Some months ago I found myself leaning with my elbow against the van of childhood friend's band, when the lead singer of another act that had played that night referred to me, in the course of his conversation with my old friend, as "this stately mother[expletive]". I was flattered. I've been called many things by many people; bold, insufferable, hilarious, shameless, tenacious, stubborn as an old mule, well-read, misguided, refined, snobbish, short, and, oddly enough, tall (I can only assume that is a matter of personal perspective), as well as both precisely eloquent, and utterly, intentionally confusing - but this was the first time I could recall ever being on the receiving end of the word "stately". My jacket, perhaps, played a part in this. It's a rather anachronistic double-breasted number that might mislead some into suspecting that I'd acquired it by counting coup on some 19th-century military officer. The rather full beard-and-moustache combination inhabiting my face these days may have worked in my favor. But facial hair and jacket alone I believe would more likely just create the impression of a mild (at best) eccentric. The bent Billiard that happened to be clenched between my teeth, I would argue, made all the difference. Pipes are, as a rule, rather disarming, and especially in their more classical forms. This is an effect that has often been touched upon by others in the course of writing about pipes and pipe-culture, so I know I'm not alone in holding this theory. Completely, utterly wrong I may be (see: misguided), but at least on this matter I'm in good company.
Try this experiment: Picture a man of middle years, chomping on a cigar with a rifle over his shoulder. Odds are, what you've imagined is a character along the lines of the archetypical "grizzled sergeant" of old war movies, or perhaps some intentionally overblown 1980's action-flick character. Now try picturing another middle-aged fellow, again with a rifle over his shoulder, but this time with a pipe clenched in his teeth. I'd wager the image you have in your mind now is another altogether different: One of your own grandfathers, perhaps, going off to hunt with an old dog trotting at his heel, or maybe some antiquarian gentleman on safari.
Of course, more importantly pipes are simply a joy to smoke -- that is, after all, why we smoke them. If we just wanted to impress others, there are much less involved ways of doing it; ones that don't involve all the ritual, commitment, and care that enjoying and properly maintaining even a modest rotation entails. It has suddenly occurred to me that this, in itself, might in fact play a part in creating the cultural context from which springs such complementary associations as "pipe=stately [expletive]".
Some days ago Ted passed by my desk, and in noticing several simple gesture drawings I had done of a handful of pipes, asked, "Are those Maigurs?" We deal with a lot of pipes here -- a lot of pipes, and I think it says something about this particular artisan's work that even in the simplest of two-dimensional renderings, his designs can be distinguished at a moment's glance. Nothing flows like Maigurs Knets. That's not to say he is without peer in terms of grace of line and form (though he's certainly up there with the best), but more pointedly that he's chosen for his inspiration an artistic style no other pipemaker has yet to even delve into: Art Nouveau.
Some time ago Adam and I, spurred on by a post on Neil Archer Roan's blog concerning the recent debut of the fashionista-targeted "Stiff" smoking pipe, were discussing the nature of design; more specifically, the trade-offs that have to be made between stylization and ease of mass-production. I had pointed out to him that while the furniture designs he was discussing (those of the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Danish Modern schools) are making yet another a comeback in certain cultural nooks and corners, I've only seen the earlier, but utterly beautiful Art Nouveau style see renewal in mediums of worn fashion -- namely jewelry and clothing. My point was, of course, that Art Nouveau furniture suffered from one majorly inhibiting factor: Attempting to mass-produce its lush, flowing, elegant, complex and organic style out of anything like quality materials would likely be a capital-devouring nightmare.
Art Nouveau lintel
Art Nouveau stairway
Art Nouveau desk
Fortunately, this isn't something an independent artisan pipemaker has to worry about -- just the extreme level of skill it takes in terms of both design and shaping to actually create an Art Nouveau smoking instrument. It may be telling that, at least to my knowledge, no such thing even existed during the Art Nouveau movement's 1890-1910 "Belle Epoque" heyday. Evidently it would take the unprecedented dissemination of independent pipemaking artisanship that we enjoy today to finally produce such a thing -- and even under these far more conducive conditions Maigurs is the single artisan to as of yet step forward. And not only has he stepped forward, he's absolutely nailed it.
