We'd planned to role out the new checkout process, along with better shipping rates and all sorts of good stuff, at the same time as the new look and feel of the rest of the site. We had to kill it almost immediately when little bugs we hadn't tested for started popping up.
It's all back up now and seems to be working just fine. If you have any other suggestions, we'd love to hear them. If you catch any problems, we definitely want to hear about those.
Perhaps the biggest functional change is that UPS rates are now automatically pulled from UPS based on the weight of your package. These are our negotiated, discounted rates, so shipping charges have generally gone down. Further, in addition to the free shipping over $95 for UPS Ground, we've discounted other shipping methods on orders over $95. So, if it's ever bothered you that you had to choose between $12 UPS 2nd Day and $0 UPS Ground, that difference is not nearly so stark anymore, offering a better deal on shipping for everyone in the US.
Accordingly, pulling real time UPS International rates has radically improved our offerings there and are generally much less expensive than they used to be for our international customers who choose UPS.
At present, USPS options haven't changed, though we hope to be able to work on those in the next few months.
After the initial post done last week about the evaluating the condition of estate pipes, we will now move past examining the unsmoked pieces and
work our way down the line. With each additional blog post, the evaluating numbers will start to trickle down from
5/5 with the range being noted and explained along the way.
Going back to a very obvious point from the last post, the condition of a pipe is much different than a
collectible vase or oil painting since it's designed to be used. We all gravitate toward pipes for their overall
shape, design, and finish, though each one ends up calling to us in a different way. Some prove to be better smokers
than others due to size, shape, engineering, and other factors. It should be noted that whether a pipe be lightly
smoked or heavily smoked its condition doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the piece nor the enjoyment
derived from it.
Usually, a pipe that is smoked will get a rating of 4.9/5 or below. These higher-rated pipes are all in extremely
good condition and often just had either one bowl (or less) run through the pipe. This can be determined
by looking at either the precarb lining (which will be factory-done in most cases) and is even more noticeable in a
bowl that's left natural wood. If the pipe is extremely clean and there is no darkening on the rim, dings on the
briar, or tooth marks, it will typically receive a 4.9/5. Other factors can knock it down slightly. Since this post
is about rim conditions, we will focus on these and ignore any additional subtracted points for tooth marks,
aftermarket stems, replacement tenons, and such (these will come in a later post).
Let’s compare three good examples. In this first photo, the pipe is in really great shape, but the inner rim is
slightly darkened which would give it a rating of 4.85/5. This is simply a result of normal, careful smoking where
the tobacco heats up the wood and wax, so it's more of a coloring issue anything else.
The second photo shows a pipe exhibiting rim darkening that extends well outside the inner rim. Though this is mainly the
result of filling the pipe to the very top with tobacco, such use may cause the briar to patina and will often leave behind some stubborn
tars that can be difficult to remove without topping the pipe (sanding down and re-staining the rim – which we never
do). Some of you may think it’s silly for me to condition a black pipe or a dark sandblast with this 4.8/5 rating
(because it’s already dark), but some of the finish can be burned off of a smooth piece and nearly-impossible to
remove tars manage to work their way into the little nooks and crannies of each blasted ripple (which is why the
photo examples a naturally-stained pipe for reference). Looking closely under the light, there will be a slightly
different color from the original briar, so “4.8/5 Rim darkening” will be noted.
In this last example, the rim is significantly darkened, showing burned marks from a lighter (which will char the
wood, become soft, and later come off on the buffing wheel). Sometimes the inner rim is showing signs of chatter
marks (a result of using a knife which bounces around while trying to scrape the cake). These combined factors,
depending on severity, will give the pipe a rating of anywhere between 4.5-4.75/5. Once again, the focus here is on
the rim, not the reamed chamber (which could drop the rating to 4.25/5 if it has these factors and is unevenly
Rim darkening is relatively easy to rate, but the additional charring, reaming, dings, tooth marks, etc. are all
factors in evaluating the condition. Like I mentioned before, we often get estate pipes in that range between very
clean to heavy rim darkening. Assuming that they all belonged to the same smoker, it’s actually the ones that are in
a lower condition that tend to be their favorites evidenced by how much it they were used.
