Dunhill pipe tobacco. After months on the minds of pipe smokers the country over, it finally arrived Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Of course, given the hullabaloo that this precipitated, you're probably already aware of that. You may have also noticed that we're again out of stock on all but one of them, just five days later.
We had a huge shipment arrive that Wednesday. We placed a massive order in the summer and were far more worried that we'd gone a little too crazy than that we wouldn't have enough. Needless to say, we were absolutely flummoxed by the response. We had more orders Wednesday than we've ever had in one day before. Thursday and Friday were each almost double our average number of orders too. UPS is picking up twice today to accomodate the volume (literally!) of packages that are ready for them. The nice lady that picks up USPS packages from us was similarly shocked and struggled to get them into the little USPS van that she drives. Ted has already made a separate post on this later today, but this is specifically about the Dunhill tobacco.
We do have another small shipment (just 2,000-odd tins) coming now that should be here later in the week, but that's all there is in the US right now. There's more coming from the manufacturer and we should have another large shipment in December. When Susan and I figured out what to purchase over the summer--4,500 tins in all--we were very concerned that we'd overbought. Needless to say, that was not the problem.
So, what happens from here? Well, there's more coming, but not a lot, later this week. Three or four weeks from now, we expect another full-sized shipment. We'll keep you posted!
1. Take one of the most popular and sought-after pipe tobaccos on the market (We'll use Dunhill)
2. Remove product from US market for 2-3 years. Allow customers to simmer / prevent boiling over with 2 tbsp. of 'Rumor and Supposition'
3. Amid feverish expectation, add 4,500 50 gram tins of Dunhill pipe tobacco to warehouse. Begin advertising its arrival through 'new media' outlets
4. Begin selling product. For maximized stuffing, start selling, at discounted price, the day before a national holiday. In this way warehouse will have 3-4 days of 'swelling' before shipping begins (See below)
Phew! After much ado, a lot of hullabaloo and a great dealing of whimpering,
Dunhill tobaccos are finally on the US market once more. It was noon today when
we were notified to expect a freight of the stuff at any minute. Soon enough, an
enormous pallet found itself at the back door of our shipping department and we
all began to dig in. It’s here just in time for Thanksgiving, ironically.
There’s been a lot of mystery around the recent unavailability of Dunhill
tobaccos. It’s a complicated story, involving the names of a half-dozen
corporations and parent companies, taking place over the last couple of years.
The long and short of it is, despite a handful of near-misses and would-be
suitors, it has taken Dunhill awhile (too long, most will say) to find the right
stateside importer. But that’s all over with and in the past now, like a bad
dream inside a dream.
Right now there are a handful of 50 gram tins to choose from: London Mixture,
Royal Yacht, Standard Mixture, Standard Mixture Mellow, Flake, My Mixture 965,
Nightcap, Early Morning Pipe, and Deluxe Navy Rolls. With so many choices, I
couldn’t even tell you where I’ll begin to start with these blends; it’s so
unusual to see a whole line rollout at once. I’ll be smoking like a chimney for
the next few weeks, honestly.
Whether you haven’t been smoking long enough to have sampled a Dunhill tobacco
or just never got around to trying it in the first place, you ought to give these
wonderful blends a shot if only to decide for yourself what all the fuss is
about. In all likelihood, you’re as excited as we are. The long, hard wait is
over, and for that we give thanks.
Even as a boy I had a very clear image in my mind as to what constituted the ideal lunatic. The physiological: A pale complexion, long, slender limbs, and a prominent proboscis. The behavioral: A seemingly alert and active body language, contrasted sharply by the subject's complete obliviousness to his own behavior, a manner of speaking which might remain calm and collected even amongst the most complete and thorough insanity, yet which might very well in turn leap up onto a desk and begin squawking like a bird when surrounded by normalcy. The beady-eyed stare and stiff upper lip which could, at any moment, turn into maniacal laughter.
