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31 May 2012

A New Carver, Our Own Coffee, and Site Updates
 Newsletter Introduction for Thursday, May 31, 2012

       -Posted by sutherland-

At dinner one night during the course of the recent Chicago Show, I found myself enthralled by a quite entertaining conversation happening between Alex Florov and a guy seated across the table, a man who bore a curiously strong resemblance to Adam West (to my eye, anyway). From the dialog, I picked up that he was a pipe maker, and after deciding I could live with exposing my ignorance, I asked him who he was; he seemed a man worth knowing. "Bruce Weaver. [Pulls a pipe from his bag] I'm known for my sandblasts."

After seeing that pipe and photographing others which we purchased for the site, I can understand why. It's not that his sandblasts are all that deeply cut, rather it is more in his response to the flow of the briar's grain. Of course, this much can be said of other pipe makers, but there is a definite stylized consistency, an essence shared between Bruce's sandblasted pieces. Most are ring-grained, and viewed from the sides and bottom tend to take on a rich visual texture that I find very "topographic," my favorites also featuring a contrasting smooth upper bowl with hints of plateau breaking the surface here and there. Bruce's work really has a voice of its own, and, as extensive as our roster of artisan pipemakers may already be, it's great to have him adding its unique timbre and tone to what we're able to offer our customers.

Also featured in today's update, we are rolling out our very own brand of coffee! This is something we have been wanting to do for a while, given how well a cup of joe goes with a morning pipe (or noon pipe, or afternoon pipe - this is pretty much what keeps the SPC team marching along throughout the day), and we're happy to introduce to you a medium-roasted Arabica bean of Kenyan origin, full in body yet slightly sweet, with a hint of sharpness that is sure to cut through the morning's fog.

In other news, as Ted mentioned yesterday, we've proudly rolled out a fancy-shmancy new "Product Alert System," which will allow you to elect to have an email sent to your inbox whenever we receive new stock of a previously out-of-stock item, such as those particularly hard-to-come-by, highly-demanded tobacco blends. We've also implemented a product rating and review system, where you can finally tell the world what you think about a blend X, and more importantly, help other aficionados of the briar choose the right tobacco, cigars, implements of pipe care, etc.

And as always, we've a fine selection of pipes for you to peruse, including works from the aforementioned Bruce Weaver, Grechukhin, Scott Klein, Michael Parks, Ashton, L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, Winslow, Cavicchi, Nording, Savinelli, Peterson, and Stanwell, along with no less than seventy-two estate pipes from all over the world.


 John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer

Posted by sutherland at 4:30 PM | Link | 0 comments

30 May 2012

The Choosing

       -Posted by ethan brandt-

Selecting a new pipe is a different process for almost everyone, but there are a few categories that most people tend to fall into at one point or another, sometimes changing from day to day.

Impulse, by e pantsThe Impulse Buyer – We all know this feeling, especially those of you who get email updates from A new pipe pops up on your screen and, for no rhyme or reason, you must have it. There might not even be anything in particular that you can describe as to why you must own this piece, but deep down inside, you know that you will have it.

The Impulse purchase is not a bad thing, though those of us who suffer from Pipe Acquisition Disorder (or P.A.D.) have often felt the tug when we have promised ourselves that we will not purchase anything else. “No more!” we say defiantly, usually after clicking the Confirm Purchase button on some pipe website. Without fail, however, there will soon be some other temptation that breaks our vow of pipe-celibacy far sooner than we intended.

Those few of us who remain strong will surely fall into another category.

The Collector – This individual has limited himself to a certain scope of the pipe world, though how large a range that is varies wildly. Sometimes it is one artisan in particular, or one geographical area, or even a particular shape, or possibly a particular shape from a particular artisan, maybe even from only one year!

Regardless of what the limitation, this individual passes up the impulse purchases, at least more often than not, but cannot resist when a prime example of his specified interest finds its way to the For Sale section.

I tend to try to limit myself to the Collector area, but I am weak. My weakness means that I have many different collections going on at once. For example, I collect bamboo blowfish pipes, the Rubens Rhodesian shape from G. L. Pease, di Piazza, and Radice, and all Russian pipes. With so many areas of interest, some much larger than others, it is easy for me to justify an addition purchase to myself. 

Rubens Rhodesian Collection

The Novelty Aficionado – This particular pipester is interested in unusual shapes and concepts. If a shape that has never existed before suddenly spawns into existence or a well-established pipe maker tries something that he has never attempted before, this individual will be at the front of the line. Also in this group are those who assemble pipes in collections, such as Pipes of the Year, Christmas pipes, and so on.

This method of collecting is similar to purchasing first edition books. There is something appealing about owning one of the earliest models of anything: cars, comic books, pipes, etc. While a more unusual collecting method, it often yields one of the most impressive and distinctive collection.

Image by gypsymidnightThe Hoarder – I have been asked many times when enough is enough. While some people are able to place a limit of ten or twenty pipes, I always feel inclined to answer that enough pipes is always one more than I currently own. While this can be a treacherous path in the eyes of some, I view it as healthy. Pipes make me happy, very happy, so why should I place an arbitrary limit on my collection. Is 101 pipes so much worse than 100? If not, than why would 102 be worse? (I am also curious how many of you get the picture to the right. Please post in the comments here if you actually get the reference!)

The Limited Supplies – These people are on the flip side of the hoarder. They limit themselves strictly to a certain number of pipes. I do understand the reasoning of those who place such limits, as it makes them spend a great deal more time contemplating each and every purchase and appreciating each pipe to the fullest.

This, however, is the one section where I cannot place myself. I see the pipe world as too wide-ranging, too vast, too incredible to limit myself. To those who do, however, I give my highest respect.

I am sure we all see ourselves a little in at least one of these, but that's a good thing. It means that you are enjoying the hobby. Keep enjoying it!

Guest Blogger

Ethan Brandt: Guest Blogger

Posted by ethan brandt at 4:22 PM | Link | 3 comments

Alerts! Reviews! Oh My!
 Announcing the all new Product Alert System and User Reviews

       -Posted by ted-

Today we’re launching a couple new, quite distinctive features to - ones that we’ve been tremendously excited about getting out the door. We’ve been mulling over the concepts that govern these new features (and a few others) since January at least, but it took bringing the very talented Randy Johnson into the fold of the SPC team before we could see our fanciful dreams rendered into actionable reality. Before Randy came along we were sort of like the guys who talk about how if they could only travel back in time a dozen centuries or so they'd invent the internal combustion engine and become rulers of the earth - except that for all our bright ideas, we did recognize that we in fact had no idea how to design and build a functioning V8 from scratch. It might seem like I'm overstating things to a degree here, but what we’re unrolling this evening is in fact very cool.



No longer will you be required to keep a dogged stake-out on the site to learn when we’ve at last received either some of your favorite products, or products you’ve been eager to try out for the first time, but that high demand sees sell out in a flash. When it comes to a tin of tobacco we haven’t available in inventory, for instance, where you would have previously found an ‘add to cart button’ you’ll discover instead an ‘email me when in stock’ button. You’ll be prompted to login to the site, at which point you’ll discover that you can manage your array of notification alerts for various products. And you’ll get an email the moment the items back in stock.

Because each pipe we put on is uniquely special, down to the last Peterson Aran (999), the notification alert system won’t work for pipes. Once we’ve sold pipe 002-555-5555, we’ll never have that particular piece back in stock again. Unless it comes back to us an estate; but that’s just a whole other deal.

We’ll also mention here that we’re retiring our Tobacco Waiting List in its present form. Because you’ll receive an instant email notification when a tin of tobacco is put back in stock with our new alert method, there’s no call for it any longer.



You’ve asked for it and here it is. No longer are you required to ‘take our word for it’ when it comes to product descriptions. Now when you’re signed into your SPC account you can rate an item (except pipes: see above) based on a five-star rating, and/or write a brief review on it. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

We really want to be not only a place where you can get awesome deals on beautiful pipes, excellent tobacco, and assorted related sundries, with quick reliable shipping and a great sales staff; we also want the site to be a place where customers can connect and share their ideas with us and one another. This is the first step in that direction.

So there you have it; two very cool new things to play with on the website. We hope you’re as stoked about it as we are, because we’re ecstatic to roll out these features today, and just so ya know, we’ve got more surprises in store for the near future.


Ted Swearingen: Vice President, General Manager

Posted by ted at 2:30 PM | Link | 0 comments

28 May 2012

Save your Dottle and your Butts!
 Newsletter Introduction for Monday, May 28, 2012

       -Posted by adam-

Most of us are out of the office today because it's Memorial Day. The holiday (today) is often stretched out to include an entire weekend full of the kind of festivities so many of us enjoy. After the winter months, this usually marks the first occasion most folks can enjoy the outdoors on an extended holiday which means you’re bound to see a lot of people smoking pipes and cigars. And while enjoyable as smoking is, I wanted to share a neat little trick you can do with dottle or cigar butts: gardening.

