Today we are featuring a pipe maker whose work is most intriguing: Maigurs Knets. Originally from Latvia, Knets moved to the Chicago area to work in the industrial design and hobby industries. Sound familiar? His story draws a parallel to Alex Florov's, and Maigurs was in fact inspired to begin crafting pipes by Alex (the two are acquainted through Chicago's model-making community). And while there aren't really any formal, physical similarities between Knets's pipes and those of Florov (or any other pipe maker for that matter) I do believe they share a kindred artistic temperament, meaning both are hell-bent on lending precision craft and their own distinct creative interpretation to the pipe making discipline.
Instead of responding to pipes from other makers, or even to wood working craft in general as many others do, the heart of Knets's design process draws from his lifelong immersion in the fine arts. His exploration of pipes is a further exploration of other creative interests, most notably the Art Nouveau movement, which is apparent in his more organic freehand shapes and distinguished ferrule and accent treatments. Because he operates well outside the usual influences, his artistic trajectory is unlike that of most in this business, especially in terms of his more abstract pieces, where he is free to go in any direction he pleases, as long as the form holds together aesthetically and the pipe remains a fine smoker (and by all accounts, a Maigurs pipe smokes very well).
Also in today's update we are offering up pipes from another very unique brand, Becker, along with pieces from Chris Askwith, Ashton, L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, Winslow, Cavicchi, Nording, Savinelli, Peterson, Stanwells, and seventy-two estates from around the world.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
The Romantic period of the first half of the 19th century was born in rebellion against the embrace of science, reason, and the advancing Industrial Revolution which defined the Age of Reason by itself embracing flights of dramatic fancy, emotional and philosophical turmoil, and an idealized (often unrealistic) Medievalism. But then the Romanticists of central Europe got all the Sturm und Drang they could handle, via bloody political upheaval. Following this came, unsurprisingly, another art movement (defined less by a fixed time period, and more by a central mood) which brushed all of that aside for a focus on quieter, more sentimental subject matter; the Biedermeier.
Given the introspective nature of this movement, I wasn't entirely surprised to find plenty of pipes popping up in the works of one of its more famous figures, the autodidactic Bavarian artist Carl Spitzweg. He was in many ways a very fitting representation of Biedermeier ideals, with his works eschewing politics or social commentary to concentrate on satirical, yet also at times deeply symbolic, representations of often eccentric individuals (The Bookworm being the most famous), as well as his quiet, almost monastic way of life, keeping to a small garret apartment above Rothenburg's (at the time) quietly decaying medieval architectural grandeur, from which he could look down upon the people of the town in search for inspiration.
Carl Spitzweg: He Comes
Carl Spitzweg: He Comes (detail)
A Hunter Looking to a Young Girl
A Hunter Looking to a Young Girl (detail)
The Cactus Lover
The Cactus Lover (detail)
Suspicious Smoke (detail)
Like the anti-rational tempestuousness of Romanticism, though, the quiet introversion and contentment of the Biedermeier (as particularly expressed in Spitzweg's depictions of guards and soldiers nodding off or knitting at their posts - both completed in 1848 as Europe again stirred towards a restless froth) couldn't last forever - such things never do.
This past weekend I attended the Kansas City Pipe Show, which is put on by the fantastic members of the GKCPC. I always attend pipe shows independently from Smokingpipes.com because I have my own agenda as a pipe carver, but it was great that we were represented by Susan and Ted. Of course, all of us hang out together enjoying conversations and meeting with our customers. I arrived on Friday afternoon and was picked up at the airport, along with two other gentlemen attending the show, by a taxi service the club arranged. When arriving at the new venue, the Double Tree, I knew the show was going to be great! In recent years, the club had a small smoking tent set up for everyone to enjoy their pipes, but the tent this year was really large - more of a pavilion, really! Walking outside of the hotel, everyone was able to smoke under the capacious cover, which was set up on a wooden patio surrounded by tall trees, with woodlands on both sides and a hand-laid stone wall covered in plants at the back. Everyone thought the surrounding trees made the perfect environment to enjoy pipes, drinks, and conversations. Lightning bugs danced like will-o-wisps all around the tent, echoing the flicker of matches and lighters within. Peace and serenity? You betcha!
Many attendees visited various Kansas City barbeque establishments for lunches and dinners. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Kansas City, eat BBQ! The club also organized dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings, which were fantastic. After dinner on Saturday, Fred Hanna gave a very casual, highly entertaining, and thought provoking presentation about the benefits of nicotine. While the presentation went more into detail, many of these points can be found in his latest book "The Perfect Smoke". The show was a success all around, with packed tables full of wonderful offerings, and we want to thank everyone involved in making it possible!
