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.
Tobacco has always been about ritual and presentation for me. Well, mostly ritual, but I like to think that I struck an imposing figure when I would walk boldly into a bar, draped in my leather trench coat, and with a quick flick of the wrist brought my Zippo to life and let the flame light my features for an extra long moment before lighting a waiting Newport. (Yeah, I have a rather overpowering imagination steeped in noir.)
But it was the rituals that I really enjoyed. Waking up on a cold winter's morning, taking a hot cup of green tea and thick blanket out onto the porch to greet the sun with the first cigarette of the day. A similar ritual said good night, although it was usually included something stronger than tea. Of course, each ritual took several cigarettes to get through.
Of course, there were other less defined "rituals," Chain-smoking while driving, the after-dinner cigarette, the reward cigarette(s) for finishing up an article on deadline.
However, the problem with cigarettes is in time and numbers. Their length never really provides enough smoke and 20 in a pack seems to demand you smoke them all before they go stale.
During the times I had "quit," I had often wished that I could smoke one or so every once awhile but I knew this would lead me back to regular smoking. The option that often came to mind was a pipe.
However, pipe smoking wasn't much of a presence in my "culture" at the time; it was something wizards and detectives did. And as cool as that was, it never really solidified as a real option in my mind. I had no relatives that smoked pipes or any other experience. My only attempt at pipe smoking around this time was trying to smoke a crushed menthol in the bowl of a brass and steel tomahawk/peace pipe ordered out of a Museum Replicas catalog. The project turned into a effort requiring drilling out the hole some, using hot glue to seal the axe head/bowl to the wooden haft/stem. It was not a pleasing encounter.
It would be several years (six of those as an "ex-smoker"), nearly 700 miles exactly and a new job before I had my real chance to try smoking a pipe.
That pipe was a Savinelli Qandale Churchwarden with some McClelland Walnut Liqueur (I have since added a Tsuge bent Pot to my collection, for a bit more practical smoke while I work). And from the moment I started to prepare the tobacco and pack the bowl, I knew I was on the right track. This was the ritual I was looking for. And while it might seem strange to others, I smoke only about once or twice a week or so, enjoying the processes involved.
So, as I start off on this new adventure into the world of smoking, it seems a shame that I wasted so much time thinking about it instead of trying it (for real). And pipe smoking might not be for everyone, but if perhaps your interest has been piqued, leading you to our site and this blog, and have never before smoked a pipe, then I say give it a go. The variety of options and tastes available may be daunting, but it also means that there is probably a combination out there that will fit right into your personal rituals.
I can barely wait for it to arrive; I feel like I did when I was a kid and was waiting for something special to come in the mail. It's not a Christmas or birthday present feeling, because I know what it is -- and, in any case, I paid for it myself. Still, there's that excitement of anticipation.
There is something disturbing about a pipe rack with an empty space.
Recognizing that feeling made me wonder just exactly why a new pipe would engender such an emotion in me. I don't get particularly excited about a new shirt or even a set of new tools (whereas the guy who lives down the road gets really excited about car parts... strange). I'm not a collector, in the sense that I buy pipes just to have them. Any pipe that comes into my hands has to work for a living; I smoke pipes, their purpose is for me to smoke them. Not that there's anything wrong with collecting pipes: I certainly understand the collecting impulse, as my books on the history of printing will show. Well, and my collection of books on the Blackfeet Indians. And World War One. But aside from that, I'm not a collector.
Oh, sure, I have The List and I have The Fund. The List, of course, details the pipes I'd like to get, written on slips of paper tacked to my office bulletin board. It's constantly updated, depending upon what I've seen in catalogues or online lately, but it's not as if I'm obsessive. I mean, I haven't made a spreadsheet or anything. (I've tried, but I just can't seem to get the hang of the software...) And The Fund is just a little account that I set up at the credit union. Not that it ever gets the chance to grow very much.
Nor does the excitement just involve the newness of a new pipe. Like many pipe smokers, I have my favorites which, if truth be told, are probably over-smoked to the detriment of their proper cleaning. I also tend to fall into types of pipes: bent apples and Peterson full-bents seem to predominate, with dublins having some representation. On the other hand, I just can't seem to get the hang of billiards and I'm nervous around the Tyrolean style for some reason. This doesn't even get into the area of what I call "art" pipes -- some of which, frankly, look to me like the results of a lathe accident.
Oh, sure, I can hear the snorts of derision from here. Yes, I know that my taste in pipes is not exactly the same as anyone else's, but I don't expect anyone else's to be like mine. A good thing, too. If everyone wanted exactly the same type of pipe, we'd lose the variety we have to choose from. Not to mention the mad stampede that would occur every time a new shipment came into a pipe shop or a new listing online.
Perhaps that's somewhere near the center of what we do as pipe-smokers: That idiosyncratic part of us that can look at an entire wall filled with pipes on display, only to have one -- the one! -- leap out and speak to us. Form, size, materials, grain, details by the dozen all go into making up the uniqueness of each and every pipe. It's difficult to describe to anyone who doesn't have that odd bent of a pipe smoker. I mean, have you ever even tried to explain a P-lip to someone who doesn't smoke a pipe? Impossible.
The uniqueness of individual pipes comes, of course, from the fact that they're all hand made. Even the most mundane pipe requires someone to stand at a grinding and polishing machine, working to get the closest they can to the pattern. At their best, pipes show an astounding amount of imagination and style. Anyone who has spent any time at all around pipes will instantly recognize the personality of a pipe that marks its nationality, the school, even the individual that made it. As for the art pipes (look, I'm sorry about the "lathe accident" crack, okay?), they're at a level of sculpture.
Not to mention the exotic materials. Try to describe a calabash to someone, for example. "Well, you take a gourd... no a special species of gourd, it comes from Africa, originally... and you have to form it while it grows. Then, it gets dried, and then you make this cup out of a special type of rock that's only found in specific parts of Turkey and, oh, never mind."
After all that attempt at explanation, I still can't describe why I'm excited about the new pipe. Since the mailman has already come and gone this afternoon, I'll have to wait another day, at least. Which is okay. I still have my old Neerup close at hand, which I haven't smoked in, oh, at least two hours.
Bryan Johnson is a freelance writer who hopes to write, someday, the definitive paper on Blackfeet tobacco culture. The screensaver on his computer is a slideshow of pipe photographs, "captured" from online pipe catalogues. Sad, really.
Some twenty-odd years ago Simeon Turner was an American teenager who’d ventured out upon a school trip to the United Kingdom, and who was trying to figure out what he could pick up as just the right souvenir, a physical object which might serve as an enduring anchor for his memories from the other side of the Atlantic after he returned home. He wanted something signally “British”, of course... and what, short of a knighthood from Her Majesty or a bulldog (of the actual canine variety, not the pipe) named “Winston” could have been more English a thing to pick up than a classic English briar? Of course, the gentle encouragement of a chaperoning teacher who happened to be a pipe man himself (oh, how times have changed, even for our generation) didn’t hurt any either. Like the old poem about a single horse-shoe nail changing the tide of a battle, in our personal lives, as in the history of man as whole, these little things can lead to big changes as time, and their influence and consequence, progresses onward.
As things played out, it was actually not until a few years later, post-graduation, that Simeon even got around to taking his teacher’s advice that he might actually enjoy smoking the thing. (“Enjoy” being the key word – he did try the pipe once, while he was still in the UK, but as with many of us the results of his first foray were less than auspicious.) With time and patience, however, Simeon came upon the learning of how to make smoking a pipe a pleasing and satisfying experience. Since it’s a familiar progression, you can probably guess where this next led: Simeon, having learned to enjoy the pipe, eventually got it into his head that he might enjoy making his own, as well. By this time he had become a high school teacher himself, and no doubt the ready access to the school’s fully-equipped wood shop seemed fortuitous. Unfortunately, Simeon was an English teacher, and not a shop teacher, and once again the results of his initial, inexperienced efforts were, to say the least, mixed (and no doubt once again quite familiar to many who are reading this).
There’s an old Japanese tale about a young man who wished to avenge his father, and so traveled to the home of a great sword-fighting master, intent to become a formidable swordsman himself. The master left the young fellow waiting for months, through day and night, sun and storm, before even taking him in - at which point he set the lad to fetching heavy pales of water, every day, for over a year. When the young man finally began pestering him again, the master sent him to chopping wood – for three years. At that point the young man questioned the master again, wondering if he was ever going to be taught the old man’s art at all. At that point, at last, the old man handed him a sword and commanded him to cut a target. And the younger man did – landing a powerful blow with speed and precision, and as naturally as he might have slapped the target with his own hand. It was that at that point that the old man accepted the younger as a student who might even begin to be taught his techniques, including the most important of all – those of how to defend against another man’s cuts.
The lesson that old story was meant to illustrate was that by leaving the young man to wait, the old master tested his dedication and patience, that by setting him to fetch water, he built his strength and endurance, the physical foundation upon which fighting skill would rely, and that by ordering him to chop wood, he gave the young man the chance to teach himself how to use a tool (and a weapon is, fundamentally, a tool) as an extension of his own body, allowing it to do the work it was designed to do with one’s own strength and coordination acting simply and subconsciously to control and stabilize its path.
