The Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show, sponsored by the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club, is an event teeming with organized chaos. The air vibrates as carvers, retailers, and customers come together, united in a love for pipes and pipe tobaccos. From the Smoking Tent and hotel's Hospitality House, to the Show Floor and Smokingpipes' own Suite, there's never a lack of company to enjoy or pipes to admire.
Though the show proper doesn't start until Saturday, by Thursday night the SPC Suite in Pheasant Run Resort brims with customers, carvers, and collectors. A haze of lingering smoke greets all who enter, notes of aged Virginias and Latakia tickling nostrils as the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling window in the back glimmers with lights from the surrounding city. Along the back and sides of the common area, tables are draped with black cloth to highlight a wide selection of pipes — customers flit across the array, admiring everything from old English classics to beautiful Danish high-grades. In the middle of the room, a circled group of chairs and couches encourages deep laughter and raucous conversation, the volume rising over the whir of the espresso machine.
Fred Berger lights up his long-shanked Dublin from J. Alan while Jeff Gracik himself and Shane Ireland share stories of past times in San Diego. Fred's stoic posture contrasts against the exciting gesticulation of Alex Florov, the carver's moustache fluttering with every word as his cadence increases during a story about his flight from Russia. Across the circle, Gustavo Cunha and Pete Prevost laugh and listen, Pete's black BriarWorks' trucker hat matching the brown one worn by Sam Adebayo just next to him. Elsewhere, the scene is quieter: Kaz and I admire Chris Asteriou's latest pieces, displayed across the bed in the adjacent room, while Sykes and Tom Looker discuss the intricacies and influence of Tokutomi's work. It's a microcosmic scene of the Chicago Pipe Show at large: old and new friends connecting within the context of a shared love for pipes and tobacco.
For me, this year not only marked my first time attending the Chicago Pipe Show, it was my first pipe show experience ever. Since joining the Smokingpipes team as a copywriter a year ago, I've spent countless hours discussing the art of pipemaking and analyzing the work and style of world-renowned artisans. All of that writing and experience, though, was void of personal contact, the pipes and themes I wrote about informed solely by secondhand details and observations — via discussions with other experts and with the finished briars themselves acting as windows into each artisan's creative process.
The Chicago Pipe Show elevated that preexisting knowledge, complementing it with firsthand, personal experience and new friendships. Faces and personalities were paired to pipemakers whose work I've spent the past year describing and analyzing, and collectors' names who I've heard floated around the office were introduced in person. To say it was significant would be an understatement; to say it was surreal would fail to describe my excitement. It was, in a word, joyous.
It's an event built upon connection and steeped in history: Young pipemakers glean from the sage experience of older masters; long-standing friendships are maintained and new ones kindled; everyone connects through a shared experience and love for briar and leaf.
The moments I spent with carvers and collectors, the souls and hearts of the pipe world, are the fondest memories I have from the Show. It's an event built upon connection and steeped in history: Young pipemakers glean from the sage experience of older masters; long-standing friendships are maintained and new ones kindled; everyone connects through a shared experience and love for briar and leaf. Even the pipes themselves reflect this connection and history: Similar shaping cues, finishing styles, and overall aesthetics flow from one pipe to another, each having been interpreted through the carver's personal perspective yet with inspiration drawn from the work of other marques and makers. From brand new, unsmoked pipes to faithful, old workhorse estates, the pieces that permeate the show personify a history of pipemaking all at once and all in one place. Show attendees spend the day perusing this history, transitioning into late nights of laughter and conversation. The Chicagoland Pipe Show acts as a point of connection between carvers and collectors, and it's a connection remarkably unique from that of other industries. Were this Hollywood or the world of professional sports, for example, interaction between fans and famosos would only occur via an impersonal veil of bodyguards and media camera flashes. Not so in Chicago. All are one and equal underneath the Smoking Tent, the only difference being that you've known Tom Eltang's name long before he ever introduces himself to you.
One such person I've had the pleasure of befriending is American artisan Adam Davidson. Through talking about his handmade pipes, learning from him the process of estate pipe evaluation, and sharing a common Hoosier homeland, I've enjoyed working with Adam here at SPC, and, like everyone else at the Show, he was in his element.
2019's show was particularly special for Adam as he received this year's CPCC Master of Pipes award. The title is awarded at the show each year to honor individuals who have displayed a devout commitment to and engagement within the world of pipes and pipe tobacco and who have positively impacted the community. While the similar Doctor of Pipes title is reserved for those who have been active in the pipe community for at least 20 years, the Master of Pipes was created to recognize younger tenants of the craft and hobby. This year, Adam received his Master of Pipes in recognition for his work as a carver and his involvement in estate pipe evaluating and refurbishing.
Mounting the stage's steps, Adam sauntered to the podium clad in chukka boots and one of his many plaid button-downs. Typically an affectionately loquacious personality, full of anecdotes and informative tidbits, Davidson kept his acceptance speech surprisingly brief. Commending the eloquent oratory skills of this year's Doctor of Pipes awardee, Steve Monjure, Adam went on to thank CPCC for the prestigious honor, afterward turning to pose for a photo with Aziz Panjwani, the Governor of the Master of Pipes, before exiting the stage.
Speaking with Adam later that evening, framed certificate in his one hand and an almost-empty beer bottle in the other, I could sense the pride with which he carried the award, and though he's never one to rest on his laurels, let alone boast about his successes, Adam bore a smile that testified to the esteemed honor he felt and, no doubt, still feels. (Were you to ask him about it now, though, I'm sure he would humbly deflect, muttering a simple, "Thank you," before quickly changing the topic to smoked brisket or unorthodox candle scents.)
These moments stand out to me when I reflect on this year's Chicago Pipe Show, time spent with newly made friends and the accolades awarded to old ones. And, while every year can expect similar happenings — late hours spent in the Smoking Tent, the busyness of the Show Floor, the Welcome Banquet, and the Master and Doctor of Pipes ceremony — each year offers something fresh, and everyone's experiences are slightly different yet no doubt imbued with a similarly relatable thread of friends, food, and, of course, pipes.
Upon returning to the SPC office, I felt a wave of exhaustion — not the kind that comes from toil but, rather, the kind of fatigue that you experience after having devoted yourself wholly and fully to an event. My mind readjusted to the comprehension of time, caring for the first time in days what date it was. Unpacking my satchel, I returned the pipes I had brought to Chicago to their places on the pipe rack. Empty spaces on the stand now hold the new pieces I purchased at the show, the memories made there now immortalized in briar on my desk. Each bowl smoked now calls to mind conversations had and meals shared with those pipes' makers, permeated by an ever present anticipation for next year's Show.
It's difficult to accept that the show is over and we have another year before the next, but there is still much to discuss. Those of you who were there this year: What are some of your favorite memories of Chicago 2019? What keeps you coming back year after year? What excites you most when looking forward to next year? What makes the Show so special to you personally?