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.
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.
The fourth-annual West Coast pipe show, an event my wife and I look forward to every year, was held in sunny Las Vegas this past weekend. With most other pipe shows, the carvers that attend are usually flying solo, but quite a few wives, of carvers and collectors alike, appear at this one. Perhaps it has something to do with a venue that is not only exciting in and of itself, but that also features a free shuttle to a massive shopping mall on the strip (which just happens to be flanked by about a million-and-a-half other attractive lights, sculptures, shops, and restaurants) that makes our better halves willing to accompany us without even the slightest bit of coaxing.
Pipe guys like to browse a wonderful selection of tobacciana, as well as hang out with each other over coffee in the mornings and pints slightly later (everyone seems to take the time change into consideration when at pipe shows). I was lucky to get five full days in Vegas this year with my lovely wife; arriving early in the morning on Thursday and leaving very late Monday night. Pipe shows are great times to meet up with friends we might only see one time a year; twice, if we are lucky. Ted and John held down the Smokingpipes tables where quite a few face-to-face introductions were made with many of you. It's always great for us to meet with customers as well as other artisans, and quite a few pipes from many artisans will eventually make it to our site, as well as a staggering variety of lovely estate pipes we acquired, once they get cleaned and refurbished.
When it all began, some people were wondering just how well a pipe show would do in glitzy Las Vegas. Everyone attended the first year on a gamble [pun!], but after the show ended that Sunday and everyone was saying their goodbyes, many people I was speaking with were already planning on what they would do at next year's. As it turns out, my wife and I finally made it to the Grand Canyon this time, as well as seeing (per my wife's request) a David Copperfield show. John, Ted, and I all sampled some wonderful rare tobaccos, as well as a few blends that were just released (stay tuned!). Quite possibly the most fun show around, Las Vegas is definitely something to put on your radar for next year. Until then, check our updates on Mondays and Thursdays to see some new wares freshly-offered, and choose a tin or two to bundle up with as the winter's cooler weather begins creeping in.
Now, for today's update we have great handmade pipes from Michael Lindner, Ardor, and Ser Jacopo, in addition to briars by Savinelli and Neerup, plus meerschaums from IMP. This update is also happens to be packed with Peterson's, each just begging to be purchased with a free tin of Peterson tobacco, our promotion this month. There's also lots of estates to be had, as well, a full seventy-count in all.
The Chicago pipe show is, as many would rightly claim, "The greatest show on earth". In respect to the amount of pipes to be found at the show, such a claim is difficult to deny. The show is not necessarily a who’s who of the pipe making, collecting, smoking, business, and hobby world, but it’s considered the number-one "must do" show for many people simply because there are a great number of carvers/customers who only go to this one show. And that’s because it’s huge. Carvers, collectors, customers, and people from all walks of the industry gather at the Pheasant Run Resort each May to attend a show full of fun, excitement, relaxation, and the chance to buy, swap, or sell almost anything pipe related.
For the pipe maker, the CPCC show is likewise a chance to show thousands of people what you can do. In fact, many pipe makers view Chicago as not only the biggest show around, but tend to reference the show almost like it’s the beginning of the year. Because so many of us only get a chance to meet up with many collectors and different friends once each year during the show, it’s an opportunity for many to compare present works to those of previous Chicago shows. Also, because there’s plenty of friendly competition among makers, many pipe carvers decide to bring a piece (or two) that stands out simply for its beauty and craftsmanship. A lot of my pipe making friends arrive with stunning pieces of which they are very proud - and should be - but still spend as much time talking and learning from other pipe makers as much as possible. When so many guys meet up annually after working feverishly for weeks or months, often working the previous week before the show until early in the morning fueled by caffeine, nicotine, and a healthy balance between excitement and stress, that first gulp of an adult beverage while sipping on a favored tobacco can often be interpreted as the first time to relax in quite a long while.
It's always nice for a carver to share a smoke with friends and it’s especially delightful when those friends are smoking pipes that the carver remembers having made for them in his shop months or years earlier. There’s great satisfaction in knowing that something one created is being enjoyed by another.
