Back in August, Ted and I went on the annual pipe pilgrimage to visit lots of Danish pipe makers, plus the Mac Baren tobacco factory. As always, it was a bit of a whirlwind. Ten pipe makers and a tobacco factory were crammed into just five full days on the ground. Even so, we were able to spend quite a bit of time with each of them and were able to chat on camera with a few, including Peter Heding, our interview victim in today's video.
Peter was about as excited about being interviewed on camera as I would have been (as in, not terribly excited), but being the incredibly nice, accommodating guy that he is, made this video possible. So, thank you Peter, as well as thanks to Ted Swearingen for taking the video and Alyson Wilford for editing it.
With an update falling on the last day of 2012, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a remarkable year in pipes and pipe tobacco. Smokingpipes.com has grown considerably. There are many people I have to thank for that: pipe makers and tobacco manufacturers for doing a great job, the extraordinary bunch of people that I'm lucky enough to call my colleagues here, and, most of all, you, our customers. It is your passion and love for the simple pleasure of pipe smoking that makes what we do possible. And it's that passion that you have that makes it so very much fun to do what we do. I thank you.
2012 was also qualitatively different in the pipe world. I've thought, or perhaps just hoped, for the past couple of years that we were enjoying the beginnings of a pipe renaissance. This is one of those quiet hopes that one has; a hope that one only tentatively utters for fear that it's not really true. Pipe smoking, and accordingly the pipe and pipe tobacco industries, experienced steady annual decline for fifty-odd years between about 1960 and 2010. I'm far from certain that decline has actually reversed, but both anecdotal and government statistical evidence seems to suggest that it has in the past year or two. This is the first time that I have actually felt comfortable indicating in print what I've long hoped, and more lately have come to believe, was the case: we are indeed embarking on a new age of pipe smoking, one with a modestly growing hobby and new enthusiasm from an increasing number of pipe aficionados in their twenties and thirties.
I've worked around pipes for my entire adult life, starting in college with a part-time job at a local tobacconist and, in 2000, founding Smokingpipes.com. Smokingpipes.com has never had a year that it grew by less than 12%, but for many years I believe that it grew in spite of, rather than because of, the growth (or lack thereof) in pipe smoking. This year, Smokingpipes.com sold 25% more pipes and pipe tobacco than it did last year. It may be that we’re something of a bellwether for the pipe business in the United States, but it is far from a complete picture.
In the past couple of years, however, anecdotal evidence for resurgence in the cultural appeal of enjoying a good pipe seems pretty compelling. More movies than ever seem to be sympathetically portraying pipe smokers: gone, it seems, are the days that the only pipe smoking characters in movies were over-the-top German- or British-accented villains or pretentious fops. (Curiously, this comes at a time when cigarette-smoking is far less prevalent in film.) Pipes also seem to be more visible in popular, mainstream culture, whether as a prop in Delta Airline's most recent airplane safety video or as a topic for discussion on NPR, where my good friend Kevin Godbee was interviewed two weeks ago on the subject of pipes. Pipes are ubiquitous in a way that they just were not a few years ago. I remember participating in 'pipe sighting' threads on alt.smokers.pipes in the early 2000s where someone pointed out a pipe or pipe smoking in a movie that they'd recently seen. They might still exist, but I haven't seen a thread like this in some time, probably because the surfeit of material renders pointing it out redundant.
More concretely, pipe sales to the United States are up for a number of very large pipe manufacturers. While I'm not sufficiently intimately tied to every manufacturer to have a complete picture of the market, what I hear from those I know well is immensely encouraging. The same is true for the tobacco manufacturers I've discussed the matter with. There's also been an explosion in artisan pipes made in the United States in the past few years. Government statistics, which are admittedly difficult to assess for a host of reasons, seem to suggest that pipe and pipe tobacco imports, domestic manufacturing and sales are up. Those figures are far from definitive (they often include data on things unrelated to our hobby and miss parts of the data that do relate to our hobby), but they are suggestive.