(At this point some of you may be recalling theories on how the size of a population effects the works of genius it may be expected to produce; the greater the number of individuals there are active in a culture, or a sub-culture, the greater the likelihood great works will become manifest. This is, of course, assuming the presence of a popularly-accepted philosophy which encourages greatness -- which I believe today's artisan pipemakers, and pipe-collectors alike, certainly do.)
When it comes to his freehand designs, line and flow are the essential elements; fertile curves, swoops, and arcs which take flight with seemingly effortless imagination. Graining and accents follow up, playing in harmony with Maigurs' sculpting in order to emphasize a sense of richness and lush beauty. Even if you were to take the latter aspects out of play, his creations' distinctly Art Nouveau flow remains unmistakable.
Even his straightforward, classic shapes receive lavish treatment; finely-wrought artistic embellishments call to mind the richly decorated Ulmer pipes of old Bavaria, albeit in a much quieter style; Maigurs forgoestypical accents like the flashy silver inlay of the antique Ulmer, rendering his own pattern-work in natural materials and contrasting finishes. Gently drifting, crisply-defined leaves are smooth-polished, set against a fine sandblast background, or an abstract floral inlay is created by hand-making a custom composite stem-base embedded with a section of pine-cone.
In terms of pipemaking, Maigurs is most closely associated with Alex Florov, and both share a background in professional model-making for the Industrial Design and hobbyist industries - it's how they met. It should come as little surprise then that the complex and flowing works of both artisans' designs are made possible through detailed shaping of the briar by hand, with finely-honed chisels on Alex's part, and with a selection of specifically-shaped carbide burrs on Maigurs's. They are both, essentially, pipe-sculptors, and like the Art Nouveau furniture of yesteryear, they each seek to produce works of line, flow, and form that, if they could be copied by a machine at all, would require the highly advanced industrial technology to do so, even in materials far more forgiving than the dense, hardy, often unpredictable root of the briar; works, in short, whose individualistic art defies easy-come reproduction.
As I write this newsletter introduction it is Sunday afternoon, and I'm sitting in the rinky-dink operation that is Myrtle Beach International (laughingly) Airport. Despite its modest design (if not name), as far as airports go it's not the worst, being only a little larger than a small middle-school and thus fairly easy to get around and through and all distances between any point "A" and any point "B" are but a few long strides. (Though security-theatre-wise, we do have those notorious x-ray machines now! And to think of how so many of us, as kids, secretly sent away for those "x-ray specs" advertised in the backs of comic books and the like -- how the tables have turned.)
Air travel, for me as well as other pipe smokers I presume, often represents the greatest obstacle between that last opportunity to enjoy a smoke and that next opportunity to enjoy a smoke. Not that I'm necessarily writhing in the terminal, foaming at the mouth at take-off, or fiending madly throughout for cherished nicotine, understand, but it sure would be nice if Myrtle Beach International Airport had one of those smoking habitats carved away somewhere, even if it were along the seedy back-side of the building far, far away from bright-eyed children and other such honorable individuals whose delicate constitutions and evidently hazardously fragile respiratory health so concerns modern legislators. Instead even smokeless tobacco like snuff or snus is for some wild reason totally prohibited. Bah!
Consequently, once again, I have left to the good folks at Delta the charge of my precious pipes and tobacco tucked away with painstaking attention in my check baggage. I've flown with Delta a lot over the last couple of years, and though I've slept in the Atlanta airport more times than I care to remember, and missed so many connecting flights in the last six months that my colleagues have deemed me cursed (more accurately, I didn't really miss any of those flights, rather, they, missed me!) no baggage handler has yet misplaced my luggage (i.e. sent it to the Philippines or Guam accidentally). I expect, as has been usual so far, there will be nothing to prevent me from packing a bowl right at baggage claim, with eager hands, and a too-long deprived palate.. and no doubt to the complete horror of a few of my more sensitive fellow travelers.
