A few weeks back, Lloyd carried out some important and detailed research into the ‘Raven Mixture’ tobacco mentioned early on in the novel. He even went as far as to acquire a pipe and pouch of the good stuff for us to sample. It was highly enjoyable, and I experienced what I can only call ‘pipe envy’.
Strolling up St James Street after lunch in a club (I really am getting into the role of Carruthers) I chanced upon a tobacconists called James J Fox) and felt an immediate urge to get my own pipe. It would be no good having this Adventure with just one of us puffing on a briar, now would it?
My luck was very much in when I was served in the pipe shop by one Philip Shervington, who’s been in the tobacconist trade for many a year (he claimed to have retired three times already). Having heard my story of being ‘NotCarruthers’, he steered me towards a pipe with a flat bottom so that I would be able to lay it on my charts in a boat without fear of it falling over. Very smart.
The real surprise, however, came when I mentioned I was looking for a tobacco akin to the fictional ‘Raven mixture’. Lloyd & I had become convinced this was a playful reference to ‘Craven Mixture’, but Philip dropped a bit of a bombshell by asserting that Raven Mixture was not a fiction, but a very real thing!
Philip claimed there were big pots of the stuff suitably labelled in a tobacconists called G Smith & Sons at 74 Charing Cross (now defunct), where he had worked as a younger man, under the tutelage of someone called Harry Lewis, and also Vivian Rose, known in the 1960s as ‘the Snuff King’, a man famous enough to have appeared on ‘What’s My Line?’. Not only did Philip handle the pots, he used to prepare the mixture.
Flipping open a drawer packed with dozens of different tobacco mixes, Philip declared that ‘the closest equivalent you’d get today is Radford’s Luxury Blend.’ Like Lloyd’s pseudo-Craven mixture, there’s Virginia in there plus a small percentage of Latakia. But the extra element in Radford’s is Perique from Louisiana, a rather romantic and quite rare tobacco that was cultivated in ancient times by the Choctaw and Chickasaw native American tribes.
In essence there’s a little bit of the indian peace pipe in this blend – a blend that turns out to be not quite as ‘made up’ by Childers as we first thought.