William "Cliff" Nelson, editor of Pipes and tobaccos magazine, phoned me a couple of days ago. "The new owners are discontinuing the magazine," he said. "I have two weeks to finish this issue and that's the end."
I first saw P&T in my local tobacconist in Tampa, Fla., where I was attending graduate school. I started grad school late, in my mid-30s, in yet another attempt to find what I wanted to be when (if) I ever grew up. By 1996, I had only my dissertation to write while I taught a few writing classes. I'd learned a lot, including the fact that I didn't care for the politics of academia and that I preferred doing stuff to teaching stuff. I learned I didn't want to be a college professor. That's when I met Dayton Matlick, the owner/founder of P&T, who had completed the first two issues at the time.
We talked at the trade show in Cincinnati that year, where I was helping my pal, John Sabia, choose pipe inventory for his shop back in Tampa. We met Dayton and John talked him into letting me write a freelance piece. I was no salesman, but John could sell anything, even me.
I wrote a piece on Randy Wiley and Dayton called after I submitted it to see if I was interested in a job as an assistant editor, something I had no experience for. But I'd be working in my favorite hobby and able to smoke at work, so I accepted.
P&T started with a conversation between Dayton and Peter Stokkebye. Dayton owned SpecComm International, a small magazine publisher with titles such as Tobacco Reporter, Tobacconist, Tobacco Farm Quarterly, and a few others. Peter wanted Dayton to start a pipe magazine, something of equal quality to Cigar Aficionado, but for pipes.
Investigating the viability of such a project, Dayton found that every previous commercial pipe publication had folded inside of five years. Could he do better? Would he have the support of the industry? He made call after call, talking to everyone he could think of. What he found during that period of the very early internet was that he could expect no industry support if he advertised estate pipes or any company that operated solely online. At a meeting of the TAA (Tobacconist Association of America) he announced the launch of the magazine, much to the surprise of his staff, and he assured everyone there that he would commit to supporting retail tobacconists by not accepting ads for online vendors or estate pipes. Obviously, that policy changed a few years later when online commerce became essential.
Our goal was to help pipe smokers orient themselves in a world of pipe heritage, history, and enthusiastic practitioners and participants.
P&T would have failed in its first couple of years if not for the cigar boom. At SpecComm, P&T was in the same division as Tobacconist, which was a trade magazine for retailers, a population that manufacturers and distributors were especially keen to connect with, and it was doing extraordinarily well at the time. Clients weren't particularly interested in P&T, but we offered sweetheart combo deals for ads in both publications that made it irrational to refuse. That's why there were cigar ads in the first couple of years of publication. Readers complained, saying that a pipe magazine should concentrate on pipes only, but at the time it was the only way to keep the magazine afloat. P&T had a couple of years with a little profit, but for the majority of its years it broke even or lost money. Dayton kept it going because of his love for the hobby and, I think, his affection for me. It was not rational business sense, but pipes are the subject and they transcend rationality sometimes.
Dayton and I became friends during my 21 years with the magazine, and we're still friends. From the beginning, Dayton and I agreed on a couple of foundational philosophies for P&T. First, the tone of the magazine should never be one of experts telling others how to do things. We are all explorers in the activity of pipe smoking, and we learn from each other. Our job was to present multiple perspectives, providing enough information so readers could reach intelligent personal decisions.
Second: Always do what's best for the hobby. Take care of the hobby, and the hobby will take care of you. We could thrive only by helping the hobby thrive. And I think we did. We promoted many new pipemakers who have become respected artisans. We helped promote new businesses and new craftspeople. We spread the word about different tobaccos and different pipe techniques for enjoying them, and the history of every aspect of pipe smoking. We printed tobacco reviews for decades (and we purchased Tobaccoreviews.com — mainly to be sure it was preserved, but it ended up being an important part of the division). Our goal was to help pipe smokers orient themselves in a world of pipe heritage, history, and enthusiastic practitioners and participants.
We are all explorers in the activity of pipe smoking, and we learn from each other. Our job was to present multiple perspectives, providing enough information so readers could reach intelligent personal decisions.
Dayton and I have similar personalities, and though we are fond of each other, we sometimes clashed. Part of our similarity is in our stubbornness. In the early years it was usually about covers. I commissioned an artist to do cover art for an article on J.R.R. Tolkien, and I thought it turned out well. When Dayton saw it, he lost his temper and started yelling at me in the middle of the production department. The magazine had already shipped by that time and he was livid, insisting it was too busy an image. We argued. I may have brought up the Dave Berg cover, which was a hideous green that Dayton chose himself and I thought was a travesty and an insult to modern sensibilities.
I was gradually changing the look of the magazine. Dayton's original design was from an old, out-of-print science magazine that utilized lots of white space in its layouts. It was attractive, but I was always challenged with finding enough space to fit all the editorial. I kept finding ways to modify layouts to accommodate more material. The white space began to fill up, which made Dayton uncomfortable, but we were fitting a lot more information into each issue, so I was happier. And we realized that when we argued, it was always about what was best for the magazine. Eventually, he trusted me again, but I had to get his approval on covers for a year after the Tolkien episode.
It was a great job and I loved it. I did not want to leave it. But when Dayton's health made it evident to him that he had to sell, it was clear to me that any new owner would be crazy to maintain such an expensive, unprofitable print magazine. Its remaining days were short, and I was too cowardly to be the one sitting in that office when the news struck. I had to distance myself emotionally before that happened. I'll always be grateful to Cliff Nelson for taking the reins for the last 16 months of the magazine's life, months that would have ended with me in prison, no doubt. I could not have endured watching that process.
Do what's right for the hobby and the hobby will take care of you.
So I came here to Smokingpipes. It's turned out to be a great switch for me; I'm treated well and I can write virtually anything I want. Few companies are willing to invest in a full-time pipe writer; it's a pretty narrow niche, and Smokingpipes not only welcomed me, but carved out a new position to fit my skill set and personality. And Smokingpipes has a similar philosophy to P&T: Do what's right for the hobby and the hobby will take care of you. So I feel at home. It isn't a print magazine, it's an entirely different species. But it is the best online source for pipes and related information in existence, and we reach dozens of times the number of people as P&T.
Pipes and tobaccos is the longest-running, highest-quality commercial pipe magazine in history, but it can't weather the current social and political climate, and after the next issue, it's unlikely we'll see it again. I don't know what the future of print publishing looks like. No one does. The new information age has turned everything upside down. But our hobby needs and deserves a place to find trusted facts, something levels above online personal speculation and well-intended misinformation. I hope to be a part of the solution, and I expect it to continue happening right here at Smokingpipes. I hope we'll see P&T resurrected, or another pipe magazine spring up in its place, but whether or not that happens, we'll keep writing about pipes here. It's a weird job, but when you're as deeply committed to pipes as we are, it makes perfect sense.