I would love to say that I was prepared to take on whatever could be thrown my way, but that would be a drastic overstatement. You see, I’m a bit new to the business of tobacco pipes. I’ve enjoyed a pipe for over 3 years, but that only amounts to about half of a percent of the pipe retail world. When I said I was new to the business, I didn’t mean a few months on the job or even weeks. In fact, at the time we left for Chicago I could count the number of full days worked at Smokingpipes.com on one hand. At the end of my first week, I was whisked away to the Chicagoland Pipe Show for a week of total immersion in everything pipes and tobacco. It wasn't just sales and such going on, but the meeting and befriending of some of the finest pipe makers on earth, while trying not to look like a twit. I've had little exposure to people of celebrity status in my life. Sure, I've read about noteworthy people, but almost never come face to face with them. So imagine my reaction when Adam Davidson is now a coworker, and I've just ran into Benni and Lasse, Lars and Nanna, Tokutomi, Eltang, Armentrout, Lobnik, and so many more. Luckily, the great many pipe makers I talked with were most personable. They were accepting, and willing to answer the most basic of questions, ones they’ve been asked countless times. Interestingly enough, our conversations would frequently stray from pipes and arrive at subjects like photography, music and vinyl records, or the day to day of our home lives. If a week spent with pipe makers taught me anything, it taught me that this is not an industry of competing production, but a family of very talented craftsman and artists who are proud to have common ground.
As exciting as all of this was, there was the other side of the coin: the logistics of presenting Smokingpipes.com in the flesh. Moments before our departure, I was up to my neck in some of finest pipes I’ve seen, assisting in their safe transportation. Then was the task of creating a visual display that represents Smokingpipes in the same way you'd expect from viewing the website. No pressure, right?
When I came to Smokingpipes.com, I imagined I would use some of the skills I acquired as a Firefighter/EMT such as logistics, inventory control, and communications skills. I didn’t realize, though, that I would also make use of skills like working while sleep and food deprived, working under intense pressure, and organizing chaos. Fortunately, we had a dedicated group of people traveling, backed by some top notch folks at the home base, and a world-class shipping department, so as a team we overcame the obstacles and pulled off a great show. I enjoyed meeting those of you who came to visit us, and I'm looking forward to meeting many more pipe enthusiasts, carvers, and collectors. My door and inbox are open to those seeking answers or conversation, and my thanks go out to those who have welcomed me so warmly into this community. I'm happy to be the new Pipe Manager, I'm happy for the freedom to make this unique position my own, and I'm happy to be considered part of the Smokingpipes.com family.
As previously indicated, today we're bringing you a special promotion. It's quite simple, really: We've acquired a whole, extra-large bunch of fresh Castellos for a live event to be held tomorrow at our brick & mortar, Low Country Pipe & Cigar, and an even larger number of Castello tobacco pouches (normally retailing at $70 a pop) to be given away with each Castello pipe purchased. Why more pouches than pipes? Because we aren't limiting the deal, nor the pipes themselves, to just those of you who happen to be able to stop by in Little River, SC -- that's why. Nope. Instead we're offering the same deal to all of our customers, wherever you may happen to be, and with the purchase of any new Castello pipe at that, not just those from the forty-eight specially acquired for said event. We're even extending the timeframe of the online offer as well, which will begin today and continue through the 30th of this month, while supplies last.
Just a little while back, we had a visitor. You’ve probably heard of him: Canadian pipemaker Michael Parks. He’s made quite a name for himself with his great interpretations (and re-interpretations) of traditional designs, not to mention some really stellar sandblasting. And, of course, we feature his pipes in our regular updates.
He flew down here a few weekends ago to spend several days collaborating with our own resident pipemaker, Adam Davidson, and I was asked to join them in order to observe and report – the latter of which I’m doing right now. John also joined us on my second day there, and between the four of us conversations ranged across such subjects as the evolution of the “behaviorally modern human”, pipes, automobiles, pipes, flowers gardening, pipes, what to do if attacked by a bear in Canada, and of course, pipes. Michael is a proper outdoorsman, Adam was raised in a small town in Indiana, and though I grew up in New Jersey, my parents’ families hail from the outskirts of the Appalachia on one side, and deep in the hills on the other – resulting in quite a bit of common context between three thirty-something fellows who grew up hundreds of miles apart.
And of course, we all enjoyed a good meal. And because Adam is Adam, it was only natural that excellent, home-cooked fare was provided each evening. (He also took Michel out to a Cracker Barrel breakfast on Sunday morning, and, as is only fitting to a true Canadian, Michael made sure to taste and assess the maple syrup before applying it to his pancakes.)
But the real reason we were there was pipes, or more to the point, pipe-making, and regarding that there was plenty to learn of and observe. Between one day and another, John, Kat, or I had cameras at the ready to document Michael and Adam at work, and a picture is, as ever, worth a thousand words. So let’s all have a look at what went down, shall we?
Conceptualizing - Failing to plan is planning to fail, as the saying goes. While there are those out there who can just pick up a piece of briar, or stone, or a blank canvas, and create something technically proficient and aesthetically engaging on the fly, they are very much a minority – akin to those who can produce the answers to complex mathematical problems at a moment’s notice. For the rest of us mere mortals, forethought and preparation are in order. As a special project for this visit, Michael and Adam were handed a big chunk of plateau briar, with the idea of producing a pair of matched-shape pipes. Not identical, mind you; the artisans would each apply their own final tweaks, as well as their own finishing techniques, but both pipes would share in a common concept, as well source material. Even this foundational step in the pipemaking process (developing a shape) absorbed plenty of time and a lot of thought, Adam and Michael sketching, rubbing out, re-sketching, and passing the block back and forth, all while carrying on a running discussion covering flow, aesthetic balance, engineering, and grain.
Shaping – That sleek, modern Dublin seen above is Michael’s. He spoke to us about how when hand-filing he gets into a deep focus that he thoroughly enjoys, and how the time flies as he works to perfect the pipe’s design. And, sure enough, once he started, he was off in a world of his own, patiently puffing on his pipe and making no noise but the measured rasping of wood and steel, and the periodic scratching of a pen as he paused to plan out his next moves. The results speak for themselves, even when looking at an unstained stummel, sans stem, and still sporting some of Michael’s pen-marks– I really liked this pipe. The ability a pipemaker has to develop and intuitively conceive a design in three dimensions, and confidently understand how altering a line or plane in one place will affect other aspects of a shape’s balance, is, by itself, impressive.
Drilling, Engineering, and Stem-work- It’s all well and good to make a pipe look fine, but if the drilling and engineering isn’t solid, looking fine as it sits collecting dust may be all it ends up doing. Both Michael and Adam recognize this, and though they had different methods for ensuring that chamber and draft-hole were cleanly executed and precisely aligned, each clearly put a lot of thought into the process. As artisans, they don’t just want their fellow pipe aficionados to purchase and collect the briars they create, they want them to smoke them, enjoy them, and, hopefully, praise them to others. A lot of work, as well as a whole lot of patience goes into building up a reputation as an artisan whose works can be counted on as an investment – pipes that one can trust to provide enjoyment for years to come. Developing and maintaining habits and methods that produce consistent results were clearly a point of pride for both Michael and Adam. At the same time, both were more than willing to observe and learn from the other.
Adam also demonstrated his stem-making to both Michael and me. As with most things, Adam takes a systematic approach. Even with the aid of a lathe set up specifically for the task, buffing wheels, etcetera, it can take two or more hours to complete a single, custom-shaped stem. Quality of stem work is something many consider to be a major aspect of pipemaking, distinguishing the skilled artisan. Although I wasn’t there to catch Michael working on his stems, I did get to see the materials he’d brought along, including some really gorgeous cumberland. As with the briar from which bowls and shanks are fashioned, for an artisan, after investing countless hours developing your skills, making the best of your efforts begins with acquiring appropriately high-quality materials to work from.
Silverwork - Annealing is an important step, preventing the sterling silver (hardened by its extrusion into tubes) from folding or cracking during shaping into a mount. Adam was kind enough to display for Michael and me just how important this step is, by first attempting to shape a mount from silver he hadn’t annealed. Granted, this wasn’t intentional – it was a piece that he had thought he’d annealed previously - but it was instructive. As Adam good-naturedly put it, “There goes about five dollars. As you can see, making mistakes with silver can get expensive.”
R & R - Both days that I was present my arrival didn’t come until afternoon. For Michael and Adam work began around 9:00AM. This meant that by the time I’d been poking around for several hours, everyone was hungry, and both artisans could use a bit of a wind-down to refresh their grey matter and give their hands a break. (And just let me say, I’ve yet to meet a pipemaker with anything like a weak handshake.) Grilled meat, a bit of drink, and plenty of coffee and tea were provided by our host in short order – all of it excellent. Along with this came of course a bit of simply lounging around, passing about our various personal supplies of tobacco, and enjoying our pipes while the birds chirped, cats wandered through the yard, and the lathes, sanding disk, and what have you cooled off in silence.
Final Notes– Like I said, I really liked this pipe. (Also, while I’m not a terribly photogenic fellow, I do think I looked damn good in this picture, rather stately - so onto the internet with it.) Michael and I had discussed various marques the first day I was over, and one that had come up was the old Kriswells, which had given Stanwell a lot of competition back in the 1960s, offering as they did a lot of lean, trim, streamlined designs. Though Michael’s design featured a touch more substantial bowl than most of the old Kriswells I’ve seen, (which often looked like sharpened-up variations of the Sixten Ivarasson look) I saw in it the same kind of confident dynamism in line, form, and posture that I think of when I picture one of the really good, vintage Kriswell shapes. This struck me as something of a happy coincidence, given both that I’d not even seen this pipe yet when we’d had our discussion, and Michael mentioned that this design was something of a departure from the variations on classical shapes that he usually concentrates on. I think both the classic shapes and this more dynamic, direct, and active style strike as a natural fit for a man who is both an artisan and an outdoorsman, and hope to see plenty more from Michael in the future.
Since our 2013 poster not only accompanied the most recent issue of Pipes and Tobacco Magazine, but was also promoted on our social media, and was announced in our newsletter, hopefully most of you have seen it by now. If not, the images can be seen HERE. But this isn't about the official images. This is about the folders full of various unofficial, behind-the-scenes photos that I believe should be seen too.
The first side of the poster features a step-by-step guide to making origami pipes (disclaimer to the more impressionable: please do not try smoking these). Since it was originally Ted's idea, he oversaw the process. It seemed like the entire marketing department was folding tiny papers into letters and figures for hours, but eventually they all came together. Katie (who made many of the tiny pipes and things) was asked to take the poster photo, and if you ask me she did a great job. Although the photos of this process don't lend themselves to blooper-type humor as those from the other side of the poster did, it was still a lot of fun.
The other half of the poster went through more of a journey, and I had the pleasure of taking the photos as we worked on it. Brandon's idea evolved from old-timey boxing photos to Monty Python-like taunting, from solidly black and white, to playing with slight color and saturation.
It spawned team-building exercises like rubbing hot pipe-ash on one another because "we need to look period-correct dirty," and, in one case, actual sparring that Brandon took way too seriously. What ensued made us realize that John, normally the most laid-back and cheerful person in the marketing department, is probably not to be messed with. And of course, we learned that it's hard to make a pipe (and yourself) look good while fighting and making menacing faces.
Hopefully we'll have time to put more of the blooper shots up in a Facebook album soon, but until then, you don't need fisticuffs and mustache wax to have fun smoking your pipe. Enjoy.
The day before Valentine’s Day I flew to Japan. Actually, I flew to Georgia, then to California, then to Japan, but you get the gist. The purpose of all this travel? To represent Smokingpipes.com at the Fourth Annual Pipe Fiesta in Tokyo, of course.
I was met at Haneda airport by our very own Ryota Shimizu. He whisked me away, and over the course of the next few days I met with friends, pipe makers, business folks, and customers alike. I'm pleased to report that the show, which was held Sunday, February 17, was a complete success. Just like last year, it was a blast. This year, however, the venue was bigger, the turnout of pipe smokers and collectors was better, and even more international travelers turned up to take part, like Luca Di Piazza of Neat Pipes and Sebastien Beaud of Genod (and the man behind our very own line of Sebastien Beo pipes).
Japan is awesome. The people are gracious, generous, and extraordinarily congenial. Tokyo is beautiful, wild, exotic, and captivating. It was especially cool to hang out with other pipe people who are super excited about the hobby, even if we couldn’t understand one another. That’s a magical thing right there.
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.
What's new today? Well, as of about three minutes ago I received an email I'd been waiting for from Randy, our in-house website developer, letting me know Smokingpipes' new-fangled, bleeding-edge, fool-proof, free with (or without) every purchase, handy, dandy, all-natural, aphrodisiacal, and generally indispensable-to-a-gentlemanly-lifestyle search function is up and running. The long and short of it is that our new search system will allow you to apply multiple filters from a variety of categories to perfectly tailor the results to just what you're looking for. And it's just in time for holiday shopping (sheer coincidence, we assure you).