We are happy to introduce a new pipe brand from the United States: J&J Artisan Pipes. Made by John Klose and Jared Coles, two friends from the Central Valley of California, J&J craft lovely variations of Freehand and Classic shapes available in smooth or rusticated finishes. These guys are new to the scene, so please take time to see what they've been up to. Also in today's update you can find pipes from Tsuge, Dunhill, Luciano, Chacom, Johs, Brigham, Savinelli, and Peterson, as well as thirty-six estate pipes and four sizes of Camacho cigars. Take time to relax with a pipe - and if anyone tut-tuts about it, just tell them the benefits (by some research) are scientifically proven!
Aging tobaccos can be quite a toss-up. By chance a perfect example of how this is so recently played out here in our own Smokingpipes pipe library. Adam, you see, had on hand two different samples of the famed Full Virginia Flake - a tin from about 2008, and a likely younger "astronaut pouch" (as I called it) that we had received in a batch of estate pipes. (Gawith didn't start using the pouches until around 2008/2009.) Some weeks ago he opened up the pouched FVF, gorgeously dark and rich, sliced consistently and wafer-thin, to share around. It proved, in all honesty, one of the best smokes I've enjoyed. We made sure to stretch out the small supply, savoring it slowly over the past several weeks; it was that good.
Once it was gone, he then in turn brought in the tin he had been aging at home and just recently unsealed - but there was a catch. He brought it in so we could try it and confirm for him whether it was the tobacco itself that was smoking differently, or just the clay pipe he had initially tried it out with in his workshop. To be perfectly honest, I believe had we tried the tinned sample first, we would have thought it an excellent smoke... but as the matter stood, we had already tasted the perfection of the pouched FVF, and it definitely colored our expectations. There was a touch of tongue-bite early in the bowl, for one thing - certainly not anything unexpected in a Virginia blend. The flavor wasn't as dark and rich, though by any other comparison would have been considered quite savory. The flakes, cut quite thick, took a lot of work to break up into something suitable for the narrower bowl's of our personal pipes - like rubbing out mulch. (Though Adam did duly note that this thicker cut would have made for a very sure-and-steady burn in a larger-bowled briar.)
So what had made the difference? A change in formula for something as iconic as Gawith's FVF didn't seem likely. How could aging tobacco in a tin, wrapped in foil, be that much different from aging it in a foil pouch? My suspicions, at least, settled on the most obvious difference between the two: The cut, while Adam pointed out that the pressing of the cake may have been different, too. The older, thicker-cut sample had clearly aged differently; sugar crystals were very evident, while the "crust" of the flakes was as black as the char of a steak fried in a blazing-hot cast iron skillet. Yet, as noted, despite this "heavier" look of the tinned cut, it was a mellower smoker, and took a bit of time to "Warm up" in the bowl - that is to say, to work its way past the initial touch of tongue-bite and present the blend's full bouquet in its own, softer way.
The lesson of the story? Realistic expectations for one, I suppose - we shouldn't expect every aged sample of a particular tobacco to turn out exactly the same. And for another, that if happen upon one particular pouch or tin that turns out to be simply exquisite, that we should, on one hand, make sure to take measured enjoyment of it while it lasts, and on the other, to see to it that we share it with our fellows while it is there to share.
And with that, it's on to today's update. This Thursday we have for you, as it so happens, a lovely pair of Adam Davidson's own work, as well as the introduction of a new name to Smokingpipes: The boldly unique designs of Czech artisan Michal Novak. Joining them are a fine selection of artisanal pieces by Grechukhin, as well as Giancarlo's Ser Jacopo workshop and the Dorelio's Ardor marque. Following those you'll further find plenty of Nordings, Brebbias, Petersons, Savinellis, and dozens of estates as well. Last but not least, today we also have one last introduction to make: A variety of some of the world's most popular pouch blends, as many of you have requested.
Many of us here at Smokingpipes smoke pipes. Actually, it's a rather small percentage (probably seven out of thirty on a regular basis, with a few others here and there), but this is a far better ratio of pipe smokers to non-pipe smokers than most other companies these days. I’ll wager that forty years ago the percentage of pipe smokers in any given office hovered around 75%, with the remainder being cigarette or cigar smokers. Heck, not only did the number of pipe smokers in an office or factory a hundred years ago probably hover around 90%, but those men probably also rode pipe-smoking horses as well. While sitting at my desk trying to think of another blog post, while enjoying an amusing conversation with Eric about pipe abuse, I discovered the subject matter was right in front of my face - clenched in my teeth, no less.