We’ve got bats nesting over our bulletin board. And I think we’ve gone through a hundred or more of those miniature candy bars over the past two weeks. But that’s okay. I just keep filling up the candy bowl. This week we’ll be hearing that phrase ‘Trick or Treat’ and stepping into the end-of-year holiday season. With that thought in mind, we’ll be offering you, our customers, lots of treats this year. So be sure to watch for special announcements coming up over the next few weeks.
And just think, you don’t have to ‘shop ‘til you drop’ at Smokingpipes.com. We’re available 24/7 at the click of a mouse. That means you can shop in your pajamas if you like. As the days and nights get cooler, you can enjoy a hot beverage and shop at your leisure. You can even light up your favorite tobacco as you shop for more. You might be shopping for yourself or you may be choosing a gift for someone. Well, no worries, we’ve got you covered from every spooky angle.
As I wandered through our retail store last week, gathering ideas and items to photograph, my eyes were drawn to the two life-sized wooden Indians we have standing in one of our display windows. Then I stepped out the front door and stole a kiss. Ever wonder why there’s usually a wooden Indian outside your local tobacco shop? Take a step back in history and imagine a Native American Indian reaching out to offer his pipe to the foreign speaking explorer.
Then take a walk through history to the first Thanksgiving feast shared between the Native American Indians and the pilgrims. Gifts were exchanged, food was shared and probably pipes were passed around. And so the wooden Indian has become a symbol that lets one know that tobacco is sold inside or there is a tobacconist on-site. As early as the seventeenth century, European tobacconists used figures of American Indians to advertise their shops. These figures arrived in the Americas in the late eighteenth century. It’s an honorable post to stand. I hope they last forever. And this year as we give thanks, let’s not forget the gift of tobacco.
So write out your list, check it twice and get your mouse ready to shop, shop, shop! Stay tuned for part 2 in the coming weeks.
We have been secretly working on the new site design for some time now and
are really excited for everyone to finally see the fruits of our labor.
Although we were all very fond of the look and feel of the old design, after
years and years of looking at it day in and day out, we decided that we
needed to change things up a little. When we get bored around here, crazy
cool stuff happens.
While the majority of the site still works the same as it always did, we
have made some functional improvements in addition to the new look and
The biggest of these is the streamlining of the checkout process. There
are fewer screens to go through to complete your order and the shopping cart
has been designed so that you can see images of the items that you have added
to it. This can be really helpful when you have a large order and you want to
do a quick scan to see if you’ve missed anything before you hit the checkout
The main page of the website has received a huge visual overhaul. You will
now see images of the new products that we add on Mondays and Thursdays as
soon as you get to the homepage. This will allow you to do a quick scan of
the front page and see if anything grabs your attention. We have also added
a great “billboard” at the top of the home page highlighting the new and
notable additions to the site.
The project has been a big collaborative effort with practically everyone
in the company adding to a long “wish list” of functions that we desperately
needed and Melissa has done an amazing job of putting all of our crazy
requests into a neatly coded package. Although I did, on a couple of
occasions, have to physically restrain her from banging her face on her
keyboard simply because the checkered pattern on her forehead was not very
becoming to her.
I also want to thank Art Hill
for creating a wonderfully simple, yet creative layout and design for the
P.S. This article was written with loving care by Alyson Ranalli!
The first time I tried to cellar some tobacco for future smoking bliss I messed up bad. I'll spare you the agonizing details of my absolute failure, but I will mention that it cost me eight ounces of Stonehaven. I'm sure many of you know how difficult that stuff is to come by, so needless to say I was pretty disappointed. Yes, lessons were learned.