Simeon isn’t some magical prodigy who picked up a block of briar and, bam, turned a spot-on beauty of a stummel the very first time– I can’t think of any pipemakers who are, even amongst the most renowned. Those very, very few who can claim to have made a pipe that was so much as “passingly good” from the very beginning are also those who happened to already have had years of experience in other fields of design and craftsmanship. It takes a lot of work, and patience, to learn how to make something not only beautifully, but even properly, by hand. And it’s the very willingness to put work and patience into practice, and to listen to any established artisan who will lend him an ear and a bit of advice, that Simeon does show, and he does so to a degree that’s hard to come by. When we first heard Simeon had won the Most Improved Pipemaker Award at last year’s West Coast show, and that he had sought out and studied under Jeff Gracik in order to learn anything he could from the artisan behind J. Alan pipes, it was a good sign. Like professional talent scouts, we picked Turner pipes up not just on what we saw was already there, but, just as importantly, the potential we saw in their creator’s attitude and spirit.
Think of a tobacco pipe, and the first image that pops into most people's minds is a briar pipe. Oh, sure, most of us have a few non-briars -- a meerschaum or two, maybe a "Missouri meerschaum" corncob, a clay, perhaps a prized calabash -- but most of the wood pipes are briar. It's not too difficult to find pipes made from other woods, such as cherry or olive, and there are lots of other exotics out there, but, still, briar is the standard.
Briar isn't just the usual material for a pipe, it's become a synonym: You can use the word "briar" in place of "pipe" in a sentence and it will make perfect sense. But why is that? How did briar become the most accepted material, more or less, for tobacco pipes?
The traditional story, repeated in almost every history of pipes, is that a French businessman was traveling through St. Claude in the early 1850s, when he stopped to spend the night at an inn in a little village. Some versions of the tale have it that he'd left his meerschaum pipe behind at his previous stop, others say that it had broken in his saddlebag. Either way, he was horrified at the prospect at facing an entire evening without the solace of a good smoke. Asking the innkeeper for advice, he was directed to an old woodcarver who promised to have something ready for him by the morning. Sure enough, at breakfast the traveler was presented with a beautiful pipe carved out of briar. As the French say, voila. The briar pipe suddenly became wildly popular and everyone lived happily ever after.
Personally, I say that story smells worse than a handful of old, dry oak leaves stuffed into an uncleaned churchwarden. (The pipe, not the person.) Let's see... a woodcarver in a then-obscure rural village just happened to have a chunk of properly seasoned wood, gathered from the root burl of a tough old tree that has little other value. Then, skipping those steps in the process that are hugely labor-intensive and require years of foresight, the woodcarver, without a pattern from which to work, was able to solve all the problems of chamber size, wall thickness, draw hole positioning and stem placement overnight?
At least we weren't asked to believe that the Pipe Fairy left a polished bent brandy with beautiful flame grain under the traveler's pillow. In a village that soon became the center of carving pipes from briar, a large supply of which just happened to be locally available. Well, why not? After all, I believed everything that nice gunnery sergeant told me at the recruiting station 35 years ago.
On the other hand, it might have had something to do with the fact that other materials being used to make pipes just weren't able to meet the demands of a growing pipe-smoking population. Not only was the demand for pipes in the 1850s increasing, but the way pipes were being used was changing: Instead of being exclusively smoked at a home hearthside or in a pub -- London even had smoking clubs where men would gather to enjoy a bowlful or two -- people were carrying pipes with them.
The stone pipes originally used by the American Indians, from whom we learned the joys of tobacco, are slow to make and heavy to carry. Clay pipes, the most common material for European pipes for a couple of centuries, were easily broken. Ceramic pipes, which had become popular in the Low Countries (Holland and its neighbors) were more expensive than common clays, but not much more durable, particularly when carried around. Meerschaum was, and still is, obtainable only from a fairly small area of Turkey. Plus, meerschaum is a fairly soft stone and can easily break.
That leaves wood. It's relatively cheap, easy (sort of) to work and is less likely to break than the other materials that had been used. It seems likely that the traditional story of the origin of briar pipes is probably just a convenient just-so story told by someone who was enjoying a nice pipe in the company of friends.
But why briar, specifically? Well, that's another story. You'll just have to be patient, while I look for my pipe.
Bryan R. Johnson is a freelance writer who lives deep in the North Woods, where pipes and tobacco are delivered by dedicated men on snowshoes.
It's that time of year again, when students begin returning to college for the fall semester; it was always my favorite time as a student. Growing in up Indiana and living just thirty miles north of Purdue University, I only applied to one college; the university founded by John Purdue in 1869. Nicknamed "Boilermakers" by a reporter in 1891 who was describing the football team, the name stuck. Part of the Big Ten, and having nearly 40,000 students, I'll try to refrain from gushing about my Alma Mater, but I sure did love the place when I was a student from 1999-2003, studying Industrial Design and being part of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. Fall has always been my favorite time of year because there is so much hope, excitement, and pride oozing from everyone on campus. It helps that it was football season too! Drew Brees was slinging the football while most students had been participating in "Breakfast Club" before the game, everyone was hitting up local hangouts, and there was always the chance of getting a very cool and eccentric teacher for the first time.
There is no doubt that there is a certain level of energy on a college campus. It's the first place many of us spend living away from under our parents' roof, meet new friends from outside or hometowns, and of course discover some very weird people, protests, and huge parties. If I think back to my first day of orientation, I remember the speaker telling all of us to look to our left, and then to our right; one of these people wouldn't graduate. College is fun, but it's tough. I had my first "all-nighter" working on a design project when I was a freshman, and by senior year was used to not going to bed on any Tuesday nights. My final week of college in 2003 had me finishing projects and studying philosophy, religion, psychology, sciences, and history, and stretched me well past the point of exhaustion. I went to bed Sunday night and didn't sleep again until Friday afternoon. Needless to say, I haven't done that since. Part of a college education is learning not only various subjects, but trying to balance tasks and put up with a lot of seemingly unnecessary stresses. When you graduate from a college or university, there is a sense of accomplishment that can't be taken away.
And what should happen to come in a batch of estate pipes today but a pipe made as a gift for a 1941 graduate of Purdue University. The pipe is actually English-made, stamped "Middleton Selbur Briar" and tacked on the front of the bowl is "19 P 41". I've seen a pipe like this from Michigan class of 1918 before. I would imagine these were a common gift for graduates long ago. 1941 must have been a very interesting year to graduate college, to put it mildly. When I see an estate pipe like this, I wonder what sort of history and stories it has. Did the graduate go off to war? Did he pursue his chosen career? One thing is certain, though, he sure must have been proud of his school. Hail Purdue!
Many of us here at Smokingpipes smoke pipes. Actually, it's a rather small percentage (probably seven out of thirty on a regular basis, with a few others here and there), but this is a far better ratio of pipe smokers to non-pipe smokers than most other companies these days. I’ll wager that forty years ago the percentage of pipe smokers in any given office hovered around 75%, with the remainder being cigarette or cigar smokers. Heck, not only did the number of pipe smokers in an office or factory a hundred years ago probably hover around 90%, but those men probably also rode pipe-smoking horses as well. While sitting at my desk trying to think of another blog post, while enjoying an amusing conversation with Eric about pipe abuse, I discovered the subject matter was right in front of my face - clenched in my teeth, no less.
Hello. I'm Adam, and I smoke my pipe. A lot. At my desk. And I abuse the snot out of it. Looking at my trusty sandblasted Billiard, which I made in 2010, and have since smoked regularly, I find my tale is not unlike those of cobblers with old shoes. While the cobbler would make every effort to craft a fantastic pair of boots for a customer, and also lecture him about keeping his boots clean, polished, and free of dirt and grime - he was likely wearing a pair of his own that were wrinkled, dirty, and hadn’t been polished since he finished making them.
I would hope that the cobbler and I have something in common aside from our inability to properly care for the creations we make for ourselves. Our products hold up. Further, we would both feel a little bit of hypertension and disgust if we saw customers treating our carefully handmade products the way we do, but our excuse is something along the lines of "I can always fix it or make a new one".
Like I said, I smoke the hell out of my pipe. Probably ten times a day at my desk. At the time of this writing there is a foil pouch of Full Virginia Flake that I opened last month and I'm nearly at the bottom of the 250 gram pouch. I'm pretty sure I cleaned my pipe with alcohol after I got back from the Chicago Pipe show, but I haven't since. I do use pipe cleaners to pick up moisture that accumulates in the bottom of the chamber (which is a very small amount), but mainly I feel that a cleaner going down the shank does well enough. I suppose this is somewhat like a person brushing his teeth for ten seconds with only a wet brush. A tiny bit of effort is better than none, eh? Because I am writing pipe descriptions, condition statements, pipe maker biographies, or blogs (not to mention opening estates, checking incoming pipes for quality control or answering emails) I tend to pack my pipe, start smoking the bowl, and eventually need to set it down after a couple minutes. I'll do this many times throughout the day. Eventually I will think all the tobacco has been consumed, will scrape out the dottle with my trusty broken pipe tamper (which also shows signs of significant cake build-up), or sometimes I’ll just knock it out over the ashtray on my desk and blow through the stem to blast out clingy ribbons (which sometime spray all over the window and blinds). This little ritual has built up a cake on the top half of the bowl as thick as a gingersnap.
While I certainly don't recommend "caring" for your pipes in this way, it's simply the way it goes sometimes. I'll probably scrape out the cake pretty soon, which will flake out in large chunks. I'll make a point to use a pipe cleaner (or a dozen) to clean out the shank and stem.
I'll not even offer up a whimper of "please don't judge me". I know this is pipe abuse, but dagum this Billiard is holding up just fine for now.
Vladimir Grechukhin is, in my opinion, the least appreciated of the widely known Russian Masters, and I view this as tragic.
