When you're new to the world of pipe smoking and a little unsure about where to start, the sheer volume of options can be a little intimidating. It's generally best to just grab a pipe and get started, because pipe smoking is a personal experience and everyone's preferences in terms of pipe shape, size, and finish will be different. Learning is doing and learning about pipe smoking is best explored as a hands-on experience. To facilitate anyone's learning adventure while taking it easy on an exploratory budget, we have put together a list of our most popular, affordable choices, any of which could be a first favorite pipe or an excellent addition to any well-established collection. Corn cobs and clay pipes are perfectly viable options as well, but for this list, we've focused exclusively on briar pipes.
Peterson is Ireland's premiere pipe maker and the longest continuously operating pipe manufacturer in the world. One of their most traditional finishes is the Aran rustication, an extra-craggy application of dimpled grooves and raised peaks dressed in a chocolate-hued stain. It provides a stimulating texture in hand and a no-nonsense aesthetic that's at home in any environment and evocative of Peterson's classic pipes of old. The Aran Rusticated series encompasses a broad selection of shapes and sizes, with everything from crisp Bulldogs to plump, jaw-hanging bent Apples providing a ready choice for any taste.
Named "Dublin" after the city Peterson calls home, not because the series contains only Dublin shapes (it doesn't), Peterson Dublin Filter pipes carry on a tradition that the Irish marque has offered since 1947: classic pipe designs fitted to accommodate 9mm filters. For many pipe makers, their standard designs must be altered to include larger shanks to support the wider drilling needed for filters, but Peterson's iconic, muscular shaping hews toward robust shanks, making the cross-over between filtered and non-filtered renditions natural without altering the shapes. For those curious about filters, this is a popular choice at an accessible price.
A wise man (Shane Ireland) once said that everyone should have at least one Churchwarden in their rotation. They are excellent for reading or just looking like Viggo Mortensen in The Lord of The Rings. For those who are unfamiliar, Churchwarden is the appellation given to pipes with lengthy stems — iconic pieces that keep the smoke out of one's eyes with unmistakable style. Savinelli crafts an excellent series of rusticated Churchwardens that provide a an old-world aesthetic, with a choice between black and leather-hued finishes in a variety of classic bowl shapes available to fit any personal style.
Savinelli's popular Oscar Rusticated series features a stimulating, earthy finish and adds a pop of elegance with a beige accent and two gleaming rings at the stem base. The lineup includes a variety of classic shapes including bent Billiards, broad Pots, and plump Apples, so there's ample selection for any preference. These pipes are also designed to accommodate 6mm filters and are another great entry point if you are interested in finding out if filters are right for you.
If a rusticated surface isn't appealing, there are also readily accessible pipes in both smooth and sandblasted finishes. Ropp is a historic French marque, and their Etudiant line offers both methods of highlighting the briar's natural beauty, all of their pipes crafted from old-stock stummels sourced from the Chapuis-Comoy factory. Both grain-accenting finishes offer something unique — rippling, tactile grain on a sandblast or attractive striations of grain enhancing a smooth pipe. Whether it's elevating the gentle curvature of a bent Egg or the structure of a paneled, straight Billiard, Ropp provides a competitive price and an excellent opportunity for exploring the unique experience of briar's natural grain.
Among the greatest motives for picking up the pipe is the hobby's connection to the past. Ropp's Vintage line underlines this connection well, the entire series comprising pipes made from vintage stummels found at the historic Chapuis-Comoy factory. Originally crafted decades ago, these stummels are time capsules of sorts, having sat unfinished for generations until Antoine Grenard and Sykes Wilford discovered them while exploring the factory, and representing old-school French shaping from the early 20th century. Various classic shapes are finished in traditional sandblasted or smooth finishes, and further elevated by stems of genuine horn for some truly vintage appeal. If nostalgia is attractive, these pipes represent a double helping of history in the palm of the hand.