Yes, I said "gardening", and no, I don't mean you should flick cigar butts or knock your pipe dottle all over you garden. However, tobacco has been known to be a very useful addition to gardens for centuries. I stumbled upon this useful tip years ago when I was growing a basil plant and it was becoming bombarded with beetles. I decided I was either going to kill completely the stringy, wilted excuse for an herb that was peppered with holes from bugs and speckled with yellow dots or save it by using an old tin of Penzance. Smokers of Penzance, please don't give me any flack. The tobacco in the tin was given to me because it was left outside by a friend and was then bone dry. Since I don't smoke Latakia, I figured it would either kill my basil plant or make it better. I put a few flakes in a mug and poured hot water on top to make tobacco tea. This went into a spray bottle. Some of the other tobacco got sprinkled around the plant while I sprayed the leaves lightly (after plucking off the ones with holes). Adding water to the pot like I always did, I checked back in a few days. The basil was nearly double in size - or so it seemed. The leaves were all perfectly green and there were no holes from beetles. I never had a problem with beetles eating the leaves after this on the basil or anything else. As it turns out, making a tea from tobacco and spraying flowers on anything in the garden (besides tomatoes, it seems) makes bugs not want to chomp on them. Cigar butts, pipe dottle, and ashes can all be saved in a container and added to compost or soil to deter bugs as well.

I would suggest a little bit of research before you start hosing down roses or broccoli with tobacco tea from a Super-Soaker squirt gun, though. But from personal experience, the results have been successful. Brian Levine, who used to work for us, told me about saving his cigar butts and dottle to use in his flower garden for the same reason. Who knows? Maybe your wife will encourage you to smoke more cigars or pipe tobacco. You can always tell her she is free to empty your ashtray anytime she wants.

Today you can find new cigars from E.P Carrillo, along with pipes from Rad Davis, Tsuge, Dunhill, Luciano, P.S. Studio and a lot of great factory pieces as well. Don't forget to check out the estate section and add a few tins of tobacco to your order. You know, because it's good for the garden!

Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector

Posted by adam at 4:00 PM | Link | 1 comment

27 May 2012

Italy 2012: Claudio Cavicchi's Shapes
 An Aesthetic Dialog

       -Posted by sykes-

One of the highlights of my trip to Italy each year is my afternoon with Claudio Cavicchi, his wife Daniela and his good friend (and occasional translator) Gianfranco Musoni. There area handful of reasons for this, but it boils down to two things: Claudio's pipes and Daniela's cooking. Daniela is as masterful in the kitchen as Claudio is in his workshop, but since this is a blog about pipes and not about food, we'll talk about pipes…

After lunch (which was extraordinary lasagna followed by a delicious artichoke and meat dish, but I digress…), Claudio, Gianfranco and I went out to Claudio's workshop, which adjoins the house. We started talking about this and that related to Claudio's pipes when I asked Claudio what inspired his shapes. Solely from his pipes, it's clear that shaping is far more central to Claudio than it is to a lot of Italian pipe makers. His shaping voice is clear and well articulated. There's a lot of variance to his shapes, but there's a consistent voice from shape to shape; there's a cleanness to the lines that they all share. Though not necessarily aesthetically, Claudio's shaping philosophy is more akin to the Danes than it is to most Italians.

Claudio makes pipes in fairly large batches, usually working with fifty or sixty simultaneously. This is about a month's production (Claudio makes around 700 pipes each year), so he starts a new batch about once a month. The first two days are dedicated to sorting briar and finding shapes for each block. Claudio has perhaps two hundred shapes cut out on little pieces of paper that serve as approximate templates as he ponders each block. Of course, these aren't set in stone. He scales the shape as needed and modifies the shape if the block requires it or if he discovers a flaw in the briar that necessitates a change of plan.

For Claudio, looking at the structure of the grain in a block and matching it to a shape is the single most important, and most interesting, step in the pipe making process. He stresses that he makes pipes for himself: he does it because he loves to make pipes. That he makes pipes that customers also like is nice, but not central to the creative process for him. Claudio stresses that at this point in his life, with a career as a farmer and a second career as a pipe maker, he doesn't need to make pipes for money. He does it because the process itself is rewarding; he loves making beautiful pipes. And he likes that others enjoy them.

Claudio has paper shape templates going back more than twenty years and he's always developing new ones. They have been inspired by a wide variety of things. In one case, Gianfranco's daughter (age eight) drew a pipe shape while they were visiting with Claudio once that went on to become a Cavicchi template and ultimately a number of pipes! But most are based on shapes that Claudio sees from other pipe makers. They're not copies; they're very much reinterpretations.

One such example is the S. Bang volcano from the Uptown's advertisement in P&T a few years ago pictured to the right. The Cavicchi sitting atop the ad was being smoked by Claudio himself and we snagged it for a minute to present it in this photo. It's far from an exact copy, but the family resemblance is definitely there: the curve of the bottom of the bowl and the angle and curve of the front of the bowl lean heavily on the S. Bang. Other areas differ: length of the shank, the paneling of the shank and the unique Claudio shank treatment mark it out as an unmistakable Cavicchi.

Another great example of this is the volcano shape to the left sitting atop José Manuel Lopes' original Portuguese version of Cachimbos, translated unsurprisingly as Pipes: Artisans and Trademarks for the English edition. That is, of course, Teddy Knudsen and a volcano he made in about 2003 with a bamboo shank. Cavicchi liked the idea, but modified it to have a regular shank and a decorative wood (in this case, boxwood) ferrule that nonetheless echoes the bamboo, with the flaring at the end of the shank, echoed by the decorative flourish on the stem. Contextualized, it does look rather like a little playful hinting at the knuckles of the bamboo in the Teddy original. Similarly, the base of the pipe is totally different: where Teddy emphasized the rugged plateaux contrasting against the smooth sides of the bowl, Claudio offers a gently convex smooth surface. The important line here is the front of the bowl though; that's the element that holds both of these shapes together and serves as the clear commonality between the two. While Claudio's rendition is quite different, the dialogue that goes on between the pipe makers is certainly evident.

Finally, we come to what I think is the most fun of the pipe shapes Claudio, Gianfranco and I discussed. To the right is something of a bent apple-cavalier hybrid. It's based loosely on the Adam Davidson pipe that Claudio saw on pictured below it. In some respects, these shapes couldn't be more different. For starters, Adam's is a derivation of a blowfish shape, itself based loosely on a couple of shapes Hiroyuki Tokutomi has done (which in turn were based very loosely on shapes by Sixten and Lars Ivarsson). The defining characteristic of the shape is the crosscut grain, the large panels on the sides to display birdseye and the balanced asymmetry of the composition. In Claudio's version, all of this is abandoned. Claudio used just the outline of the shape, re-imagining everything else about it. Looking at the two pipes together, one wouldn't guess that the Davidson led to the Cavicchi. Yet, since it did, the ideas that Claudio pulled from the shape are clearly evident in his version. What makes this even more satisfying for Claudio is that a few weeks after he developed this shape based on the photo of Adam's pipe, Adam emailed him to ask him about some of the woods that he uses as shank adornments. He was delighted to be able to reciprocate the unintended favor that Adam had done him.

The copying of shapes is something that seems to cause a whole lot of angst in the pipe world, but not a whole lot of thoughtful discussion. Bo Nordh once said that there's a Swedish expression, "I steal with both arms and both legs," that applies here: all pipe makers borrow, reinterpret, reinvent and reimagine. Pipe makers each add a little bit to the greater aesthetic discussion, but the act of copying and interpreting other works is as central to pipe making as it is to furniture design, knife making or any other aesthetic craft. These are wonderful examples of this: ideas that caught the attention of a creative mind, then filtered and reinvented they become something quite new. For thirty-odd years now, Claudio Cavicchi has contributed his voice to that symphonic aesthetic discussion.


  Sykes Wilford: Founder/President

Posted by sykes at 5:26 PM | Link | 4 comments

25 May 2012

Italy 2012: Savinelli Part I
 Making of an Autograph (sort of)

       -Posted by sykes-

I spent two full days visiting Savinelli for the first time this past Monday and Tuesday. I've decided that one blog post simply can't do the whole experience justice, so I've opted to split it into two (or even three; we shall see). Almost the entire first day was spent poking around the factory. I love pipe factories. And I've been in bunches of pipe factories and workshops all over the world. I can't make a pipe to save my life (I've tried; it was a disaster), but I'm about as familiar with methods, machines, materials and the like as someone who doesn't actually make pipes can be. Giacomo Carlesi, Savinelli's export manager and my factory guide, suggested that the factory tour took much, much longer with me than it does with most folks because, well, I actually knew what I was looking at. I had tons of questions. As I said to Giacomo, it's not the things that are the same at each factory that are interesting, it's the differences from operation to operation.

Savinelli's production is really split into two distinct pieces. There's the factory piece, which accounts for the overwhelming majority (98%?) of Savinelli's production, and the artisan piece. The Autographs, Briar Lines, Linea Artisans and Milanos are all the result of the second set of processes. Both are fascinating, but they're so different, that I've decided to split off the factory discussion for a second article to follow in, hopefully, a couple of days. So, today, we're going to discuss Autographs and we'll follow one through a number of the processes in the photos on the left.