Taken collectively, I cannot help but conclude that pipe smoking is indeed enjoying a renaissance. And I find this immensely heartening. Of course, I have a serious financial stake in that; the well-being of my family, along with the families of the forty-odd people that work here, is dependent on there being people enthusiastic about pipes. It's more than that, though. I love pipes and pipe tobacco. I've spent most of my waking time (and a good portion of my sleeping time, I suspect) thinking about pipes and pipe tobacco for more than thirteen years now and I've never tired of it and want to continue to do so for the rest of my life. But that's not really it either. The world needs more pipe smokers. We are a calm, contemplative, thoughtful, moderate bunch as a rule, generous of spirit and civil in our discourse. Perhaps pipe smoking attracts people like this. Or perhaps pipe smoking engenders this to a degree, through its calming repetitions and attentive rituals. Either way, I think the world would indeed be a better place if there were more pipe smokers about to take an active role in it all.
So, again, I thank you for your passion for our shared hobby. I thank you for your support of Smokingpipes.com all of these years. And, especially, I thank you for making me proud to be a pipe smoker and be able to count myself among an extraordinary community of people from all walks of life who share the passion for enjoying a quality briar and a good blend.
Last midnight I was grocery shopping -- like many bachelors I tend to put off buying food only when there is no more food at home, and even then often only after it's been about sixteen hours since I last ate anything. (Married men live longer for a reason, you know, and I doubt it's on account of reduced stress.) So there I am, walking over towards the dairy section from the meat section (I don't believe in food pyramids -- it's man against animal in my book, winner take all) when my phone rang. There aren't a lot of people who have my number, and even fewer who would be calling at such an hour, so I had a pretty good idea who it would be even before I managed to shuffle the stack of beef I was carrying over to my other hand and fish my phone out of my jacket pocket.
Sure enough, it was none other than my nearest and dearest friend, full of seasonal cheer -- the 80-proof variety, by my initial assessment. He was indeed clearly very pleased about something, and so I asked him, "Andrew, are you drunk?" "Yes!" he replied, "But not very. About medium-drunk. I have different levels." Though I suspected that the level he had actually attained was affecting his calibration, I knew we weren't going to get anywhere if I insisted on standing there holding steaks and arguing about it. I doubt very much of any importance at all has ever been accomplished by debating in front of an audience of sausages, even when everyone involved was sober.
Over the next twenty minutes or so, my friend explained his reason for calling in considerable, if not particularly continuous detail: The Christmas package I had sent him had arrived; A silver-banded bent Billiard, a tin of Old Dark Fired, several Nicaraguan puros, an old vinyl recording of Winston Churchill's speeches, and a large, hardcover monograph consisting exclusively of photos of Cold War-era nuclear test explosions. They say the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but in my experience encouraging eccentricities works better (assuming you have an eccentric to work with, of course), and likewise does contributing to the enjoyment of habits frowned upon by those who would set themselves up as the nannies of grown men.
They will be thankful, and if you happen to write about tobacciana for a living, there's a good chance they'll manifest their thankfulness in a manner that will provide you with plenty of material. Andrew was, naturally, smoking his new pipe and new tobacco when he called. His girlfriend called out from the background to suggest that if they had guests, they were unlikely to care for its particular fragrance. Andrew in turn good-naturedly suggested that in such a case, they would be her guests, not his.
Of the handful of us that couldn't "squiggle" out of coming into the office today about a third are sick. This means that on the one hand it's fairly quiet around here, and on the other there's a lot of sneezing, sniffling, coughing, hacking, and a whole host of other such harsh, unpleasantly corporeal cacophonies echoing off the walls of our otherwise rather sadly vacant building. Merry Christmas!
It's certainly your prerogative to wonder why we're bothering with all this today. It's Christmas Eve, and for the very few of whom might even escape for long enough to browse through our updated offering this afternoon, you're likely all too aware of the fact that very little will be shipped today and nothing will be delivered tomorrow. Which, at least for me, makes online shopping completely annoying and nearly an unreasonable thing to do. But there is a reason, dear readers. There is a very good reason to shop with us today.