The model for this image, the eidolon of the complete loon, was formed so early in my life thanks to the re-runs of Monty Python's Flying Circus which would air shortly after I returned home from school. The man who inspired them was, of course, none other than Graham Chapman; a man considered even by his fellow Pythons to be explicitly, wondrously insane. He was also a man who in his private life, seemed to almost perpetually have a pipe clenched between his teeth, trailing smoke and chaos in equal measure.
As co-Python Eric Idle noted,"There was the quiet pipe-smoking tweed jacketed doctor, who could elucidate complicated medical facts to the layman while calmly diagnosing and dispensing medicines; there was the quiet pipe-smoking writer, who could sit all day painting his nails with gestetner fluid occasionally interjecting the oddest comments... and there was the quiet pipe-smoking alcoholic, who could reduce any drinks party to a shambles by consuming half a distillery and then crawling round the floor kissing all the men and groping all the women."
Chapman was, like so many of life's most memorable characters, an unabashed jumble of contradictions which somehow seemed to fit together perfectly. He was a human jigsaw puzzle, yet one which rather than being presented in a neat little box, tended more often to appear in the form of a landslide. He was almost painfully shy, and often drank heavily in order to perform, yet was considered by his fellows to be by far the most broadly talented actor of their troupe, playing the leads in both Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. He was openly homosexual at a time when this was still considered scandalous, yet conspicuously defied stereotyping; he was a mountaineer, he played rugby, he castigated David Bowie for the androgynous and sexually ambiguous persona he used as a stage prop. Even when it came to pipes he favored staid, traditional, classic English straight-stemmed numbers. His ability to play the stern, stiff-upper-lipped Englishman to perfection (allegedly modeled after his own father, a policeman) saw him frequently acting as figures of (misguided) authority. Most famously "The Colonel", a.k.a. Muriel Volestrangler, who would interrupt skits that had gotten "too silly":
And yet despite his reputation as Monty Python's foremost madman, he was underneath it all a person of science and intellect; though often known to spend cocktail parties discretely crawling around on the floor, very literally biting at the ankles of unsuspecting ladies, Graham was also a licensed medical doctor who, to the surprise of even his long-time co-stars, packed a suitcase full of medical supplies and volunteered his services as the cast and crew's physician during the filming of The Life of Brian. (Which took place where else, but in a scorpion-infested desert in Tunisia.) He was, in his own unorthodox manner, a Renaissance man, albeit one who was, during traveling performances, fully expected to nonchalantly return to the hotel at the most ungodly hours, sporting a black eye (or two).
Graham and John Cleese constituted much of the genius behind Monty Python's writing, in a partnership which the latter described as himself doing 90% of the work, while the former would, after long periods of silence, inject out of nowhere a suggestion which completely transformed a scene, elevating it from the merely comedic to the sublimely preposterous. Were I to ask you, by example, if you recalled the famous "Broken Toaster" sketch, you would no doubt say to me, "What?" Rightfully so of course, for many years ago, as Cleese sat working away, Graham turned to him and said: Make it a dead parrot, a Norwegian Blue. Suffice to say that for all his long silences, Graham was a man who had an unusual way with words:
'He taught us not to respect doctors - they are after all only ex-medical students - and to be honest with our emotions. "Well, it's better than bottling it up!" would be Graham's credo. "After all, who of us in our lives hasn't set fire to some great public building or other..."', Eric Idle noted in Graham's own Autobiography of a Liar. He also wrote, "Graham Chapman was a loony. You can tell that from this book."
While on the west coast for the most recent pipe show held in Las Vegas, Sykes had the opportunity to sit down with Rick Newcombe to talk about the release of the sixth edition of his popular book 'In Search of Pipe Dreams'. Among other things, Rick is an avid pipe collector, having written more than his fair share of articles for 'Pipe & Tobacco Magazine' as well as a recognizable personality in the general pipe community. Here he talks about the latest edition of his book and the inevitability of its most recent colorized edition which hits retailers today.
