J. Alan: Smooth Bent Brandy with Bamboo (1738)

Product Number: 002-376-0354

Throughout the first decades of briar pipe making, from around the mid-to-late 1850s to the early 1900s, grain orientation wasn't a priority; maximizing a briar block's grain wasn't the goal of large pipe factories. Instead, they focused on producing enough pipes for their vast clientele as well as producing quality renditions of classic pipe-chart shapes. That said, handsome grain was certainly appreciated, but when it happened, it was often by happenstance — a pipe's shape wasn't determined around the specific briar block's grain patterns. The machines used to shape pipes were limited by radial symmetry, producing stummels that featured symmetry across a central, horizontal axis running the length of the pipe. Sometimes particularly lovely grain follows a similar trajectory, but most often it doesn't; nature usually doesn't ascribe to such straight, rigid lines. That manner and method of shaping changed as pipe making progressed and more and more hand processes were integrated; however, a maker was still limited by where the chamber and mortise had been drilled. The innovative work of Sixten Ivarsson, though, changed that in the 1960s.

Put simply, Sixten developed a method that allowed an artisan to completely shape a stummel before drilling the chamber and the mortise. In this way, they could first shape according to the briar's grain and then drill the corresponding sections as needed. Sixten also pioneered other artisan aspects, such as accent work — incorporating bamboo and other materials in a manner that supported the artistic composition rather than treating them as an afterthought.

To be clear, Sixten Ivarsson didn't make this bent Brandy; Jeff Gracik did. "So, why in the world are you talking about Sixten?" Because this J. Alan pipe exemplifies the broad-reaching influence of Ivarsson's early, pioneering work, and Jeff's craftsmanship artfully testifies to the superior results of that innovation. In essence, this J. Alan pipe wouldn't exist if not for Sixten, and it bears witness to what Sixten made possible.

The overall shape, here, is a rather squat bent Brandy, the bowl bordering on Tomato in its stout plumpness. A discernible taper, though, defines the bowl sides, and Jeff's asymmetrical shaping of this taper reveals his attention to the block's grain. The bowl's left side tapers at a more shallow angle, sloping more gradually in a manner that slightly protrudes the heel on that side. By contrast, the right side remains more upright à la the traditional Brandy shape. At first, this off-set shaping is striking — almost jarring — but upon close examination, one realizes the unique trajectory of the grain and how it changes angle at the bowl's left side. That inconsistency seems off at first glance; our eyes want the vertical grain to remain consistent all the way around the bowl. But natural materials rarely ever cater to our wants. Instead, Jeff adjusted when shaping the bowl, matching the angle of the bowl's wall with that of the grain. The other option would have been to maintain symmetry across the bowl but render the grain bald in that section. Jeff's artful decision to prioritize grain both maximizes the grain of this briar block and makes for a completely individual bent Brandy rendition — its shape completely catered to this specific briar block.

It's a beautifully rendered design that retains a sense of traditionalism with just the right amount of creative deviation to separate it from other iterations. Dressed in a walnut contrast stain, the stummel is fitted to a shank extension of bamboo, the two knuckles' rhythm and spacing continued by the saddle portion of the stem — connective via a steel tenon for added durability. Jeff angled the stem base to match the organic, dis-uniform nature of the knuckles as well as the leftward sloping aspect of the bowl, and such a design cue brings the stem into the entire composition. Aesthetically stunning and engineered to the utmost standards, this pipe testifies to Jeff Gracik's skill as an artist and a craftsman and his continuation of the innovative tradition of artisan pipe making.

-Truett Smith
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Measurements & Other Details

  • Length: 5.62 in./142.75 mm.
  • Weight: 1.84 oz./52.16 g.
  • Bowl Height: 1.56 in./39.62 mm.
  • Chamber Depth: 1.30 in./33.02 mm.
  • Chamber Diameter: 0.73 in./18.54 mm.
  • Outside Diameter: 2.00 in./50.80 mm.
  • Stem Material: Vulcanite
  • Filter: None
  • Shape: Bent Brandy
  • Finish: Smooth
  • Material: Briar
  • Country: United States
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