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30 August 2010

Very cool 3D model stuff
 A little preview of something we've been working on...

       -Posted by sykes-

Today, we're putting up the very first examples of something that we've been working on during the past few months. You'll find the new 360-degree flash models used for the new Sillem's lighters. Frankly, I think this may be the coolest thing ever. Or at least the coolest thing to happen this month. Alyson, Bobby and Melissa have been working really hard to pull this together. I think they've done a tremendous job. We're still very much in the Beta phase with this, rolling it out here and there as we can, making sure we have it down before we try to bite off more than we can chew. It's been a long road to get it this far; we have some ways to go before it's more widely implemented.

So, I figured a quick Q&A followed by two examples below might be in order.

Q: What in the world is this and where can I find it?
A: These are high quality 3D models that can be manipulated by clicking and dragging the mouse, making it possible to see the item from every possible angle. On those items that have it (just the six Sillem's lighters right now, but hopefully lots of stuff down the road), a button appears below the description and above the photo offering the 360-degree view, which pops into its own, extremely cool, javascript window thingy.
Q: Wow, cool! How did you make it go?
A: USB driven turntable and Canon DSLR camera are slaved to a desktop computer running specialized software. Flash apparatus is slaved to the camera. We pretty much set it up (which is far harder than it seems like it should be, as we've discovered over the past couple of months) and it takes care of the rest.
Q: What does the setup look like altogether?
A: See the photo below! The odd-looking wooden apparatus (which, frankly, looks like part of a medieval siege engine) lets us orient the turntable either right side up or upside down, depending on what we need it to do. Oh, and I know that which is in the booth isn't that which is on the screen. Alyson was busy with the update, so I took the picture, and it's far too complicated for me to actually make go, so I just pretended it was going. And then realized that I had a pipe on the screen and a humidor in the light tent...
Q: Again, seriously cool! When can we expect to see it on more stuff? Yeah, I am talking about pipes here...
A: Frankly, we're not sure. We have more work to do on lighting and reflections, and on how to consistently get good results with a variety of pipe shapes and finishes. This might take awhile, though we certainly hope it happens sometime soon.
Q: Well, can I see an example?
Sure! See below: (Note, of course, that you need the Flash plugin installed to see these).








Posted by sykes at 4:49 PM | Link | 4 comments


27 August 2010

Pipe Stingers
 Weird metal gadgets of years past

       -Posted by adam-

Stingers, tubes, twisters, and doodads: There are (were) just about as many of these as there were pipe shapes. While not entirely a thing of the past, their heyday was around the middle of the 20th century. Is there a reason pipe companies aren't using, inventing, or re-inventing these anymore? Perhaps everything to be stingered has already been stung. This blog is a way for us to let you in on some some of the conversations we have in the office, and this particular posts comes from a question someone working for us in Customer Service called me about a few months ago. The question was something like this: "Adam? I have a customer on the phone and he is asking about pipes with stingers. Um...what's a stinger?". To this I replied with my vast knowledge of (pretty much) useless tid-bits: "What kind is he looking for? There are, like, zillions of different stingers. I'm assuming he's calling in about a Kaywoodie estate, right? The stinger helps determine the age."

Phone silence for about 15 seconds. Transfer. "Sir, I'll have to talk with Adam and call you back about this one. It should only take a few minutes."

Many companies have used something in their history to try to make pipes smoke better, to differentiate their product, and thus make them more marketable. While I don't know who started this, many people think about Kaywoodie pipes, or Dunhill innertubes (which aren't really stingers). Dunhill came out with the innertube as early as 1910, and these inventions (patented) were ways to differentiate themselves from other pipe manufacturers. The innertube to the far right in the picture is an earlier version with a collar, and is stamped with a patent #417574 (patented in 1912), and next to it is a modern innertube which lacks the collar or stamping. The idea was that it made cleaning the pipe far simpler; one could do so simply by removing the innertube. Many people simply threw these away, or they were lost. Once they got dirty, they took a long time to clean, which is why it is really nice to have them included with patent pipes.

Kaywoodie is the other company people think of, probably because there are just so many older Kaywoodies floating around in the United States. Kaywoodie began making pipes with an innertube before 1915, and came out with the "Drinkless" stinger in 1924. It was said to cool the smoke down from 850- degrees to a comfortable 82-degrees in the mouth. One of my first pipes was an old Kaywoodie with the large-ball stinger, but I found it difficult to smoke using this, and did the sinful thing of pulling it out. Newer Kaywoodie pipes, starting sometime in the early 1950s, have a smaller ball with three holes in the stinger instead of four. It does help determine age, since the smaller ball with three holes puts it sometime after WWII. Many of these were thrown away, or simply snipped off with wire cutters. While they do attract some heat, condensate, and collect some smoke and tars, many smokers can't make a gurgle go away with one in place. As we all know, gurgling in a bowl if the effect from smoking tobacco that is either too wet, or smoking it too fast (which turns moisture into steam which then condenses in the shank). With most pipes, you just run a cleaner down the stem and into the chamber, and let it absorb the moisture like a wick. This works very well, but can't be done if there is a stinger in the way.

This realization may be why many companies abandoned the idea all together, but the huge success of Dunhill and Kaywoodie is also why so many people tried to invent the newest doodad. As you can see in the photo, some had spirals to try to direct the smoke in a certain pattern, others were pointed to make it streamline, and others were blunt to really increase the surface area. Some shop pipes can even be identified by the stinger alone, so they can be useful in research, if anything, and only a few companies used them in recent years (only Kaywoodie and a few Tsuge models actually come to mind).

Whether marketing, functionality, or just plain inventiveness make so many stingers possible, I doubt if anyone collects them. It might be fun to see hundreds of different designs in a case at a pipe show for people to look at, while (most likely) smoking a pipe without one.

