With the hand of a few ones. The luxury strolls boastful of having put
in a corner the misticity of the village. The likes changed and the consumption rules
changed too. Alfredo, the main character of Hours of fever (1891) is dressed with
the best imported clothes, he builds a palace, he exhibits in Florida (the most famous
pedestrian street of Argentina), he eats in the best restaurants, and he spends in
jewellers and expensive furniture shops. Buenos Aires look at Europe and she
The city changes rhythm, color and flavor: "the Italian generous
and heroic music, the French wines and the cigarettes of Havana, give enthusiasm,
happiness and aroma of opulence" aims Juan Balestra. In 1890 the fever reached its
higher temperature. More than the end of the euphoria, the 90 and their crisis were a
warning spasm. The end of the century lavished optimism, and promised that its
peacefulness was only a modest advance of what was to come.
The surprising demographic growth of the Argentina, in the XIX and XX
centuries, enlarged the internal market diversifying the demand. Of the almost four
millions and half inhabitants of 1895, the country passed to seven millions eight hundred
thousand in 1914. This process stimulated the passage from the home-made industry to the
automated industrial production. Toward the decade of 1870 our incipient industrial
establishments only manufactured "the ruin of their owners". Starting from 1880
the production of foods and gear is accentuated, giving bigger importance to the
manufacturer sector in the production of the national wealth. The products traditionally
required by the elementary necessities of consumption of the Creole Argentina won't escape
from that change. The "mate" (most popular argentine drink), the sugar, the
meat, the canvas shoes and the cigarettes can not be subtracted to the process of change
imposed by a wider and more comprehensive market of almost the whole territory of the
country. Until half of the XIX century, the production of cigars and cigarettes remained
subject to the conditions of the colonial economy, hardly with variants. The country
independence from Spain (1816) had put an end to the Real Rent of Tobaccos that
monopolized the elaboration and sale of the product, but it had not been able to overcome
the limitations imposed by the quality of the tobacco and the modality of manufacturing.
The tobacco figured as an article of first necessity. It was not enough
to know that "it was an extremely desirable gender, a need that is affordable",
a historian points out mentioning to the colonial period. So much importance had that in
1778 Spain sent Don Francisco de Paula Sanz to the Río the la Plata commanding "an
expedition of the tobacco". It should try to improve the revenues of the real country
property, carrying out a market study that established the likes of the consumers. The
preferences of these were distributed among the powdered tobacco that was aspired by the
nose, and that of branch that was smoked or chewed. Toward 1825, an English traveller
notices that Buenos Aires have preference for the cigars. But they are expensive and they
don't always arrive under good conditions. Paper and leaf cigars are more used.
Those cigars were sold in warehouses and groceries. "Almost all
the grocers had their "picador" (chopper) of tobacco, a kind of travelling
professor that went from one warehouse to another" José Antonio Wilde refers.
Grocers preferred this system because, in this way, they avoided the cigarreros in their
houses to substitute the good tobacco for another of inferior quality. The cigarrero put
on his legs a can with the chopped tobacco, paper leaves and a knife. The packages and the
wrappings were not known. He tied up between sixteen and twenty cigarettes with a black
thread. The production of leaf cigars gave work and sustenance to many poor families. This
way of producing cigarettes was replaced by the industrial establishment, where women were
made the cigarettes by hand. In large rooms still took place those elementary varieties of
a product with growing demand and with a variety of likes that was necessary to assist. In
1898, two young friends decide to install a small establishment to manufacture cigarettes.
They had a small capital, a modest attic in the street De La Piedad (today Bartolomé
Mitre), of what they sought to make and of how they should make it.
Juan Oreto and Juan L. Piccardo invested 300 pesos in acquiring a
rudimentary manual machine of iron to chop tobacco. Very soon they would incorporate a
more complete and speedier one, the Bonsak, with capacity to elaborate two hundred
cigarettes per minute. In the number 3493 of that same street De La Piedad Antonio
Piccardo's mechanical shop worked offering repairs of steam machines, gas, kerosene and
the production of machines to elaborate candies. The following year the company
incorporates two new partners: Emilio Costa and Pedro Piccardo.
