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27 May 2010

The Shoe Pipe
 Memories from Chicago 2010

       -Posted by brian-

At the very end of last month, on the Wednesday before the Chicago pipe show, we bought an estate of over 500 pipes. Actually, it was more like 600, but there were around 500 that mattered. Plus two. Most of them were top quality English made pipes; but, like most of us as we pursue this passion across years and decades, there was quite the assortment of oddities. And I don't mean oddities in an 'oddities and rarities' sort of way. More in a "why would anyone have made that?" or, perhaps more to the point, "why, indeed, would anyone have parted with hard-earned cash for it?"

One of those 'oddities' was this brilliantly articulated interpretation of, yes, a shoe. Sykes and I were handling this estate together: it takes a long time for two people to work through that many pipes. Sykes, for reasons that continue to elude me, negotiated for the deal to include this little wooden shoe and an absurd cast brass pipe of some sort of Belgian general. Sykes gets rather punchy after ten straight hours of cataloging pipes, so that might have played some role in his sudden predilection towards the absurd.

Far be it for me to argue if he wanted to add it to his collection of Danish and Japanese high grades, so into the box with the other pipes went the little shoe.

Fast forward to Sunday evening in our pipe room. After a long week, the show crew is gathered to pack up the pipes for their trip. From among the pipes from some of the greatest pipe makers in the world, pops up the little shoe, and I go into my standard routine talking about the drilling, the grain and so on. The rest of room comments on the pipe and its design. It is then I realize and announce "what makes this pipe truly special is it has soul...or at least a sole...". That solidified it as some sort of office mascot.

Fast forward a week and back to the conference room, located in the main building of the campus (which, granted, only has two buildings, but we're working on it). We're unpacking pipes in there. Sykes, Alyson, Pam and I have hundreds of pipes arrayed on the table, sorting and organizing, and up, again, pops the shoe pipe. Alyson, the keeper of the new pipes at, so the one who keeps track of, oh, about 2,500 pipes at an given time, and also a woman who, we believe, also goes by the name Imelda and might secretly be married to a Philippine dictator, immediately claims it, indicating that this was the first time she'd been able to, with one item, add to her burgeoning collections of each, at work and home, respectively.

Sykes, no longer quite as punchy as he had been, happily gave it up. But then Susan and Pam each tried to claim it. Then Mark, for reasons I still haven't determined, got into the fray. Alyson emerged victorious, pipe/shoe in hand, but I had long since abandoned that particular battleground, as either a participant or a spectator, so I can't relate exactly how that happened.

Of course, no one wanted his silly Belgian general guy, so he got to keep that. The top row of his pipe rack at work now looks sort of like this: J. Alan, Gotoh, Tokutomi, Tokutomi, Silly Brass Belgian Guy, Teddy, Peter Heeschen, Paolo Becker, Smio Satou. He's happy though. Apparently, even in a more sedate mood he still likes the Belgian dude.

Posted by brian at 6:23 PM | Link | 2 comments

Not knowing is half the fun
 estate pipes

       -Posted by adam-
We all like looking at new pipes. That's a given. Opening boxes from makers around the world is always exciting. The only thing disappointing about new pipes is the obvious. I know what is in the box! My wife and I are different characters. She asks me what I wanted for my birthday. "I don't ask for presents, darling". Well...that just wasn't what she wanted to hear. For her, it is much easier to know EXACTLY what I want. Sure, it's a huge risk to spend time, and money, to give someone a present and gamble at their response. She, on the other hand, has a whole notebook full of things she wants (like all wives, I suppose). I like to play games and tell her it is something completely different from what she has in mind, but I'm smart enough to know she does NOT want to be surprised. This kind of bums me out. Even though I know she will love it, there isn't the glimmer of 'gee, I hope!" in her eyes.

The same is true for pipes, to me.

