Meet Fred Hanna, Doctor of Pipes

You may not know who Fred Hanna is, but there's an equally good chance that you do, especially if you enjoy reading and learning more about pipes and pipe tobacco. He's the author of The Perfect Smoke, one of the finest books about pipe smoking ever published, as well as 20-25 articles in Pipes and tobaccos magazine, which is no longer published, and The Pipe Collector newsletter/magazine.

Smokingpipes carried The Perfect Smoke when it was still in print; it's unfortunately sold out now, but still available on Amazon Kindle. It's full of philosophy, concrete information, and humor (as those who know Fred would expect) and is presented with his own considerable charm.

He also speaks at pipe shows regularly, though we've not seen much in the way of pipe shows this year. One of the chapters in his book is called, "The Hidden Benefits of the Expensive Pipe Tamper," and is among the most hilarious things I've read. It originally appeared as an article in The Pipe Collector, as did another chapter called "The Myth of Brand and Maker in Pipe Smoking and Tasting," an article that became a gigantic debate point in the pipe community.

In that latter article, Fred argued that some pipes smoke particularly well because the briar is different and better, perhaps because of the climate, the soil where it grew and/or the resins and saps it still contains, and not primarily because of the execution skills of an artisan pipe maker, or a famous brand, as excellent and appreciated as they may be. Some briar just tastes better. The response that his article received was massive and the debate in The Pipe Collector was quite animated — some might even say heated — for nearly four years afterward. It's still an ongoing topic for late night brandy and pipes. Fred says that, "Every briar pipe has two makers, the pipe maker and Mother Nature."

The Perfect Smoke isn't Fred's only publication, by the way. The majority of his writing is in his professional field of counseling and psychotherapy. He's a Professor and Co-Designer of the PhD Program in Counseling at Adler University, as well as a Senior Faculty Associate at Johns Hopkins University, where he taught graduate counseling courses for over two decades. He's written or co-written dozens of peer-reviewed publications, a book on therapy with difficult clients, and he's delivered hundreds of seminars all over the USA. An expert on addictions counseling, he's taught courses on it for nearly 30 years, as well as on various forms and styles of psychotherapy. His chief interest is in what makes people change, or not change.

More important, he's a pipe smoker who brings his unique experience and talents to the pipe community. Aside from his academic PhD, he's a Doctor of Pipes, as presented to him by the Chicago Pipe Club in 2010, making him Fred Hanna, PhD, DoP. I tried hard to find an amusing word or acronym to extract from that jumble of letters to make it more memorable, but I failed. If you're unfamiliar with the Doctor of Pipes honorary degree, it's awarded to two individuals annually to acknowledge at least 20 years of service to the pipe smoking community. And Fred achieved that 10 years ago. That means he's pretty old (we were all thinking it) and that he has loads of advanced-level pipe experience.

Important Research on Nicotine

One of the more fascinating sections of The Perfect Smoke is a discussion about nicotine. "In the book," says Fred, "I talk about a guy I met who worked at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He was sitting in a cigar and pipe shop near Boulder one day near to where I was sitting and talking to the manager, who was a friend. At some point the manager said to me, 'Hey Fred, do you know Al?' And I said I did not. So he introduces us, and says, 'Both you guys are professors. You guys should talk.'"

It turned out that Al was a brain researcher and his primary area of study regarded the effects of addictive drugs on the brain, but his specialization was in nicotine and the brain. "I nearly assaulted him with questions," says Fred. "I think I read once that 75% of people on the street believe that nicotine causes cancer, and there's no evidence for it. It's one of the first things I asked Al, who said, 'No, Fred, nicotine does not cause cancer. The effect of nicotine itself is as a neural protectant.' And then he said, 'It helps to keep the brain from degrading. It helps to protect those neural structures.' Then he held up his cigar and he smiled and said, 'That's why I smoke three of these a week.'"

Al sent Fred some peer reviewed studies and since then Fred has continued investigating nicotine. He has now accumulated a digital library of dozens of academic papers and research reports about nicotine. "I've looked for every possible connection between nicotine and cancer. I read a few things where there's a connection with three or four mediating possibilities, but nothing where nicotine actually causes cancer. Those health issues are from some combination of elements in smoke from burning vegetation. But one of the most fascinating effects that nicotine has is improving memory."

Al was a brain researcher and his primary area of study explored the effects of addictive drugs on the brain, but his specialization was in nicotine and the brain.