Well, for those of you who never miss your chance to read one of our newsletters, you already know that I recently had the opportunity to hang out at Adam Davidson's shop. Now before I go on, I must say this is a far cry from a shameless plug for Adam Davidson, though he is a fantastic carver, and it would behoove you to check out some of his work. Anyhow, now that my disclaimer is out of the way I shall continue.
This visit was a while in the making for many reasons. I've found for many pipe smokers their maiden smoke was inspired by some experience from their childhood involving a situation where their father or grandfather opened their world up to the child, almost as a rite of passage. This seems to leave a deep connection to the pipe, tobacco, and its aroma, which is the case for me. Having experienced this myself, I wanted to share it with my daughter as she's growing into a young lady. Keep in mind I'm not advocating under-aged smoking, or smoking at all for that matter; I'm merely attempting to pass on some of the best moments from my youth to my daughter. That being said, I wanted to orchestrate a scenario in which my daughter could see the inner workings a pipe shop. This would give her the opportunity to see who and what I worked with on a daily basis, all while also establishing a positive connection to the pipe and all of its facets.
Between our chatting and enjoying cheese samples graciously provided by Adam, we managed to witness the journey a block of briar travels through in its way to becoming a pipe. The entire process is actually quite intriguing, and reminds me a bit of the story of Pinocchio (remember, I'm a father of young children -- this is the way my brain works now). There's an interesting energy that goes into selecting the briar. As we carefully perused through the chunks, I began to wish everyone could have this experience at least once in their life. You see, there's so much more to a piece of briar than a chunk of wood. It's more like a snowflake. Each individual piece has its own signature comprised of rings, birdseye, and flame grain just as each gently falling wafer of ice crystals possesses its own unique characteristics. This further makes each pipe that much more impressive.
With the flip of a switch, the shop was suddenly filled with the sound of a grinding wheel. Dust settled before us as we watched Adam shape a pipe. As I sat there, daughter in lap, I was reminded of that which Michelangelo said; "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it". Suddenly I realized Adam had already carved this pipe many times in his head. He knew exactly what he was going to carve when he selected the briar, and he was merely showing us that which he had seen within it.
At the end of the day, I bestowed to my daughter an experience I think she'll remember for many years to come. I know I certainly will.
Tobacco has always been about ritual and presentation for me. Well, mostly ritual, but I like to think that I struck an imposing figure when I would walk boldly into a bar, draped in my leather trench coat, and with a quick flick of the wrist brought my Zippo to life and let the flame light my features for an extra long moment before lighting a waiting Newport. (Yeah, I have a rather overpowering imagination steeped in noir.)
But it was the rituals that I really enjoyed. Waking up on a cold winter's morning, taking a hot cup of green tea and thick blanket out onto the porch to greet the sun with the first cigarette of the day. A similar ritual said good night, although it was usually included something stronger than tea. Of course, each ritual took several cigarettes to get through.
Of course, there were other less defined "rituals," Chain-smoking while driving, the after-dinner cigarette, the reward cigarette(s) for finishing up an article on deadline.
However, the problem with cigarettes is in time and numbers. Their length never really provides enough smoke and 20 in a pack seems to demand you smoke them all before they go stale.
During the times I had "quit," I had often wished that I could smoke one or so every once awhile but I knew this would lead me back to regular smoking. The option that often came to mind was a pipe.
However, pipe smoking wasn't much of a presence in my "culture" at the time; it was something wizards and detectives did. And as cool as that was, it never really solidified as a real option in my mind. I had no relatives that smoked pipes or any other experience. My only attempt at pipe smoking around this time was trying to smoke a crushed menthol in the bowl of a brass and steel tomahawk/peace pipe ordered out of a Museum Replicas catalog. The project turned into a effort requiring drilling out the hole some, using hot glue to seal the axe head/bowl to the wooden haft/stem. It was not a pleasing encounter.
