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.
Sykes Wilford: Founder/President