The biggest collector of rolling papers in the world

Photography by Josh Eustace

Papermeister, a Welshman living in Hackney, says he has the biggest collection of rolling papers in the world “unless someone can prove me wrong”.

You’ve probably never thought about a paper (skin, Rizla, etc) beyond sparking one up. And why would you? Most of the time, we’re more concerned with what’s going on inside. Plus, it’s not exactly the most riveting conversation starter.

But over in Hackney lives the Papermeister, aka the man with the biggest collection of rolling papers in the world. He has thousands. And he’s Welsh, which is ideal, because like the Irish, they’re great storytellers. Handy, then, given the story of his collection of rolling papers, which was started by his late father (Derrick Tarr, 1951 – 2021) in the 1960s while he was on the famed Hippy Trail in search of the world’s best hash, is pretty epic.

Besides, Papermeister’s collection isn’t just a huge assemblage of skins featuring every brand imaginable. It’s also a celebration of craftsmanship, intricate design and cannabis culture. What’s not to love?

“[My father] asked the chieftain [the leader of a tribe] if he had any skins. He said, No, sorry, but I will offer you seven goats for your wife.’ He was really proud because seven goats was mega bucks at the time”

This is like the ultimate stamp collection for weed enthusiasts. How did it start?
It started back in the 1960s. My father was a dedicated hippy and his first job was as a bus driver in Cardiff. He and my mum got married and bought a single-decker bus at the bus auctions for cheap. They psychedelic-ed it up, it was the cultural revolution. Then they slung 14 mates onto the bus and went on the Hippy Trail – it was a pilgrimage, like going to Mecca – which led them all the way to the poppy fields of Afghanistan. They went through various continents, it took them three years to get there and back. They picked people up and dropped them off along the way; some of them fell in love and got married, some lost the plot and got institutionalised, some got incarcerated or even killed. Whatever happened, people jumped on and jumped off that bus along the way.

How did that lead to this huge collection?
The whole journey, they wanted to get stoned – that was the whole point. Around there [in the Middle East and South Asia, which contains a number of source countries for what is considered to be the best hash in the world] you could get copious amounts of hash or weed, suitcases full of it for like a fiver in today’s money. But it was the skins that were the in-demand commodity. You couldn’t find anywhere to buy rolling papers. Of course there are other ways to get high – like using bongs and chillums [pipes] – but my dad was the driver. He didn’t have time for that, he just wanted to smoke a spliff. So, he became obsessive when it came to collecting the skins and every village or town he stopped at he would find a market and source or trade the papers. Hence, the collection started.

That sounds like a wild adventure.
One story my father liked telling was about when he’d got to Pakistan. He asked the chieftain [the leader of a tribe] if he had any skins. He said, No, sorry, but I will offer you seven goats for your wife.” He was really proud because seven goats was mega bucks at the time. My mum came back without her wedding or engagement rings by the way: they had to flog them to get petrol.

How did you end up carrying on the collection?
My father died two and a half years ago. He wasn’t a bus driver or a hippie all his life, he became the master carpenter of the Welsh National Opera. My older brother was born in 1976 and I was born in 1977. When I came of age I cottoned on to the collection. I reached about 16 and asked, What’s in these boxes?” When my father passed, my brother got his watch and I got the skins.

How many pieces are in the collection?
I don’t know how many I have. It’s growing every day, I bought two new artefacts yesterday.

What is the rarest piece?
We have skins from a WWII British prisoner of war camp in Japan. My dad was on tour [with the Welsh National Opera] in Japan and one of the stagehands he worked with had a grandfather who was a guard in the prisoner of war camp. That’s how those skins entered the collection.

How passionate was your dad about this?
He was passionate to the point of being intransigent. He was very much a collector. Back in the day it was coins and stamps, [but] he had that mentality with rolling papers. For me, the collection is about the artwork and telling the story.

People call all rolling papers Rizlas. How do you feel about that?
It’s a bit of a fly in the ointment shall we say, because I do it myself. I say, grab the hoover”. But it’s not a hoover’, it’s a vacuum cleaner. I call them skins’. It’s a collection of skins.

Did you tell your dad that you were going to show the world the collection?
We always spoke about it. He said, You know you’ve got the skins and you know you’ve got a creative mind, so go! Put some wings on and fly, son.”

Follow Papermeister on Instagram, he’s got big plans for the collection.

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