The next time I got around to storing up some leaf I was so anxious about it that I ended up complicating the process beyond belief. While there are dozens of forums crowded with hundreds of experts, most of which have their own senstive system of cellaring tobacco, Brian has taken the time to show us that cellaring tobacco can be quite simple and inexpensive.
Keep in mind that the tobacco you intend to store and age should be kept from light and moisture. My "cellar" is a closet. Enjoy the video!
Admittedly, the first time I smoked Quiet Nights by G. L. Pease I was not very impressed. I can't say why, exactly, it just didn't do anything for me. It seemed bland, like it lacked dimension or character. But I don't judge a blend based on my first impression. Usually, the tin will get tucked away in the big plastic box that serves as my cellar until I'm feeling adventurous or tired of the usual or maybe until I'm ready to give the blend a second chance. My tin of 'Quiet Nights' got tossed into the box.
Then I was to embark on a week-long Alaskan cruise. While most people will spend some time considering what clothes to bring in regard to the climate and duration of the trip, I tend to start thinking, (well in advance and rather anxiously) about the select few pipes and small amounts of tobacco that will be joining me. This is a really tough decision to make.
One of the two blends that made the final cut to join me abroad was ‘Quiet Nights’. I figured that this was my chance to really get to know the stuff. Boy, am I glad I did.
There was a cigar room on the ship. Set to the soft sound of French jazz and decorated in plush leather, attractive end tables, and beautiful ferns, the room was dimly lit and easily maintained the most serene atmosphere on the boat. This is where I became fast friends with one of the tastiest and most sublime dark English blends I can recall ever having smoked.
Given some time to dry out and if packed with care, this broken flake will smoke real slow, surprisingly cool and for a great long while. It’s heavy and musky, and while the Latakia is rather pronounced here, so too are the savory Orientals and spicy Perique richly accented. Really, all the flavors come together in a delicious harmony. By the end of the trip, ‘Quiet Nights' had become for me a top-notch choice.
I guess my ‘take away’ from this episode is that a lot of my attitude about pipe tobacco is biased by context. At home, with a whole bunch of tobacco choices at my disposal and in the midst of my rut, the magic of a certain blend might be lost on me. On the other hand, when stuck on a ship with 3,000 gluttons, a buffet court, an arcade parlor, and a casino, I’m quick to appreciate the wonderful quality of an unacquainted blend. We get to share a handful of meaningful occasions together and my opinion of the blend is altered, usually for the better.
I’m not going to get into the ‘other’ blend that made it along the cruise. We’ll just say it jumped ship and leave it at that.
The other day, Brian asked me about this video interview. He remembered having done it, but we'd never put it up. It sort of got lost in the mass of footage we took at the show in New Orleans in early August. We're glad to finally get it up on the blog. It's a little difficult to hear the first few seconds, but it clears up after that. Generally, the sound required serious fiddling which, for some reason that I'm sure some serious sound guy might be able to explain, worked much better with Glen's voice than Brian's. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!
Also, I've been really impressed by the Kristoff Ligero line especially, though I find that a hearty meal preceding smoking helps tremendously...
Here's the third and final entry in the video series of my interview with Alex Florov. Being not a terribly structured interview-- Alex and I both have a tendency towards free association, wandering from topic to topic without much structure-- it's more like just a conversation between old friends. I hope you enjoy it! We certainly did.
Now, while many of you already now that our very own Brian Levine is as expert in 'pipes and tobacco' as they come, few realize that his knowledge of cigars and cigar care is quite advanced as well. Or maybe that's just me. Nevertheless, Brian took the time out of his very busy schedule, which primarily consists of talking to customers about Disneyland, Disney pipes, Disney music (which he tends to often blast from his office) and, on occasion, pipes, to share with us his preferred method of readying a new humidor for cigar storage. As you'll see, the process is a lot easier than it is often made out to be.
Since all humidors are purchased in a dry state, it takes time to 'season' them to the proper humidity for the cigars inside. The ideal standard in the business is 70% humidity - this will ensure that your cigars are stored in a perfect environment for aging, cutting, and smoking. Below 65% will slowly dry out some cigars, and above 75% will make a moist environment that could swell the filler and crack the wrapper (not to mention making burning more difficult).
