Goodbye, Dunhill; Goodbye, McClelland

DUNHILL-brand-crestMcClelland logo

Dunhill Tobacco of London (actually its owner, British American Tobacco) recently confirmed what has been expected for some time: its tobacco blends are now out of production. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that McClelland Tobacco Co. is closing its doors. The latter news has not yet been confirmed by the company to my knowledge, but I am unaware of a disavowal. Its website is silent on the matter. I’m assuming the worst. I hope I am wrong.

This is sad news, to put it mildly. Both companies sold many popular blends, and their demise undoubtedly disappoints many pipe smokers. Shops and online sellers still have some tins and bulk in stock, but they are getting harder and harder to find. Some are already gone.

The word is that Dunhill, a venerable name in pipes, pipe tobacco, and cigars, which markets a line of luxury goods, no longer wants its name associated with tobacco. (Oddly, cigarettes under that name will continue.) Dunhill, which began in England in 1907, is also famous for coveted high-end pipes. I don’t know what will change there. (Today, the production of the Dunhill blends is done by the giant Scandinavian Tobacco Group.)

Dunhill portrait
Alfred Dunhill (1872-1959)

McClelland, a small operation based in Kansas City, Mo., since the 1970s, first reported it would discontinue more than a dozen blends because it could not find a satisfactory crop of red Virginia tobacco. That news was bad enough since some popular blends were on that list. So the latest news came as a real shock. The problem is obviously larger than substandard red Virginia. [UPDATE: We can’t rule out impending draconian Food and Drug Administration tobacco rules as a factor in McClelland’s closing. More on this in future posts.]

I have been a fan of a few blends from each company. I’ve come to adore Dunhill Nightcap, My Mixture 965, and Elizabethan Mixture, and I’ve been working on a tin of Navy Rolls (formerly called Deluxe Navy Rolls; as I understand it, the European Union now forbids words like deluxe for tobaccos. Do you believe it?!)  The first two products are considered English blends since they have latakia and Virginias. (MM965 is also called a Scottish blend because it has Cavendish.) The latter two are Virginia-and-perique blends, known as Vapers,

Luckily, I have a small stock of each of these, so I won’t run out soon. I’ve also smoked Dunhill’s popular Early Morning Pipe, which too is considered an English. (These terms are not standardized.)

My favorites in the long McClelland line are 2015, or Virginia Perique Flake (this is the bulk name; the tinned version is St James Woods); 5100, or Red Cake (red Virginia), the Frog Morton line of English blends (except for Frog Morton’s Celler — I don’t like the whiskey flavor); Dark Star (aged Virginia), and Dark Navy Flake (a lesser aged Virginia). Alas, I have not sampled the many, many other McClelland Virginia blends. Fortunately, I’ve stocked up on 2015 and Frog Morton on the Bayou, which is a Virginia-latakia-perique blend. I also have some Balkan Blue and Syrian Super Balkan. I’m set for a while.

For those who like any blends from these companies, all is not lost. A few companies — Sutliff, 4Noggins, and Pipes and Tobacco, among them — have matches for some of the most popular Dunhill and McClelland blends. I’ve not tried many of them, so I can’t say how close they are. I have tried two, however, and to my palate, the results are uneven. Unfortunately, the ones I’ve tried were made by McClelland, so now it’s a moot point. Nevertheless, I’ll point out that to my palate McClelland’s match for My Mixture 965, which it called 925, was a very close match, but its AM Pipe, which was supposed to be like Early Morning Pipe, was way off the mark. Not only could I not taste any latakia, I disliked the taste and aftertaste. As they say, your mileage may vary. I would be willing to try any match for the disappearing blends I like.

Finally, when the reports of Dunhill’s exit first surfaced, many people expressed hope that some other company, perhaps the giant Scandinavian Tobacco Group (Lane), which is the U.S. importer of the Dunhill blends, would buy the recipes and market the blends, even if under different names. So far, I have not gotten word of this happening. No doubt smokers are praying someone will find a way to keep the McClelland blends around. I’m not optimistic. The vibes are not good.

But have no fear, the market is full of excellent blends from well-established and lesser-known names: Mac Baren, Peter Stokkebye, Cornell & Diehl, G.L. Pease, Gawith & Hoggarth (and Sam Gawith), Esoterica Tobacciana, Peterson, and too many others to list. And don’t overlook the old, established “drug store” blends: Granger, Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Half & Half, and others.

So while we’ve lost many good blends, we are not up the creek.

The Economic Way of Thinking

dunhill-pipe-logo-250                     Corn cob

No, I have not strayed off topic already. Newer pipe smokers often wonder if really expensive pipes smoke better than inexpensive pipes, such as Missouri Meerschaum corn cobs, Dr. Grabows, Kaywoodies, and Mr. Brogs. (Let’s not overlook excellent mid-range pipes, such as many Savinellis, Aldo Velanis, and Nordings.)

What we each need to ask ourselves is this: is the marginal increment in the superiority of a pricey pipe’s smoke, assuming it exists, likely to be worth the additional cost? The question is not, “Does the pricey pipe smoke better?” but rather, “Does it smoke that much better?”

This is a personal, subjective matter. No one can answer for you but yourself. Of course, you have to assess the future in order to answer the question. Unless you smoke the pricy pipe, how can you know? Unless someone lends you an unsmoked one, you have to guess. You can make something of an educated guess by asking others, but they would be relating their experiences, which may not be yours. An educated guess is still a guess.

Your personal circumstances are highly relevant. If you are as rich as Jeff Bezos, gambling on a Dunhill pipe may be no big deal (although it may be). If you earn the median income, it most likely will be a big deal. It is for me. Even if I were convinced that a Dunhill or some other very expensive pipe would smoke better than a cheap or moderately priced pipe, I still wouldn’t believe the difference between them would be worth the added expense. I, like you, face opportunity costs: what else could I spend the extra money on? Tobacco perhaps.

I’ll go further and say I’d rather buy several decent inexpensive pipes than put that money toward one very pricey pipe.

But that’s me. Nevertheless, we would all benefit from approaching such questions in marginal and opportunity-cost terms — that is the economic way of thinking.