Not only do collectors enjoy sharing stories of their favorite pieces, many enjoy sharing vintage tobaccos. Much like a fine meal or bottle of wine, rare tobaccos are enjoyed even more so when sampled together. A good friend and collector of mine brought a tin of Balkan Sobraine #10 from 1962 he was saving for such an occasion. Never before have I had the chance to press down the cutting tip, hear the hiss, and smell the aroma while the foil was being cut. True to his nature, the man who owned this tobacco enjoyed sharing bowls with the gentlemen around him. The experience of such a smoke like this is quite a rarity.
My wife was not able to go to the show with me this year because of her work schedule and the fact that extra flights and such make for a very expensive trip compared to other pipe shows. This, coupled with the realization that as much fun as I seem to be having until nearly 3:00 a.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, doesn't take away that pipe shows are still a lot of work. Arranging meetings with friends and customers, lunches, dinners, a carver’s panel, focus groups, and penciling in plenty of time to relax with a pipe and/or a beer leave little time to do much of anything else. Pipe makers not only need to spend a lot of time with customers and friends - they want to do so. Meeting many of these people face-to-face is something we all look forward to, I believe.
When all is said and done, when traveling home from the Chicago pipe show there’s a calm satisfaction peppered with utter exhaustion to be had when one steps foot in the front door of their home. I greatly enjoy meeting up with so many people during all the pipe shows I attend each year, but none compare to the vastness of the annual show put on by the good folks of the CPCC.
The Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show is an orgiastic smorgasbord of some of the finest tobacco pipes ever made, past and present. Technically speaking, this year the event began on Saturday morning and ran through Sunday afternoon, and was prefaced on Friday by a short pre-show event held in the Smoking Tent just adjacent to the show room floor proper. For many, including Smokingpipes.com, the experience that is the "Chicago Show" begins quite a bit earlier than it does for most. Sykes arrived Monday prior. The rest of us, Susan Salinas (Purchasing Manager for SPC and the brains of any pipe show we ever go to, ever), John Sutherland (Marketing Manager, Senior Staff Photographer), and I, followed by Tony Santiague (Vice Chairman, VP Emeritus, and "OG" Smokingpipes team member), and Ryota Shimizu (Customer Service: Japan), arrived Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
As usual our room was open to all; it could be found, expectedly, in room 1405 of the tower, complete with a properly thick atmosphere painted in pipe smoke of several different room notes, joined by the fragrance of neatly prepared French-pressed coffee and freshly brewed espresso. There was, of course, also a healthy dose of bourbon, Scotch, and vodka, which unsurprisingly overshadowed a much-shunned selection of canned Pabst Blue Ribbon, Diet Sunkist, Cherry Dr. Pepper, and Red Bull. And then, of course, there was the rather conspicuous presence of a few hundred gorgeous briar pipes. We were fortunate enough to have on display new works from such esteemed artisans as Smio Satou, Hiroyuki Tokutomi, Kei Gotoh, Kent Rasmussen, and Former, to name but a few. There was also Nanna Ivarsson's truly awesome, first-ever, Seven-Day Set.
By the time the weekend arrived, and the show proper with it, we were in full force. Looking back Saturday seemed like an extraordinarily busy blur, and it probably was, what with all the running around talking to numerous carvers and customers and the like. In fact, I think the general sentiment for the show as a whole was that it was quite busy for everyone involved, whether they were attending for business or pleasure, or both. And that's a good thing, methinks.
However, all good things must come to an end (or so the cliché insists), and by Sunday we were fighting exhaustion as we said our long goodbyes and annual farewells. Once again we'd like to thank the CPCC for having us, and for putting such tireless effort in maintaining the tradition of an extremely successful show. Until next year, everybody!
This past weekend, John, Sykes, and I attended the TAPS show in Raleigh, NC. Although Smokingpipes.com has been appearing regularly at this show for years, this was only my second time at the convention, and the first time for Sykes in almost ten years. And John? This was his very first pipe show. We were all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. But I don’t think anybody noticed.