Briar for the Autographs and other freehands is sourced specifically for those pieces. Extra grade ebauchon blocks are used for most of Savinelli's production, but Savinelli keeps a separate supply of Extra Extra plateaux blocks for the freehands. Savinelli has about one million blocks of briar on hand (yes, that's a whole lot), which amounts to a ten year supply. This ensures that they're only using top-quality thoroughly dry briar, and it also gives them the ability to weather supply shocks if they were to find themselves unable to secure as much briar as they need for a few years.

Though the shapes are unmistakably Savinelli's, the blocks are shaped first and drilled afterwards, using the same method the Danes use to maximize flexibility when shaping. It requires greater skill on the part of the maker, but generally yields better results as the carver is able to work around problems in the wood and cut to maximize the quality of the grain. Three artisans in the factory are responsible for all of the Autograph and other freehand pipes. Ignazio Guarino, who has been with Savinelli for fifty years, worked on the piece that we're following through some of the steps to the left, but every piece is touched by each of the three senior artisans in the factory.

First the pipe was shaped almost completely. Ignazio works on the sander (which is structured with the sanding area on the outside of a spinning disk, perhaps an inch wide, quite different from the disks I've seen elsewhere) faster than anyone I've ever seen: decades of practice making variations on the various iconic Savinelli Autograph shapes means that he can do it almost without looking. Then it's taken to be drilled on three different machines (this being an artisanal process in a factory, most everything is set up for exactly one process) and the plateaux top lightly is blasted to remove the bark. Then a stem is fitted, shaped to match the bowl, and bent over an alcohol lamp. Then the pipe is stained, polished, stamped and it's done. (I've omitted a number of steps from the photos to the left since some of them aren't terribly photogenic and I'm not a terribly good photographer).

All Savinelli pipes, including the Autographs of course, are stained with natural dyes mixed in the factory, primarily by the factory manager, Luisa Bozzetti. Savinelli has bags and boxes of various components to create the various stains. The area used for this has a sort of medieval herbalist or apothecary character to it. The recipes are loosely interpreted, executed through trial and error with tests on scraps of briar since there's considerable natural variance in the dye components. I don't think I've ever encountered anything like this. It gives Savinelli considerable flexibility to create new stains, which is perhaps one reason that there's such color variance from series to series, instead of just a few stock colors employed over and over again.

Of course, only a fraction of the free hand pipes that come from Savinelli bear the Autograph stamp. And such was not the happy destiny of this pipe. The grain was stunning, but a small fissure emerged while the bowl was being shaped. It would have ended up a Milano Handmade, but as I learned while all of this was being discussed, it was to be very kindly given to me, so it just bears the Savinelli stamp, my name and the year, and I'm smoking it (in a smoking hotel room, no less) as I write this.


  Sykes Wilford: Founder/President

Posted by sykes at 7:27 PM | Link | 0 comments

24 May 2012

Duly Noted
 Newsletter Introduction for Thursday, May 24, 2012

       -Posted by eric-

At a loss as to what to write for my next turn at covering the newsletter intro, this morning I simply left myself a note in the open, rather accusingly blank text file: "Dry your tobacco, fool." In retrospect, I suppose it's a subject I might as well run with.

While the initial moisture of different blends can vary tremendously, most tobaccos, and particularly aromatics, could do with at least a good ten minutes underneath a desk lamp, spread evenly upon a clean piece of paper. Rubbed-out flake, rich Latakias, simple burleys - all will tend to smoke cooler and drier if they are given a chance to air out a bit, albeit not quite to the point that they start becoming properly crispy. The simple fact is that a moist tobacco will mean more moisture that can condense in your briar's stem, more work both lighting and keeping your bowl lit, and yet also a hotter burn - which in and of itself feeds back into creating more condensation as the temperature of your draw drops in the course of traveling through the shank and stem. The extra heat certainly doesn't do your palate any favors, either, and aside from being profoundly annoying when it starts to gurgle, on top of it, all that H2O lollygagging about in the airway is itself liable to absorb and/or alter a good bit of a smoke's flavor.

For the novice it may be easy to simply assume condensation is the result of salivation. In answer to this misconception I can only recommend that they remember this maxim: Your pipe is not a trombone. Unless you're trying to play it like one, the problem isn't you - it's either your tobacco, or, as in some unfortunate cases, the pipe's design itself. Drilling and engineering can go quite a ways towards reducing interruptive condensation build-up, my Beo bent Billiard regularly tolerates my own ill-advised impatience (the very reason for the previously mentioned note I addressed to myself), but even a good pipe can only do so much. And a poorly engineered one can do a lot as well; a lot of mischief, that is. Undoubtedly, one should ask “for what length of time might I leave a pinch of tobacco out to dry?” Unfortunately really there’s no hard-and-fast rule in place here. You’ll just have to experiment to determine what works best for you. I realize this is old hat to many of you now reading these words, but for the less experienced smoker something as simple as being advised to dry your next few bowls' worth beforehand can make the difference between the pipe becoming an enjoyable part of their everyday life, and sputtering out as a short-lived lark ending in distaste and frustration. And no one wants that - not them for certain, and especially us.

And on that note, it's on with the show: Today we have a varied lot for you all, including artisanal beauties by Matzhold, Kent, Florov, Markle, Ardor, Ser Jacopo, Arthur, and Il Duca, plus fresh briars from Peterson, Savinelli, Neerup, and Brebbia - and as always plenty of estate pipes to boot.


 Eric Squires: Copywriter

Posted by eric at 4:30 PM | Link | 2 comments

Italy 2012: Castello
 Sykes Pays a Visit to the Castello Shop

       -Posted by sykes-

I'm beginning this little missive while Marco Parascenzo and Franco Coppo are locked in detailed discussion. I love listening to the lilting, almost musical, Italian, though I have little sense of what they're discussing. Marco flew up from his home in Rome for the day, while I traveled from Varese, about an hour from here, assuming one doesn't get lost. Marco was here to meet me, but also to select pipes for the United States and China, where he represents Castello. We finished selecting pipes a few minutes ago. Selecting pipes at Castello has an almost ritualistic character, a process laden with meaning, as three men who love pipes come together to pore over perhaps a thousand beautiful Castello pipes.

Appropriately, this process takes place in a small room, protected by a heavy steel door, with no windows and thick stone (or at least stone-like) walls, off of the factory. The room is lined with drawers of pipes, shelves of beautiful Castello wooden boxes, paintings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and assorted bits of Castello memorabilia. The room's mood has an almost religious character to it; it feels rather like a small chapel in a medieval church. A single source of light, a bright lamp, sits over the central felt covered table. And on this table, we look at pipes. This is my third visit to Cantù  to spend the day with Marco and Kino, so I know what to expect.

The process always starts with things like Sea Rocks and Trademarks and we work our way up to the Collections and Collection Fiammatas. I'm not sure if I can properly articulate how much fun it is. I select pipes all the time. It's a huge part of what I do. I do it in the office. I do it at shows. I do it in various countries. But, somehow, the whole Castello experience is just different. I don't know whether it's the atmosphere, the scale of the project, or the pipes themselves, or some combination of the three, that make this one of my favorite pipe experiences each year. Perhaps it's because all present take it all so seriously. It's not that we're terribly solemn; it's actually a lot of fun. It's more that there's a reverence there and none of us take the pipes lightly. Ourselves we may take lightly, but for all involved, these are objects of value well beyond the economic. These are special objects, worthy of care, even love.

For the first couple of hours, we wended our way from Sea Rocks through Castello "Castello". Standard practice is for me to pick out those that catch my eye and then thin the selection afterwards. It's just too hard to pick and prune at the same time. It's far better to just pick out those that I think are best and then cull by perhaps a third at the end of the process. We broke for lunch around 1:30pm, having looked at pipes for almost two hours. I'd probably selected more than a hundred, out of perhaps eight or nine hundred, by then.

A lovely lunch of a proscuitto and cheese antipasti and a pasta course later, we returned to the selection process. Now, this is where it gets difficult. Out came the Collections, Collection Fiammatas and Collection Fiammata Great Lines. I could easily, happily have taken more than half of what was on offer. I ended up selecting about thirty, knowing that serious pruning would be required. There were Occhio di Pernice, Fiammata and Great Lines all on offer. It was an astounding variety of extraordinary pipes.

Finally, it was time to discuss the Pezzo Unico. We did this last year too, with two superb pieces. Franco sets aside pipes that are particularly special, important, significant to him or otherwise sufficiently noteworthy that he doesn't really want to sell them. While it's a little odd to own a pipe factory and not want to sell pipes, I sort of sympathize with him: the number of times that I wished I could keep a pipe at as a museum peice of sorts attests to at least the same impulses on my part. From this selection, with some begging, pleading and prying, come the Pezzo Unico. Last year it was a 150th Anniversary Collection Fiammata. This year, in a truly extraordinary briar and Canadian cedar presentation box, it will be a spectacular Great Line Fiammata. This was an achingly difficult decision to make. And trying to get Franco to part with the pipe was difficult in its own right. It took me a few years of getting to know Franco for any of this to even become a possibility. At one point, he rather dramatically declared to Marco, but in English for my benefit, "But this is my art! You're taking my art!" He did finally relent. Franco's wonderful, though: he's totally serious--he has flatly declined to sell me certain pipes on a number of occasions, and it's often hard to tell those apart from the ones that just require extra pleading--but he also recognizes that the whole thing is a little comical nonetheless.

