"..in the still-life you have a tactile, I might almost say a manual space.. This answered to the hankering I have always had to touch things and not merely see them.. In tactile space you measure the distance separating you from the object, whereas in visual space you measure the distance separating things from each other. This is what led me, long ago, from landscape to still-life"
Thus explained the French artist Georges Braque, who along with Pablo Picasso founded the Cubist style of the early twentieth century. Though Picasso is more of a household name today (at least outside of France), Braque, if anything, concentrated in a more focused manner upon Cubism in his work, while Picasso was more inclined towards dallying with or incorporating other stylistic elements and approaches. Indeed, the very recorded origins of the term "Cubism", via French art critic Louis Vauxcelles, lay in the describing of Braque's works as being "full of little cubes". This isn't a case of one artist gaining credit over another however - Braques and Picasso in fact worked side-by-side, in a very close artistic friendship, developing Cubism, with one result being that the artworks of each from part of this formative period could easily be passed off to most of us as having been the work of the other.
As suggested by the opening quote to this entry, Braque possessed a great affection for the still life on account of its intimate qualities, as well as its innate suitability to experimentation with perspective. Given both his appreciation of that relationship between art and viewer that it allowed, and the time-period in which Georges lived and worked, it should come as little surprise to we aficionados of tobacciana that the pipe made quite a few appearances within his compositions:
Still Life with Jugs and Pipe, 1906 (One of Braque's pre-Cubist, Fauvist works.)
Part of my job here at Smokingpipes is to inspect new pipes as they arrive at our offices. Given the huge numbers that come through, others help me with this process on factory pipes, but I still closely inspect all of our artisan pieces. Every once in a while we get a pipe that has a small defect the carver might have missed. When this happens, we let them know, and I've yet to have any maker get upset when a pipe needs to be returned. The artisan's name is stamped on the pipe, and therefore has as much vested interest as we at SPC do in making sure you, the customer, receive a product of the highest quality.
Occasionally during this process, I do offer praise and critique, pipe maker-to-pipe maker. Every single artist we carry has learned from someone else's options for color, construction, proportion, and craftsmanship, either directly or through visual understanding via the internet or pipe shows. Jeff Gracik (of J.Alan pipes) is a driving force in American pipe making not only because he makes great pipes, but he is also willing to help other makers perfect their craft. Jeff learned from other makers, and in turn is just as willing to share his own acquired knowledge of what makes a good pipe great. US pipe makers are very fortunate to have so many people in the business we can consider friends and mentors, who are not only willing to honestly critique, but tell us how to improve our craft. The result? We have a lot of pipes that are well-made, beautiful, and that a pipeman (or pipewoman) can purchase with confidence.
To this note, Artisan carvers Michael Parks and Chris Askwith each have lovely, finely constructed, charming pieces available tonight. You will definitely want to see what these guys have! Other wares, from Radice, Tsuge, Castello, Peterson, Savinelli, Butz-Choquin, and Vauen, round out the new briars, while thirty-six estates from Italy and England are waiting to be re-discovered. For cigar lovers, Romeo y Julieta have new sizes and blends. Least we forget, Peterson not only has two new aromatic tobacco offerings, but the pipe bags and pouches to fill them with!
My wife is from Russia, and I got the chance to read her "Traveling to the United States" handbook when we first met in 2008. I found it entertaining how accurately it illustrated the American inclination for chit-chat. Frankly, we're nosy.
"Americans can be very friendly, but are generally very curious about other people's affairs. When you first meet an American, they may ignore you, but if you find yourself in a cab, on a plane, or sitting with them for any extended period of time, they will start asking you a lot of personal questions."
"What is your name?" "Where are you from?" "What kind of work do you do?" "How long are you visiting?" "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" "Where did you go to school?" "Do you like it here?" "What do you do after work?" "Tell me more about your job."
To us, this seems like perfectly normal, innocent conversation. To others around the globe, we can't mind our own business. I have noticed that people frequently ask about my profession, but they rarely stay engaged for the answer.
We pipemakers sometimes have difficulty relating our craft. We make pipes, sure, but this process can be described in a variety of ways. While some folks are generally curious, the majority of people ask just to ask. I find it difficult to explain what briar is, how stems are made, how pipes are priced, or describe different shapes and creativity, without noticing that the person who asked 1) doesn't really care. 2) can't follow what I'm describing. Fortunately, there are those rare encounters...
