Welcome back, everyone, to another episode of All Pipes Considered. Today I'm joined by a very special guest: renowned author and Doctor of Pipes Rick Newcombe. Tune in as Rick and I discuss all things pipe related, including Rick's scholarship and contributions to the pipe world and some of the unique aspects of pipe smoking that sets our hobby apart from all others. Enjoy.
Note: The following transcription has been edited for clarity and brevity.
[Shane Ireland]: Rick, thank you so much for joining us. For those of you out there who may not know, Rick is the author of In Search of Pipe Dreams and Still Searching For Pipe Dreams. Luckily, Rick was in town and we asked him to stop by to chat a little about his books and just catch up. We haven't seen each other since the last show, so we wanted to share a smoke together and discuss some of his works for our audience. So, Rick, we are coming up on a pretty major milestone anniversary of the first book, right?
[Rick Newcombe]: Yes. In Search of Pipe Dreams was published in 2003. And so in 2023, there will be a 20th anniversary edition. Now, the current edition was published in 2006. It was a subsequent printing. And in the 2006 version, we have 16 pages of color photographs, which was a major project and a major investment. But a lot of people read the first book 20 years ago and said, "Oh man, I love that book, but I wanna see some color photos of pipes."
[SI]: Let's see some grain, yeah. And the photos are fantastic. So for those who may not know, or may not have read the books yet, do you wanna tell us a little bit about how you got into the hobby? What the early days of your pipe-smoking journey look like? What led you to write these two books, essentially?
[RN]: Yes. Well, my plan was never to write books about pipes. I enjoy writing — I used to be a reporter and I was an advertising copywriter — and I love smoking and collecting pipes. And so the books came about because my wife and I would go to Europe on vacation. And while we were there, I would meet with pipe makers and then we'd have these long flights home. And in those days, I had a spiral notebook and a pen. And I would handwrite a story about what just happened. So these articles that I wrote were published in magazines — chapter one of this book, for example, was published in Reason magazine, a Libertarian publication, and other chapters were published in Pipes and tobaccos magazine, Pipe Friendly magazine, and so on. And at some point I decided that I had enough to publish a book.
[SI]: Fantastic. Yeah. So I've heard some of these stories firsthand from some of the pipe makers, but how did you start to connect as a customer with these pipe makers while you were abroad and vacationing where they happened to be living and making pipes?
[RN]: Right. Well, it all started in Copenhagen. My wife and I were there. She had long lost cousins in Copenhagen, so she was looking them up. And so I looked in the yellow pages for Sixten Ivarsson, because I had two of his pipes that I bought used at pipe shows and just really appreciated them and enjoyed them. And I called him up. I spoke with Lars, who spoke English, and I went over to their workshop and met Sixten, Lars, and Nanna. They were wonderful. Earlier in the day I had visited the S. Bang workshop, which was run by two individuals, Per and Ulf. And then that same day I had lunch with Jess Chonowitsch, so it was quite a day. Then a year later, Jess introduced me to Bo Nordh. In those days, we rode a ferry from Copenhagen to Malmö, Sweden.
[SI]: That was before the bridge, I'm assuming?
[RN]: That's correct. But on the books themselves, one of the things I've noticed in reviews is that some people say, "Well, I really resent this. He's writing about thousand-dollar pipes and what an elitist." And I'm really not an elitist. If you read this book, you'll see that. I have a chapter about the old Bertram pipes from Washington, D.C., which I bought for $10 each back in the day. I also outline how to get the best bargain imaginable by finding old estate pipes, like those on the Smokingpipes website. You get just a tremendous bargain. And so I recommend lots of different pipes across many different budgets. To me, pipe collecting is just fun.
[SI]: I think what a lot of people may not understand. I think everybody who's part of this community definitely gets it, but I don't really know too many people who would consider their pipe smoking an affectation. For us, I think it's all clearly a hobby — something to slow down, something to enjoy, something that frankly we don't have time to do all day, every day. So it's for those moments of relaxation and enjoyment.
And then of course, there's the beauty of the craft and the tradition that goes back a very long time and should be preserved and respected. But yeah, my relationship with both pipes and pipe tobacco is definitely collector driven. It's a big part of the craft. And, of course, these are tools that we use to smoke high-quality, premium tobaccos, but I think a lot of what appeals to pipe smokers is the aesthetic beauty of pipes as objects of art. And you really form a relationship with them over a lifetime of companionship as well.