Also, this missive is far from complete. I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, or corrections, in the comments of this blog entry.








Posted by adam at 2:03 PM | Link | 5 comments


26 August 2010

Video: Estate Restoration at Smokingpipes.com, Part V
 Cleaning pipes, Smokingpipes.com style

       -Posted by susans-

This is the fifth and final entry in our estate restoration video series. I'm not yet sure whether I'm glad it's over or if I'll miss it and have to rope Sykes or Alyson into doing a couple of appendices to the series with me. Either way, we'll definitely take a break for a little while and you'll hear from others here. Thanks so much for watching the series!








Posted by susans at 11:30 PM | Link | 1 comment


New products from IPCPR
 IPCPR threw up on my desk!

       -Posted by susans-

As you know, IPCPR was held in New Orleans earlier this month. We really enjoyed scouting out new products that ranged from pipe tobacco to accessories to cigars. I headed to Mexico City, Mexico four days after we returned home thinking that shipments would start arriving when I got back to work. Boy, was I wrong! I honestly believe the UPS driver was hiding around the corner waiting for me to leave. I did a little work via internet while I was away and got a sneak-peek as to what was coming in. This prompted me to get back to work a day early to start corralling all the new items.

If tobacco and accessories could be compared to animals, then someone opened all the cages in the zoo. There are new breeds of cigars blocking the walkway in the humidor. Tobacco species of all kinds are taking over the receiving area and classes of bulk and accessory varieties are in total control of my desk! It is now my job to classify and divide these untamed specimens into updates so you, our faithful follower, can enjoy the new additions without getting lost in the wild!

So get the safari hats and binoculars out and get ready for the future updates. We will be unveiling new creatures each week like the annual seasonal blend from a well-known tobacconist that will be in today's update.








Posted by susans at 1:04 PM | Link | 0 comments


24 August 2010

Video: Adam on Tobacco, Part I
 The first entry in an irregular series featuring Adam and pipe tobacco

       -Posted by adam-

Sykes and I have talked over the years about tobacco blending, which is not surprising, and we decided that our blog is a great way to talk about some of the blends we make for our walk-in customers. When I began working for the company, we had a huge variety of bulk tobaccos - and now we have even more. While nearly all of my time is in my second-floor office working on various aspects of our weekly updates, the chance to talk tobaccos with a customer is always great. There have been many pipe smokers in our store, Low Country Pipe & Cigar, and some of them like to taste our various blends to decide what best suits their taste. We encourage this, and always enjoy helping them pin-point what it is they like about a certain blend, and how best to alter it. Back in 2006, a gentleman came into the store looking for a tobacco he could no longer find. As we have come to notice over the years (and I'm sure you have as well), many tobacco shops take a stock tobacco and give it a cooler name. To avoid confusion, we leave the names as the companies do. For example: We have Lane RLP-6, which countless customers have walked in with under such monikers as "Revery", "Captain's Delight", "Lamp Lighter", etc. While these do sound inviting, it's really difficult to figure out what the blend is. The tobacco this particular gentleman was smoking was not this, but there were subtle flavors I could detect. He wanted a blend that was mild, sweet, flavorful, and lacking tongue-bite. After discussing McClelland's Pastry blend, he decided it was good, but just a bit too sweet for him. Taking note of this, I suggested blending in an unflavored tobacco to tone it down a bit - McClelland Eastern Carolina Ribbon (ECR).

After making up a few small samples for him to try over the following weeks, we hit the nail on the head. This customer comes into our store every month or so, and this enjoys smoking a blend made especially for him: 10.5 ounces of Pastry blended with 5.5 ounces of ECR.

To add to this post, I've made a short video explaining how we blend small batches for our walk-in customers, and ourselves. It's really a simple process since no other pressing, stoving, or topping is involved. We hope you enjoy the video, and hope to make more in the future.








Posted by adam at 4:53 PM | Link | 3 comments


22 August 2010

Danish Chronology; Trip Overview, Part IV
 Part IV of IV of my Danish Travelogue...

       -Posted by sykes-

In keeping with the previous theme, I'm further obfuscating the Danish chronology by finishing blogging about that trip half way through our blogging about the IPCPR show in New Orleans that took place almost two weeks later. Still, not one to leave a chronology without its terminus, it seems time for me to launch into the last day and a bit of that trip before I write any more about New Orleans...

Following the visit at Orlik, we came to the first distance driving of the trip, all the way up to Aalborg in the far north of Jylland. Crossing over from the island of Funen to Jylland, the only part of Denmark that is part of continental Europe, and then north from there, Kevin and I spent a few hours in the car, generally getting goofier and goofier as the lack of sleep and long stretch in the car took its toll. That, my dear reader, is how the Mac Baren vs. Orlik Throwdown came to be. Put two purportedly grown up men in a car on little sleep for a few ours without any adult (read: female) supervision and they tend to act more and more like teenage boys. Give them an internet connection and two highly trafficked websites and they'll do it publicly. We had it pretty much worked out by the time we made it to Aalborg, then spent the next couple of hours putting it together and getting it up. The drive is beautiful; to my eye, there are few places as beautiful as the gently rolling countryside of rural Denmark.

The following morning, we headed even farther north, to Frederikshavn, near the very tip of Jylland, near where the Baltic Sea and North Sea come together. This is where Mogens 'Johs' Johanssen makes about two thousand pipes each year. By himself. I've been in dozens of pipe workshops in a nine countries and I've watched many pipe makers work. Johs, as one might expect for one who makes that many hand shaped pipes a year, is insanely fast. We posted a video of Johs shaping a pipe back in late July, right after I got home from the trip. Johs' pipes are among the best values out there, ranging up from (on Smokingpipes.com) $68, and it's really this execution at speed model that he has that makes this possible.

