As Eric often puts it, we have pipes dedicated to work, chores, errands, and travel, and then we have pipes specially reserved for those quiet evenings at home. While tastes may vary, especially around here, churchwardens are what make up the latter group for me. In fact, my very first pipe was a churchwarden: a no-named, extra-long Dublin (not even made from briar) with a very, very long shank extension taking the place of the more typical elongated stem.
It wasn't a great smoker, didn't have a whole lot of chamber, and was heavy as all get out, but there was just something romantic about smoking a bowl full of spicy orientals out of it late at night. You could feel the warmth in your hand, while the smoke remained surprisingly cool. It had a way of turning back the clock to a time long forgotten, of setting the mood for a bit of contemplation or a simple day's reflection. And of course, it also made a damn fine companion to a good book. I can fondly remember sitting beneath an old poplar tree during my last few years of college, reading this or that, and smoking that very pipe.
While my rotation has of course expanded over the years, picking up an interesting piece here and there, I've tried to keep a balance between my home and work pipes. As the days shorten and the cold winter's chill sets in though, I think it might be high time for another churchwarden. Here's a look at some of the ones I'm considering:
Probably Savinelli's most intriguing churchwarden configuration, this series was originally dubbed "Gandolfo," as a tribute to the characters of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy. It offers a variety of the marque's classic shapes in slightly handier churchwarden proportions, either a smooth or rusticated finish, and topped with an earthy oak ferrule.
Whether in the warm blonde stains of the Pisa series, or just dressed in a minimalist black rustication, Savinelli's standard churchwarden line offers quite a variety. From plump Apples to more classic Belge-like Billiards, there's a wide array of classic shapes, rendered in full-blown churchwarden proportions.
Churchwardens are just what I enjoy when reading or just simply reflecting on the deeds of the day, but sometimes a little more versatility is what's needed. Savinelli's Tandem line offers just the thing in those cases, presenting scaled-down versions of their classic shapes with not one, but two stem configurations: one for those quiet evenings at home, and another for a more portable smoker. Decisions, decisions!
Peterson shapes, by design, tend to be rather robust and meaty, especially around the shank and transition. Their standard churchwarden line, however, presents a whole series of briars with a far more elegant touch. Finishes range from an earthy, dimpled rustication to the vibrant flash of their signature emerald stains. The Prince variant, in my opinion, is particularly striking.
While a good bit smaller than some of the other configurations on this list, Butz-Choquin's Petite line offers a light little churchwarden perfect for a quick smoke or a bit of slow-burning folded flake. It's not quite as lengthy as, say, Peterson or Savinelli's standard interpretation, but it does make for an elegant piece that breaks down easily for transport.
Big Ben Elegant
Aptly named, these Danish briars really are quite the elegant numbers. Long, slender, and lithe, they're exactly what I'm looking for in a reading pipe: plenty of length to prevent smoke from getting in the eyes, yet with still a surprising amount of substance in hand. The fact that they're all smooth finished is just an added plus.
To my eye, at least, the Star series from Chacom probably offers the closest match to the clay tavern pipes of old, especially in their Cutty and Belge shaped variants. I will admit, however, I do particularly like the look of the Rhodesian "505" shape in this long-stemmed configuration, as it seems like a perfect balance of firmness and sinuous grace.
Vauen's Churchwarden line, much like the Savinelli Tandem, offers a bit of versatility with not one but two stems of varying length. They also happen to come 9mm filter-ready, if you happen to prefer a filtered smoke. They aren't quite as common as some of the aforementioned examples, but the shape range is rather appealing, offering long-stemmed variants of shapes we don't often think of as being churchwardens.
The choices are seemingly endless. So while I mull over which one I like the most, it would be great to hear your opinion. Have a favorite churchwarden of your own? Feel free to share in the comment section below!