Many pipe enthusiasts are collectors. We collect a particular shape, or pipes made by a particular brand, or of a particular finish, or within certain manufacture dates, or, well, the different permutations are endless. Danish bent pipes, American straight pipes, Italian rusticated pipes, Castello shape 55 pipes made before 2010, Barling Pre-Transition Billiards, miniature corncob pipes, Dunhill Christmas pipes, meerschaum pipes themed on Roman gods, sandblasted morta pipes, Churchwarden pipes, clay pipes with heel spurs, gold-accented pipes, and an infinite number more.
Somewhat more often, though, we see brand collections. When pipe shows were more heavily populated by collectors displaying their collections for the purpose of showing others about their interests and sharing the lore they have collected, it wasn't unusual to see wonderful displays of Dunhills, Castellos, Barlings, GBDs, Custom-Bilts, Parkers, Charatans, and many others, and often they were focused on a single shape or family of shapes within that brand.
Every artisan maker has a circle of enthusiastic return clients who particularly appreciate their work. Pipe smokers naturally gravitate to pipes that appeal to their smoking expectations and design preferences, and our individual interests take us all in slightly different directions. Sometimes we just happen upon a particular brand that resonates with us and we find ourselves infatuated.
Pipe smokers naturally gravitate to pipes that appeal to their smoking expectations and design preferences
That's what happened to Bill Taylor. Not the Bill Taylor of Ashton fame; this is the story of Billie W. Taylor II, Ph.D., who has been on his collecting quest for decades, his particular interest in an unusual and interesting smoking instrument called the pipe.
Some of us may remember it, though the pipe was out of production by the mid-70s. It sold well for a time, perhaps as many as a million and a half a year, but it wasn't a pipe that was embraced by those accustomed to briar. These pipes were bright and sometimes multi-colored, and made of plastic with pyrolitic graphite tobacco chambers. They were especially popular as gifts, and appreciated by those who did not have "briar smoking habits to unlearn," as Billie says.
"I found my first in a department store," he says. "I liked it and I smoked it. Then a friend of mine had one and he quit smoking altogether and gave me his, so now I had two. This was in the early '70s. Then 25 or 30 years went by and I enjoyed smoking the pipes and I retired." Billie found that he needed something to occupy his time and keep his interest, and he remembered a friend telling him that everyone needs an indoor hobby and an outdoor hobby.
"Well, my outdoor hobby was birding and my indoor hobby became collecting these pipes. I discovered that they were in all different shapes and colors — about 20 colors and nine shapes. I thought it would be fun if I had one of each, and that's how it all began."
"I thought it would be fun if I had one of each, and that's how it all began."
They were unique and appealed to Billie. "The outside is plastic. They call it compression molded phenolic resin. The inside of the bowls were lined with pyrolytic graphite, which is the same stuff that they were making rocket nose cones and nozzles of, because it's extremely heat resistant. And that's all there is to them, but a lot of hand work goes into them. The shells were no problem, but the part of the graphite liners were hard to line up with the air hole into the bowl, and they had to be machined and they had to be painted by hand at first, because in the early days that plastic would only take a two-part epoxy paint. So they had to be painted by hand until electrostatic plate paints were developed."
Obviously, Billie has done some research. In fact, he's done decades of research, finding and contacting former employees of the company, going through letters and paperwork, and visiting public libraries in California, New York, Cincinnati, and Dayton, Ohio. He's collected and referred to ads, articles, brochures, interviews, catalogs, counter displays, flyers, letters, and patents in his search for every detail possible.
Pipe collectors tend to collect more than pipes; often equally important is the difficult collecting of information and the history of the manufacturers behind those pipes. It's as much fun and as challenging to find information as it is to find exactly the right pipe.
Sometimes that research turns into books, as happened with Bill Unger's The Custom-Bilt Pipe Story, or Gary Schrier's The History of the Calabash Pipe, or Neill Archer Roan's Comoy's Blue Riband, or Mark Irwin and Gary Malmberg's The Peterson Pipe, all of which are based on extensive research originating with the pursuit of a specific collecting interest.
Billie has taken a slightly different path with his website, the pipe, on which he has presented a comprehensive history and displays his current collection of 351 the pipe pipes. That doesn't include his collecting of the closely related THE SMOKE also made by the Super-Temp corporation and later acquired by Venturi and its Venturi pipes. Venturi pipes are plastic with a metal liner and were much more cheaply made, and Billie collects them as well. President Ford was once pictured smoking a Venturi. Billie is missing just six specific shape/color combinations to complete his collection of the pipe, and those missing models are pictured on his site as well.
These were tough pipes, able to be abused. "They tested the paint by the simple expediency of dropping a pipe off the top of the furnaces," says Billie, "which were about three stories high. If they hit the concrete floor and the paint stayed solid, it was a good pipe. If the paint chipped, then they rejected it."
"They tested the paint by the simple expediency of dropping a pipe off the top of the furnaces,"
A large part of the marketing budget for these pipes was aimed at attracting the spouses and significant others of smokers, who would purchase them as gifts. "Arrow shirts had just come out with colored shirts for men," says Billie, "so they were advertising these pipes as color-coordinated accessories for the shirts, but also suggesting they could match your husband's eyes or your boyfriend's car or whatever. So they could have a different color pipe for whatever was in their wardrobe or environment."
the pipe was on the market for only about 10 years, says Billie. "The problem was briar pipe smokers, who didn't much like them; didn't like the way they smoked, because you smoke a briar very differently from the way you smoke a the pipe. The other problem was that they were really expensive to make because of all the hand labor that went into them. They were costing about as much as a good Barling at the time."
"They were costing about as much as a good Barling at the time."
Billie says that the pipe requires a lighter hand than does briar, with a more lightly packed bowl and slower smoking cadence. Briar smokers thought they were awful, but those who learned to smoke them liked them, as did those who first started smoking with the pipe.
"They finally went through a very ugly deterioration and decline, and trouble. And finally, they just went belly up. But I liked them. So I started collecting one of every shape and color they made and I've got it down to where I only have six left to find for an example of each one."
Billie has pursued a fascinating brand that most pipe smokers have little interest in, and has collated, organized, and systematized the entire production into an understandable and impressive collection. His is an example we can all appreciate. Relatively inexpensive pipes can become as impressive a collection as artisan artwork pipes can. the pipe pipes can be found on eBay for as little as $10, depending on their condition and packaging, and although 350 of them add up, they aren't unobtainable, especially when collected over a long period of time. Impressive collections are within the realm of possibility for all of us.