When I was at the dentist office a few weeks ago, my dentist had to grind down part of a filling that was too high. A really nice guy, he asked me about my personal life to make me more comfortable. "Well....I work for Smokingpipes.com, an internet source for pipes, tobaccos, and cigars. I also make pipes at my workshop at home." (He got a more direct answer than some people. If a nosy neighbors asks me what I do, and I get a bad vibe, I just tell them I make dollhouse furniture. No more questions after that.) My dentist is a cool guy, but I could tell he was struggling when I went more in-depth. Looking over at a poster, I mentioned that briar is like a tooth, only upside down. He became more interested.
"On a tooth, the outside is the hardest, nicest area. Picture a briar cutter taking a bowling-ball-sized thing out of the ground and cutting it in half. The outside is good, but the inside is typically not used for pipes. When I get a block of wood, it has plateau - the bark - on it, and when I start carving, at times this bark can be deep. Sometimes it goes away, and sometimes it shows up on the sides of the pipe. Think of these sandpits as 'cavities'. Some pipe makers and factories fill these, just like you filled my tooth. Heck, a lot of us even use scrapers and little rotary tools like you do to shape some areas of the pipe."
As I was showing him pictures of blocks and finished pieces, he seemed excited, and even brought in another dentist to see them. "Teeth have growth rings and 'grain' just like those blocks have!" he said. I found that really interesting; he was teaching me about teeth as much as I was teaching him about briar. I enjoyed explaining my profession to him, in a back-and-forth conversation. The only disappointment: I learned he did not smoke a pipe.
To quote one of the coolest and most unusual comments I've ever heard: "Man, those pipes are so cool. If this was my own private practice, I would totally trade you dental work for one of those pipes!"
If you've been keeping up with our Newsletter and blog lately, you may have noticed that a conversation seems to have developed, broadly speaking, about what it means to be a pipe smoker amongst the greater non-pipe smoking public. A common thread here, and in a few comments on this blog and our Facebook page by you guys, is that we are often a lonely bunch in this hobby. Sure, we can congregate and conspire on the various internet forums, but I know many of you out there are forced to puff alone - a practice not without contemplative merit, but also one that foregoes much of the shared interaction one gets when sitting with another smoker, such as the casual sharing of tobaccos (be they an old favorite, or a new discovery), or discussions of a pipe's grain, shape, finish, and heft, or even the inevitable meandering conversation unrelated to our mutually shared interest.
So my thinking is this: What if we were to become more proactive in pulling others into our hobby? In my experience, even the most ardent anti-smokers become curious when they see me with a pipe. Of course, these are not the people we would focus on trying to win over, though you can at least delight in their expressions when telling him/her that, at least in some studies, pipe smokers have been shown to live longer. Pick a person or persons, preferably already a smoker of some other sort, whose company you enjoy and bring them into our relatively arcane little corner of the greater tobacco world. We have a wonderfully rich and complex pastime that most no one knows about; send 'em down the rabbit hole. And don't limit this persuasive exercise to men-- the world could use more female pipe smokers.
The most obvious place to start is with the pipe itself. Show off your collection, and talk about what makes each special, be it grain, shape, finish, or heft and balance. Bring 'em to our site, and "ooh" and "ahh" over the wonderfully creative interpretations of "pipe" from Larrysson and the fine craftsmanship of Tonni Nielsen, both of whom, by the way, have pipes set to go up with today's update (and try not to give over to suspicions that I, as the SPC Marketing Guy, am slyly enlisting you pro bono to help us sell some pipes). Give 'em a history lesson in our Estate section, where today we've just added to our selection seventy-two more proudly restored pieces from all over the map. Also browse our smoking-hot new selection of pieces from Ashton, L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, and Cavicchi. Are they in the mood to buy? Perhaps your prospective partner in briar may wish to start with one of the quality wallet-friendly pipes we're offering from Nording, Savinelli, Peterson, and Stanwell.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
If you’ve been smoking pipes, buying pipes, collecting pipes, or even just looking at pipes over the last ten years, chances are you’re already pretty familiar with the work of American carver Michael Lindner. You may even be familiar with his story. Way back in 2000, Michael got his hands on a lathe in order to ease the restoring and selling of estate pipes through The Piperack, the online pipe retailer he’d established only three years prior. Fast forward a dozen years and Michael is a staple in the pipe world, a fixture at the Chicagoland and Richmond pipes shows, and a well-known, respected pipe maker.
I thought it would be a lot of fun to pick Michael’s brain under the pretense of sharing it with our readers. Thankfully he consented and allowed me to do so!
I think most people figure that you got into pipe making on account of having already established The Pipe Rack; pipe retailing and repairs go hand in hand. So... how did you get into the business of selling pipes? Was it just a matter of having been a collector with too many pipes?