During our recent update meeting we discussed the usual topics, including this blog. It's been a while since my last post and the time has come for something new. With so many subject options out there, I poised the question to everyone about what they would like me to write about. Brian suggested I do a post about the ratings in condition statements since I'm the one that writes them and has to back up the rating in question. Great idea. After some initial discussions, it seems like a better idea to construct a series that range from new and unsmoked pipes, down to Frankenstein monsters that should never see the light of day again.
Settling on a rating out of 5 is an easy way for all of you (and everyone here) to understand why I assign the number for any given estate. If the system was far too delicate, and I had to literally count each ding to subtract a fraction of a point for each, it would become tiring and ridiculous. A condition statement should be brief and to the point. Praise is given in the description, and the point for the condition statement is to note what someone picking up the pipe at a show or store should be aware of. A huge difference between pipes and, say, an oil painting or vase on Antiques Roadshow, is that pipes are made to be smoked, so blemishes happen. A chip on the rim of a Tiffany vase will considerably drop its value. I sincerely hope that no one has ever used a Tiffany piece as an urn, and would carelessly knock out the ash against a hard surface. This first part will hopefully shed some light on why the two moths fluttering between my ears tell me what to assign each piece. Sometimes it's really easy (5/5 Unsmoked) for example, and then there are times that the two moths each have a different idea about what range it should fall into and I have to make a decision based on the pipe. So, without further narration, it's time jot down some of the many thoughts in my brain.
Unsmoked! These pipes provide the best return value for customers since they get more money in trade credit to use in our store, or slightly less for a cash option. In most cases, pipes that arrive to us in factory condition, un-oxidized, and perfect in nearly every way will get a 5/5 Unsmoked.
There are some cases (many, actually) when a pipe will get a rating somewhere between 4.95/5 and 5/5 due to minor blemishes or other issues. The pipe in this photo is a beautiful piece that is unsmoked, but was given a rating of 4.98/5 because there are some very shallow dings on the side. In the hands of an experienced pipe repairman, these dings could be steamed out without blemishing the finish. Had these dings been larger, or more regular, this would have most likely had lower rating.
As always, there is a brief explanation in the condition statement that informs the buyer what defects there are. Sometimes we get a pipe that someone purchased directly from a factory or maker with a small chip, crack, or scratch. These are all pipes that will usually be rated 4.95/5 or higher. In all of these cases I try to begin the statement with "Unsmoked", so the buyer will understand that the price reflects a nearly mint piece with slight issues. And, of course, I note the nature of the problem too.
Hello to all of our Smokingpipes.com family!!!! It’s me, Mark from Customer Service. I have to tell you I am probably one of the worst people to have been asked to sit down and write about something, but here I go, listening to my all time favorite rocker chick, P!nk. Well, she maybe my favorite of today’s female singers; we can’t forget the ‘Goddesses of Rock’ Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar. Yes, I am an 80s rocker that refuses to leave the era. P!nk would have been cool then too.
Hmm… Maybe the obsession comes from the fact that, being from Southern New Jersey, she’s from right outside of Philly. I’m not kidding! When she was supposed to be divorcing Carey Hart, I wanted to go to Doylestown, PA to see if she went to visit her mom. But then they got back together and I was depressed for weeks. Of course, I was still living up north then. It would have been an interesting road trip from where I live now in North Myrtle Beach, SC. I guess I have it pretty good here, though: I live a block from the beach and work at the largest pipe tobacco E-tailer in the world. Not bad for a Jersey boy from the sticks.