Let's say, for example, that you get an itch for a smooth Billiard with a vulcanite stem. All you need to do is pick "Billiard" from the shapes drop-down menu, "smooth" from the finishes menu, and "vulcanite" from the stem material menu, click the "Find it!" button, and, huzzah, up pops the results. Now let's say you want to pare it down a little closer: You only want a Danish or English Billiard, say. There's no need to go through everything all over again – just pick "Denmark" from the country menu, then after that, "England" (it will save each option you select), and hit "Find it!" again. You'll notice that each option you pick will instantly appear in a list just below the relevant menu, each with a little red-and-white "X" symbol you can click to remove it from your specifications. In this way you can change things up freely and without fuss.
So, try it out and have fun with it, and if you're feeling up to it, you're even welcome to have a go at getting it to bug out - Sykes and Randy have tested it as much as two men are able, but if there's a glitch hiding in there that we haven't stumbled across yet, we'd like to know about it. We're always trying to improve what we have to offer our customers here at Smokingpipes, after all - which of course was the whole idea behind this project in the first place.
This week saw our annual company Thanksgiving. Tradition dictates that Adam cook the turkey, but this year he upped the ante, delivering not one but two birds... and a ham. The rest of us pitched in with assorted side-dishes and desserts, while productivity ground to a screeching halt (and remained below par for the rest of the work day).
I'm particularly proud of my contribution: a cranberry-horseradish cream. This type of thing is very much out of my culinary wheelhouse, but I decided to take a gamble because it sounded interesting, and becase I love horseradish-flavored anything. The recipe:
Dump a twelve ouce bag of fresh cranberries into a saucepan, and remove about half a cup to use later. Also add a cup of sugar, a little orange or lemon zest, and two tablespoons of water. Cook over low heat until the sugar melts and the cranberries begin to soften, around ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Crank the heat up to medium, adding the remaining cranberries about half-way through, and cook until the cranberries explode, about ten minutes. Remove the pot from heat, and fold in one-third cup of sourcream and one to two (or maybe three) tablespoons of horseradish. Lick the spoon clean, and serve the cream chilled as a dipping sauce for your turkey, ham, fingers, etc.
As usual, I was running around poking my camera in folks faces:
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
1,200 cubic feet of mobile storage, two cars, a wife, a three month old, a five year old and exactly 1,086 miles… Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Though at times it felt that way, it’s not. It’s the logistical makings of my journey to join the Smokingpipes.com team.
You see, several months ago I realized my hobby of all things tobacco pipe had turned into an obsession, and simultaneously, as the pipe gods would have it, Smokingpipes.com discovered their new found desire to hire a six foot, bearded, pipe-smoking Norseman.
So here I am, working in the promised land of pipes, handling pipes that have craftsmanship trickling out of every grain. Imagine… That pipe you’re smoking right now was once a chunk of briar, shaped and sanded into nothing short of engineering bliss, and I get to be a small part of the artisanal process that gets that pipe in your hands and loaded with your favorite tobacco. Isn’t fate sweet?
If you’ve been smoking pipes, buying pipes, collecting pipes, or even just looking at pipes over the last ten years, chances are you’re already pretty familiar with the work of American carver Michael Lindner. You may even be familiar with his story. Way back in 2000, Michael got his hands on a lathe in order to ease the restoring and selling of estate pipes through The Piperack, the online pipe retailer he’d established only three years prior. Fast forward a dozen years and Michael is a staple in the pipe world, a fixture at the Chicagoland and Richmond pipes shows, and a well-known, respected pipe maker.
I thought it would be a lot of fun to pick Michael’s brain under the pretense of sharing it with our readers. Thankfully he consented and allowed me to do so!
I think most people figure that you got into pipe making on account of having already established The Pipe Rack; pipe retailing and repairs go hand in hand. So... how did you get into the business of selling pipes? Was it just a matter of having been a collector with too many pipes?
Well, I think the opportunity just kind of presented itself to me. I already was in business for myself; I had owned a janitorial and maintenance company for a number of years and I saw an opportunity to make enough money to make my pipe collecting hobby self-sustaining. Ebay had been around for only a couple years, and I would often buy a group of pipes there, clean them up, keep one or two and then sell off the rest. I quickly realized that there was a solid business plan there if done in volume, and done correctly. At the time, honestly there weren't many "professional" websites for pipes, running it as a legitimate business. So I developed the model. Prior to The Piperack, there weren't any websites doing weekly updates, or restoring their pipes so that they showed up ready to pack and light, or taking credit cards, or giving detailed descriptions, or applying a points rating system to give people an idea of condition. There was PCCA, but they were mainly unsmoked Castellos with the occasional estate pipe collection. So it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of this new selling platform (the internet) and applying a proper business framework to it.
Do you still actively collect pipes? What's your prized pipe?
Actually, no not really. I have a motley bunch of pipes, some were gifts, some were the first pipes I smoked. I have a lot of pipes that I couldn't sell on The Piperack - you know, Dunhills with cracked bowls and that kind of thing. They're great smokers, by the way. And of course I have some of my own pipes. I suppose my most prized pipe would be a 1948 patent Sasieni Four Dot that was one of the first pipes I ever had. But really, once you start selling them and especially start making them, the idea of a favorite pipe just kind of goes away. ALL the pipes I make are my favorite pipe, for that day. Some I like more than others, but they are all special to me.
How many pipes did you have to make before you were satisfied that it was something you should keep doing? At what point did you think "Yeah, this is what I'm supposed to be doing?"
Pipe making came very intuitively to me; after the first pipe I made, I decided to pursue it professionally. I mean, a week after I made my first pipe, I had stamps for the nomenclature. It may seem odd or overly confident to the casual observer, but those who know me well weren't surprised at all. I have a tendency to immerse myself in something and, being a perfectionist, really work toward honing my craft. But knowing the path and walking the path are two different things, and it did take me a little while to get my production to the point where I could say I was happy with it. I think the first pipe I sold was my 15th pipe, or something like that. But frankly looking back on these early pieces (I still have pipe 1, 3, 5, 6, 8 and a few others) I can see that I was not as polished as I would have liked. Certainly though, within six months or so I had really polished things up, and within a year I had developed the basic Lindner pipe you see today with regard to all the details (button, tenon, fit and finish, et cetera). Of course I am still learning and will be for the rest of my career but it's all about fine-tuning at this point, and occasionally exploring new techniques.
You're as seriously adept as any American carver when it comes to producing Danish influenced designs, but you seem to create plenty of classic, English inspired shapes as well. Is that a conscious effort? What kind of shaping preferences do you have as a maker?
In my opinion, the classics are really where you develop your skill as a pipe maker, because the rules for each shape are so rigid. Once you learn the shapes, you can start experimenting with them, which leads to developing your own style as well as crossover into new shape interpretations. And the lessons you learn from the classics (proportion, cut, balance, proper engineering, et cetera) are necessary in order to create art shapes.
Besides, I love the classics. I started my collection with Sasienis, and over the years have had literally thousands of Dunhills, Barlings, Ashtons, Sasienis, and so on, through my hands. Classics are what I smoke today. I have an immense appreciation and respect for what the French and English contributed to pipe design, and I try to emulate that today in the pipes I make (albeit at a much higher level with regard to engineering and fit & finish).
So, yes, it's a conscious effort on my part. There are collectors who only go after my art shapes, and there are those who only pursue my classics. By doing both styles well, I feel I can serve the needs and desires of more people. Not to mention that making a billiard versus making a blowfish use different parts of your brain; by making both classics and art shapes, I never get bored with what I'm doing and it helps me stay balanced. I wouldn't have it any other way.
What's been the most surprising aspect of being a professional pipe maker? What's made you reel back and think "this never would have happened if I were still doing something else"?
Hmm, that's really a tough question. I suppose the realization that, and this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, that I'm a "world famous artist". When I was younger, I was quite active [in] painting and drawing and wanted to someday make my living as an artist. And while I consider myself more of an artisan craftsman rather than an artist, it did kind of hit me a few years ago that things I created are in collections around the world, are cherished (I hope) by those who own them and use them, and that in a way, my childhood dream did come true. I really don't think that would have happened any other way; I wasn't that good of a painter or illustrator. It's very humbling to think about how fortunate I am to be able to do what I love and to affect so many people.
Selecting a new pipe is a different process for almost everyone, but there are a few categories that most people tend to fall into at one point or another, sometimes changing from day to day.
The Impulse Buyer – We all know this feeling, especially those of you who get email updates from Smokingpipes.com. A new pipe pops up on your screen and, for no rhyme or reason, you must have it. There might not even be anything in particular that you can describe as to why you must own this piece, but deep down inside, you know that you will have it.
The Impulse purchase is not a bad thing, though those of us who suffer from Pipe Acquisition Disorder (or P.A.D.) have often felt the tug when we have promised ourselves that we will not purchase anything else. “No more!” we say defiantly, usually after clicking the Confirm Purchase button on some pipe website. Without fail, however, there will soon be some other temptation that breaks our vow of pipe-celibacy far sooner than we intended.
Those few of us who remain strong will surely fall into another category.
The Collector – This individual has limited himself to a certain scope of the pipe world, though how large a range that is varies wildly. Sometimes it is one artisan in particular, or one geographical area, or even a particular shape, or possibly a particular shape from a particular artisan, maybe even from only one year!
Regardless of what the limitation, this individual passes up the impulse purchases, at least more often than not, but cannot resist when a prime example of his specified interest finds its way to the For Sale section.
I tend to try to limit myself to the Collector area, but I am weak. My weakness means that I have many different collections going on at once. For example, I collect bamboo blowfish pipes, the Rubens Rhodesian shape from G. L. Pease, di Piazza, and Radice, and all Russian pipes. With so many areas of interest, some much larger than others, it is easy for me to justify an addition purchase to myself.
The Novelty Aficionado – This particular pipester is interested in unusual shapes and concepts. If a shape that has never existed before suddenly spawns into existence or a well-established pipe maker tries something that he has never attempted before, this individual will be at the front of the line. Also in this group are those who assemble pipes in collections, such as Pipes of the Year, Christmas pipes, and so on.
This method of collecting is similar to purchasing first edition books. There is something appealing about owning one of the earliest models of anything: cars, comic books, pipes, etc. While a more unusual collecting method, it often yields one of the most impressive and distinctive collection.
The Hoarder – I have been asked many times when enough is enough. While some people are able to place a limit of ten or twenty pipes, I always feel inclined to answer that enough pipes is always one more than I currently own. While this can be a treacherous path in the eyes of some, I view it as healthy. Pipes make me happy, very happy, so why should I place an arbitrary limit on my collection. Is 101 pipes so much worse than 100? If not, than why would 102 be worse? (I am also curious how many of you get the picture to the right. Please post in the comments here if you actually get the reference!)
The Limited Supplies – These people are on the flip side of the hoarder. They limit themselves strictly to a certain number of pipes. I do understand the reasoning of those who place such limits, as it makes them spend a great deal more time contemplating each and every purchase and appreciating each pipe to the fullest.
This, however, is the one section where I cannot place myself. I see the pipe world as too wide-ranging, too vast, too incredible to limit myself. To those who do, however, I give my highest respect.
I am sure we all see ourselves a little in at least one of these, but that's a good thing. It means that you are enjoying the hobby. Keep enjoying it!
Today we’re launching a couple new, quite distinctive features to Smokingpipes.com - ones that we’ve been tremendously excited about getting out the door. We’ve been mulling over the concepts that govern these new features (and a few others) since January at least, but it took bringing the very talented Randy Johnson into the fold of the SPC team before we could see our fanciful dreams rendered into actionable reality. Before Randy came along we were sort of like the guys who talk about how if they could only travel back in time a dozen centuries or so they'd invent the internal combustion engine and become rulers of the earth - except that for all our bright ideas, we did recognize that we in fact had no idea how to design and build a functioning V8 from scratch. It might seem like I'm overstating things to a degree here, but what we’re unrolling this evening is in fact very cool.
1. PRODUCT ALERT SYSTEM
No longer will you be required to keep a dogged stake-out on the site to learn when we’ve at last received either some of your favorite products, or products you’ve been eager to try out for the first time, but that high demand sees sell out in a flash. When it comes to a tin of tobacco we haven’t available in inventory, for instance, where you would have previously found an ‘add to cart button’ you’ll discover instead an ‘email me when in stock’ button. You’ll be prompted to login to the site, at which point you’ll discover that you can manage your array of notification alerts for various products. And you’ll get an email the moment the items back in stock.
Because each pipe we put on Smokingpipes.com is uniquely special, down to the last Peterson Aran (999), the notification alert system won’t work for pipes. Once we’ve sold pipe 002-555-5555, we’ll never have that particular piece back in stock again. Unless it comes back to us an estate; but that’s just a whole other deal.
We’ll also mention here that we’re retiring our Tobacco Waiting List in its present form. Because you’ll receive an instant email notification when a tin of tobacco is put back in stock with our new alert method, there’s no call for it any longer.
2. PRODUCT RATINGS AND REVIEWS
You’ve asked for it and here it is. No longer are you required to ‘take our word for it’ when it comes to product descriptions. Now when you’re signed into your SPC account you can rate an item (except pipes: see above) based on a five-star rating, and/or write a brief review on it. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.
We really want Smokingpipes.com to be not only a place where you can get awesome deals on beautiful pipes, excellent tobacco, and assorted related sundries, with quick reliable shipping and a great sales staff; we also want the site to be a place where customers can connect and share their ideas with us and one another. This is the first step in that direction.
So there you have it; two very cool new things to play with on the website. We hope you’re as stoked about it as we are, because we’re ecstatic to roll out these features today, and just so ya know, we’ve got more surprises in store for the near future.
Fewer than four years ago, I was introduced to the online world of pipes, and specifically to Smokingpipes.com. I spent far too much time, often during class, browsing through the seemingly endless supply of high-quality pipes that were, at that point, as unattainable to me as water to Tantalus. Imagine my elation when I realized that I would be, almost four years later, writing for the same website that started it all for me.
You’re all familiar with the writings of John Sutherland, Adam Davidson, Ted Swearingen, Eric Squires, and Sykes Wilford here at Smokingpipes.com, and with good reason. They are able to put out more content than almost any other pipe-blog out there.
Lately, though, according to Sykes, they have wanted to see the blog expand even further. “We've been looking at ways to improve the blog for some time. There have been various times when we've done a great job with it and others where we've let it languish. When we first started it, I think I wrote a blog entry almost every day, but the reality is that I a) really don't have that much to say, and b) I can't sustain that pace and meet my other obligations. I think we're doing pretty well with it these days...Still, it ends up very Smokingpipes.com-centric.”
In an effort to expand the number of voices and viewpoints that can expressed on the Smokingpipes.com blog, a new face or two will be popping in. “I picked people whose writing I like,” Sykes told me, “It's really not any more complicated than that. I've asked you and one other so far...I'd like to see the blog grow to fifty or so posts a month and build its readership.”
I think this is an admirable goal. I am a huge proponent of blogs for the pipe hobby, and I’ve been writing one of my own for the past couple of months. While books are fantastic and I own more than my fair share, I think that blogs have several distinct, necessary advantages: they can be easily updated; they invite a multitude of voices and perspectives; they allow for more community interaction; they are free and easy to access.
As one of those new faces, I suppose I should offer a brief introduction. My name is Ethan Brandt and I am, until tomorrow, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis. For almost my entire college career, I have been in love with pipes and have started writing about them within the last year, sometimes for Pipes Magazine and also on my own blog, “Pipe School”. Getting to learn more about pipes has been one of the most enjoyable experiences that I have had and I greatly look forward to continuing that here at Smokingpipes.com.
When I asked Sykes why he thought blogs were important to the pipe hobby, he, in true Socratic fashion, flipped the question back around on me: “Why is knowledge good?”
Without delving too deeply into issues of epistemology, the question is still an important one. Why pursue more knowledge about pipes beyond the fact that you like them?
To me, with greater knowledge comes greater capacity for enjoyment of pipes. This is true in many ways: with more knowledge, one is more effectively able to prepare, pack, and smoke one's pipe and tobacco, thus getting greater pleasure. This would explain why there are so many books and essays about how to pack a pipe or properly light one.
Beyond simply addressing technique, knowledge about the method behind the creation of one's pipe, the physics and the art, forces one to appreciate the intricate details that might have gone unnoticed before. Much like it is difficult to fully appreciate Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath without knowledge of the Baroque style and chiaroscuro. I also extract great satisfaction out of knowing more about the person, or people, who made a pipe, much like people are fascinated by the lives of their favorite writers, artists, and musicians.
Simply put, I believe that knowledge and pleasure are directly linked in the pipe hobby. It is because of that direct link that I love the idea of expanding Smokingpipes.com's blog and am excited to be a part of the adventure.
We've been teasing you with news that the Smokingpipes crew made a trip up to scenic Morganton, NC to visit the folks over at Cornell & Diehl last week. That's not exactly what this newsletter is about, however; but you can expect a full report on the actual event soon (I promise). This story is instead about a little road trip game we invented during the long ride.
Given the all-day-and-late-into-the-night nature of the journey, the subject of distracting car games of course came up, amidst all the other topics ranging from business discussion to deep introspection. We are all pipe-people, though, and the classics "I Spy" and "Punch Buggy" simply would not do. Our game was born when Ted suggested a theme for a imaginary new line of our Low Country tinned tobaccos, which led to round after round of potential titles bouncing around Sykes's little Jetta, and eventually spilling over into our dinner at Ruby Tuesdays as well. What a hoot it was! Some of our imaginings were good, some were bad (some intentionally so), some (er, mine) were absurd, and who knows - some might one day fill your bowl.
A few suggestions to get you going: It can be helpful to pick a theme, as we did, as a guide, such as nautical or late 19th century mustache stylings of cantankerous men, especially if the road trip is on the longer side, as you'll eventually find yourself piecing together an entire line of themed-titled tobaccos.
Or, if you prefer, you can just freestyle. This tends to work best when you simply string together as many words and syllables as you can, such as Sir Stodgington's Surly Hedonist Burley Admixture or Billiam Bisquit's Moonbase Thunder-Plug.
Two weeks from Monday, I'll be headed up to St. Charles, IL for the Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show. This will be my eleventh consecutive year of attendance. The show itself is the fifth and sixth of May, but festivities extend the full week before the show now. Joining me on Tuesday, Susan, Ted, John, Chris, Ryota and Tony will be arriving. Pre-Chicago excitement has reached a fever-pitch here at Smokingpipes.com, as we put all of the last minute pieces together to ensure that the biggest event in our calendar (indeed, in the pipe world's calendar) goes smoothly and successfully. I'm absurdly excited. I've done this for a long time and, while you would think it'd get old after awhile, it never does. I think I enjoy each year more than the last.
Susan Salinas, Smokingpipes.com's tireless show coordinator (along with a handful of other hats Susan wears in her general role of organizer of things) has been peppering me with questions, cajoling me to get things done and generally fiddling with all the details. This is good. The last time I did this, it was much more of a mess. And I have yet to remember to pack pipe cleaners for any Chicago show I've ever attended. You really don't want to trust a guy that can't remember to pack pipe cleaners for a pipe show with flights, hotel rooms, dinner reservations and scheduling for seven people at a trade show.
For John and Chris, this'll be their first Chicago. For Ryota, it'll be his first as an employee of Smokingpipes.com. With that in mind, I've created a short list of important things to know about Chicago for the uninitiated among us:
Nothing else is quite like the Chicago show. The show is a veritable who's-who of the world's top pipe makers, dealers and collectors. You can learn more about pipes in an evening listening to a room full of semi-sober folks in Chicago than you can in a month anywhere else.
Sleep is for sissies. Well, and for me. I've learned that I need to try to pace myself in Chicago, but I've not yet figured out how to pace myself in Chicago. If you can snatch five hours between 3am and 8am, you're ahead of the curve. Espresso is an important component in this. Don't worry, if you consume enough, the post caffeine crash doesn't happen until you get home.
On a more concerned note, it's important to remember that pipe tobacco is not a food group. Eating is essential to continued existence. It may seem that the rules differ at the Chicago show, but man cannot live by tobacco and espresso alone.
For us, Chicago is a ton of work and really long days. But it's also a ton of fun. So, yes, being on the Smokingpipes.com Chicago team can be grueling, but if you're not having a blast, you're definitely doing something wrong!
Trying to get into Chicago shape by not sleeping, smoking incessantly and drinking too much scotch for the weeks before the show doesn't actually work. It may seem counterintuitive, but I suspect a regular heavy exercise regime, clean living and a sequence of nine-hour nights sleep before the show is optimal. Of course, I've never actually managed to test this hypothesis, but I do know what I do for the week before the show doesn't seem to help.
And, Chicago veterans among you, please add to my list. Chris, John and Ryota need all the pre-Chicago advice they can get. And if you've never made it to the Chicago show, go book flights now. You won't regret it!
As many of you may have already noticed, we’ve got a new, double-sided Smokingpipes.com poster circulating in the spring edition of Pipes and Tobacco Magazine. Thanks in part to popular demand, we’ll start offering the posters on the site with this coming Monday’s update.
One side features no fewer than 70 of the coolest pipes we've showcased in our twelve years in business. We’ve fashioned it a guessing-game of sorts, withholding the names of the makers from the poster instead of a cheat sheet (that can be found at www.smokingpipes.com/poster2012).
The other side of the poster boasts the Art Nouveau stylings of California based artist Jonathan Radin. Jonathan approached me last year with the completed watercolor print of a woman (à la Alfons Mucha) smoking an Adam Davidson pipe under a Smokingpipes banner, so this year when Sykes, John Sutherland (head of our Creative team), and I were discussing what the other side of our poster would look like, that we should use Jonathan’s art became clear pretty quickly.
You can see more of Jonathan’s work at RadinART.com
Alright, so I utterly refuse to go shopping on Black Friday. Besides, I do almost all of my holiday shopping online. This accomplishes two things: 1) I can wear pajamas while I shop, something frowned upon by most retail stores, and 2) I won't end up having to wrestle an 80-year-old grandmother to the ground to get the last of the super discounted 54" LCD televisions. My wife has never had to bail me out of jail and I'd really like to keep it that way.
However, I happily partake in such seasonal offerings by online merchants, which conveniently keeps me from having to explain to my wife why I had the nice old crazy cat lady from down the street in a headlock at Wal-Mart at 5am and spent the subsequent hours in the North Myrtle Beach lockup.
With that in mind, we're offering our Black Friday sale starting today and running through the weekend. We've put more than 1,100 pipes on sale for the duration of the five day stretch, which makes this the biggest Smokingpipes.com sale in, I think, five years. Stupendously good deals abound. And they'll cease to abound on Monday on what hasn't been snapped up between now and then.
Given the majority of new pipe brands and selections from each country among the estates are on sale, it's kind of hard not to run into them. Still, they are all grouped here in the Specials section for quick perusal.
On the list of things that we should have done eons ago, gift wrapping might be the most obvious and, perhaps, the most egregious, omission from our offerings. Years ago, this was because there were just a handful of guys working at Smokingpipes.com and none of us actually knew how to wrap stuff. Like most guys, we had our wives, girlfriends, mothers or sisters do it for us. Given that we now have a staff of almost thirty, about half of which is women (who, as we all know, have the right chromosomal set to be able to gift wrap things), and a shipping department that is 75% staffed with people who know how to wrap stuff (read: women; no offence to Wayne if I'm making an unfair assessment of his gift wrapping skills), this excuse has long since ceased to be justifiable.
So, for $4.99 you can have your gift wrapped in advance so you don't have to do it. Given that, when I try to wrap things, I'm more likely to tape one of our cats to the box rather than line the paper up correctly, this is definitely something I need. Actually, I'm seriously considering getting my beloved wife a pipe for Christmas this year instead of the earrings she wants simply because I can therefore have the folks in shipping here wrap it for me...
Nope, I'm not writing about these badgers, but rather about some of the new features we've rolled out in the new user center. When you log in with your email address and password, you're now presented with two things: 1) a list of your Smokingpipes.com Badges (more on this in a moment), 2) A list of your most purchased items, and 3) An address book where you can manage, edit and remove the addresses you've used with Smokingpipes.com.
We rolled out all of those massive changes that made Smokingpipes.com such a pain to use for about a week there for a good reason. Specifically, we wanted to make the Smokingpipes.com experience coolness factor more personal and, well, even more cool than it already was. We're just beginning to roll out some of the things that are planned and we have, I am sure, a ton more bits to add and integrate that we haven't even thought of yet. But, for now, there are those three.
The top items list is pretty self explanatory. We created a list of your most purchased tobaccos, cigars and accessories to make it super easy for you to get to the things that you most frequently purchase.
The badges are little markers that denote various things you've done at Smokingpipes.com. Right now, there are about fifteen of them, but we expect that to grow massively over the coming months and years. Examples include having X number of pipes from a given country in your collection, or the length of time you've been purchasing from Smokingpipes.com, or the number of different tobacco blends you've tried, whether you've bought a pipe or tobacco related book and a bunch of others. In time, we hope to integrate all of this into the website such that we can also have badges for blog comments and other sorts of site interactions too, but we're a little ways away on that. Anyway, each badge has three tiers right now (though we might add a fourth tier down the road).
In all, we just want to make Smokingpipes.com more fun to use and tailor it to your particular tastes better. We'll be doing a ton of stuff over the next few weeks especially on this front. Stay tuned!
If you have any ideas, suggestions, criticisms, please post in the comments section, or email me directly at email@example.com and we'll see what we can do!
We've been working on a big project for the past couple of months that will, ultimately, radically improve the Smokingpipes.com experience (well, we hope so, at least!). Tomorrow night (Saturday October 29th) at 9pm, we're taking the website offline for a couple of hours for the upgrades. We'll be restructuring a lot of the data in the database, so we can't take orders at the same time as we roll out the new stuff.
Initially, the big changes that will be visible will have to do with how you log into the website. If you have an existing user account, we'll make your username your email address and your password won't change. If your password fails to meet security criteria, or if you've been using the website without logging in, we'll email you to set the password for the account we'll create for you with your extant order history. This is being driven by a few things:
1) Security. While we've always considered security of the utmost importance, the internet, and security threats, have changed since this part of the code was written over ten years ago. We want to get ahead of the curve and make sure we offer top notch protection for your data.
2) An improved user center experience. Right now, when you log into your user account, you have a fairly limited set of things you can do. Yeah, in this day and age, that should be way cooler. Initially, we'll give you more control over your information and order history. More importantly, the architectural changes will let us bolt on new features over time, make recommendations specific to you, offer you quick access to the items you order repeatedly and, we assume, offer up a bunch of cool stuff we haven't even thought up yet. Think pie charts of your pipe collection from smokingpipes.com broken down by country or by brand, or perhaps how much you've bought of different blends laid out for you to look at. Once we have this piece, which is sort of like the steel frame of a building, done, we'll be able to fill it with all sorts of cool stuff.
3) New, faster and easier checkout with more options. This will be available immediately. It will also fix a few problems that crop up now and again with carts dropping items and whatnot.
So, you likely won't have to do anything, but you may have to reset your password and you'll now be logging in with your email address instead of your username.
Please email us or use the comments section of this blog for any questions you might have.
We've been playing with some new functionality for the website to make it easier to navigate some of the larger categories. We figured that if we were getting tired of scrolling through 333 Petersons, likely you were too. Essentially, in addition to the other criteria we maintain for each pipe (or tobacco or cigar or whatever), we've started tagging them with words that are common to bunches of pipes. In the case of Peterson, this might be 'Aran' or 'P-lip'. Hopefully, this will make things easier and faster to find on the site if you know what you're after. And, of course, if you're just browsing through lists of pipes, you can still do that too.
So far, Peterson is the only category to have tags. It's a pretty huge data entry project to go through all 3,500-odd products on the site to tag them, so we'll only address those that are in particular need for now. Savinelli and Stanwell will be next among new pipes; Cornell & Diehl and McClelland will be next among tobaccos.
So, play with it and see whether you like it. Please let us know your thoughts (the comments section of this post would be great, or you can email us) and, if it does anything weird, please let us know. Thanks!
While one might think that the life of a tobacconist is one of simple problems, every great once in a while one is posed a true conundrum. Specifically, what happens when you have but a handful of tins of a new blend that you know you could sell 1,000 of in three days?
That is exactly the problem posed to us by a shipment of a truly tiny quantity of Balkan Sobranie. Yes, you read that correctly, Balkan Sobranie. Now being made by J. F. Germain (and imported by Arango), it is available once again. Or, at least, available in theory because so little has made it to the market that it is, for all intents and purposes, not available.
Determining a fair and reasonable way to distribute it as widely as possible proved elusive. Visions of hordes of angry pipe smokers descending on Little River, SC to torture and kill us in new and interesting ways proved unappealing. I've managed to go thirty-something years without hanging by the foot from a rope above a pit of hungry alligators; I'm not particularly intent on ending that track record.
We also figured that just smoking it ourselves was, while tempting, probably not the best course of action here.
We are simply going to limit purchases to one per customer until we run out. Given that we expect that to take only a few minutes.
So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to invite you to purchase a tin of Balkan Sobranie. Good luck!
As you likely know our site was down for a few hours yesterday. OK, it was a few hours more than a few hours, but who is counting, really? Well, us, for one - and our loyal customers, for another.
What went wrong? If I were William Shatner (or John Lithgow, if you prefer) I would tell you that gremlins climbed into our server and wreaked havoc with the digital guts that hold the site together. If I were Fab Morvan or Rob Pilatus (of Milli Vanilli) we could blame it on the rain. But those are stupid explanations.
The real truth regarding how our website was suddenly updated with ten units of every item we’ve ever sold in the history of our company (possibly a slight exaggeration, but we will never know) is this…
And that’s right from the mouth of our extremely talented IT guy, Tommy Ready. Yeah, that’s right folks; we don’t know what the hell happened. All we know for certain is that it’s not our fault. Honest! Nobody but Sykes, who’s on vacation right now and out of the country, would dare to tangle up the backside of the website in such a way as it evidently tangled itself.
Our best guess is that one of the hundreds of queries that run behind the scenes of our site somehow went awry and changed the count of every item we’ve had in stock. One of the many joys of working with complex technology is the way in which it sometimes seems to take on a personality, and intelligence all its own - at least to those of us who don't understand it. And, granted, that intelligence does tend to come off as a malevolent one... particularly to those of us who don't understand it. Fortunately, Tommy, who understands well the intricacies of technology, won't rest until every server log file has been scanned for clues as to what might have happened. Whether this results in him gently asking the system to tell him about its mother, or he gives it what Eric has referred to as ‘brisk wall-to-wall therapy’, we have full faith that Tommy will ensure that it behaves in a more socially acceptable manner in the future.
So we took the site down and set to work putting all the pieces back together again. It wasn’t fun for us and we know it wasn’t fun for you. In fact, it was kind of embarrassing.
We’re good now, though. The site’s back up and we’re monitoring our inventory very carefully. If you have any questions or concerns about an order you might have placed with us while we were down, please give us a call.
We’d like to apologize for any inconvenience that we may have caused anybody during this hiccup. And thanks for your continued patience throughout. You guys are the best.
As many of you know, last weekend we moved our entire shipping and receiving operation out of four rooms spread across two buildings into one 3,500 sq ft space a little down the hill from our other buildings. Our goal was to have absolutely zero service disruption. This required considerable planning. Everything had to be laid out and organized before a single tin of tobacco would move.
As a quick overview, our main building has three floors and about 5,500 sq. ft. We moved into this space in early 2005, with the store and shipping on the bottom floor, and offices on the top two floors. Our building is surrounded on two sides by a commercial complex with various offices and small shops. Immediately across the parking lot, a building came available and we snatched it up in mid-2009, moving our shipping department, plus customer service and a couple of other offices over there (store, some shipping area, offices, photography studio and pipe restoration workshop remained in the main building). After another two years, our new shipping space was splitting at the seams. The whole company had grown, but especially in those areas that require warehouse space: pipe tobacco and accessories. We talked to our landlord for the smaller building and asked what he had available. The first thing he showed us just wasn't going to work; it was too small and oddly located for freight pickups and dropoffs. Then he had an idea. The end/basement of his largest building contained nothing but his wife's decades worth of accumulated junk (I hope you don't read this, Miss Virginia). We couldn't even get in there past the loading door to look at it properly. I cannot properly articulate how much junk there was, nor quite how junky it was. Everything from a dozen early 1990s vintage computers to thousands of plaster molds to a kid's disney themed play car were in there. Along with displays for flooring, displays of fabric, assorted furniture (including some church pews), a half-dozen aging vacuum cleaners, and about ten ceiling fans. Really, it was what my garage would look like without my wife's intervention. But seven times the size...
It took them three weeks to empty it, but we knew we'd made the right call once we could get in there. It was the perfect space for us. And, instead of picking up 4-6,000 sq feet off-site, it was just a few hundred feet from the building, an easy two or three minute walk. We got a golf cart (which doesn't yet have the Smokingpipes.com logo spinners installed) for moving stuff back and forth. Once it was empty, we went to work. UPS Freight dropped off scarily large stacks of metal shelving, a pallet jack, roller-coveyors and assorted other warehouse goodies. Our preferred builder/handyman Billy Harrelson then went to work with his crew to do the upfit. Two weeks later (one of which was while I was in Chicago for the show), everything was in place. With rigorous use of database queries and excel, Tommy, Susan and I managed to layout the warehouse for optimal picking and packing speed, with higher volume items closer to the central packaging area. We then went to work labeling every single slot that a product (tinned or bulk tobacco or accessory) might inhabit: some 1,500 of them (pipes and cigars remain, as always, in the main building).
On Sunday (the only day of the week that shipping is closed), the entire company (save Mark, who was on vacation), some 25 people, showed up to help move everything. Much to our surprise, most of the work only took about three hours. About half of us stayed on to work out little details and kinks, but we pretty much had it knocked out by noon. By three, it was just five of us left. By four, we were done, complete with running four packages through the whole process to make sure we hadn't forgotten anything and that everything was working. Not one single package was delayed due to the move; everything worked perfectly when shipping resumed Monday morning (well, almost everything).
Bobby Altmann, our staff photographer, snapped a few photos of the work on that Sunday, whenever he wasn't busy shelving tobacco.
Susan, Pam, Ted, Tony and I are headed to the show Tuesday afternoon. We'll have our hospitality room open every night through Friday, after which we'll move everything down to the Megacenter on Saturday morning. Tokutomi will be joining us from Japan this year and he'll have some awesome pipes with him. We have great pipes from all corners of the globe with us, so come by and check 'em out (and, more importantly, say hello and chat awhile).
For those of you who know the Chicago routine, you know we'll have awesome espresso (we have a new machine this year), various and sundry adult beverages and a variety of soft drinks and water on hand in the room.
Chicago is simultaneously the most fun and most exhausting event of my year. It's totally insane. In a totally awesome sort of way. This will be the first Chicago show for both Ted and Pam. They don't quite know what they're in for, but they're appropriately excited and terrified.
I, for one, can't wait. I hope to see lots of you there. Come by the room if you're at the resort during the week and we'll get you a drink or an espresso. Or both, either in separate cups or otherwise.
(Oh, of course, that still leaves 21 people here at the offices and warehouse. Everything will run normally, (probably better) in our absence).
Not going to the Chicago Pipe Show? A little ticked off about it? Yeah, we know how you feel.
Every year a select group of our smokingpipes.com “Teammates” leave the rest of us behind for the Chicago Pipe Show. While we are always happy to “hold down the fort” and pick up additional duties to help get through the crunch, we always find ourselves a bit miffed when everyone returns and they start telling stories of the previous week’s fun and excitement while at the show. “…then Peter Heeschen told this story about a dog that had a penchant for JackKnife Plug … it was hysterical!” “Oh and you should have seen Rad Davis’ new pipes, they were brilliant!” “The dinner with the Florovs was the best meal we ever had!” and “The night in the hotel bar was a blast, I was so tipsy I tried smoking my new Brad Pohlmann out of my ear!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. Go ahead, leave us behind for all the fun and excitement of the Chicago Show and then rub it in our faces.
Well, we are tired of it and we’re not going to take it anymore. So we’ve put together a killer sale sure to knock your socks off (and totally tick off Sykes and our accountant).
Check it out from the banner on the front page, the "Specials" section to your right, or just click here if your feeling especially lazy.
Wow. Just wow. Our Peterson Pipe Promotion was wildly popular this yuletide. "Buy a new Peterson pipe and you get a free tin of Peterson pipe tobacco". Sounds like a deal to me. The aim was to keep this promotion running through the end of the year; however, with the unprecedented response to such a bargain I’m sorry to announce that we just shipped out our last tin of Peterson tobacco. It’s all gone. I know because I was there to see it get boxed up and handed to a UPS driver. It was a bittersweet moment that nearly had me moved to tears.
The fate of the promotion has since been decided in a nerve-wracking bout of rock-paper-scissors between Sykes and the Bizarro Sykes that we keep hidden in the attic with the model trains.
A decision has been made. (The winner of the contest is immaterial.)
Your choices are: Waccamaw, Cooper, Santee, Black and my personal favorite Carolina Christmas.
Okay, there are 9 days until Christmas and I haven’t even started my shopping! No worries, that’s normal for me. I like to wait until the last week to shop. I’ll jot down my list at the last possible moment and then have a huge breakfast before venturing out to do it all in one day. Yes, one day!
Here at Smokingpipes.com we’ve been processing orders for holiday shoppers for about two weeks now. Many people are taking advantage of our holiday specials. If you haven’t noticed we are offering many great deals for this special time of year. For instance, if you purchase a Peterson pipe, you get a tin of Peterson tobacco for free! How great is that? Or if you purchase a new Dunhill, Castello or Becker pipe, you get a copy of In Search of Pipe Dreams by Rick Newcombe for free! And be sure to check out our banner advertisement at the top of our home page to see our daily 21 Days of Christmas Sale. Each day we are offering a different product at a reduced price. Sykes is having a blast with this one, as he is the only one who knows what is going up and when it will be posted on each day. Crazy, but fun, huh?
And check out what showed up in our receiving area last week. How would you like to have this trunk of cigars under your Christmas tree? I just had to snap a picture of it to share with you.
Today, I thought I would offer a few tips for navigating around on our site. For example, if you put the word gift in our search engine you will get a list of products that contain that word. Search results bring up our Cornell & Diehl Sampler Packs, Gift Sets that have lots of goodies inside and include a tin of Aromatic, English or Virginia tobacco. You will also see our Collegiate Starter Kit, a Lampe Berger Gift Set and quite a few cigar gift sets; some even include an ashtray. And one actually comes with golf balls! How sweet is that? Then put in the word sample. This will show you even more cigars. One comes with a humidor and one even comes with a beautiful torch lighter! I snapped a picture of this one. Talk about a fantastic deal!
If you’re considering a pipe as a gift, you may want to check out our How To Choose Gifts For A Pipe Smoker and How To Select The 'Right' Pipe. Then move on to our PIPE LOCATOR tool. It’s on the right just above our listing for Fresh Pipes. This tool will allow you to select specific criteria about the pipe you are looking for. You can search by Brand, Finish, Shape, Price and more. Key factors to remember are straight versus bent and filtered or unfiltered. You may also have a budget and this tool will narrow the search for you and perhaps save you hours at the computer.
We have many items that are perfect for stuffing in a stocking for your special someone. We have pipe tampers, pipe tools, pipe stands, cleaning supplies, candles, lamps and lamp oil. We have cigars, cigar cutters, humidifiers and humidors. Okay, think really big stocking for the humidor! We have all kinds of tobacco and all kinds of pipes. Photographed here: See the wonderful display that Susan helped me set up?
If you’re looking to see what’s on sale, just look to the right and click on ‘Specials’. If you’re looking for what posted on our latest update, click on ‘Fresh Pipes’ or ‘Other Arrivals’. These are all key tools to assist you when browsing our site.
Please remember to check our shipping schedule posted for the coming holidays. You will find this on the banner advertisement posted on our home page. The clock is ticking and we better get busy, myself included.
Okay, I better get this wrapped up. (Wow, that made me think of something else I have yet to do – wrap the gifts that I have yet to buy.)
In closing, we hope that your shopping experience with us is always a pleasant one. We appreciate your business. And we wish you all a safe and happy holiday season. May your heart be filled with love and good cheer … today, tomorrow and in the New Year!
Not too long ago, pipe makers Brad Pohlmann and Jeff Gracik put their heads together and puzzled out this year’s Smokingpipes.com Christmas
pipe. Since then they’ve produced a total of seven, gorgeous sandblasted pear shaped briars all of which have been banded in sterling silver. Luckily, Sykes and Alyson were ‘video recorder ready’ when present at the conceptualization of this series.
By the way, these pipes will be made available to you very, very soon…
Here at Smokingpipes.com we understand that part of doing business during the holidays means offering up some kind of awesomely clever seasonal promotion. So that’s just what we’ve done.
21 Days of Christmas
Each day until December 21st we will be offering through the website ONE distinct purchasable item at a huge discount. I say ‘purchasable item’ because no one knows what it may be from day to day. Maybe it’s a fancy pipe or maybe it’s some nifty tobacco. Who knows? Not me. No one knows when it will go up on the site either. Maybe it will post at 5:37 AM or 11:40 PM. Couldn’t say. It’s a mystery and therein lies the fun. So keep your eyes peeled and get ready for huge savings. Clever, yes?
Dunhill pipe tobacco. After months on the minds of pipe smokers the country over, it finally arrived Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Of course, given the hullabaloo that this precipitated, you're probably already aware of that. You may have also noticed that we're again out of stock on all but one of them, just five days later.
We had a huge shipment arrive that Wednesday. We placed a massive order in the summer and were far more worried that we'd gone a little too crazy than that we wouldn't have enough. Needless to say, we were absolutely flummoxed by the response. We had more orders Wednesday than we've ever had in one day before. Thursday and Friday were each almost double our average number of orders too. UPS is picking up twice today to accomodate the volume (literally!) of packages that are ready for them. The nice lady that picks up USPS packages from us was similarly shocked and struggled to get them into the little USPS van that she drives. Ted has already made a separate post on this later today, but this is specifically about the Dunhill tobacco.
We do have another small shipment (just 2,000-odd tins) coming now that should be here later in the week, but that's all there is in the US right now. There's more coming from the manufacturer and we should have another large shipment in December. When Susan and I figured out what to purchase over the summer--4,500 tins in all--we were very concerned that we'd overbought. Needless to say, that was not the problem.
So, what happens from here? Well, there's more coming, but not a lot, later this week. Three or four weeks from now, we expect another full-sized shipment. We'll keep you posted!
1. Take one of the most popular and sought-after pipe tobaccos on the market (We'll use Dunhill)
2. Remove product from US market for 2-3 years. Allow customers to simmer / prevent boiling over with 2 tbsp. of 'Rumor and Supposition'
3. Amid feverish expectation, add 4,500 50 gram tins of Dunhill pipe tobacco to warehouse. Begin advertising its arrival through 'new media' outlets
4. Begin selling product. For maximized stuffing, start selling, at discounted price, the day before a national holiday. In this way warehouse will have 3-4 days of 'swelling' before shipping begins (See below)
Alyson and I arrived fairly late on Friday in Las Vegas, at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino, site of the 2010 West Coast Pipe Show. This was the second year of the show, and the first time I'd attended, since Tony and Bear went last year. New shows are always a challenge, both for organizers and attendees. While we had high hopes for the show, we didn't really know what to expect. We attended, in part, because we think that the western half of the country desperately needs a good show, and any serious effort in that regard is worthy of support. The show far exceeded our expectations and we had a wonderful time.
Our table was back to back with Rex Poggenpohl and Steve Leader, two gents I've known for some years and always enjoy spending time with. Rex was, as he tends to do at pipe shows, selling off small bits of his vast collection. The show was very well attended by pipe makers. Jeff Gracik, Brad Pohlmann, Tonni Nielsen, J. T. Cooke, Todd Johnson and many others, including some impressive younger pipe makers, were there. Our tables were almost right next to Rick Newcombe's, who had a couple of examples of the new edition of his book, In Search of Pipe Dreams, available for perusal, though it won't be available for sale for another week or two (yes, we have hundreds of copies in route). We had much on offer, from lots of great pipe makers.
The variety of vendors, pipe makers and collectors displaying at the show was impressive, especially given that it was just the second year. Over a hundred tables were sold for the event, with a rather striking variety of pipes, pipe tobacco, accessories, and pipe related books for sale. Perhaps best of all for us was meeting so many pipe collectors and smokers who are customers and fans of Smokingpipes.com, but that we'd never met in the flesh. Person after person came up to tell us that they were long time customers and after some conversation, it became apparent that these were folks we knew well, but that we'd only gotten to know by phone or email. With our regular trips to shows in the East and Midwest, the attendees of which know us pretty well at this point, this was a really special experience for us.
Adam Davidson was there with his wife Lera, too. While Adam is an integral member of the Smokingpipes.com team, he's also a very talented pipe maker and usually does shows with his own pipes, independent of Smokingpipes.com. Still it's always nice having him around, as an emergency Smokingpipes.com backup person, if needed. Lera (as Adam shared in a recent newsletter intro) was particularly excited about the Vegas trip. I'm not entirely sure why, but she was rather more delighted at the prospect of a weekend of shopping and eating in Vegas than she was about the prospects of the pipe show.
Satuday night saw a surprisingly tasty dinner, plus speakers and awards event. Kevin Godbee, my good friend and owner of PipesMagazine.com, spoke about a subject near to my heart, the attraction of college age and twenty-something folks, especially cigarette smokers, to the joys of the pipe. Kevin and I have spent a lot of time over the past few months talking about this. We hope that the recent influx of newer pipe smokers that we've seen is a harbinger of a trend.
After Kevin finished up, Fred Hanna, noted pipe collector, author and PhD psychologist, offered up an excellent talk on pipes, managing stress, and recent research on nicotine and neurochemistry. While all agree that inhaling tobacco smoke is a distinctly unhealthy practice, it seems that there are a number of benefits of nicotine, given its unusual properties as both a mild stimulant and a mild depressant.
An awards ceremony followed the talks. J. T. Cooke, Michael Parks and Kurt Balleby won much deserved awards for their pipe making. Much to my surprise, I was honored with an award for Outstanding Contribution to Pipe Collecting, though that award rightfully belongs to everyone here at Smokingpipes.com. Sunday was quieter on the show floor and we enjoyed having the time to catch up with folks that we hadn't yet managed to see. That evening, having lost just a little on slots and won just a little at craps, we headed to McCarran for our flight to San Diego for the next leg of our trip, to visit Jeff Gracik's workshop, and go to see Rick Newcombe in LA.
We'd planned to role out the new checkout process, along with better shipping rates and all sorts of good stuff, at the same time as the new look and feel of the rest of the site. We had to kill it almost immediately when little bugs we hadn't tested for started popping up.
It's all back up now and seems to be working just fine. If you have any other suggestions, we'd love to hear them. If you catch any problems, we definitely want to hear about those.
Perhaps the biggest functional change is that UPS rates are now automatically pulled from UPS based on the weight of your package. These are our negotiated, discounted rates, so shipping charges have generally gone down. Further, in addition to the free shipping over $95 for UPS Ground, we've discounted other shipping methods on orders over $95. So, if it's ever bothered you that you had to choose between $12 UPS 2nd Day and $0 UPS Ground, that difference is not nearly so stark anymore, offering a better deal on shipping for everyone in the US.
Accordingly, pulling real time UPS International rates has radically improved our offerings there and are generally much less expensive than they used to be for our international customers who choose UPS.
At present, USPS options haven't changed, though we hope to be able to work on those in the next few months.
We’ve got bats nesting over our bulletin board. And I think we’ve gone through a hundred or more of those miniature candy bars over the past two weeks. But that’s okay. I just keep filling up the candy bowl. This week we’ll be hearing that phrase ‘Trick or Treat’ and stepping into the end-of-year holiday season. With that thought in mind, we’ll be offering you, our customers, lots of treats this year. So be sure to watch for special announcements coming up over the next few weeks.
And just think, you don’t have to ‘shop ‘til you drop’ at Smokingpipes.com. We’re available 24/7 at the click of a mouse. That means you can shop in your pajamas if you like. As the days and nights get cooler, you can enjoy a hot beverage and shop at your leisure. You can even light up your favorite tobacco as you shop for more. You might be shopping for yourself or you may be choosing a gift for someone. Well, no worries, we’ve got you covered from every spooky angle.
As I wandered through our retail store last week, gathering ideas and items to photograph, my eyes were drawn to the two life-sized wooden Indians we have standing in one of our display windows. Then I stepped out the front door and stole a kiss. Ever wonder why there’s usually a wooden Indian outside your local tobacco shop? Take a step back in history and imagine a Native American Indian reaching out to offer his pipe to the foreign speaking explorer.
Then take a walk through history to the first Thanksgiving feast shared between the Native American Indians and the pilgrims. Gifts were exchanged, food was shared and probably pipes were passed around. And so the wooden Indian has become a symbol that lets one know that tobacco is sold inside or there is a tobacconist on-site. As early as the seventeenth century, European tobacconists used figures of American Indians to advertise their shops. These figures arrived in the Americas in the late eighteenth century. It’s an honorable post to stand. I hope they last forever. And this year as we give thanks, let’s not forget the gift of tobacco.
So write out your list, check it twice and get your mouse ready to shop, shop, shop! Stay tuned for part 2 in the coming weeks.
We have been secretly working on the new site design for some time now and
are really excited for everyone to finally see the fruits of our labor.
Although we were all very fond of the look and feel of the old design, after
years and years of looking at it day in and day out, we decided that we
needed to change things up a little. When we get bored around here, crazy
cool stuff happens.
While the majority of the site still works the same as it always did, we
have made some functional improvements in addition to the new look and
The biggest of these is the streamlining of the checkout process. There
are fewer screens to go through to complete your order and the shopping cart
has been designed so that you can see images of the items that you have added
to it. This can be really helpful when you have a large order and you want to
do a quick scan to see if you’ve missed anything before you hit the checkout
The main page of the website has received a huge visual overhaul. You will
now see images of the new products that we add on Mondays and Thursdays as
soon as you get to the homepage. This will allow you to do a quick scan of
the front page and see if anything grabs your attention. We have also added
a great “billboard” at the top of the home page highlighting the new and
notable additions to the site.
The project has been a big collaborative effort with practically everyone
in the company adding to a long “wish list” of functions that we desperately
needed and Melissa has done an amazing job of putting all of our crazy
requests into a neatly coded package. Although I did, on a couple of
occasions, have to physically restrain her from banging her face on her
keyboard simply because the checkered pattern on her forehead was not very
becoming to her.
I also want to thank Art Hill
for creating a wonderfully simple, yet creative layout and design for the
P.S. This article was written with loving care by Alyson Ranalli!
The weeks before and after the Richmond Show are a big deal here in Little River, SC. Right now, we have pipe makers Hiroyuki Tokutomi and Jeff Gracik, plus pipe collector and writer Tom Looker and PipesMagazine.com owner Kevin Godbee visiting. We'll have a bunch more stuff up on the blog as the weekend progresses, plus, I'm sure, videos and whatnot as we have time to edit them. In the meantime, here are some photos...
Tokutomi explains the finer points of a pipe shape to Ted Swearingen.
As you may have noticed, Smokingpipes.com has been singularly unresponsive during the past twenty-four or so hours. At 1pm yesterday, we were hit with a DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service). Since then, with a nice stretch of working between 3am and 8am this morning (yeah, hardly a peak site traffic time), our servers have been slammed by millions of bogus requests from thousands of IPs. We've come up with a temporary solution, by moving Smokingpipes.com to another server and just serving up a flat html page from there, which redirects to the full site's web server on our old servers, which handles legitimate traffic normally.
We've also discovered that we are one of at least four major premium tobacco retailers (with the other three being major cigar retailers) to be hit with a DDoS attack in the last 24 hours. This appears to be directed against purveyors of tasty, high quality smokables. These are targeted attacks. Still, in the Wild West that is the internet, the good code slingers are winning this particular round over the bad ones with our stop gap measure; we shall see how it progresses over the next few hours.
So, what is a DDoS attack and what have we done to make the site available?
Normal: Happy users visit Smokingpipes.com and see a bevy of beautiful briars
In our wildly simplified diagram, this is how things are normally. Happy pipe smokers go to Smokingpipes.com, read about or purchase or drool over pictures of pipes, pipe tobacco and cigars. Your computer asks our web server (by way of various servers in between) and our server nicely responds by serving up lots of fun pictures, images, tons of wonderful information, all stored on either our database server or our assets server.
A DDoS Attack: Lots of Zombies trying to get in the door makes it impossible for the regular user to access the site.
When someone initiates a DDoS attack against us, they've used thousands of slaved computers (think of them as zombies, perhaps) to remotely make http requests to our servers, specifically to the Smokingpipes.com domain. Our servers, though they are shiny and fast, are utterly unable to serve up the information fast enough and end up getting completely bogged down trying to contend with all of the bogus traffic. The thousands of computers are innocent bystanders too-- more than likely they were infected with a trojan that causes them to make these requests at the behest of the master (evil!) computer, much like zombies at the behest of some wicked puppet master.
Keep in mind that this traffic doesn't do anything to us except just ask us questions. We've not been hacked, nothing has been compromised, everything is safe. All is normal, except that thousands of extra computers are asking our servers for information and we just can serve it up fast enough.
Our Solution: behind the splash page (bouncer) life is normal, but the bouncer is there to keep out the bogus traffic.
Part of the problem is that our regular servers, sort of like our store staff at Low Country Pipe & Cigar, like to greet folks with lots of fun stuff, show them what's new, and point out interesting odds and ends. That first page people reach is filled with dynamic content, pictures and other things that, in the normal running of things aren't taxing at all for our servers, but multiply that normal load times fifty or a hundred and things slow to a crawl or stop altogether. So, it's sort of like Ron, Kelly, Vince and Jennifer in the store all trying to show pipes to a thousand customers simultaneously, most of which really just want to stand in the middle of the store and not really do anything. Obviously, as good as our store staff is, they're going to grind to a halt in a hurry if they had to contend with this.
So, what do you do if you have this problem in real life? You hire a bouncer. Our digital bouncer lets in anyone who asks nicely, but doesn't try to help anyone or be particularly nice about his greeting. It makes it much easier for him to keep up with the multitudes. He then lets in anyone who asks nicely, and inside the store, the customer experience (and our poor, harried store staff in the metaphor) return to normal. The digital bouncer, our splash page, does this by serving up the simplest code possible (a bunch of explanatory text) and letting in those who click the link to enter Smokingpipes.com. We'll leave the bouncer out front until we're confident the throng of zombies has passed and just normal good folks are trying to get to the site again.
So, we very much appreciate your patience and kind words as you've waited for us to return. Hopefully, we'll be able to drop the splash page in the next few days and return everything completely to normal. Brian and Ted will cover the phones until 10pm tonight to accommodate extra call volume. I, however, having been at this for almost all of the past twenty four hours, will go take a shower and get some sleep!
At times, Adam demonstrates a brilliance that far surpasses my wildest expectations. Recently, he's been making homemade (or, I guess, office made) donuts in our office kitchen. Who, my dear reader, other than Adam, would think that a) bringing a massive cast iron wok to work, and b) frying donuts in it, would be a normal thing to do at ones job. Granted, this is not a work environment devoid of eccentricities, not least of which are my own, but Adam is the current champion of office eccentricity. It's a good eccentricity, however.
Today, I happened to be in the kitchen when he was frying up another batch. Somehow we got talking about making pipe-shaped donuts. I took first crack at this and my pipe-shaped donut looked like, er, not a pipe. Let's just say that it has been safely eaten and will not be photographed. Let's also suggest that, were it presented on broadcast television, the FCC would likely fine me. Adam's, as one might expect from a pipe maker of his caliber, was rather impressive. It even had a chamber, though no draft hole. One of the most talked about aspects of sandblasting among pipe makers is the trade off of shape integrity and sandblast depth. Well, those pipe makers should try shaping in dough and deep frying; that'll seriously screw up your shape's lines...
Having crafted this magnificent shape, Brian walked in and immediately recognized the pipe-donut for what it was: an interpretation of Alex Florov's Callalily. Now, while it is generally common for pipe makers to borrow ideas from each other, it is less common to render each others work in deep-fried biscuit dough.
Of course, this also gives a whole new meaning to "Fresh pipes served daily". Suffice it to say that, our tagline notwithstanding, there will not be a baked (er, fried) goods section on the website, pipe shaped or otherwise...
happens when we have a meeting scheduled but nothing to talk
about? We assume that there is nothing important going on, we need
more work to do and we make some stuff up to keep ourselves amused.
This is how we came up with “The Smokingpipes.com September Give
This month we are giving away an amazing leather pipe/messenger bag,
the Urban Pipe Bag by Neil Flancbaum. This bag is made of high
quality deer hide and has room for six or twelve pipes (in three
pockets on each side of the interior), pockets for a lighter and pipe
tool and tons of interior space for tobacco or anything else you may
need to haul around. This bag retails for about $450 and, yes, we are
giving it away for FREE!
There are two ways to win…
Every pipe purchase is automatically entered to win. Place an order
for any pipe in the month of September and that’s it!
Alternatively you can also enter by mailing us a S.A.S.E to
Smokingpipes.com September Give-Away, 2 Highway 90 East, Little River,
The drawing will take place on October 10th, 2010 and the winner will be notified by phone, snail-mail or email.
Today, we're putting up the very first examples of something that we've been working on during the past few months. You'll find the new 360-degree flash models used for the new Sillem's lighters. Frankly, I think this may be the coolest thing ever. Or at least the coolest thing to happen this month. Alyson, Bobby and Melissa have been working really hard to pull this together. I think they've done a tremendous job. We're still very much in the Beta phase with this, rolling it out here and there as we can, making sure we have it down before we try to bite off more than we can chew. It's been a long road to get it this far; we have some ways to go before it's more widely implemented.
So, I figured a quick Q&A followed by two examples below might be in order.
Q: What in the world is this and where can I find it?
Q: Wow, cool! How did you make it go?
A: USB driven turntable and Canon DSLR camera are slaved to a desktop computer running specialized software. Flash apparatus is slaved to the camera. We pretty much set it up (which is far harder than it seems like it should be, as we've discovered over the past couple of months) and it takes care of the rest.
Q: What does the setup look like altogether?
A: See the photo below! The odd-looking wooden apparatus (which, frankly, looks like part of a medieval siege engine) lets us orient the turntable either right side up or upside down, depending on what we need it to do. Oh, and I know that which is in the booth isn't that which is on the screen. Alyson was busy with the update, so I took the picture, and it's far too complicated for me to actually make go, so I just pretended it was going. And then realized that I had a pipe on the screen and a humidor in the light tent...
Q: Again, seriously cool! When can we expect to see it on more stuff? Yeah, I am talking about pipes here...
A: Frankly, we're not sure. We have more work to do on lighting and reflections, and on how to consistently get good results with a variety of pipe shapes and finishes. This might take awhile, though we certainly hope it happens sometime soon.
Q: Well, can I see an example?
Sure! See below: (Note, of course, that you need the Flash plugin installed to see these).
This is the fifth and final entry in our estate restoration video series. I'm not yet sure whether I'm glad it's over or if I'll miss it and have to rope Sykes or Alyson into doing a couple of appendices to the series with me. Either way, we'll definitely take a break for a little while and you'll hear from others here. Thanks so much for watching the series!
Here's the latest entry in the series Sykes and I did about our estate restoration process. In this part, I demonstrate buffing a stem and Sykes and I talk about our buffing wheels and other equipment and our methods for shining up those stems! Personally, I think this is the best version yet, either because I got progressively more comfortable in front of the camera or because I had better props for this video...
“Okay, I just need to know, is 2 Highway 90 East haunted?” The answer: “Oh, it’s just George. He locked Tony in the bathroom once.”
On Friday, August 6th we had yet another summer storm. And this one somehow reached out and fried a piece of our networking equipment, arcing visibly within the building, leaving customer service and shipping without computers or phones. Our fearless leaders, Sykes and Brian, along with Melissa, our even more fearless person in charge of all things electronic, dashed over in the pouring rain only to discover that there was no hope of recovery without new equipment. Mark and I gathered up our personal belongings, favorite pens, notepads, etc. and grabbed our nifty IP phones which identically work wherever they're plugged in (assuming lightening hasn't killed the network, of course). Dashing through the rain, we rushed over to our main building of operation. We set up camp at two vacant computer stations on the second floor.
As you may already know, that weekend four staff members took off to New Orleans. With Adam still out on vacation in Russia, things were pretty quiet in the big building. But it was all business as usual, with Pam, Eric and Melissa ensuring that all was well for the weekly updates. The networking equipment was on order and customer service and shipping were back online at 2 Highway 90 East.
Tuesday evening after logging off my computer, I was in our kitchen washing out my coffee cup. I was alone in our 100+ year old building, as the guys downstairs in our retail store had already departed. After washing my cup and wiping down the counters, I stepped into the bathroom to check my look in the mirror, and while gazing in the mirror I heard a sound. It was like one of those double-take moments. I paused, stopped breathing and listened veerrry carefully. What I heard was the sound of a door rattling, like an old wooden door that is loose in the door frame, LIKE A DOOR FROM OVER 100 YEARS AGO! Okay, this is for real! I walked out of the bathroom, down the hall and peeked down the stairs towards the retail store and up the stairs towards our attic, which houses our cleaning/restoration shop and photo studio. NOTHING! No sounds. As cold chills started to creep over me, I walked back into the bathroom. NOTHING! No sounds. Needless to say, I grabbed my bag and high tailed it out of there, securing the building for the night.
On Wednesday, our new equipment came in and customer service and shipping moved back to our normal building, which is only a few hundred yards across the way. And I learned about George from fellow coworkers. I found it a little unsettling to know that George is with us, a little sad to think that he cannot rest in peace. But later, I thought, well, maybe George is at peace, here with us. Maybe George even smokes a pipe! I like to think so anyway.
I’ve been in customer service at Smokingpipes.com for four and a half months now and I have learned many things. Like a burn-out is not only the purposeful roar of a motorcycle burning rubber off the rear tire in a cloud of smoke. A burn-out is also when a hole is burning into your pipe! That is not supposed to happen and I’m sure it must be an unpleasant experience. I’ve never witnessed this. I’ve only seen the end result, an ugly gaping hole in the side of a bowl, all charred and black. It’s a SAD sight to see.
In our world at Smokingpipes.com, a pipe is not just a pipe. Properly cared for, a pipe can last through generations. The way I see it, tobacco burns up. A cigar burns up. Once you smoke it, you buy more. If you lose your cigar cutter or pipe tamper, you may be able to replace it with a new one exactly like it. But your favorite pipe, it’s one-of-a-kind. There is only one of each pipe that you see on our web site. We often get repeats in favored designs, but truly each pipe is unique. Your favorite pipe is a companion. Maybe you’ve shared the good, the bad and the ugly together. You share history and memories. Like my favorite Justin roper boots that have been resoled three times and need it badly now. We’ve come a long way, Baby!
Passion for pipes is quite contagious here at Smokingpipes.com. Having read Sykes’ blog entries about visiting famous pipe makers around the world, I feel quite in awe when I browse through our pipe library. Having a better understanding of the passion and fine craftsmanship that went into making a pipe, I hold each pipe a little more tenderly now.
I learn something new just about every day in customer service. I learn from my coworkers. We hold training classes. I study our weekly updates to prepare for potential questions. I research questions to find answers and I learn from our customers. Brian instructs our training classes. We have sniffed tobacco, rubbed it out in our hands, compared it, one to another and smoked it. One day we dissected a cigar to see the tobacco leaf layers and the internal tobacco. Another day we studied pipe shapes, the names of different parts of a pipe, stem designs, etc. And then one day Brian took a hammer to some retired pipe pieces. He banged them open to show us the internal view of a shank hole, a meerschaum lined bowl and a badly charred bowl (though I suspect he really just wanted an excuse to hit something with a hammer). I missed the day they studied a block of briar and learned about the grain of the wood. Word is, they licked the wood. I still don’t know what that was about, but will follow-up on this. Anyway I’m still growing my vocabulary to speak of birdseye, straight grain, flame grain, etc. I study every day, so that I can be better prepared and ready to speak with our customers and fulfill their needs.
Stay tuned for more “Behind the Scenes in Customer Service”, as my colleague Mark Pluta will deliver our next blog entry.
And George, if you’re reading this, please stop messing with my computer speakers.
We received the new Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine in the mail while the four of us were in New Orleans. No one here told me it had arrived, of course (they really shouldn't toy with my emotions that way), but in it is the interview/article that Chuck Stanion and I did here at Smokingpipes.com in June. I'm really delighted with how it came out; Chuck actually managed to make me sound like an intelligent adult instead of an overexcited eight-year-old hopped-up on Mountain Dew, which is a true testament to Chuck's journalistic, or perhaps literary, talents...
So, a big thank you to Chuck both for the article and continuing to put together a great magazine quarter after quarter. If you don't subscribe to P&T, well, you most definitely should.
It's not yet up on their website, but if they put the full article up in the coming days, I'll post the link to it. But, really, it's P&T, you really should have a subscription...
And now for the third part in my series of estate restoration videos. In this video, we talk about stem cleaning, internally and externally, before we put it on the buffing wheels. Sykes makes an appearance here to discuss the soaking of stems too.
And now it's time for the second part in my series of estate restoration videos. In the first video, we introduced the department (and, yes, shared some of the fun we had while making the vids), but now onto the meat of series: we begin actually cleaning some pipes. This video discusses cleaning the insides of bowls and shanks.
For a little chunk of the past couple of days, Sykes and I have been working on getting much of our estate restoration process on film. We think, but we're not sure, that this will go up in five parts, with this little introduction to what we do and who we are in the estate department is the first part.
Oh, and we're including the outtakes from the entire series here. Enjoy!
For seven weeks now we have been extremely lucky to have an intern helping us with the daily duties that make our updates possible. Sarah has turned out to be an awesome asset to us. Not only has she done everything expected of her, but she has also contributed ideas in areas where most of us are still uncomfortable.
Sarah, in a short time, has turned into an important member of the team. We joke with her, con her into having lunch with us (even though she has brought her lunch) and ask for her input on ideas. She has been efficient, thorough and capable while performing her work here at Smokingpipes.com. She has made us all look at pipes through the eyes of Lady Gaga while staring at a milkshake. In other words, we’ve become quite fond of her.
But, alas, today is her last day. Sarah will be leaving us this afternoon to prepare for her return to college. Knowing how much she will be missed, we surprised her this afternoon with a cake and a card. I think she was shocked and, in the words of Lady Gaga, we left her “Speechless”.
Part III of the interview that Kevin Godbee did with me a few weeks ago is now up at PipesMagazine.com. In this part, Kevin and I discuss what makes Smokingpipes different from others out there and what the future may hold for the pipe world. Read on as Kevin and I ramble on about Smokingpipes.com, what we do here, and why I think what we do is really, really cool.
Some of you probably noticed that reaching the website between about 6pm and 3am, last night and this morning, alternated between excruciatingly slow and impossible. I am very sorry for the inconvenience caused.
Apparently, a bad NIC card on one of the servers where we co-locate our servers (but not on ours) created tremendous latency problems for every server hosted at the data center. We could do nothing but sit and wait until the problem was diagnosed and fixed. Fortunately, everything is back to normal. Again, my apologies for the difficulties this caused.
I was trying to come up with an appropriate analogy for what happened, and I think this is the best I can do:
Imagine that the data streams in a data center are sort of like a highway. At each exit, there's an area of toll booths. Our website, our servers, sit behind one of those toll booths at an exit. At another exit on this same highway, there's a problem with the toll booths. They won't accept payment and won't let anyone through (or perhaps instead of 10 lanes to pay, there's suddenly only one). Traffic backs up from those toll booths all the way back onto the highway and the cars trying to get to our exit can't reach it, even though our toll booths are working just fine.
As I was reading the last couple of blogs about pets in the work place here at Smokingpipes.com it occurred to me that we already have them! I am still fairly new to the world of fine pipes and during my first few months here I was more than a little confused at all the pipes I was both pulling for orders and putting on display. One could argue that given the
names of the pipes I was handling you could in fact confuse us with an exotic pet store.
I still recall an hour I wasted looking for a Flying Squirrel before finding it on Brian's desk, we also had trouble finding the Angler Fish in the J Alan case and while I'm on fish I shouldn't forget to mention the Speared Fish or Smooth Fish I located in the Gotoh case or the Swordfish in with the Heding pipes. There is an entire school of Blowfish scattered in several cases as well as a Seal in the Danish estates case, and I remember a Dolphin and Killer Whale in the Kent Rasmussen display. If you're noticing a trend here, I assure you I intend to beat this dead horse for all it's worth, which reminds me of the Horse in the Meershaum case which happens to be along side a Lion and an Eagle; there is also a Lion in the Ardor case and I recall a Lion from the Heding case although it has been "re-homed" as have the Rasmussen Armadillo and Knudsen Conch.
If you're still looking for a "pet" we have a large number of Bulldogs in every coat color you can imagine, not to mention a Jumping Horse in the miscellaneous estates along side a Lion and Deer on the same pipe; though things don't look good for the deer. As I turn around in the shop and face the tobacco I also start to see a pattern: Old Dog, Junkyard Dog, Black Parrot and on and on. So as for pets in our workplace I say we have plenty. They cost money, give enjoyment and comfort, require feeding and care, and every time I light mine my wife says to take it for a walk!
Unfortunately two years of begging and pleading have yielded no results for me either (aside from me smuggling my cat in to pose with me for my employee photo). “People are allergic” and “We have expensive pipes lying around” are some of the lame answers I have received in opposition. Although I haven’t completely given up on a corporate feline, Susan and I recently came up the interim solution of fish.
About a month ago we snuck out of the office on our secret mission to acquire fish & milkshakes. Susan already purchased the tank and had worked on getting the water just right in the days preceding the mission. It was now time for some serious fish shopping. We settled on two Tiger Barbs and some live underwater plants before heading to Arby’s for some afternoon milkshakes.
Once the fish were settled in the tank it was time to name them. Bonnie & Clyde? No. Starsky & Hutch? No. Thelma & Louise! YES! (Ok, ok...we are women and we do like the occasional chick flick; cut us some slack.) For our gentleman readership who have not seen the movie, Thelma (played by the beautiful Geena Davis) and Louise (played by the equally lovely Susan Sarandon) are two completely different characters. Thelma was somewhat of a sheltered, emotional disaster, whereas Louise was a tough, no nonsense, take the bull by the horns kind of gal. So it became clear who ruled this tank with an iron fin. Louise swam around with a strong vigor, occasionally nipping at Thelma and Thelma would come out to eat and then retreat behind the filter with her nose pointed downward.
Several weeks went by like this until Tuesday when Thelma started looking a little peaked; swimming crooked and occasionally rolling over. Susan began emergency treatment immediately by removing Thelma from the tank into a separate container placed directly next to her monitor where she could keep an eye on her throughout the day, checking her movements and periodically aerating the bowl.
Alas, it was all in vain. When I came in this morning Thelma was lying sideways and motionless at the bottom of the tank. I broke the news to Susan when she arrived and then went to the kitchen to get a plastic serving spoon to remove the body from the tank. (It’s ok; Adam occasionally uses the same spoon for tilapia.)
We had a small service in the ladies room this morning and sent Thelma off to her final resting place: The Horry County Sewer System.
Lisa, of course, will probably be relieved that she won't have to sign it up for the company health plan.
Let me start by saying my dream job has always been to work somewhere that I could bring my dog to work. Studies have shown that employees who are allowed to bring their pets to work are happier and much more productive. I am an avid pet lover, so you can imagine my excitement when company pets began to show up here at smokingpipes.com.
Here comes the disappointing part: they are all aquatic. That said, I am hoping this is beginning of something really big. Bobby, our resident photographer, has setup an aquarium in his office, across in our other building. We are not talking regular fish, but coral, banded coral shrimp, hermit crabs, and snails. This I knew about, but one day I walked into Susan and Alyson’s office and saw a small aquarium with 2 small fish. My immediate response was, "does Sykes know about these?" (this being my usual reaction when we get new employees). I was told no company pets...anytime I have mentioned to Sykes that we need an office pet, I get a look that speaks volumes (roughly translated): Lisa, don’t even go there. Do you know what kind of damage a pet could do to all these pipes? In a way I can relate: pipes are like Sykes’ children and pets are like my children. We do have a few stray cats that roam around the parking lot and live under our building that Alyson and I feed.
For now, all I can do is dream and keep a picture of my dog as my computer wallpaper: how cool would my Old English Sheepdog look walking around the office or hanging out in our retail store lounge with a Dunhill pipe hanging out of his snoot with a bowl of Low Country Cooper?
I’ll keep you posted, at least the fish food isn’t going to kill our monthly food budget and as of now they are not on the company health plan. We’ll wait and see if they are alive after the 90-day new employee probationary period.
You can read the first part of an interview I did with Kevin Godbee over at PipesMagazine.com about a month ago. We had entirely too much fun poking around here and chatting for pretty much the entire day, so it's a three parter. I hope you enjoy it!
Many nights of the past weeks, I’ve found myself measuring pipes in my head before falling asleep. Just going through the motions… length, chamber diameter, chamber depth, etc. It’s actually quite relaxing. This is not a comment on how I feel about measuring pipes during the day, of course. The task is engaging, in that repetitive way, during the day that my mind simply returns to it when it is free to wander that dusky plane of consciousness immediately before sleep. It’s a little like looking at a bright light for too long, you see spots; I look at pipes all day, and I’m starting to see pipes everywhere…
With a couple of weeks at smokingpipes.com behind me, I am certainly beginning to see the world in an entirely new light. Much as an influential Art class would, my elementary education in pipes has enormously affected they way I view everyday things lately. This may seem like an exaggeration, but my new involvement in this world has indeed caused an enthusiasm for pipes I certainly did not expect.
Fairly recently, Lady Gaga came out with her video for the song ‘Alejandro’. Characteristically sensational, the new video features a less than ten second shot (out of a more than eight minute video) of Lady Gaga smoking a pipe. Well, I was so delighted! This affected me in a way it would not have a few weeks ago. Not simply one of my favorites, but *the* worldwide pop-star accessorizing with a pipe! As with all Lady Gaga productions, this video will be one of the most viewed, discussed, criticized, and acclaimed videos of a generation, and she’s smoking a pipe in it (well, holding a pipe that is smoking)! I was thrilled to see the pipe smoking, adding allure, in the already unusual video. I was practically bouncing out of my seat, so happy to see a pipe in such a mainstream context. In keeping with her typical style, Lady Gaga fearlessly incorporates the untypical, and I’m terribly enthusiastic about it. My BP days (that’s Before Pipes, not the much distressed oil company) collided with my AP days! Will the worldwide popularity of pipe smoking skyrocket? What are the exact social implications of these historic ten seconds? Recognizing my audience, I understand that embellishing a music video with (what is to you) an “ordinary” object may not seem as exciting as I am making it out to be. Also, I have a feeling that those reading may not be avid Lady Gaga fans, and may think I’m exaggerating her global reach. I’ll clarify because, as an outsider now semi-initiated into the pipe world, I immediately noted the pipe in the video as well as understood the significance of its presence “out there” in the mostly tobaccophobic world. Let me make my point this way, in the language of the average Gaga fan: pipes are totally unusual, and Lady Gaga is totally huge. Never have I so appreciated Lady Gaga’s tendency to include the esoteric and bizarre in her work as I did with this video. Additionally, I paused, re-watched, paused, and tried to determine the shape of the pipe she’s holding. I simply had to name the shape. But it’s difficult to make the call; I think it’s a sort of short churchwarden, maybe an apple bowl. Knowing pipes and Lady Gaga, I think a churchwarden would certainly be her choice, the more attention grabbing, the better.
Next, the other night I watched ‘National Treasure’, and the meerschaum pipe introduced towards the beginning of the film struck a new chord with me. While this doesn’t have the immediate cultural impact that I perceived in the Lady Gaga video, it did get me thinking. Having learned that meerschaum pipes are from Turkey, I began to wonder what in the world eighteen-century, American freemasons were doing with a pipe from the near East, and why they put a mysterious clue on the shank. Funnily enough, a meerschaum pipe carved with freemason insignia went up here on the site recently. Hmm… well, a connection between Masonic tradition and meerschaum pipes would be well worth scholarly investigation. After I mentioned these observations to Eric, he suggested that our Masonic meerschaum is a cry for help from a freemason stranded in a Turkish meerschaum workshop, however that doesn’t explain the peculiar connection implied by ‘National Treasure’… So, continuing my very scholarly investigation, I googled “meershaum pipes freemasons”. Many hits route you to meerschaums with freemason symbols, but I couldn’t find anything that explained the historical, sociological angle. Perhaps this will require more in-depth research on my part, and perhaps more enjoyable and inaccurate films on the part of Nicholas Cage.
Finally, the most, well, weird way my pipe education has influenced my perspective occurred while buying fast food the other day. When I saw the posters advertising a Chocolate Swirl Shake, I thought immediately “oh! Cool! It’s just a like an acrylic stem!” My next thought: “I am going nuts.” Maybe I’m not going nuts; maybe, I’m just getting good at my job. Or maybe both, which would be ok because I’ve noticed that a level of nuttiness may be necessary for success in this place. Anyway, this is a perfect example of how this internship is affecting that way I see the world. And, I suppose I’m thankful for it. While waiting for my order in an Arby’s, I don’t just see a picture of a milkshake— I see art.
I'm headed to the airport to fly to Brussels tomorrow. From there, I'll wind my way south, visiting St. Claude in the Joura mountains as the first stop on my trip. I'll visit the Genod workshop, have lunch with folks there, and head east to Switzerland, where I'll spend the night, before going on to visit Ardor, Castello, and Radice over the following two days. And from there, south into Italy, visiting folks, then across the peninsula, visiting more folks, up into Germany and eventually back to Brussels.
I'll blog as I go, with photos and descriptions, but much of the reason that I like visiting our suppliers and partners in Italy is that we, as one might expect, do everything Italian style. This means that we actually talk business for about, it seems, four minutes. Then we eat lunch for two hours. Then business resumes for about six minutes. It's not that Italians don't work hard; these guys really work hard. It's just that business is done over great food. That, I think, is yet another Italian import that we Americans need. Breakfast meetings at 7:30am with everyone scribbling on legal pads while sucking down tepid coffee do not count, my fellow Americans.
About a year ago at the IPCPR show in New Orleans, we had four person team: three veterans (Tony, Susan, me) and one person new to the whole experience (Lisa). Lisa couldn't quite figure out the division of labor. It seemed to her that I spent more time trying to figure out what restaurants we wanted to eat at (this is New Orleans, after all) than I did on the business. Susan and Tony expected this. The three of us had eaten our way through Las Vegas for the previous IPCPR. But Lisa was baffled. I knew I'd done all the prep I could do back at the office, that I'd be at the show or in outside meetings with folks ten hours a day, and that I really wanted to make sure I could experience the culinary delights that New Orleans had to offer. Such as Susan Spicer's restaurant Bayona, which if you ever happen to find yourself in New Orleans (or, well, within 200 miles of New Orleans) is a must visit. Food is really important. Returning to my original point, the Italians have it right.
So, starting in a couple of days, I'll blog diligently about my first love, pipes and pipe tobacco, and I'll probably squeeze some meal descriptions in there while I'm at it. I couldn't be more excited to make this trip. I'm in Denmark and Japan each annually, but this'll be my first trip to Italy in a couple of years.
I’m the summer intern here at smokingpipes.com. This means I have managed to infiltrate a close-knit community at the heart of the pipe industry. But, really, this means I measure pipes and make coffee. I have quickly learned that both the pipes and the coffee at the offices of smokingpipes are of exceptional quality. Of course, I knew nothing about pipes before I started working here Monday, so I'm not sure if I'm in any sort of position to judge yet, but they do seem pretty...and I'm quite certain of my assessment on the coffee.
I have learned that the tasks of measuring pipes, entering data, and identifying shape from a chart, while tedious matters of minutiae, are fundamental to the product updating process. So I have tried to be very careful. My inner monologue for most of the day runs a little something like this… “ok, bowl diameter is 1.51 or was that the chamber depth? or are they just the same… just measure both again… ok enter the last of that data… click submit load, load...hmm, wait I think I just need some coffee first… ah yes… it’s all under control now… measure, measure, next, next… ok shapes…
And, to quote the inestimable Vonnegut, 'so it goes'...
But, the shapes are particularly challenging. They seem thoroughly and completely arbitrary. Really, why is a long, oval-shanked pipe with a tapered stem called a Canadian? Did the shape strike someone back in the early days of pipe naming as just particularly inoffensive, pleasant, and welcoming? And Billiard? To be smoked only during a session of a refined version of pool? By far the most strikingly, well, just silly name I’ve seen is “Oom Paul”. I first saw this in the list of shape options while entering pipe info, and, nonplussed, I immediately thought of Willy Wonka’s oompa-loompas. Later when I came across an Oom Paul with an odd cap on a thin chain, I thought that I could definitely see an oompa-loompa smoking it [I've since learned that Oom Paul refers to Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic from 1883 to 1900, but that's not nearly as funny]. The names of pipe shapes seem to reflect the unconventionality of this area of art. I’ve been told that everyone has trouble with determining shapes at first, and this is not hard to believe. It is hard to believe that I’ll ever get the hang of the less usual shapes.
As I said, I have infiltrated a close-knit community here, and as an outsider I think I have a fresh perspective to share. I am very much taken with the eccentricities of this work environment, which, while very apparent to me, have become commonplace to the permanent team members, much as you overlook the oddities and quirks of your own family.
I am reporting directly to Alyson. She and Pam have been guiding me through the complex updating process. The first thing Alyson showed me was how to make coffee in an intimidating, industrial machine. Next, we turned to pipes. I noted the priorities here: coffee, and then the pipes. A little unexpected, maybe, but I accepted it willingly. Alyson showed me the pipe 'library', the largest room on the 2nd floor of the main building. I understood why the coffee step preceded the pipe step.
Adam’s desk, along with shelves of pipes, is in this pipe library room. Adam immediately struck me as a cool kind of guy. This is probably because he wears a cool-kind-of-guy hat. This week I discovered Adam is also the hub of the eccentricity here, surpassing even Sykes (though Sykes’ tendency to talk about papal history makes him a close second). Adam manages, sometimes quite literally, to spread his idiosyncrasy all over the second floor offices. He draws out the idiosyncrasies of others. For example, Adam causes Sykes to laugh his (I’ve learned) characteristic, very loud and appreciative guffaw; and he draws out Eric’s characteristic, dry and deadpan comments. Another way Adam eccentrically engages his second-floor colleagues is by cooking something delicious and walking around the office, bowl in hand, to visit and let everyone know just how insanely good his food is. Most importantly, though, is his music. Because Adam’s desk is in the center of much activity, and his door is always open, his music choices permeate the second floor. Adam plays a playlist that reduces the word “eclectic” to the foreign cousin of “monotonous”. Kung Fu Fighting is a daily favorite, and when I was retrieving and organizing pipes from the shelves, I was graced with sonorous voice of Jack Black stringing expletives together for several minutes; later in the day, I heard Bach’s cello suites— and later still, Lady Gaga. The musical diversity is truly remarkable, and (I think) much-appreciated entertainment.
This week I have been struck by just how much of a caring team community this place has: Pam kindly and forgivingly correcting my mistakes (usually the shapes); Alyson and Susan brightening the afternoon with milkshakes; Melissa patiently helping everyone with their computers; friendly hellos and goodbyes…it has all combined to create a great first few days. I took this internship because I wanted to work at a small, tech-oriented company (the '.com' in the name clinched it). I discovered that this isn't really a tech company. It's more of an old family store, filled with eccentric characters, who also happen to have massive tech resources at their disposal. That and thousands of pipes. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad combination yet, having not yet figured out exactly how they do what they do, but it's definitely been an eye opening experience so far.
Hey guys to start off my blog post let me introduce myself a little. My name is Bobby Altman and I am the staff photographer here at Smokingpipes.com. I have a background in editorial and commercial photography specializing in sports, product, and food. My blog posts are going to be about recent photo projects we have worked on and the execution of the photos.
For this first post we wanted to have a slideshow playing at our tent after the Chicago pipe show this year so I figured just shooting on white would be the best way to go, however I wanted the background to be seamless, simple yet still interesting and showing the shapes of the pipes we selected. To illustrate how simple it is to do this I have also provided a shot of the set up.
I set up some white photo paper long ways on a table and placed a piece of glass on top of that to give a light reflection. for the pipes glass works great but for people I used white tile board from Lowes. (Tile board is about $12 and comes in a 4X8 sheet...and wont break if you stand on it.) The table was positioned about 3 feet from a white wall. The key to doing this is to get the object you are shoot as far from the white background as possible because the light will bounce back onto your subject. The main light is bouncing out of an umbrella to camera right and the background light is pointed at the wall directly behind the pipe. I used some white foam core board to stop any spill from the background light onto the pipe and to bounce a little of the main light back to fill in the shadows a little on the left of the pipe. The background lights in a shot like this generally need to be about one full stop brighter than the main light to blow it out.
At the very end of last month, on the Wednesday before the Chicago pipe show, we bought an estate of over 500 pipes. Actually, it was more like 600, but there were around 500 that mattered. Plus two. Most of them were top quality English made pipes; but, like most of us as we pursue this passion across years and decades, there was quite the assortment of oddities. And I don't mean oddities in an 'oddities and rarities' sort of way. More in a "why would anyone have made that?" or, perhaps more to the point, "why, indeed, would anyone have parted with hard-earned cash for it?"
One of those 'oddities' was this brilliantly articulated interpretation of, yes, a shoe. Sykes and I were handling this estate together: it takes a long time for two people to work through that many pipes. Sykes, for reasons that continue to elude me, negotiated for the deal to include this little wooden shoe and an absurd cast brass pipe of some sort of Belgian general. Sykes gets rather punchy after ten straight hours of cataloging pipes, so that might have played some role in his sudden predilection towards the absurd.
Far be it for me to argue if he wanted to add it to his collection of Danish and Japanese high grades, so into the box with the other pipes went the little shoe.
Fast forward to Sunday evening in our pipe room. After a long week, the show crew is gathered to pack up the pipes for their trip. From among the pipes from some of the greatest pipe makers in the world, pops up the little shoe, and I go into my standard routine talking about the drilling, the grain and so on. The rest of room comments on the pipe and its design. It is then I realize and announce "what makes this pipe truly special is it has soul...or at least a sole...". That solidified it as some sort of office mascot.
Fast forward a week and back to the Smokingpipes.com conference room, located in the main building of the Smokingpipes.com campus (which, granted, only has two buildings, but we're working on it). We're unpacking pipes in there. Sykes, Alyson, Pam and I have hundreds of pipes arrayed on the table, sorting and organizing, and up, again, pops the shoe pipe. Alyson, the keeper of the new pipes at Smokingpipes.com, so the one who keeps track of, oh, about 2,500 pipes at an given time, and also a woman who, we believe, also goes by the name Imelda and might secretly be married to a Philippine dictator, immediately claims it, indicating that this was the first time she'd been able to, with one item, add to her burgeoning collections of each, at work and home, respectively.
Sykes, no longer quite as punchy as he had been, happily gave it up. But then Susan and Pam each tried to claim it. Then Mark, for reasons I still haven't determined, got into the fray. Alyson emerged victorious, pipe/shoe in hand, but I had long since abandoned that particular battleground, as either a participant or a spectator, so I can't relate exactly how that happened.
Of course, no one wanted his silly Belgian general guy, so he got to keep that. The top row of his pipe rack at work now looks sort of like this: J. Alan, Gotoh, Tokutomi, Tokutomi, Silly Brass Belgian Guy, Teddy, Peter Heeschen, Paolo Becker, Smio Satou. He's happy though. Apparently, even in a more sedate mood he still likes the Belgian dude.
We all like looking at new pipes. That's a given. Opening boxes from makers around the world is always exciting. The only thing disappointing about new pipes is the obvious. I know what is in the box! My wife and I are different characters. She asks me what I wanted for my birthday. "I don't ask for presents, darling". Well...that just wasn't what she wanted to hear. For her, it is much easier to know EXACTLY what I want. Sure, it's a huge risk to spend time, and money, to give someone a present and gamble at their response. She, on the other hand, has a whole notebook full of things she wants (like all wives, I suppose). I like to play games and tell her it is something completely different from what she has in mind, but I'm smart enough to know she does NOT want to be surprised. This kind of bums me out. Even though I know she will love it, there isn't the glimmer of 'gee, I hope!" in her eyes.
The same is true for pipes, to me.
When we get a package from a maker, Sykes, Alyson, or I know what is going to be inside. Sure, there are many surprises, but EVERY box of estates holds promise. None of them belong to me, but I treat every package like it is a present. I never know what I will find. Sometimes there are hundreds of pipes that aren't worth a dollar - due to condition. Sometimes there are socks (literally, and figuratively), and then there are gems. I love to unpack them one at a time and get surprised. Sometimes there will be a bunch of pipes that are very standard, and made in the thousands. We need these, but, remember, I look at these as personal gifts. Sometimes, hidden away in the bottom of a box, inside an old sock (sometimes a real one, with grass stains), will be a diamond in the rough. Patent Dunhills, old Comoys, and antique pipes get my heart beating. Recently, among a very unusual box of packing materials, I pulled out a Jorn Micke. This is the stuff that dreams are made of! I know I can't keep all of them, but the chance to hunt and be surprised is something that I will always look forward to. Not knowing, is half the fun.
I've never blogged before; I think that my particular need to share thoughts in writing manifests itself elsewhere. But I have toyed with the idea from time to time, utterly failing to come up with a unifying theme, assuming I'd just do it under my own name as a person, rather than as a company. I briefly considered documenting my culinary efforts (and failures, which would be far more entertaining), but the idea sputtered fairly quickly-- it was obvious it'd have three great posts and nothing further. As far as pipes go, it would have been terribly odd for me to blog about pipes outside of the Smokingpipes.com context; my love for pipes and my life with pipes is so inextricably intertwined with this company that I couldn't see myself describing one without the other. Other ideas presented themselves, usually when I found something particularly clever and witty. Later, of course, I realized that I wasn't nearly as clever or witty as I'd thought to begin with and that a blog entitled "the woefully self-indulgent musings of a pipe retailer, student of history, and mediocre cook" was just not going to fly.
We'd also discussed a group blog for the website since the earliest days of blogging. In some respects, various iterations of the newsletter provided this, especially the introduction and various columns that have been included over the years. In recent months though, the newsletter has become less fluid. Some of that is a good thing-- we finally figured out what the newsletter should be-- though much of it is a function of the scale of the organizational task that is bringing you the newsletter and the need to regularize it some. Anyway, it's become abundantly clear that the sort of informal and semi-formal 'behind the scenes' commentary that we wanted to provide simply didn't fit the newsletter very well. We have all these different communication channels, but they're all very one-way and all fairly formal: articles on the site, pipe descriptions, newsletter content etc. What we wanted was a fairly informal, somewhat two-way avenue for communication.
So, we started this blog, of which this is the first post. It took a little longer than anticipated to implement because most of the off-the-shelf software out there didn't fit our needs (and long term plans for greater integration with the rest of the site), so we're using a heavily modified version of BlogCFM sitting atop our Postgresql database. Melissa did most of the work for this, so kudos to her.
So, what is this blog and what will it be? For starters, I don't really know. All good projects tend to take on a life of their own and develop characteristics different from what their originators predicted. Still, I do know that this won't be about new products on the site, though we may occasionally mention such. Mostly, I hope it'll serve as something of a backstage pass into life at Smokingpipes.com and give us a place to share general pipe and tobacco thoughts in a less formal, less structured medium. When we sat altogether yesterday (the people I expect to participate most with the blog: Brian, Alyson, Bobby, Eric, Adam, Melissa and me) and discussed it, the only thing we concluded is that this shouldn't really be company communication, it should be communication from a bunch of individuals within the company. Bobby should talk about photography, Adam could talk about pipe making or esoteric estate pipes, Eric could write about, well, writing, Alyson about the process of organizing the update etc. In all, we'll just see what happens. I hope it flowers into something interesting and compelling over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
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.
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