Clockwise from left: Truett Smith, Micah "Yeti" Cryder, Josh Feldman, Adam Davidson, Steve Mawby, Scott Klein, Shane Ireland, Jeff Gracik, and Brad Pohlmann.
In general, the city of Las Vegas isn't particularly known as a place for calm relaxation and rest. Instead, Vegas is celebrated for its endless supply of entertainment, from lavish casinos and hotels, replete with show venues and shopping centers, and a diverse range of quality culinary delights. The city's neon veins pump with adrenaline and energy, with the iconic Strip dazzling the retinas with a kaleidoscopic display. Such a city draws those ready for adventure. If you want a quiet, contemplative locale, you go for a walk in the woods. If you want a once-in-a-lifetime weekend of experiences, from comedy to cuisine, you go to Vegas.
Ironically, though, the West Coast Pipe Show, while hosted in Las Vegas, remains one of the more intimate, personable pipe shows, perfectly adding close-knit community to the unparalleled fun that is the Vegas experience. Such an oxymoronic pairing fits the city quite well however. Las Vegas literally means "the meadows" in Spanish, named for its abundance of wild grasses and spring waters — despite being situated within the stark Mojave desert. The geographic juxtaposition echoes that of the Show itself, which is full of intimate discussions between a few people alongside late night outings on the Strip and large-group dinners full of raucous laughter.
Smokingpipes booth at the West Coast Pipe Show
The West Coast Pipe Show celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year, enjoying the recently renovated amenities and vibrant atmosphere of the Palace Station hotel and casino. Though the Show itself lasted only Saturday and Sunday, November 2nd and 3rd, collectors and carvers arrived as early as Wednesday — including Shane Ireland, Steve Mawby, and myself from Smokingpipes — to connect with friends and make the most of time spent together.
My personal highlight in Vegas was reconnecting with pipemakers and other aficionados. I found that the West Coast Pipe Show is unique in its ability to balance personableness with the close proximity of countless adventures, with traditions having developed over the course of the Show's decade-long lifespan.
Food played a significant role over the weekend, initiating exciting escapades and encouraging meaningful friendships. One such culinary locale, an oyster bar inside Palace Station, is a noteworthy tradition. At least twice a week for the month leading up to the show, Adam Davidson would sit by my desk and wax poetic about the heaven that was this oyster bar and the quality of its gumbos, pan roasts, and chowders.
With a sign that simply reads, "Oyster Bar," the restaurant (if it can accurately be called that) is, quite literally, a countertop bar with no more than 15 seats, sitting smack dab in the middle of the casino floor. The legendary eatery is rarely devoid of a line, with people waiting up to two hours to enjoy its menu. But the wait is worth it, only increasing the anticipation and the enjoyment of the reward that follows.
Eating gumbo for breakfast not only bypassed the lengthy lines of later times but also provided the perfect precursor to working on the show floor, conversing with customers, and communing with carvers — not to mention that the portions were generous enough to act as lunch hours later. That is, unless you're John Goldberg, who never failed to finish his bowl in one sitting.
Clockwise from left: Abe Herbaugh, Ryota Shimizu, Leejan, Meaghan Hudson, Scott Klein, Shane Ireland, Pete Prevost, Ernie Markle, Lisette Flores, Micah Redmond, and Truett Smith
The Show itself lasted Saturday and Sunday, the tables arranged in meandering, serpentine aisles flanked on both sides by pipes of all shapes, sizes, ages, and finishes. Behind the Smokingpipes table, Abe Herbaugh and Micah "Yeti" Cryder shared a spot while they faced the Greek contingent of Chris Asteriou, Michail Kyriazanos, and Makis Minetos.
As showgoers wound their way between the tables, the noise level slowly increased, conversations sprung up about specific pipes, and old friends reunited. Looking out across the show floor, I noted heads bobbing up and down as certain briars caught the eye, all while wisps of curling smoke permeated the room. Many faces were unrecognizable, while others I remembered — Brian Levine interviewing people about their experiences and favorite aspects of the Show, and Neal Osborn photo-documenting the event in between pipe-perusing.