It would be several years (six of those as an "ex-smoker"), nearly 700 miles exactly and a new job before I had my real chance to try smoking a pipe.
That pipe was a Savinelli Qandale Churchwarden with some McClelland Walnut Liqueur (I have since added a Tsuge bent Pot to my collection, for a bit more practical smoke while I work). And from the moment I started to prepare the tobacco and pack the bowl, I knew I was on the right track. This was the ritual I was looking for. And while it might seem strange to others, I smoke only about once or twice a week or so, enjoying the processes involved.
So, as I start off on this new adventure into the world of smoking, it seems a shame that I wasted so much time thinking about it instead of trying it (for real). And pipe smoking might not be for everyone, but if perhaps your interest has been piqued, leading you to our site and this blog, and have never before smoked a pipe, then I say give it a go. The variety of options and tastes available may be daunting, but it also means that there is probably a combination out there that will fit right into your personal rituals.
How was it that I was first drawn to pipes? I never saw my father smoke a pipe; nor did my grandfathers partake to my knowledge at the time (though I later found out that one of them did for a brief period). My father only once, during my teenage years, reluctantly told me that he did try smoking a pipe in the 1970s, but it was only briefly. Because of my budding youth, my dad probably figured that telling me he smoked any kind of tobacco - even a pipe - would catapult me into the dark depths of chain-smoking, with a pack of Lucky Strikes always at the ready, rolled up into the sleeve of my t-shirt. In truth, I had noticed pipes from an early age when I was practically forced into antique shopping with the Rat Pack of my family: mom, grandma, and two aunts. Not caring about old objects much at that time, I found myself drawn to pipes scattered about various shops. I'd pick them up just like I pick up wedges of cheese at the grocery - to give them a sniff. The pipes had a very pleasant aroma, which is the same that would waft through the air when someone would stroll around puffing a briar in my youth. As I grew older, the fascination with pipes never went away (hence the fact that I now both make pipes and work here, at Smokingpipes). Ever on the journey of discovery, what attracts me most often to various things are anticipations of flavor and aroma, pipe-smoking included. I also happen to be a foodie (though my wife doesn't like that word), so when Brandon and I were hanging out this past weekend, we tried to figure out what it is we both seek: flavor.
His family met me at a little grocery/restaurant called Habibi's, a literal "mom-and-pop" business that specializes in foods from mainly Middle-Eastern and Eastern-European countries. Everyone who visits me gets taken to this place, be they pipe makers, collectors, friends, family. This is the venue not only for really good food you won't find anywhere else in the area, but a flavor paradise that will tickle your nose and make your mouth water. I seek out places like this as a way of discovering something new. Brandon, being from Norway, talked about wanting to find some cheese called Brunost. They had it, which with its chewy caramel flavor (and appearance) was something completely new to me. Later that day, we sampled some tobaccos at my place, ranging from aged Virginias to subtle aromatics. Just like Brandon seeking a flavor of his childhood, sampling these tobaccos made me nostalgic for some of the old pipes I sniffed in passing at antique shops twenty years ago. We've more memory in our nose (olfactory sense) than anywhere else. Do you ever get a taste for a tobacco you've not had in a few months or even a decade? I like to think that flavor-seekers such as us are part of what not only keeps many specialty businesses in business, but also helps make the world a very interesting and exciting place.
Well, as far as our own specialty goes, today's update consists of briars from around the world by skilled artisans, as well as a new Captain Black tobacco (an old-time brand, which no doubt was often what I whiffed a lingering fragrance of in those well-aged pipes with fondness). New cigars are available from CAO, H. Upmann brings us three-for-the-price-of-two offers on their 1844 Reserve stogies, plus there are some new accessories for the cigar enthusiast, too. We've plenty of exciting flavors and aromas packed away, so hope you'll re-discover some fond memories as well as make some new ones!