Hello. I'm Adam, and I smoke my pipe. A lot. At my desk. And I abuse the snot out of it. Looking at my trusty sandblasted Billiard, which I made in 2010, and have since smoked regularly, I find my tale is not unlike those of cobblers with old shoes. While the cobbler would make every effort to craft a fantastic pair of boots for a customer, and also lecture him about keeping his boots clean, polished, and free of dirt and grime - he was likely wearing a pair of his own that were wrinkled, dirty, and hadn’t been polished since he finished making them.
I would hope that the cobbler and I have something in common aside from our inability to properly care for the creations we make for ourselves. Our products hold up. Further, we would both feel a little bit of hypertension and disgust if we saw customers treating our carefully handmade products the way we do, but our excuse is something along the lines of "I can always fix it or make a new one".
Like I said, I smoke the hell out of my pipe. Probably ten times a day at my desk. At the time of this writing there is a foil pouch of Full Virginia Flake that I opened last month and I'm nearly at the bottom of the 250 gram pouch. I'm pretty sure I cleaned my pipe with alcohol after I got back from the Chicago Pipe show, but I haven't since. I do use pipe cleaners to pick up moisture that accumulates in the bottom of the chamber (which is a very small amount), but mainly I feel that a cleaner going down the shank does well enough. I suppose this is somewhat like a person brushing his teeth for ten seconds with only a wet brush. A tiny bit of effort is better than none, eh? Because I am writing pipe descriptions, condition statements, pipe maker biographies, or blogs (not to mention opening estates, checking incoming pipes for quality control or answering emails) I tend to pack my pipe, start smoking the bowl, and eventually need to set it down after a couple minutes. I'll do this many times throughout the day. Eventually I will think all the tobacco has been consumed, will scrape out the dottle with my trusty broken pipe tamper (which also shows signs of significant cake build-up), or sometimes I’ll just knock it out over the ashtray on my desk and blow through the stem to blast out clingy ribbons (which sometime spray all over the window and blinds). This little ritual has built up a cake on the top half of the bowl as thick as a gingersnap.
While I certainly don't recommend "caring" for your pipes in this way, it's simply the way it goes sometimes. I'll probably scrape out the cake pretty soon, which will flake out in large chunks. I'll make a point to use a pipe cleaner (or a dozen) to clean out the shank and stem.
I'll not even offer up a whimper of "please don't judge me". I know this is pipe abuse, but dagum this Billiard is holding up just fine for now.
It's been all protruding dorsal fins and gnashing teeth here in the Grand Strand area the last couple of weeks. You see, there have been no less than five shark bites in our waters over the last two weeks. The first, well okay, it's bound to happen, especially given that South Carolina is most always featured in those lists of "Top Ten Shark Attack Destinations" found around the interwebs, and Horry County sees the bulk of the state's bites, but it is the last four that are the most disconcerting for those of us here that love splashing around in the Atlantic, almost as much as we love pipes. The thing is, these attacks were all reported last week, allegedly, within about a ten minute span! Let me tell you, dear Reader, this does nothing to diminish my already heightened paranoia of all aquatic fauna that bite or sting.
"What does this cruel yet fascinating natural phenomena have to do with pipes," you might ask? Well, obviously I expect that you have some degree of concern for my personal well being, but we also today just so happen to be introducing new pipes by Gabriele Dal Fiume, an Italian carver who draws much of his inspiration from movement in nature, particularly that of fish in the sea (and what more graceful example of ichthyen motion could there be than a shark, at least when it's not biting folks). Gabriele seems particularly fond of experimenting with the Blowfish shape, allowing his own creative whims to embellish the pipe's lines and curves. He also offers up other classic shape interpretations such as the Billiard and the Dublin, each carved both in response to the briar's grain and Gabriele's internal design-compass.
Gabriele's decorative motifs deserve some mention. His logo is in his words "a stylistic rendering of the Nautilus as the yolk of an egg, morfed with the letter 'G.'" His grading system consists of a stylized turtle, ladybird (or ladybug if you're from the American South), and a whale, and many of his stems are adorned with a snail. These offer a light hearted, whimsical appeal to the pipes, but not so much so that it diminishes the overall sense of quality these pieces project, and thankfully, there is nary a shark to be found.