Having scaled the Pezzo Unico summit, it came time to prune. I had about 120 pipes picked out and I needed to get it under 80. I selected Castellos in Chicago three weeks ago and will again in August at IPCPR and will likely have at least one more opportunity to do so by the end of the year. I did not need to be selecting 120 Castellos at once today. Besides, Lisa (she who is in charge of's finances) would not have been happy. And while keeping Lisa happy is important in and of itself, I also recognize that Lisa is sort of my business-man conscience. When I want to do something like, say, buy 120 Castellos, including no fewer than four Collection Fiammatas plus one Pezzo Unico for the website in one throw, I think "what would Lisa say?" I've worked with Lisa long enough to know the answer to this. I usually end up splitting the difference between crazy pipe guy and imaginary Lisa when pipe budgeting. She's not too upset and I can almost justify the pipes I purchased for the website.

I love the process of picking Castellos. I hate the pruning part. It's excruciating deciding which pieces won't make the cut. While I think it ultimately ensures that only the best of the best pipes make it on to, it can be really hard narrowing it down. I'll get it down to two pipes: each of which is a keeper for eighty two different reasons, but one of which really, really has to go. And so I stare at them stupidly for minutes on end. Anyway, in the end, I did it. All told I chose 78 pipes total. 78 jaw-dropping Castellos. Hopefully they'll arrive quickly…

And below, you'll find a selection of photos I took at the factory: folks making pipes, great piles of briar (Castello has about 30,000 blocks on hand, enough for almost ten years work, including one large pile of blocks that are more than twenty years old), hundreds of rods of acrylic from which they cut each stem by hand, and much more…


  Sykes Wilford: Founder/President

Posted by sykes at 12:00 PM | Link | 2 comments

23 May 2012

Italy 2012: Radice
 Sykes Visits the Radice Family on His Tour Through Italy

       -Posted by sykes-

I landed at Milan-Malpensa airport at 8:30am, Sunday morning. Yes, I was tired, but I was also far too excited about the next few days to let something like a little sleep deprivation bother me. My first appointment would be that very afternoon at Radice, and with an itinerary that starts as such it is difficult not to be enthusiastic. And yet I still found myself with a few hours to kill, first. I tried to check into my hotel in Varese, but I found no luck there so early in the day, so instead I opted to make a pleasurable opportunity of the extra time by journeying along the most roundabout way I could find for traveling from Varese to Cucciago (home of Radice). I angled through a sliver of Switzerland and spent part of the afternoon in Como, next to the famous lake of the same name, sitting and smoking a pipe and generally taking it all in, at least until a spring shower drove me off.

As I eventually meandered closer to the Radices' workshop, I got to poke around lovely little towns in the foothills of the Alps while still also managing to arrive right on time at 2pm. Luca diPiazza (Radice's agent, translator and all-around helper, promoter and business-guy) and Maurizio Radice met me, ushered me in and promptly plied me with much needed espresso. Maurizio's father, Luigi "Gigi" Radice, had another engagement (I was asking them to meet me on a Sunday, after all), as did Gianluca, his brother. Gianluca did, however, manage to stop by briefly to say hello, but he couldn't stick around, sadly.

We chatted about pipe making, touching on topics ranging from the ins and outs of the business, to the zany pipe creations that Maurizio's father Gigi often makes when left to his own devices. He showed me an Oom Paul, for example, that Gigi had carved to look like an elephant's head, with the trunk forming the shank. Apparently, Maurizio and Gianluca won't let Gigi make crazy stuff when they're in the workshop, so Gigi only does it when they're at lunch or otherwise away. Frankly, I think that if Gigi wants to make silly pipes, he's entitled to after 52 years as a full-time pipe maker.

Having chatted and played around, we eventually settled down to seriously important matters: looking at pipes. I picked out 54 pieces, some of which were complete, but many of which were in various stages of not-quite-completeness: a handful still didn't have finished stems, some just needed polishing, and so forth. And there were a bunch more pipes, such as the Underwoods to the right, which I would have happily made off with if Maurizio hadn't kept me from picking pipes that hadn't even been stained yet. I made Luca and Maurizio promise to email me when some of these were done though, since there was some seriously cool stuff on that bench.

Speaking of seriously cool stuff, the Radice’s had several shapes intended for their 'Classic' series to show me, and I was able to pick freely from those. The Bulldogs, pictured to the right, weren't quite done yet, so they'll be sending those along in a few weeks when the batch is completed. The whole Classics project is pretty impressive: a set of nine shapes, available in all the Radices' signature finishes, emphasizing Radice’s interpretations of the core traditional shapes. Since they're all hand turned, there's definite variance from pipe to pipe, but it's really only obvious when you see a whole lot of them in one place (a slightly longer shank here, slightly squatter bowl there, etc). The series has been around for a few couple of years now and has proven incredibly popular.

On a less serious note, Maurizio showed me a briar burl that he wants to turn into a coffee table. Yes - a coffee table. Some burls may have obvious problems that make them unsuitable for burning tobacco inside of them, but for the resourceful artisan this only leaves the wood to all sorts of other uses. The Radices have a line of high-priced briar ashtrays made from entire burls in an upscale department store, for example. Some blocks simply end up being used decoratively: we ourselves have one in the front windows of our shop. This one, though, if Maurizio gets his way, will be topped by glass supported (somehow - I'm sure he has it figured out) by the branches that extend from the briar burl… now that would make an awesome smoking table!

Tune in next time (which will be whenever I next get a chance to write some more while I'm here) to read about my visit to the Savinelli factory in Barasso!


  Sykes Wilford: Founder/President

Posted by sykes at 2:30 PM | Link | 0 comments

We Are Young

       -Posted by ethan brandt-

Little_Pipe_Smoker_by_HauntingVisionsSto ckOne of the advantages of knowing a lot of the guys and gals here at is that they are, on the whole, younger than the average pipe smoker, which gives someone like me a sense of camaraderie. It makes me feel like not so much of a social anomaly.

To the majority of society, however, a twenty-two year old pipe smoker is just that: an outlier, an anomaly, or, if they are feeling kind, an “old soul”. This is society's perception of pipes in relation to age. For those who have the benefit of seeing the pipe world from the inside, it is clear that the truth is very different from that.

The Chicago Pipe Show wasn't that long ago and I was stunned by the number of people my age that I saw wandering the isles and laughing alongside the Old Guard. There were men and women there, old and young.

Loch Ness, by PhotoJeffI won't get into the issue of statistics and what the average age of a pipe smoker is, as that is not the point. The point that I am trying to make is that, despite the fact that society seems to react the same way when seeing a young pipe smoker as they would if they saw the Loch Ness Monster, we are not alone.

There are issues that young pipe smokers have to face, I feel, more often than the older generations. If I decide to take my briar out and sit at a street-side cafe with a pipe and a pint, then it is almost guaranteed that someone will ask with a wink, “What're you smoking in that thing?” This is a question that I severely doubt would ever be said to someone with a long grey beard.

Police Officer, by Chicagos~Finest

Just the other night, I had a similar experience. I was sitting outside at a restaurant with three friends and I pulled out my Revyagin Bee Calabash and filled with G.L. Pease Cumberland. As soon as I started to light it, a police officer pulled up next to where we were sitting, rolled down his window, and stared at me. I waved politely and continued puffing as if nothing was amiss, because, despite his ageist suspicion, nothing was amiss at all.

I have also explained to several of my pipe friends what I feel to be one of the biggest problems young pipe smokers face: the lack of physical tobacconists. While there are still many phenomenal stores out there with physical locations, they are much harder to find than they used to be. The consequence of this is that it is harder for a pipe smoker just starting out to find a mentor, someone to teach him or her tricks of the trade and help get the journey started properly.

While there isn't a quick-and-easy fix for people staring at me as I smoke my pipe, there is something that young pipe smokers today have that the older generation lacked: the internet. What an incredible asset this is for someone just starting off! Because I am getting into the world of pipes right now, I am privy to the massive amounts of information gathered by amazingly knowledgeable experts, and I can access it all from the comfort of my own home. I don't have to learn by trial-and-error as much as I might have had to had I started smoking a pipe fifty years ago.

Despite the challenges that those younger members of society face when they decide to take up a pipe, it really is a great time to be a pipe smoker, no matter your age. The best pipes ever made, in my opinion, are being made right now. And after all, who really cares what other people think? Just smoke your pipe and be happy!

Ethan Brandt of Pipe School, Guest Blogger

Ethan Brandt: Guest Blogger

Posted by ethan brandt at 12:30 PM | Link | 3 comments

22 May 2012

Chicago Pipe Show: A Carver's Perspective

       -Posted by adam-

The Chicago pipe show is, as many would rightly claim, "The greatest show on earth". In respect to the amount of pipes to be found at the show, such a claim is difficult to deny. The show is not necessarily a who’s who of the pipe making, collecting, smoking, business, and hobby world, but it’s considered the number-one "must do" show for many people simply because there are a great number of carvers/customers who only go to this one show. And that’s because it’s huge. Carvers, collectors, customers, and people from all walks of the industry gather at the Pheasant Run Resort each May to attend a show full of fun, excitement, relaxation, and the chance to buy, swap, or sell almost anything pipe related.

