic shop that we can no longer visit in person. But we can still appreciate it in our imaginations as we smoke tobaccos originating in the fabled shop, and we may see ourselves enveloped in lively conversation regarding the aging qualities of different tobaccos, or the proportions necessary for balance, at a time when such conversation was truly pioneering. We may even feel the waves of influence that seeded such tobacco companies as G.L. Pease, and discern the aromas of the old tobaccos wafting through that shop long ago and, thanks to their resurrection, into our own pipes today.


See The Blends

Comments

    • thediscobiscuit on April 19, 2019
    • Nice write up! Always interesting to learn the history of things. Being a younger smoker I didn't know most of this. Very cool!

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