Wednesday, 17 November 2010 18:02

Remembering Tom Dunn

Written by R.W. Hubbard
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As some of you may have heard, Mick and I have entered the publishing business with The Snuff Taker's Ephemeris; a bi-monthly periodical devoted to all things snus and snuff. I wanted to share with SnusCENTRAL one of the many roads that lead me to want to do a book on tobacco.  It would be a crime to omit the name of Tom Dunn from the story. This essay is dedicated to the memory of Tom Dunn, 1938-2005.

Most people remember Tom as the founder and publisher of The Pipe Smoker's Ephemeris, which he put out regularly from 1965 until his death of stomach cancer in 2005. TPSE, as it was more commonly known by its readers, was the single best tobacco-related periodical ever concocted. Tom never made much off of his magazine (in fact, he probably didn't even break even), so TPSE was a true labor of love in every sense of the word.

The late Tom DunnTom was first and foremost a historian. A walking encyclopedia of everything tobacco-related, Tom probably had a copy of every book, newspaper article, newsletter, magazine essay, sales bill, catalog and radio/television special ever produced regarding the subject of tobacco.  His home became a sort of a mini-museum housing his archives.

After his death, it was discovered that he had almost fifty filing cabinets full of material, with each cabinet devoted to its own subject. Every cabinet drawer was numbered, and each number was indexed in a journal. If you wrote to Tom with a question regarding availability of a certain blend of tobacco, he would dutifully pull out the journal and find the right cabinet- Tobacco Sellers (English) catalogs, modern- Cabinet 36. And within a day or two, you'd get a response in the mail telling you exactly what he knew about your inquiry. Tom was the human tobacco search engine.

Tom Dunn shunned computers. He didn't own one until shortly before his death, and even then had no internet connection. Right up until the end, TPSE was produced entirely by hand. Tom would write everything on his old typewriter and cut and paste everything together and drop it off at the printer. A week later he would pick up the finished product, come home and stick it in an envelope, and hand address it to each subscriber on his mailing list, along with whatever personal correspondence he may have chosen to include.

I first came across TPSE in my local tobacconists shop around 1995. I was impressed with its "antique" format (which stood out so prominently on a counter full of the "prestige" and colorful cigar rags). I initially purchased it solely on the strength of a Sherlock Holmes article inside, but soon found myself intrigued with the pipe and cigar talk inside. I immediately subscribed and went back to the smoke shop armed with a knowledge of Dunhill and Mac Baren tobacco blends that I needed to try (unfortunately, Carter Hall was about as fancy a tobacco as you could get in that particular store). I also got my first pipe, a standard beginner's Missouri Meerschaum corn cob that I still use to this day.

I often wrote to Tom about different aspects of the tobacco trade, and to my surprise he always wrote back. I even submitted an article to him about the French cigarette industry during World War II, which he loved but refused to print because I wasn't "old enough" yet. That really rubbed me the wrong way and I canceled my subscription the next day. I still, for the life of me, don't really know quite what happened, but I didn't read TPSE again until about 2001, when a stray copy was given to me at a tobacco convention.

By 2003 I was a subscriber again, and renewed my correspondence with Tom. The old flap over the article was long forgotten by the both of us, and Tom sent me much material An issue of The Pipe Smokers Ephemeris from 2004regarding snuff and smokeless tobacco, a new interest of mine. There was very little information about snuff and snus on the internet in those days, so the material I received was invaluable. Though he was (of course) a Pipe smoker first, he always carried a tin of his own personal blend of Gawith and Hoggarth snuff for those rare occasions when he couldn't smoke his pipe. He (rather sheepishly) admitted to enjoying the occasional plug of chew while working outside.

Tom Dunn was also the first person I ever heard mention Swedish snus, a type of tobacco he was fascinated with ever since reading an article about it in a 1980 issue of The Smithsonian. The following is from a letter he sent me in late 2004:

"... but if you're going to chew snuff, you would be hard pressed to find a better example than the Swedish variety. [ A Swedish member of his pipe club ] sends me a brand called "Rallarsnus" and "Generalsnus" which are both very good. Unlike American or English chew, you do not have to swallow the expectoration, which is intriguing from an American standpoint to say the least!"

When RJR rolled out Camel SNUS a couple of years later, I sent a can to Tom to get his opinion on how it compared to the Swedish brands. I never received a reply though, and it wasn't until later I heard that Tom had passed away shortly before Christmas. I sent my regards to his family, knowing the tobacco world had lost a true legend.