For the pipe maker, the CPCC show is likewise a chance to show thousands of people what you can do. In fact, many pipe makers view Chicago as not only the biggest show around, but tend to reference the show almost like it’s the beginning of the year. Because so many of us only get a chance to meet up with many collectors and different friends once each year during the show, it’s an opportunity for many to compare present works to those of previous Chicago shows. Also, because there’s plenty of friendly competition among makers, many pipe carvers decide to bring a piece (or two) that stands out simply for its beauty and craftsmanship. A lot of my pipe making friends arrive with stunning pieces of which they are very proud - and should be - but still spend as much time talking and learning from other pipe makers as much as possible. When so many guys meet up annually after working feverishly for weeks or months, often working the previous week before the show until early in the morning fueled by caffeine, nicotine, and a healthy balance between excitement and stress, that first gulp of an adult beverage while sipping on a favored tobacco can often be interpreted as the first time to relax in quite a long while.

It's always nice for a carver to share a smoke with friends and it’s especially delightful when those friends are smoking pipes that the carver remembers having made for them in his shop months or years earlier. There’s great satisfaction in knowing that something one created is being enjoyed by another.

Balkan Sobranie

Not only do collectors enjoy sharing stories of their favorite pieces, many enjoy sharing vintage tobaccos. Much like a fine meal or bottle of wine, rare tobaccos are enjoyed even more so when sampled together. A good friend and collector of mine brought a tin of Balkan Sobraine #10 from 1962 he was saving for such an occasion. Never before have I had the chance to press down the cutting tip, hear the hiss, and smell the aroma while the foil was being cut. True to his nature, the man who owned this tobacco enjoyed sharing bowls with the gentlemen around him. The experience of such a smoke like this is quite a rarity.

My wife was not able to go to the show with me this year because of her work schedule and the fact that extra flights and such make for a very expensive trip compared to other pipe shows. This, coupled with the realization that as much fun as I seem to be having until nearly 3:00 a.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, doesn't take away that pipe shows are still a lot of work. Arranging meetings with friends and customers, lunches, dinners, a carver’s panel, focus groups, and penciling in plenty of time to relax with a pipe and/or a beer leave little time to do much of anything else. Pipe makers not only need to spend a lot of time with customers and friends - they want to do so. Meeting many of these people face-to-face is something we all look forward to, I believe.

When all is said and done, when traveling home from the Chicago pipe show there’s a calm satisfaction peppered with utter exhaustion to be had when one steps foot in the front door of their home. I greatly enjoy meeting up with so many people during all the pipe shows I attend each year, but none compare to the vastness of the annual show put on by the good folks of the CPCC.

Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector

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21 May 2012

Pipe Light or Die
 Newsletter Introduction for Monday, May 21, 2012

       -Posted by ted-

So you’ve just spent a bundle on a new pipe. You wrestled long and hard with the decision to part with such hard-earned money over a piece of wood and rubber (or plastic; and maybe some silver or horn too), and now that it’s yours you’ve only done as much as stare at it longingly. The pipe’s been in your possession now for several weeks, and you’ve only managed, after painstakingly careful consideration and a few hundred visits to your favorite online tobacco review site, to determine which blend you’ll choose for the pipe's maiden voyage, and what time of day it will be, and which chair you’ll be sitting in the very moment you light up the treasured briar for the very first time. But alas, you have still yet to actually smoke the pipe. You want the occasion to be a special one. After all, it’s an expensive pipe and you don’t want to go and blow your first experience with it on accident - or even worse, damage the prized briar itself.

I’ll tell you right now, the less often you light your pipe the better. If you want your precious new smoking instrument to remain pristine for a long, long time, there’s about a hundred million different tips, suggestions, home remedies, folk songs, and mnemonic devices hanging around every corner of every chat room, message board, or community forum related to pipe care dos and don’ts that’ll steer you into some routine or another, ranging from the sound to the more-than-semi-laughable. Much of the information available to be found along these arteries of the internet is entertaining. Much more of it is hokum repeated by neophytes. Some of this data is plenty helpful, if not entirely overwhelming to the freshly initiated pipe smoker who’s still trying to keep straight the difference between terms like ‘casing’, ‘topping’ and ‘flavoring’. But the simple, common-sense solution to pipe longevity is to keep your relights down.

1.The wetter the tobacco, the hotter it needs to be to combust. Smoking wet tobacco not only increases the amount of times you’re exposing the rim and tobacco chamber of your pipe to fire, it’s also a simple recipe for keeping your pipe super-hot all the time. Probably not a great idea. Try drying out your tobacco some first. Or if you like the moist stuff, keep it out of your Bo Nordh.

2.Only use a torch lighter (like the kind you’ll use when lighting your cigar) on a pipe you’d like to destroy as rapidly as possible. Bic lighters, with their large, unwieldy flames aren’t much better. A Bic might not damage the chamber, but it will ugly-up a pipe’s rim something fierce over time. Butane pipe lighters, like the legendary Old Boy, are terrific. But yes, as you might expect, once its sulfur head has burned off, a match, which burns at around 700 degrees Celsius (nearly 1,300 degrees cooler than a butane lighter) is the best source of fire you can use to light up a pipe, what with its highly governable and relatively gentle flame.

3.Consider your tamper and tamping technique. By tamping around the sides of your pipe's bowl with a small, preferably concave shaped tamper, you'll keep the embers towards the center of the chamber and away from the briar walls. Also, in doing this, you’ll avoid tamping straight down on the tobacco, which is likely to snuff out the cherry, which increases the need for a relight.

I don’t recommend that you start keeping track of how many times you’ve ever lit a particular pipe. That’s just crazy. The notion of keeping one’s relights to a minimum is really more about preventing excessively exposing your pipe to unnecessary fire and heat. You know, the stuff that will kill anything made of wood, even a wood as hardy as briar, after a while. You can of course take this advice or not; smoke your pipes however you like. After all, it’s your special new pipe and you can treat it however you like. But a little simple advice can go quite a way to ensuring you'll be able to enjoy it all the more, and for all the longer.

We’ve got an outstanding update pick together for this Monday. You’ll find new cigars from Romeo & Julieta and Quorum, a couple dozen fresh estate pipes, and new works from the likes of Pete Prevost (whose work is going up on for the very first time this evening), Benni Jorgensen, Tsuge, Radice, Castello, Savinelli, Sebastien Beo, Butz-Choquin, Peterson, and Vauen. And don’t miss our introduction of Fred Hanna’s new book The Perfect Smoke.


Ted Swearingen: Vice President, General Manager

Posted by ted at 4:00 PM | Link | 2 comments

17 May 2012

Just Released: Mac Baren's Old Dark Fired
 Newsletter Introduction for Thursday, May 10, 2012

       -Posted by adam-

We've been reading a lot about the recent Chicago pipe show here and on various other blogs and such, and they pretty much all talk about the same thing: massive awesomeness. Because the show is so massive, there exists the small, unavoidable, yet perfectly obvious fact that we are all bound to miss something in our report of the show. In fact, a great number of people probably missed a lot of things, or at least wish they had opportunities to touch back to something that initially grabbed their attention.

It goes without saying that pipe shows are about pipes, but it’s also true that they would be nothing without tobacco. While I'm privy to only a small number of things that go on around here at Smokingpipes headquarters - because we are rather vast as well - I do remember hearing a buzz about a new Mac Baren tobacco some time ago. To be more precise: Mac Baren’s new HH Old Dark Fired. Mac Baren makes wonderful tobaccos, and their attention to blending, cutting, and slicing are rarely equaled which results in a line of consistent products. Ted talked about this tobacco. Sykes talked about it. There was a lot of buzz going around the Chicago show because it was first introduced there. Why did I not take the time to fire up a bowl the four days I was surrounded by pipes, tobacco, and friends? I have no idea. Perhaps it was because I was smoking some vintage Virginia flake tobaccos, wasn't in the same room when someone had an open tin, or, most likely, the fact that I pretty much stick to smoking only a few tobaccos.

Ever since I got back to the office last week, John and Ted have repeatedly asked me if I was going to try a bowl. Since I’m the one who walks around the office offering samples of whatever seemingly simple, yet subtly bizarre food I might have just prepared in the kitchen to some of my co-workers, I finally decided to try a bowl this afternoon. John's initial description of a tin aroma akin to BBQ smoke made me curious, as did Ted's threat to punch me in the face if I didn't take a bowl. The tin aroma is fantastic. The thin flakes, neatly arranged in stacks of three slivers side-by-side make for a beautiful arrangement, and the ease of twisting up a bird nest of tobacco for the bottom of my pipe to be covered with the remainder of the fully-rubbed out flake got me off to a good start. While moist in the tin, I only dried the tobacco on a piece of paper for ten minutes. The threads took easily with a match and were tamped without any need to light the bowl again. Pungently sweet smoke with a considerably balanced chord of chocolately-sweet, clove-spice asserting itself early on. The sweetness fades, but a rich spice on my palate and an ever-so-slight warming of my forehead from the nicotine kick remains subtle, but constant throughout the smoke.