A study in the medical journal Neurology that particularly impressed Fred is titled, "Nicotine Treatment of Mild Cognitive Impairment," lead author, P. Newhouse, MD. That study looked at 74 subjects with an average age of 76, giving them a memory test before and after. Half were given a nicotine patch and half a placebo patch with no nicotine over a period of six months. "There was a large increase in memory efficiency due to the nicotine" says Fred. "But there was a further decrease in memory efficiency for the placebo group. That study was so significant that it made the national news. It wasn't a study of people with Alzheimer's or dementia, it was just regular people, mainly in their 70s, and it indicated that nicotine positively affects memory in that age group."

Another study in the scholarly journal Psychopharmacology was a meta-analysis (a study of many studies) that found more potential benefits of nicotine. "There were increases in short term memory," says Fred, "and increases in the ability to focus attention. These are important findings." Yet another study found that the use of nicotine increases satisfaction with and appreciation for one's environment and basic existence. It can make life feel better.

[Fred] has now accumulated a digital library of dozens of academic papers and research reports about nicotine.

Increased reaction time associated with nicotine was noted in another study. Yet another indicated a reduced incidence of Parkinson's disease among smokers.

"There are nine receptors in the brain that are specifically associated with nicotine," says Fred. "And my researcher friend Al told me that his lab discovered 5 of those nine receptors." For sufferers of Alzheimer's and dementia, the number of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors is reduced, but studies indicate that nicotine may someday offer help. "It's a neurological protectant. Nicotine slows the brain's natural process of deterioration. And that is a very important effect."

Introduction to Pipe Smoking

Fred bought some pipes when he started smoking in 1967, and after a few years he had built a nice little collection of around seven inexpensive pipes. But in 1973 a pipe smoking friend told him, "Y'know, Fred, your pipes are junk and your tobacco is crap."

"Why are you telling me this, John?" asked Fred, with some irritation.

"If you want to enjoy pipes and tobaccos, you got to get yourself a good pipe, and you got to smoke some decent tobacco, not that aromatic garbage. It burns your tongue, doesn't it? A great pipe will cool the smoke, and a great tobacco will burn cool and give great flavor."

Some intuitive inner voice told Fred that he should listen, and soon Fred went with John to the local Tinderbox in Toledo, Ohio. It was 1974 and they were looking over some of the better pipes in the shop. "John showed me a Caminetto Ascorti-Radice, which were among the first Caminettos to arrive in the USA from Italy. As many know, both Pepino Ascorti and Luigi Radice started with Castello and then went to Caminetto. though they would both make pipes under their own names in the future." He bought that pipe, which was deeply bent, and his first smoke was unlike anything he'd smoked before. "It was an amazing experience, but part of that experience was due to loading it with a tobacco that John told me to buy, which was Dunhill Early Morning Pipe. But this Dunhill blend was made by the original Dunhill tobacco company, seven years before they sold off their tobacco making division to Murray's. It really was amazing stuff. I will never forget the first pull that I smoked of Early Morning in that Caminetto. It changed my life. It was a completely unique experience.

"It smoked cool. It wasn't burning hot like the nasty, goopy, aromatics I had been smoking from the neighborhood drug stores. Early Morning wasn't particularly sweet but it had a really rich, full, intriguing taste that was like nothing else I'd ever experienced. And that Ascorti-Radice Caminetto, well, even today they're renowned for being great smokers, when you can find them. I was lucky, I admit. But I wish I had met John seven years previously."

Not so lucky were his other pipes. "I threw them all away. Not one of them could deliver a smoke like that Ascorti-Radice Caminetto and I didn't want to compromise anymore. So my next pipe was a Savinelli Non Pareil, full bent with tremendous grain. I'll never forget that pipe. It just had such pretty straight grain, and it tasted so very good."

Fred bought some pipes when he started smoking in 1967, and after a few years he had built a nice little collection of around seven inexpensive pipes.

Fred eventually found himself working in that Tinderbox, and got to know such tobaccos as Balkan Sobranie White and 759, Rattray's Black Mallory, Sullivan's OO and OX, Marcovitch Black and White, Bengal Slices, and many other exquisite tobaccos that are now legends. At that same time, he had many bulk tobaccos at his disposal with which the shop owner, Mike, encouraged Fred to practice blending. He developed many blends, with curious names, such as "Simpleton's Quandary," "Indigent's Windfall," and "Heretic's Redemption." He never stopped his own blending experiments, which eventually led to commercial ventures with McClelland, for whom he formulated two popular tobacco blends, "Wilderness" and "Legends." Both are very highly rated on Legends, in fact, has the highest rating on the entire site for blends that have received at least 40 reviews (3.8), along with McClelland's Tudor Castle.