When we get a package from a maker, Sykes, Alyson, or I know what is going to be inside. Sure, there are many surprises, but EVERY box of estates holds promise. None of them belong to me, but I treat every package like it is a present. I never know what I will find. Sometimes there are hundreds of pipes that aren't worth a dollar - due to condition. Sometimes there are socks (literally, and figuratively), and then there are gems. I love to unpack them one at a time and get surprised. Sometimes there will be a bunch of pipes that are very standard, and made in the thousands. We need these, but, remember, I look at these as personal gifts. Sometimes, hidden away in the bottom of a box, inside an old sock (sometimes a real one, with grass stains), will be a diamond in the rough. Patent Dunhills, old Comoys, and antique pipes get my heart beating. Recently, among a very unusual box of packing materials, I pulled out a Jorn Micke. This is the stuff that dreams are made of! I know I can't keep all of them, but the chance to hunt and be surprised is something that I will always look forward to. Not knowing, is half the fun.

Posted by adam at 9:45 AM | Link | 1 comment

26 May 2010

Kevin Godbee & Sykes Wilford
 Kevin's visit to

       -Posted by sykes-

There's a certain delicious internet-age postmodern irony to writing a blog entry about a visit from a journalist who will write about And that's largely why I'm writing this. Kevin runs, a fairly new pipe news site. He and Bob have been working really hard to develop good articles and I think their efforts are really showing fruit. Kevin visited us in preparation for an article about, coming on the heels of the pieces he did on our 10th Anniversary festivities in Chicago. Kevin and I spent almost the whole day chatting about pipes, pipe tobacco, and To the left is a picture of that interview/discussion. That day also yielded the 'Sykes Blooper Reel', but that's gotten more than enough play, so I'm not linking to it...

Posted by sykes at 3:08 PM | Link | 1 comment

Blogging and Smoking
 Musings on the creation of a blog

       -Posted by sykes-

I've never blogged before; I think that my particular need to share thoughts in writing manifests itself elsewhere. But I have toyed with the idea from time to time, utterly failing to come up with a unifying theme, assuming I'd just do it under my own name as a person, rather than as a company. I briefly considered documenting my culinary efforts (and failures, which would be far more entertaining), but the idea sputtered fairly quickly-- it was obvious it'd have three great posts and nothing further. As far as pipes go, it would have been terribly odd for me to blog about pipes outside of the context; my love for pipes and my life with pipes is so inextricably intertwined with this company that I couldn't see myself describing one without the other. Other ideas presented themselves, usually when I found something particularly clever and witty. Later, of course, I realized that I wasn't nearly as clever or witty as I'd thought to begin with and that a blog entitled "the woefully self-indulgent musings of a pipe retailer, student of history, and mediocre cook" was just not going to fly.

We'd also discussed a group blog for the website since the earliest days of blogging. In some respects, various iterations of the newsletter provided this, especially the introduction and various columns that have been included over the years. In recent months though, the newsletter has become less fluid. Some of that is a good thing-- we finally figured out what the newsletter should be-- though much of it is a function of the scale of the organizational task that is bringing you the newsletter and the need to regularize it some. Anyway, it's become abundantly clear that the sort of informal and semi-formal 'behind the scenes' commentary that we wanted to provide simply didn't fit the newsletter very well. We have all these different communication channels, but they're all very one-way and all fairly formal: articles on the site, pipe descriptions, newsletter content etc. What we wanted was a fairly informal, somewhat two-way avenue for communication.

So, we started this blog, of which this is the first post. It took a little longer than anticipated to implement because most of the off-the-shelf software out there didn't fit our needs (and long term plans for greater integration with the rest of the site), so we're using a heavily modified version of BlogCFM sitting atop our Postgresql database. Melissa did most of the work for this, so kudos to her.

So, what is this blog and what will it be? For starters, I don't really know. All good projects tend to take on a life of their own and develop characteristics different from what their originators predicted. Still, I do know that this won't be about new products on the site, though we may occasionally mention such. Mostly, I hope it'll serve as something of a backstage pass into life at and give us a place to share general pipe and tobacco thoughts in a less formal, less structured medium. When we sat altogether yesterday (the people I expect to participate most with the blog: Brian, Alyson, Bobby, Eric, Adam, Melissa and me) and discussed it, the only thing we concluded is that this shouldn't really be company communication, it should be communication from a bunch of individuals within the company. Bobby should talk about photography, Adam could talk about pipe making or esoteric estate pipes, Eric could write about, well, writing, Alyson about the process of organizing the update etc. In all, we'll just see what happens. I hope it flowers into something interesting and compelling over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Posted by sykes at 2:50 PM | Link | 5 comments



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