Alcoy, Spain is a city and municipality located in the province of Alicante, Spain. The Serpis river crosses the municipal boundary of Alcoi.
For more information about Alcoy and the Christian and Moors Festival please visit this link: ALCOY - Christians & Moors Festival
THE HISTORY OF RAW
This may seem long, but there is no other way to tell this story. After reading it, you'll know a lot about rolling papers. My hope is the next time you light one up, you'll think of the history and enjoy each puff a little bit more than before.
The Birth of Cigarettes
My history with RAW cannot be told without first telling a little of the history of the creation of the first cigarette paper long ago, at the time of the voyages of Christopher Columbus It all began when Columbus returned from one of his voyages to the “new world” (Cuba), with something new - cigars. These cigars, however, weren’t like the cigars we have today. They were loosely rolled in multiple layers of either palm or tobacco leaves and tied with an adjustable string. Since the Spanish aristocrats were always especially interested in anything exotic and foreign, they immediately took to smoking these coveted cigars. However, because they had to be transported across the Atlantic in ancient wooden ships, these cigars were incredibly expensive and difficult to get which made them available only to the rich. The only way the Spanish peasants could manage to get their hands on some of this rare and valuable tobacco was to collect the leftover butts discarded to the ground by the aristocrats. They would untie the cigar butt, re-roll it in used newspaper, and smoke it. Even these paper cigars were very valuable. The Spanish peasants would inhale the smoke and hold it in their lungs as long as possible in order to get the most out of every puff. And that is how cigarettes were born.
The Need for Rolling Paper
Smoking out of rolled used newspaper was very toxic because newspaper inks, at that time, contained lead and lots of heavy metals. So in the 1600’s when the custom of rolling cigarettes made its way to Alcoy (which was the paper making capital of Europe) the paper producers there immediately made special paper just for smoking. Early 1600’s-1700’s cigarette paper was supplied in large sheets known as “rolling paper” where smokers would have to hand-cut sections from this paper in order to use it. This all changed, however, when Father Jaime Villanueva Estingo invented the first rolling paper booklet circa 1800 in Jativa Spain (just outside of Alcoy). In 1815 in Alcoy Spain, the world’s first company to produce and sell rolling paper booklets opened its doors. Alcoy quickly became the world’s capital of rolling paper production. Interestingly enough, in 1866 the government of Spain began issuing numbered trademarks and the first 10 trademarks issued were all for rolling papers!
Aside: Ever wonder why rolling papers were bright white before RAW? The early rolling papers marketed themselves as HIGIENICO (Sanitary, for good hygiene). They needed to be pure white to give the impression the paper was clean. This would set themselves apart from the papers full of toxic chemicals or heavy metals obtained from the use of old newspapers and discarded junk paper of the past.
Alcoy vs. Barcelona – the Competition begins
The factories in Alcoy were all small family owned artisan shops. There was heavy competition and tremendous differentiation between each little factory. They all used varying production methods and made their own version of rolling paper, each one thinking theirs was the best.
In Barcelona the factories took a different approach. Since rolling paper production developed much later in Barcelona, during the dawn of the industrial age, it was natural for a giant factory to open. This factory is known today as Miguel Y Costas. They homogenized their production and produced rolling paper on a much larger scale than the Alcoy artisans’ shops could. As a result, they were able to drive down production costs and therefore, retail prices and over the next 50 years they took away much of the market from Alcoy. It’s akin to having a big box store open in a neighborhood and the effect it would have on small business there.
This created a heated battle between the big Barcelonan factory and the Alcoyan artisans but in 1934, the Alcoyans got together, pooled their resources and opened one larger factory. It was called Papeleras Reunitas (or Reunited Papers), to signify how they were all united as one. Each small shop brought their brands and knowledge into the fold. At the time the most popular brand from Alcoy was Bambu. Bambu was launched in 1907 by Rafael Abad Sontoja and had grown to become a major local brand. In fact, the name Bambu became synonymous with Alcoy as Papeleras concentrated on producing and marketing Bambu.
However, in the 1970’s Papeleras entered into a distribution contract with a US company. Shortly thereafter the US company sued Papeleras for violating the contract. In the end the US company received a multimillion-dollar judgment and put liens upon the Bambu trademarks. This put Papeleras into full bankruptcy and eventual liquidation by the end of the 1980’s. The former enemies of Paperleras including Miguel Y Costas came forward to buy the assets of the company including every machine they thought had value, leaving only the ones they considered useless. When bankruptcy was over there was almost nothing left. Of particular insult was that the Bambu trademark, which was integral to the history of Alcoy, had been sold to their former biggest competitor, the large factory Miguel Y Costas of Barcelona. They took the brands, they took the assets and they left Alcoy in shambles.