For fans of Burley blends, or those of you who are a bit curious as to whether you may like this, I would highly recommend this tobacco. As I am currently typing this introduction, the fragrant smoke makes for a pleasant taste that goes extremely well with my cup of black coffee. Perhaps you might take this opportunity to see what the new Mac Baren HH Old Dark Fired has to offer.

Aside from a lengthy tobacco introduction, we have a lot of great pipes freshly updated. Pieces from Tokutomi, J.Alan, and Former can be found, as well as dozens of designs from L'Anatra to Peterson. If estates are what you crave, we have seventy-two to whet your whistle.

Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector

Posted by adam at 4:30 PM | Link | 3 comments

15 May 2012

New Faces Around the Blog

       -Posted by ethan brandt-

Baby and pipeFewer than four years ago, I was introduced to the online world of pipes, and specifically to I spent far too much time, often during class, browsing through the seemingly endless supply of high-quality pipes that were, at that point, as unattainable to me as water to Tantalus. Imagine my elation when I realized that I would be, almost four years later, writing for the same website that started it all for me.

You’re all familiar with the writings of John Sutherland, Adam Davidson, Ted Swearingen, Eric Squires, and Sykes Wilford here at, and with good reason. They are able to put out more content than almost any other pipe-blog out there.

Lately, though, according to Sykes, they have wanted to see the blog expand even further. “We've been looking at ways to improve the blog for some time. There have been various times when we've done a great job with it and others where we've let it languish. When we first started it, I think I wrote a blog entry almost every day, but the reality is that I a) really don't have that much to say, and b) I can't sustain that pace and meet my other obligations. I think we're doing pretty well with it these days...Still, it ends up very”

In an effort to expand the number of voices and viewpoints that can expressed on the blog, a new face or two will be popping in. “I picked people whose writing I like,” Sykes told me, “It's really not any more complicated than that. I've asked you and one other so far...I'd like to see the blog grow to fifty or so posts a month and build its readership.”

I think this is an admirable goal. I am a huge proponent of blogs for the pipe hobby, and I’ve been writing one of my own for the past couple of months. While books are fantastic and I own more than my fair share, I think that blogs have several distinct, necessary advantages: they can be easily updated; they invite a multitude of voices and perspectives; they allow for more community interaction; they are free and easy to access.

As one of those new faces, I suppose I should offer a brief introduction. My name is Ethan Brandt and I am, until tomorrow, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis. For almost my entire college career, I have been in love with pipes and have started writing about them within the last year, sometimes for Pipes Magazine and also on my own blog, “Pipe School”. Getting to learn more about pipes has been one of the most enjoyable experiences that I have had and I greatly look forward to continuing that here at

When I asked Sykes why he thought blogs were important to the pipe hobby, he, in true Socratic fashion, flipped the question back around on me: “Why is knowledge good?”

Knowledge is Power, by Alan MarcWithout delving too deeply into issues of epistemology, the question is still an important one. Why pursue more knowledge about pipes beyond the fact that you like them?

To me, with greater knowledge comes greater capacity for enjoyment of pipes. This is true in many ways: with more knowledge, one is more effectively able to prepare, pack, and smoke one's pipe and tobacco, thus getting greater pleasure. This would explain why there are so many books and essays about how to pack a pipe or properly light one.

Beyond simply addressing technique, knowledge about the method behind the creation of one's pipe, the physics and the art, forces one to appreciate the intricate details that might have gone unnoticed before. Much like it is difficult to fully appreciate Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath without knowledge of the Baroque style and chiaroscuro. I also extract great satisfaction out of knowing more about the person, or people, who made a pipe, much like people are fascinated by the lives of their favorite writers, artists, and musicians.

Simply put, I believe that knowledge and pleasure are directly linked in the pipe hobby. It is because of that direct link that I love the idea of expanding's blog and am excited to be a part of the adventure.

Ethan Brandt: Guest Blogger


Posted by ethan brandt at 4:57 PM | Link | 1 comment

Pipes in Film: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

       -Posted by eric-

Though British intelligence officer-turned-author John Le Carre's 1974 espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was released as a full-blown Hollywood production just last year, a much more in depth, and according to many, all-in-all outright superior treatment was given to the "Cambridge Five"-inspired narrative some thirty-odd years previous. I am of course referring to the 1979 television mini-series, which allowed for not only a far longer running time, but a very un-Hollywood handling of the screenplay as well.

Make no mistake, as you might expect from a tale written by a man who actually worked in intelligence and counterintelligence, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is as far removed as can be from the wild scrapes of James Bond and his imitators.

In place of mad car chases and torrid seductions, it has Alec Guinness staring at people, and slowly, thread-by-thread, dissecting their deceptions. In place of wild shoot-out after wild shoot-out, it has a single depiction of one lone operative, exposed behind the lines, wounded, captured, and rendered completely at the enemy's mercy. And in place of a nemesis with a funny accent and a command staff made up of killer dwarves/albinos/Siamese twins, it has the enigmatic and implacable man known only as "Karla", who appears but briefly in flashback, speaks not a single word, and gives away nothing (except, perhaps, that Patrick Stewart has never not been bald.) Indeed, George Smiley doesn't even suspect it was "Karla" that he met until long after it's too late.

And while Smiley faces off against "Karla" distantly and indirectly through his struggle against the master intelligence officer's murky and deeply calculated game - the suspicion that a mole has climbed to the highest ranks of British intelligence, a more immediate and open obstacle to the investigation is dealing with the man who replaced his mentor, "Control", as the head of MI6 - one Percy Alleline; a position he gained when both "Control" and Smiley himself were forced out of the intelligence service after a catastrophically failed operation.

In fitting with British statesman Winston Churchill's famous observation of the USSR's actions as a "riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma", the task the highly trained, experienced, and perceptive, yet quiet, buttoned-down, and cautiously thorough protagonist George Smiley faces is akin to playing a game of chess, blindfolded, in which undisclosed pieces amongst one's ranks are secretly under enemy control. And all while the lumbering Alleline, promoted through a combination of his predecessor's downfall and the merits of a secret source of Soviet intelligence, holds the authority of his position close, and Smiley at a distance as the outsider he's become.

While Alec Guinness performs perfectly as the lead, the production also did good service to portraying every character of significance with, well, character - Alleline included. He's a figure who's gained his position of life-and-death responsibility through circumstances that leave questions regarding both his loyalty to the United Kingdom and her allies, and, distinct from that, whether or not he really has the skills to merit it - yet also one who externally bears no lack of traits or habits that might fool an outsider to their small and deliberately obscure professional community. Tall, baritone-voiced, naturally confident, relaxed, smartly and conservatively dressed, and, as one of Smiley's former comrades observes with a snicker, always smoking a "great log of a pipe", which he lights with an easy snap of an old-fashioned match.

 Eric Squires: Copywriter

Posted by eric at 3:00 PM | Link | 0 comments

14 May 2012

From the SPC Lab: Aging Tobacco
 Newsletter Introduction for Monday, May 7, 2012

       -Posted by sutherland-

Working for is, for the record, as much fun as many of you have suggested you think it is, and sometimes even more so. Case in point: Friday some of us got together to experiment with stoving tobacco. The genesis for this endeavor started when Chris Johnson offered me a bowl of five-year-old Rattray's Marlin Flake, given to him by Mimmo of fame. Let me tell you, it's absolutely scrumptious! Ted Swearingen had earlier that day discussed stoving some Haddo's, hoping to bring it closer in flavor to Sykes's ten-year-old version we sampled in Chicago and so the three of us decided we should try tossing some Marlin Flake in the oven and see how it would turn out.

I walked downstairs and purchased a shiny new tin from our brick-and-mortar, Low Country Pipes and Cigars. From this tin, I removed roughly half of the tobacco for stoving, and kept the other half to smoke through the weekend so that I might thoroughly explore Marlin Flake's un-aged/un-stoved flavor for comparison. The pipe I chose to wield for this experiment was my little Peter Heeschen brandy, a piece that I have smoked no more than a handful times (being my nicest pipe, I like to save it for special occasions; we all have our rituals and rules).

The flake to be cooked, in what's commonly refered to as Fred Hannah's 220/220 method, was placed in a coffee can topped with aluminum foil. With the oven heated to 220 F, we baked the pile for just over two hours, and visually compared the three, the fresh, the stoved, and the aged-five-years. The stoved pile was much darker, closer in color to the aged tobacco. Unfortunately, the stoved flake was now also completely devoid of moisture. I placed it in plastic bag with a Hydrostone (a small, leaf-shaped piece of ceramic) and left the stoved Marlin Flake to re-hydrate over the weekend.

The result? As you might expect, the baked tobacco does not go so far as to match the five-year-old in flavor or smoothness, but it does indeed taste better. How much better than new? Well, only a little bit, honestly. I'm guessing that certain pipe tobacco mixtures respond to stoving better than others, and one could also vary cooking time, temperature, along with moistness of the tobacco, but stoving is nonetheless not chemically equivalent to aging, and therefore cannot be expected to replace it. Was it worth the time and effort? That's hard to answer, as we did have some fun playing mad-scientists in the kitchen, and I'd say that aspect at least is worth more than the end result.