Many know Viktor Yashtylov for his pipes of unusual shapes, proportions, and dimensions and his craggy sandblast, Sergey Ailarov for his intensified and rethought versions of classic shapes, especially the calabash, Michail Revyagin's double chamber pipes of truly unusual and phenomenal design, and Boris Starkov for his asymmetrical creations and minimalistic beauty.
So, what is Vladimir Grechukhin known for?
First, a little background. Grechukhin started making pipes in the 1970s after training with one of the earliest Russian masters: Alexei Fyodorov. After spending only three years with Fyodorov, Alexei publicly stated that Grechukhin had surpassed the master. Now, Grechukhin has taken the place of Fyodorov as the revered master of Russian pipes. Interestingly, he has said that he prefers to get his inspiration for his work not from others pipes, but rather from cars and other technological beauties.
So, why is it that, despite all of this, Grechukhin is less known than the other Russian carvers, at least outside of the circles of those who collect Russian pipes with a passion? I cannot give an honest answer, but I can speculate. His work is not nearly as flashy as most of the others that I mentioned above. This is certainly not to say that the others are superficial (far from it), but Grechukhin's work is characterized by skillful simplicity.
To try to bring a bit more attention to this under-appreciated master, let me show you a pipe of his that I consider myself lucky to own.
This little beauty, just a tad over four inches long, seems to defy classification. It is clearly a hybrid between a Dublin and a horn, but also contains hints of a calabash shape – not the gourd calabash, but the briar rendition. My mind constantly evokes the word “mushroom” every time I hold it.
As someone with rich Russian roots, I cannot help but believe that this defiance of classic categorization is at the very heart of what it means to be Russian: we are said to be gloomy (have you seen the weather in Russia?), yet we are so often joyful; we are thought of as bleak and bland, but we have produced masterful writers, musicians, and artists.
The pipe itself thrusts forward defiantly, with bursts of beautiful grain accompanying this momentum. The chamber, however, is placed asymmetrically towards the rear. This placement helps to temper the forward push of the rest of the pipe, adding a sense of balance that clearly required a masterful hand to accomplish. Additionally, it gives opportunity for a stunning amount of birdseye to piece through on the rim.
The pipe is squat in proportions, but momentous nonetheless. In a single piece, Grechukhin succeeds in capturing the Russian experience and producing a piece that helps to explain his contributions to the pipe field: he is continuously pushing forward and defying simple categorization, yet still is able to produce the classically beautiful and, just as importantly, functional pipe.
Sometimes we simply need a new pipe, right? Often, that's what we tell ourselves and our loved ones, but sometimes people really do need new pipes after holding on to loved pieces for longer than they should have been enjoyed. We get a lot of estate pipes shipped to our offices every week, and I get to experience the joy of opening up every single box to see what gems are tucked away for us to, perhaps, purchase. At times, it's a bit puzzling that some folks think we’re like a junk yard, almost like we restore pipes by digging around a box of spare parts of briar to make something useable again. I can understand somebody might think we can Frankenstein some pieces together, but we don't. Often, really bad, broke-down pipes just get thrown into a box.
Occasionally it's downright comical to see what smokers have done to maximize frugality before eventually giving up on a favorite smoker. Over the years we've seen countless burnouts, broken stems, broken tenons, cracked bowls, and repair jobs that would only make Jeff Foxworthy or Larry the Cable guy proud. Instead of sending a pipe off to a reputable repair man to either have a new tenon or stem made, the shank banded (or a dozen other things), some of our dear customers tackle the project like weekend warriors trying to mark items off the "honey-do" list. We've had pipes with buttons snapped (or bitten) off that didn't make their owner want to toss it. Tooth marks all over these stems (and sometimes the shanks with no stem!), are telling signs that some smoker just didn't want to give up. We've even had - I kid you not - pipes that were taped together with Band-Aids when their tenons broke. Wood glue, Gorilla glue (which expands and foams), painter's tape, duct tape, hose clamps, and anything else that can be used to fix a pipe in a pinch have been tried and we’ve got the pipes to prove it.
The rumor goes that military mounts were first invented in the trenches of World War One when a shank broke. The soldier, the story goes, put a cartridge from a rifle over the shank and whittled down the stem to fit, but I don't believe that wire wrapped around the shank will ever catch on, even if it is silver wire. We've even seen a gourd calabash pipe that was missing its cap; its owner nevertheless filled the gourd with tobacco.
Pipes that are burned out horribly cannot be fixed, even with painter’s tape, like you see below. The photos here are simply a small sample of pipes we've had over the years that were unsuccessful repaired. Sometimes, dear reader, you really do need to get a new pipe.
Wednesday of last week, I made something of a pipe pilgrimage up to the US HQ for Savinelli. I'd been chatting with Giacomo Carlesi, Savinelli's Italy-based export manager and Ruben Ysdiron, CEO of Savinelli USA, by email and phone a bit during the preceding couple of weeks and they convinced me to take the trip up to Raleigh to look at a shipment of higher end Savinelli pipes that they'd just received in the US.
This was, by far, the finest selection of Autographs, Linea Artisan, Briar Line and Milano Handmades that I've ever seen in one place. Beautifully grained briars abounded, laid out in tray after tray on their shipping tables, in anticipation of my arrival. I met Giacomo at noon and having completed the standard salutations, he asked "pipes or lunch?" Alright, anyone who knows me would know that, for me, that's a tough question. I take both pipes and lunch very seriously. But, I figured, we'd look at pipes for an hour and then head off for a bite to eat together with Ruben.
Four and a half hours later, we had moved on from pipes to lighters and Savinelli pipe pouches. Lunch had long since been forgotten amid the great bounty of briar. By the time we finally wrapped up looking through pipes, Ruben had to beg off of 'lunch' and Giacomo and I grabbed a quick bite among early dinner goers rather than the lunch crowd.
What's important, though, is that I had my single best opportunity ever to pick out pipes from the handmade, artisan end of the Savinelli range. Mostly for supply and selection reasons, we've never been terribly focused on these at Smokingpipes.com, though Savinelli is a very important brand to us. Being able to see all of these together reinforced that there's some impressive work coming from the storied Italian manufacturer. And, almost needless to say, I picked out dozens and dozens of pipes. Added to that, I picked up an order that Pam had already forwarded. My little VW Jetta has never, ever been so full. I narrowly escaped having to have pipe boxes on my lap on the way home...
While it was all a little much for us to get up all at one time, we have a huge update from Savinelli on Thursday, totalling seventy-two pipes in all, of which many Autographs, Linea Artisans, Milanos etc are featured. I think my trip up there was definitely worth it; I've never been more pleased with the selection of Savinellis we're able to offer. Check back on Thursday afternoon and have a look!
Last year, on our trip to visit pipe makers in France, Italy and Germany, Alyson and I made an important stop in St. Claude to visit Sébastien Beau, owner of Genod pipes. This was a follow up visit from a discussion we'd had in Chicago. I was interested in introducing Danish style engineering to a line of classically French pipes. Sort of a French on the outside, Danish on the inside approach (with apologies to my one Franco-Danish friend to whom this description could also apply). Sébastien had piqued my curiosity with the way he was talking about pipes and his thoughts on the factory that he had just purchased from the previous owner who he had worked with for a few years. Sébastien was younger, receptive to new ideas and we just generally got along rather well.
Just as important, I wanted to be able to offer the pipes for reasonable prices, less than Stanwells, perhaps in the same neighborhood of Peterson's less expensive pipes. At first, Sébastien thought I was asking for the moon. While we were in St. Claude, we started fiddling through the details. At first it still seemed like a challenge, but as we worked our way through it, it seemed increasingly possible. Well, that was almost a year ago.
After occasional correspondence since, Sébastien wrote me, almost out of the blue, to tell me that the first 144 pipes were almost ready.I was tentatively excited. It wasn't until they arrived that I knew that this little project had succeeded. Adam, who is one really hard guy to please, was floored by the quality of the internal construction: 4mm draft holes, chamfered tenons, fluted buttons, transitions handled as they should be. These are the sorts of things that excite Adam. And Adam was excited.
Yet they look like cool old French pipes. Generally on the smaller side (perhaps Dunhill groups 3-4), they're offered (at present) in twelve shapes, all cool older Genod shapes. Presented in three finishes, a sandblast, a contrast brown and a light orange, the whole package is quite fetching.
Sébastien decided on a shortening of his last name for the pipes, yielding "Sébastien Beo" as the brand, differentiating them from the conventionally engineered Genod pipes. I've smoked one of them three times now (they've only been here for four days) and I'm tremendously impressed. The pipe smokes like a charm.
“What’s the difference between a $1000 and $2000 briar pipe?”
This question actually comes up quite a bit. It’s a valid query; we’re talking about objects that are all roughly the same size, made of the same materials, which do only one thing: smoke tobacco. So where’s the $1000 dollar difference?
Today Adam and I ended up with Sykes in his office discussing some of the finer details of eight or nine pipes he had sitting on his desk. They were very expensive pipes.
Our discourse became an examination as we critiqued and quibbled over the minutia of shaping, stem work, and use of accents. At different points in our conversation both Sykes and I had confessed to being extremely nitpicky with several of the pieces.
And that’s when Adam nailed it. “When hundreds of dollars depend on millimeters you should be picky.”
The difference between that $1000 and $2000 pipe are millimeters. When a pipe maker is good enough to affect a better transition from the bowl to the shank simply because he can operate at such a minute scale his work becomes incredibly special. And pricy. When a pipe maker can keep a shape together because his stem maintains the right line through the pipe’s profile he’s piloting microscopic terrain. He’s making an extraordinary pipe. That’s the difference.