Fred didn't stay in Toledo. He traveled quite a bit, and worked a number of menial jobs, stopping here and there for a while, and then moving on again. He owned a number of motorcycles, most notably a Honda Gold Wing built for long distance travel. He practically lived on that motorcycle for a while, traveling to such places as Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia in Canada, and in the states Maine and Vermont, down to Florida and over to Oregon, Washington state, and California.

Early Career and Dozens of Jobs

"I've had over 45 jobs," says Fred. "I actually counted them once in a moment of supreme boredom. And a lot of them were hard physical labor." Some of them made lasting impressions, such as when he was a deckhand on a 200-ft. converted destroyer escort docked in San Pedro, California and owned by a large company. "We would do great trips along the coast of Mexico and up north toward San Francisco. That job didn't last long, just a few months, but it was great fun. My friends made fun of my work habits back then, with one of them accusing me of quitting more jobs than he ever applied for."

Photo by Neill Archer Roan

He would work, save money, and then hit the road again. "Before I got into motorcycles, I once hitchhiked from LA to Miami with $2 in my pocket. It took me almost six days to get there. I was going to see my girlfriend who was a Pan American flight attendant at the time (and had very poor taste in men). I got there with 50 cents (remember what I said about poor taste), and along the way people were putting me up in their houses, buying me meals, and dropping me off at the highway in the morning, where I would stick out my thumb again for another ride. I mean, it was just an amazing thing, and in an amazing time that is now long gone. I don't recommend hitchhiking in the 21st century."

Fred also worked as a wine consultant. "I used to order the wines and stock the shelves. I tasted 50 to 70 wines a month with the owner, to see what to add to the store and whatnot, and it was a great time in which we provided many tastings for our customers. Many of those were blind tastings of some highly expensive French, California, and Oregon wines. I also worked on a horse farm for a short while." He didn't train or breed the horses; mainly he shoveled manure. "I soon realized that in the act of shoveling crap, I was learning about one of the primary skills of life itself. I also worked for the Toledo Mud Hens minor league baseball team, cleaning up the playing field and the stadium after games and cleaning out the restrooms. One job I had was for a quarry in Lucas County, where Toledo is located. The county was putting in a swimming hole, and they had these huge boulders that needed to be removed. With sledgehammers. I mean, these boulders were the size of queen-sized beds, right? They were gigantic. And with those sledgehammers we broke the boulders down into pieces small enough to throw into a dump truck that carried them away so they could install a beach for the swimmers."

He would work, save money, and then hit the road again.

He experienced his first counseling jobs in the 1970s, beginning in Los Angeles, where he was homeless for 10 days before finding the people he was supposed to have stayed with. "I did not check with them before I left Ohio and it turned out that they had moved. It was my fault. I ended up living in the back of an abandoned 1950 Plymouth in an alley near downtown LA. And I remember sharing the back of that Plymouth with a few spiders and a lot of broken glass. But I finally found my friends and all was well, and then I found my first counseling job in the process." For a long time, though, physical jobs were what he preferred. "I didn't want anybody to own my mind. I wanted jobs that I could do without thinking about them so that I could think about all the philosophy and psychology books that I was reading back then.

"But the jobs were just a means to an end. For me, everything revolved around travel; it's all I really cared about. From the time I was a little boy, I seemed to have been stricken with a serious case of wanderlust."

A Serious Love of Travel

Fred had been fascinated by Asia from childhood, when he saw a TV special on Thailand. "It just fascinated the hell out of me. And then I saw a television show on the Himalayas, and I never forgot the absolute astounding presence of those mountains and how they dwarf every other mountain range in the world. And I decided at that young age, 'Someday I'm going there.' And at age 29 I quit my job on the railroad, sold my motorcycle, converted my small savings account into traveler's checks, and took off to the Himalayas and a good portion of the world."

He did the perfunctory tour of Europe, especially appreciating Denmark and Sweden and hanging out in Italy and Greece. Then he was drawn to northern India, and found himself in Kashmir and particularly, Ladakh, a Tibetan Buddhist region across the Himalayas. "I had studied various types of Buddhism of course, and even though I am not a Buddhist, for some reason, I don't know why, I was always attracted to Buddhist philosophy and Hindu philosophy and Yoga philosophy. And Yoga philosophy, by the way, is not bending yourself into a pretzel. It's actually a highly psychological discipline. So, I hung out in the extreme north of India, and I also hung out in the extreme south of India, and also in the east, in Calcutta and the fantastic Himalayan region of Darjeeling, and then traveled to Nepal for a couple of months, which is at the heart of the Himalayas. And I was extremely fortunate to hang out in the nearby island country of Sri Lanka off the southeast coast of India. Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is my favorite place in the entire world. It is an astonishing, unbelievably beautiful, wonderful place with fantastic people and delicious food and exotic fruits (for example, 'mangosteen'). And it is also a Buddhist country with an ancient tradition."