Today we're proud to launch the latest masterpiece from G. L. Pease's Old London Series. Meet "Navigator", a pressed Virginia-Kentucky blend married with just a hint of rum (this might remind you of his last creation, "Sextant" which also featured a Latakia component). We usually sell the heck out of a new Pease blend, which points back to my earlier statement about today being just as good as any to shop from Smokingpipes.com.
Recently, I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine. It just so happens he's a new pipe convert from the church of cigarettes. Mid conversation he asked me a question as old as the pipe itself... "How do you pack your pipe?" A few brief seconds of silence passed as I prepared to answer him with the cliché answer of, "I take three pinches... (yadda yadda yadda)". But suddenly, something clicked inside of me, and I stopped. I realized that wasn't necessarily true. I pack it based on the tobacco I'm smoking.
For example, when I'm smoking Mac Baren's Vanilla Cream flake cut, I break up the flake, and load on-end three or four longer slivers of flake in the bottom of the pipe (in order to create a pocket of air). I then begin loading the bits from largest to smallest, which gives me some less dense pieces on top. I find this makes lighting much easier and helps prevent charring the rim of my pipe. Another example I can think of comes from Ted, here at Smokingpipes.com. Mac Baren's Navy Mixture is his poison, and he loads it with great care. At the risk of sounding overly pretentious, Ted loads Navy Mixture with the attention a painter gives his painting or a sculptor his sculpture. He takes his time, enjoys the process, and sorts out pieces of tobaccos making certain to place a healthy dose of black Cavendish at the top of the bowl. This, as you can imagine, makes the initial light, sweet and quite pleasant.
The point here is... tobacco, just like the pipe you smoke it in, is made to be enjoyed the way you want to enjoy it. Yes, there are some basic packing "rules", but all-in-all it's a matter of preference. Play around with the tobacco and realize there's more to smoking a pipe than simply creating smoke.
Speaking of pipes... In today's update, you'll see a selection of pipes that's sure to please any pipe smoker. We have pipes ranging from Savinelli, Peterson, Neerup, and Brebbia, all the way to Eltang and Bruce Weaver. So, happy hunting all.
I can barely wait for it to arrive; I feel like I did when I was a kid and was waiting for something special to come in the mail. It's not a Christmas or birthday present feeling, because I know what it is -- and, in any case, I paid for it myself. Still, there's that excitement of anticipation.
There is something disturbing about a pipe rack with an empty space.
Recognizing that feeling made me wonder just exactly why a new pipe would engender such an emotion in me. I don't get particularly excited about a new shirt or even a set of new tools (whereas the guy who lives down the road gets really excited about car parts... strange). I'm not a collector, in the sense that I buy pipes just to have them. Any pipe that comes into my hands has to work for a living; I smoke pipes, their purpose is for me to smoke them. Not that there's anything wrong with collecting pipes: I certainly understand the collecting impulse, as my books on the history of printing will show. Well, and my collection of books on the Blackfeet Indians. And World War One. But aside from that, I'm not a collector.
Oh, sure, I have The List and I have The Fund. The List, of course, details the pipes I'd like to get, written on slips of paper tacked to my office bulletin board. It's constantly updated, depending upon what I've seen in catalogues or online lately, but it's not as if I'm obsessive. I mean, I haven't made a spreadsheet or anything. (I've tried, but I just can't seem to get the hang of the software...) And The Fund is just a little account that I set up at the credit union. Not that it ever gets the chance to grow very much.
Nor does the excitement just involve the newness of a new pipe. Like many pipe smokers, I have my favorites which, if truth be told, are probably over-smoked to the detriment of their proper cleaning. I also tend to fall into types of pipes: bent apples and Peterson full-bents seem to predominate, with dublins having some representation. On the other hand, I just can't seem to get the hang of billiards and I'm nervous around the Tyrolean style for some reason. This doesn't even get into the area of what I call "art" pipes -- some of which, frankly, look to me like the results of a lathe accident.