Unique to this year's show was a special lecture by Mark Irwin on the topic of Charles Peterson. The 30-minute presentation complemented Irwin and Gary Malmberg's recent book, The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, focusing specifically on Charles and his work as an artisan, his inventions, and his lasting legacy.
Peterson was a skilled craftsman: The Latvian immigrant carved Kapp & Peterson's meerschaum pipes from 1883 to 1891, was an accomplished silversmith — initiating Peterson pipes' reputation for exceptional silverwork — and also bent pipe stems from amber and vulcanite. As an inventor, Charles is most esteemed for his System patents, still in use today, and though not all of his designs stood the test of time, Peterson never stopped seeking to improve the pipesmoking experience. Mark asserted convincingly in his lecture that because of this combination of craftsmanship and inventive genius, Charles Peterson well deserves a place alongside the likes of Alfred Dunhill, Frederick Charatan, and the Barling family in the gallery of pipemaking history.
From left: Brad Pohlmann, Silver Gray, and Mark Irwin smoking Petersons with Silver Gray's commissioned NAP stems.
Charles Peterson's legacy, though, isn't only related to his innovative engineering and craftsmanship. Charles considered himself a Free Thinker, prioritizing unity between political and religious divisions, and Kapp & Peterson championed community outreach, sending pipes to troops overseas and donating Christmas dinners and gifts to the poor. In fact, although Peterson's annual Christmas series didn't start until 2009, the first Peterson Christmas pipe was made in 1895 for local sandwichmen — a poor working class consisting of those who wore advertising sandwich board signs.
The Reynold's Newspaper, read regularly by Charles, hosted an annual Christmas dinner for these sandwichmen, gifting clothes and personal necessities. Such a vision aligned well with Peterson's, and the dinner inspired him to make a donation of his own: 400-600 Kapp & Peterson pipes. The charitable tradition was continued, then, the following years.
Along with his philanthropic involvement, Charles also prioritized equality across socioeconomic and gender spheres. The Kapp & Peterson workshop readily employed women, reaching 50% at one time, and all employees were local Irishmen and women, though Peterson could have saved money through outsourcing. Charles wanted his pipes to be for everyone, a mantra supported by the slogan, "The Thinking Man Smokes a Peterson's Pipe" — not just the rich, not only the sophisticated and educated, not the well-off and successful. Peterson pipes were and are meant for everyone, and Charles realized this vision through Kapp & Peterson's aspirational tiers, offering pipes accessible to all socioeconomic means, yet never producing sub-par pipes that lacked in quality.
Brad Pohlmann & Silver Gray smoking Petersons with Silver Gray's commissioned NAP stems.
Charles considered smoking a pipe as part of the human experience, and his approach to engineering and the betterment of pipesmoking, as well as his inclusive communal mentality, support this thesis. Consider the following quote from Peterson:
When we think how universally the Pipe has effected [sic] modern thought, in art, science, literature, politics, and even the pulpit; how it has contributed to the best wit of our time; how it has given relief and solace to overworked brains; how it has drawn men together everywhere in many a jovial social smoke, and added comfort to countless chimney corners, the importance of supplying as perfect a pipe as possible is at once recognised.
Kapp & Peterson's innovations and patents sought to deliver the perfect pipesmoking experience, and some of Charles' inventions still live on in today's Peterson pipes — the P-Lip mouthpiece and System drilling coming particularly to mind. One such design, the NAP Stem, though, introduced in the 1906 catalog, lasted only until 1928, having been more or less forgotten over the subsequent decades. However, it's been resurrected thanks to the diligence and skill of American artisan Silver Gray, and the design made an appearance at this year's West Coast Show.
Silver Gray's commissioned NAP mouthpiece.
