Right about now I should be having a mid-life crisis. I realize that I'm no longer quite as young as I used to be. This is not because I feel creaky in any way, nor because gout is making for an interesting night more often than I relish. It is partly due to several tried and true trademarks disappearing from commercial view. The vanishing of well-known mercantile faces, as it were.
PRODUCTS FOR THE PERIPATETIC
Some familiar brand names inspire a feeling of comfort and wellbeing. Twinings, for tea drinkers, as well as James Keiller and Sons marmalade from Dundee.
There's an empty tea tin in my desk filled with screws for which I don't have holes, and a stoneware marmalade jar with pipe cleaners on the top of the desk, off to the right hand side.
Twinings, Keillers, and similar products, along with the shipments of books from Blackwell in Oxford, marked the life of overseas English speakers for decades. String-bound packages would periodically arrive in the hinterlands of Kenya, Malaysia, or Holland, for a brief and glorious moment inspiring feelings of ... elsewhere.
Twinings and Keiller are still in existence. So is Blackwell - they continue to ship books to bibliophiles in the furthest reaches.
On the other hand, many of the tobacco companies, whose fragrant products brought smelly joy to bachelors living in tropic jungles, or the distant bogs of Brabant, are now fading memories.
Tins of Dunhill have disappeared from shops, Rattray's characteristic tall cans no longer clutter desks, and Astley's, Fribourg and Treyer, and several other venerable firms closed their doors long ago.
DISAPPEARING DUTCH MERCHANTS
The three Dutch trademarks that for generations of expats spelled home were Douwe Egberts
, Erven De Weduwe van Nelle
, and Van Rossem
They manufactured coffee, tea, and tobacco. Their brands dominated the market, and assured both the home audience and the distant exile that certain standards were still being met. The familiar packaging spoke of an enduring Dutchness.
A Dutchness that no longer endures.
Douwe Egberts Koninklijke Tabaksfabriek Koffiebranderijen Theehandel Naamloze Vennootschap was founded in Joure anno 1752. Tobacco, coffee, tea.
It is now owned by Sarah Lee, who bought the concern in 1978.
Van Nelle (aka "The Widow's Concern") began in 1782 in Rotterdam. After the death of the founder in 1811, his widow (hence the nickname) continued the business. Tea, coffee, tobacco.
Sarah Lee purchased the enterprise in 1989.
Van Rossem of Rotterdam was started by brothers Johannes and Adrianus van Rossem in 1755 as a coffee company, soon branching out to tobacco.
They were purchased by Grunno sometime after World War Two, possibly as late as the sixties. Grunno was subsequently acquired by Niemeijer in Groningen (founded in 1848), which was in turn bought by Gallaghers, then sold to Rothman's in 1990, which was absorbed entirely by BAT in 1999. The few remaining brands are probably now manufactured by Orlik in Holstebro.
[This reminds me of the castle that Herbert lived in, in Monty Python's movie Holy Grail ("It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one - that burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp.").]
I suppose that all of these brand names mean something to me because they were still the standards in their various fields when I was younger.
Had I been born since the Reagan years, they would not resonate - no doubt other brands and other products which I am entirely overlooking would have that fond familiarity - and if I were a crusty geezer in my eighties, I would now be creakily typing the phrase "when I was younger....".
I miss enameled tins. I miss painted metal advertisement placards firmly bolted to walls, that demonstrated the faith of the manufacturer in the continued interest in their product, the commitment of the corner grocery that they too would be in business for several years to come.
I miss the bags, bales, and crates that had emblems and provenances proudly stamped on fabric, burned in wood.
I miss the septic smells of commerce as it was.
I miss the world before marketing departments and health nuts took over.
[What I also miss, more than perhaps anything else, is clothing that does NOT advertise. Somewhere along the line, and I think it was during the Reagan era, we started wearing tacky clothing with texts. Freebie tee-shirts. Sweats. Jogging shoes. Baseball caps. We became billboards, while our world became illiterate. We devolved.]
I do not miss the eighties. I can still recall how ghastly that decade was.
I'm sure there were some perfectly horrid things in the sixties and seventies. Products that are best forgotten. Preferences and tastes that now would appall me. Horrors and vulgarities beyond compare.
But, you see, I do not remember them. That more distant past now glows.
What set this off?
Well, last night I put together a pipe-tobacco blend that reeks deliciously old-fashioned to me. Smoking it awakens memories of my gloriously misspent youth.
Back in the sixties and seventies my mother would send me across the square to pick up her carton of cigarettes, and down the street for the bottle of Genever. In those days, shopkeepers did not question children purchasing smokes and liquor, as every one delegated some of the essential shopping to the young. I started buying tobacco for myself when I was barely past pubescence, and would sit in cafés with the Holy Trinity (cup of strong coffee, shot of genever, cheroot) after school let out during much of my teenage years. I did my algebra and geometry homework at those times, then read the newspapers and magazines on the back table of the establishment.
This new blend brings back those aromas. And also the smells of the grossier on the Luiker Weg, the saddler behind the Hofnar cigar factory, and the café on the Dommelsche Weg close to the lumberyard. Packets of Douwe Egberts tea, Van Nelle coffee. Dragon shag. Wet grass in the Wilhelmina Park at night, after a summer downpour.
It is peaty, woodsy, and dry in taste. Latakia, Turkish, various Virginias, Kentucky, and Perique.
This evening, after work, I shall sit on the front steps, and stink like I used to.
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Labels: Dutch, Pipes and tobacco, Tea