Today the Gulf Stream also brings us pipes by Bruce Weaver, Tsuge, Radice, Castello, Sebastien Beo, Butz-Choquin, Savinelli, Peterson, and Vauen; along with no less than thirty-six English, Danish, and Italian estate pieces; and last but certainly not least, four new cigars from La Riqueza.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
Our tastes change - it's a fact. When I was little, I didn't like macaroni and cheese. As I grew older, I both came to like the concept of "pasta plus cheese", but also eventually found myself hating the boxed stuff with its powder packet, that I thought fine for a period, in favor for the stuff with a squeeze packet. Now as an adult, I loathe both of these and instead choose to make my own using a cream sauce thickened with a roux and comprising of cheddar, gouda, and often crusted with Parmesan breadcrumbs and baked to a golden, crispy crust. The stuff is heavenly, I think, but every once in a while I will be in the grocery store near the boxed varieties and feel a momentary temptation. This is probably rooted in nostalgia, and though experience has found that it tastes good for the first bite or so, distaste quickly sets in once again. For most of us, pipe tobacco goes through similar cycles. We might initially not like anything, but find ourselves drawn to heavily-marketed brands with mystery components before discovering small-batch, artisanal blends comprising of many different varieties and processes that express individual notes within the blend. In this way, it's easy to see a connection between the enjoyment of food and the enjoyment of pipe tobacco.
I was down in our retail store recently chatting with a customer I had helped out with discovering new tobaccos six years ago, and who has been a regular ever since. The gentleman had smoked the same blend for decades, and only decided to try something different back in 2006 after seeing our wall stocked with a couple hundred pipe tobaccos in open jars ripe for the picking. Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake made him toss aside the aromatic blend he had stuck to since typewriters were in every office and disco music was in its prime. Shortly after enjoying his first experiences with this blend, he ventured into other Samuel Gawith offerings before trying McClelland 2015 (a Virginia/Perique). I was very happy he found a new world of tobaccos, but couldn't help but to see a saddened look on his face that he wasted so many years on just one blend that had happened to be commonly available. It’s silly, really, because he enjoyed that tobacco every day. One never knows what is out there unless they search. Over the years he's been faithful to blends from a handful of different companies ranging from a few light aromatics to full English offerings, and found himself often changing what he smoked most frequently. As we reminisced the other day, he was puffing away on a bowl of Peter Stokkebye’s Luxury Bullseye Flake, and remarked that he often cycles between different blends nowadays. I asked about his old tried-and-true favorite, and he remarked that at some point he just stopped possessing a taste for it anymore. He said every once in a while he’ll get a taste for his old companion, but it doesn't seem to last more than one bowl.
Because we've totally updated the photographs for our bulk tobacco offerings, and have something around 900 different tinned and bulk blends combined (closer to 1,400 if you want to count repetition bulk and tin size), there are likely dozens of hidden gems waiting for you to discover - perhaps for the second or third time! I've written before about buying multiple tins so you can try one now and let others age a while. Quite a few change in flavor in as little as six months, while some Virginias, like a good whisky, can take close to a decade to fully mature. One precaution would be to not sell or trade all of you Latakia blends just because you've switched to Virginias (or vice versa). Who knows when your taste will change again, and you'll have a little set aside to pick up where you left off. They change in regards to pipes too, as is evidenced by the estate pipe market. Tonight you can find new offerings from Peter Heeschen, Satou, Benni, Ashton, and other brands, as well as six-dozen estate pipes. Who knows? You might decide to browse over the tobacco selection and pick up a few old friends as well as some new ones just to see if your tastes have changed. You might re-discover a gem or two.
When we think of pipes in art, it's easy for our first thoughts to be of images specifically from Western works. From Adriaen Brouwer's unflinching scenes of early 17th-century hedonism, to the stylized Cubist still-lifes of Juan Gris, to the sentimental illustrations of Norman Rockwell, the tobacco pipe has indeed seen great popularity in the art of Europe and the Americas alike. The Occidental world, however, hardly has had a monopoly on the enjoyment of tobacco - indeed being responsible for its dissemination across the globe. Of course, the people of each culture that adopted the pipe also adapted it to suit their own tastes, their environment, and their supply of tobacco itself.
Much like the older clays of Europe, designed for sparing use of an imported luxury, the traditional Japanese kiseru features a long, slender stem and a small bowl - only even more so. Contrasting those delicate clays, longer metal-stemmed kiseru, slung from one's waist, were (so they say) adopted by those forbidden to bear weapons - both as tools for self-defense and as the accoutrements of gangster culture.