Italian marque Rossi offers a more modern approach with their line of sleek Notte pipes, the name meaning "night" in Italian, and the aesthetic presents an aptly dark motif pairing a smoky, smooth stain to a jet-black mouthpiece, with a trim brass accent ring adding elegant contrast. The extensive variety of shapes in the series reflects classic shaping cues but with a more dramatic, bowl-centric design often described as Italian neoclassic. For a pipe suitable for the most formal of occasions with dark, mysterious aesthetics, Rossi's Notte line delivers in both attractiveness and smokability.
Similar to the Notte finish in terms of aesthetics, Rossi's Lucca line trades a smooth finish for a stimulating, jet-black rustication, punctuating the motif with a gleaming chrome accent at the stem base. The pairing goes well with the sleek, black acrylic stems, offering a dress-pipe appeal with plenty of texture for fingertips to explore. Available in a wide variety of shapes, all pipes in the Lucca line are EX versions of Rossi's regular designs but with larger dimensions, providing a substantial presence in hand and extra chamber volume for longer smoking sessions.
Brigham is a historic, Canadian pipe manufacturer that provides classic shapes and finishes with a signature addition: Rock Maple Inserts. A removable rock maple dowel, designed to wick away unwanted moisture and harshness from smoke, is pressure-fitted into the shank of each pipe and helps to reduce gurgling. The Algonquin line offers a variety of classic, smooth-finished shapes with which to experience the famous Brigham Rock Maple system.
Another popular line of pipes from Brigham is the Tundra series, offering a variety of classic shapes boasting a mahogany-hued, sandblasted finish and further commended by a bright brass accent at the stem base. It's a timeless aesthetic, providing ample texture and plenty of visual detail to admire while enjoying a luxurious smoking session. Like all Brigham pipes, the Tundra series includes Rock Maple Inserts, so this is another excellent option for those interested in experiencing that innovation first-hand.
Denmark holds a special place in pipe-making history; it's where Sixten Ivarsson began the modern artisan pipe-making tradition by shaping a pipe to his personal vision first and only afterward drilling the internals. Nording is a Danish workshop best known for their fancy Freehand designs but also produces Erik The Red pipes, a line of more classically-inclined pieces designed to be quite affordable. Softer shaping cues offer a taste of revered Danish pipe design and the line's striking smooth and partially rusticated finishes wear a dark red stain for an aesthetic that is both lively and rugged, a perfect homage to their namesake.
For a smoking instrument that can easily slip into a pocket or be comfortably clenched for hands-free smoking, Rattray's line of Nosewarmer pipes is worth consideration, particularly the Goblin series. A delightful selection of diminutive pipes all around four to four-and-a-half inches in length, the Goblin series is available across smooth and sandblasted finishes in an array of colors from light honey to gray and red. Moreover, each pipe is fitted with a short black acrylic stem and further commended by a bright accent ring at the stem base.
Another excellent series from Rattray's is their signature line of green-sandblasted Fachen pipes, named for the fabled creature of Scottish myth. Green is an infrequent color for pipes and carries a distinct panache, and the Fachen line elevates the theme quite well, offering an array of classic shapes, including squat Bulldogs, curvaceous bent Apples, and sturdy-sitting Pokers. Each pipe wears the aforementioned grain-defining green sandblast and is paired to a matching stem of forest-green acrylic for an unmistakable aesthetic.
Tsuge is Japan's preeminent pipe maker with a worldwide following, celebrated for their organic designs as well as interpretations of shape-chart standards. The Tasting series offers a selection of svelte pipes wearing crisply sandblasted finishes dressed in ink-black stains. Three straight designs are available: a tall Stack-like Billiard with a trim, forward-canted bowl; a broad-bowled Pot; and a classically proportioned Billiard — each with a jet-black, tapered stem for a unified, minimalist aesthetic. For enthusiasts of Japanese designs and elegance, The Tasting pipes are an irresistible choice.
German marque Vauen offers a muscular, functionalist aesthetic with their Basic Smooth series, elevating a variety of unique classic shapes with a timeless, smooth finish paired to sleek, black stems. An excellent selection of designs are available in the line, each with either a dark auburn or smoky walnut stain, all adorned with triple accents at the shank end offering a dash of elegance. Designed to accommodate 9mm filters, the Vauen Basic Smooth represents another distinctive style choice for those who prefer using filters.