Oh, sure, I can hear the snorts of derision from here. Yes, I know that my taste in pipes is not exactly the same as anyone else's, but I don't expect anyone else's to be like mine. A good thing, too. If everyone wanted exactly the same type of pipe, we'd lose the variety we have to choose from. Not to mention the mad stampede that would occur every time a new shipment came into a pipe shop or a new listing online.
Perhaps that's somewhere near the center of what we do as pipe-smokers: That idiosyncratic part of us that can look at an entire wall filled with pipes on display, only to have one -- the one! -- leap out and speak to us. Form, size, materials, grain, details by the dozen all go into making up the uniqueness of each and every pipe. It's difficult to describe to anyone who doesn't have that odd bent of a pipe smoker. I mean, have you ever even tried to explain a P-lip to someone who doesn't smoke a pipe? Impossible.
The uniqueness of individual pipes comes, of course, from the fact that they're all hand made. Even the most mundane pipe requires someone to stand at a grinding and polishing machine, working to get the closest they can to the pattern. At their best, pipes show an astounding amount of imagination and style. Anyone who has spent any time at all around pipes will instantly recognize the personality of a pipe that marks its nationality, the school, even the individual that made it. As for the art pipes (look, I'm sorry about the "lathe accident" crack, okay?), they're at a level of sculpture.
Not to mention the exotic materials. Try to describe a calabash to someone, for example. "Well, you take a gourd... no a special species of gourd, it comes from Africa, originally... and you have to form it while it grows. Then, it gets dried, and then you make this cup out of a special type of rock that's only found in specific parts of Turkey and, oh, never mind."
After all that attempt at explanation, I still can't describe why I'm excited about the new pipe. Since the mailman has already come and gone this afternoon, I'll have to wait another day, at least. Which is okay. I still have my old Neerup close at hand, which I haven't smoked in, oh, at least two hours.
Bryan Johnson is a freelance writer who hopes to write, someday, the definitive paper on Blackfeet tobacco culture. The screensaver on his computer is a slideshow of pipe photographs, "captured" from online pipe catalogues. Sad, really.
As a new pipe smoker, I am, of course, seeing pipes everywhere. Stephen Colbert featured one on his show a few weeks ago. And I just went to the movies this weekend, and it seemed like nearly everyone was puffing on a pipe for most of the first act (Okay, so the movie was Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey so that might not be quite as surprising as could be).
However, obvious pipe sightings aside, what I am surprised to notice is how pipes are interwoven with the Christmas season. They pop up everywhere, from classic cartoon characters to more modern movies and music to decorations and iconic imagery.
Of course, our modern image of Santa starts with the jolly ole saint downing a bottle of Coca Cola, but the fabled illustrator and chronicler of Americana Norman Rockwell also pictured him with a pipe nestled in his hand or clenched between his droll little mouth drawn up like the a bow.
That could be attributed to the 18th Century poem, T'was the Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas. Clement Clarke Moore (and/or Major Henry Livingston Jr.) had Father Christmas smoking a fine blend of tobacco (Surely, Kris Kringle would only smoke the best) as he filled those stockings hung by the chimney.
"The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath."
Images of the ancient, decidedly trimmer Father Christmas often show him with a graceful Churchwarden or Oom Paul styled pipes, but most are modern renderings which may not reflect what the early followers of Christmas envisioned for the gift bearer. However, they are there.
Santa isn't the only bearer of Christmas magic shown with a pipe. Frosty the Snowman, of song and animation has a Corncob pipe clenched under his button nose and two-eyes made of coal.
And its not only legends and cartoons that we see pipes interlaced with the holidays. The classic Crooner Bing Crosby was a well-known pipe enthusiast, and he and his pipes are forever intertwined with Christmas thanks to his movies White Christmas and Holiday Inn, as well as his many Christmas Albums with the singer posing with a briar pipe on the cover.