For those days of 1899 other signs of the maturity reached by the
Argentinean industrialism appear. On July 26 the great concentration of the industry was
carried out. More than eighty thousand people marched from square Lorea to the Congress.
The industry needed that the country recognized it as an important factor of its economic
life. President Roca, returned to the presidency at 55 years of age, trying to be equally
distanced from the indiscriminate opening and the absolute protectionism: "the
protection should be rational and equal", he explained. The small company on the loft
of the street De La Piedad was born with good auspices. The situation of Cuba, freed from
Spain after the war of 1898, affected the world market of tobaccos. It was in fact in Cuba
where, a month after the discovery of America, the Spaniards met "the tobacco of
smoking". That discovery of the wonderful herb took place in a favorable time for its
reception like a panacea in the Old World. It left from Cuba to Europe in the first trip
of return of Columbus, and starting from there it expanded all over the world with
extraordinary speed. Fernando Ortíz, the historian of the tobacco, says that that
expansion was spontaneous, quick and extensive. The Spaniards in India smoked first
undercover, and then with naturalness. They took the plant and, in the XVI and XVII
centuries they exported America the cigarette wrapped in paper. In France their production
began in 1842. According to the learned Ned Rival, the cigarette reached massive diffusion
in Europe after the war of Crimea, between 1854 and 1856.
The cigarette is a mestizo son, Ortiz says "it is a luxury of
first necessity", besides being the most popular and universal. One of their more
important functions, García Gallo scores is to "offer a company in the
solitude". The long voyages in carts or carriages, tinged with the stops in the posts
spread in the solitude, become bearable with the inseparable alliance among the mate, the
cigarette, the barbecue and the card. The progress begun in 1880 won't expel such habits,
but rather it will incorporate them, more discriminated, to the modern country.
Oreto and Piccardo capture the moment, they imagine the evolution of
the demand and they prepare to respond to their growth. The national tobacco can begin to
substitute the good tobacco that it is still imported. "The one that eats and doesn't
smoke is like one that gets lost and doesn't scream", it was the statement in the
Argentinean north arrived from Bolivia. To satisfy the desire to have that luxury of first
necessity by hand is the objective of Piccardo. Soon the loft of the street De La Piedad
is narrow. It is necessary to have bigger places to store the tobacco. Soon, the company
of friends should also acquire the features of a formal company.
When that happens, in 1899, the firm celebrates the eves from the new
century having sold 316.000 packages of cigarettes and soon they multiplied that figure.
The modest shop becomes a factory. First it works in Defensa 1155, and then in the 1236 of
the same street. The half dozen of workers also multiplies by 20, and it doesn't stop to
be increased. Piccardo launched a brand that, with the time, will become the oldest
cigarettes in the world with more continuity. The 43 appear.
Why 43?. According to a version, for that Belgian that bought stocks
that were not worth more than 42 pesos to 43, like a profession of optimistic faith in
Buenos Aires stock of 1890 while the stocks collapsed. According to another version, also
related with the stocks world, 42 stockmen operated there. When somebody detected an
intruder he screamed: "Forty three, forty three"! to notice that strange
presence. The number had its history, and in those years its fame. A fame largely overcome
by the one that would achieve those cigarettes that, as many of those produced
Nobleza-Piccardo, belong to the landscape, the memories and the flavor of the Argentinean
To the "43 originales" were soon added the "43
especiales" and the brand Casino. In only one year, consigned the annals of the
company, 460.120.000 cigarettes were sold. The popular publicity, transmitted
spontaneously, was reinforced with the campaigns in magazines as "Caras y
Caretas" and "Fray Mocho". Soon the cards of 2 cents were included in the
package, those that accumulated could be exchanged by a new pack. Those cards would end up
circulating as currency. Then other bigger attractive prizes would come. The 43 "had
the sign of the quality that identified the pleasure, the flavor and the aroma of the
On June 1st 1914, the third national census took place and
included a meticulous report of the Argentinean industry. According to that census, the
cigarette industry had establishments that, for their capitals, perfection of their
machineries, workers' number and annual value of their production, were comparable with
the major and bigger of the world. Argentina was "one of the countries where the
cigarettes are presented better, of superior quality and cheaper."
