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Were ready made cigarettes once any good?

I've never smoked cigarettes and never intend to, but I listen to a lot of Old Time Radio shows online - things such as Gunsmoke, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Dragnet, and various comedy shows.
Most of these are from the 1950's, and many feature ads for cigarettes extolling the virtues of their quality tobaccos, saying what a fine, mild, flavourful smoke you'll get from their particular brand. Now, having read here what they're made of now - paper sludge with nicotine squirted on, etc, it's made me wonder if back then a ready rolled coffin nail was a totally different thing.

Anyone know the answer?


  • Still OK in my book, I'm not sure that the manufacturing process has changed hugely since the thirties. Cigarette have never really been made of the most choice tobacco leaves however this doesn't seem to have limited their historical appeal does it? I'm personally not a fan of 'cheap' cigarettes as they {to me} seem to contain a lot of filler.
  • Once upon a time - back in the mists of time - there were some very good cigarettes available in England, Sobranie and Sullivan Powell made Balkan and Turkish cigarettes, and also the fabled imperial Russians which were hand rolled by two elderly ladies above the Sullivan Powell shop in Burlington arcade. I still remember the nutty taste of the Balkan cigarettes. I never tried the Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco but if it tasted like the cigarettes then I understand why people still rave about that.

    Fribourg & Treyer and Simmonds also produced seriously good Virginia cigarettes - they tasted nothing like the mass produced rubbish that have been around for the past few decades and were more akin to the flavour of a decent Virginia pipe tobacco.

    There is a good article about cigarettes in those days at:
  • I don't know anything about the taste of cigarettes from the '50, but I can be sure that todays one are 'more safe' to smoke than it was back then. Anyone heard about Jan Beffinger, a Polish scientist?

    "As the first he proposed (in 1953) the scientific theory that lung cancer caused by smoking is due to the acidic environment of cigarette smoke, caused, in turn, the lack of natural fermentation of tobacco leaf drying. Beffinger discovered it in his own laboratory in Kenya, that tobacco smoke from naturally fermented (dried) is alkaline, while the smoke of tobacco artificially dried in factories by tobacco companies on the basis of patent Proctor had an acid base, that is extremely aggressive to the lungs of smokers. Furthermore, the fermentation had removed most of the components of tobacco carcinogens. The reports on this subject, supported by research, Beffinger published at his own expense. Philip Morris has released hundreds of thousands of dollars on research sabotage dr. Beffinger".
  • @Chris - Completely on my wavelengh there. You can still get Sobranie blacks and cocktails, and TOR Turkish and Virginia's are worth a punt too as they are excellent. Personally I figure if I'm going to ocasioanly smoke a cigarette then they may as well be good. Interesting article too, thanks for that.
  • The Davidoff cigarette, I think they are now called magnums, are still available. If I was to ever start smoking again and the price wasn't as crazy as it is now, I might have been tempted by these.

    Sullivan Powell were good. If Sobranie were for the ladies then Belomorkanal, which are still available, were for he-men. Belomorkanal have a tiny tip of tobacco and a long cardboard tube that you squeeze into a filter/smoke cooler.
  • @MisterPaul - thanks for the comments and the info. I have seen the Sobranie Black Russians on the web but funnily enough I never particularly liked them - I always preferred the taste of the imperial Russians.

    Thankfully that is no longer a problem as I finally gave up on cigarettes nearly 7 years ago since when it has been cigars, pipes and - increasingly - snuff for me. Using snuff has definitely - with no intentional planning - decreased the number of cigars and bowls of tobacco although I suspect that I will never give them up completely as I do enjoy them. But cigarettes are definitely well off the list.
  • I've no idea if there were any quality mass produced ones back then either, but in the US made ones today Nat Sherman and American Spirit are much superior to the main line or so called "premium" brands, they use no filler or scrap. They cost 25-50% more than the "premium" brands too.
  • bobbob Member
    @Xander unless you are in New York city then Nat Shermans cost the same as camels. I used to smoke Shermans and they were the only cigarette lots of my non smoking ladies friends would let me smoke in their cars are apartments cause they actually smell nice and not acrid and horrid like most cigarette smoke does.
  • edited August 2013 PM
    I smoked out of a round tin of John Players and Sons from the 1951 best smoke I ever had.Fat filter less cigarettes. Stupid customs opened the tin ,I still have one unopened tin left.
    My knowledge is worthless if not shared and applied . "Joseph McKenna"  
  • @Roderick,

    You now have me on a quest to find Sobranie blacks and Belomorkanals. To no avail online however.

    The best cigarettes I have ever had were 555s, which I ordered online years ago.
  • chrischris Member
    edited August 2013 PM
    @Roderick - the Belomorkanals sound like the Sobranie Imperial Russians although the long tube did have what appeared to be a tiny piece of cotton wool in the tube part. I think that was how all Russian cigarettes were produced at one stage.

    @JohnnyFriday - If you are in the UK then a number of shops sell them such as

    Although they do stress that they can only sell them in the UK.

    I was intrigued about the Belomorkanals and a quick search online produced
  • @Rockerick Back in the mid 90s I could get Davidoff cigarettes where I lived. They were $9 per pack at the time. In perspective, I could get a carton of Marlboros for around $25 at the time, while generics were $20. They were DAMN expensive, but I would treat myself with them once in a while. I don't know what was in them, but it was one of the most smooth smoking experience I've ever had from a cigarette.

