Meet Tad Gage: Publisher, Writer, Reviewer, Collector

Some people become so interested in tobacco and pipes that they find themselves on an endless quest for knowledge. The more they know about something, the more they enjoy it, and they delve into corporate archives, make contacts with people directly related to their particular interests, network with others, and expand their own understanding along the way. They collect information as avidly as they collect pipes.

It's strange that Tad Gage found himself in that category. "I had no smoking influences whatsoever," he says. "I grew up in a very strict, no-drinking, no-smoking religious household. I did hear about a couple of great-grandfathers who smoked cigars, but they were little more than rumors; there was no smoking at all, not growing up."

He learned it on his own, and he learned a lot, becoming one of the most prominent people in the hobby. During the past decades, Tad launched, published, wrote for, and edited the magazine The Compleat Smoker (1990-'91), wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cigars (1997 and 2007), wrote hundreds of pipe tobacco reviews and a dozen full-length articles for Pipes and tobaccos magazine, became perhaps the foremost expert on Barling pipes at the time, and along the way earned the title Doctor of Pipes. But it began quite simply.

Tad Learns About Pipes

"It started when I got married in '84 to my first wife, Anissa. Her dad was an inveterate pipe smoker. He smoked all the time, probably 15 bowls a day; small pipes, but still, that's a lot. He smoked Mixture 79 and never cleaned his pipes, but he adored them. He just loved smoking a pipe. He inspired me. We were on a family camping trip up in the Canadian Northwoods, up in the border country. I asked if I could try one of his pipes and he said yeah. I had actually smoked cigars a little bit before that, but that's what got me into pipes."

Tad's very first experience with tobacco was in Toronto during a business conference, a Cuban cigar that was given out at the tables. "I think it was an Upmann. I took it back to my room to smoke it because I was pretty sure it was going to make me sick." He'd heard about people's initial reactions to cigars. "'Oh yeah, that first cigar, boy, he turned green and fell over backward.' I took it to my room and lit up, and I absolutely adored it."

"I took it back to my room to smoke it because I was pretty sure it was going to make me sick"

He smoked cigars casually for a while before being introduced to pipes by his wife's father. After that, he followed the well-worn path that so many of us can relate to: He bought a couple of no-name pipes and started smoking a poor-quality Aromatic. The experience couldn't compare to cigars. "I was really about to give up the pipe."

His brother-in-law was a Charatan pipe collector, and he gave Tad a copy of Richard Carleton Hacker's The Ultimate Pipe Book. "I loved collecting, so that really floated my boat. Then another friend turned me on to Barry Levin, who did the first mail-order catalogs for estate pipes, and I was off. I was finally finding pipes that I liked and entered the world of good tobacco."

He was 28 years old at that time. "I think if you don't have family or a friend or somebody around you who smokes pipes, you don't have a lot of inspiration or inclination to try it. Back in the old days when people could smoke in college and it was cool, that was a little different. It took me a while, but I got there."

Good Pipes and Good Friends

He started buying good estate pipes from Barry Levin, and the two became friends. Barry had purchased the assets of Pipe Collectors International and its official magazine, Pipe Smoker after it folded, and had a vision for a new publication. "He would write stuff in his mailers, but he liked the idea of maybe doing a publication, so we were talking and I remember very clearly, he said, 'Hey, what do you think about doing a magazine? You could be the publisher and I'll finance it and get it going.' He had some names and addresses, and that's how that happened."

"Hey, what do you think about doing a magazine?"

They knew that they'd need more broad appeal than with subject matter limited to pipes. Pipe publications had a history, and they had never thrived. Most ceased publication after four or five years, like Pipe Lovers from the late '40s and early '50s, and Wonderful World of Pipes (1970) folded after only two issues. But if the magazine concentrated on both pipes and cigars, it might have a chance. They also decided that it should be as literary and as well written as possible, which is where Tad's talents were most needed. They called the new publication The Compleat Smoker.

"We just launched into it. I worked my butt off gathering names and Barry publicized it, so a lot of collectors knew about it. It all happened pretty fast. Going from just starting a pipe in, what, '85 or so and then falling into collecting and fine tobaccos and then jumping right into the magazine in 1990."