Pipe accessories; we often speak of pipe accessories, varying from artistic hand-shaped tampers to the trusty Czech tool, to Old Boy lighters, to pipe stands, and even entire pipe-cabinets. Yet it occurred to me this past weekend that there's also a more subtle, but farther-reaching category as well -- that of the pipe-smoker accessory.
You see, on Saturday night I found myself standing outside the Duck and Dive pub in Wilmington, North Carolina, taking a smoke break and chit-chatting with the organ player for the Carvers (the local surf-and-stomp band that was playing that evening), when another patron commented on the fitness of the combination of my double-breasted jacket, rather anachronistic facial hair, and the slender-stemmed old English pocket-pipe clenched between my teeth. I jokingly stated that the particularly conspicuous whiskers were mostly to annoy certain female co-workers, before pointing out that I actually went through most days thinking nothing of them on account of spending my days in an environment where the majority of my (male) peers wore their own various variations on wild and free facial hair follicles. And that's when it hit me.
A Dunhill may never look more at home than in the hand of a man in tweed, a cob's most natural environment may be under the shade of a baseball or trucker hat, and a black-and-silver dress briar is, of course, made to match formal dress, but the ultimate and most universally applicable pipe-smoker accessory, from all my observations, has been some manner of facial hair. (Even some members of the fairer sex, despite considerable natural disadvantage, seem to have grasped this.) I've long since lost count of the variety of beards, moustaches, and goatees that I've seen either Adam or Ted go through, John has grown, shaved off, then regrown at least two full and luxurious beards, ditto Chris Johnson, Chris Huff came with one already included, and Brandon's ruddy whiskers could pass him off for a member of the House of Plantagenet. I've even heard one of us confide that while his wife will complain about his beard, whenever he's shaven it off she's gotten downright angry, genuinely upset over its sudden absence.
While there is no doubt more insight to be gained with further observation, for today I'll leave the long and short of what I've gathered at this: A pipe without a good beard or moustache behind it is like a duck without a quack, women are mad and will be angry no matter you do, but are far more forgiving in the presence of fully-matured facial hair, and that in adapting to my own, unusually hirsute working environment, I've probably been unwittingly receiving a lot of curious - possibly admiring - stares at the supermarket.
But that's all from me for this newsletter, and now it's on to the main show. For this Thursday's update we have for you artisanal briars by J. Alan, Paolo Becker, Ardor, Mastro de Paja, and, newly re-introduced to our line-up: American artisan Mark Tinsky. Following up on those you'll find an impressive array of smokers by Peterson, Savinelli, Brebbia, and Neerup, and quite a varied refresh of our estate offerings, counting a full seventy-plus pipes across a broad spectrum of origins and asking prices.
First of all, in my defense, I have to say that I firmly believe that anyone who has ever been a pipe smoker for any length of time has wanted to try their hand at carving a pipe themselves. Surely, I can't be the only one. It seems to be a reasonable impulse, much like, when I was a kid and heard stories about what would happen if you put a really powerful firecracker under a tin can, I just had to try it out for myself. Which, come to think about it, is a pretty good analogy.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Personally, I blame the South African. I won't give out his name, because he doesn't know what havoc he caused. Still, I blame him, anyway. If I hadn't read his blog about pipemaking and seen photographs of his little workshop, then I wouldn't have ordered one of his pipes. Then, when I got it and turned it over and over in my hands and saw just how fantastic it was, I just naturally thought, "Well, I wonder if..." (Yes, yes, I know, I know. Now.)
Plus, there are so many places where you can buy blocks of briar. It's not as if they're marked, "For The Use Of Professionals Only" or anything. There are even instructions you can buy. Call it implicit encouragement.