Having sat and had coffee, Johs took us on a little tour of the workshop. At first, the place seems tiny, but one little room opens into another and it's really a pretty good size. In the back room, he has bags upon bags of briar that he had recently purchased, many thousands of blocks in all. It didn't take much pushing at all to get him to shape a pipe for us, so we could video the process and get some photos of that too. Plus, unlike a lot of other makers, I'd never actually seen him shape a pipe, so that was interesting too.

After a couple of hours, we said our goodbyes and headed back south, for the long trek back to Copenhagen. Kevin's girlfriend had flown in part way through our trip there and I had to deliver him to her, then I had plans to have dinner with Nanna and her family that night. Most every time I go to Denmark, my visit to Lars' home is with his daughter, Nanna. I'll pick her up somewhere in Copenhagen and we'll trek up there together. For this trip though, her second son, Mathis, who was just two months old, made things a little more difficult. Instead, we settled on dinner at her home.

Nanna has been making fewer pipes than she'd like lately, as the two baby boys have consumed a lot of her time. It seems like every time I speak with her, she has plans to spend more time in the workshop; these plans are usually semi-successful. I certainly do not envy her trying to continue to make pipes regularly (which she's done an admirable job of) while contending with two infants. Still, things should begin to settle down some over the next couple of months and she'll be able to return to a more productive routine. There are lots of folks clamoring for her pipes right now, not that they don't when she's in full production mode, it's just a little more extreme right now.

We had a really nice dinner altogether, with Nanna, her husband Daniel, and her kids. I must sadly report that Sixten is now twenty months old and still not making pipes, though Nanna says he's expressing a lot of interest, especially with his experimental 'bite pattern' rustication finish, artistically rendered by trying to eat the briar. This makes sense, I think, given that Sixten smeared, threw, dropped or otherwise did not eat nearly as much food as he managed to consume at dinner. People tell me that this is par for the course, but I think he should really get with the pipe making...

Nanna and I have been friends for years, but I didn't know her husband Daniel terribly well; it was really nice getting to know him, and getting to see Sixten again (even if he isn't pulling his weight in the workshop yet), and meeting Mathis for the first time. Dinner was an excellent, freshly caught salmon from a friend who had just returned from a fishing trip to Iceland, and we spent a few hours just catching up and talking pipes. We could have spent all night chatting, but the travel and short nights were really catching up with me and I called it a night before it got too late.

By the time I was heading to the airport the following morning, I was both a little sad to be leaving, I love Denmark and my Danish friends, but also thoroughly exhausted and ready to be home, at least for a little while before we left for New Orleans altogether a couple of weeks later. While the pace of the trip is anything but leisurely and much of it is work, it's also enormously fun every year. It's a wonderful reminder of how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.








Posted by sykes at 5:33 PM | Link | 0 comments


20 August 2010

Video: Estate Restoration at Smokingpipes.com, Part IV
 Cleaning pipes, Smokingpipes.com style

       -Posted by susans-

Here's the latest entry in the series Sykes and I did about our estate restoration process. In this part, I demonstrate buffing a stem and Sykes and I talk about our buffing wheels and other equipment and our methods for shining up those stems! Personally, I think this is the best version yet, either because I got progressively more comfortable in front of the camera or because I had better props for this video...








Posted by susans at 6:15 PM | Link | 4 comments


19 August 2010

Video: Peterson Pipes with Tom Palmer
 Tom Palmer Talks Pipes

       -Posted by sykes-

Tom Palmer, Managing Director of Peterson of Dublin, took a few minutes at the IPCPR show in New Orleans last week to talk with Alyson about all of the new stuff Peterson is doing this year, including the Pipe of the Year, the Christmas Pipe, the Writer's collection, and an assortment of new tobaccos.








Posted by sykes at 5:56 PM | Link | 0 comments


18 August 2010

Behind the Scenes in Customer Service
 Lightening storms, pipe burnouts and ghosts named George...

       -Posted by kaye-

“Okay, I just need to know, is 2 Highway 90 East haunted?” The answer: “Oh, it’s just George. He locked Tony in the bathroom once.”

On Friday, August 6th we had yet another summer storm. And this one somehow reached out and fried a piece of our networking equipment, arcing visibly within the building, leaving customer service and shipping without computers or phones. Our fearless leaders, Sykes and Brian, along with Melissa, our even more fearless person in charge of all things electronic, dashed over in the pouring rain only to discover that there was no hope of recovery without new equipment. Mark and I gathered up our personal belongings, favorite pens, notepads, etc. and grabbed our nifty IP phones which identically work wherever they're plugged in (assuming lightening hasn't killed the network, of course). Dashing through the rain, we rushed over to our main building of operation. We set up camp at two vacant computer stations on the second floor.

As you may already know, that weekend four staff members took off to New Orleans. With Adam still out on vacation in Russia, things were pretty quiet in the big building. But it was all business as usual, with Pam, Eric and Melissa ensuring that all was well for the weekly updates. The networking equipment was on order and customer service and shipping were back online at 2 Highway 90 East.

Tuesday evening after logging off my computer, I was in our kitchen washing out my coffee cup. I was alone in our 100+ year old building, as the guys downstairs in our retail store had already departed. After washing my cup and wiping down the counters, I stepped into the bathroom to check my look in the mirror, and while gazing in the mirror I heard a sound. It was like one of those double-take moments. I paused, stopped breathing and listened veerrry carefully. What I heard was the sound of a door rattling, like an old wooden door that is loose in the door frame, LIKE A DOOR FROM OVER 100 YEARS AGO! Okay, this is for real! I walked out of the bathroom, down the hall and peeked down the stairs towards the retail store and up the stairs towards our attic, which houses our cleaning/restoration shop and photo studio. NOTHING! No sounds. As cold chills started to creep over me, I walked back into the bathroom. NOTHING! No sounds. Needless to say, I grabbed my bag and high tailed it out of there, securing the building for the night.