Enough about tobacco, let's talk update. Today we have for you two new pieces from our own Adam Davidson, four from Lasse Skovgaard, alongside a fresh selection of Tsuges, Dunhills, Johs, Brighams, Savinellis, Petersons, and masterfully restored estates from England and Italy. Enjoy!

 John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer

Posted by sutherland at 4:30 PM | Link | 2 comments

Chicago 2012
 Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club Show 2012

       -Posted by ted-

The Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show is an orgiastic smorgasbord of some of the finest tobacco pipes ever made, past and present. Technically speaking, this year the event began on Saturday morning and ran through Sunday afternoon, and was prefaced on Friday by a short pre-show event held in the Smoking Tent just adjacent to the show room floor proper. For many, including, the experience that is the "Chicago Show" begins quite a bit earlier than it does for most. Sykes arrived Monday prior. The rest of us, Susan Salinas (Purchasing Manager for SPC and the brains of any pipe show we ever go to, ever), John Sutherland (Marketing Manager, Senior Staff Photographer), and I, followed by Tony Santiague (Vice Chairman, VP Emeritus, and "OG" Smokingpipes team member), and Ryota Shimizu (Customer Service: Japan), arrived Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.


As usual our room was open to all; it could be found, expectedly, in room 1405 of the tower, complete with a properly thick atmosphere painted in pipe smoke of several different room notes, joined by the fragrance of neatly prepared French-pressed coffee and freshly brewed espresso. There was, of course, also a healthy dose of bourbon, Scotch, and vodka, which unsurprisingly overshadowed a much-shunned selection of canned Pabst Blue Ribbon, Diet Sunkist, Cherry Dr. Pepper, and Red Bull. And then, of course, there was the rather conspicuous presence of a few hundred gorgeous briar pipes. We were fortunate enough to have on display new works from such esteemed artisans as Smio Satou, Hiroyuki Tokutomi, Kei Gotoh, Kent Rasmussen, and Former, to name but a few. There was also Nanna Ivarsson's truly awesome, first-ever, Seven-Day Set.


By the time the weekend arrived, and the show proper with it, we were in full force. Looking back Saturday seemed like an extraordinarily busy blur, and it probably was, what with all the running around talking to numerous carvers and customers and the like. In fact, I think the general sentiment for the show as a whole was that it was quite busy for everyone involved, whether they were attending for business or pleasure, or both. And that's a good thing, methinks.

However, all good things must come to an end (or so the cliché insists), and by Sunday we were fighting exhaustion as we said our long goodbyes and annual farewells. Once again we'd like to thank the CPCC for having us, and for putting such tireless effort in maintaining the tradition of an extremely successful show. Until next year, everybody!


Ted Swearingen: Vice President, General Manager

Posted by ted at 11:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

11 May 2012

Nanna Ivarsson's Seven Day Set
 Pipe History in the Making

       -Posted by sykes-

In the decade-and-change since Smokingpipes's founding there have been a handful of truly memorable times where I've found myself looking at a particular example of a pipemaker's work which has left me so amazed at the effort and artisanship that went into it, and so humbled by the implicit responsibility to act as a representative for it on my own part, that I've been left speechless. Receiving Nanna Ivarsson's first-ever set - a seven day set at that - was one of those moments. We received the seven briars and their hardwood case two days before we were to leave for the Chicago Pipe Show, where they would be displayed and sold, so after I spent some time ogling, they were immediately whisked away to be photographed by John Sutherland just prior to being packed up for Chicago.

Fortunately, I still had plenty of time to look at them, discuss them and ponder them while at the show itself. I arrived at the resort late on Monday and Nanna didn't arrive until Thursday, so I had plenty of time with the set all to myself even before she and I had a real opportunity to discuss it in detail. While I realized it was a monumental achievement and a piece of pipe history even before I arrived with the pipes at the resort, it was really during those few days that the importance of what Nanna had accomplished really had a chance to sink in.

I think a little background from a few different angles is in order. Nanna Ivarsson has been talking about making a seven day set for almost as long as I've known her. Sitting somewhere in the back of her mind was the desire, the conceptualization incubating for years, slowly maturing before she finally began to shape the briars that would in their final form render it all a reality. Indeed, she'd told me so many times of her plans to make the set that when she mentioned to me again back in January that she would do it, I didn't by any means expect to see the whole set finished and presented in less than a year. Pipe makers, especially great pipe makers, are always ambitious and always plan a little bit beyond their present ability to execute. This is hardly unique to Nanna. I've had similar experiences (though not necessarily associated with a set) with Jess Chonowitsch, Hiroyuki Tokutomi, Kei Gotoh and Nanna's father, Lars. There's something about a brilliant, artistic mind and temperament that causes these folks to expect slightly more of themselves than is immediately possible; it's what drives the discovery of new techniques, acquisition or invention of new tools and mediums, and of course the evolution and refinement of their own skills. Whether they consider themselves artists or artisans or both, there's always that nagging thought in the back of their head that by delaying a particularly important piece by another few months, or even years, they'll be able to create something that much greater. So, as it became increasingly clear that Nanna actually was taking the plunge and making the set this time, the reality of it took a little while to properly sink in.

Nanna has a lot riding on her shoulders. As the third generation of the Ivarsson dynasty, she is inevitably held to a remarkably high standard. Perhaps this is less of an issue for her now that she's been a professional pipe maker for well over a decade, but the sort of infelicities that would not cause a second glance, that one would expect from a pipe maker in his or her twenties, were subject to extraordinary scrutiny for Nanna: she had to live up to her name; a name shared by a father and grandfather who were both considered masters. I think far too often collectors and other pipe makers point to the benefits she's derived from bearing that name without properly considering what goes with it: the additional scrutiny and pressure that other young pipe makers simply are not subject to. Frankly, I would not want to have to fill my father's shoes in the same way she has had to fill her father's (and grandfather's). Comparisons along those lines are inevitable though, and Sixten and Lars are standards against which many a pipe maker, even some of the great ones, might have withered had they found their earlier efforts judged next to them by default.

It means that anything Nanna Ivarsson produces has to be pretty much perfect. Fortunately, as one of the most talented pipe makers in the world, she consistently pulls this off. It also means that anything she does that's particularly special, a seven day set for example, must be that much more special. It has to be a pipe-making accomplishment of eclipsing importance and quality. It not only has to be representative of her very best work, it has to be a fitting culmination of three generations of the greatest pipe-making family to have lived.

The set lives up to that and more. All seven briars are among her best work. Three of them bear her Fish stamp, denoting them as pipes that are the best of the best of her work. Indeed, these three bring the total number of uses of the Fish stamp to this date to five. Given that she's been making pipes for more than fifteen years now, that's an average of one every three years. So, three of the five finest pipes she's made, out of a career output that is somewhere north of five hundred pipes, are presented here. Moreover, the other pieces are so good that I couldn't guess which of the seven the Fish pipes were without actually checking shanks. I picked one out of three correctly at my first pass. After careful inspection and discussion with Nanna, I came to understand what makes those three extra special, but the level of quality on display as a whole was so high that the difference between the Fish-grade pieces and non-Fish just wasn't that pronounced to the eye of someone who hadn't actually made the pipes himself, and who therefore didn't know every detail of every step in the process of creating each one.

And more than just a collection of great pipes, these pieces fit together in non-obvious ways. A good friend at the show observed that it was a little odd that she didn't opt to use all silver or all boxwood or all mastodon ivory for the shank treatments. I'm sort of glad she didn't, though. Each of the seven pieces is capable of standing alone and would be an extraordinary example of pipe-making even without being part of the set. But rather than having a fixed shape, she varied; rather than conspicuously tying them together with identical shank treatments, Nanna emphasized variety. And yet there's still coherence there. All together in the box, for reasons that I cannot articulate, the pipes simply seem to belong together.

The box itself is simple, clean, minimalist and beautifully executed. It's mid-century modernism at its finest, emphasizing function over form with unobtrusive elegance, and serving to emphasize its contents over itself. The interior is finished in beautiful, supple white suede, contrastingly pale and pliant, almost vulnerable, compared with the severe jet-black finished hardwood and polished stainless steel hardware that serve as a protective layer to it all. The case as a whole is beautiful in its own right, but what it does most effectively is emphasize the pipes, acting as frame and gallery alike to their art. The case's aesthetics retreat to serve as simultaneous periphery and background both, highlighting and nestling the seven briars, giving them context and presenting them to the viewer without imposing on the experience.

Nanna Ivarsson created something rarely seen in the pipe world with this set, something that is a piece of pipe history. The set should be celebrated (as it was at the Chicago show) and Nanna herself should be proud of having added a remarkable accomplishment all her own to the rarefied reputation of the Ivarsson name.

For additional photos, please visit the listing for the set.


