IT WAS the commodity that transformed a village north of the Clyde into the second city of the empire and brought untold wealth and status to Glasgow's merchant class.

Tobacco may have forged the expansion of Scotland's economic powerhouse, but yesterday saw the passing of the trade's remaining vestiges with the closure of the last independent tobacconist in Glasgow.

It was an unspectacular send-off for Herbert Love, a musty, mahogany-brown emporium tucked away in St Vincent Place for more than 100 years, as the last customers stocked up on favoured blends, cut-price pipes and cigar-filled humidors, muttering final farewells to the staff.

The Smoking Kills stickers plastered on to the Royal Doulton antique tobacco jars, gleaming in sapphire blue and bearing the names of exotic mixtures, offered an obvious clue to the demise of the Glasgow tobacconist. Herbert Love, which traded as Murray Frame for 80 years, could no longer withstand the introduction of the Scottish smoking ban.

Before the restrictions, regular customers, including Billy Connolly and Donald Findlay, enjoyed a leisurely puff in the lounge downstairs. One devotee, Brian Pulle, was forced to pop in and out of the rain yesterday to sample some of last pipe blends on the shelf.

The 50-year-old from Clydebank said: "I know it's an unhealthy pursuit, but so is walking across the road these days. You don't get this kind of service anywhere else anymore, so I'll be very sad to see it go."

Jim Graham, a 63-year-old smoker of American black cherry and plum tobacco, added: "There were at least nine or 10 tobacconists in Glasgow at one time, but they're gone now. A real shame. I've stocked up on about 150 cigars, so that'll keep me going for a while."

Don Higgins, secretary of the Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists, said regulations had undoubtedly damaged the specialist trade.

"It is extremely difficult for independent shops to survive in a culture of anti-smoking, and the Scottish parliament has been particularly strong-minded about it," he said. "It's terribly, desperately sad that the last one has gone, because Glasgow had a special reputation in the tobacco trade.

"Pipe smoking is a placid, relaxing experience, but the image of the Volvo driver and carpet slippers is not appealing to young people these days. No-one prominent is doing it, so pipe smokers are a dying breed."

Fiona Barrett, Scottish spokeswoman for the Tobacco Alliance, added: "The smoking ban was really the end for pipe smokers. The ritual of filling and preparing the pipe takes too much time when you have to go in and out of public places.

"It's very sad that people who want unusual tobaccos will find it difficult to get supplies. It's part of a process of squeezing independent shops offering something different, staffed by people genuinely interested in what they sell."

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Glasgow was one of the biggest tobacco producers in Britain. Alexandra Parade was known as Tobacco Road, with four factories producing cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco, including the Wills plant, still an East End landmark.

Glasgow historian Ronnie Scott said: "The closure of Herbert Love can't be compared with the demise of the cigarette factories, which employed thousands, but it is the passing of the final link with the tobacco trade, so it is certainly a moment worth recording. There might be little physically left of what the first generation of tobacco merchants built, but their wealth was the driving force as Glasgow became a major city of the industrial revolution. In the space of 50 years, Glasgow went from a village to the second city of the empire."

Historian Tom Devine, who wrote The Tobacco Lords, told the Sunday Herald: "Glasgow was once the tobacco metropolis of Europe, and the story of how the merchants took on their rivals and came out on top is amazing. It was organised by a tiny elite, and the wealth was creamed off by a few merchant families.

"It wasn't until a full century after the leaf tobacco trade disappeared that cigarette production meant widespread smoking. The tobacco shops were traditional landmarks of the city."

Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade earlier this year by producing a guide to the role of slavery in the city's mercantile boom.

Guide writer Stephen Mullen said: "It's fine to recognise the entrepreneurial excellence of the merchants, but we shouldn't neglect Glasgow's indirect connections to slavery. Tobacco may have created the city's first millionaires, but so much of the wealth was created on the blood and sweat of slaves." Butlers opened the doors; it was straight out of the movies'

Jack McLean recalls a holiday job in the lost, exotic world of the tobacconist's shop ONE sunny summer's day in 1958 I strode into George Murray Frame's tobacconist's shop at the corner of Glasgow's George Square and asked if I could have a job over the long school holidays. I was referred to "Young Mr George".

I was in my Allan Glen's school blazer. "So you want a job, do you?" Mr George looked at the blazer. "You have the job" he said, "Tomorrow morning, eight sharp." And so I started my working life, aged 12.

For the next four years I spent my summer holidays as a message boy for Murray Frame's. It was a wonderful job; I was dispatched all over Glasgow and beyond, delivering cigarettes and cigars to obviously wealthy customers. For a boy from Townhead it was a revelation. Great stone mansions had their doors opened by lofty butlers; it was straight out of the movies.

So were the shops. The George Square branch was split in two, but it was the main shop, the tobacconist's, that I loved. I especially liked serving the customers, mainly businessmen or their personal secretaries. Some of the customers would ask for me to serve them. One I remember was a very elderly man, a semi-retired stockbroker who retained his outfit of frock coat, cravat and topper.

This was a gentleman's place. Many customers had individual tobacco mixes, or cigarettes stamped with their own crest or seal. Items such as cigarette cases and lighters - Colibris, Ronsons, Dunhills - were made of gold and silver and jewels.

Magnificent leather cigar cases sat alongside handsome Morocco-grain tobacco pouches. Amazing briar pipes and wonderfully carved meerschaums lay in splendour in velvet-lined display cases. But most of all I remember the wonderful aroma of tobaccos from Virginia, the Balkans and the Russian steppes, from Havana and Guatemala. An exotic world. A world disappearing, with a few stalwarts like myself left to recollect the glory days of fags. And tobacconists.