Penzance. It’s fantastically popular, utterly delicious, and can be extraordinarily difficult to come
by; but not impossible. The trick to scoring a tin or two (or an eight ounce bag) of this dark English
flake will, more often than not, boil down to a matter of tenacity. This is a sad but true reality. With
the covetous demand for this tobacco far outweighing any retailer’s meager supply, I was only able to
make my first stash of Penzance by checking websites like Smokingpipes.com twice a day for weeks at a
time. If this kind of obsessive acquirement disorder is too intense for your pipe smoking habit I suggest
abandoning the quest for this blend in search of another, regularly available sort. There’s a lot of
wonderful stuff out there. But for those of you intimate with the pure delight of this treasure by
Esoterica, I’m sure you appreciate my plight. It’s my humble opinion that Penzance is as good as it
I mention all of this because I’ve wanted to talk about Penzance here for a while. As of yet, I’ve
not, simply because I’ve sworn myself from talking about tobaccos that someone couldn’t turn around and
buy. It would be cruel of me to poetically wax some blend that many of us will never have the chance to
smoke. To sit back and muse on how lucky I am to sample Stonehenge or Balkan Sobranie or just about
anything by Sam Gawith is downright unfair. So I’ve shied away from some of my favorites. That’s OK,
because there’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there.
Nevertheless, Penzance is out there and it’s delicious. At that, there are dozens of great blends that
are hard to snatch unless you stay diligently watchful. Keep in mind that a lot if this stuff gets sold
just about as fast as it gets received. Sometimes it can’t be found for weeks, even months, at a time.
But the truth is this: if you want it, you can have it. Keep an eye out, be tenacious. Trust me; the
juice is worth the squeeze.
Out of rounding is just what is sounds like. Aside from an opera pipe, tobacco chambers are drilled or turned with a gouge that leaves a perfectly round hole. It’s rare that pipes will be conditioned with varying degrees of ‘out of round’, but here are some of the causes and effects of this condition.
Smoking: Proper packing, lighting, and tamping will ensure that a small ember centers in the tobacco and doesn’t come in contact with the wood, but uneven packing could cause the flames upon lighting (and re-lighting) to work their way toward one side. Sometimes a condition statement will say “slight out of rounding due to reaming and/or smoking” and this is usually a result of this. Gentle smoking and cake buildup may help the issue.
Reaming: Perhaps I should say ‘uneven reaming’. This is the real culprit for most ‘out of round’ chambers. There are various reamers on the market that evenly and gently scrape the sides of the cake. Sometimes, when a smoker encounters a particular stubborn piece of cake, they might use a knife, rotary sanding drum, or any other tools to scrape and scratch. Unless they really know what they are doing (meaning being careful and even), this can cause serious damage.
In the first photo, you can observe a smooth pipe that has been ‘over reamed’. By looking at the parallel, yet uneven, scratches in the chamber, I can see that this was poorly reamed with a drum sander on a rotary tool. The bowl is slightly larger, and uneven.
In the second photo, you see a sandblasted bowl that has an ‘out of round’ area near the front – most likely the result of using a knife so scrape thick cake near the top. Since this makes the wall thinner in one area, the burn will be uneven and it could really damage the pipe.
Obviously, the pipe in the third photo would never be for sale. It has been reamed extremely unevenly, over reamed, and even funneled. This happens once in a while and the thinner walls simply can’t take the heat, which warped and cracked the bowl.
In conclusion; use proper reaming techniques. Your pipe will last longer (especially if you wipe it out after every few bowls to prevent too much build-up in the first place). Very minor ‘out of rounding’ is often just at the top of the rim (from using a knife) and the knife bouncing will make ‘chatter marks’. Once a pipe gets over or unevenly reamed, there is no going back, and each is reduced in value and condition accordingly with explanations.
Below are a smattering of photos from our visit to Jeff Gracik's workshop in San Diego, California last week. Brad Pohlmann was also in town, so they were working together, which was a particular treat to witness. Alyson took most of the photos, she being the designated photographer for such outings (and for good reason; I have an extraordinary ability to make even the simplest photos come out blurry).
