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A Brief History of Roaches and Roach Clips

The end of a cannabis joint is called a roach, but no one really knows why. 

Some credit the popular Spanish folk song La Cucaracha ("The Cockroach"). You no doubt know the tune; just start humming La Cucaracha, La Chucaracha, la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

During the Mexican Revolution, from 1910 to about 1920, many politically inspired La Cucaracha  verses were written, including this gem: 

La cucaracha, la cucaracha
Ya no puede caminar
Porque no tiene
porque le falta
Marihuana que fumar

English translation:

The cockroach, the cockroach
Cannot walk anymore
Because it hasn’t
because it lacks
marijuana to smoke

Martin Booth, author of Cannabis: A History, notes that foot soldiers in Pancho Villa’s Mexican revolutionary army were nicknamed cockroaches, and liked to smoke marijuana to unwind and to prepare for battle. Since roaches have very little weed left, the verse may be about running out of cannabis and not being able to get high. (There are other interpretations: the cockroach is a revolutionary enemy, or Villa’s car is running out of gas. But the best one is still the song’s contribution to weed nomenclature.)

The first written use of roach is in a 1938 New Yorker magazine article by Meyer Berger. Reporting on a pot-smoking “viper” party in Harlem, Berger explains the lingo to his gentle readers, informing them that,  “A pinched-off smoke, or a stub, is a roach.” 

The growing popularity of recreational cannabis in the 1960s gave rise to the roach clip, defined by the Online Slang Dictionary as, “Any device that can be used to hold a marijuana cigarette when it gets too short to hold.”

The roach clips of the ‘60s and ‘70s were often DIY versions made from bobby pins or paper clips. An interesting side note: During the height of the 1960s hippie scene in San Francisco, renowned American furniture maker Gary Knox Bennett began making beautiful, one-of-a-kind roach clips for head shops in Haight-Ashbury. As he notes in this YouTube interview Garry Knox Bennett - How I Invented the Roach Clip, the  business took off and at one point he was employing 70 people in the roach clip studio.

The hippie roach clip renaissance reached its peak in writer Charles Willeford’s limited edition book: The Ubiquitous Roach Clip. “In a relatively short period, beginning in the early 1960s,” writes Willeford, “the roach clip has metamorphosed from a split match (the ‘Jefferson Airplane’) to the swirling curves and curvatures of Baroque and Art Nouveau. Indeed, the 1973 roach clip is a beautiful thing to behold (especially if one is holding).”

The Ubiquitous Roach Clip by Charles Willeford

By the 1980s, the DIY era was over, giving way to mass-produced alligator clips. These tiny clamps were originally used for electronics but proved perfect for joints. Clips sporting colourful feathers were a popular jewelry fad for tween girls, who wore them to their hair or stuck them on their clothes, unaware of the clips’ real use. You can see the horrific results in The Roach Clip, a post on Awkward Family Photos. Contributor Rebecca writes, “My parents, obviously having no idea what roach clips were used for, not only let me buy it, but let me go to school with it pinned to my collar on picture day.”

Some stoners also took to using surgical hemostats to pass their joints around. These look like scissors, and feature a locking mechanism called a ratchet, which is used for clamping. 

A surgical hemostat can be used as a roach clip

Legalization of cannabis is giving the humble roach clip another turn in the spotlight. Joint smokers have the economical option of grinding cannabis flower and rolling their own, or the convenience of tightly packed pre-rolls with built-in filters. Like hippies grooving in the Haight, to enjoy every last bit of your purchase, you’re going to need a roach clip. 

The Flower Stampede Ring Roach Clip has intricately formed clasping “hands” to hold your roach securely. The small sliding mechanism that locks the clamp in place is a nod to the clips made by Gary Knox Bennett. The ring design is based on cigarette holders of the 1950s, which helped prevent nicotine staining of the fingers and gloves. But unless you're Willie Nelson, you aren’t likely to stain your fingers with cannabis. However, your clip keeps the small smoldering roach at a safe distance, preventing nasty burns.  And because it’s a ring, you can wear your clip, freeing up your hands for smoke session selfies. 

Get every last puff in style with the Flower Stampede Ring Roach Clip.

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