  Sykes Wilford: Founder/President

Posted by sykes at 1:58 PM | Link | 0 comments

10 May 2012

Post Chicago Rundown
 Newsletter Introduction for Thursday, May 10, 2012

       -Posted by ted-

The Chicago show has come and gone. For some it was an opportunity to buy pipes, for others it was an occasion to sell. For many it was a chance to visit with friends we don’t see but once a year. And for it was all of the above - and then some. Fortunately, this year we were wise enough to bring along John, one of our staff photographers (among other duties), and he managed to capture dozens of beautiful pictures of pipes and people alike, many of which you may have already seen posted on our Facebook page, many more of which you’ll find on our blog in the next few days alongside an overview/synopsis/run down of our experience at the show. We’d like to thank the CPCC for putting together another simply tremendous convention, and even despite having just returned, we’re already wishing we were back there all over again. Well, okay, I think we could use a few days off first honestly, but by the end of the month I’m sure we’d be ready to throw down. Nevertheless, we’re certainly looking forward to next year’s festivities.

In the meantime it’s been business as usual at the SPC headquarters. In spite of losing a sizable portion of our total staff to Chicago last week, the gang that remained behind managed to continue to put together a couple stellar updates in our absence. And for those of you who missed seeing an estate offering this last Monday, we’ve made up the difference with a “heftier than usual” spread this afternoon.

Furthermore, we’d like to mention that we’re running a special on Lampe Berger right now; for every purchase of a new lampe we’re throwing in a free bottle of scented oil so you can get started with this beloved product that much easier, or simply add to your existing selection at home for nary a penny. Furthermore, you’ll also find new pipes from such carvers as Ardor, Ser Jacopo, Brebbia, Savinelli, Peterson, Neerup, fresh meerschaums from IMP, and beautiful new works from Tsuge, Japanese carver Smio Satou, and Austrian maker Peter Matzhold.

Ted Swearingen: Vice President, General Manager

Posted by ted at 4:30 PM | Link | 1 comment

Smio Satou & Urushi
 A quick primer on Japanese Lacquer

       -Posted by sykes-

All of Satou's pipes are finished with urushi,a specialized natural Japanese lacquer from the plant (Toxicodendron vernicifluum) of the same name in Japanese. Japanese lacquer-ware is a traditional process used on wood plates, boxes, vases, bowls and the like to create a largely water impermeable coating that nonetheless allows for gas transfer. It's enormously labor intensive. One of Satou's pipes might get six or eight coats of the lacquer, since each coat is extremely thin, and the curing time between coats can range from a day or two in the right sort of humid climate to weeks during a colder, dryer part of the year.

The finish never needs buffing, with the surface becoming more lustrous with use, developing a patina. Indeed, it should never be buffed as that can damage the finish. A dry, or at most a slightly damp, cloth is all that's required to clean it.

Most of Satou's pipes bear clear lacquer, though that process alone does color the pipe very slightly. On occasion, he's employed colored lacquers on special compositions. Such as with the combination of black urushi and gold used to finish the crane depicted to the right and below.


  Sykes Wilford: Founder/President

Posted by sykes at 2:05 PM | Link | 0 comments

07 May 2012

"A Minor Inconvenience and A Major Opus"
 Newsletter Introduction for Monday, May 7, 2012

       -Posted by eric-

Great news, everyone! Due to warnings of inclement weather, Adam, who we expected to return ahead of everyone else today, has had his flight delayed - which means the writing of today's update introduction has fallen on me. Naturally this means you'll have to wait that much longer to hear how everything went at the Chicago show. (Ted, Sykes, Chris, Susan, and John were all scheduled for later flights.) "What's so great about that?", you may be wondering. The answer is... absolutely nothing, in all likelihood. All I can say in my defense is that I thought opening bad news on a positive note might soften the blow a little. (Great news, Dad! Remember how you agreed to let me borrow your fast and rare automobile last night, so that I might impress a girl with its irreplaceable styling and powerful drivetrain?, etcetera)

On the upside, however, we do have quite an update today, with one particularly special item to introduce: The first edition of Jan Andersson's Scandinavian Pipemakers. This extensive and instructive hardcover has been long in the making, and it's easy to see why once you've got your hands on it; in just over three-hundred pages, loaded with full-color photographs, Andersson covers histories and personal anecdotes alike regarding dozens of the most influential artisan pipemakers to come out of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, as well as the Stanwell and Larsen factories, who played their own important roles in what we collectively refer to as the "Danish school".

Joining this first edition of Scandinavian Pipemakers, you'll also find today close-out deals on a selection of IM Corona "Magie" series lighters, the introduction of the Savinelli "Magic Cloth", as well as fresh briars from Chris Askwith, Radice, Sebastien Beo, Tsuge, Savinelli, Peterson, and Vauen - so have a look, and be assured we'll have plenty of news from the Chicago Show when the other half of our staff finally does make it home.


 Eric Squires: Copywriter

Posted by eric at 4:00 PM | Link | 0 comments

03 May 2012

Viva Variety
 Newsletter Introduction for Thursday, April 26, 2012

       -Posted by eric-

With half our staff off at the Chicago show, all is quiet here at the Smokingpipes offices. Well, mostly quiet. Or at least moderately quieter. Pam is constantly running one place or another, getting updates together while no one else is around to handle the half a dozen other things cropping up at any given time, while I'm using Adam's absence to play plenty of the sort of music that used to make Sykes hide behind his door back when I was by his office, and which a summer intern once went so audaciously far as to describe as "not music".

On the other hand, however, I've also began sampling from the numerous Virginias lining the wall of Low Country Pipe and Tobacco, our first-floor brick-and-mortar. This is unusual, given that Virginias have always been Adam's thing, not mine. Indeed I took a rather unusual route in my introduction to pipe tobaccos, beginning with powerful Latakia blends, often supplied by Tom Marsh... and much to the dismay of Alyson and Susan, with whom I shared an office at the time.

Some may interpret that unorthodox and rather brash path as a reflection of my own personality, but it's also certainly something which was sustained by the simple fact that I have a rather insensitive palate. Eventually, desiring something that I wouldn't, shall we say, leave a negative impression upon the interior of my old Lincoln, or my small apartment, I found a few lighter aromatics I could enjoy as well, and after moving my desk into the pipe library with Adam, I've tended to smoke these more than anything. Nonetheless, with little interest in anything with a fruit flavor, I never dabbled in such blends as I did with the powerfully smoky, spicy English concoctions.

So it is that now, more than two years on, and with a sense of flavor at least slightly more attuned than where it began, I find myself beginning to poke about the Virginias, be they red, bright, ribbon, or shag. It goes to show that even those of us who can smoke all day if we please, and who have hundreds of blends available at hand, can become rather fixed in our habits. But it also shows that even those of us of a stubborn nature (as an old mule, I have on good account), and not possessed of a professional wine-taster's palate, can still (at however more slowly and finicky a pace) find and gradually come to appreciate new blends to enjoy.

And speaking of the new, as well as of enjoyment, it's time for today's update, in which you will find everything from Nording briars to a Paolo Becker morta, in a selection featuring such names as Markle, Lindner, Parks, L'Anatra, Wiley, Winslow, Cavicchi, Stanwell, and, of course, the ever-present Savinelli - plus, naturally enough, plenty of estate pipes, too.


 Eric Squires: Copywriter

Posted by eric at 4:30 PM | Link | 1 comment

Sometimes We Really Need a New Pipe

       -Posted by adam-

Sometimes we simply need a new pipe, right? Often, that's what we tell ourselves and our loved ones, but sometimes people really do need new pipes after holding on to loved pieces for longer than they should have been enjoyed. We get a lot of estate pipes shipped to our offices every week, and I get to experience the joy of opening up every single box to see what gems are tucked away for us to, perhaps, purchase. At times, it's a bit puzzling that some folks think we’re like a junk yard, almost like we restore pipes by digging around a box of spare parts of briar to make something useable again. I can understand somebody might think we can Frankenstein some pieces together, but we don't. Often, really bad, broke-down pipes just get thrown into a box.

Occasionally it's downright comical to see what smokers have done to maximize frugality before eventually giving up on a favorite smoker. Over the years we've seen countless burnouts, broken stems, broken tenons, cracked bowls, and repair jobs that would only make Jeff Foxworthy or Larry the Cable guy proud. Instead of sending a pipe off to a reputable repair man to either have a new tenon or stem made, the shank banded (or a dozen other things), some of our dear customers tackle the project like weekend warriors trying to mark items off the "honey-do" list. We've had pipes with buttons snapped (or bitten) off that didn't make their owner want to toss it. Tooth marks all over these stems (and sometimes the shanks with no stem!), are telling signs that some smoker just didn't want to give up. We've even had - I kid you not - pipes that were taped together with Band-Aids when their tenons broke. Wood glue, Gorilla glue (which expands and foams), painter's tape, duct tape, hose clamps, and anything else that can be used to fix a pipe in a pinch have been tried and we’ve got the pipes to prove it.

The rumor goes that military mounts were first invented in the trenches of World War One when a shank broke. The soldier, the story goes, put a cartridge from a rifle over the shank and whittled down the stem to fit, but I don't believe that wire wrapped around the shank will ever catch on, even if it is silver wire. We've even seen a gourd calabash pipe that was missing its cap; its owner nevertheless filled the gourd with tobacco.

Pipes that are burned out horribly cannot be fixed, even with painter’s tape, like you see below. The photos here are simply a small sample of pipes we've had over the years that were unsuccessful repaired. Sometimes, dear reader, you really do need to get a new pipe.

Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector

Posted by adam at 12:30 PM | Link | 0 comments



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