From the Ashes Come Forth a Phoenix
There are stories we’ve all heard of a Phoenix rising from the ashes and how tiny seeds grow into massive trees, and this story of the rolling paper is no different. While everyone thought paper making in Alcoy was dead, they were wrong. The competitors had taken everything they thought had value, but the few old antique machines they had not taken were repairable. A man named Jose Emilio, who had been in the rolling paper industry for many generations bought the abandoned machines and moved them down the block to an old Alcoy building on the side of a cliff. While the machines were antiquated, they could still produce beautiful artisan paper. One of the machines was specialized to make flavored paper, a craft that had long since disappeared. Jose Emilio began re-producing the flavored papers of old. He employed other men as well, who were also multi-generational rolling paper makers. These men knew how to keep the old machines working and how to produce the old-style artisan papers, flavored or otherwise.
In the early 1990’s I went to Alcoy and met Jose Emilio. He showed me his latest creations, flavored papers called “STRAWBERRY” and “COCONUT”. These papers had no brand, for Jose Emilio was a craftsman, not a salesman. I became the US distributor for Jose and sold many of his papers. Eventually, we collaborated on a new paper and created a brand of menthol papers for my customers. The name for this new brand originated from a nickname I was given as a teenager. You see, one day when I was in High School I made the fateful decision to convince my friends to cruise up and down Farmers Boulevard in Queens New York with me, looking for LL Cool J. He said in one of his songs he hung out there, and me being the ridiculously naïve 17 year old, was sure I would find him. I asked everyone on the street, “Do you know where LL Cool J hangs out?” After that day, my friends knew me as “Cool Jay”. So when it came time to name my menthol paper, I had the perfect name “Cool Jay’s”.
Afterwards, I decided to make a watermelon-flavored paper. The name Cool Jay’s wouldn’t work for watermelon but “Juicy Jay’s” would. Over the next few years Juicy Jay’s did very well, but I knew we had to begin producing in the standard 1 1/4 size. Jose searched everywhere for a 1 1/4 machine but they had all been long bought out by our competitors and destroyed or scrapped. We managed to find 1 machine at a paper museum. Jose Emillio convinced the museum curator to make a trade. We traded two of our classic 1920's era 1 1/2 machines for the one 1930's era 1 1/4 machine. Juicy Jay’s did phenomenally well in this new format and we were able to grow the factory further.
When I was a child, my father used to roll his own cigarettes with a brand of rice papers called Marfil Arroz, which have long since been discontinued. My dad loved to entertain us and while we were all sitting around the dinner table he would light a sheet of this paper and throw it into the air. As we watched, the paper would suddenly disappear! The paper was so thin and pure there was no ash – it looked like magic to a 7 year old. Now that I was producing my own papers I decided I would recreate that beautiful thin rice paper. Thus came the birth of “Elements”, named after the elements that are the building blocks for the paper and plants used to make it. We pressed this paper as thin as possible and added a special run-preventing watermark. The artisans of Alcoy became busy doing what they do best and smokers everywhere could sense the authenticity of Elements. It became a grand success.
The Road to RAW
RAW was a project I had been working on for many years. It began when friends of mine were smoking a brand of "natural" cigarettes. They told me how they preferred these cigarettes because they were additive free without all the chemicals of a regular cigarette. As I was listening to this, I would be staring at the bright bleached white paper thinking to myself "if they can make an additive free natural tobacco, why can't I make a natural unbleached unrefined paper to wrap it in?" And thus, the RAW project began. Getting RAW to market was, without a doubt, the most difficult project I have ever undertaken. Everywhere I went the material suppliers would try to discourage me. I even approached a materials supplier that was owned by our competitors in Barcelona. They said in Spanish (while laughing at me), "Josh, nobody will want to smoke a paper bag". Time and again, I would try to explain my idea, how the paper would be super thin and translucent, how the plant materials I blended would yield the perfect burn, how its' beautiful brown hue would be nothing like anyone had ever seen before for rolling papers, but to no avail. I was at the point of giving up, but I just couldn't get the mental picture of what I imagined for RAW out of my head, and somehow I became even more determined than ever to launch RAW. In the end, I invested all the knowledge and most of the money we had made with Juicy Jays and Elements into RAW and brought it to market. Smokers everywhere agreed with my dream, and RAW has been my biggest success. It turns out, the same factories that negated and poked fun at me are now producing RAWplicas. How classic is that.
Authentic Rolling Papers
Upon a visit to Alcoy, it is impossible not to observe just how deeply rooted the rolling paper industry is to that town. That tradition has always remained at the very heart and core of the people that live there. Our factory in Alcoy is lucky enough to be surrounded by an old abandoned almond tree farm. Most afternoons during siesta time, you can find us sitting under an old almond tree enjoying our lunch and relaxing with a smoke. I am pleased to say, Alcoy continues to be what it was in the 1800’s, the town that produces the worlds best rolling papers. We have a more modern factory now but our papers are still made in small batches by craftsmen that have been doing this for many generations. Authentic Rolling Paper has always come from Alcoy, and it always will. Anything else is just generic paper, without the soul.