On Wednesday, our new equipment came in and customer service and shipping moved back to our normal building, which is only a few hundred yards across the way. And I learned about George from fellow coworkers. I found it a little unsettling to know that George is with us, a little sad to think that he cannot rest in peace. But later, I thought, well, maybe George is at peace, here with us. Maybe George even smokes a pipe! I like to think so anyway.

I’ve been in customer service at Smokingpipes.com for four and a half months now and I have learned many things. Like a burn-out is not only the purposeful roar of a motorcycle burning rubber off the rear tire in a cloud of smoke. A burn-out is also when a hole is burning into your pipe! That is not supposed to happen and I’m sure it must be an unpleasant experience. I’ve never witnessed this. I’ve only seen the end result, an ugly gaping hole in the side of a bowl, all charred and black. It’s a SAD sight to see.

In our world at Smokingpipes.com, a pipe is not just a pipe. Properly cared for, a pipe can last through generations. The way I see it, tobacco burns up. A cigar burns up. Once you smoke it, you buy more. If you lose your cigar cutter or pipe tamper, you may be able to replace it with a new one exactly like it. But your favorite pipe, it’s one-of-a-kind. There is only one of each pipe that you see on our web site. We often get repeats in favored designs, but truly each pipe is unique. Your favorite pipe is a companion. Maybe you’ve shared the good, the bad and the ugly together. You share history and memories. Like my favorite Justin roper boots that have been resoled three times and need it badly now. We’ve come a long way, Baby!

Passion for pipes is quite contagious here at Smokingpipes.com. Having read Sykes’ blog entries about visiting famous pipe makers around the world, I feel quite in awe when I browse through our pipe library. Having a better understanding of the passion and fine craftsmanship that went into making a pipe, I hold each pipe a little more tenderly now.

I learn something new just about every day in customer service. I learn from my coworkers. We hold training classes. I study our weekly updates to prepare for potential questions. I research questions to find answers and I learn from our customers. Brian instructs our training classes. We have sniffed tobacco, rubbed it out in our hands, compared it, one to another and smoked it. One day we dissected a cigar to see the tobacco leaf layers and the internal tobacco. Another day we studied pipe shapes, the names of different parts of a pipe, stem designs, etc. And then one day Brian took a hammer to some retired pipe pieces. He banged them open to show us the internal view of a shank hole, a meerschaum lined bowl and a badly charred bowl (though I suspect he really just wanted an excuse to hit something with a hammer). I missed the day they studied a block of briar and learned about the grain of the wood. Word is, they licked the wood. I still don’t know what that was about, but will follow-up on this. Anyway I’m still growing my vocabulary to speak of birdseye, straight grain, flame grain, etc. I study every day, so that I can be better prepared and ready to speak with our customers and fulfill their needs.

Stay tuned for more “Behind the Scenes in Customer Service”, as my colleague Mark Pluta will deliver our next blog entry.

And George, if you’re reading this, please stop messing with my computer speakers.








Posted by kaye at 9:48 PM | Link | 1 comment


17 August 2010

Video: Gran Habano Azteca
 Brian Levine interviews George Rico

       -Posted by sykes-

George Rico of Gran Habano sat down with Brian for a few minutes at the show to talk about the new Gran Habano Azteca line.








Posted by sykes at 7:50 PM | Link | 0 comments


Video: Stanwell Hans Christian Andersen VII
 Soren Aagaard talks about the latest entry in the series

       -Posted by sykes-

The new Stanwell Hans Christian Andersen VII shape is a little special. For the first time, Stanwell is trying to tie it all together a little bit, presenting the first 3,000 pipes in a presentation box, complete with a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. The shape was designed by Poul Winslow with the particular fairytale in mind. Anyway, I'll let Soren Lundh Aagaard, Managing Director of Stanwell, do the talking...








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


16 August 2010

Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine Interview
 Chuck Stanion interviews Sykes Wilford

       -Posted by sykes-

We received the new Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine in the mail while the four of us were in New Orleans. No one here told me it had arrived, of course (they really shouldn't toy with my emotions that way), but in it is the interview/article that Chuck Stanion and I did here at Smokingpipes.com in June. I'm really delighted with how it came out; Chuck actually managed to make me sound like an intelligent adult instead of an overexcited eight-year-old hopped-up on Mountain Dew, which is a true testament to Chuck's journalistic, or perhaps literary, talents...

So, a big thank you to Chuck both for the article and continuing to put together a great magazine quarter after quarter. If you don't subscribe to P&T, well, you most definitely should.

It's not yet up on their website, but if they put the full article up in the coming days, I'll post the link to it. But, really, it's P&T, you really should have a subscription...








Posted by sykes at 2:31 PM | Link | 2 comments


Video: Rocky Patel Interview
 Rocky talks about the new Fifteenth Anniversary Cigar

       -Posted by sykes-

We snagged Rocky for a quick interview on the IPCPR show floor in New Orleans last week. He was super-busy, but kind enough to take a couple of minutes with us to talk about his new cigars, especially the Fifteenth Anniversary cigar. He also touches on the new Cargo line.