Okay, onto the real reason for this. Today I am going to talk about what is known as “exceptions” in our order system. For all of you reading this, that means we are out of stock on something. Now, as any of you who have had the misfortune of ordering something that we are out of stock on know, you usually get an email or phone call from me informing you that we are out of stock and when, approximately, it will be back in. Occasionally, due to vendor back orders, we really don’t know when to expect it. (Hint: Certain blends from overseas that surprise us upon delivery only every six months or so.) My answer to this is “Whaddaya want from me?” Oh sorry, off track again. (That would be an Adam Lambert song that P!nk wrote.)
Most times, the majority of our out of stock items do come in within a week or so and we ship the orders out right away for you. There are those occasions where it will take up to a month for certain things, but our Purchasing Manager, Susan (AKA my work wife) does her best to help get them stocked in a timely manner. I usually blow up Susan’s phone extension or her email with questions about when something is coming back. “Is that on back order? Any word on this? Did we hear back on that?” Luckily Susan and I are friends as well, so instead of beating me with a branch from the huge oak tree outside the building, she helps me.
So, dear customers, please know that whenever we are out of stock on something, we are doing our best to get the items in and out to you. P!nk would be proud. Until next time!
It’s not a secret around here that I’m a big fan of latakia leaf, especially during this time of year. I simply love English and Balkan blend tobaccos. Now, I understand that there are a lot of pipe smokers out there that hate the stuff; the claim is that it smells terrible (I’ve heard it described as burning rubber) and tastes awful. Piffle, I say! It smells wonderful (like campfires from childhood vacations) and tastes deliciously sweet, salty, spicy and smoky. As with almost any kind of pipe tobacco, there’s an enormous variety of English recipes that keep enthusiasts entangled in an ever-continuing world of exploration and discovery.
For the last few weeks I’ve been investigating three blends from ‘Captain Earl’s’ line of tobacco: ‘Ten Russians’, ‘Private Stock’, and ‘Stimulus Package’. Originally formulated by Hermit Tobacco, these blends are now packaged and sold by Cornell & Diehl. They are fantastic.
All three are pressed into an old-fashion crumble cake, which is one of my favorite packing styles. All three blends are jam packed with tons of latakia. Although I’m thoroughly enjoying them all, so far I’m really preferring the ‘Ten Russians’ which is richly flavored and complex, staking a nice balance between the sweet, bright, Virginias and the dark, creamy latakia.
If you’re a fan of latakia or are looking to try something different, these blends get a high nod from yours truly.
Having the office in Little River, South Carolina makes the trip to the Richmond Pipe Show easy. Normally, we have to pack all necessities and ship them days in advance. Then we hop on a plane and head to the show.
Richmond, on the other hand, is close enough that we can drive. Since I own the largest land assault vehicle in the company, I have had the pleasure of gathering part of the entourage and driving to Virginia for the last two years. The drive up has been the same. Everyone excited about the show, the people we will see and the work we have to do. The drive home however was a little different this year.
I started the drive home with Brian Levine as my co-pilot. (Despite what you may think, he did do a great job.) Adam Davidson, Ted Swearingen and Jeff Gracik filled up the second row. Supplies for the show occupied the space behind them. We met up with Sykes and his passengers in Rocky Mount, North Carolina for a nice dinner before finishing the trip home. This is when the ride deviated from last year.
After being on the road for a while, statements like “Use the shovel on him” and “Pick up the axe” along with beeps and bleeps started coming from the back seat. The “boys” were playing adventure games on someone’s smart phone. For a second I thought my seven and nine year olds where in the truck. Miles upon miles passed before the back seat became utterly quiet. Brian turned around to see what happened. The picture says it all…
Putting together this video was incredibly satisfying. When we were shooting all this footage, now two Mondays past, Tokutomi took a moment to talk freely on his experience in the workshop with Adam and Jeff. Because he is more comfortable speaking Japanese than English he opted to share his thoughts with us in his native language. Eager to understand his sentiments we employed a translator and were pleasantly surprised to learn just how touching his words had been that day.
And now for the second installation of "In The Workshop" with Adam Davidson, Jeff Gracik, and Hiroyuki Tokutomi.