    If I remember correctly, they were in a black box that was kind of shallow and wide, similar in dimension to a Nat Sherman pack. Ahhh...the old days...
  • @chris, they are sold out. I did however find an ebay guy in russia who will get me a carton.

    The only reason I am interested is in the old movie "The Eagle Has Landed", Robert Duvall smoked these weird cigarettes that he crushed the end of, and said he picked up a taste for them on the russian front. The sobranies seem like a good clubbing prop. Guaranteed conversation starter.
  • JustinJustin Moderator
    @JohnnyFriday You'll need to do what Robert Duvall does with them, otherwise they will blow your head off. Pinch the tube twice, once with fingers at 12 and 6 o'clock, and once with them at 9 and 3. This makes the draw slower - without it is like inhaling straight from a furnace. Enjoy!
    "Reality," sa molesworth 2, "is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder."
  • I used to smoke Picayune and Home Run cigs back in the 60's.
  • @Justin, I love that movie.
  • i used to think shermans were a treat. i don't see them where i shop now
  • @JohnnyFriday You'll need to do what Robert Duvall does with them, otherwise they will blow your head off. Pinch the tube twice, once with fingers at 12 and 6 o'clock, and once with them at 9 and 3. This makes the draw slower - without it is like inhaling straight from a furnace. Enjoy!
    That's it! I was taught similarly how to prepare Belomorkanal for smoking when working in Russia and wanted to try local cigarettes. Smoke is so strong you don't really have to inhale much...
  • Found the tin and smokes. The cigarette has John Players and Sons printed on the glue strip up the side and "Perfectos Finos"around the paper the picture on the tin looks like American money except no dead presidents just a fortress. If anyone has any history on this please share!
    My knowledge is worthless if not shared and applied . "Joseph McKenna"  
  • These are still a good smoke if you can get them. Nat Sherman - Fifth avenue New York
    My knowledge is worthless if not shared and applied . "Joseph McKenna"  
  • BASBAS Member
    I used to smoke Nat Sherman's and Dunhill's International (red box) back in the 90's and I thought both were far better than what I was used to smoking, mostly Marlboro reds. Dunhill was my favorite, a strong, smooth smoke, with an almost spicy under tone.
  • Found the tin and smokes. The cigarette has John Players and Sons printed on the glue strip up the side and "Perfectos Finos"around the paper the picture on the tin looks like American money except no dead presidents just a fortress. If anyone has any history on this please share!
    That's Nottingham Castle (a 17th century ducal mansion built on the site of the medieval castle), the image always associated with Player's tobacco products.
  • I'm happy to hear people mention Sullivans. I remember my father occasionally used to keep packets of them lying around. I had a bit of an adolescent fixation with the stories of AJ Raffles, the gentleman thief and cricketer, who smoked nothing else, so I often used to sneak them. They were very good cigarettes.

    My problem with cigarettes is how little variety there really is. Some of the French ciggies do taste different from standard American ciggies, but only very slightly. Most of the others taste pretty much exactly the same, with only a minor difference between a "good" cigarette and a budget smoke. The range for pipe smokers and snuff users is exponentially vaster.
  • I think they probably WERE better than the cigarette of today, but bare in mind the purpose of those ads was to steer younger men away from the pipe toward the cigarette which was cheaper to produce and more expensive to buy thus increasing dividends on both sides of the economic equation for the tobacco companies.
  • @JakartaBoy I hear you on that one. For those of us that still smoke, there are some generic brands out there that have a very comparable taste to the big brands (for whatever that's worth). My local tobacco shop imported some smokes from Korea and they taste very much like a Camel, only I think they're even stronger. Camels are pretty cheap here at $42/carton, while Marlboros are right around $50. I can get these ones for about $26/carton. yeah, I like my Camels more, but I don't like them that much more.

    If I want a really good cig, I usually just buy a pouch of Bali Shag and roll one up. That stuff is stout, but the flavor can't be beat.
  • Mike_BMike_B Member
    edited August 2013 PM
    They still make good cigarettes, but they're difficult to find and expensive. I picked up 4 packs of English Ovals in Illinois a couple of weeks ago, and they're fantastic. Nat Sherman's Havana Ovals are also good, though they taste more like cigars than cigarettes. Pall Mall unfiltered are also quite nice, as are Chesterfield Kings. Unfiltered Gitanes are the Guinness of the cigarette world, but I haven't been able to find them for years. In Canada, an Export Plain is your only man.

    I've never been able to find Philip Morris' Commanders, but people say they're fantastic too. They're still being made, though like English Ovals their availability depends on your state (some states have made the subtle flavourings used in English Ovals illegal).

  • I can still get Camel Reds here, they were a pretty decent smoke. They're expensive as hell now and only available by the carton. That brings the price waaaaay up unless you have friends that want to split.
  • id be interested to try some of these smokes that are in a different league, since i usually smoke marlboro reds, or drum blue/gold depending on what i feel like, since i only really smoke occasionally or when im out of snus, which means ordering online or making time for a proper tobacconist is usually out the window. i think i could order online of its something special.
  • @Firesarter0 - My recommendation for you is French cigarette Gitane. Your tastes seem similar to mine and I love these as an evening smoke.
  • @Firestarter0: apart from Gitanes maybe, I doubt that any of them would taste like much after smoking Drum. Drum tends to kill my sense of smell/taste when it comes to tobacco, as the taste is so strong (and wonderful). I tried to intersperse my Ovals with milder, more bland cigarettes so that I could fully appreciate the Ovals.
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