He did the perfunctory tour of Europe, especially appreciating Denmark and Sweden and hanging out in Italy and Greece. Then he was drawn to northern India, and found himself in Kashmir and particularly, Ladakh, a Tibetan Buddhist region across the Himalayas.

Northern Sumatra, in Indonesia, was especially attractive to Fred. "They still have tigers that kill about 40 people per year, or at least they did when I was there, and pythons and rhinos, and all kinds of amazing wildlife. I spent most of my time on Samosir island, which is in the middle of the idyllic Lake Toba, an ancient 60-mile long collapsed volcano and the site of the world's largest volcanic eruption in the last million years. The place is so exotic that it looks and feels like it was the model for a Tolkien fantasy novel."

Fred wandered along the ancient Silk Road in northwest China and spent some time at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan province, the home of Kung Fu and Zen. "That was a pretty wild dream come true," he says, "because I'd studied Taekwondo when I was in high school and college and had an interest in martial arts. I was also in Japan and Korea, and Java and Bali and Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma (now Myanmar), Singapore, and Malaysia, and of course, Thailand. I wandered around the world for a total of two years, just being a bum. I had no job, no phone, and I had no address, but I sure had fun."

All of that travel provided not only new experiences and beautiful geography and wildlife, but a better understanding of how to communicate with people. "I found that no matter where you go, if you can make people laugh, they will go out of their way to shelter you, protect you, take care of you, look out for you. It's an amazing, worldwide phenomenon. I learned how to make simple jokes that didn't require a lot of the language of wherever I went. For example, there is an expression in Indonesia, 'kepala kelapa.' It translates as 'coconut head' and refers to a person who is not too bright. At appropriate times I would point to my own head and say that phrase, and watch the locals laugh and instantly become friendly. But it also just happened to be an apt description in my case. Travel to remote areas taught me how to nonverbally relate to people in a very direct, authentic sort of a way where I could just walk into a wild-ass culture, not even know the language and I could relate to the people somehow. After all, approximately 70 percent of human communication is nonverbal." This was a skill Fred developed further for his later counseling and teaching career.

All of that travel provided not only new experiences and beautiful geography and wildlife, but a better understanding of how to communicate with people.

"I realized, while in central China, that I needed a career, because I had a vision of myself eating dog food at age 65, knowing that I could not smile my way into a job when I had gray hair and a wrinkled face. I decided that I wanted to pursue being a therapist as a career, instead of just having these random jobs here and there, and I found that travel skills were especially helpful. I went back to school and ended up with many counseling jobs with many kinds of clients, both adults and adolescents. And I found that I was able to relate even to gang members in the same way. As strange as it sounds, working with gang members, for example, came naturally because after all, adolescence is a culture, gang life is a culture. And once you learn how to see past all of that stuff and relate to people at the level that I would call ontological, if I was forced to use the big word, it's relating to people at an ontological level, as opposed to a merely sociological or linguistic level. I can honestly say that I learned more from those two years of mostly solo travel through Asia and Europe than I ever learned from getting a PhD. And don't get me wrong: I learned a lot from getting a PhD."

An Impressive Collection of Pipes

Fred's Paneled Straight Grain Teddy Knudsen Pipe

We all have particular collecting interests. For Fred, it's straight grains, and his interest in finely grained briars began early with that first full-bent Non Pareil back in 1974, but it was perhaps inevitable that he would find himself collecting Charatans.

"We had two very well-known Charatan collectors who came into the shop a lot. One was a psychiatrist; he had about 300 Charatans. He invited me to his house one day, and I was blown away by these incredible Charatan straight grains. And another guy who owned a chain of pharmacies in the area, he had something like 400 Charatans.

"When I saw the beauty of these pipes, and the stunning grain on so many of them, I just naturally started collecting them, and I wanted straight grains, because that's what Charatans were about. But as time went on, I started to appreciate straight grains in other brands as well. And so now I'll buy any pipe with near perfect straight grain. Why? Because I love briar. I love that symmetry and harmony that I see in straight-grain pipes. Because they're never perfect, there's no such thing as a perfect straight grain. There are always very small variations and gaps in the grain. But for me, I love briar, and I love looking at the grain, even when it's bird's eye grain or flame grain. But I am captivated by straight grain. I just think briar is one of the most beautiful things in nature, so I collect exceptional straight grains. But they also have to smoke cool and provide great flavor. Otherwise I will not keep them."