Posted by sykes at 1:51 PM | Link | 1 comment


15 August 2010

Video: Chris Tarler from C&D talks about New Tobaccos
 Cornell & Diehl and G. L. Pease

       -Posted by sykes-

While we were at the IPCPR show in New Orleans, we made a quick stop to chat with our good friends Chris Tarler and Keith Toney from Cornell & Diehl (Craig and Patty Tarler weren't at the show, unfortunately). Amidst the general chatting, we thought it'd be fun to get one of them to do a couple minutes on video about new blends. Chris took a minute to talk through stuff with us. Enjoy!








Posted by sykes at 7:06 PM | Link | 1 comment


IPCPR 2010, New Orleans, Part II
 Fun stuff from the Big Easy

       -Posted by sykes-

Stepping back to a couple of weeks ago for a moment, when Kevin Godbee and I were in Denmark in late July, we established, finally and definitively, that Dunhill tobaccos would be coming back to the United States in September or October, first through conversations with Orlik and then, finally, getting confirmation from British- American Tobacco. The first day of the show, Tuesday, while we were at the Ashton booths, talking about Petersons with Tom Palmer (Managing Director of Peterson), Michael Walters (Sales Manager for Ashton), and Evan Carpenter (our regional sales representative), it became clear that we better get an order together for CAO for the Dunhill tobaccos. Susan and Brian dashed over there, while Alyson and I continued to work on Petersons. They placed an order for many thousands of tins of Dunhill tobacco for late September delivery (which might be a slightly optimistic ETA, so we're actually figuring on early October). The really important thing was to secure the Dunhill in appropriate quantities. Even in these truly massive amounts, we are a little concerned with stock problems in the autumn given all of the folks out there waiting for it to become available again. We'd return to both Ashton and CAO later in the show to conduct cigar and accessory business, but getting the pipes taken care of with Peterson and the tobacco taken care of with CAO took priority over all else late Tuesday morning.

Having wrapped up all of the pipe buying, we moved into a more normal pace for the rest of the show. After a quick lunch, we had a meeting with General Cigar to talk about their new products, including some really interesting new cigars from La Gloria Cubana, including the new Serie-N cigars, plus the new Artesanos Obilisks. While Susan and Brian actually conducted the business-y bits, Alyson and I set about interviewing Yuri Guillen, factory manager for La Gloria Cubana about all the new stuff. General also had a cigar roller based in Miami up for the show, so that was fun to watch too (and we have video of all of this we'll work on getting up over the next few weeks).

After that, the chronology of it all starts to get a bit blurry. Brian and Susan had a meeting with Oliva Cigars, of which I caught the tail end, while I did some quick following up with pipe folks that we'd already been to see, and tobacco folks to set things up for later in the show. As the day wore on, we visited the Villiger-Stokkebye booths, both because we needed to give them an order and also because they were in charge of feeding us Tuesday night. We spent some time talking with Kevin and Gary from Villiger-Stokkebye, plus Brian and I touched base on a couple of projects with Erik Stokkebye and the representative from Scandinavian Tobacco (Orlik's parent company) who was present for the show. Susan set to work structuring our ordering for the next couple of months with Gary, Villiger-Stokkebye's all round logistics guy, which requires a fair bit of planning: a whole lot of tobacco travels from Charlotte, NC to Little River, SC every week. After that, Erik, Brian and I attended a short trade organization / legislative meeting that started right after the show, while Susan and Alyson went immediately to Altadis' cocktail party. Altadis puts on quite a party and had we not been anticipating a serious dinner with the Stokkebye folks later that evening, we could have spent all evening there. We did get a chance to talk to a couple of senior people about the tobacco regulatory environment, which was good for keeping us in the loop.

Speaking of which, a major topic of conversation at the show was the TTB's definitions of pipe tobacco and according regulations. It's terribly esoteric and convoluted, but the short and long of it is that, after extended conversations with Mike McNiel from McClelland and Paul Creasy and others from Altadis, we're actually feeling better about the situation than we have in recent months. The TTB and ATF seem to be handling this fairly transparently and fairly, at least by governmental regulatory body standards. Much remains to be seen, which may take years to be established, but it seems like everything will generally remain as is in the mid-term.

And that evening, we had an amazing culinary and historical experience courtesy of the wonderful folks at Villiger-Stokkebye. And for that story, you'll have to tune in again for the next part of the IPCPR trip overview...








Posted by sykes at 5:26 PM | Link | 0 comments


12 August 2010

IPCPR 2010, New Orleans, Part I
 Fun stuff from the Big Easy

       -Posted by sykes-

It's been a whirlwind here in New Orleans over the past few days. Providing any sort of logical, or even chronological, order is beyond me at this point. So, in addition to eating our share of beignets and drinking coffee at Café du Monde, though really, Brian ate his share and nine other shares, and listening to Jazz in the Quarter, we've actually done some work. Or, whatever it is we actually do that we pretend is work to the folks back home so that they don't know what a raucously good time we're having while we're away. Seriously, the show has been lot of fun, but we've also covered tremendous ground, literally and figuratively. Here are some highlights from Monday through Wednesday, picking up where we left off after the last IPCPR post, where we'd just finished up picking out tons of particularly pretty Dunhills...

Oh, and also, we'll have a bunch of videos when we get home. Our cunning plan to edit and push videos from the road has hit a technical snag or six, so I think we're surrendering on that particular front until we can use real hardware and software back at the office. We do have some seriously fun stuff, including videos with Soren Lundh Aagaard, Managing Director of Stanwell, Rocky Patel, and many others...


Monday afternoon we picked out a few dozen Castellos at the Castello pre-show event. Usually, we'll pick out months worth of updates of pipes, but we were a little more restrained this year because we'd just bought a ton of awesome Castellos when we were in Italy in late June. Still, we added some great pieces, especially Sea Rocks and Old Antiquaris, which were a little thin on the ground when we were at the factory eight weeks ago. You'll have to wait to see what we have, but there were some sandblasts that had Brian and me swooning...and Susan and Alyson rolling their eyes a little bit at our enthusiasm (though, secretly, they're super-excited too; they just pretend they're not sometimes; simply witness Susan's intent pipe selecting to the right).