Jeff and Brad were working on the six Smokingpipes.com Christmas pipes which will be available in the next few weeks. After much discussion, we opted for a pear shape (largely because Brad broke into the chorus of Twelve Days of Christmas). We tried to get them to make a giant pipe holder shaped like a tree and a partridge shaped tamper, but I think that was a bit much to ask. The pipes will come with a nice leather presentation bag, plus a beautiful, if somewhat more conservative, tamper. During the day of working together, they (mostly) completed one pipe, and rough shaped one more. You can see the completed pipe in the last photo.
Alyson and I arrived fairly late on Friday in Las Vegas, at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino, site of the 2010 West Coast Pipe Show. This was the second year of the show, and the first time I'd attended, since Tony and Bear went last year. New shows are always a challenge, both for organizers and attendees. While we had high hopes for the show, we didn't really know what to expect. We attended, in part, because we think that the western half of the country desperately needs a good show, and any serious effort in that regard is worthy of support. The show far exceeded our expectations and we had a wonderful time.
Our table was back to back with Rex Poggenpohl and Steve Leader, two gents I've known for some years and always enjoy spending time with. Rex was, as he tends to do at pipe shows, selling off small bits of his vast collection. The show was very well attended by pipe makers. Jeff Gracik, Brad Pohlmann, Tonni Nielsen, J. T. Cooke, Todd Johnson and many others, including some impressive younger pipe makers, were there. Our tables were almost right next to Rick Newcombe's, who had a couple of examples of the new edition of his book, In Search of Pipe Dreams, available for perusal, though it won't be available for sale for another week or two (yes, we have hundreds of copies in route). We had much on offer, from lots of great pipe makers.
The variety of vendors, pipe makers and collectors displaying at the show was impressive, especially given that it was just the second year. Over a hundred tables were sold for the event, with a rather striking variety of pipes, pipe tobacco, accessories, and pipe related books for sale. Perhaps best of all for us was meeting so many pipe collectors and smokers who are customers and fans of Smokingpipes.com, but that we'd never met in the flesh. Person after person came up to tell us that they were long time customers and after some conversation, it became apparent that these were folks we knew well, but that we'd only gotten to know by phone or email. With our regular trips to shows in the East and Midwest, the attendees of which know us pretty well at this point, this was a really special experience for us.
Adam Davidson was there with his wife Lera, too. While Adam is an integral member of the Smokingpipes.com team, he's also a very talented pipe maker and usually does shows with his own pipes, independent of Smokingpipes.com. Still it's always nice having him around, as an emergency Smokingpipes.com backup person, if needed. Lera (as Adam shared in a recent newsletter intro) was particularly excited about the Vegas trip. I'm not entirely sure why, but she was rather more delighted at the prospect of a weekend of shopping and eating in Vegas than she was about the prospects of the pipe show.
Satuday night saw a surprisingly tasty dinner, plus speakers and awards event. Kevin Godbee, my good friend and owner of PipesMagazine.com, spoke about a subject near to my heart, the attraction of college age and twenty-something folks, especially cigarette smokers, to the joys of the pipe. Kevin and I have spent a lot of time over the past few months talking about this. We hope that the recent influx of newer pipe smokers that we've seen is a harbinger of a trend.
After Kevin finished up, Fred Hanna, noted pipe collector, author and PhD psychologist, offered up an excellent talk on pipes, managing stress, and recent research on nicotine and neurochemistry. While all agree that inhaling tobacco smoke is a distinctly unhealthy practice, it seems that there are a number of benefits of nicotine, given its unusual properties as both a mild stimulant and a mild depressant.
