History of Rolling Papers

By: Marla Garden

The technology of smoking continues to advance with vapes and pens; many people continue to love good, old rolling papers. People have likely been rolling things up in paper and smoking them since the creation of paper in the 1100’s. However, papers made specifically for rolling are concretely linked to being created in 15th century Spain.

Peasants in 15th century Spain used to pick up discarded cigars, cut them open, and re-roll them with newspaper scraps. The cigars that the peasants were finding were brought to Spain by Christopher Columbus’s crew. When Columbus and his crew returned to Spain from an excursion, they were smoking tobacco rolled up in tobacco and palm leaves. These were early cigars and caught on quickly with wealthy people.

While smoking a cigar, the tobacco tar builds up inside the cigar, “turning” it or making it taste bad. Naturally, when a smoker’s cigar turned, they would toss it in the street. This is when the peasants would come in, scooping up the cigars to harvest what was left. The newspapers that these peasants were smoking were printed with ink that contained lead, cadmium, and surely some other harmful chemicals.

Papermakers noted how disgusting it was that peasants were smoking repurposed litter. To be candid, they likely didn’t care about the cleanliness of the matter but rather saw an opportunity to make money. So, paper mills started making rolling papers. They used processed white paper and marketed the rolling papers as hygienic.

You really could cut out a piece of The Candid Chronicle and rolled a joint with it. It might not be the best joint, but it would be nothing compared to the 15th-century newspaper cigarettes that these peasants were twisting up. The Candid Chronicle is printed with soy based ink.

Originally, rolling papers were created in large sheets. You’d simply cut off whatever piece you needed. As time went on, pre-cut rolling papers became popular and cut down on preparation time for the consumer. The first rolling paper booklet was created by a Dominican monk to protect the papers. The booklets eventually made it to Alcoy, Spain where they were reproduced.

Now, there is a wide variety of rolling paper options. Transparent cellulose papers, fruit flavored, 24k edible gold papers, hemp papers, pre-rolled cones, and papers of all sizes. It’s amazing what ingenuity can blossom from a little trash picking.