One year before, when Roque Sáenz Peña still governed, an ordinance
had been signed that authorized the operation of the Compañía Nacional de Tabacos
(National Company of Tobaccos) that had an initial capital of five million pesos. Twenty
years later it will pass to be denominated Compañía Nobleza de Tabacos SA (Company
Nobility of Tobaccos SA), by virtue of an ordinance that prohibited the employment of the
national term in the name of commercial companies, Also in 1913, Piccardo and Company
becomes an anonymous society.
The First World War causes the interruption of the normal supply of
manufactured articles. The war stimulates the expansion of the existent companies in the
country and the appearance of new enterprises. Between 1900 and 1914, the population grew
to an annual rhythm of 4.2%, while the gross product grew at a rate of 5.5%. In 1914, the
evaluation of Piccardo SA year, was frankly positive: "the elaboration and sale of
the products of the society in the year, accuse progress in relation to the previous
exercises; and the directory considers that the obtained financial result is
satisfactory". undoubtedly it was it, and the numbers of the stock balance presented
to the shareholders confirmed it fully. Deduced the amounts dedicated to the reservation
funds, it was a remainder of 1.756.000 pesos, equivalent to not much more than 700.000
dollars. The advertising campaigns of the classic marks of Piccardo, 43, Excelsior and
Plus Ultra (launched in 1926 in homage to Ramón Franco and the crew that crossed the
Atlantic by plane), it included designs with notorious signatures. In the twenties, the
posters of Piccardo leaned on in the feminine grace characteristic of those "crazy
years", in Egyptian motives -as those of Huergo - or Incan.
Meanwhile, Nobleza experiences a not less remarkable expansion, not
only financial, but also physical. That year 1920 the lands are acquired and the works of
foundation of the new deposits, factory, and own offices begin in the street Puán, in the
neighborhood of Caballito (Buenos Aires), where it works now the Faculty of Philosophy and
Letters of the UBA. Nobleza produced, in 1919, three million packages of fourteen
cigarettes each one, usual quantity in the packs of the time. In the year 1923, their line
of tobaccos Mariposa (Butterfly) achieved great acceptance. That same year Nobleza
obtained the license to manufacture in the country Player's, a famous brand in the world.
Also in 1923 their mark Pour the Noblesse, at 20 cents the pack reached a sales record of
14.000.000 of packages.
At the end of the XIX century these companies are gestated. During the
first decade of the XX century they are secured in the market, and in the years 1920 they
experimented a remarkable expansion. It is the time of brands like The Flag, City Club,
Magnos, Celma, and Senadores (black tobacco). The Cuyanos, Flor de Ceibo and
Argos appear to cover the demand of the popular sectors for their accessible price. In
1935, Nobleza starts the distribution of products of "Manufactura de Tabacos
Mitjans's, Colombo y Compañía" that produced the Clifton, Commander, Piloto and
Many brands remain fixed in the collective memory with so much force
that their single mention acts like a key able to open the coffer of the memories.
Piccardo on one hand, and Nobleza on the other, left a long list of brands among those
that can be mentioned: Columbia, American Club, Gloster, Embajadores, Fontanares,
Commander, Jockey Club, Viceroy, Derby, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Clifton, Camel,
Parisiennes, and many more.
Nobleza introduced in 1938 the first filtered cigarettes of the
country, the blond (tobacco) Richmond, and the Tranquilos (black tobacco).
