J. Alan pipes are in high-demand, and as such, we are delighted to offer up a number of these meticulously designed and engineered briars whenever possible. Jeff Gracik has worked closely with many (some legendary) Master pipe makers over the last decade, and has continued to focus on mentoring and sharing his knowledge with quite a few of the emerging American artisans, including several well-known carvers such as Ernie Markle, Nathan Armentrout, and Jared Coles, and John Klose of J&J Artisan pipes. The number of American pipe makers is on the rise and we here at Smokingpipes.com are delighted to witness the continued development of the "American aesthetic". The J. Alan brand represents the culmination of years of designing and crafting hand-made pipes, as well as a wealth of shared knowledge and passion within a growing movement of not only pipe makers, but many different craftsmen and artisans from beer brewers, to coffee roasters, to those who make musical instruments and furniture. Beautifully shot and edited by Jared and John of J&J Artisan pipes, we hope you will enjoy this short video that sheds light on practically every aspect of Jeff's process, while providing insight on the growing number of American craftsmen.
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.
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.
Although there are a great variety of pipes to be found throughout every section of our website I find that the estate department has the most abundant collection of inimitable pieces at Smokingpipes.com (from an artistic point of view - of course). For example, here is a sculpture of an animal. Initially I thought it was a llama or a doe of the deer species. Turns out I was correct - it is a llama head meerschaum! Updated to the website on Thursday, the pipe was sold Friday morning.
Adam said, “For those who already have everything, throw a llama head meerschaum on their plate." Someone now has a full plate!
I am sure there will be other unique pipes in future updates. In the meantime enjoy the "Llama Head".
I was processing the photos for today's update and was struck by an unusual entry. The Ashton group of pipes has a unique individual among the ranks. A pipe with a wind cap (wind shield). The first thing I thought of was the many bikers (motorcycles not 10-speeds) around our area. Then other users came to mind: lumberjack, ocean fishermen, campers and outdoorsmen of all types. Actually, a back yard gardener could call on the silver cover of this pipe in high wind. Since March is the month for wind swept conditions, you might want to grab this one quickly. Oh… and I guess test it - while flying a kite.
This awe-inspiring and truly magical work of art comes to us from some long forgotten box of oddities likely stashed away for decades in a hateful basement filled with dead dreams. Verily, it is a shame that this pipe, something so beautiful and magnificent, should come to us void of context and without any hint of its heritage. What nameless, faceless innocent belongs to this tiny foot? Why did the master choose to model a pipe after this particular anatomical feature instead of another? Is not a hand as noble as a foot? Have we not all marveled, at one time or another, at the proud profile of some particularly notable proboscis? So many questions come screaming from the night and like terrible cretins we are left to only empty, trivial conjecture. Every mundane conception, every time-honored conviction, every ill-fated attempt at interpretation is kicked away like wood dust by the foot of time. Breathtaking.
Condition: 4.25/5 Rim darkening, toe jam, and a strange odor. There are a few small scratches on the heel (literally). Note that this pipe does not come with a sock.
For me, ‘pipe shape’ wins over ‘pipe grain’ nearly every time. Still, I thoroughly enjoy seeing beautiful grain on a Preben Holm Collector or dense birdseye on some ‘no-name’ piece. I have come across many-a-pipe that had beautiful grain with a lovely shape just begging to be released from its clunky prison. And other pieces that matched the grain perfectly to the point that very wild, wispy facets were carved on the briar. For many of these reasons, a well carved briar on the rack usually finds the admiration of others.
There are straight-grain hounds and cross grain aficionados. Some collectors drool over perfect ring-grain patterns on a sandblasted billiard or freehand. Some, like me, find the front to back linear grain of an elephant’s foot the most interesting. This last pattern looks stunning to me on a classic shape because it gives the piece so much movement and was rarely done in favor of the other patterns.
While inspecting a fresh batch of Peterson pipes today, I stumbled across something new to me: a rather unassuming Killarney 69 red bent billiard. The grain is nothing to write home about. It's rather bald with birdseye as tight as an oil puddle, though the growth rings do give it a time-warping sense of movement. What this pipe does have, though, is a comet streaking across the side. Putting my nasal snuff down to get a second opinion, I found others marveled as well. If this particularly interesting tid-bit of grain has the same regularity as the Hale-Bopp comet from 1996, someone can expect to encounter this again in 2,389 years.
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