While the gracile proportions of the kiseru, along with various aspects of the traditional techniques and approaches of Japanese art, results in their presence often being rather discrete, you can still certainly find them if you're looking. Take, for example, that most widely-known of all Japanese artists, Katsushika Hokusai. Whether it's his vibrant, dream-like color prints of looming mountains and towering seas, or his haunting renderings of legendary ghosts, demons, and spirits, when people think of "Japanese art", odds are the first images to pop into mind are going to be his works - whether they even know him by name or not.
As it so happens, it didn't take very long to find Hokusai depictions of kiseru in the former and the latter alike, as well as quite a few of a more day-to-day nature:
Mishima Pass in Kai Province
Can you spot the man enjoying his pipe? Have a closer look. His posture was the only thing that gave it away to my eye:
Mishima Pass in Kai Province -detail
And below, a much more obvious one, obviously - and which also happens to be a self-portrait:
Old Fisherman Smoking His Pipe
As was the case in contemporary Europe, Japanese men were not the only ones partial to to the ritual and experience involved of smoking tobacco through a pipe:
Yes, Japanese women also smoked kiseru. As did, apparently, terrible monsters in the guise of Japanese women - all the better to fool their neighbors into believing they were perfectly ordinary subjects of the Emperor. In this case, they’re rokurokubi, creatures whose natural tendency is to delight in terrifying mortals, and whose mystic power (and telltale feature) are necks that magically extend in the night. Some Japanese folklore apparently tells of rokurokubi who do not know they are not human, and whose necks only extend as they sleep, leaving them with disorienting dreams of seeing the world from highly unusal (and highly, well, high) angles. Those of us who’ve underestimated certain blends can no doubt relate to the sensation.
Rick has had Still Searching for Pipe Dreams in the works for some time. He first mentioned the project to me sometime last year and started pulling the pieces together for it in earnest at the beginning of this year. Like its predecessor, In Search of Pipe Dreams, this is a collection of articles, essays and speeches that he's given over the past few years, touching on a variety of topics relating to pipes. I started really getting excited about it in February when Rick started asking for help with artwork (the cover photo and one of the chapter's heading photos came from us) because I knew then that we weren't too far away from having it available.
Twenty-four hours before I left for the Chicago show back at the end of April, an advance copy showed up on my desk. Rick's timing (as I'm sure he knew) could not have been more perfect. I read most of it on various flights up to Chicago and then the balance the evening I arrived. But, once started, I couldn't put it down. It's rare that I find myself utterly unable to put a book down and go to sleep. It's even more rare with non-fiction. This is the first time it's ever happened with a book about pipes.
This is very much one man's journey. Rick does not set out to offer some sort of definitive interpretation of what pipes mean or what it means to collect pipes. He writes about what these things mean to him and what the friendships that he's derived from these things mean to him. It is an intensely personal collection of stories.
And that's exactly what makes Rick's books so special. His spectacular enthusiasm is infectious. He's witty, opinionated and his breezy style is incredibly readable without seeming insubstantial. This is a man who loves pipes, pipe makers, pipe tobacco and everything that goes with this hobby of ours. All of that makes the book utterly compelling. It's impossible to read Still Searching for Pipe Dreams and not be swept along by Rick's passionate, optimistic narrative and share in his love for pipes.
Over the last couple of months we’ve been working on a very special project. And the rather cleverly obtuse code-name for this mystery enterprise? PROJECT: B.U.L.K. P.H.O.T.O.G.R.A.P.H.Y. (We thought it read more impressively when written as if an acronym.) Inspired by a combination of customer requests and the fact that, like most every other online retailer that sells bulk tobacco, we’ve been using the same dozen or so images to represent the vast sundry of loose leaf blends that we actually offer, we’ve decided to undertake the lengthy and daunting task of individually shooting and processing the entire catalog of our bulk tobacco selection. I’m sure it’s been just a blast for our photographers John and Chris. But seriously, they’ve done an excellent job capturing each blend, and as an added bonus, they’ve even thrown in a close-up shot of each offering so that you can really see the different components and get a feel for the cut. They’ve been working at it so madly trying to get everything squared away that they’re days ahead of schedule - even while simultaneously keeping up with our regular updates as well. All these new images should be available for you tonight. Thanks, photo guys!