That night, we met Kevin Godbee from PipesMagazine.com for dinner at Susan Spicer's restaurant, Bayona. As I might have suggested previously, and while I don't want to turn this blog into a restaurant review page, I have a bit of weakness for the culinary arts. And Susan Spicer is an artist. The food was excellent and the company was even better. We spent a great five hours talking about the growth in pipe smoking among younger men that we've all been noticing and what we could do to help foster that and ease their entry into the hobby.

The first morning of the show is always a mad dash for us. No one needs to particularly hustle to cigar booths: it'll be the same cigars later that afternoon, but for pipes, it's imperative that we get to pick early. I hit Tsuge immediately, while Brian and Alyson went to Savinelli, and Susan went in search of Stanwells. After selecting a dozen Tsuges, I dashed over to pick out two dozen (or thereabouts, counting and speed picking tend not to go together) awesome Paolo Beckers. He's been experimenting with a new wood that has properties very similar to briar, but is lighter and blasts beautifully. We'll have more on that later, though. We all ended up back with the Stanwells, and picked out lots while we were there, including, we think, some pretty interesting stuff.

From there, the entire crew visited the Ashton booths to select Petersons. There are a few really nice new lines that will be available over the coming months, including the new version of the Kapet with a nickel band and a fantastic new Mark Twain shape. Plus, of course, the Peterson Pipe of the Year, of which we've already received the first few, pictured to the right. They also had a particularly good selection of Spigots that we could select from this year, plus we finalized an amazing deal for some very special Petersons that we'll be able to share with you in about two weeks, but for now, I'll have to keep mum-- I promise it'll be huge, though!

Tune back in tomorrow evening for more notes from the show...including our discussions with CAO about Dunhill tobaccos coming back to the US...








Posted by sykes at 12:51 AM | Link | 2 comments


09 August 2010

The British Invade! Dunhills Dominate!
 Or, what happens to New Orleans when Andrew Jackson isn't around...

       -Posted by sykes-

Fortunately, the British are a little more welcome here this time than in 1814; rather than muskets, they come bringing pipes, which is far more congenial to the denizens of New Orleans, not to mention those pipe seeking visitors from South Carolina. Every year since Dunhill began working with Music City Marketing as their US importer, they've hosted a private Dunhill selection room before the IPCPR show actually begins. We were in there bright and early at 8am this morning.

I've written 'pipes abound' in more places and contexts than I care to remember. It's one of those little Sykes phrases that elicit gentle mockery in the office at this point. Well, in this particular context, it would have been a woeful understatement of the extraordinary spread of Dunhills we had to choose from. We selected about 130 pieces (we sort of lost count there at the end), but we had so many to pick from that our selection barely left a dent. It is a truly wondrous experience to be able to select, say, three dozen Shell Briars from among four or five hundred. We buy so many pipes (very large percentages of some makers' productions) that those sorts of selection ratios are something we are rarely able to enjoy. It was extraordinary.

I shan't let this particular cat out of the bag, but Dunhill had some very special series that will be available later this fall. I'm super excited about these and, having seen the packaging, but not the final pipe, containing my enthusiasm is almost impossible.

We are momentarily off to look through Castellos, though because we selected so many in June when we were at the factory, we won't be going quite as crazy this afternoon as we did this morning. I'll keep you posted here as things develop!








Posted by sykes at 2:43 PM | Link | 4 comments


07 August 2010

IPCPR Starts Monday
 New Orleans here we come!

       -Posted by brian-

Much of my past week has been spent prepping for our trip to New Orleans for the annual IPCPR trade show. Hotel rooms and transportation are all set; we have great dinners lined up and I'm excited to make my requisite pilgrimage to Café du Monde on Jackson Square for beignets and coffee at least once (or about eight times if time permits). Susan, Alyson, Sykes and I met this past Wednesday to plan day one of the show, our pipe day. Knute Rockne would not be impressed, but Sykes was actually drawing football plays by the end of the meeting (which, among other things, is why we try to avoid having meetings). Ron, our store manager, handed me a list multiple pages long that reads like an eight-year-old's list for Santa Claus and we have appointments lined up with makers of pipes, pipe tobacco and, especially at this show, cigars.

I've already received many ideas from friends for cigars and other products to be on the lookout for, plus one unsolicited, but much appreciated, jazz club recommendation. Now is your chance to help: tell us what you'd like to see in the comments section of this post! I'll see what I can do at the show and I'll follow up with another post when I return.

Until then, laissez les bon temps rouler!








Posted by brian at 1:59 PM | Link | 0 comments


06 August 2010

Danish Chronology; Trip Overview, Part III
 Part III of IV of my Danish Travelogue...

       -Posted by sykes-

Picking up where we left off at Mac Baren, in Part II of my Danish Chronology, we wended our way from Svendborg on the southern coast of Funen to Odense in the center of the island to visit none other than Peter Heeschen. Peter was waiting for us, beer or coffee at the ready, in his workshop. We sat outside for a time, catching up, with me reintroducing Peter to Kevin, since they'd only met briefly once before. Having arrived mid-afternoon, we would spend the rest of Tuesday and Tuesday night with Peter.