Not having a drill press (and being a coward, besides), I decided to get one of those pre-drilled blocks to start with. A trip to the hardware store for a couple of fine files and a bunch of sandpaper and I was set. Sort of. First, I had to decide what kind of pipe I wanted. I'm partial to the bent apple style, and the block looked like the right sort of shape, so I sketched the outline in pencil on the side of the block and got down to business.
Of course, the pencil marks were the first thing to disappear once I got to filing. So, I had to go by guess and by-golly for the remainder of the project. Then, there was the matter of the filings. I live at latitude 47 degrees north, which is very far north, so the snow was already building up -- this was definitely not going to be a project for outside. (Nobody told me pipemaking was seasonal, for pity's sake.) As things progressed and the filing turned to coarse sanding (not to mention coarse language, I'm sorry to say), the filings turned to sawdust. Since I was doing all of this in my office, my computer began to make strange grinding noises. I decided to retreat into the garage for the balance of the work. The unheated garage.
Every evening, after some quality pipemaking time, I'd down tools, satisfied that I'd made progress. The next morning, I'd pick up the poor, abused block of briar and wonder why I'd ever thought I was even close to finishing. This went on far too long, until I decided that I'd done as much damage as I could. That, plus my fingers were getting raw from rubbing extra-extra-fine sandpaper.
I suppose you've heard of some pipes being called "seconds"? Add a few digits. What the bowl lacked in balance of form, it made up for in unevenness in the width of the rim. And the shank doesn't quite meet the base of the stem. Not quite at all, in fact. Plus there is that pit. I could have sworn that the surface had been sanded and hand-buffed as smooth as a baby's butt. When I applied the stain, however, there was this place on the left side of the bowl that made it look like a teenager's face just before an important date. Dang. Oh, and let's not forget the stain. I thought the package said "walnut", not "mud". A few more fingertips were sacrificed in the re-sanding and re-staining before it began to look half-way -- okay, tenth-way -- decent.
Oddly enough, I'm glad that I took on this project. No, not that the result was anything to write home about (although that's exactly what I do for a living). I'm glad because I learned a lot about pipes in the process. What I learned was just how talented, patient, clever and darned good those pipemakers really are. Their rims are precisely, absolutely even in thickness. How do they do that? The bowls are completely symmetrical and shanks meet the stems perfectly, too. Since I didn't even try drilling the chamber and shank hole, I can't even begin to imagine the art involved in that aspect. Yes, I know that they have years of experience and specialized tools, but I'm just as sure that they heat their garages with their mistakes. But they also have the "eye" -- the ability to see the pipe within that block of briar.
Well, I got a pipe out of it, anyway. Yes, I do smoke it. I figure that, somewhere, there is a briar bush that gave up part of its burl for me and I'd be ungrateful if I didn't honor that poor plant by at least taking responsibility for my part.
I'll tell you one thing, though: Tomorrow, I'm sending that build-it-yourself rifle kit back.
Bryan Johnson is a freelance writer who lives in the snowy North Woods. He is probably the only person to have been barred for life from a craft store.
Having said all that, I realize some of you might be thinking... "There's just too much to choose from." To this, I say "Nay". There can never be too many choices when it comes to good tobacco, the instruments by which we enjoy it, and the accoutrements which aid us in their orderly use. At least that's what we here at Smokingpipes.com believe. So pull up your chair and dig in. It's time to find the perfect pipe and peruse for a fine tobacco or two, whether be they old favorites or novel blends you've just lately been hearing about. Enjoy, and keep on puffing.
What a strange breed, the pipe smoker. Modern stereotypes create some pretty spectacular imagery. I must admit, I can be as guilty of it as the next guy. It's quite easy for me to picture a gentlemen sitting in his weathered evening chair, pipe clenched in mouth, scotch in hand, contemplating his next sentence with great care as plumes of smoke roll around his face, almost as if the pipe and man were one. As I think on this image, I feel a certain level of dismay. I hold my breath, waiting for the wisdom of the man's next words which are about to be bestowed upon me. The suspense is nearly unbearable. But then I quickly remember this man doesn't really exist. He's a figment of my imagination. Not all pipe smokers are great philosophical men of character with limitless patience and wisdom. Some of us are still working to achieve such honorable attributes. However, all of us have a responsibility to uphold that spirit.