Other Christmas movies we watch every year with our family and friends also have pipes show up in one way or another. Jimmy Stewart has one in a wonderful life, and good guy lawyer in charge of proving Santa's identity, Fred Gailey (John Payne) breaks out the pipe and tobacco during a visit to his girlfriend's apartment. There are probably several more I could reference. I seem to recall the Ghost of Christmas Present smoking on a Churchwarden, but who knows which version of A Christmas Carol that was.
Anyway, the point is that I never really noticed how much pipe smoking has been woven into the holiday season. It is subtle, and really doesn't have a message of its own, like the Christmas tree, the manger, menorah an aluminum pole or Yule log, but it is part of the universal ideal of celebration, feasting and enjoying the better things in life...indeed to celebrate life itself that the Holiday Season has come to represent.
Happy Holidays from everyone here at Smokingpipes.com.
Goats and Bollywood - that's how my weekend went. Two friends of mine, who happen to be roommates, double-booked the house forcing an odd juxtaposition of overlapping theme parties. Things like this happen when most everyone you know works in higher education.
The goat roast was the first event, and involved cooking the kid, along with a leg of deer, in a pit dug just for the occasion. You'd think that this would be the perfect setting for pipe smoking, but no, that came later once the Bollywood-style tunes began to fill the living room and someone said there would be dancing - strike that, they said I would be dancing. So I and a few other refugees snuck outside to sample a couple varieties of Oriental blends. I've nothing against Bollywood and I truly enjoy sharing culture, but when it comes to coerced dancing - I'd rather just share some tobacco. Many of you, I suspect, share these sentiments.
Enough about the weekend; you all are here for an update on our latest tobacciana offerings. We've got five new ceramic ashtrays of various shapes going up today, along with three new cigar packs and a special 2013 W.O. Larson Limited Edition blend. There are also a handful of exquisite new pipes from Alex Florov, shapely new pieces from Michal Novak, and two hundred and thirty-six other new and estate pipes, each just hoping you'll pick them as your dance partner, or failing that, at least choose their company to share good smoke with.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
For many of us, this time of year is all about change. Unless you happen to live in sunny San Diego, California, where the weather man has the easiest job in the world ("On this day it shall be sunny, as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow!"), weather is going to jump up and down, be wet and cold, and have us searching for storms, school closings, and our packed-away winter gear. [Editor's note: It is raining in San Diego today, Adam.] This time of year is more about packing and unpacking seasonal things, be they in a box or tobacco chamber.
Just last week, my wife and I were putting up our Christmas tree and she wanted me to keep the large, multicolored ceramic lights, ones I've known since I was a little frightened boy refusing to sit on Santa's lap, hidden away. Being the, hopefully, good husband that I aspire to be, I pretty much closed my eyes, and my mouth, and nodded in agreement when she wanted teeny-tiny white lights on the tree and completely new ornaments with a gold and red theme. The kid in me comes out at Christmas, a time where I try to recreate my childhood memories in visual detail. Admittedly, I lacked enthusiasm when the antique ornaments were gazing sadly up at me from their retro plastic boxes as fresh, new sparkly decorations made their debut on the sprawling, freshly-slaughtered Fraser Fir in our living room. But I have to admit it, folks; the end result of my wife's efforts is a really beautiful sight to behold, so I'm surprisingly happy with the change.
Not only does the scent of pine now in my living room tickle the nose at home, but at work the wafting of rich Latakia tobaccos coming from Eric and Ted as the weather cools has started to whet my whistle for a favored English blend - Fred Hanna's Wilderness. Just this morning Ted cracked open one of his tins (while noting how much he prefers English blends this time of year) and offered me some. The fragrant notes of this blend seem to come alive when the temperature drops in nature, so what better time to pop a tin?