Visiting Peter is an interesting experience, not least of all because he insists that I make a pipe each time I visit. He knows full well that I have about as much native pipe making talent as a large tuna, though trusting me with machinery is even more dangerous, since at least I have thumbs that can be lost in the process. I think this is why Peter insists upon this: if nothing else, it provides endless amusement, and, as a bonus, I've never bled so much as to stain anything in his workshop. This visit was no exception. He had the two of us designing and shaping pipes in no time. Kevin had never done this before, so Peter spent most of his effort helping Kevin. Plus, Kevin seemed to pick things up fairly quickly and I think Peter was delighted to have a student that was a little easier to teach than it would have been if he'd tried to instruct one of his horses in the intricacies of pipe making. Note that the picture is of Kevin with his pipe.My pipe, while it smokes beautifully (Peter did the internals for me), is so ugly that it will never, ever be seen by anyone. I will only ever smoke it, in the bathroom, with the door locked and the lights off. This is a pipe so ugly, I wouldn't show it to my mother. Peter started cooking duck and we continued to work on our pipes. We ran out of time for staining and whatnot, so I buffed each and laid a coat of wax and that had to suffice for finishing (and even there I managed to do a better job with Kevin's than mine; not only is mine lumpen, I'll have to sneak into the office in the dead of night (lest someone see the monstrosity that is this pipe) to refinish it).

Now, cooking duck is something that I actually know something about, though I have to confess that Peter might have me beat there too. Still, I found it slightly ironic (and violating all sorts of division of labor principles from Economics 101 freshman year in college) that Peter was cooking and I was making pipes (for those of you who remember first semester micro, I kinda felt like New York trying to grow oranges). With pipes (sort of) complete, and dinner ready, we sat down together for some seriously tasty duck and potatoes, and spent the rest of the evening talking pipes, pipe shows, various pipe friends and the like, smoking small mountains of pipe tobacco and, in the case of Peter and Kevin at least, consuming impressive quantities of scotch.

After breakfast the following morning, we set out for the Orlik factory near the western coast of Funen. One of the greatest things about being in Denmark on a business trip is that it seems like almost every driving stretch between appointments is forty-five minutes, which is how long it took us to reach Orlik, in spite of getting slightly turned around on our way there. Having had a little trouble figuring out where we should be, Troels Mikkelsen discovered us and rescued us from wandering the hallways indefinitely. This worked out well since Troels was exactly who we were looking for.

If I were to discuss our visit to Orlik in any detail, it would require a half dozen blog posts on its own. You've already seen two videos from the visit (and if you haven't, see below and check them out; they're amazing) and I'll probably have one more over the next little while. Troels speaks so knowledgeably and so lovingly about tobacco that one can't help but be swept up in his commentary. We started out in the big tobacco warehouses, filled with thousands of 200kg boxes of leaf, waiting for processing. Countries of origin were stamped on each box: Brazil, USA, Malawi, Indonesia, Malaysia and a half dozen countries one would never expect tobacco from. Whether he was talking about perique or the changes in tobacco growing in southern Africa, Troels was erudite and compelling.

From there, we moved into the production facility, first encountering the great rope making station. When I die, if I end up in heaven, there will be one such station there. This, my dear reader, is where they make the Escudo. On that particular day, they were making Luxury Bullseye Flake, while is almost as much fun (and uses exactly the same process). Yielding heavy pressed batons of tobacco, ready for cutting, the process was a joy to watch (check out the video here). And thence onto the pressing and mixing and blending and topping and saucing and cutting equipment, much of which is linked together by a bunch of tobacco filled conveyor belts.

And onto the packing equipment, which, frankly, might be my favorite. Yes, the processing stuff is pretty cool, but there's just so much more automated fun to see during the packaging processes. Tobacco goes in one end and tins come out the other. We watches as tobacco was automatically weighed into little hoppers, put in tins, the tins sealed, and proper labels applied, all on one big machine, managed by one woman. It was amazing.

Having enjoyed the tour of the factory, we went to lunch (about which I've posted previously) and from there visited Lasse, the Mad Scientist Tobacco Blender, in the facility used for the My Own Blend line of tobaccos for the Paul Olsen shops, now owned by Orlik. Fully eight metric tons annually come through this small room, hand blended to specification by Lasse Berg based on more than fifty component tobaccos and countless flavorings. As I said previously, it's clear that Lasse thinks he has the coolest job ever. And, if it weren't for my job, I might agree with him. Lasse whipped up two blends, one for each of Kevin and me. Heavy in perique and light in rum, my particular concoction still waits to be opened. I wanted to give it a couple of weeks to sit before I did so, and now I'm trying to smoke through open tins before I open anything else, so I hope to get to it in the next few days.

My trip chronology continues to grow faster than I can work my way through it (which is temporally odd, given that the trip ended almost two weeks ago), so there will have to be a fourth and (I promise) final episode in this little series during which we visit Mogens 'Johs' Johansen in Frederikshavn and I have dinner with Nanna Ivarsson, her husband Daniel, and children, Sixten and Mathis.











Posted by sykes at 11:31 PM | Link | 1 comment


05 August 2010

Video: Estate Restoration at Smokingpipes.com, Part III
 Cleaning pipes, Smokingpipes.com style

       -Posted by susans-

And now for the third part in my series of estate restoration videos. In this video, we talk about stem cleaning, internally and externally, before we put it on the buffing wheels. Sykes makes an appearance here to discuss the soaking of stems too.








Posted by susans at 9:48 PM | Link | 0 comments


03 August 2010

Video: Estate Restoration at Smokingpipes.com, Part II
 Cleaning pipes, Smokingpipes.com style

       -Posted by susans-

And now it's time for the second part in my series of estate restoration videos. In the first video, we introduced the department (and, yes, shared some of the fun we had while making the vids), but now onto the meat of series: we begin actually cleaning some pipes. This video discusses cleaning the insides of bowls and shanks.