Now, in case you missed last Thursday’s newsletter, we’ve just introduced to SPC a new brand of bulk-only pipe tobacco called Newminster. Produced in Denmark for Villiger, we’ve got 22 new tobacco blends available from the marque that range from the sticky-sweet Very Cherry, to the complex Superior Navy Flake, to the full-bodied and savory English Orient. If you’re looking to explore something new and fresh, here’s your chance.
And lest I forget to mention it, we’ve got a couple different Father’s Day promotions that we’re currently running up through Sunday, June 17th. We’re offering a Father’s Day Gift Set that includes a rather neat looking miniature golf bag cigar carrying case (it’s got a small humidification device inside), a couple cigars, and a cigar cutter. All this is yours for only $19.99. Additionally, we’ve reintroduced the Principal Pipe Pack that can be bought along with a new or estate pipe for the low, low price of $5.00. With it you'll find one bundle each of B. J. Long’s standard, extra-fluffy, and bristled pipe cleaners, as well as a folding pipe stand, a Czech-style pipe tool, and a handy-dandy adjustable chamber-reamer.
New pipes from Former and Pete Prevost hit the site with the update, as well as new works from Dunhill, Peterson, Savinelli, Luciano, PS Studio, Chacom, Johs, Tsuge, and Brigham. Fairly eclectic, and quite a variety, wouldn’t you say?
Vladimir Grechukhin is, in my opinion, the least appreciated of the widely known Russian Masters, and I view this as tragic.
Many know Viktor Yashtylov for his pipes of unusual shapes, proportions, and dimensions and his craggy sandblast, Sergey Ailarov for his intensified and rethought versions of classic shapes, especially the calabash, Michail Revyagin's double chamber pipes of truly unusual and phenomenal design, and Boris Starkov for his asymmetrical creations and minimalistic beauty.
So, what is Vladimir Grechukhin known for?
First, a little background. Grechukhin started making pipes in the 1970s after training with one of the earliest Russian masters: Alexei Fyodorov. After spending only three years with Fyodorov, Alexei publicly stated that Grechukhin had surpassed the master. Now, Grechukhin has taken the place of Fyodorov as the revered master of Russian pipes. Interestingly, he has said that he prefers to get his inspiration for his work not from others pipes, but rather from cars and other technological beauties.
So, why is it that, despite all of this, Grechukhin is less known than the other Russian carvers, at least outside of the circles of those who collect Russian pipes with a passion? I cannot give an honest answer, but I can speculate. His work is not nearly as flashy as most of the others that I mentioned above. This is certainly not to say that the others are superficial (far from it), but Grechukhin's work is characterized by skillful simplicity.
To try to bring a bit more attention to this under-appreciated master, let me show you a pipe of his that I consider myself lucky to own.
This little beauty, just a tad over four inches long, seems to defy classification. It is clearly a hybrid between a Dublin and a horn, but also contains hints of a calabash shape – not the gourd calabash, but the briar rendition. My mind constantly evokes the word “mushroom” every time I hold it.
As someone with rich Russian roots, I cannot help but believe that this defiance of classic categorization is at the very heart of what it means to be Russian: we are said to be gloomy (have you seen the weather in Russia?), yet we are so often joyful; we are thought of as bleak and bland, but we have produced masterful writers, musicians, and artists.
The pipe itself thrusts forward defiantly, with bursts of beautiful grain accompanying this momentum. The chamber, however, is placed asymmetrically towards the rear. This placement helps to temper the forward push of the rest of the pipe, adding a sense of balance that clearly required a masterful hand to accomplish. Additionally, it gives opportunity for a stunning amount of birdseye to piece through on the rim.
The pipe is squat in proportions, but momentous nonetheless. In a single piece, Grechukhin succeeds in capturing the Russian experience and producing a piece that helps to explain his contributions to the pipe field: he is continuously pushing forward and defying simple categorization, yet still is able to produce the classically beautiful and, just as importantly, functional pipe.
The birth of the "Pesaro" school was something of a renaissance for Italian pipe design, born, so the story goes, out of reaction to the rise of the Danish pipe during the 1960s, and the contrasting decline of attention to the Italian tradition. And just as with the works of the historical Renaissance period, that birth was affected by the meeting of well-heeled, established patrons with a skilled and dedicated artisan. More specifically, when a group of successful, patriotically-minded Italian pipemen, represented by one Terenzio Cecchini, found a younger countryman, student of fine arts, and autodidactic pipemaker all rolled into one, in the form of Giancarlo Guidi.