An awards ceremony followed the talks. J. T. Cooke, Michael Parks and Kurt Balleby won much deserved awards for their pipe making. Much to my surprise, I was honored with an award for Outstanding Contribution to Pipe Collecting, though that award rightfully belongs to everyone here at Smokingpipes.com. Sunday was quieter on the show floor and we enjoyed having the time to catch up with folks that we hadn't yet managed to see. That evening, having lost just a little on slots and won just a little at craps, we headed to McCarran for our flight to San Diego for the next leg of our trip, to visit Jeff Gracik's workshop, and go to see Rick Newcombe in LA.
In 1919, United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as a holiday, Armistice Day. In 1938 Armistice Day became a legal holiday. And in 1954 Congress amended the name, replacing Armistice with Veterans, and it has been know as Veterans Day since.
When I brought up the idea of posting a blog entry on Veterans Day at our managers meeting, everyone thought it was a good idea. And so over the past two weeks or so I have been thinking on what to write about. My thoughts came clear yesterday morning. I won’t keep you long, but I thought it important to recognize this day.
I don’t remember the date or the name. I just remember standing at attention in the hot South Carolina sun for a retirement and retreat ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base. We were honoring a career officer who was retiring after 33 years of service. Thirty-three years, I thought … now that’s dedication.
As the Master of Ceremonies read word after word about this decorated officer, I began to sweat. And later as the sounds of retreat played and the flag was lowered, I began to cry. There’s nothing quite like standing in formation, at attention, with silent tears streaming down your face in the hot setting sun. It was a moving experience for me that day.
So today we say ‘thank you’ to our U.S. military veterans. Thank you for your time in service. Thank you for your dedication, your sacrifices and your service for our country. Today we remember you. Today we honor you.
‘Freedom is not free’, I say. Blood, sweat and tears have been shed for our freedom. So if you know a veteran, call them up today. Shake their hand. Sit and talk for a while. And you will hear the voice of dedication, sacrifice and service.
I'm quite fond of Mac Baren's Navy Mixture. After smoking the junk my local tobacconist
had to offer, most of which were blends of his own cracked invention, I decided to branch
out and try something else. The only 'name brand' tobacco he carried was Mac Baren. So
that's where I started, with a 100 gram tin of Navy Mixture. At this point I had been
smoking exclusively those blends I would later discover to be termed 'aromatic'. Navy
Mixture was a big departure.
The tin reads that "this complex mixture consists of over 30 different raw tobaccos, and
is a masterpiece of blending. Ready rubbed Virginia and Burley tobaccos, loose cut Virginia,
Burley and the original Mac Baren Cavendish blended with small pieces of flake tobacco
ensure a slow and cool smoking pleasure." Upon opening the tin I was excited to find an
obvious and nearly overwhelming variety of different tobaccos. Here's an instance where a
tin description beautifully matches up to the product at hand, which as you likely know,
isn't always necessarily the case.
Admittedly, because of where I was coming from as a smoker, this blend took a little
while to grow on me. Subsequently, however, Navy Mixutre has become for me an extremely
reliable, all-day smoking fixture. The fragrance of the smoke is wonderful, the taste is
clean and dry,the tobacco packs easily and isn't fussy about staying lit. Another perk? It's
not deliriously popular and therefore always available. While this 'advantage' may only
amount to a hill of beans for some of you, those still sitting on their hands in
anticipation for Dunhill and Sam Gawith tobaccos know what I'm talking about.
At last count there was approximately one gillion (yes, I've done the math) different
varieties of tobaccos from at least a zillion (these are industries terms, mind you)
blenders and manufacturers. Explore, experiment, get out of your comfort box. Surprise
yourself. Just don't start buying up all my Navy Mixture.
Even with close attention to care, scratches and dings sometimes happen. Initially, I was considering writing about how we rate smoked pipes but, thinking back to my first post in this series, issues such as these can happen with new pipes as well. Consequently, I’ll briefly go over the cause and effect of pipe scratches and dings while roughly assigning rating numbers to exampled instances.
