The Malta Independent 22 February 2024, Thursday
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The ‘Rizzo Marich’ Dynasty and the Tobacco industry in Malta

Sunday, 4 December 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

Author: Self-published/paper sponsored by M. Demajo (Graphic Arts) Ltd. Distributor: Book Distributors Limited

Anthony Zarb-Dimech

Considering its small size, Malta has a rich history in cigarette, cigar and tobacco manufacturing. A small island became a big player in cigarette manufacturing, not only to supply local needs but in the exportation to all parts of the world

The huge investment by local and foreign individuals and firms was initially made to keep sailors and other servicemen, as well as the local population, regularly supplied with their smoking needs as Malta became a strategic island-fortress in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

Messrs V. Marich & Co. are considered, in Malta, one of the oldest manufacturers of hand-made cigarettes of finest Turkish tobacco, cigar and tobacco merchants. They exported to all parts of the world. The firm was situated at 44, Palace Square, Valletta.

Noel Toledo has recently published an interesting book, titled The Rizzo Marich Dynasty and the Tobacco Industry in Malta whereby you can further read about this interesting era and the Rizzo Marich family. A lot of photos and testimonials from private family collections are being published for the first time ever and it has additional information, including statistics, about the tobacco industry during that period. The photos and information in this article have been extracted from this book.

It was in 1838 when Vincenzo Marich decided to establish a tobacco shop in Valletta. Vincenzo was the son of Capitano Antonio Marich from Dubrovnik, Croatia, who married a Maltese lady, Maddalena Attard in 1807 in Valletta.

Vincenzo eventually left his business to his relative - Lawrence Rizzo. Vincenzo and Lawrence's mother were cousins. However, in view that Vincenzo did not have any children, he stipulated a condition that the surname "Marich" had to be appended to Lawrence's surname, thus becoming Lawrence Rizzo Marich. This is how the Rizzo Marich family surname came into existence.

In 1862, the firm was given permission by Wilford Brett, at that time the Private Secretary to the Governor of Malta, to affix "By appointment to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales" over the door of their establishment. This was regarded as a great honour to the family and their business.

In 1888, Messrs V. Marich & Co. were appointed as cigar and tobacco merchants to H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh. In the 1890s, besides supplying Navy and Army messes and clubs, V. Marich & Co. was by then already exporting cigars and tobacco to the UK and to the East, having agents established in the UK, Channels Islands and Bermuda.

V. Marich & Co. was not just any shop but a smoking divan, a popular rendezvous point for Maltese gentry, naval and military senior officers, where they could smoke, relax, discuss and gossip about the latest topics of the day.

Marich’s Stall on display at the Auberge d’Italie

By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, cigar smoking was falling out of favour due to the ever-increasing popularity in cigarette smoking. Additionally, several other tobacco companies had been established, some of which were employing over 200 employees. Notwithstanding, V. Marich & Co. continued to further establish itself in early 20th century, utilising A. G. Cousis to manufacture their Marich cigarettes for both the local market as well as abroad.

From adverts found in foreign newspapers, it is evident that V. Marich & Co. started selling and exporting cigarettes from around 1905 onwards. The First World War created the right environment to further boost the tobacco industry. In the early part of the 20th century, V. Marich & Co. sold cigarettes and cigars to the rich and famous. These included Admirals, Dukes, Governors of Malta and the Princes and Kings of England. Among its many distinguished patrons were His Majesty the late King Edward VII and His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor, whose Royal Appointment was held by V. Marich & Co. when he was Prince of Wales. In 1922, they were also again appointed as the cigarette manufacturers to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.

The business flourished and they exported products all over the world, having various agents across the world. These included:

  • Paterson & Co. at Billiter Buildings, in Eastern Central London
  • J. V. Belford, Halkett Place, in Jersey, Channel Islands
  • John A. P. Pitt, 40, Front Street, Hamilton Bermuda (agent to the whole Caribbean)
  • S. J. Frank of Liberty Street, New York
  • Ellul & Linares in Main Street, Gibraltar,
  • N. Dott & Co., 98, Cliver Street, Kolkata (Calcutta), India
  • Patton Co., S.A., at 19 San Juan de Lerren, Mexico

Marich cigarettes were also available in South Africa, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and throughout the British Colonies. V. Marich & Co. transacted a substantial wholesale as well as retail trade and supplied naval and military messes and clubs.

Competition in the cigarette market continued to increase over time. Importation of tobacco from America (USA) started to increase substantially, and Virginia tobacco became quite popular in Malta. Most of the cigarette manufacturers, even those who traditionally specialised in Turkish tobacco, such as V. Marich & Co, started producing cigarettes made of Virginia tobacco.

By the beginning of the 1930s, even though there was an increase in employment in the tobacco industry for the first few years, this did not last long and by the end of this decade, the industry was experiencing problems. It was during this time that V. Marich & Co. seems to have also slowed down its exports. A. G. Cousis & Co., the manufacturing company which produced all the Marich cigarettes for V. Marich & Co., had unfortunately closed by early 1930s. However, V. Marich & Co. continued to manufacture cigarettes possibly with assistance from another local tobacco manufacturer.

Marich’s Shop at St George’s Square, Valletta. Photo showing the visit of the Kaiser Wilhem II on 10 May 1909 with the Marich tobacco shop in the background

In 1938, V. Marich & Co. received approval to include "By Appointment of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales (1922-1936)". Marich cigarettes were produced after 1938 and indeed during the war as well.

The Second World War started in 1939 and by June 1941, Malta was also under attack. The "smoking divan" of V. Marich & Co. "was virtually deserted and with cracked walls and their business ruined" according to Rear-Admiral G.W.G. Simpson C.B., C.B.E in his book Periscope View. This was the time during World War II when Valletta was being heavily bombed. Indeed, for two years, between 1942 and 1944, the business was operated from Sliema in view of the heaving bombing in Valletta.

As from 1947 onwards, V. Marich & Co. had completely stopped producing cigarettes and were instead importing them. The era of "smoking divans" was possibly over by then and the shop was focusing more on just selling spirits, cigarettes and related articles. They became distributors for du Maurier cigarettes and later sole agents for Four Square cigarettes.

By 1959, the children of Arthur Rizzo Marich (the last owner of V. Marich & Co.) were all grown up, married and all had their own careers. It seems that none of their children were interested in running the business. Arthur finally dissolved the business and sent a letter to the Privy Purse Office in Buckingham Place, to cancel the Royal Appointment to the Prince of Wales that was granted to V. Marich & Co. The confirmation of this cancellation was received on 23 November 1959. This was the official end of the business and the end of the era of V. Marich & Co., bringing its legacy, which started way back in 1838, to a complete end. It also marked the end of over a 120-year era, characterised by numerous successes and challenges.

Immediately afterwards, a business arrangement took place between V. Marich & Co. and Café' Cordina, who had their cafeteria internally adjacent to the shop of V. Marich & Co. The tenancy was transferred onto Café' Cordina in 1960. Arthur Rizzo Marich sadly passed away at the age of 78 in 1966. Café' Cordina completely integrated the premises of V. Marich & Co. and today one can still enjoy coffee and cakes in the same room where the Marich smoking divan was situated while looking out onto Palace Square and letting one's imagination go back in time to the various events that took place there during the 19-20th century.


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