Here's the second part of the video interview that we did with Alex Florov when he visited almost two weeks ago. In this entry, we talk about pipe making, his day job, and Sixten Ivarsson, and the centrality of his role in the creation modern high grade pipe making.
As you likely know, on Monday, Jeff Gracik (of J. Alan Pipes) and Hiroyuki Tokutomi met with Adam Davidson at his workshop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina again this year after the annual CORPS show in Richmond, Virginia, so that they might collaborate on a set of three pipes. Fortunately, Sykes was mindful enough to have brought along a camera and a video recorder. The collaboration was an all day affair and from it we've put together the video before you. Enjoy!
(Sorry about our false start with the video. Apparently, we goofed when we rendered it the first time. Audio and video tracks, rather conveniently, now match...again, we're sorry).
I’d never had the opportunity to see a pipe made. I’m familiar enough with some of the tools that get used in such a process, like lathes and drill bits and jigsaws and what all, but the step-by-step process of manufacturing a pipe by hand had remained to me elusive. One of the first questions I asked Adam Davidson after starting work here at Smokingpipes.com a month ago was if he might eventually show me around his workshop. This Monday I was blessed at long-last with the chance not only to see Adam but also Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes and Hiroyuki Tokutomi rough out a few pipes. The experience was as incredibly fascinating as it was inspiring. I’d so many questions to ask (many of which I did), but I felt a little guilty about bothering an artist while he works with his fingers less than a quarter inch from punishing sanding disks that can spin at 4,000 RPM. Mostly, I just quietly watched.
This isn’t the first time that Jeff, Tokutomi, and Adam have come together to collaborate in pipe making. Last year at this time, just after the Richmond show, the threesome met in Adam’s shop and jointly produced a beautiful two-pipe set and matching case. In that spirit they’ve huddled again and brainstormed new ideas on a fresh endeavor. This time it was agreed that they'd make a three-piece pipe set with bamboo shank as the cohesive component.
Jeff worked out the first sketch and with a thumbs-up from Adam and a nod from Tokutomi they set to work. With three pipe makers and only so many machines available to use their production processes required some thoughtful stage staggering. And as Adam pointed out, for Jeff and Toku to get around in his foreign work space is akin to preparing a Thanksgiving dinner in a stranger’s kitchen. If you’re talented enough the outcome will be expectedly outstanding, but not without having to go through the headaches of first hunting around for every single tool and utensil. Keep in mind the added challenge for Toku who is left-handed and had to work with a couple of lathes setup for Adam, a right-handed craftsman.
After a full day’s work, the three had fleshed out enough of their project that they could afford to take back to their respective studios the unfinished pieces for the last stages of production. It was pretty awesome to behold. A month ago I’d never held an Adam Davidson or J. Alan pipe; I’d never been privileged to touch one of Tokutomi’s masterpieces. Now I’ve done just that, I’ve also got to know them some, and I’ve been awarded the rare fortune to see them work.
So I’ve seen some pipes get made. Sweet. I can check that off my to-do list. Next up? Start pestering Adam to let me try my hand at making a pipe. Hopefully I can keep all of my fingers in the process.
A pipe show isn’t just a chance for pipe pals to come together and smoke. Don’t get me wrong on this point; there were a lot of varied friendships kindling anew at
the CORPS show in Richmond. However, that a convention is also monumental opportunity for a lot of guys in the industry to network with each other (or at least rub
elbows) dawned on me pretty early Saturday morning. Seeing pipe makers like Peter Heeschen talk with Alex Florov or Jeff Gracik, I sensed that while these guys may
exchange phone calls occasionally, they put the effort to travel in from around the world so that they can show off their work as well as see each others'. Whether
it happens in the middle of a stolen moment during the show or over a dinner accompanied by an eight year old tin of ‘Bohemian Scandal’, these estimable artisans are
sharing ideas and trade secrets in order to improve their craft. By doing so, they are boosting the health of the entire community and enriching the collective pipe
smoking experience. And for that we give thanks.
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