I’ll mention that I also dragged my wife along. It was her first pipe show as well. We’d decided that it was past due she see for herself what all the fuss is about regarding these expos of old pipes and tobaccos, and because the guys in TAPS are so friendly and do such a great job of making vendors, collectors, smokers, and tourists alike feel very welcome and invited, I figured this would be the one to bring her to. Also, it’s an easy show for Smokingpipes.com to do. The TAPS show is one of the very few we can drive to, and of the relatively short, three hour drive, two thirds of it is a tour of pristine, beautiful country on a two lane highway, specked along the way with small villages and barn houses. This makes for a very pleasant drive, especially when you don’t rush it.
If you’ve never made it to the TAPS show, you’re missing out. Although small (I prefer to think cozy), its proximity to NCU means that it brings out a very diverse crowd of people, particularly across age and gender. It’s really cool to meet a lot of young guys who are just getting into the hobby; they’re green passion and eagerness to absorb new ideas is refreshing. And it’s endlessly pleasing to see so many girls out and about puffing away on Peterson pipes. We also managed to acquire a few dozen really neat estate pipes, meet a handful of customers in person for the first time, and catch up with guys like Steve Monjure, Bill Dougherty, Morty Berkowitz, and Jim Carrino, and many more. So yeah, all in all, it was a very good show. My wife might even want to do it again… one day.
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!
It's now day two of the get together at Jeff Gracik's workshop in San Diego. I'm still writing live from the scene. In fact, Eric just turned on the disc sander, making the surface upon which I'm typing vibrate rather disconcertingly. It does leave this author feeling particularly connected to his subject matter, though. The same cast of characters are continuing their work from yesterday. Adam Davidson shaped up a a beautiful larger version of his fig shape. Eric Heberling has been working on a very respectable billiard. Jeff's been sanding the little blowfish that he shaped last night. Work is winding down though, in advance of tonight's barbecue. Joining the five pipe makers, Ted Swearingen and me, a number of members of the San Diego, Orange County and LA pipe clubs are collecting here for the festivities.
In addition to his talents as a pipe maker, Jeff seems pretty adept with his smoker, from which he extracted a 16lb hunk of pork a little while ago. At least it looked promising. I'm not sure if this particular boy from Tennessee can quite bring himself to believe that it's possible to smoke pork properly in California. I'll reserve judgement until I get to taste it later. We shall see…
Smokingpipes.com has been represented at all three of the annual West Coast Pipe Shows held thus far. Last year, my wife (then fiancee) and I represented us at the show and came out to San Diego to spend a couple of days with Jeff and his wife Melissa before heading back home. This year, Ted and I are in the middle of the same pilgrimage.
The West Coast show itself seems to be growing and attracting more exhibitors and attendees each year. The number of hobbyist pipe makers and aspiring pipe makers at the show this year was quite extraordinary. If the number of people interested in making a career of making pipes is any indication, the pipe world is indeed healthy. Neill Archer Roan, known for his impressive A Passion for Pipes blog, delivered a passionate speech on the pipe community, discussing the centrality of that community to pipe smoking. The pace of the show was a little slower than Chicago or Richmond, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the sort of long, in-depth discussions that are just not possible for me at those venues. I enjoyed long discussions with Neill about his speech and with my friend Rick Newcombe, author of In Search of Pipe Dreams, about pipe makers, pipes, his collection and a variety of other topics.
Monday morning, Ted and I got up at 3am to make it to the airport to head to San Diego. When I get home to South Carolina, I'll have to find out what Ted and I did to make Susan angry enough to book a slew of 6am flights for us. A word of advice for business travelers everywhere: do whatever you can to keep the person in your company booking the travel happy. Anyway, after grabbing some breakfast and a nap, we headed up to Jeff's workshop to find the five pipe makers hard at work.
Since I began writing this little missive, the sun has gone down and everyone but Adam and Ernie have moved from pipe making mode to celebration mode. Lots more folks have arrived to join our little party, driving in from all over Southern California to join us for the evening. And now I think that should go for me too, so I'll leave the narrative there, grab my pipe and join the festivities.
