The unfiltered history of rolling papers, plus Tommy Chong's big fat Jamaican vacation

Our pal Ben Marks from Collectors Weekly says: "Here's our article on the history of rolling papers, from their humble beginnings on the streets of 16th-century Spain to their manufacture in the Spanish village of Alcoy. Our story includes an interview with Josh Kesselman, the founder of RAW Rolling Papers, which still produces rolling papers in Alcoy, as well as Tommy Chong, who knows a thing or two about rolling papers but confesses that he's more of a pipe guy. The article also include a slide show of rolling-paper booklets from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, mostly from Alcoy."

After tobacco was introduced to Spain from the New World in the 1500s, a tobacco trade developed in Europe in the 1600s. The aristocrats smoked Tommy Chong-size cigars, rolled in palm and tobacco leaves. When they were done smoking these enormous stogies, they would toss the butts on the ground, where peasants would pick them up, take them apart, and reroll what was left in small scraps of newspaper.

“There was probably green smoke and sparks coming off of them,” Kesselman says of these early rolling papers. “It wouldn’t have been like they were smoking a new New York Times. They were smoking paper that had lead and cadmium and God only knows what in that ink, which would have been running all over their hands.”

By the time the custom of smoking made its way to Alcoy, Kesselman says, the papermakers there recognized the need for a special paper made just for smoking tobacco, so they produced a clean-burning, white, rolling paper, which they advertised by promoting its hygienic properties.

The unfiltered history of rolling papers, plus Tommy Chong's big fat Jamaican vacation


  1. pretty interesting read even for a current non-smoker like me.

    “Cheech and Chong’s 1972 album opened like a rolling-paper booklet and even featured a rolling-paper sheet watermarked with a picture of the duo on it.”

    I feel the need to take it upon myself to point out that this rolling paper was fucking massive.  not really relevant, but too impressive to leave out.

    1. That’s pretty sweet, but really it should be a triangle not a rectangle. If you’re trying to roll a joint that big it’s got to be conical in the end rather than cylindrical because it won’t hold its own weight otherwise.

      Wonder how many of those were given an attempt.

      1. was wondering myself.  one thing’s for sure:  when someone sacrificed the entire ounce or whatever required to fill that beast, it would have been for one helluva party.  can you imagine the double-take you’d do if someone passed that to you?

  2. I’ve smoked a joint that long before, if not longer (we connected like 30 papers and 6 of us rolled in unison at a prom party) in the younger years. While the cone shape may conceivably hold the weight I still think it would sag unless you used two hands. We had it setup on the railing of the deck. And it wasnt possible to pock it up until about 2/3rds done. It burned for about 1 1/2 hrs.

    1. You are kinda right, but the difference between big joints and little ones is that you don’t hold then at the end. Hold it in the middle (like a long piece of timber).

  3. Norway has for many years had massive tobacco taxes, and for a long period filter cigarettes were way more expensive than loose tobacco. As pipe smoking declined, this led to a country of rollup-smokers; you could get Big Ben or Rizla packets (with glue strips to tape them inside the “lid” of the tobacco packages) absolutely everywhere.  It also led to semi-official statements being sent to international meetings to notify them that our delegates were not, in fact, smoking anything illegal.

    It declined a bit when the taxes were shifted around to make the pricing per cigarette-equivalent more equal, and far more (together with smoking in general) when we put the new smoking laws in effect.

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