The public's pleasure had not changed completely and the filtered cigarettes will have to
wait until 1960 when Piccardo launched their Gloster (blond) and the 43 (black). In 1962
Nobleza launched first King Size cigarette, the popular Jockey Club, and then the first
100 millimeters, the Commander, followed by Windsor, the first slim
cigarette in 1972. In 1977, one year before the coalition, the first of 120 millimeters
appears (Jockey Club).
But the brand of more success in sales and continuity for 66 years is,
without doubts, Jockey Club, launched to the market with remarkable success in 1926
in packages of 10 units of 70 millimeters, usual length for that time. Retired of the sale
in 1947, they reappeared two years later. The Jockey is a unique case in the
Argentinean market of cigarettes. At the beginning of 1964 it became the best selling
brand of the country, and the following year it conquered 16.5 percent of the national
market, portion that will enlarge in 1967 when it achieved 25,6 percent of that market.
That market experienced constant changes, to which Piccardo and
Nobleza, still separated, should respond. The pack of 14 units is replaced in the twenties
by those of 20 units. Half century later other changes are perceived. The public prefers
them blond: more than 70 percent of the sales were concentrated on that variety, while 10
years before the acceptance of blond and black was equally distributed. Around 90 percent
of the smokers preferred filtered cigarettes, and 55 percent smoked king size cigarettes.
Together with its development, the Compañía Nacional de Tabacos fixed
as an objective to stimulate the technological advance. In 1925, when the stabilization of
the cultivations of tobacco had not still taken place in the country, it hired E. H.
Mathewson, world specialist in the variety Virginia. The expert carried out a floor study
in Bonpland (Misiones). As a result of his work 27 varieties of seed of Virginia tobacco
were imported, beginning to the previous tests of cultivation. Similar tasks were carried
out in Corrientes and in Salta (provinces of Argentina) in 1929. Piccardo and Nobleza also
paid special attention to the social and cultural promotion, founding public libraries,
opening up and maintaining child care facilities, building housings for their employees in
Buenos Aires and the provinces, stimulating the improvements in the cultivations of
tobacco with the introduction of new varieties, and taking care of their human resources
by means of their appropriate training and promotion. The net of salespersons of Nobleza
in the whole country became an extended web of independent distributors to whom it was
given the possibility of acquiring buildings, deposits, vehicles and furniture provided by
the company. From 1918, date of the inauguration of the first branch in Rosario, and until
beginnings of 1970 the company ended up having 110 branches and deposits. In 1977 these
two companies that had grown almost in parallel form, imbued of the same values, a similar
history, and a similar responsibility management, announced their coalition. They were not
the only elements that favored the idea. During decades Nobleza and Piccardo had
maintained excellent relationships, not only exercising a loyal competition, but also
cordial. The coalition was also object of a meticulous study. A chat among the presidents
of both signatures, Francisco Botero and Juan Martín Oneto Gauna, by the middle of 1976,
was good to pass in clean the idea that already floated in both companies. In that way a
jump took place in quality and efficiency of the two companies that, responding to the
world tendencies, inaugurated a new modality in the Argentinean managerial history.
The coalition process took its time, and it was completed in the moment
that both occupied the same physical space and achieved an assembly in their production
systems and commercialization. The urban space of the capital adjusted as a corset to the
new giant that passed to occupy the plant of General Motors in San Martin's district, just
in the limit of the Federal Capital with the Buenos Aires province. In those 250.000
square meters, previously reconditioned, the industrial plants, offices and deposits of
Nobleza-Piccardo began to work in December of 1981. The modest beginnings in the attic
were as the prehistory of a company whose prodigious development the pioneers imagined at
the end of the XIX century. Five years after the coalition, Nobleza-Piccardo controlled 57
percent of the cigarette market. In 1982 it became the private company with more billing.
The beautiful and fragile leaves of the tobacco became the lasting and resistant symbol of
a history that began opened up in two arms, but that reached their maturity when both
converged to respond to the challenges that will come during next hundred years.
Reproduced from the magazine "Todo es Historia" Número 313
(Thanks to Juan Francisco de la Torre Pérez for providing the original document.
Electronic translated to English by Alejandro Butera)