Well, I think the opportunity just kind of presented itself to me. I already was in business for myself; I had owned a janitorial and maintenance company for a number of years and I saw an opportunity to make enough money to make my pipe collecting hobby self-sustaining. Ebay had been around for only a couple years, and I would often buy a group of pipes there, clean them up, keep one or two and then sell off the rest. I quickly realized that there was a solid business plan there if done in volume, and done correctly. At the time, honestly there weren't many "professional" websites for pipes, running it as a legitimate business. So I developed the model. Prior to The Piperack, there weren't any websites doing weekly updates, or restoring their pipes so that they showed up ready to pack and light, or taking credit cards, or giving detailed descriptions, or applying a points rating system to give people an idea of condition. There was PCCA, but they were mainly unsmoked Castellos with the occasional estate pipe collection. So it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of this new selling platform (the internet) and applying a proper business framework to it.
Do you still actively collect pipes? What's your prized pipe?
Actually, no not really. I have a motley bunch of pipes, some were gifts, some were the first pipes I smoked. I have a lot of pipes that I couldn't sell on The Piperack - you know, Dunhills with cracked bowls and that kind of thing. They're great smokers, by the way. And of course I have some of my own pipes. I suppose my most prized pipe would be a 1948 patent Sasieni Four Dot that was one of the first pipes I ever had. But really, once you start selling them and especially start making them, the idea of a favorite pipe just kind of goes away. ALL the pipes I make are my favorite pipe, for that day. Some I like more than others, but they are all special to me.
How many pipes did you have to make before you were satisfied that it was something you should keep doing? At what point did you think "Yeah, this is what I'm supposed to be doing?"
Pipe making came very intuitively to me; after the first pipe I made, I decided to pursue it professionally. I mean, a week after I made my first pipe, I had stamps for the nomenclature. It may seem odd or overly confident to the casual observer, but those who know me well weren't surprised at all. I have a tendency to immerse myself in something and, being a perfectionist, really work toward honing my craft. But knowing the path and walking the path are two different things, and it did take me a little while to get my production to the point where I could say I was happy with it. I think the first pipe I sold was my 15th pipe, or something like that. But frankly looking back on these early pieces (I still have pipe 1, 3, 5, 6, 8 and a few others) I can see that I was not as polished as I would have liked. Certainly though, within six months or so I had really polished things up, and within a year I had developed the basic Lindner pipe you see today with regard to all the details (button, tenon, fit and finish, et cetera). Of course I am still learning and will be for the rest of my career but it's all about fine-tuning at this point, and occasionally exploring new techniques.
You're as seriously adept as any American carver when it comes to producing Danish influenced designs, but you seem to create plenty of classic, English inspired shapes as well. Is that a conscious effort? What kind of shaping preferences do you have as a maker?
In my opinion, the classics are really where you develop your skill as a pipe maker, because the rules for each shape are so rigid. Once you learn the shapes, you can start experimenting with them, which leads to developing your own style as well as crossover into new shape interpretations. And the lessons you learn from the classics (proportion, cut, balance, proper engineering, et cetera) are necessary in order to create art shapes.
Besides, I love the classics. I started my collection with Sasienis, and over the years have had literally thousands of Dunhills, Barlings, Ashtons, Sasienis, and so on, through my hands. Classics are what I smoke today. I have an immense appreciation and respect for what the French and English contributed to pipe design, and I try to emulate that today in the pipes I make (albeit at a much higher level with regard to engineering and fit & finish).
So, yes, it's a conscious effort on my part. There are collectors who only go after my art shapes, and there are those who only pursue my classics. By doing both styles well, I feel I can serve the needs and desires of more people. Not to mention that making a billiard versus making a blowfish use different parts of your brain; by making both classics and art shapes, I never get bored with what I'm doing and it helps me stay balanced. I wouldn't have it any other way.
What's been the most surprising aspect of being a professional pipe maker? What's made you reel back and think "this never would have happened if I were still doing something else"?
Hmm, that's really a tough question. I suppose the realization that, and this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, that I'm a "world famous artist". When I was younger, I was quite active [in] painting and drawing and wanted to someday make my living as an artist. And while I consider myself more of an artisan craftsman rather than an artist, it did kind of hit me a few years ago that things I created are in collections around the world, are cherished (I hope) by those who own them and use them, and that in a way, my childhood dream did come true. I really don't think that would have happened any other way; I wasn't that good of a painter or illustrator. It's very humbling to think about how fortunate I am to be able to do what I love and to affect so many people.