Now, this is not one of the pipes we were looking at today. Those pipes have yet to be photographed. Instead, I’ve dug up a photo from our archives a pipe by Hiroyuki Tokutomi that I hope will illustrate Adam’s point.
Last week, I experienced the privilege of counting pipes for our quarterly inventory. Yes, Adam took the day off while we newer recruits did busy work. But I felt very excited to have been selected to assist in counting pipes. Looking at our pipes each day on-line is one thing, but handling a pipe … holding it in your hands to appreciate the beauty is something else altogether. I am quite often still in awe.
Every day here is a celebration. But this week is special for me because it’s my 1 year anniversary with our company. After 18 months of being unemployed, I was hired to work here in customer service. Although I had years of experience in customer service, I had little-to-no knowledge of pipes, tobacco and smoking accessories. Being a cigarette smoker, I was intrigued by what I saw here. But I had no idea that this would turn into a really fantastic job! Yes, I’m extremely happy to be here!
Over the past year, I have learned many things. I’ve read a few books, attended training classes, sniffed tobacco, rubbed out tobacco, watched others demonstrate the art of smoking tobacco in a pipe and smoked a pipe myself, a few times. Okay, the first time I ate the smoke and felt it in my stomach for about 18 hours. But I am learning. Last week, Ted gave a few of us our very own starter-pipe. And in our Smoking 101 class we packed our bowls, watched Ted demonstrate lighting his pipe and then we all lit up! We tried a straight Virginia tobacco. I was so excited - I was shaking in my boots. Okay, maybe dancing in my boots. After all that I have learned, I now feel ready to try smoking different tobaccos to experience the pleasure of pipe smoking. Wish me well!
In closing I’d like to thank my colleagues for all the training and inspiration they have shared with me. Mark celebrated 2 years with our company in January and Leila is moving beyond 90 days next week. I am surrounded by dedicated people doing a terrific job to provide quality products and service to our customers. We each have our strengths and weaknesses, but we all reach out to go above and beyond in what we do. And our team efforts help us to reach our goal. I’d also like to thank our customers for your continued history with our company. Without you, we would not be here. Thanks for sharing your comments, ideas and knowledge with us. And we look forward to serving your future needs and wishes.
We have a good customer who is a regular in our brick and mortar store come in today and he got to talking with Tom Marsh (one of our pipe restoration guys) about his pipe. He has a nice billiard with a large bowl and hand-cut cumberland mouthpiece, but always has difficulty with the draw. After taking a look at the pipe and performing a pipe-cleaner test (just to see if there was blockage), I noticed that the airway at the button was just really small.
Nearly all hand-cut stems are chucked up in the lathe and drilled from the tenon side nearly all the way to the button side and then a smaller bit pops through. When I make a stem, I use a tapered 5/32" bit for the first inch or two (depending on the length of the stem), continue with a tapered 9/64" bit about 3/4" from the button, and continue through with a bit slightly smaller than 1/16". This small area gets widened into a V-shape before it’s filed slightly larger which allows for a thin button and comfortable airflow. Regarding our customer’s pipe, I could see a partial V-slot, but it didn't extend all the way down. In the past we've fixed this kind of problem by chucking up a bit in a hand drill, throwing safety to the wind, and concentrating while holding our breath. Luckily, we found use #7 for our metal lathe: opening a slot.
By chucking up a drill bit that was slightly larger than 1/16", we turned on the lathe to a really high speed. I carefully held the stem in my hand, pushed it onto the spinning bit (spinning so fast it grinds more than it cuts), and slowly pulled up the stem at an angle to cut the sides to a V. While maintaining the integrity of the slot shape and thickness, and after rotating the stem and doing this from the other side, an open slot was made noticeable. Tom ran a pipe cleaner through the modified stem to clean it up.
I haven't seen the pipe since. From what I'm told, the customer is puffing away on it downstairs with ease for the first time since he's owned the pipe. While this is something I definitely do not suggest you try at home unless you have the proper tools and technique, quite a few pipe repair men, or maybe even shops, might be able to make your restricted pipes smoke better than they ever have.
We have a new brand of pipe added to the site starting Monday (March 21). However, Brigham is not a new company. In fact, Roy Brigham established the company in 1906 after serving as an apprentice to an Austrian pipe-smith. His son, Herb, and later his grandson, Mike would carry the torch of the Brigham Brand into the 21st century.
In addition to an array of shapes, sizes, and finishes, Brigham pipes have a unique feature.
The Brigham Rock Maple 'Filter' Syste
The Brigham system was developed in response to a common complaint of pipe smokers - tongue bite. Eliminating this burning sensation created by the tars and acids of the burning tobacco (especially in wet and aromatic blends) became a consuming passion of ours. We found the perfect taste-neutral and effective material in natural, untreated Rock Maple.
Each filter is made by hollowing out the inside diameter of a 3.5” Rock Maple dowel and pressure-fitting a special metal cap to its end which helps the filter fit snugly inside the pipe while making removal simple. The manufacturing process of the filter uses no chemicals or adhesives to guarantee a taste-neutral system.
By design, the Brigham system extends into the stem, providing an extra inch of wood through which the smoke passes. Consider that in most other pipes, smoke spends half of its time passing along a plastic or rubber channel which can add negative flavor to the smoke while providing no benefit of its own.
This combination of reduced exposure to plastic and rubber, drastic reduction in tongue bite, elimination of gurgle and flow-back as well as the ease of use has made Brigham Canada’s pipe of choice for generations.
- Drastically decreases tongue-bite (the burning sensation on the tongue)
- Virtually eliminates gurgle and moisture
- Does not impede airflow - you can pass a pipe cleaner through it - Does not impart any flavor of its own
- Improves the smoking characteristics of even the wettest tobaccos
- Decreases the amount of contact smoke makes with the stem
- Filters are easily replaced and can even be rinsed, dried and reused several times
Here is a sample of the pipe we will have for you to consider
We are glad to have another quality brand of pipes available to our customers. Look for Brigham in the new pipes section of Smokingpipes.com.
The St. Patrick's Day Peterson shipment is here! Bobby and I are busy working on the photographs now and the pipes will be added to the February 28th update (Today). The Peterson St. Patrick's Day pipes feature a Shamrock with March 17, 2011 stamped on the band. Here is a sample, but the entire batch will be available to view soon. A premature "Happy St. Patrick's Day" from Smokingpipes.com!
When I first had the idea to do a brief blog post about clay pipes, I soon realized that it is actually a huge subject that could fill many books (and actually has). This particular post is not meant to be a concrete piece of history, nor is it intended to classify all clay pipes and tobaccos. Still, a brief bit of fun is in order. Most of us have smoked briar pipes, some smoke meerschaum; there is the occasional cherry-wood pipe or noble cob thrown into the mix, but what about the common clay? For starters, there is little debate that there were more pipes made out of clay than any other material, since it was the vessel of choice (and mass market) from c1500-c1900. Briar came into popularity in the latter part of the 19th century.
The example shown here is lesser known to most of us. It's a simple clay bowl that could be made out of stoneware (in this case), redware, or pretty much any clay that you could dig up just under the good soil in the back yard. Some fancy pipes have a light glaze on them, but the majority of these were either unglazed or polished in spot-areas from natural ash glazing or salt glazing. An obvious advantage to a bowl like this is that the stem (normally the part that breaks) could be a simple reed (as is the case here), turkey or goose feather, or a hollowed stick from the likes of a cherry or walnut tree. Pipes made in this way were very easy to transport. The bowls could be kept in a box or bag and the wooden stems would be kept separate to take up less space. This particular design looks like a typical detailed stoneware pipe from the 1800s. Since the style changed very little, it's rather difficult (if not impossible) to determine if this pipe was made two decades ago or two centuries ago.
That's why I like it. This style of pipe was often traded to Native Americans - as many goods were - along with tobacco. Many a re-enactor has a pipe like this in his tricorn, felt hat, or in a leather pouch with a twist or rope of tobacco (which was much easier to store than ribbon). Cutting off a coin of tobacco (Samuel Gawith Brown Bogie in this case) and breaking it up into ribbons to fill the clay takes me back to a past time when men sat around a campfire roasting meat, talking in a tavern, or simply enjoying their tobacco alone with their thoughts.
After the West Coast pipe show in Las Vegas, there was a pow-wow in San Diego. Lucky ducks Sykes, Alyson, and Brad Pohlmann visited Jeff Gracik and captured some great video of the pipe makers working on our Christmas pipes. If you'll scroll down a few posts, you can see a video that Ted matched to wonderful Christmas music. (Personally, the scene with Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the sugar plum Fairy" behind it really put me in the Christmas spirit.) The pipe is a pear shape and features custom J.Alan silver work on the shanks. We just got these pipes in a few days ago, actually, and they are each a beautiful gem. Jeff applied his stamp to the pipe as did Brad. Just yesterday Sykes came into my office and asked if I could stamp them with the Smokingpipes.com logo.
Nearly every pipe has a stamp on it, though many people don't know how it is done. Some companies and makers have different practices (Eltang engraves), but it pretty much comes down to pushing a steel stamp - which is really sharp and rather expensive - freehand onto an expensive pipe. For many pipe makers (this includes me) this final step is part of the finishing process and can be quite risky. If the pipe is stamped poorly it will need to be sanded down before being stained, finished, and stamped again. Some shapes are easier to stamp than others (wide, rather flat pieces, for instance.)