Ted, Susan, Bill and I returned from Las Vegas this weekend, after eight days of whirlwind inspection, sampling and buying of much of what the pipe, tobacco and cigar world has to offer. An exhaustive narrative of the show would be both extremely long and pretty boring, so I wanted to hit some highlights:
The Dunhill Room: 8am, Sunday morning: This deserves highlight status every year, but this is such an amazing experience that it deserves particular comment every year. Thousands of pipes were laid out for us to select from. We picked out about 150 and wittled it down to 132 before adding a bunch more and wittling down again. It took four people two hours to select and inspect the pipes; fortunately, that early in the morning on a Sunday, no one else was really all that interested in picking pipes, so we more or less had the entire room to ourselves.
Monday Morning 10:30am to 1:00pm: I don't know exactly how many pipes we collectively selected in three and a half hours, but the rush was on. We pick pipes first thing when the show opens: the pipes cease to be available, but the pipe tobacco and cigars don't change between Monday and Thursday, so pipes are our priority at the start. I hit the Tsuge booth first and picked out a mess of great Ikebanas, thence to the Savinelli booth where I picked out some great Autographs and ordered a crazy number of awesome pipes at a great price. Susan went straight for Stanwells and Winslows. Ted picked out Ser Jacopos and then L'Anatras. Susan and I met at Ashton to pick out upper end Petersons (we can pick things like the Spigots and Supremes at the show). Then I did a bunch of things that will, for now, remain a secret. They'll be hitting the site before long, though! All in all, well, if I had to guess, I'd say we ordered somewhere north of 2,000 pipes in three and a half hours. That's about a pipe every four seconds. It also sounds like less when you consider that's only about 6 weeks supply of pipes for Smokingpipes.com...
The Ashton Dinner, seated next to Tom Palmer and Michael Walters: Tom Palmer is the owner of Peterson of Dublin, that great pipe making establishment that has been in business since the 1860s. Seeing Tom is always a tremendous pleasure. I think very highly of both him and the pipes that he produces and discussing the finer points of pipe manufacturing with Tom is always an education. Michael Walters is the National Sales Manager for Ashton Distributors, which is most famous for the Ashton cigar, but also imports Peterson pipes into the US. Michael's perspective is a little different from Tom's, but thoughtful and quick-witted as he is, it's always a pleasure spending time with him also.
Dinner with Brian Levine and Dan More of Brigham Pipes: The four of us had dinner with our wayward ex-General Manager and his new boss at the Paris Hotel and Casino on the strip. Dinner was excellent, but the conversation, ranging from manufacturing and marketing in the pipe world to the broader matter of the recent increase in new pipe smokers, was superb. This was the first time I met Dan More and I couldn't be more impressed with him and his operation. As the evening wore on, some of his folks met us for drinks and silly pipe marketing ideas and wildly stereotypical jokes about both Canadians and Americans abounded. Much fun was had by all. Perhaps most importantly, these guys think really deeply about how to reach younger pipe smokers and potential pipe smokers. That sort of thinking is surprisingly rare and it was really refreshing to hear.
And much, much more. There are some amazing new blends coming, but I don't want to spoil that particular fun when they arrive. It was a hugely successful show for us and we had an absolute blast at the same time.
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).
It's April 11th and I'm sure this month is going to go by very fast because it always does. On May 11th I will be on a plane heading to Indiana to visit with my parents and to celebrate my 30th birthday, then heading up to the Chicago pipe show on May 12th. It seems like such a long time away but this month always goes by in the blink of an eye.
The trip is always an exciting one. John Crosby and I enjoy driving up to the show together on Thursday to meet up with friends and customers, make our rounds, and sell a few pre-show pipes. Pretty much every pipe maker I know look towards April as their busiest month of the year. While the calendar begins in January, pipe carvers tend to mentally mark Chicago-to-Chicago years. We all want to show up with a spread of good work, new designs, and popular classics. This is the time when everyone tends to work after they get home, a bit longer during the day (sometimes well into the morning), and is optimistically thinking "I still have plenty of time". The Chicago pipe show is the biggest in the world. In the weeks to come, parcels will begin flowing into our building from many high-grade makers in preparation for packing up to take to Chicago. Not only will we be meeting up with our carver friends again, prospecting new ones, and buying pipes to share with all of you when we get back, it's a perfect blend of business and pleasure.
For the carvers, it's time to be on our toes with our business hats on with new customers and old friends. At the same time, it will be the first weekend we will be able to relax in months, which makes it even more enjoyable. It really is a joy for everyone involved. In the meantime, though, there is plenty to do.