From this meeting was born Mastro de Paja, and from Mastro de Paja Giancarlo both developed and honed his own pipemaking skills and approach to design, and in turn helped shape those of the numerous Italian artisans whom he worked with. From here what we now call the Pesaro style would spread, as these various artisans set out independently to create such marques of their own as L'Anatra, Il Ceppo, and Don Carlos. And today Giancarlo himself is of course best known by the unmistakable briars of his own workshop - Ser Jacopo.
Just as the boy is said to be the father of the man, the nature of the seed from which the Pesaro school has grown is evident to this day in the fruits it bears - Giancarlo's original background was in art, and artful flourish, posture, and form remains the very essence of the "Pesaro look". And you'd be hard-pressed to find somewhere where this was more self-evident than in Ser Jacopo's own Picta lines, wherein Giancarlo has interpreted the designs of pipes found the artworks of some of his favorite masters.
The Picta series-of-series is an expansive and still-expanding project, to this date covering designs from the works of Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Rene' Magritte, and, most recently, Joan Miro. And it has no doubt been a challenging, albeit also satisfying, one as well. After all, some of these works, Magritte's in particular, contain some of the most undoubtedly iconic images of a pipe. As much as the aforementioned's Treachery of Images may rebuke us, when we see it we think, "That is what a pipe should look like." Then there's also the challenge of wrestling with some of the master artist's own styles.
As you can see, they range from the clearly rendered:
Head of a Peasant with Pipe, Vincent Van Gogh
...to the abstractly obscured:
Catalan Peasant with a Guitar, Joan Miro
But no matter the challenges created by the whims of those artist-artisans who came before him, Giancarlo has nonetheless seen to it that interpretations pleasing to the pipeman are produced:
Rene’ Magritte may indeed have never made an actual pipe, but, fortunately for us, Giancarlo Guidi certainly does.
I returned home from Italy last week to considerable bustle and goings-on at the office. We've had a number of major projects wrap up recently: you can now review all non-pipe items on the website (since we sell the pipes individually, we still haven't figured out how to make useful pipe reviews work), you can now sign up to be notified of arriving shipments of tobaccos for items that are out of stock and, most recently, we're in the process of re-photographing every single bulk tobacco on the website, taking higher quality shots of each and every blend to help give you a better sense of what you're buying. The first of those are rolling out with the brand new Danish-made Newminster line of bulk tobaccos by Villiger. Over the next week, all of the other bulks will get their new photographs and the whole process should be complete by next Thursday.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. We received a ton of useful suggestions in the customer survey from a few months ago and we've been working to implement lots of them as we are able. I won't go into any detail yet, but there are a number of other new features that y'all asked for that we're putting the finishing touches on over the next few weeks and will be rolling out as we get them finished and polished up.
In addition to the Newminster bulk tobaccos on offer, we have another very special announcement. Some of you may remember that Yuki Tokutomi (Hiro's daughter) made pipes before the birth of her son Rinto back in 2005 and 2006. Well, both she and her mother, Kazue, are now making pipes under the Tokutomi Pipe Co. brand together. Focusing on classic Danish-inspired shapes, the brand offers up some truly delightful, beautifully crafted pipes. We only have a fairly small selection on hand to show you at the present, so if one catches your interest, don't hesitate.
I wanted to talk a little bit about pipe making in future blogs because, as Sykes points out, we each have something unique to contribute. And as the only pipemaker here at Smokingpipes.com, I wager there’s at least a little bit of pipe making knowledge rattling around in my cranium like a moth in a mayonnaise jar, so here I’ll try to share some of what I've learned and observed over the years. When we had a blog meeting a number of weeks ago between John, Sykes, Eric, Ted, and me, a lot of great ideas were pitched about and a lot of them were geared around pipe making and/or materials. I figure the best place to start was with a material I love for both its working qualities and its overall appearance: bamboo.
Bamboo is a pipe making ingredient that that gets talked about a lot. Just like the piece of briar the bamboo is attached to, some people either can be drawn to a pipe with bamboo and some might wish it wasn't there at all. In future posts, I'll talk more about techniques related to working with bamboo and other types of bamboo, but in this first installment I’ll focus on black bamboo.
There’s over 1,000 species of bamboo in the world, most of which have been used to produce everyday items for thousands of years. However, it wasn't until the early 20th-century rolled around that pipes began to feature the exotic material. Without a doubt, there were pipes made from bamboo well before this, but our focus here is using the roots as an accent for modern briar pipes.