It wasn't an easy project. Advertising was an essential element of success, and the industry in general was resistant to advertising offers. This was before the cigar boom and Cigar Aficionado, and Tad kept hearing, "Nobody's buying cigars."

"They just were real negative on a publication succeeding," says Tad. Manufacturers and distributors preferred advertising in trade magazines rather than consumer magazines. "But I had my supporters, bless their hearts. The Fuentes jumped in with both feet and were major supporters of the magazine, and Sherwin Seltzer at Villazon, which used to make Punch until they sold and consolidated. The pipe manufacturers were the tough ones. I never did get a whole lot of ads from the large pipe factories or large tobacco companies, though we did introduce master pipe maker Mike Butera and Barry's now legendary Personal Reserve series of tobaccos." Much of the advertising sold was to small operations.

"Cigar advertising is totally what carried us. A funny thing too is that I had done an article on Charatan pipes, and Herman Lane somehow came across it and contacted me. We became really good friends. He was retired and he had already sold Lane, but he said, 'I have so much I could tell you about Charatan.' And I said, 'Oh yes, please."

"Herman Lane somehow came across it and contacted me"

Tad did two feature articles on Charatan with direct input from Lane. "He actually circled back and told Lane that they needed to run an ad in the magazine because it was a good magazine, very elegant. Boy, when Herman Lane says your magazine is elegant, you can take that to the bank.

The Magazine Fades

The Compleat Smoker did pretty well for a while. "It got profitable, barely, and that's not bad for a pipe and cigar magazine." It featured such article subjects as Cuban cigars, Sherlock Holmes, Joseph Sasieni, and a piece by J.T. and Deb Cooke on the engineering of shanks and stems. Anissa, who was a talented artist, painted fresh cover art for each issue and Tad did much of the writing, with noteworthy feature contributions from cigar and pipe authorities like Hacker, Butera, Cooke, legendary tobacconist Mel Feldman, cigar maven Paul Garmirian, historian Ben Rapaport, and more. Unfortunately, the quarterly publication lasted only five issues before it became unsustainable. Barry could no longer invest the sums required to keep it going, advertising income was inadequate, and independent financing was not to be found, so the magazine ended.

Tad had always liked cooking, and that led him to investigate tobacco blending. His connection with Barry Levin and the magazine provided the opportunity to meet Mary Ehwa (who would later become Mary McNiel) and Mike McNiel of McClelland Tobacco. "They sent me bags of tobacco. I had gotten turned on to a blend that the late Chuck Rio shared with me. It was an old John Cotton's Smyrna and I wondered if I could recreate it." He started combining Latakia and Turkish with McClelland's 5100 Virginia and some Perique and worked on proportions until he developed Three Oaks, which became very popular. "I had everything going on. I had the magazine and that rolled into blending the tobacco and creating Three Oaks. I felt there was a niche for something like Three Oaks because it's got a lot of Latakia. It has 55 percent Latakia, which is a ridiculous amount when you think about it, but it was just smooth and wonderful."

He started combining Latakia and Turkish with McClelland's 5100 Virginia and some Perique and worked on proportions until he developed Three Oaks

For a while, he blended Three Oaks at home, and sold quite a lot, with Barry promoting it in his mailers, and then later McClelland started making and selling it. "I felt like that was my penultimate blend. I did experiment with a couple of Balkan blends but I didn't feel they were unique to the market. There were already really good Balkan blends out there, so that was it for me."

Becoming a Barling Expert

It was in the '90s that Tad became interested in Barling pipes. "I actually got my first Barling from Barry Levin's catalog. He said, 'You've got to buy one of these.' This is back in the day when finding a Barling was rare. Estate Barlings just didn't just pop up. There was no eBay or anything like that." After his first Barling, he was an instant enthusiast. He started going to all the pipe shows he could and found collectors willing to trade their Barlings, and his collection grew.

After his first Barling, he was an instant enthusiast

"I owned other pipes. I had a really nice Dunhill Cumberland from the '30s. I had some Sasienis. I had a really nice Comoy Specimen Straight Grain collection. Those all ended up being sacrificed to obtain Barlings. I just really focused on that and got very interested in the company and its history." Tad became entranced because the pipes smoked better for him than others.

"I loved the coolness of the smoke in Barlings. I discovered that it was because of the V that they cut into the smoke channel at the button for the air hole to widen it and disperse the smoke. I had conversations with Jim Cooke about that and so forth. I kept learning as I went along. As it turned out, I kept getting validated for my interest in Barling."

The history of the company became an important part of his interest. Barling began in 1812 with its silversmithing and making pipes by around 1850. "I was able to collect historical examples. I have old silver-banded Meerschaums and some of the old Radiator pipes with silver tops and a lot of old funky Barlings from the 1880s through the 1920s, and I smoke them except for a few that are too delicate, like those with amber stems, or a little pencil-shanked piece from 1893. I figure they deserve to be looked at but they've earned a good rest."

He wrote an article on Barling for The Compleat Smoker and later wrote another for Pipes and tobaccos. His Barling collection was admired at pipe shows when he displayed them. His display at the 2007 Chicago show won both the Best Briar Collection award and the Best Briar Display award. It was an educational display outlining the history of the company with something like 150 Barling pipes representing that history.

His display at the 2007 Chicago show won both the Best Briar Collection award and the Best Briar Display award

"I still have the plaques on the wall upstairs. I did win other awards but that was the year that I had eight eight-foot tables full of Barlings and pictures of the factory and everything. It was so much fun. It wasn't a matter of pride, or of saying, 'Oh, look at all the great pipes that I have'; it was really about the honor of being able to share that with people. The company was always a little bit mysterious; it took some investigation work to find details. There just wasn't the same kind of history about it as you would find with, say, Dunhill or Comoy."

In 1997, after Tad's first marriage ended, he met Cyndi, and they were married. Cyndi Gage was a force of nature; everyone at pipe shows knew and loved her. She and Tad started collecting antique tobacco jars and built an impressive collection. Together, they wrote a formidable article about the history of tobacco jars, published in P&T.

"We met online, in an AOL chat room back when there were some really good AOL chat rooms. We did a lot of talking before we ever met, and she helped edit my Complete Idiot's Guide to Cigars. She was always really into pipes and tobaccos; She had a very good eye so she actually was able, over the years, to buy me some incredible pipes, the kind that you're like, wow, as opposed to, 'Oh, thank you, dear. I really like this,' and then wonder, how do I get rid of this thing."

Cyndi was a remarkable person: friendly, caring, funny, intelligent, and with a vast knowledge of pipes; when you spoke with her, she listened, and you knew that your words were important to her. Two years ago, Cyndi passed away, and her absence is that moment in the air after a 20-ft. ladder has been kicked from under you. Except it lasts forever.

Tad of course still enjoys his pipes and tobaccos, and few people have a more discerning palate. His blending experience and years of writing tobacco reviews have sharpened his understanding and appreciation for tobacco. Those reviews were anticipated by readers of P&T, who enjoyed them for many years, and they're still valuable to those who saved their copies of the magazine.

Reviewing Tobaccos

"I really enjoyed that; I was delighted to have the opportunity. With all the cigar reviewing I'd done over the years, I thought I had a pretty good palate, so I felt fairly confident that I could make intelligent assessments of pipe tobacco. So the opportunity was wonderful."

He was especially good at assessing tobaccos regardless of his personal tastes. "I made every effort to really appreciate a tobacco for what it was on the level that it was. So whether it was Burley, which is not something I'm nuts about, or was an Aromatic or whatever, I didn't base it on whether I liked it or would smoke it. I based my reviews on the quality and taste. Would somebody who likes Aromatics enjoy this tobacco, and why? I think that's really important."

"I based my reviews on the quality and taste"

Tad found that by concentrating on the individual elements of a bowl of tobacco, he could write better reviews. By examining the flavors, components, lighting efficiency, and burning properties, he could be accurate and descriptive. Furthermore, he tried each tobacco in different pipes. "For a Flake, for example. Flakes smoke differently in a bigger-bowled pipe as opposed to a smaller pipe. I'll rub it out a lot more for a small pipe and even smoke it differently, maybe a little bit slower." It's also important to use pipes that perform well. "It doesn't make sense to smoke a tobacco in a terrible-tasting pipe and then declare that the tobacco tastes terrible." Each tobacco deserves the best circumstances possible.

"I checked out how the tobacco smoked in a meerschaum, corncob, and clay. Not so often with the clay ... It was like I knew certain tobaccos that I smoked would just really work in a clay pipe, but I think the material is less important than the bowl size and that it's a decently engineered pipe."

Tad lives a quiet life now, and while he wouldn't give up any of his collections, he doesn't search for new examples any longer. "I'm too old. I used to collect antiques: lamps, tables, whatever caught my fancy. Art Nouveau is a particular fondness of mine. Some Victorian." And pipes, of course.

A Well-Lived Life

Pipes are a defining characteristic of Tad's life. "They've satisfied some of my love for research and history because I've been able to learn about the various makers, the various brands, the pipe makers who are living today or who have come before, and the friends that I've made. It's really been the predominant source of most of my friendships and continues to be. I've met unbelievable, incredible people over the years and learned interesting things, not just about pipes but about life and various walks of life that I would never have been exposed to except for pipes."

"Pipes have been the predominant source of most of my friendships"

And Tad has reciprocated. The pipe-smoking community thrives because of its camaraderie. Because pipe smoking is an experience that improves with knowledge and improved technique, everyone shares what they know, and everyone benefits. Tad has shared much and received much in return. His research into the Barling company has advanced our understanding of that brand and simultaneously affected how modern pipes are made because Barling's success was noted, examined, and replicated with current internal engineering building and improving upon those designs. His work as a tobacco and cigar reviewer has been foundational to how we understand and perceive the complex flavors available, and his publication of a remarkable print magazine, his many articles, and his tireless research, have been shared and admired.

"On so many levels, it's way more than just pipes and tobacco. I've certainly tried to give back as much as I could and share as much as I could with as many people as I could. Hopefully, between the pipes and the magazine that I did, and then my articles in P&T, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cigars, I've reached a lot of people. That's a pretty big blessing. It's not like reaching millions with the newest Stephen King novel, but it's a pretty good feeling to think that you may have made a little bit of a difference and were able to, in one way or another, touch the lives of people."

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Barling Dunhill History Interview


    • Todd L. Platek on November 21, 2021
    • Wonderful article and many thanks to Tad for his contributions to our beloved hobby.

    • Robert Lawing on November 21, 2021
    • Chuck, Thank you for this article about a fine pipe man, fine friend and a wealth of knowledge. Proud to call Tad a friend.

    • Scott E Thile on November 21, 2021
    • I love reading Chuck's articles, especially when they are about wonderful people I know, or have read, or both, like this one about Tad! This was a perfect rainy Sunday morning read. I paired it with an old GBD filled with Proper English (which has a good deal of age on it), and a couple of Cortados. Life is good!

    • Rick Newcombe on November 21, 2021
    • Tad Gage really is the complete smoker, and a fine gentleman who is always willing to share his vast knowledge with the rest of us. This was an excellent profile of one of the legends in the world of pipe collecting. And those of us who were fortunate enough to have known Cyndi understand why her loss was so significant. But she would want Tad and the rest of us to continue enjoying pipe shows, and I for one canโ€™t wait until they start back up again so we can all enjoy a bowl (or 10) together.

    • Phil Wiggins Glauser on November 21, 2021
    • Good Pipes Awesome A!!! ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ

    • Andy Camire on November 21, 2021
    • A big THANKS go out to Tad for all that he has shared with us pipe smokers/collectors over the years. I treasure the old issues of The Compleat Smoker that are such great reference material for our hobby when there was so little reading material available about pipes and tobacco. And especially for developing the Three Oaks blend which I have enjoyed so much over the last few decades. Nothing brings our coterie together more than pipe shows and personal face to face meetings to enjoy what we all have in common. I look forward to more of those great times and to see Tad join in smoking some of those precious Barling's that he keeps hidden these days. That photo of his Barling Pipes is one heck of a rotation. Cheers.

