Todd Johnson: The Conch (Phalanx Q) Tobacco Pipe

Product Number: 002-194-0170

The theme for our American Pipe-Making Exposition 2023 was alternative materials, challenging our participants to craft pipes out of mediums other than traditional briar. The last time we focused on this theme was in 2018, and Todd Johnson created a Nautilus shape out of an actual nautilus shell. He returns yet again to that nautical, organic motif.

Johnson is among the most accomplished and respected artisan pipe makers in the world, and his influence on the American artisan pipe-making movement cannot be understated. He's not only elevated the craft from a design and engineering perspective, but he's also mentored numerous other carvers early in their careers, helping to establish the burgeoning community of pipe makers throughout the United States. Equal parts craftsman and artist, Johnson approaches pipe making from a deeply philosophical and symbiotic mindset: how best to realize an organic material's artistic and functional potential. In the case of briar, that involves shaping pipes to showcase the wood's grain — discovering the design that a specific briar block wants to be. Here, that approach involves how to make a real conch shell perform the function of a smoking pipe while still maintaining its natural identity.

The majority of this piece is a natural conch shell. The chamber, however, is a briar insert, and the rim is composed of plaster to seal the pipe before being expertly painted to conform to and match with the shell's exterior. The shank, then, is briar and fits to the conch via a Don-style mount, while the other end attaches to a hand-cut vulcanite stem outfitted with a standard mortise and tenon.

Along with making such a spectacular pipe, Johnson has surrounded it with an overarching theme and an accompanying, leather-wrapped stand. Those familiar with William Golding's The Lord of the Flies will no doubt recognize the symbolism of The Conch and Piggy's broken spectacles, and etched on the stand is a thematically appropriate quote from philosopher and social anthropologist Ernest Gellner: "Tribalism never prospers, for when it does, everyone will respect it as a true nationalism." A pipe embedded with social commentary and rigorous craftsmanship alike, this piece has been awarded Todd's superlative Phalanx Q grade, representing his highest work.

-Truett Smith
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Measurements & Other Details

  • Length: 9.95 in./252.73 mm.
  • Weight: 10.70 oz./303.34 g.
  • Bowl Height: 2.70 in./68.58 mm.
  • Chamber Depth: 1.52 in./38.61 mm.
  • Chamber Diameter: 0.76 in./19.30 mm.
  • Outside Diameter: 5.47 in./138.94 mm.
  • Stem Material: Vulcanite
  • Filter: None
  • Shape: Freehand
  • Finish: Other
  • Material: Briar
  • Country: United States