We have some Augusto Reyes cigars tonight, which is our first cigar update in a good while. And for the pipe enthusiasts, we have pieces from Brigham, Dunhill, Luciano, Savinelli, Peterson, and Vauen.
While on the west coast for the most recent pipe show held in Las Vegas, Sykes had the opportunity to sit down with Rick Newcombe to talk about the release of the sixth edition of his popular book 'In Search of Pipe Dreams'. Among other things, Rick is an avid pipe collector, having written more than his fair share of articles for 'Pipe & Tobacco Magazine' as well as a recognizable personality in the general pipe community. Here he talks about the latest edition of his book and the inevitability of its most recent colorized edition which hits retailers today.
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.
Having the office in Little River, South Carolina makes the trip to the Richmond Pipe Show easy. Normally, we have to pack all necessities and ship them days in advance. Then we hop on a plane and head to the show.
Richmond, on the other hand, is close enough that we can drive. Since I own the largest land assault vehicle in the company, I have had the pleasure of gathering part of the entourage and driving to Virginia for the last two years. The drive up has been the same. Everyone excited about the show, the people we will see and the work we have to do. The drive home however was a little different this year.
I started the drive home with Brian Levine as my co-pilot. (Despite what you may think, he did do a great job.) Adam Davidson, Ted Swearingen and Jeff Gracik filled up the second row. Supplies for the show occupied the space behind them. We met up with Sykes and his passengers in Rocky Mount, North Carolina for a nice dinner before finishing the trip home. This is when the ride deviated from last year.
After being on the road for a while, statements like “Use the shovel on him” and “Pick up the axe” along with beeps and bleeps started coming from the back seat. The “boys” were playing adventure games on someone’s smart phone. For a second I thought my seven and nine year olds where in the truck. Miles upon miles passed before the back seat became utterly quiet. Brian turned around to see what happened. The picture says it all…
A pipe show isn’t just a chance for pipe pals to come together and smoke. Don’t get me wrong on this point; there were a lot of varied friendships kindling anew at
the CORPS show in Richmond. However, that a convention is also monumental opportunity for a lot of guys in the industry to network with each other (or at least rub
elbows) dawned on me pretty early Saturday morning. Seeing pipe makers like Peter Heeschen talk with Alex Florov or Jeff Gracik, I sensed that while these guys may
exchange phone calls occasionally, they put the effort to travel in from around the world so that they can show off their work as well as see each others'. Whether
it happens in the middle of a stolen moment during the show or over a dinner accompanied by an eight year old tin of ‘Bohemian Scandal’, these estimable artisans are
sharing ideas and trade secrets in order to improve their craft. By doing so, they are boosting the health of the entire community and enriching the collective pipe
smoking experience. And for that we give thanks.
Here we are, on the eve of the Richmond CORPS show, hosting a small get together of friends, family, and special guests. We've had a wholesome supper of 'Southern' food and for dessert Jeff made peach cobbler. Excitement is in the air. We're passing the time telling stories and talking about pipes. Tokutomi has even dusted off his guitar for the occasion.
Tokutomi warms up his guitar in the bulk tobacco room.
Brian plays with his strange, pipe smoking brown bear.
Stepping back to a couple of
weeks ago for a moment, when Kevin Godbee and I were in Denmark in late July, we established, finally
and definitively, that Dunhill tobaccos would be coming back to the United States in September or
October, first through conversations with Orlik and then, finally, getting confirmation from British-
American Tobacco. The first day of the show, Tuesday, while we were at the Ashton booths, talking about
Petersons with Tom Palmer (Managing Director of Peterson), Michael Walters (Sales Manager for Ashton),
and Evan Carpenter (our regional sales representative), it became clear that we better get an order
together for CAO for the Dunhill tobaccos. Susan and Brian dashed over there, while Alyson and I
continued to work on Petersons. They placed an order for many thousands of tins of Dunhill tobacco for
late September delivery (which might be a slightly optimistic ETA, so we're actually figuring on early
October). The really important thing was to secure the Dunhill in appropriate quantities. Even in these
truly massive amounts, we are a little concerned with stock problems in the autumn given all of the
folks out there waiting for it to become available again. We'd return to both Ashton and CAO later in
the show to conduct cigar and accessory business, but getting the pipes taken care of with Peterson and
the tobacco taken care of with CAO took priority over all else late Tuesday morning.
Having wrapped up all of the pipe buying,
we moved into a more normal pace for the rest of the show. After a quick lunch, we had a meeting with
General Cigar to talk about their new products, including some really interesting new cigars from La
Gloria Cubana, including the new Serie-N cigars, plus the new Artesanos Obilisks. While Susan and Brian
actually conducted the business-y bits, Alyson and I set about interviewing Yuri Guillen, factory manager for La Gloria Cubana about all the new stuff. General also had a cigar roller based in
Miami up for the show, so that was fun to watch too (and we have video of all of this we'll work on
getting up over the next few weeks).
After that, the chronology of it all starts to get a bit blurry. Brian and Susan had a meeting with
Oliva Cigars, of which I caught the tail end, while I did some quick following up with pipe folks that
we'd already been to see, and tobacco folks to set things up for later in the show. As the day wore on,
we visited the Villiger-Stokkebye booths, both because we needed to give them an order and also because
they were in charge of feeding us Tuesday night. We spent some time talking with Kevin and Gary from
Villiger-Stokkebye, plus Brian and I touched base on a couple of projects with Erik Stokkebye and the
representative from Scandinavian Tobacco (Orlik's parent company) who was present for the show. Susan
set to work structuring our ordering for the next couple of months with Gary, Villiger-Stokkebye's all
round logistics guy, which requires a fair bit of planning: a whole lot of tobacco travels from
Charlotte, NC to Little River, SC every week. After that, Erik, Brian and I attended a short trade
organization / legislative meeting that started right after the show, while Susan and Alyson went
immediately to Altadis' cocktail party. Altadis puts on quite a party and had we not been anticipating a
serious dinner with the Stokkebye folks later that evening, we could have spent all evening there. We
did get a chance to talk to a couple of senior people about the tobacco regulatory environment, which
was good for keeping us in the loop.
Speaking of which, a major topic of conversation at the show was the TTB's definitions of pipe
tobacco and according regulations. It's terribly esoteric and convoluted, but the short and long of it
is that, after extended conversations with Mike McNiel from McClelland and Paul Creasy and others from
Altadis, we're actually feeling better about the situation than we have in recent months. The TTB and
ATF seem to be handling this fairly transparently and fairly, at least by governmental regulatory body
standards. Much remains to be seen, which may take years to be established, but it seems like everything
will generally remain as is in the mid-term.
And that evening, we had an amazing culinary and historical experience courtesy of the wonderful
folks at Villiger-Stokkebye. And for that story, you'll have to tune in again for the next part of the
IPCPR trip overview...
Fortunately, the British are a little more welcome here this time than in 1814; rather than muskets, they come bringing pipes, which is far more congenial to the denizens of New Orleans, not to mention those pipe seeking visitors from South Carolina. Every year since Dunhill began working with Music City Marketing as their US importer, they've hosted a private Dunhill selection room before the IPCPR show actually begins. We were in there bright and early at 8am this morning.
I've written 'pipes abound' in more places and contexts than I care to remember. It's one of those little Sykes phrases that elicit gentle mockery in the office at this point. Well, in this particular context, it would have been a woeful understatement of the extraordinary spread of Dunhills we had to choose from. We selected about 130 pieces (we sort of lost count there at the end), but we had so many to pick from that our selection barely left a dent. It is a truly wondrous experience to be able to select, say, three dozen Shell Briars from among four or five hundred. We buy so many pipes (very large percentages of some makers' productions) that those sorts of selection ratios are something we are rarely able to enjoy. It was extraordinary.
I shan't let this particular cat out of the bag, but Dunhill had some very special series that will be available later this fall. I'm super excited about these and, having seen the packaging, but not the final pipe, containing my enthusiasm is almost impossible.
We are momentarily off to look through Castellos, though because we selected so many in June when we were at the factory, we won't be going quite as crazy this afternoon as we did this morning. I'll keep you posted here as things develop!
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