    • Neal O on November 21, 2021
    • Great article about a great guy! Thank you for writing this up and letting the general pipe community know more about Tad.

    • Joseph Kirkland on November 21, 2021
    • Chuck, Another great article. Wow!I love my Barlings from the early 60โ€™s.

    • Richard Gray on November 21, 2021
    • What a great article and reflection on a very special pipe man and tobacco connoisseur.

    • SAURASRI SEN on November 21, 2021
    • What a wonderful article and fine photographs to accompany with! Chuck always caters the right food for thought. Thanks Chuck! We need more people like Tad and more articles like Chuck's. One more thing, what's Tad's favourite blend/blends?

    • Michael Flemming on November 22, 2021
    • what pipe is Tad holding in the main article photo? that pipe looks exactly like my favorite pipe- a Tinder Box basket pipe I've had for decades. Id like to look into buying the pipe Tad has there. thanks. great article!

    • Chuck Stanion on November 23, 2021
    • @SAURASRI SEN @Michael Flemming The pipe that Tad is holding in the header photo is a Barling EXEL Special from the 1950s. Tad took all the photos himself for this article, by the way, and I don't imagine it was easy, especially the selfie, but they turned out great. He submitted another headshot of himself smoking but the smoke was so thick that it obscured his face, so while it was cool, we didn't use it. The photo with the pile of Barlings with all that silverwork is especially stunning. As for his tobacco of choice, he says, "I love a wide variety of tobaccos, but McClelland Three Oaks blended with Syrian Latakia remains my all-time favorite."

    • ronni b on November 23, 2021
    • One more premier article from a premier writer about a premier pipe man. Did I over use a word? Methinks 'NO'. I am privileged to call both Tad and Chuck dear friends today. My enjoyment of and involvement in the pipe hobby has been richened immeasurably by both gents. Tad is one of 3 'go-to' people I corner when I need tobacco questions answered. He's also a pretty nice guy.

    • ronni b on November 23, 2021
    • One more premier article from a premier writer about a premier pipe man. Did I over use a word? Methinks 'NO'. I am privileged to call both Tad and Chuck dear friends today. My enjoyment of and involvement in the pipe hobby has been richened immeasurably by both gents. Tad is one of 3 'go-to' people I corner when I need tobacco questions answered. He's also a pretty nice guy.

    • Hutch King on November 24, 2021
    • Chuck, I always enjoy your articles and, I enjoyed this one too!! I have tried to find out how to contact you but, no success. I really wish you would do an article on Henry "Smokey" Yunick. Smokey was a mechanic from Daytona Beach, Florida. He really helped to put NASCAR on the map. He was a very "colorful" individual and, a mechanical genius who took on the factory teams in the 60's with his little Chevy. He did so much for racing. He built cars for the legendary "Fireball" Roberts. He did so much for the automobile industry that are still in use today. But, most of all, Smokey was an avid pipe smoker!!! He loved them!!! And on race day, he could be seen in the pits with his cigar. Smokey Yunick was one of a kind. He was a member of "The Greatest Generation." Sadly, most of that generation is gone now, and America is the worse off for it. I am not sure if you will get this e-mail or not but, if you do, please give some thought to an article on "Smokey" Yunick, Pipe Smoker. Thanks, Chuck, Hutch

    • warren paige simms on November 24, 2021
    • Memories can be more descriptive than trying to describe in paper. Tad is still one of the rare legends of our Hobby.... As ' Wayne's World's would say. I'M NOT WORTHY

    • Jonathan G on December 1, 2021
    • Thank you Chuck for this wonderful piece on Tad. He's one of the pipe world's living treasures with an astonishing array of contributions over the last thirty years to his credit. It is a great pleasure for me to regard him as a friend and mentor.

    • Jack on December 3, 2021
    • Mr. Gage has been had such a positive influence in the world of pipes. What a great article. Many thanks

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