[RN]: I think that's extremely important, but even more important are the friendships we make in the hobby. I think that, right now, especially after the lockdowns and the pandemic, there is an epidemic of loneliness around the world — there's a lack of community and lack of social engagement. If you go to the border of Switzerland and Italy, or you go to Turkey, you will see these old men having coffee and enjoying their pipes; they're talking and having fun and laughing. The world of pipes offers an antidote to loneliness, especially for young people and for the elderly. I mean, if you're a young person and you're attracted to pipes in this day and age, you are really an individualist. You're willing to overcome all kinds of societal condemnation, and I just admire that so much. And that's really what I wrote about in the books — they showcase that sense of community and how much I appreciate it. But then there's also how pipes help us reach a zen-like state. They're meditative.
[SI]: Absolutely. I have a similar story to many. My grandfather was an influential man in my life. He smoked a pipe when I was younger. By the time that I was old enough to smoke, he had cut back severely. He was obviously older, but I always thought it was just awesome. I loved the craft. I loved the beauty of the objects. I was fascinated with the ritual probably more than the actual smoking itself. And so I always knew that it was something that I wanted to explore. But it wasn't until I went to my first pipe show that it all really clicked for me. It was the 2010 Las Vegas show on the west coast. That's when I really began to understand the community piece of this hobby.
I sort of realized, "Oh wow, this is not just a bunch of people who happen to do this thing." We're not just stepping outside for a smoke break at the same time. When you go to a pipe show, which I encourage everybody out there to do, you realize that pipes are sort of the great equalizer. There are so many people from so many different backgrounds, but we all really get this one thing and enjoy talking about it and participating in it together. After that experience, I went to Chicago the following May, and I've been to both of those shows every year since then.
[RN]: Yes. I had a friend, he's deceased now, but he was an attorney in Chicago named Ed Layman. And he was a legendary pipe collector. And I remember one Monday morning, probably 30 years ago, he called me up at work. I answered and said, "Ed, always good to hear from you. How are you doing?" He said, "Gosh, I feel great." And I said, "Really, tell me what's going on? He said, "I'm just all filled up." I said, "Well, what happened?" He said, "I just came back from the St. Louis pipe show and just met so many old friends and new friends. I traded so many pipes, and it was just so much fun. And I wanted to share it with you." I'll never forget that call. I wrote about it.
That is a lot of what pipes offer, I think. I have grandchildren now and I watched them as little kids. And I remember back to when I was their age, and like we did, they love these little cars, airplanes, and toy soldiers. They just love them, they're obsessed with them. They hold onto them and want to take them to bed and all this. Well, I think there's a little child in all of us who wants new toys. And pipes, the world of pipes offers that.
[SI]: So Rick, we obviously have the paperback versions of both of these available on the website, but for anybody who might be interested in a digital download, e-book, or audio book, can you tell us where they might be able to find that?
[RN]: Yes, so for Kindle ebooks, you can find those on Amazon.com; BarnesandNoble.com for their Nook eBooks, which is their version of Kindle; and for the audiobooks, look on Audible.com. What I tried to do in the books is to have a conversation with the reader. And I've been told that there are all kinds of young people getting into the hobby of pipe collecting and pipe smoking. So if that describes you, check it out, because I think you'll enjoy it.
[SI]: Definitely. For the emerging collector in the pipe world, both of these books are must-reads.They offer lots of valuable insight, lots of amazing anecdotes — including some very funny stories from many of these legendary pipe craftsmen as well. They're incredibly fun reads with lots of great information. And Rick, thank you so much for everything you've done for the community, and for joining us today.
[RN]: Oh, thank you, Shane. For those of you watching, I think we sort of take Smokingpipes for granted, but it is an amazing business. The first time I ever heard the name Sykes Wilford, who was the founder of the company, I was in Italy in 2003. The first book had just come out, and I didn't have an iPhone. I had some kind of phone that my office had arranged, and it was called a mobile phone or something. Anyway, I was on a train in Italy when I got a call from my assistant back in Los Angeles. She said, "I just got a call." She had got his name mixed up; instead of Sykes Wilford, she reversed it and said "I got a call from a fellow named Wilford Sykes and he wants to buy a hundred copies of your book." And I said, "Okay, what'd you tell him?" She said, "Well, his check has to clear before I ship a hundred copies across the country." And sure enough, his check cleared; we sent the books and that was the beginning. So I knew that Smokingpipes was going to be a major player in the pipe world. And I'm just so grateful because when there's so many anti-smoking forces around the world, it's just great to have you guys as partners in our corner for those of us who love pipes.
[SI]: Right. And again, I'll echo this idea one more time, but I think that, now more than ever, it's so important that all of us recognize that we are a united community here, and that this is a tradition and a craft first and foremost — something that we should share and cherish. Again, Rick, thank you so much for joining us.
[RN]: Thank you so much. Thanks, Shane.