I couldn't put it off any longer. Finding a suitable material to rest the pipe on - an estate leather Castello bag - meant that I could use the hard top of a desk by the back door (near Eric) and the leather would make something soft for the pipe to sit atop. More importantly, the bag mildly grips the pipe so it wouldn't slip on the hard glossy surface of a desk. After borrowing a chair from someone's office and installing an architect's desk lamp for proper light, I gave Eric strict instructions.
"Eric. I need to stamp seven of these pipes with great concentration. They don't belong to me, so if I don't press hard enough, if I partial stamp, or slip (oh, the horror!), I will be Ebenezer Screwed. It's your job to act as my bouncer. We have hardwood floors, so make sure Alyson and Susan (each wearing hard heels) don't come nearby. If anyone tries to sneak up on me or talk - tackle them."
The thought of stamping a pipe that wasn't mine made me a bit trepidacious. Doing it perfectly seven times made me really nervous. I planted myself firmly in the solid seat when no one was walking around and placed the leather bag on the edge of the desk. Firmly holding the pipe in my left hand with the bowl angled to one side, I touched the corner of the extremely sharp, pointy metal stamp on the edge of the hard, shiny, waxed surface of the pipe. Squeezing down with enough force to do a one-handed push-up sunk it into the briar. At this point I was committed. Very slowly, I rocked the round stamp back and forth and slowly rolled the pipe like a door knob with the grace of a juvenile getting home past curfew. It was done.
Whew! It's scarier than it seems. People here in the office laughed at my expense - nothing unusual - so I suggested they try it on some throw-away rejected billiard estates. Good thing for Jeff and Brad that some other employees here didn't stamp the pipes or we would have ended up with some 'okingpipes' pipes and some double-stamped pieces.
Jeff and Brad did a great job with this year's Christmas pipes. Thankfully, I didn't screw them up. ;)
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.
Stingers, tubes, twisters, and doodads: There are (were) just about as many of these as there were
pipe shapes. While not entirely a thing of the past, their heyday was around the middle of the 20th
century. Is there a reason pipe companies aren't using, inventing, or re-inventing these anymore?
Perhaps everything to be stingered has already been stung. This blog is a way for us to let you in on
some some of the conversations we have in the office, and this particular posts comes from a question
someone working for us in Customer Service called me about a few months ago. The question was something
like this: "Adam? I have a customer on the phone and he is asking about pipes with stingers. Um...what's
a stinger?". To this I replied with my vast knowledge of (pretty much) useless tid-bits: "What kind is
he looking for? There are, like, zillions of different stingers. I'm assuming he's calling in about a
Kaywoodie estate, right? The stinger helps determine the age."
Phone silence for about 15 seconds. Transfer. "Sir, I'll have to talk with Adam and call you back
about this one. It should only take a few minutes."
Many companies have used something in their history
to try to make pipes smoke better, to differentiate their product, and thus make them more marketable.
While I don't know who started this, many people think about Kaywoodie pipes, or Dunhill innertubes
(which aren't really stingers). Dunhill came out with the innertube as early as 1910, and these
inventions (patented) were ways to differentiate themselves from other pipe manufacturers. The innertube
to the far right in the picture is an earlier version with a collar, and is stamped with a patent
#417574 (patented in 1912), and next to it is a modern innertube which lacks the collar or stamping. The
idea was that it made cleaning the pipe far simpler; one could do so simply by removing the innertube.
Many people simply threw these away, or they were lost. Once they got dirty, they took a long time to
clean, which is why it is really nice to have them included with patent pipes.
Kaywoodie is the other company people think of, probably because there are just so many older
Kaywoodies floating around in the United States. Kaywoodie began making pipes with an innertube before
1915, and came out with the "Drinkless" stinger in 1924. It was said to cool the smoke down from 850-
degrees to a comfortable 82-degrees in the mouth. One of my first pipes was an old Kaywoodie with the
large-ball stinger, but I found it difficult to smoke using this, and did the sinful thing of pulling it
out. Newer Kaywoodie pipes, starting sometime in the early 1950s, have a smaller ball with three holes
in the stinger instead of four. It does help determine age, since the smaller ball with three holes puts
it sometime after WWII. Many of these were thrown away, or simply snipped off with wire cutters. While
they do attract some heat, condensate, and collect some smoke and tars, many smokers can't make a gurgle
go away with one in place. As we all know, gurgling in a bowl if the effect from smoking tobacco that is
either too wet, or smoking it too fast (which turns moisture into steam which then condenses in the
shank). With most pipes, you just run a cleaner down the stem and into the chamber, and let it absorb
the moisture like a wick. This works very well, but can't be done if there is a stinger in the way.
This realization may be why many companies abandoned the idea all together, but the huge success of
Dunhill and Kaywoodie is also why so many people tried to invent the newest doodad. As you can see in
the photo, some had spirals to try to direct the smoke in a certain pattern, others were pointed to make
it streamline, and others were blunt to really increase the surface area. Some shop pipes can even be
identified by the stinger alone, so they can be useful in research, if anything, and only a few
companies used them in recent years (only Kaywoodie and a few Tsuge models actually come to mind).
Whether marketing, functionality, or just plain inventiveness make so many stingers possible, I doubt
if anyone collects them. It might be fun to see hundreds of different designs in a case at a pipe show
for people to look at, while (most likely) smoking a pipe without one.
Also, this missive is far from complete. I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, or
corrections, in the comments of this blog entry.
Tom Palmer, Managing Director of Peterson of Dublin, took a few minutes at the IPCPR show in New Orleans last week to talk with Alyson about all of the new stuff Peterson is doing this year, including the Pipe of the Year, the Christmas Pipe, the Writer's collection, and an assortment of new tobaccos.
It's been a whirlwind here in New Orleans over the past few days. Providing any sort of logical, or even chronological, order is beyond me at this point. So, in addition to eating our share of beignets and drinking coffee at Café du Monde, though really, Brian ate his share and nine other shares, and listening to Jazz in the Quarter, we've actually done some work. Or, whatever it is we actually do that we pretend is work to the folks back home so that they don't know what a raucously good time we're having while we're away. Seriously, the show has been lot of fun, but we've also covered tremendous ground, literally and figuratively. Here are some highlights from Monday through Wednesday, picking up where we left off after the last IPCPR post, where we'd just finished up picking out tons of particularly pretty Dunhills...
Oh, and also, we'll have a bunch of videos when we get home. Our cunning plan to edit and push videos from the road has hit a technical snag or six, so I think we're surrendering on that particular front until we can use real hardware and software back at the office. We do have some seriously fun stuff, including videos with Soren Lundh Aagaard, Managing Director of Stanwell, Rocky Patel, and many others...
Monday afternoon we picked out a few dozen Castellos at the Castello pre-show event. Usually, we'll pick out months worth of updates of pipes, but we were a little more restrained this year because we'd just bought a ton of awesome Castellos when we were in Italy in late June. Still, we added some great pieces, especially Sea Rocks and Old Antiquaris, which were a little thin on the ground when we were at the factory eight weeks ago. You'll have to wait to see what we have, but there were some sandblasts that had Brian and me swooning...and Susan and Alyson rolling their eyes a little bit at our enthusiasm (though, secretly, they're super-excited too; they just pretend they're not sometimes; simply witness Susan's intent pipe selecting to the right).
That night, we met Kevin Godbee from PipesMagazine.com for dinner at Susan Spicer's restaurant, Bayona. As I might have suggested previously, and while I don't want to turn this blog into a restaurant review page, I have a bit of weakness for the culinary arts. And Susan Spicer is an artist. The food was excellent and the company was even better. We spent a great five hours talking about the growth in pipe smoking among younger men that we've all been noticing and what we could do to help foster that and ease their entry into the hobby.
The first morning of the show is always a mad dash for us. No one needs to particularly hustle to cigar booths: it'll be the same cigars later that afternoon, but for pipes, it's imperative that we get to pick early. I hit Tsuge immediately, while Brian and Alyson went to Savinelli, and Susan went in search of Stanwells. After selecting a dozen Tsuges, I dashed over to pick out two dozen (or thereabouts, counting and speed picking tend not to go together) awesome Paolo Beckers. He's been experimenting with a new wood that has properties very similar to briar, but is lighter and blasts beautifully. We'll have more on that later, though. We all ended up back with the Stanwells, and picked out lots while we were there, including, we think, some pretty interesting stuff.
From there, the entire crew visited the Ashton booths to select Petersons. There are a few really nice new lines that will be available over the coming months, including the new version of the Kapet with a nickel band and a fantastic new Mark Twain shape. Plus, of course, the Peterson Pipe of the Year, of which we've already received the first few, pictured to the right. They also had a particularly good selection of Spigots that we could select from this year, plus we finalized an amazing deal for some very special Petersons that we'll be able to share with you in about two weeks, but for now, I'll have to keep mum-- I promise it'll be huge, though!
Tune back in tomorrow evening for more notes from the show...including our discussions with CAO about Dunhill tobaccos coming back to the US...
Much of my past week has been spent prepping for our trip to New Orleans for the annual IPCPR trade show. Hotel rooms and transportation are all set; we have great dinners lined up and I'm excited to make my requisite pilgrimage to Café du Monde on Jackson Square for beignets and coffee at least once (or about eight times if time permits). Susan, Alyson, Sykes and I met this past Wednesday to plan day one of the show, our pipe day. Knute Rockne would not be impressed, but Sykes was actually drawing football plays by the end of the meeting (which, among other things, is why we try to avoid having meetings). Ron, our store manager, handed me a list multiple pages long that reads like an eight-year-old's list for Santa Claus and we have appointments lined up with makers of pipes, pipe tobacco and, especially at this show, cigars.