As I mentioned in the first entry, an unsmoked pipe ought to receive a 5/5 rating. However, a significant scratch may decrease its value. Keep in mind that surfaces issues just plain happen. Many of these will occur from moving a pipe on a gritty desk and accidentally scratching the base or sides of the piece. Although this will create shallow scratches, they don't tend to be as severe as the scratches resultant of an improper cleaning. People will too often use a finger nail to try and gently remove a bit of wax or other such blemish from the side and in doing so will scratch the pipe. We see the same thing happen when someone tries to scrape off buildup on the rim. More severe are the scratches that result from having used sandpaper or even steel wool in such a process.
Dings present a similar dilemma. Most of these are simply due to carrying multiple pipes in one bag without properly protecting either; the pipes, rattling around in the bag, can add minor blemishes to each other or severely ding one another if dropped (gasp)! Although briar is a very hard wood, a swan-dive from a desk or from the hand will make a little ding on the bowl or rim. Depending on what the pipe falls on (a tile floor, for example) there might be a line created instead of a rounded dimple. Hence we’ve my confusing (to some customers, perhaps) “linear ding” notes. While some very shallow dimples can occasionally be steamed out by an expert (which will raise the grain without removing the stain), these “linear dings” are often too deep and sharp to do be fixed.
The obvious: Scratches and dings can and will happen. Applying a soft cloth or Q-tip to a rim may take off the darkening without scratching. Dings can be avoided. Otherwise, the condition rating of the pipe will drop a bit. A minor scratch or ding on an unsmoked pipe will usually rate between 4.95/5 and 4.98/5. Depending on how severely a rim is covered in dings (from, say, knocking the pipe against an ashtray), with or without a darkening, the pipe will often rate anywhere between 4.25/5 and 4.9/5. Points are not subtracted for each ding. Rather, the condition is assessed based on the general quality detracted by the blemishes.
Betrand Russell. He was a mathematician, philosopher, logician, and pipe smoking Nobel Prize Winner. You've probably heard of him. He lived to be 97. Here, briefly, he shares with us an anecdote concerning himself and his pipe.
I’m an enormous fan of J. R. R. Tolkien. Of course, I dig that he
was a pipe smoker and am particularly fond of the fact that he included in the world he called Middle Earth an
entire roster of characters who too preferred fine leaf and pipe smoking. Naturally, there have been crafted
numerous Tolkien-inspired blends over the years but unfortunately most have been either troublesome to acquire or
rather terrible to smoke.
In my opinion, ‘Frog Morton’, of McClellands’ Craftbury Collection, is likely the most remarkable tobacco blend
anchored in the fictional Arda, despite that it’s a Tolkien reference totally obscure. The name itself is derived
from a small hamlet mentioned in ‘The Return of the King’ in the East Farthing of the Shire called Frogmorton, which
means frog marsh. The village is notable for its inn ‘The Floating Log’, the place where Frodo, Sam, Merry and
Pippin are arrested as they make their way back to Hobbiton having destroyed the One Ring. However, McClelland’s tin
depicts the pipe smoking frog, ‘Frog Morton’, sitting on a log, probably smoking what’s described on the label as
the result of four years of blending and his proudest achievement. What’s this have to do with LOTR? Pretty much
Nevertheless, ‘Frog Morton’ is some good tobacco. The mild addition of smooth latakia to McClelland’s signature
mature Virginia has this blend smoking so sweet I might have thought it spiced with Cavendish. Flavorful, yet mild,
‘Frog Morton’ is one of those blends that I find I enjoy terrifically with a book on a cold night after dessert.
This stuff is big time satisfying.
Because I’m a total geek Because I’m so fond of Tolkien and his wonderful world of characters, I’ll keep
waiting for that perfectly inspired and readily available Middle Earth based pipe tobacco to hit the market. In the
meantime, it doesn’t get any better than ‘Frog Morton’.
Hours of Operation:
Our website is always open and you can place an order at any time. Phone/office hours are 9am-7pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) Monday-Friday and 10am-5pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) on Saturdays. Our Little River, SC showroom is open 10am-7pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) Monday-Sunday.
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