Today is about to become so much more awesome than you expected it to be. Sure, we've got the usual, variegated update of new pipes, of which there are 121 today, actually. You'll find new pipes from Dunhill, as well as Peterson, Savinelli, Brigham, Johs, Chacom and Luciano. And we've got beautiful new pipes from Peter Heeschen, too. But this isn't the "awesome" news to which I've referred. Neither is it the fact that we've got a full three-dozen freshly restored estate pipes available with today's update. Nor is it that we've handy new pipe stands to present (you'll find them in our accessories section), along with cigars from Ashton, although this is pretty sweet news.
What's most awesome about today is that as you're reading this newsletter we're quietly discounting every estate pipe on our site by no less than 20%. And every estate pipe on Smokingpipes.com will remain cut by 20% until next Thursday's afternoon update, provided that there are any estate pipes left at that point.
So if you're still reading this you're either not at all interested in bargain savings or it just hasn't clicked with you yet that YOU NEED TO GET MOVING!
Adam and Ted have of late taken up golfing, or, more accurately, re-taken up golfing. While I've been privy to a number of conversations involving the development of proper technique, these taking place but a few feet from my desk, they haven't yet attempted to drag me out onto the courses, under the hot Southern summer sun, in person. This may be because they sense a disinterest on my part towards plaid pants, heat-stroke, and attempts to accurately propel small objects long distances in the most self-defeating manner possible, or it may simply be out of consideration of my conspicuously Northern European complexion and coloring, and not all just because they think I'm an incorrigible [explicative]. While they're off to the courses in the evenings and weekends, however, I've found a new pass time of my own, one much more agreeable to my borderline-albinism. Namely, I've been taking pictures that prominently feature backdrops consisting of the local firmament. The South Carolina shoreline, I must say, produces some amazing skies.
It began with one of the oak trees beside our own offices, but I soon moved on to contrasting "technological monuments of the mundane" against some of the more imaginative cloud formations I might spot. While taking photos of lamp posts in a supermarket parking lot in broad daylight might make me appear a touch, well, "touched in the head" to some, it eventually occurred to me that, in this day and age, taking careful photographs of power transformers, various aerials, or the like might rouse far less innocent suspicions.
But then an elegant solution came to mind - I would simply smoke my pipe while I stole my largely impromptu shots. Why? Because a pipe is an inherently innocent-looking object; an effective inducer of antigens against suspicious thoughts within the minds of others, as it was. I ask you, as an experiment, to try and picture in your head a suspicious-looking pipe smoker. What do you get?
An absent-minded intellectual, a stoic man of the sea, an affectionate grandfather, a rustic with a sure-footed sense of where he stands in the world-yes, these all come quite easily. But anyone suspicious? Hardly. The closest I could come to it was a man who appeared as if he himself strongly suspected something (in which case a Calabash comes highly recommended for best effect). A Google Image search for "suspicious smoker" turns up, by and large, men with suits and cigarettes (including one of Oscar Wilde), and, oddly enough, a number of barbeque accessories, along with a scattering of paparazzi shots of celebrities sneaking a smoke on the sly. For "suspicious pipe smoker" specifically, the only images with all three words involved in its result feature Lady Gaga, whose career has largely been built upon trying to appear conspicuously suspect, and in this case I think the affected accoutrement rather backfires, aesthetically speaking. Roughly a year ago I had it from an ex-girlfriend with a wealthy, fashionista female acquaintance that briars had become vogue amongst certain circles, so, really, seeing one in this particular musician's hands comes off as more a revival of an artifact from the age of the Flappers. The dress made of raw steak was much more effective in rousing notice, or at least in my case, appetite.
And upon the end of that rather improbable spiel (in the sense that I would assume you'd have thought it rather improbable to find yourself soon reading such a thing when you got up this morning), we're off to today's update. For this Thursday you'll find some very fine artisanal pieces indeed, from Tokutomi, Heding, J&J, Ser Jacopo, Il Duca, and Ardor, followed by fresh meerschaums by IMP, and a broad selection of briars by Brebbia, Neerup, Savinelli, and of, course Peterson - oh, and don't forget the estates of course; a full seventy-two in total.
I found one of the letters I received particularly touching and I wanted to share it with all of you:
Dear Mr. Wilford:
I read your 16 July Newsletter with a great deal of interest and empathy.
I've been a pipe smoker since before your arbitrarily -- I hope -- selected year of 1960. I agree that smoking arrangements were much different then. It was certainly not unusual for many friends to gather in a room, or pub, all contentedly packing pipes. Pipe tobacco was cheap, and so were the pipes. That's the good part. The not-so-good part was that the tobacco wasn't very good (but what did we know?), but it and a lot of no-name pipes were easily bought at any drug store.