I've already received many ideas from friends for cigars and other products to be on the lookout for, plus one unsolicited, but much appreciated, jazz club recommendation. Now is your chance to help: tell us what you'd like to see in the comments section of this post! I'll see what I can do at the show and I'll follow up with another post when I return.
It's always a good day when we get a visit from our friend and Ardor/Brebbia representative Steve Monjure of Monjure International (and not just because he is a fellow ailurophile and brings us fancy chocolate truffles). Steve knows what he's doing, knows his product and is simply a pleasure to do business with. Today Steve brought us a plethora of Ardor pipes to choose from and we had a great time picking out some of Ardor's finest and talking about some of the new things Damiano and Dorielo are doing with their shaping, new adornment materials, etc. We always look forward to Steve's visits (and even if he didn't bring chocolate, we'd be delighted to see him). Look out for great Ardor updates over the coming weeks!
Chronology, the cornerstone of the blogging world with its reverse chronological organizational structure, can be terribly challenging while traveling. I haven't had nearly as much time to write about the visits as I'd hoped and I'll be putting up bits and pieces over the next few days as I can get videos and pictures edited and some thoughts on paper. This is my eighth visit to Denmark during the past six years; it is always a particular treat to be here. So, as I'm working on that, here's a quick overview of each visit.
Kevin Godbee, of PipesMagazine.com, and I arrived on different flights from the US, but within a few minutes of each other. After taking care of airport necessaries and a quick stop at the hotel to clean up, we set out for Peter Heding, who lives and works in a small town near Roskilde. Peter holds a PhD in biology and until a few years ago worked in diabetes research. Deciding that wasn't the life for him, he became a full time pipe maker in 2006. Today, he's making some amazing pipes and we got to see a couple of stunning diamond graded pipes that he had just completed, plus got to spend some time watching him work and generally chatting about goings-on.
That afternoon, we swung south on Sjaelland to Praesto, where we met Lasse Skovgaard Jorgensen at his new workshop. Lasse grew up in this beautiful part of Denmark, so this is actually near where I visited him when we first started working with Lasse's pipes in 2005. Lasse has been playing musical workshops lately, in large part because he rented space from Stanwell a couple of years ago, and then Stanwell shuttered that factory this spring. For now, he's using some space near his grandmother's home, not far from where he grew up. Officially, he's on vacation right now, something that Lasse takes particularly seriously, so he met us at the workshop and he hadn't been there in a couple of days. With a spread of perhaps a dozen beautiful pipes (most of which will arrive at Smokingpipes.com sometime soon) on the table, we set about playing around in the workshop and he shaped a pipe while we took a little video and shot some pictures. We went out to dinner, but I was so tired and jetlagged by then that I was a bit hazy, I think we had a really nice time.
The following morning (yesterday), we got up and drove up to north-eastern Sjaelland to visit Lars Ivarsson. I've already mentioned this some in my one previous trip post, so I won't delve into again here, except to again say that Annette's (Lars' wife) lunch was amazing. Given that Lars smoked the fish (that sounds like something pipe related, but he smoked a literal salmon, which we literally ate!) and shot the deer, perhaps he should get a nod for his culinary contributions too. We also spent a bunch of time talking about Sixten's early career, as well as Lars'. I'd heard all of this before, but in bits and pieces but never felt like I had the story coherently. I recorded the conversation and I'll turn it into something readable sometime soon. Five hours visiting Lars and Annette sped by in what felt like about an hour. I could (and have on a number of occasions) simply listen to Lars talk about pipes and pipe making in Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s for hours.
That evening, almost on a lark, I called Tom Eltang while we were driving back towards Copenhagen from Lars'. Tomorrow, we'll spend the whole day with Tom in the workshop, so last night's visit was very much on a whim. Tom gave Kevin the grand Eltang workshop tour, which never ceases to be fun for me too, though I've probably seen him give it a half-dozen times. Then I showed Tom my wounded soldier, one of the new Tubos pipes that I'd been smoking since Chicago that I had unceremoniously bitten through the stem of during a particularly intense meeting one afternoon (for the record, smoking a pipe in a meeting makes you seem smarter; biting through the stem and spitting out bits of vulcanite does not). In classic Tom fashion, he whipped out a new stem for me and I was smoking it again an hour after I showed him the problem. We'll see Tom again tomorrow.
This morning we set out at a little after 9am to visit Peder Jeppesen of Neerup Pipes. Peder makes about 2,500 pipes a year, so the whole structure of his workshop and his methods are rather different from those we're seeing elsewhere on this trip. Given that he makes about ten pipes a day on average, he must work with speed and efficiency, making excellent pipes available at reasonable prices. With the closure of Stanwell and the distribution of its production to various countries, Peder is the last factory-shape pipe making in Denmark, and he is indeed something of a one-man factory. I got some great video of his various processes, so I'll get that up in the next few days also.
Jess Chonowitsch has not made pipes since mid-2006, when his wife Bonnie fell ill; he has spent his time in the past four years caring for her rather than making pipes. I last saw him in 2007, and while I've called periodically and suggested we have coffee now and then when I've been in Denmark, it's been so difficult for him to get away that we'd not been able to make anything happen. This trip, I was delighted to be able to finally see Jess again. I've always enjoyed my time with both Jess and Bonnie. Jess has a quiet gentility that is so evident in his pipes. And he has such a rich history in the pipe world that simply being able to sit with him and pick his brain about pipes or pipe making is a very special experience. So, we sat in the garden for an hour and a half and just chatted. Jess is starting to get to where he can make pipes again, having spent time cleaning and organizing his workshop properly for the first time in a long time. I am very excited to see what he does over the next year or so. There's been much speculation as to whether he would start making pipes again; I'm quite confident that he will.
So, tomorrow, on to Tom Eltang's shop for the day. That should be a lot of fun. On Tuesday, we're headed to Mac Baren in Svendborg in the morning and to see Peter Heeschen in the afternoon. Wednesday we go to Orlik in Assens, then to Kent Rasmussen in Aarhus. On the last day, we'll head up to the tip of Jylland to visit Mogens Johansen (Johs) in Frederikshavn, then on back to Copenhagen. To misquote Tom Eltang, "It's good to be a pipe seller!".
Claudio was a farmer for most of his adult life. He had also been the world slow-smoking
champion for years, and held the world record for many years (as documented by the Guinness Book of Records). Claudio made his first pipe in 1974 because
he'd already waited more than a year for a Caminetto pipe that he'd ordered. For some years, he made pipes for himself and friends. Some years later, as
he became prominent in European and world slow smoking competitions, he began giving serious consideration to the internal dynamics of pipes, rejecting
the traditional Italian model and creating something that, at the time, was quite new, especially in Italy. He continued this way for some years, slowly
making more pipes and farming less, until he ceased to be a farmer at all (except for some very well tended vegetables) and became a full time pipe
Before we sat down for lunch, we looked over perhaps 100 Cavicchi pipes, selecting about half that have since arrived in Little River. We could quite
easily have selected them all--each was excellent--but we had just received a shipment of 50 pipes at the office, and adding another 100 to that seemed
excessive. So, painful decision followed painful decision as we wittled down the selection to something more manageable. Plus, upon our arrival, he had
already fallen far below what Claudio considered his prudent reserve of pipes, and as Gianfranco joked about what would happen if Cladio ever, gasp, ran
out of pipes, we thought it better to not put such strain on Claudio...
Exploring Claudio's home and garden, it becomes quite apparent that this is quiet man is
exacting in all he does. His vegetable garden is perfectly tended. His yard is verdant, model ships he built as a young man are displayed in his dining
room. Everything about his life is exact and methodical, diligently nurtured. Daniela, Claudio's wife, exhibits many of the same attributes. She works as
a quality control specialist for a food packaging company and the lunch she prepared for all of us was divine, beginning with homemade tagliatelle alla
ragu (bolognese; we are just a few kilometers from Bologna, after all), continuing onto a regional pork dish, the most extraordinary fried
potatoes that I have ever tasted, and finishing with some of the finest cantelope that I have ever experienced. Clearly, Claudio's talents in the
workshop are only exceeded by those of his wife in the kitchen.
Lunch conversation ran from pipes to the regional differences among various
prosciutti and the general reverence with which everyone at the table holds the pig, to Claudio's magnificent vegetable garden (about which
Claudio, in his matter of fact manner, says, "well, I'm a farmer"). Open and hospitable, the opportunity for me to finally get to know Claudio and
Daniela was priceless. The impressions about the man that I gleaned from seeing a few hundred of his pipes were partially confirmed. He is as exacting
and methodical as I had supposed, yet also possessing a gentle kindness, a self-comfort, a quiet modesty, that earned my respect as much for the man as
for his pipes.
After a couple of missed turns and driving around
in search of the correct address (you're probably beginning to discern a pattern), we pulled up into a small
grouping of plaster clad homes, finding Claudio Cavicchi, and his good friend (and our translator for the day)
Gianfranco Musoni chatting in Claudio's immaculately maintained garden. We were immediately whisked inside,
plied with espresso, and shown Claudio's well-equipped, organized workshop. It's not that Claudio's workshop is
particularly tidy, but it is
definitely the work home of a disciplined craftsman: everything has its place, the main table in the room
serving as a place for stummels and paper templates rather than a repository for general workshop detritus
(unlike my office, where all the horizontal surfaces are repositories for general office detritus, plus pipes that I've smoked and not put away). And the centrality of that table is interesting. Machines--a
bandsaw, lathe, buffers, sanding disks-- surround the room, but in the center is that long table with nothing
but pipe stummels and paper shape templates. Claudio doesn't use the templates to help him shape, but he finds
it an important part of the creative process, helping him to find the shapes in the blocks before he starts
cutting. Clearly, having all of those paper templates littering (seemingly) the central area of his workspace is
somehow essential to his creative process.
Just like an office, or a living room or kitchen in
a home, says a lot about its occupant's personality, a workshop speaks volumes about a pipe maker. Hardly an
entire picture can be discerned from a workshop, but much about the pipes begins to make sense. Something that
we've remarked upon time and again here at the office is that Claudio has a failure rate of zero. We have never,
ever had to return a pipe for a construction error or other problem that we think would pose a problem for the
pipe's future smoker. Given that we have (as of this writing) sold about 600 Cavicchi pipes, this is a truly
amazing feat. Pipes are handmade and mistakes happen every great once in awhile. Most top pipe makers have a
mistake rate (as we define it) of 1-2%. When you sit back and think about it, that's pretty amazing in itself,
but not nearly as impressive as Claudio's unsullied record. Alyson took over as brand manager (which just means
that she's primary contact for business pieces associated with the brand) for Cavicchi a few months ago. One of
her first questions, which is something we always ask, is how we should handle any returns for problems with the
pipes. Claudio, rather matter of factly, replied that it wasn't an issue; they never have problems. At first, we
thought this rather presumptuous, until we gave it a little thought and realized that we'd had, oh, about 450 so
far without rejecting a single one. This wasn't cavalier haughtiness; Claudio's was a statement of fact. He
doesn't make mistakes.
And this is certainly visible in his workspace. He is
methodical and diligent; his workshop reflects those characteristics. It is obviously carefully organized;
everything has it's own place. Machines are placed relative to each other for ease of use. Tools are carefully
and efficiently organized. The entire workspace exudes a quiet, professional efficiency. The only area of
controlled chaos (most pipe making workshops are either in a state of controlled chaos or outright chaos) was
that center table, so central to both the workshop and his creative process.
Later in the morning, this came up in conversation. We chuckled about it and Claudio indicated that he would
continue to make sure that we never had cause or need to return a pipe. Gianfranco, Claudio's close friend and
our translator for the day, of course quickly added that if there is ever a problem, that Claudio would want to
know immediately, but, then grinning, added that it probably wouldn't ever be necessary.
Claudio speaks as little English as I speak Italian,
so the conversation was mostly with Gianfranco. He could answer a lot of our questions directly, not always
translating for Claudio; his family has been close to Claudio for years, and while he doesn't make pipes (though
he did once just to see, of course), he's intimately familiar with Claudio's process and Claudio obviously
trusts him as if he's family. From our perspective, while it's difficult sometimes to not be able to speak to
the pipe maker directly, it was something of
a boon in this case to hear about the pipe maker from someone who sees him almost every day, cares deeply for
him, but can offer a third-person perspective, of course overlaid with statements from Claudio translated
directly. In some ways, I felt as if I had a better sense of Claudio because of this, in spite of the
impossibility of direct communication.
Listening to Gianfranco talk about Claudio's foibles was a
treat. In some ways, Claudio's perfect record fits in that mold, as does his perfect engineering. Even with the
care to detail he takes, Claudio makes about 700 pipes each year (of which, about 300 end up here with us). He doesn't understand why other pipe
makers make fewer. He thinks it just takes a lot of self discipline, careful routine, and hard work to achieve
this. According to Gianfranco, Claudio also feels uncomfortable whenever he has fewer than 200 pipes on hand. To
any other pipe maker (discounting large workshops or factories), that would sound insane. I can't think of
another individual pipe maker who wants to carry inventory in case someone orders. Claudio is always worried
he'll run out of pipes. I remember once that, per his instructions, we ordered a few weeks in advance of when we
thought we'd need the pipes. He came back three days later with an emailed invoice. This is a pipe maker that
has the precision of an extremely well run large corporation, not a flighty craftsman or business-challenged
Part II 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 attracting younger (20s and 30s) potential pipe smokers to the joys of the pipe. Read on as Kevin and I ramble from anthropological discussions of the way various groups differentiate themselves, the nature of the internet as an informational medium, and how to use all of that to say to a potential younger pipe smoker: "you should smoke a pipe. It's really, really cool."
I haven't yet finished my blogging from my last trip to see pipe makers and I'm off again in ten days to see all of my Danish pipe making (and tobacco manufacturing) friends. This is a trip I've made every year for six years now and it's always a highlight for me. Whether it's risking my fingers in Peter Heeschen's workshop or dreaming up ridiculous schemes (and an occasional practical plan) with Tom Eltang, visiting Denmark is just way too much fun for me. Three days ago, the prospect of getting back on the road in two weeks was as daunting as a lonely night in the alligator swamp down the road from my house. Now, well, now I'm ready to go. Bring on the smoked fish and delicious butter and cheese; I'm ready for Denmark! Here's a snapshot itinerary of where I'll be between the 15th and the 23rd of July.
Castello is something of an anomaly in the world of modern Italian artisan pipe making. Carlo Scotti, when he founded Castello in 1947, did more than anyone else to create the idea of the modern Italian hand made pipe as we've come to know it. Today, Castello pipes, roughly 3,500 each year, are crafted by six men under the aegis of Franco Coppo. Most Italian pipes of the variety that Scotti's vision ultimately spawned are smaller workshops, with perhaps one to three pipe makers. Each Castello pipe is hand shaped; it is Coppo's guidance and vision that keeps Castello pipes consistent in terms of shape and engineering. It is impossible to overstate how central Castello has been to Italian pipe making. When Carlo Scotti founded Castello, millions of pipes were being made in Italian factories. It wasn't that he created a pipe making tradition; it's that he created a new sort of pipe making tradition. Through the 1940s, high quality pipes principally came from London. Cheaper pipes were made elsewhere, especially in Italy. Scotti recognized what Italian craftsmanship and sense of style could bring to pipes, just as it was doing so for everything from clothes to cars at the time. The historical significance of this factory weighed heavily on me as we made the 50km drive from our hotel to Castello. I had the sense that I was about to tread upon hallowed ground. I knew that this would be a special experience. I had yet to discover how special.
When we arrived Franco Coppo and Marco Parascenzo met us outside and quickly brought us in out
of the cold, wet drizzle. Entering Castello, even before reaching the factory, is a special experience. Pipes are everywhere, lining the walls and in cases.
These aren't pipes that will ever be for sale. These are simply a mix of Coppo's collection, examples of shapes, and some experiments. We were bundled into
the factory without too much ado, supplied with much needed espresso after our rainy, circuitous journey to the factory, and began to poke around. There was
something different about Castello from almost every workshop or factory I'd ever been to. It was clean. It was also massive. In part, this sense was lent by
the simple fact that it was one massive, rectangular room. Briar filled bin after bin, extending for perhaps sixty feet down the right side of the factory.
The cleanliness and massiveness seemed to accentuate each other. It's not that most pipe workshops are particularly dirty or messy. Well, actually they are.
But that's rather to be expected for small enterprises that make briar dust and vulcanite shavings for a living. While I'd be disinclined to perform surgery
in the Castello factory, it was remarkably clean. The briar in the bins extending down the right side of the factory represented only a part of what Castello
has on hand, representing the last stage of the ten year storage and drying process that each Castello block goes through to ensure that it is completely dry.
Running the length of the left side of the factory was a long work table, terminating into a
series of smaller work stations. Six men worked diligently while we watched. One sanded stems, another rusticated bowls for the Sea Rock finish, one worked on
slotting and rough shaping stems, yet another carved one of the rare, celebrated Flame series of pipes. Watching this last process was particularly special.
These stunning pipes are only worked on in the morning, when the light is perfect to be able to see the work properly, then executed extremely slowly: one
pipe might take two or three weeks to complete in this fashion. Each is done with a series of tiny chisels and sharpened spoon-like instruments, slowly
painstakingly letting the flames that encompass the bottom of the bowl emerge.
Watching the steps that went into the rustication of the beloved Sea Rock finish was equally fascinating. First, deeper channels are dug with a rounded-chisel-like instrument, followed by lighter rustication with a home-made doodad that looks like a bunch of nails protruding from a small, round block of wood, with a handle affixed. Finally, two different grades of wire brush are used to rough the remaining smooth areas and graduate the transitions. Mr. Coppo suggested that I try my hand at rustication. The chisel is unwieldy and the briar is extremely hard. After a few minutes of diligent effort with the chisel, my rusticated half of a pipe looked not nearly as good as that of the Castello gent who had kindly let me play at his station. I moved on to the nail contraption and that was equally challenging. The wire brushes I managed without incident. The finished result was, well, not quite as good as Castello's normal Sea Rock fare. I suspect that they'll have to clean up the rustication on that one. Perhaps what surprised me most is what hard work it is. Briar is an amazingly hard wood, which is what makes it the perfect material for pipes. It also makes it extremely difficult to cut in any controlled way. My hands were exhausted after a few minutes. I'm left very impressed by men who can do this for hours at a sitting.
We moved on to watching stems be shaped and finished. Every stem at Castello is cut from sheet acrylic-- there isn't a pre-made stem to be found in the factory. I've watched stems being made elsewhere-- Denmark, Japan-- and the process is what I would have expected. The results, as any Castello aficionado would attest, are a remarkably comfortable stem. Apparently, the acrylic stock that Castello uses is also specially mixed for them to be slightly softer on the teeth and less brittle than most acrylics used for stems.
The Castello factory is the only facility that Castello has ever inhabited. Every single Castello pipe, for all sixty-three years of its existence, was made here. The first pipes, those that established Castello as a new force in pipe making in the late 1940s and early 1950s were made here. And those early creations have been joined by hundreds of thousands of pipes since. Today, approximately 3,500 pipes are made by Castello annually. From the perspective of a small artisan, that's an extraordinary number. From the perspective of the middle-sized enterprise that it is, it is truly tiny. The care, the diligence, the reverence, the love that Franco Coppo and his team of pipe makers bring to the process is extraordinary.
The factory was an extraordinary experience, but the real treat was entering the pipe room. Case upon case of pipes line the walls of this tiny room, surrounding a large wooden table. The room feels like the crypt of a church: for its closeness, as well as for the sense of reverence that one has upon entering. This is very much Coppo's domain. A handful of Renaissance frescoes, rescued from churches over the years, hang on the walls, high above head height. The best pipes in the Castello museum are lovingly kept here in glass cabinets. It's not that Coppo describes it as a museum, but it's far more than a collection. It feels almost like a shrine to great pipes of years past.
And that is where the selecting began. We had perhaps 1,500 pipes to select from. This was very much a surfeit of riches. In the world of selecting pipes, more is almost always better. But to go from 1,500 to our planned seven or eight dozen was quite a challenge. We selected some 150 pipes, then weeded from there. The most difficult, painful part of the weeding was on the Castello "Castello" and Collection grade pieces. We ultimately picked 96 pipes, but all of those 150 would have been happily selected (and indeed more that we passed up in the first round) had I been choosing from a less extraordinary array of pipes. Franco, Marco, my girlfriend all watched as I made excruciating choices to return some of the pipes back to the cabinets. It was a bittersweet process,
letting great pipes go like that, only to have the best of the best remain. Indeed, we had planned to go out to lunch, the four of us, but that plan was
abandoned in favor of quick sandwiches that Marco went out for as I labored slowly through the selection process.
As we sat down for lunch, having picked out nearly a hundred Castellos for Smokingpipes.com, I began reflecting on what had just transpired. I love pipes.
I love being in the pipe business, at the nexus of maker and collector. There is something about the tradition of pipe making and the tenacity and
perfectionism of pipe makers that I love. I also love the pipes that result from that. And Castello is an extraordinary institution devoted to those virtues.
My apologies for my protracted absence from my blogging duties. We have been very much on the move and time and solid internet connectivity have not coincided until today. We've now completed the first leg of the trip, visiting five pipe makers and a briar cutter so far. I'll write an entry about each over the next couple of days. I had hoped for something a little closer to real time, but, as is so frequently the case, my plans were just a tiny bit too ambitious. So, we are now in Florence, and amidst the visiting of churches and museums and great restaurants, I hope to spend a little time writing here and there.
Three days ago, on our third day on the Italian and German (and a bit French) pipe maker tour, we visited Ardor. We were running a little late, having decided to take the mountain pass out of Switzerland instead of doing what sane people do, take the tunnel. It was raining; we found ourselves in the clouds. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but rather slow as we inched our way up and then down the Simplon pass. Nonetheless, we arrived late in the afternoon, to be warmly greeted by Dorelio and Damiano Rovera, the father and son team that make Ardor pipes. Ardor has been a special brand for us for many years. Smokingpipes.com has carried it without interruption for nearly a decade now. We've watched the aesthetic evolve, the engineering improve, and the finishing and detail work get better with each passing year. That is not to say that it wasn't excellent ten years ago; it was. But, all good pipe makers make refinements over the years, slowly improving technique, engineering and, perhaps, shaping. I just think that Ardor has done a better job of that incremental improvement than most.
Damiano Rovera, having lived for a few months as a child with a family friend in
London, speaks very good English. His father speaks none at all. And while I was able to navigate a little in France and Switzerland using my
horrifyingly bad French, my Italian extends exactly far enough to make out about half of what's on a menu. We started out by poking around their little
shop above the workshop, looking at the displays of Ardor pipes, some of which constitute the family collection of sorts. Angelo, Dorelio's father, was a
remarkable carver of briar, not just for pipes, but for other little items and objet d'art. Dorelio is also remarkably skilled at this, though his passion runs more towards pipe shaping and less towards this sort of figural work (which one does see in the Ardor tampers and, from time to time, on a rare Ardor figural).
From there, we descended to the workshop. According to Damiano, this is a rare privilege. Unlike our previous pipe visit, Ardor does not accept visitors into the workshop. Damiano said that I was the fourth man to enter the workshop to visit that he could recall. It's very much that Dorelio just considers the workshop a private domain. The shop is for the customers; the workshop is his (and Damiano's) alone. We were very flattered. And we were much impressed by the large, well equipped, sophisticated workshop. Yes, like almost every workshop that I've ever entered, it was messy. It's awfully difficult to keep a workshop where flecks of wood and sawdust fly every which way clean, but there was a certain order and precision, a contained chaos, that I've only seen a couple of other places. I was surprised that it reminded me a little of Tom Eltang's workshop. They're so different in so many ways that I couldn't put my finger on it. I think now that it is simply that both are thoughtfully structured, organized, and efficient.
Perhaps what I find so curious about Ardor is that the company will celebrate its one hundredth anniversary next year. Yet, they have all of the youthful energy of a young partnership. Damiano especially draws heavily on Danish and German stylistic influences. Close collaboration with customers also leads them in new and interesting directions. This is a company with both an extraordinary tradition and a constant thirst to evolve, improve, and explore, both artistically and from a craft perspective. Having intuited this from the pipes for years, it was a particularly special experience for me to be able to see it, meet the men behind the brand, and to understand what it is that makes Ardor
There is also a special Ardor project that is upcoming, something that has been in the works for perhaps a month or two now. I've been involved in discussions about shape and adornments with Ardor and Steve Monjure, Ardor's representative in the United States. I shan't divulge too many details now, but I will share a picture of some drawings and two prototypes that were worked on while we visited. All photos accompanying this blog entry revolve around those prototypes and that project. Hopefully it won't be too long before we can also share the finished project with you.
Following a couple of hours in the workshop as we looked at the machines, watched Dorelio shape a pipe, and generally talked pipes, we went out to dinner with Damiano and his wife and two young boys. Meals are central to everything in life in Italy and it was a particularly special experience for us to be able to join this Italian family for the evening at a restaurant owned by Damiano's wife's cousin. If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood of Varese, Ristorante La Casa del Ghiottone Errante is definitely worth a visit! The food was superb, especially the risotto with Barolo sauce. However, having the opportunity to chat for two hours with Damiano was wonderful. Damiano is as passionate about pipe making as he is gifted a pipe maker. And it is this passion that makes each Ardor pipe a treasure.
Yesterday, we drove through St. Claude on our way from northern France to Italy. Historically, Smokingpipes.com hasn't worked too much with French pipe makers or French pipe brands. We've been talking here and there with Sebastien Beaud, owner of Genod Pipes. Genod has a storied history, reaching back decades. Its previous owner, Jacques Craen, was famous in France, but less well known elsewhere. Indeed, Genod itself has a dedicated following in France, even if it has been less well known outside of its home market for the past couple of decades. We had a nice chat about pipes--French pipes in general and Genod in particular--and, of course, had a lovely lunch. St. Claude is beautiful, clinging to both sides of a steep valley, with bridges crossing between the sides as various altitudes and intervals. It seems an unlikely place for industry-- even light industry like pipe making-- until one considers the fact that it has abundant water power, which is what originally drove the machinery. So, while it is rather remote, it had the absolutely necessary condition for early manufacturing: water power. The Genod workshop has been there a long time. Sebastien showed us the shaft that drove the old water powered machinery by way of belts. Of course, none of that has been used in decades, but it's neat that the shaft is still there.
For us, perhaps what is most remarkable is that this is a city that celebrates its history as the birthplace of the briar pipe and the center of French pipe making. About one hundred and fifty years ago the first briar pipes were made in St. Claude. Fifty years ago, millions of pipes were being made each year in St. Claude. Today, fewer than 80 people work in pipe manufacturing in this city of perhaps 12,000. There are just four independent outfits left: Butz Choquin, Chacom, Genod, and LaCroix. And the last two are small workshop sized rather than factory sized, with a handful of makers rather than a large staff. Still, from the topiary pipe in front of the cathedral to little bits of pipe artwork here and there, and the ubiquitous murals, almost all of which feature pipe making or pipe smokers, this is a city that does not shy away from its cultural heritage, even in this climate of anti-tobacco hysteria. Apparently, Genod workshop tours are even quite the tourist attraction for St. Claude, with groups of 30-50 people coming multiple times a week to see a pipe being made. We arrived early and Sebastien was wrapping up with one group when we arrived. We joined the tour part way in. Given my familiarity with the stuff he was doing, I was more curious to see and hear reactions from the group. These folks were genuinely interested and curious about the process. My French is far from great, but I answered a couple of questions as best I could once Sebastien introduced me to the group. None of the questions that I could understand suggested any round rejection of tobacco; they asked about the process, the methods, even the market for pipes (some questions I just missed amidst the whirring of the machines; it's tough enough for me to understand French without a disk sander in the background!). And these were just run of the mill French tourists, not people with a particular interest in pipes. I was pleasantly surprised.
St. Claude is also in a part of France that is quite new to me. I've spent a lot of time in this wonderful country, though never in the Jura mountains. It's rugged and beautiful, an awesome setting for the birthplace of briar pipe making. And kudos to the good citizens of St. Claude for preserving that tradition!
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