We all have particular collecting interests. For Fred, it's straight grains.

His collection now numbers 64, but it's been as large as 84. A few of those pipes are pictured here. He is continuously trading out pipes for better specimens, always chasing the grain, preferring bent pipes with appealing shapes and solid workmanship.

Fred Hanna has spent his life in pursuit of one thing or another: knowledge, experience, understanding, communication, straight grains, fine aged English blends and Virginia tobaccos. As long as he is partially quenching his unending curiosity, and as long as he has a well-grained briar to smoke, he'll be a happy guy.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Famous Pipe Smokers History Interview


    • Michael Cherry on October 25, 2020
    • Thank you for helping me get to know Fred Hanna. I've enjoyed his writing in P&T. I miss P&T and you and Fred Hanna in that all time great publication.Your Obedient Servant;Mike

    • Paul Schmolke on October 25, 2020
    • What a story! What a goldmine of useful information. I’ll be re-reading this one for a while. His pipes are works of art and his ideas about them are important. This is the best piece I’ve read recently. Thanks for your journalistic efforts, they’re sincerely appreciated.

    • Andy Camire on October 25, 2020
    • What a great read and history of an amazing and accomplished individual. Fred's book holds a special place in my library of tobaccianna, and everyone that treasures pipes and tobacco should own a copy. And after reading this informative article of his bohemian and also educational career I realize how sheltered and uneventful life I have spent. It's no wonder I don't know him better, he has never spent more than a year or so in one place. LOL Cheers.

    • D. on October 25, 2020
    • Wow, what a life. I would have to say that I have a few things in common with Dr. Hanna and would've loved to travel with him to those Buddhist locations that were mentioned. I started smoking cheap drugstore pipes and aromatic tobacco (off & on) back in the mid 90s, but it wasn't until 2013 that I bought my first tin of Dunhill Nightcap from my local tobacco shop. They mostly catered to cigar smokers and had very little to offer for a pipe smoker. When the tobacconist sold me their one and only tin of Nightcap he warned me to be careful, that it was strong. I remember getting home and loading my upgraded pipe at the time, a Savinelli Qandale, and lightning up; I remember a smile coming to my face upon the smell and taste of that tobacco, it opened up a whole new world to me. It was around that time that I found and have learned so much more over the years about pipes and tobacco. Thank you, Chuck, for transporting me on another pipe smoker's life journey.

    • Phil Wiggins on October 25, 2020
    • Awesome Good A!!!

    • Rick Newcombe on October 25, 2020
    • That was a really great article about a really great guy. Fred Hanna has made the world of pipes more interesting and fun, and his life experiences are fascinating.

    • Jerry Campbell on October 25, 2020
    • An amazing human being! An amazing biography! One of the best I’ve ever read! Thank You So Much Chuck!!

    • Astrocomical on October 25, 2020
    • Interesting story and a fascinating life. I too, would like to wanderlust but for me it's just a pipedream. I would like to mention about grains and it always befuddled me why Peterson keeps offering certain pipes with one side with grains and the other side just has spots like? I see comparable pipes with beautiful grains on both sides so they can do it.

    • Bill Pope on October 25, 2020
    • Outstanding article on a true man for all seasons.

    • Dan on October 26, 2020
    • @Astrocomical: I understand your plight. And why does Peterson only offer their Sherlock Holmes pipes in vulcanite p-lip stems??? Why not acrylic fishtail offerings? Who wants to babysit a vulcanite stem, it's like a ticking time bomb just waiting to oxidize. You pull out your pipes for inventory and the shine is gone with tarnish on the silver accent.... even after you treated them the month before. Too much work and irritation when you can just buy a pipe with an acrylic stem. It's like the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. What about estate Castello pipes that you buy($230 and up) and the stem logo is way off center, but it looked good in the pic. It just drives my O.C.D. nuts. I apologise for being way off subject of this article

    • Matthew Baker on October 26, 2020
    • Outstanding man, a pleasure to know and share some smoke with. You have to sit down and have a conversation with Fred it's a fantastic journey. One of the funniest guys I know.

    • Jack Koonce on October 26, 2020
    • As usual, another fantastic article,Thank you

    • Scott Wright on October 27, 2020
    • Thank you for helping me get to know Fred a little better! What a well written article. I just listened to his interview with Brian L on the podcast.

    • Al Jones on January 8, 2022
    • Fantastic article and man! I knew some of Fred's history through his interview on the radio podcast, but this filled in the blanks nicely. I often cite his conversation with "Al" (no relation!) when confronted with a tobacco-phobe.

Join the conversation:

This will not be shared with anyone

challenge image
Enter the circled word below: