This week has seen some beautiful pipes and some broken pipes, a strange combination I know. It's also been busy, so here's a quick recap in case you've missed anything. Monday's update included showstoppers from Michael Lindner and Maigurs Knets, among many others. Our photography team produced a great number of beautiful images for these, for more of them check out our Facebook and Tumblr pages.
Of course, we have so many promotions and special events, they sometimes get muddled together.
~15% off all estates (even Monday's update)-Active four more days
~Coming soon: Tobacco selections from Drew Estate
~20% off select Savinelli pipes
~All Lane Limited bulk tobacco is on sale through August
~FREE cigar cutter with select boxes of CAO cigars
~Now available: McClelland Holiday Spirit
We undertook a pretty significant mission this Tuesday, hints of which were dropped on Instagram, which resulted in over 300 broken estate pipes being hung from the ceiling in the Marketing Department. We created this short video to explain why, show you the process, and the most entertaining part: capture the reactions of our employees who didn't know! Give it a watch.
Dennis also wrote a blog post about his thoughts on the matter yesterday, which delves further into the motivation and meaning of the display.
For Thursday's update, we were blown away by the work of Lasse Skovgaard and Alex Florov. Again, the photos Chris and Katie produced for these pipes are pure art. If you haven't seen them, do yourself a favor and follow a link to one of our social media pages below. We recieved some pretty colorful compliments (of course, beautiful subjects make beautiful photos).
Pipe smoking worldwide declined steadily for the half century between 1960 and 2010. Once home to dozens of pipe manufacturers making many millions of pipes, St. Claude now has three that make fewer than a quarter million pipes a year among them. As has been the case the world over, factories were consolidated. The Ropp factory, unusual among French pipe manufacturers in that it was not in St. Claude, but rather some 150km away in Baume-les-Dames, closed in 1991 and was absorbed by Chapuis-Comoy shortly thereafter, where briar Ropp pipes continue to be made.
Chapuis-Comoy makes a variety of brands these days, though by far the most significant and the most intertwined with the company's history is Chacom. I wrote about my visit to the factory more broadly earlier this week and you can find that here. Following our exploration of the factory, we wandered down to massive storage rooms filled with pipes. In some ways, this was no different from any other pipe manufacturer. Many of Chacom's most significant lines are simply kept in inventory to be shipped to distributors around the world.
In pretty much every large pipe factory I've been to, there's also been a few dozen or a few hundred pipes that are interesting, and are great pipes, but don't fit anymore: the last few of a line that was discontinued from a catalog or an order that was manufactured before a customer went out of business. I relish buying these. Smokingpipes.com's one-at-a-time approach to putting pipes on the site is perfect for great jumbles of good things. We don't need ten of the same shape-finish combination as another retailer might. We're delighted to get ten different, interesting pipes instead. I've done this with lots of different manufacturers over the years: Peterson, Savinelli, and Tsuge also come to mind. Sometimes it happens on scale (think last year's Tsuge sale, which amounted to some 1,500 pipes) and sometimes it's not quite so huge (my purchases at Peterson, where we've bought a handful of a few different things they don't know what to do with on a couple of occasions). Now, keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with these pipes. Often they're really good. They're of the same quality as the rest of what the factory produces. They're just the forgotten ends of lines that have become extinct or custom orders that were made with the wrong ring and then made again. It often means we can offer unusual things at lower prices.
But, the experience at Chapuis-Comoy, while not qualitatively different, was quantitatively different. Antoine Grenard, Alyson (my wife) and I walked through room after room of dusty shelves, each holding pipe boxes, or boxes with dozens of pipes or giant bins of finished and semi-finished pipes. I did what I always do. I asked Antoine if there was anything he wanted to sell. We started slowly. He showed me some English made Comoy's pipes from the 1970s and I bought a few of those for the estate section (at one point, Chacom was Comoy's French distributor). Then he showed me some Jean LaCroix pipes. I bought a few dozen of those, which will also appear in the estate section.
Then we got to the real prize. He had dozens--I had no idea how many at first, but it turned out to be around a hundred--of beautiful old French shapes--delicate billiards and acorns and apples--with horn stems. Now horn is a beautiful material for stems, but it's also not terribly practical. It's not as durable as acrylic or vulcanite and takes a little more care in the teeth. It's also difficult and expensive to make, so no one does it very much anymore. A hundred years ago, with few alternatives, it was all but ubiquitous in French pipe making, but seeing a hundred pipes with horn stems these days is unusual. Antoine didn't know how old they were, though from the stems and bowl shapes they seemed decades old, but from the stains, they couldn't have been too much older than about 1970. So, I'd guess they were made--or at least mostly made--forty-odd years ago. I bought them all.
And that was the starting point for what became the 'Ropp project.' At this point, those pipes weren't stamped, but they needed a brand name, and a prestigious one at that. They are beautiful pipes with clean wood and great shapes. It seems arbitrary, but Ropp seemed the best fit as a brand name among the major brand names that Chapuis-Comoy owns (and Antoine didn't want to use Chacom for a variety of reasons having to do with US distribution rights and the overall direction for that brand). This whole thing was a very organic process that was born out of discussion and shared passion for great pipes.
So, from there we moved to other things as Antoine remembered various odds and ends he didn't know what to do with. We found some great extra-long shank canadians in a bin. The shape was awesome, but the stain, frankly, was not. It was a sort of funky reddish-brown color that didn't really work and didn't get absorbed into the wood properly, leaving a bit of a mottled mess. Obviously, that's why these were just hanging out in a giant bin of 50-odd. Looking closely, though, it was obvious the wood was very good. These were great pipes that had something go horribly wrong in staining. I was beginning to tell Antoine that I wasn't interested when he proposed, knowing as I did that the stain was the problem with these otherwise great pipes, that we blast them and restain them. I took him up on the offer. The results, which I didn't see until they arrived a couple of weeks ago, are awesome. They're on the site now.
Rounding this out, we found another few dozen sandblasted pipes that looked great. Antoine couldn't remember what they were for, but it was a classic tail end of a series. There were three or four of each of a bunch of different shapes. We rolled those into the project.
So, these Ropp pipes you started seeing on the site last week were all from this first round of treasure hunting that we did in the factory in St. Claude. We have quite a few of each, though they won't last forever. We're restarting the brand in the US with a couple hundred pipes, but Antoine and I also discussed finding other things to roll into the line as time goes on.
We want to make the brand quirky and interesting. The world has enough great classic pipes. The Chacom line from the same factory is filled with such things. What makes this project different is it's a place for great pipes that don't fit elsewhere to have a home. We'll emphasize classic French shapes and styles: delicate, elegant, perhaps with interesting stems. No one in their right mind would create a big line with horn stems these days. They're just not practical enough to have the wide appeal a factory needs for a big new release. But, that's exactly the sort of stuff I love. Little niche things that a certain number of people will think are really cool. That's the awesome thing about the internet and the long-tail of product availability that it makes possible. Just because something can't be a blockbuster doesn't mean that it isn't awesome and wouldn't be great pipes to folks looking for something unusual and interesting.
Some of the most rewarding things we've done with pipes over the years are like this. Cool, interesting, smaller projects with a more limited audience that let us get creative and do what we do well. And I hope that the Ropp project seems as exciting to you as it does to me.
Yes, our crew has come home from the IPCPR trade show in Las Vegas. Not only did they lug back hundreds of beautiful pipes, which are soon to hit the website, but they also managed to take some video to showcase the many brands represented there. A quick warning: the video below may cause extreme jealousy and drooling. Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more clips like this one. Without any further delay, here are the highlights:
It seems Sykes and Alyson can't escape work. Loving what they do makes it less like work, I'm sure, but even whilst on vacation enjoying the balmy weather in France they are sending me photos of their tour of the Chacom factory with Antoine Grenard. Riveted by the historic building, the endless stacks of briar, and the scenic views, they didn't have time to provide a narrative for these photos, except Alyson's back-story for Baya, Antoine's dog, who apparently followed them throughout the tour, chewing on a block of briar, and who has her very own line of pipes. They'll be home soon to tell us all about it, but until then enjoy some of Alyson's handiwork behind the camera.
Many of you have purchased tins of Capstan and Three Nuns already. If not, what are you waiting for? Now you are free to relax after nights of sleeplessly staring at your email, hoping for that long-awaited newsletter. Sit back and think contented thoughts of the tobacco magically making its way to your doorstep, then check out this short video of the hard-working people in shipping making it a reality for you. -Happy YouTues!
The pretense was that what I’d be doing would involve work. But the truth is I went to Morganton, NC to play with pipe tobacco. I work in tobacciana (obviously), and so, technically, it would at least be work-related play.
See, I’ve visited Cornell & Diehl a couple of times now. Ordinarily I get to hang around the factory for two or three hours. Although one can see every part of the factory there is to see in about forty-five minutes, what goes on there is sufficiently complex that a few hours will only provide a very cursory understanding of what the folks at C&D do. My previous visits were enough to test the water only, so to speak. I was looking to get waist deep.
“What do you want to do while you’re here?” Chris asked over coffee shortly after my 9AM arrival.
“I want to work.” My delivery was as stern and ambitious as I could make it, like I was applying for a job.
“Good, because that’s all I ready had planned for you.” He followed up with his signature laugh.
Ten minutes later and I’m under Ted’s wing. Ted is 76 years old, but a spirited individual who doesn’t look a day over 60. Largely, he spends his time at C&D blending tobacco to fill orders, and the demand for C&D’s blends certainly keeps him busy. All the guys work from a small, tattered card catalog filled with handwritten tobacco recipes in a strange code of argot and numbers. For the most part, they’ve got all this committed to memory. For a newbie like me, there was no sense to it. Everything had to be explained to me through every step of the process. Like I was a baby. And to these expert old hands, I guess that’s pretty much what I was when it came to blending tobacco from scratch.
So it was that I spent the next five or six hours blending, saucing, bagging, tinning, and labeling tobacco for orders under their guidance. The Cornell & Diehl plant is like one humungous crafts project scaled into a formidable and efficient operation. I was warned that at the end of my shift I’d want to stuff all the clothes I was wearing into a bag and quarantine it from the rest of my laundry. And they were right. Even my hair smelled like Latakia.
Just as I was getting the hang of things (in my opinion, at least) my time was up. Although I did leave Morganton with a far better understanding than ever before of what the fine folks at Cornell & Diehl are up to each day, I figure I’ve still just barely scratched the surface. Looks like I’ll have to put together and polish a convincing argument or three as to why Sykes should let me go for a full week next year.
Tuesday isn't particularly important for the Smokingpipes team. It's a graceful point in the week after the stress of Monday's update melts, and before the stress of Thursday arises. It's the hour of orange glow between night and day. It's a moment for us to slow down and recollect ourselves. For some, this could be turning the music up a little, or shooting rubber bands at one another. For many, it is an opportunity to pull out some nice tobacco and have a long smoke. Whatever your Tuesday therapy may be, there is something else to add to that routine, starting today: YouTues! (YouTube Tuesday) Today we bring you a video tour of Lasse Skovgaard's workshop, and a conversation between Sykes and Lasse about his first experiences with making pipes. There is more to this interview, which will be making its way to YouTues soon, along with many others from Eltang, Heding, and our recent visit with Michael Parks. We will post most of them here, but don't forget to follow our channel to stay up to date. So, without further delay, Happy Tuesday, and Happy YouTues!
Yesterday, February 20th, was International Pipe Smoking Day, which was started by Smokers Forum in 2008 as a day to celebrate pipe smoking. After all, if the world calendar is replete with unofficial holidays such as "Talk Like A Pirate Day" or "Wear Your Pants Backwards Day" (which I expect results in all manner of accidents and complications), why not have folks around the globe gather to celebrate something many of us enjoy. From what I've heard over the years, dozens of pipe clubs everywhere get together to celebrate with contests, raffles, and good old-fashioned camaraderie. It's great that the semi-official holiday has gained so much ground in recent years, as it's introduced a lot of new pipe smokers from all walks of life to the enjoyment of pipes. Pipe smoking is gaining ground outside of the usual, stereotyped pipe smoker demographic, and we can only hope this continues.
We here at Smokingpipes.com celebrate the business and enjoyment of pipe smoking every day, as I'm sure many of you do as well. During one of our marketing meetings recently, appropriately subjected as "Brainstorming Meeting: We All Go Insane!" a small collection of staff closed the doors to the conference room and smoked our pipes, spouted out-of-the-box marketing ideas for various current and future exciting things, and laughed at each other when some of us [coughs] wanted to find out exactly how far was too far. One idea was to do a comic strip (unsure of how many), and the ideas and weird pseudo-world of characters between my ears wouldn't stop. Case in point: our first strip introducing two characters; Brandy and Flake. You can be sure we're going to whet your whistle with a number of different ideas over the coming months.
In the meantime, we've quite a staggering update for you today consisting of 166 new pipes, including new pieces from Brad Pohlmann and more of Peterson's Saint Patrick's Day pipes, along with 72 lovely estates from all over. And just like any other holiday, hopefully you will find some excuses today to enjoy some leftovers from your recent celebratory adventure.
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.
So, if you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that last week a few of us piled into a car and made a field trip to visit the good folks Cornell & Diehl. I’ve continuously heard rumors about just how nice Craig and Patty Tarlar are, and this is indeed true on a massive scale. Upon our arrival, Patty greated us with glowing enthusiasm along with pizza and hot coffee (two sugars, please).
The pizza had little chance to settle when Chris Tarlar pulled Ted and I away from the table for a tour of the works. I hope that doesn’t sound reluctant-- I love pizza, LOOOVE IT-- but I‘m getting fat, and it’s not everyday one gets a guided tour behind the scenes of a major pipe tobacco manufacturer.
First thing, Chris lifts one corner of a tarp laying on the concrete floor to reveal big, beautiful leaves of red, gold, and black. Visions not unlike Scrooge McDuck back-stroking through his money pile filled my head, except replace McDuck with my image and his coin with said big-o pile of tobacco leaves.
The tour continued upstairs to a floor covered in drying racks, which were, again, filled with large tobacco leaf, and then returned downstairs where we were shown the blending station, machines that press, and machines that cut, and ovens that cure.
The tour concluded and it was back to business and pizza, but this is not where the fun ended. Dear reader, I wish you could have seen Ted’s face light up when the Tarlars graciously offered him a bunk and a lesson in blending! This will be redeemed at a later date, and you can of course expect a full report. Told you they were impossibly nice.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
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