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.