Tonight you can stay cozy in your home and browse the new wares of fresh briars. Paolo Becker, Former, Ashton, Randy Wiley, Winslow, and Claudio Cavicchi should keep you on your toes. There are plenty of Savinelli, Peterson, Nording, and Brigham pipes too; and don't forget about the eighty-four estates! And, as the holiday season crescendos to its peak, if you're wondering just how much time you have left to shop for that perfect gift (even if said gift be for thyne self), check our Holiday Shipping Schedule, where you'll find approximate deadlines, by shipping service, to have your package delivered before December twenty-fifth.
Today's update is, to say the least, large. One of the largest we’ve ever had, especially in terms of the work put into it (descriptions, photography, and so forth), thanks to a quite a bounty of premium artisan and collector pipes that have landed in our lap – not to mention a whole bunch of new accessories. Whether new or estate, you’ll find just about everything from Knudsen, to J. Alan, to Lasse Skovgaard, to Karl Heinz-Joura and Rainer Barbi cropping up in one place or another, as well as a great mountain of modestly priced briars by Tsuge, Peterson, Savinelli, Johs, Chacom, Stanwell, and Luciano, and - wait for it - we're also introducing some impressively sized Big Ben Clay Churchwardens.
As luck would have it, we also have something really, really special in English estates– distinguished even amongst the aforementioned selections. Through some auspicious bit of luck, this holiday season we somehow found ourselves looking down at an example – the first we’ve ever seen – of the full twelve-year run of Dunhill’s “Twelve Days of Christmas” pipes, which ran from 1993-2004 and are generally considered the most desirable of all their Christmas Pipes. And on top of that, all but two of them are the fourth pipes of each limited-number edition. We’d honestly be surprised if we ever saw so many “4”s in place ever again.
Well, that’s enough from me – no doubt many of you have already raced off to stake your claims. If you do happen to still be reading this, however, make sure and check out the little shipping information page we’ve put together, to help you ensure your holiday packages arrive in time.
The great wizard - and mythic clincher of very long Churchwardens - Gandalf the Grey is returning to the big screen next week, and he is bringing with him a troop of rowdy dwarves and a slightly reluctant hobbit - all of which come equipped with plenty of pipes and halfling pipeweed.
Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey guarantees to bring a grand adventure of sword fights, fire-breathing dragons, conjurers of cheap tricks (okay, maybe not those), heroes, villains and... like in his previous Middle Earth journeys, plenty of Churchwardens and tobacco. This is a rare thing. Good guys - leading heroes and not just a gruff sidekick or bit player - enjoying their tobacco with no admonishing “You need to quit; it’s bad for you” or other negative connotations.
So we have the host of heroes in the first Lord of the Rings movies (and books, of course), Sherlock Holmes, Santa Claus, Popeye and Frosty. Of course, I can’t recall any of the last two actually using their pipes. If you read fantasy, you could add Elminster and his floating, capped Oom Paul and a host of other mages you’ll find hiding out in the Fantasy section. But mages of various varieties aside, there is not much else. I seem to remember the old Darrin from Bewitched and a few other father/husband figures from early television, or more recently a couple of characters from Mad Men, but I don’t see them as very inspiring heroes that you might cling to and seek to emulate in some way.
I cannot speak for every pipe enthusiast, but my interest in pipes came from literary heroes, like those mentioned above, particularly the mages and Holmes. I toyed often with the idea of picking up the pipe whenever one of them would come to the foreground of popular culture or my readings. However, it wasn’t until recently that I finally made the leap, with the modest purchase of a Savinelli “Qandale” Churchwarden (a series dedicated to the Grey Wizard of Middle Earth -- Yeah, I’m a bit of a fanboy. I accept this).
And I think several other modern pipe smokers probably find themselves picking up the pipe for the similar reason. They see a powerful fellow like Gandalf puffing on a Churchwarden and think to themselves that is pretty cool, and go to the web to see where they can get one. The last time Peter Jackson took us on a journey to Middle Earth, the pipe industry jumped on board with licensed reproductions of the movie’s props, articles in industry magazines and every other marketing technique to make sure those seekers find what they are looking for. I have little doubt we will see a similar occurrence with The Hobbit.