Posted by susans at 4:49 PM | Link | 0 comments


Ardors Abound
 Steve Monjure visits Smokingpipes.com

       -Posted by alyson-

It's always a good day when we get a visit from our friend and Ardor/Brebbia representative Steve Monjure of Monjure International (and not just because he is a fellow ailurophile and brings us fancy chocolate truffles). Steve knows what he's doing, knows his product and is simply a pleasure to do business with. Today Steve brought us a plethora of Ardor pipes to choose from and we had a great time picking out some of Ardor's finest and talking about some of the new things Damiano and Dorielo are doing with their shaping, new adornment materials, etc. We always look forward to Steve's visits (and even if he didn't bring chocolate, we'd be delighted to see him). Look out for great Ardor updates over the coming weeks!














Posted by alyson at 4:43 PM | Link | 0 comments


02 August 2010

Danish Chronology; Trip Overview, Part II
 Part II of III of my Danish travelogue...

       -Posted by sykes-

I find myself yet again chronologically-challenged in this reverse-chronology world of blogging. I've been meaning to pull together the balance of the trip overview, the first part of which was posted on July 18th, from Denmark. The second half of the trip found us leaving Copenhagen in search of pipe makers and tobacco manufacturers away from the Danish capital, visiting towns like Svendborg, Odense, Assens, Aalborg, and Frederikshavn. So, here's an overview of Monday and Tuesday of the trip:

On Monday, July 19th, we spent the day with Tom Eltang. We'd already had a quick visit with Tom the previous Saturday night, but this was the scheduled all-day-with-Tom day. Usually when I travel to Denmark, I tend to fill up my non-scheduled time either by just hanging out with Tom Eltang. Tom's workshop has, over the years, become something of a home away from home for me.

We arrived in the late morning, finally having taken a morning to just get some much needed rest, and Kevin and I found Tom, much as I had expected, working away. He was hand sanding stain off of bowls on one of the four smooth pipes (hopefully Snail graded!) that he's sending our way that he was still working on while we were there. We found ourselves some coffee and bounced some ideas we had off of Tom, for video interviews and whatnot. A couple of those videos are up on this blog now, and Kevin will edit some more and they'll be posted both on PipesMagazine.com and Smokingpipes.com, so I won't spoil the fun that we had. As always, Tom's working on new stuff, the big thing being his new laser engraver, which he discusses in a video on July 25th. We also got to see one of the new Eltang Tubos pipes being made, which we'll have video of at some point in the near future. Tom is always full of energy and this visit was no exception; it's exciting for me to see a pipe maker that is constantly evolving, striving to be better and better. We finished up the day having dinner at Tom and his wife Pia's home, in their garden, with their grandson Oscar. Pia, true to form, put together a fantastic meal, including fantastic pizzas she cooked on the grill. Sometimes I worry that Tom thinks I only spend time with him in the hope that Pia will feed me; sometimes I worry that he's right... Seriously, it was a wonderful visit with old friends, talking pipes, new ideas, and eating great food.

The following morning, Tuesday July 19th, we got up early and headed to Svendborg, about ninety minutes from Copenhagen, to visit Per Jensen at the Mac Baren factory. I've visited the factory four or five times at this point and it is always fantastic. Seeing all of the work, machinery and expertise that goes into bringing us the blends that we love is as special as watching great pipe makers work, except that the machines are massively bigger, which, if, like me, you've never grown out of thinking backhoes are really cool, just makes the whole experience that much more fun. As with everything else on this trip, this was Kevin's first visit to Mac Baren, which gave me an excuse to ask Per to, yet again, show me around the factory. When I visited last year with Tony Saintiague (our now departed, but still involved, VP for Sales, who still pops up for pipe shows and occasional meetings), lots of changes had been made to accommodate great growth in production. This trip, the changes were more subtle-- new, safer, automated cutting machines, new flake tobacco packing machines-- the general little improvements that are the hallmark of any well run company. Per Jensen himself is always a pleasure; he knows so much about tobacco and speaks so lovingly of the Mac Baren factory that it's impossible to not be swept up in his enthusiasm. And, as both a tobacco and Mac Baren enthusiast myself, it doesn't take much to sweep me up in that enthusiasm. Following the factory tour, we had lunch with Per and Simon Nielsen, Marketing Director for Mac Baren, but someone I've known for awhile because he had been the export manager for the United States before he was promoted to his current position. While lacking the extraordinary depth of tobacco knowledge that Per brings to the table, Simon is similarly enthusiastic about Mac Baren and its product and it's always a pleasure to talk about the business end of the business with him. I think that's part of what makes the whole Mac Baren experience so special. These folks really love and care for Mac Baren. They believe in what they do. I love companies, or any organization for that matter, that's like this. It's just always a pleasure to see these guys. Oh, and see giant machines making tobacco...

That afternoon, we traveled on to visit Peter Heeschen, but that's the subject of the next post in this occasional series...check back for Danish Chronology, Part III.








Posted by sykes at 7:13 PM | Link | 4 comments


01 August 2010

Video: Making Luxury Bullseye Flake at Orlik
 Troels Mikkelsen walks us through various parts of the production process

       -Posted by sykes-

While we were visiting the Orlik factory (about ten days ago), the first thing we happened upon when we entered the production floor was a woman working on making rolls of pipe tobacco. At first, I mistook it for Escudo (y'all know where my particular heart lies), but I was almost as excited to see Bullseye Flake being made as I would have been to see Escudo (Luxury Bullseye Flake is great too). The process, by which they take a thin pressed flake and wrap it around a pressed rod (of sorts) of a mixture of perique and fermented virginias, is, frankly, pretty cool. Check it out!








Posted by sykes at 7:44 PM | Link | 0 comments


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