You see, it has taken generations of pipe smokers' deliberate contemplation regarding every word they ever spoke in order to create such imagery. It has taken generations of pipe smokers filling their minds and hearts with knowledge and life lessons to be able to own such wisdom. It has taken generations of pipe smokers living lives of honor to give the pipe smoker such a respect in society. That being said, remember pipe smokers, we have a responsibility to not destroy that which was built on the backs of those before us.
I should also mention we have a special treat. We're very proud of our photography team and the job they do in bringing you vivid and descriptive photographs of every single briar and meerschaum pipe we sell, and the always creative Kathryn Mann has created a short video of the guys at work.
Currently sitting on my desk is a beautiful piece of art. It happens to be a Danish Estate crafted by Tonni Nielsen, fresh from estate restoration, and scheduled for today's update. Though I could write a thousand or more words about this Bent Brandy, its fine-looking grain and exotic wood accent, there are times where words simply fall short. That's why the images on Smokingpipes.com are so important. Although text relates information not outwardly visible and gives a little historical context for brands and pipemakers, it is the photograph that best describes -- and often sparks an infatuation with -- a pipe.
Our photography and videography team: Peter Kogler, Katie Ranalli, Chris Johnson, and John Sutherland have perfected their craft. For each update, they have less than three days to capture and edit photos and video for an average of 200 pipes. Additionally, many of these pipes get multiple photos from various angles -- all told, the gang takes well over a thousand photographs each week. Great pains are taken to ensure that what is seen on the web is exactly what sits in the tray in front of them. The light cannot just bounce off the shiny finish of a smooth pipe, it has to illuminate the intricate details of the grain. The stain needs to be just the right shade, which can be difficult for some of the colorful pipes we offer. The silver needs to be polished, and the stamping needs to be as legible as possible.
Of course, all of this effort would be pointless if we used one photo to "symbolically represent" a category of pipes like many other online retailers. For us, that is not enough. The pipe you see is the pipe you get. We do not use stock photography. We do not use bulk photography. This means, if we get 10 Peterson Darwin System Smooth (B42) with P-Lip pipes, we photograph each one with the knowledge that, although they are given the same title, each pipe is unique. Isn't that part of what makes pipes so special after all?
I could tell you that these guys work really hard, and that each photo is perfection... but why not go with the theme of this blog post and show you? It is for this purpose that we have stalked them with cameras and created a short video illustrating just that. So, without further rambling from myself, please take 2 minutes and 40 seconds to witness the endless work the guys and gal do to make the Smokingpipes.com update stand out.
I get asked a lot of questions when someone first finds out that I make pipes. After giving the standard explanation of what kind of pipes I make to diffuse any sort of immediate concerns or inappropriate comments, people sometimes want to learn more. "What kind of wood do you use?" is usually the next question I have to answer, which blends into a conversation about a burl that grows underground in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The most common question after this is "where do pipe-makers get materials?". The answer is "wherever we can".
When Brandon, our pipe manager, was recently hired, he already had plenty pipe and tobacco knowledge, as well as the all-important drive and desire to learn more. We had been discussing bamboo not that long ago, partly because we were looking at some really gorgeous bamboo from Japan, and my explanation of how a pipe-maker uses it. Last Friday, I popped my head into his office and asked if he'd like to go bamboo hunting with me later in the day. After his initial excitement mixed with a touch of does that grow here?, we set off for a secret spot someone told me about a few months ago. Sure enough, we found a hill of bamboo. The bamboo used for pipe making comes from the roots, which grow along and under the ground at the base of plants that grow close to twenty feet tall and are as big around as a coffee mug or soda can. Camp axe in hand, with one eye on the ground and the other on the swamp hoping to not spot any alligators or poisonous snakes, Brandon pointed out a thumb-sized root that we dug out and chopped free from the earth. Lots of searching led to only one serviceable piece harvested (enough for two or three pipe shanks), but I could tell that he was as excited as if we had found a Paleolithic spear point.
Making pipes is fun, and it's really cool to be able to source some local materials. I'm pretty sure Brandon has a new appreciation for the material and how it is harvested. In the future, we plan to go on more expeditions along South Carolina rivers in search of the elusive material. You can find some beautiful Tsuge pipes tonight with bamboo, though it is, of course, a different variety than what grows wild here in the American South. Japanese bamboo is regarded as some of the best in the world for pipes. The material is beautiful, fun to work with, and colors beautifully over time.
And if expertly-refurbished estates are what you're looking for this evening, not only do we have pipes from the Danish and Italian masters, but today also starts our January Estate Sale: throughout the rest of the month, select estate pipes from most regions are a full twenty percent off. Dig in!
Colored stems: For them, or against them? Well, okay, it's not really that simple. Even if your tastes in the briars that you'll add to your own personal rotation is relatively conservative (as mine is), you will likely still count cumberland or horn stems as sufficiently classical and reserved of style (as I do). And of course, just because you don't feel that something a bit more extroverted of shade and hue is quite "you", doesn't mean you can't appreciate it when a more colorful stem just seems to fit perfectly some particular pipe's composition. Personally handling hundreds of pipes each week, I come across no small quantity that strike me as very well designed and composed, but which I nonetheless also recognize as best suited to a personality quite different from my own. Whether sitting in my old sedan, flopped down amongst the clutter of books, tobacco tins, and pipe accessories that typically inhabits my coffee table at home, or hanging from my jaw, they'd just stick out like a sore thumb. It would be like seeing Vinnie (from our Low Country store), the stout, walking, talking stereotype of an older generation of Northeastern urban fellow smoking a dainty cigarillo -- he's a big cigar man, by which I mean a man who enjoys, and looks most natural, puffing away at a heavy-gauge stogie. He smokes what he is -- as most of us do.
A flourishing, vibrant Ardor wouldn't be me. But neither would an intricately organic Japanese artisanal design or a big Dunhill Group 6, even if its shaping and finish are otherwise reserved and traditional. Yet, there are plenty of pipe smokers out there which one of those three would fit to a "T". And when you come right down to it, that's why pipes are created in such a vast variety of shapes, sizes, finishes, materials, depths, breadths, mount configurations, and, yes stem colors too. And today we have on hand plenty of evidence as to just how broad and complex pipedom's spectrum of style and approach has grown. Chris Askwith and Massimliano Rimensi, for example, present us with pipes in briar, strawberry wood, and morta, in designs either modern or traditional of flavor. The two Californian friends behind J&J show us some classic shaping as well, but also their unique, energetic take on the Blowfish, a shape typically at home in the Danish and Japanese schools. Maigurs Knets proves to us that the lush, flourishing style of the Art Nouveaux movement can, indeed, be applied to creating beautiful smoking instruments -- a challenge which no one seemed willing or able to tackle during its actual late-19th/early-20th century heyday. Ardor brings us their aforementioned colorfulness, and Ser Jacopo the signature creativity and gesture of the Pesaro school. Nording offers us the wild shaping of the Danish "fancy" freehand, Peterson robust Irish smokers, Storient floral-carved Turkish meerschaums, and Brebbia and Savinelli their own takes on Italian style.
And on top of that, there are of course new selections of estates awaiting your perusal as well -- seventy-two in all, split between the Danish, Italian, English, and. Whatever manner of pipe may be most distinctly "you", we hope you'll find it here with us.
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-Saturday. We are closed on Sundays.
We reserve the right to verify delivery to cardholder via UPS. You must be 18 years or older to make any selections on this site - by doing so, you are confirming that you are of legal age to purchase tobacco products or smoking accessories. We will deny any order we believe has been placed by a minor.
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.