Five years later, I found myself (due to a bizarre series of coincidence that could probably warrant its own article) the proud owner of the contents of Cabinet 19, the Smokeless Tobacco Archives of Tom Dunn. The files contained newspaper and magazine articles about snuff dating back to 1955, along with stacks and stacks of correspondence to snuff makers and sellers from all over the world. Everything you always wanted to know about snuff tobacco, stacked in no particular order and covering the history of snuff first-hand for a half a century.

It took me weeks to go through everything, and what I've ended up with is a treasure trove of tobacciana esoterica. I once asked Tom why he didn't publish a companion piece to TPSE focusing solely on snuff, and his reasoning was twofold.

Firstly, he reminded me, snuffing was a tiny niche wrapped inside another niche (smokeless tobacco) inside another niche (alternative tobaccos) in a larger niche (tobacco) that was in danger of being "snuffed out" by anti-tobacco zealotry and legislation based solely on the dangers of the black sheep of the family, the cigarette. He then reminded me of the previous four decades of erratic publishing of TPSE, an unenviable task that he would no doubt not which to duplicate with a sister title.

But his archives show that as early as 1965, Tom had kicked around the idea of publishing more material devoted to snuff. While the international feedback was resoundingly in favor of such an endeavor, the lukewarm response here in the US probably reinforced his opinion that snuffing was not as widespread a hobby enough to warrant its own publication. He was, however, a founding member of the Mürren Snuff Club, a Swiss-based international committee devoted to the practice of snuff-taking. It was the first modern international community of its kind, and it is still active today.

But what was I to do with these archives? I originally planned on starting a website to house all the information, but I could never settle on a format for the site that would allow it to be navigated easily enough to find whatever article one searched for. So I put everything on the back burner for a few months.

When looking for a tobacco magazine to read at the dentist's office one day, I hit upon the inspiration for our book, and then it hit me: this was the format that the archives needed to be published in. The printed word was just as timeless as the information I wanted to share, and to do it in a regularly published periodical meant that the stockpile of data could grow ever larger.

I felt the whole time that Tom's spirit was urging me on, guiding me in our endeavor. When Mick and I realized that this project was indeed going to happen, we had to settle on a title. For two days and nights I went back and forth with literally dozens of titles, but none of them seemed quite right.

"Snuff Magazine"? No, too modern. Might attract sickos thinking we have some sort of snuff film fetish.

"Snuff Taker's Monthly?" Better, but what if we change our publishing schedule down the road?

"Snuff Taker's Gazette? Journal? Atlas? Almanac?" Hmm, getting warmer. Those names were too... vanilla. I wanted something a little different. Something strange. Something out of left field that really made you take notice.

I always liked that genre mags like "Fangoria," "Cinemafantastique," "Electric Velocipede" and (cough) "Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet" had titles that were sort of off-putting at first glance, but unforgettable once the reader familiarized himself with the publication. A title like "Cemetery Dance" makes you do a double take at first, but how could you ever forget such a great name?

It was then that I heard Tom Dunn's voice in my head (at least, what I imagine Tom sounded like. Having never heard him speak, it sounded sort of like a cross between John Wayne and Fred Gwynne). "The Snuff Taker's Ephemeris" was so perfect, I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it already. It would be a fitting title for the snuff magazine that I think Tom always wanted to do, but never had the chance. A way to honor Tom's memory on the cover of every issue. Most importantly, "The Ephemeris" would evoke the spirit of Tom's seminal work, and it would give us a benchmark of high quality to live up to with each subsequent volume.

If you've never had the opportunity to read a back issue of The Pipe Smoker's Ephemeris, you should take it upon yourself to track one down. It is still the best magazine ever made on the subject of tobacco. We hope that our book will be remembered as the second best.

RW Hubbard
SnusCENTRAL's resident Larry Flynt

Read 6367 times Last modified on Saturday, 09 November 2013 03:08

1 comment

  • Comment Link Nigel Brown Monday, 01 May 2017 06:58 posted by Nigel Brown

    Irecieved this may from about 1970...till tom died
    He knew he didn't have long to he sent me a letter.telling me that he was going for a consultation with his doctor...and that he realised the finality of the situation.... I had loads of copies of the ephemeris and special anniversary copies he used to send to members...I t was all free...I often wondered how he could afford to do it.the postage all around the world must have excuse the pun.cost the earth!
    Unfortunately... About five yrs ago.I was unlucky enough to get an infestation of bed bugs.and like many in that horrible situation. I started getting rid of a lot of stuff...and so all copies were jettisoned....
    Tom was a very private person who I never felt would have answered any too personnel questions ....that I really wanted to ask..such as.what was his real work?..was it inherited money?...anyway.I got a nice letter from his brother.after he passed..seems the whole family were nice folks.!


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