I live on a small island off the west coast of Canada, population around 3,500. As far as I know, there is only one other pipe smoker living here. We are acquainted only through our pipes, occasionally bumping into each other at public gatherings for mutual defence against the disdainful sneers of the most holy non-smokers who quite ignorantly, in my view, see tobacco use as an evil exceeded only by the Holocaust. In the '60s, sports car drivers used to wave at each other because they felt they were in a rather special group; nowadays it's pipes smokers who give each other a nod to acknowledge our collective wisdom.
Yet, in so many ways, a piper's life is so much better now. We have sites like yours to educate even those of us in the most remote areas about quality pipes and tobaccos. As a result, over the last 20 years, I have never enjoyed my pipe smoking more.
I have to giggle about the cost, however, particularly when I pick up a tin of what used to be 50-cent tobacco, and remind myself that I just dropped nearly $20 for it.
Thanks again for your newsletter. I fully appreciate your attitude. . .
A few days ago, my wife and I were sitting outside of a restaurant in downtown Wilmington, NC just having finished our dinner. As we enjoyed that sense of ease and contentment that follows a properly lovely meal (which it most certainly had been), we each turned to our own favorite gustatory epilogues, she slowly sipping a glass of wine as I puffed drowsily on a pipe. (Both quite old-fashioned, I suppose, but therefore all the more perfect in a city with a historic district like Wilmington’s.) A few minutes later, a friend of ours, a local contractor who had been doing work in our neighborhood, came up to say hello. First thing out of his mouth: "I saw the pipe from across the street and figured it had to be you guys." Frankly, my reaction to this is a bit mixed. Are pipes really so rare that, even in a metro area of 300,000, there are so few pipe smokers who might enjoy a pipe on a Friday evening downtown that I'm instantly recognizable for doing so? That's kind of sad, really. On the other hand, a few more years of this and maybe I'll become a Wilmington institution of sorts-- that one fellow that smokes a pipe almost everywhere he goes.
Still, I think it must have been really nice to have been a pipe smoker in 1960, even if it would have negated my anachronistic path towards becoming a noted local eccentric. Other pipe smokers abounded. Men walked down the street with their pipes completely inconspicuously. Yet on the other hand, as pipe smokers today, we have the finest selection of the best made pipes and the widest selection of pipe tobaccos of any era ever. It's surprising that while pipe smoking has fallen by 90% compared to generations past, we've simultaneously enjoyed this remarkable profusion of pipe makers and tobacco blenders. Frankly, I don't think I'd give up the remarkable choices that we have as pipe smokers today just to live in a world where it was popular to smoke pipes. Of course, the best option would be for both more widespread enjoyment and appreciation for pipe smoking, and the sort of breadth of selection and quality we have today.
While a certain amount of individual notoriety is never a bad thing, this is obviously a city (or perhaps a world) in need of more pipe smokers. I dream of a day when I walk down Front Street in Wilmington to see three or four people leisurely enjoying a pipe on each block. And while I would no longer claim the apparently singular status that my pipe seems to buy me (for good or ill) at the present, I would surely feel in good company as I strolled through town.
And to that end, you'll find a bevy of briars for your perusal this lovely Monday afternoon. My friend Gregor Lobnik from Slovenia is back with a great little batch of his impressive pipes. He's joined by Radice, Castello, Savinelli Peterson, a great batch of estates, and so much more!
We'd talked and talked about doing something cigar related and fun in Low Country Pipe & Cigar (our brick & mortar retail store located just beneath the main office) but just couldn’t seem to prop up the right idea. Then it dawned on Bill, our store manager, that we ought to do a Brickhouse cigar event, seeing as how SPC and LCP&C inhabits a one hundred-plus-year old brick building (that was, at one point, among other things, someone's house).
We set a date, put the word out to our customers, and a few weeks later David Ludwig from Brickhouse showed up in a fancy suit with a trunkful of cigars. The turnout was shockingly fantastic, and thanks to the samples David was generous enough to pass out I think a lot of guys got turned on to Brickhouse that wouldn’t have otherwise. In fact, I know it. One of our regular store customers known for only smoking Rocky Patels bought a box of Brickhouse sticks. Adam tried one for the first time in years and raved about it. Even Susan enjoyed puffing on a Brickhouse stogie. Before long the store was loaded with folks and packed with smoke. Ah yes; it was a good time. And we should definitely do something like this again soon.
Some time back I purchased a pipe and accessories kit for a good friend of mine. We've been co-conspirators in monkey business of all sorts since our college days, and when I took up a position here at the Smoking Pipes offices, he expressed an interest in picking up a pipe. I'm tempted to say "I owe him one," but in truth it's more like a bunch, and as such I felt obliged to make sure my buddy got started the right way, with a finely crafted and good-looking smoker, proper tools and cleaners, and a tin of Frog Morton (whose mellow nature I believe is perfect for beginners, allowing them to experience the blend's complexities without tongue bite).
By now, dear Reader, you might think you know where this post is going; Something something, something about the goodness of giving, about sharing a passion with a close friend, etcetera. Nope.
My intentions were pure, born of camaraderie. I had visions of the two of us smoking and drinking scotch together on the front porch, weaving plans for global domination or and the like. But the intricacies of human nature, oh those intricacies, meant that the whole ordeal was tinged with greed and jealousy.
By all accounts, I'm a good person. I know this about myself, because people tell me this, and because I feed the semi-feral kittens behind our customer service annex every day. I enjoy being polite to others and being helpful. But apparently "giving"... I'm not so good at this.
In retrospect, I know where the whole endeavor went awry. While trying to find the perfect pipe for my friend, I picked one that I really liked. I don't know how everyone else does this, but my method for choosing a briar piece is simple: browse around until one "sings" to me. What I bought him was a red-finished Silk Cut Radice Billiard, a one of Luigi's more English-looking pieces, albeit with a slightly pronounced heel that spoke of its Italian origins. And it was beautiful, more beautiful than any pipe I personally owned at that time. It was a beautiful soprano of a pipe. There was lust in my heart for this object that I was set to give away. I'll confess I was tempted more than once about not giving it to him, about picking up a lesser piece for my cohort and keeping that hot little sandblasted number for my own collection.
Of course, I did hand over the pipe in the end, but to this day, every time I see it, a part of me still wishes I hadn't - and I in turn feel shame at this weakness of character. I told him about my inner turmoil, as we are both often intrigued by the font of comedy that is the irrational human spirit. My buddy was, indeed, thoroughly amused by my conflicted soul.
Keep the above anecdote in mind when scouring today's pipes by Alex Florov, Grechukhin, Scott Klein, Ashton, L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, Winslow, Cavicchi, Erik Nording, Savenelli, Peterson, Stanwell, along with the seventy-two estate pipes. Don't feel so bad if you're tempted to reserve the singers for yourself, and pick the ones you only regular-like for your friends - they're all kind of jerks anyway.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
A pair of ceremonial calumets, as depicted by George Catlin, mid-19th century.
The calumet, a catch-all term for the original tobacco pipe indigenous to North America, was an object of singular significance. Though often referred to simply as "peace pipes", there were in fact ceremonial calumets specifically created and adorned for numerous roles, including the declaration or prosecution of war.
Though a good pipe, being an object of some considerable labor investment (especially when shaped only by non-ferrous hand tools) would be a natural choice for the ceremonial occasions of tobacco use, it's also important to note that the tobaccos available were much harsher than those products of careful selective breeding that we enjoy today - not to mention that one common leaf, Nicotiana rustica, contained three times the nicotine as our strongest popular variations of Nicotiana tabacum. Furthermore, they were often mixed with other dried herbs as well. Tobacco was a commodity to be used only sparingly and on special occasions - "padded out" in mixture and puffed on through long-stemmed pipes which would help tame the blend. (Similarly, the Tainos of Cuba, the first smokers met by Europeans, rationed their own tobaccos by rolling them into cigars with a plantain or palm leaf wrapping.)
Access to the very pipestone itself (otherwise known as catlinite, after George Catlin) from which the calumet was most commonly carved was highly valued as well, to the point that amongst the peoples who inhabited areas where pipestone supplies originated, quarries were considered neutral ground, thus assuring that even within the context of oft-perpetual intertribal conflict, a supply would be secure. Given the importance of smoking the calumet in sealing bargains or, most famously, coming to terms of peace, this can be interpreted as quite a pragmatic measure - I would hazard a guess that a violation of this tradition would go over about as well as the killing of an emissary in the Occidental or Oriental spheres; a profane transgression against a trust both idealized as sacred and highly functional, which could see an entire kingdom, or even an empire, justly ground to dust in retribution. In short, the pipe of autochthonic North American societies was of such importance to politics not only within the tribe, but also in effecting relations (peaceful or otherwise) amongst other tribes, that the act of sacrilege in denying its availability or desecrating its symbolism was a line none could cross without expecting to earn a dire stigma, as well as consequences. When a pipe was puffed on in ceremony, the smoke was seen as carrying the participants' prayers, oaths, pacts, or decisions to the attention of the Creator-deity or other important and potent spirits - effectively serving to accomplish what we would now call "putting it in writing". In this light the pipes of a tribal leader or "medicine society" were both religious artifacts and, in and of themselves, akin to the highly-respected scribes who would follow lords, kings, and other powerful figures in European, Mediterranean, and Asian societies previous to the widespread use of the printing press.
The red pipestone bowl of Sauk leader Black Hawk’s personal calumet, preserved at the Black Hawk State Historic Site, Illinois.
Given the high esteem in which the indigenous pipe and its array of ceremonial and symbolic roles were held, it should come as little surprise that its storage and transportation required means fitting to its station. As with the pipe itself, the pipe-bag was an artifact of no little labor, and subject of much care and attention; Native-made traditional pipe and tobacco bags, still produced to this day, are on par with modern artisan-made briars in terms of the skill and cost involved, typically featuring extensive symbolic decoration laid out in careful beadwork, embroidery, and/or quillwork.
Northern Plains pipe bag and Sioux pipe bag, both circa 1870, from the Pierre L. Fabre collection.
While public-domain images of modern calumets are hard to come by, in searching for pictures for this entry I did come across a Flickr set of some of the best examples of Native pipe-bowl art, the Hopewell-period Tremper Mound trove discovered in Ohio just shy of a century ago: The Hopewell Effigy Pipes
I walked into Ted's office a couple weeks ago and asked him a very direct question: "Do you play golf?" His answer was "no" followed by "but I would like to." Although, perhaps, this might be a silly question to some, it’s not a absurd conversation between a couple of guys living in the golf capital of the world: Myrtle Beach, SC. We might not have the most famous courses (St. Andrews kind of has that one cornered), or a number of the PGA courses people play, but Myrtle Beach has 100 golf courses sprawling surrounding areas. Indeed, the courses are really beautiful, and players can enjoy rounds of golf most of the year. When I moved here from Indiana back in 2006, I brought my clubs with me, but later sold them after seeing nothing but one-hundred dollar-plus green fees at a few places. I couldn't afford that. Fast-forward six years, and I’ve learned about local discounts starting at as little as $15 for a round after 5:00 pm. With so many courses competing for attention, it seems like Ted and I will take up golfing again. I've only played one round in six years, and Ted's only played one in thirteen. It’s an enjoyable past time, for sure, but we needed to get some clubs first. And not wanting to pay three hundred dollars or more for a set we figured (just like pipes) the "estate" market was the place to look.
I took some time this past weekend to hunt around for used clubs for Ted and myself; pawn shops, golf shops, second-hand stores, and flea markets. The flea market proved to be the best. I picked up two complete sets of irons for a steal, purchased a used Odyssey putter (retail around $150) for $20, and enough gently-used golf balls so as to not worry when Ted and I inevitably hook and slice them in the adjacent woods, tall grass, or likely still, some unfortunate retiree’s window.
When you think about it, our golfing beginning isn't much different than one’s starting out in the enjoyable hobby of pipe smoking. My first pipes were purchased in antique shops. Later, nice estates were purchased online. Buying a used set of Ping or Wilson irons to see how well you like the brand isn't terribly dissimilar from purchasing an estate Dunhill, or any other brand for that matter - and the cost is about the same. When you look at the cost of drivers, most of them are on par (excuse me) with the price of a new pipe. A brand new driver will run you somewhere between $100 and $500, while those same gently-used drivers will run you roughly 50% of retail used (look familiar?). And just like pipes, they’ll have scratches and dings on ‘em. Obviously, broken clubs are no-good, and cracked clubs simply can't be saved. However, if we can get past the minor blemishes and give them a good cleaning, golf clubs and smoking pipes can be enjoyed for years. Just remember that if you ever want to try out a product with a big-name brand, there’s a chance you can find one pre-owned before throwing money at something new; just in case you’d like to see if it offers up what you are looking for: a better experience with your hobby.
Tonight we’ve available three dozen estate pipes from a lot of well-known brands, while we also have new pieces from Gabriele Dal Fiume, Tsuge, Dunhill, Luciano, Johs, Brigham, Savinelli, and Peterson. Additionally, we’d like to mention that our product alert system is now synchronized with our bulk tobacco offerings. No longer will we remove a bulk pipe tobacco selection from the site simply because we’re short of it. It now remains listed as ‘temporarily out of stock’ alongside a notification option. Nifty, right?
The Fourth of July is fast approaching, and for we Americans that generally means the anticipation for an evening of pyrotechnics, be they professionally choreographed or impromptu and amateur. About a decade ago, back in New Jersey, it meant my friends and me lurking through a field at night, "reenacting" the Revolutionary War by sneaking up upon and firing bottle rockets at each other through steel pipe "muskets" (with the occasional mortar for good measure). I can't say I'm "much older and wiser now" - if we weren't scattered hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of miles apart, I wouldn't say no to Andrew, Tim, and Raji showing up on my doorstep with innocent expressions, brown paper bags full of low-yield explosives, and an offer to spend the evening engaging in a little creative anachronism.
Nonetheless, this year I will be enjoying the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence in a much quieter way. Not that I'm skipping the fireworks, mind you, just that the rockets will be launched by professionals, and bursting in air - as opposed to by friends trying to land them wherever they suspected my own last salvo came from while simultaneously fighting to stifle their position-betraying laughter.
But what to smoke? Overwhelmingly, in the usual course of affairs I stick to my pipe. The Fourth calls for something a bit brasher and bolder, though, I should think, and Adam did recently introduce me to some really sound choices from the shop's walk-in humidor (the Hoyo de Monterrey "En Cedros" proving a particularly fast favorite); so a cigar it shall be. It's unlikely that I'll be alone in that, as even with all the anti-smoking nannying and scold-duggery of today you'll still tend to find plenty of men (and sometimes a few women) enjoying cigars freely and openly on at least this one special day a year. The fact that everyone else who will see them doing so has likewise come out to experience a night of big, bright, smoky explosions would have something to do with this, I suspect.
And besides, if I do get an urge to send off a few rockets of my own in reminiscence after all, it's a lot easier to light a fuse with the tip of a Toro than it is to poke it down the bowl of a Billiard.
And with that, it's on to this Monday's offerings. We have for a fine little batch of artisanal beauties by Lasse Skovgaard; great selections of the briar by the Radice, Castello, and Sebastien Beo; dozens of fresh Savinellis, Peterson, and Vauens to choose from; lots of estates, as usual; the introduction of the Brazil Moreninha Formasa coffee blend (as in actual coffee, mind you, not coffee-flavored tobacco); and, lastly, and quite fittingly, three new cigar selections by H. Upmann, Gran Habano, and La Aroma.
Last night I dug out my LP copy of Kansas’ 1977 multi-platinum record “Point of Know Return”, poured myself a rocks glass worth of bourbon, lit up a pipe, and sat down to relax in front of the record player. Being something of an audiophile (in addition to a pipe and tobacco enthusiast), I find it easy to lose hours in contemplative silence soaking up recorded music in the same way many ensconce in front of the television (or computer) or behind a book (or tablet). Naturally, time spent this way lends itself handsomely to enjoying a carefully prepared pipe as accompaniment.
Often I’ll read through a record’s liner notes while listening to it, and as I savored “Know Return" I was doing just this when I noticed a detail of the sleeve artwork (Or maybe it was the gatefold; did I mention the bourbon?) that I really hadn’t ever picked up on before. Roughly, the subject image is an ancient journal upon a wooden desk that presents in cursive text the lyrics of each song and its supplemental recording information. Nearby the book is a surveyor’s sketch of each of the band members, an obscured hand drawn map and other indiscernible documents, along with an old bronze sextant, an ashtray, and most importantly, a churchwarden pipe of briar make.
It’s funny how a detail, intended largely as background aesthetic or atmosphere, like a pipe seems to jump out at us pipe guys. In the movies or on TV, in magazines or advertisements, in old photos; if we spot a pipe, especially in the jaw of a celebrity, you can bet that it will get mentioned or posted up in every pipe forum and message board on the internet. Folks on the Pipesmagazine.com forum are still discussing the finer points of the Hatfield pipe Kevin Costner smoked in a made-for-TV movie special a month ago. Pipe smokers suddenly want that pipe. And now pipe makers are making it. I suppose this is because when we see a smoking pipe, we see a representation of a personal enjoyment we have ourselves experienced, a part of our own lifestyle, and cannot help but take stock of what such a beauty may offer even in its most prosaic forms or in the commonest of settings. Or maybe it just agitates our acquisition disorder. Both, perhaps? Who knows?
Either way we’ve got a lot of extraordinary pipes to show tonight, none of which could be described as commonplace. Nay, each piece is worth careful consideration. From the Formers and Heeschens to the Ardors, Petersons, Savinellis, and IMPs, we’ve got plenty of gorgeous new works available this evening. Ah yes, and let’s not forget a whopping 72 freshly restored estate pipes. Enjoy!
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