I can’t say for sure which varieties of bamboo I use in my craft because I really have no idea. It’s harvested for me so I get specifically what I want: thin pieces of bamboo with close "knuckles" and a surface that is either chocolate brown or mottled. The mottled pieces are especially beautiful, I think. Some of my favorite bamboo is no larger in diameter than a pencil, but this isn't practical for most pipe shapes outside of Cuttys or other designs that have small bowls or shanks that would be equally lovely if made from briar.
Many people seem to think that bamboo used for pipe is what grows above ground, but 99% of the bamboo used in this focus is actually its root. When one sees how bamboo grows, it's easy to understand how it can quickly become such a pest if not desired in a garden. I was at an undisclosed location a year ago (not trespassing) and stumbled into a small bamboo patch. The plants towered above my head and the ground was covered with partially-exposed pieces of the root. As bamboo grows, these roots shoot out in all directions like trees do, but they are all relatively close to the surface. It's these roots that absorb water and sprout to make new plants. I cut a small piece out with a key to use on a pipe for myself. It needed to be boiled and dried before use, but will end up being pretty much the same color it is in the ground. Black bamboo comes from a different species than this one, but it should be noted that many people think pipe makers stain bamboo this color. They don't. Stain simply won't take to the root like it will briar. Experiments have been done and they usually look ugly, if I do say so myself. It's best to leave it how nature makes it. Bamboo is the only material pipe makers use in pure form and try their darndest not to even scratch it. Often times, a pipe and stem are designed around the piece of bamboo.
The root is thoroughly dried before it gets to the pipemaker. It’s cut, drilled to 3/16" on both sides for a double-mortise, and then drilled through the middle with a 5/32" drill bit. Further facing, capping, fitting a stem with 3/16" stainless steel tubing (as well as the bowl itself) can make for a rather time-consuming process. (a process I’ll share in another blog post). While "white" bamboo is the most common (indeed, I've only seen the "black" variety in use for the last decade), "white" bamboo will absorb moisture for a drier smoke and color over the years like a meerschaum, but usually ends up a warm yellow-orange with possible darker spots around its knuckles. Black bamboo will not color noticeably on the outside, but still does absorb moisture internally. While this darker variety is often harder than the lighter, the brown skin is very thin. Brushing it with a file or coarse sandpaper will leave a patch of cream-colored material below.
Some pipe makers decide to leave the little bumps (which sprout to absorb water) simply sanded, while others like to drill them out and put little dots of epoxy. The epoxy dots can look like beautiful little light-catching jewels, but further serve a purpose to seal the bamboo so moisture will not leak out. I do it both ways, depending on the piece or the customer’s desires.
If care is taken while working with this dark variety, the results can be beautiful. I love working with this stuff!
Today's update is a packed one indeed, featuring not one but two Father's Day special offerings, good up through the 17th of the month, plus the introduction of the works of another young pipemaking artisan to the Smokingpipes roster.
Simeon Turner is part of a fresh younger generation of North American pipemakers that have been garnering attention in recent years, introducing work ranging from traditionalist classics to inventive freehands - or as appears to be the case with Simeon himself, designs which freely incorporate elements of both. He'd already garnered quite a bit of noteworthiness by the time he and Sykes first got to meet face-to-face at the Chicago Show, having won the "Most Improved Pipe Maker" award of the West Coast Pipe Show in November of 2011. That comes as little surprise really, as he's displayed an eagerness for the constructive criticism, and self-criticism, that is essential for even the most talented artisan to ever fully develop their potential. Obviously, we feel that development is coming along quite nicely.
In other news, from today up through the 17th, we'll be running not one, but two special deals: The Father's Day Cigar Promo, and the Father's Day Pipe Promo. The first goes like this: With any purchase of the Golf Bag Humidor we're offering with this update, we'll include for you, free, two sample cigars chosen by us at random, plus a complementary cigar cutter. For the second deal, the Pipe Promo, we're re-introducing our special deal on the Principal Pipe Pack; as before, with any purchase of any pipe, be it new or estate, briar, morta, or meerschaum, you'll be given the option of including in your order the Principal Pipe Pack, featuring a Czech pipe tool, reamer, folding pipe stand, and one pack each of soft, bristled, and extra-fluffy pipe cleaners - all at a discounted price of just five bucks even.
Of course along with these special deals and the introduction of a new artisan, we still have plenty to roll out as well. In today's muster you'll also find: Fresh pieces from Luigi Radice and sons, Castello,and Sebastien Beo, as well as Savinelli, Peterson, Tsuge, and Vauen; estates hailing from Scandinavia and Italy alike; and lastly, the introduction to our site of several cigars by Punch.
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