The NAP Stem, named for the horse racing term that indicates a tipster's most confident race selection — a "sure bet," if you will — was a unique, clamshell-looking mouthpiece designed to disperse smoke evenly across the palate for a more balanced, flavorful experience. While effective, the mouthpiece required an unsustainable, labor-intensive process to make, leading to its discontinuation.
Wanting to revitalize the design, Silver toiled to fashion a select number of new NAP Stems for several collectors, fitting them to each person's Peterson pipe. After Mark's lecture, the group met for a roundtable discussion to share their thoughts and experiences with these special mouthpieces.
Silver Gray's commissioned NAP mouthpiece
Though I wasn't a part of this "test group," I observed and listened as Mark, Silver, Brad Pohlmann, Shane Ireland, Rick Newcombe, Todd Becker, Andy Camire, and James Foster all relayed their feedback. The octet occupied a cozy, circular table, each person accompanied by their personal Peterson fitted with Silver's replicated NAP Stem.
As smoke from the System pipes mingled above, the group's thoughts and experiences were united by several key themes: Each noticed an intense increase in the tobacco's flavor when smoking from the NAP Stem, the unique dispersion of the mouthpiece resulting in a noticeably more poignant flavor profile. Because of this intensity, everyone noticed that they naturally sipped slower and more shallowly on their pipes, not needing to draw in an entire mouthful of smoke to appreciate the provided flavor, in turn leading to a longer lasting bowl.
While many had been somewhat skeptical before first receiving the stems, they'd quickly been converted a few bowls later, admitting surprise at how different and markedly improved the flavor was with the NAP Stem. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and even as a bystander, I was impressed and intrigued by what I heard, increasing my desire to try the mouthpiece for myself. Thankfully, Silver isn't limiting production to this select group. She intends to make more on commission, so contact Silver Gray to reserve your own if interested. Due to the intricate construction and lengthy, laborious process, though, production will understandably be on the more limited side.
From left: Andy Camire, Todd Becker, Shane Ireland, and Rick Newcombe at the NAP roundtable discussion.
This roundtable time represented more than simple discussion and geeking out about pipes: History was brought to life, and the circle of smokers was connected to pipemaking of the past. Much of what draws us to pipes is the rich history and communal connection between hobbyists, and Silver's work facilitated both of those aspects, bringing pipesmokers together to experience reincarnation of a piece of pipemaking history.
Such is the concurrent theme of pipe shows, the meeting of history and community, and the West Coast Show exemplifies this theme. It's a smaller show, compared to the Mecca that is the Chicagoland Pipe & Tobacciana Show, but it wants for nothing in regard to friendly laughter, profound conversation, and, of course, beautiful pipes from all eras. From examining pipe aesthetics with Chris Asteriou; to delicious meals with Ryota Shimizu, Adam Davidson, and company; to discussing guitars with Pete Prevost; to late night talks with Micah Cryder and Jared Coles, the Show was joyful and full of friends.
It's this personal connection to both fellow pipesmokers and pipemaking history that I find most meaningful and downright fun about pipe shows. At this year's show in Vegas, I reconnected with those I met in Chicago and witnessed the modern reintroduction of a vintage Peterson design, all while being surrounded by the current climate, style, and creative innovation of artisan pipemaking.
From left: James Foster, Andy Camire, and Todd Becker smoking Petersons with Silver Gray's commissioned NAP stems.
Thanks to Steve O'Neill and Marty Pulvers for their dedicated organization and leadership that's made this show possible over the years. Thank you to Steve Fallon for his inspiring and witty banquet dinner speech and to Mark Irwin for his expert insight into the life of Charles Peterson, and congratulations to David Huber for winning Best Pipe in Show this year: a Snail Emerging from Its Shell.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who attended the show, pipemakers and collectors alike. These shows continue only because of the ardent participation of hobbyists like you. Feel free to share your favorite memories of the West Coast Pipe Show in the comments below, and we hope to see you next year.