I have already seen people reaching out to the Internet for answers to their desire for a “hobbit pipe” or “halfling pipe weed” or “a wizard’s pipe.” There will be more after the movie premiers. In all likelihood, most of these new seekers will move on to the next big thing, say speculating on Disney’s Star Wars VII, without ever getting a pipe. A few will get a licensed prop replica, stick it on their mantle and forget about it until a wild New Year’s Eve party leaves them with a spinning head, a near empty pack of cigarettes and the sudden idea that will probably not end well. Finally a few will get a pipe--maybe not a licensed reproduction, maybe not even a churchwarden--and some good pipe tobacco, pack the bowl, light up...and fall in love.
To those of you that made it that far, welcome aboard, and may you enjoy many long cool smokes.
Some twenty-odd years ago Simeon Turner was an American teenager who’d ventured out upon a school trip to the United Kingdom, and who was trying to figure out what he could pick up as just the right souvenir, a physical object which might serve as an enduring anchor for his memories from the other side of the Atlantic after he returned home. He wanted something signally “British”, of course... and what, short of a knighthood from Her Majesty or a bulldog (of the actual canine variety, not the pipe) named “Winston” could have been more English a thing to pick up than a classic English briar? Of course, the gentle encouragement of a chaperoning teacher who happened to be a pipe man himself (oh, how times have changed, even for our generation) didn’t hurt any either. Like the old poem about a single horse-shoe nail changing the tide of a battle, in our personal lives, as in the history of man as whole, these little things can lead to big changes as time, and their influence and consequence, progresses onward.
As things played out, it was actually not until a few years later, post-graduation, that Simeon even got around to taking his teacher’s advice that he might actually enjoy smoking the thing. (“Enjoy” being the key word – he did try the pipe once, while he was still in the UK, but as with many of us the results of his first foray were less than auspicious.) With time and patience, however, Simeon came upon the learning of how to make smoking a pipe a pleasing and satisfying experience. Since it’s a familiar progression, you can probably guess where this next led: Simeon, having learned to enjoy the pipe, eventually got it into his head that he might enjoy making his own, as well. By this time he had become a high school teacher himself, and no doubt the ready access to the school’s fully-equipped wood shop seemed fortuitous. Unfortunately, Simeon was an English teacher, and not a shop teacher, and once again the results of his initial, inexperienced efforts were, to say the least, mixed (and no doubt once again quite familiar to many who are reading this).
There’s an old Japanese tale about a young man who wished to avenge his father, and so traveled to the home of a great sword-fighting master, intent to become a formidable swordsman himself. The master left the young fellow waiting for months, through day and night, sun and storm, before even taking him in - at which point he set the lad to fetching heavy pales of water, every day, for over a year. When the young man finally began pestering him again, the master sent him to chopping wood – for three years. At that point the young man questioned the master again, wondering if he was ever going to be taught the old man’s art at all. At that point, at last, the old man handed him a sword and commanded him to cut a target. And the younger man did – landing a powerful blow with speed and precision, and as naturally as he might have slapped the target with his own hand. It was that at that point that the old man accepted the younger as a student who might even begin to be taught his techniques, including the most important of all – those of how to defend against another man’s cuts.
The lesson that old story was meant to illustrate was that by leaving the young man to wait, the old master tested his dedication and patience, that by setting him to fetch water, he built his strength and endurance, the physical foundation upon which fighting skill would rely, and that by ordering him to chop wood, he gave the young man the chance to teach himself how to use a tool (and a weapon is, fundamentally, a tool) as an extension of his own body, allowing it to do the work it was designed to do with one’s own strength and coordination acting simply and subconsciously to control and stabilize its path.
Simeon isn’t some magical prodigy who picked up a block of briar and, bam, turned a spot-on beauty of a stummel the very first time– I can’t think of any pipemakers who are, even amongst the most renowned. Those very, very few who can claim to have made a pipe that was so much as “passingly good” from the very beginning are also those who happened to already have had years of experience in other fields of design and craftsmanship. It takes a lot of work, and patience, to learn how to make something not only beautifully, but even properly, by hand. And it’s the very willingness to put work and patience into practice, and to listen to any established artisan who will lend him an ear and a bit of advice, that Simeon does show, and he does so to a degree that’s hard to come by. When we first heard Simeon had won the Most Improved Pipemaker Award at last year’s West Coast show, and that he had sought out and studied under Jeff Gracik in order to learn anything he could from the artisan behind J. Alan pipes, it was a good sign. Like professional talent scouts, we picked Turner pipes up not just on what we saw was already there, but, just as importantly, the potential we saw in their creator’s attitude and spirit.
Last night we held Smokingpipes' 7th Annual Company Christmas Party. Now if your initial thought is that it's still a bit early in the month for such festivities, or that Wednesday is a poor night to celebrate just about anything except having graduated Monday and Tuesday, then you'd be correct; it was both. However, because Sykes is leaving for Japan as I type this and thus won't be around for any kind of corporate shindig for a couple weeks, we were sort of short on calendar options when planning the dang thing. I suppose we could have thrown the party in a week without him, but that would have been just mean.
And while it was a lot of fun, and while the food was fabulous (as always), and even though I was proud to give out a handful of awards to some of our most dedicated and proven staff, I'm beginning to think I've become too long in the tooth for the kind of debauchery that is staying up until eleven o'clock on a weeknight whilst nursing a single, lonesome, beer. I'm not much of a partier. I'm a pipe smoker, and like many a pipe smoker, I prefer a long, contemplative silence, a good book, or an engaging, heady conversation with another fellow, and a hand of warm briar to the rowdy, raucous, noisy chaos of the multitude. Or maybe that's just me - Adam, after all, does have some pretty hairy tales involving his hanging out with other artisans (especially when Danes were present) at pipe shows.
I do know what all pipe smokers can agree on, nonetheless. Pipe smokers like looking at new pipes. You're in luck this afternoon, as we've got a whole bunch of new pipes that await your perusal. We've got new works from carvers Michael Lindner and Viktor Yashtylov in addition to fresh pipes from Ardor, Ser Jacopo, Mastro de Paja, IMP, Nording, Brebbia, Savinelli, and Peterson. Of course, we've got both smoked and unsmoked estate pipes to add as well, 72 to be exact. Be sure to check out the new Two Cousins pipe racks we begin offering today. And don't forget that from now until the end of the year, any order over $50 qualifies for free UPS ground shipping in the continental United States, you can still pick up a free tin of Peterson tobacco with a new Peterson pipe purchase, and all Lampe Berger and Easy Scent products are on sale (and make great Christmas gifts, btw). Cheers!
What is a pipe really? It's more than just a vehicle to transfer flavor and nicotine to your body. If that's all a person desired, they could accomplish it with some pipe tobacco and cigarette papers. No, there's more to it. There's individualism... There's character... And there's a deep connection to pipe smokers everywhere. A pipe is a vessel designed to bring the smoker enjoyment, while audaciously making a statement about one's plot in life. It's your companion, your old friend. It's as much a part of you as your beard or your arm. If your pipe could talk, it would affirm your life's journey with a subtle, but sure nod. That being said, decide who you are, or who you want to be. Are you a classic? Dunhill... Peterson. Are you idealistic? Castello... Savinelli... Rinaldo... Radice. Are you creative and cutting edge? Pete Prevost... Now is the time to get on with the adventure that belongs to the pipe smoker, it's yours. So take it.
Hours of Operation:
Our website is always open and you can place an order at any time. Phone/office hours are 9am-7pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) Monday-Friday and 10am-5pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) on Saturdays. Our Little River, SC showroom is open 10am-7pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) Monday-Sunday.
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WARNING: Smokingpipes.com does not sell tobacco or tobacco related products to anyone under the age of 18, nor do we sell cigarettes.WARNING:Products on this site contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.