Those of us who have been around for 6 plus decades remember well when smoking in all forms had a level of acceptability, and pipes specifically had an air of respectability. Pipe smokers were generally looked upon as contemplative, calm, thoughtful, careful to make the correct decisions. Pipe smokers were also ones who cared how they looked and in general considered respectable Gentlemen.
We may be out having a quite smoke and have people come up and tell us that the smell reminds them of a grandfather or some favorite uncle.
It’s not surprising that companies catered to that image with products and advertising that promoted those descriptions.
Now where are we going with this?
If you are near the same vintage as I, you probably remember the decorative bottles of shaving lotion produced by Avon. Bottles in every shape, size and description. The most popular and most remembered were the bottles in the shapes of automobiles. From the 1908 Oldsmobile to the "modern" American sports cars of the day. There were hundreds of different shapes.
My spouse and I like to frequent estate sales; often I would see and pick full or unusual Avon bottles that struck my fancy. I was not a collector, I just happened to like the scents within. Plus being a bit on the frugal side, who can turn down a bottle of shaving lotion for the princely sum of 25 cents.
At one sale, I noticed several bottles, one of which was in the shape of a smoking pipe. So I just had to grab that one, which tweaked my curiosity and later spurred my quest.
A few decades ago when the Marlboro Man sat high in the saddle, a personal care products company was actually making products that praised the pipe smoker.
Pipe smoking and expressive talents go hand in hand. Our ranks are full of artists of every media—painters, poets, writers and musicians especially. This month, thanks to Missouri Meerschaum, we’ll take a look at my very personal top ten list of music made by pipe smokers, for the enjoyment of pipe smokers.
1 – Easily at the top of the list is John Coltrane’s seminal masterpiece, A Love Supreme. While free jazz can be difficult for some to get into, on this record Coltrane combines the melodic sensibilities of his early bop days with all the wild exuberance of his technical mastery in what is widely recognized as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. A simple four-note theme is catapulted into the sonic stratosphere, backed by the incredible lineup of Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. Coltrane was seeking to express a hymn to The Almighty; kick back with a capacious pipe and be swept away on this spiritual journey. Recommended tobacco: Presbyterian Mixture.
Of all the modern art movements, Cubism is often considered the most difficult to wrap one’s head around. Placed properly in the scholarly context, Cubism extended out of the French avant-garde from roughly 1907 through the 1920s, and has been noted as the most influential shift in art of the 20th century. In brief, it grew from the logical progression of Cézanne’s experiments with reducing objects to form and color, and incorporated the changing attitudes of early twentieth century thought. Cubism was born to a world experiencing a period of rapid progress in science and technology—in the space of a generation, the fruits of the Industrial Revolution had yielded photography, automobiles, radio and sound recording, and airplanes. Freud began looking at the workings of the mind while Einstein explored the concepts governing the fabric of reality. Artists began to depart from the concepts of perspective and representation that had guided art since the Renaissance, embracing this brave new world.
We pipemen and women tend to take our hobby for granted, and at face value. Sure, we on the forums may be the 1%, the die-hard enthusiasts of the hobby, and view ourselves as the real pros when it comes to all things pipe and tobacco; but it is just this sort of thinking that blinds us to the world of possibilities that lies just beyond the doorstep of what we know to be true. So let’s take a little ride on the "What If?" machine, and ponder the myriad ways your pipe may be employed for means other than merely enjoying premium tobacco.
Pipe filters tend to get a bum rap, at least more so here in the States than abroad, particularly Europe. Countless times, I’ve seen threads on the forums in which a beginner asks about the filter that came with a brand new or estate pipe, only to be told that they are categorically without merit, and should be tossed in the nearest wastebasket. But how can this be? If they were so useless, why would major producers—companies like Missouri Meerschaum, Dunhill, Savinelli, Brigham, to name a few—continue to make pipes chambered for a variety of filters? Sure, we Americans are the rough and tumble sort, quick to eschew gimmicks and gadgetry in favor of pure performance, but surely there must be some segment of the populace that demands these devices, or the simple fact is that the market would no longer bear their production.
When pipe smokers watch someone smoking a pipe in a movie or on television, we instantly relate to that person, especially now that we have been lumped together with cigarette smokers and it is so rare these days to see anyone smoking a pipe.
As pipe smokers and pipe collectors, we know that what we do is very different from what cigarette smokers do. We do not smoke a pipe to get a "fix" of nicotine. We use our pipes as sources of contemplation and meditation. They help us relax, and, in my case, they help lower my blood pressure.
So when I was asked to give a talk at this year’s Chicago Pipe Show, I decided to pick out some scenes that I had remembered over the years from movies and TV shows that featured pipe smokers.
It might surprise you to learn that infographics have been around for centuries. They seem like a more modern phenomenon because they have proliferated in recent years through social media with the help of infographic generators. With them being all over the place, it’s only fitting to have an infographic for the pipe tobacco world. Ethan Brandt has been an occasional contributor to PipesMagazine.com, and he was kind enough to provide us with a well-thought-out infographic on helping you choose a pipe tobacco. It’s informational and entertaining. Click on the image for a much larger version.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article / info-graphic are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official recommendations of PipesMagazine.com
Kermit the Frog may seem the unlikeliest of inspirations for an article about the pipe-smoking hobby, but bear with me here. Though Kermit is more of a cigar aficionado than a pipeman…err, pipefrog…he is just the sort of sentimental, soft-spoken character that illustrates the best qualities of our ilk. He’s also very much the sensitive, heart-on-his-sleeve type, not wholly unlike myself, and as I ponder the problems we pipemen, pipewomen and pipefrogs face in these troubled times, I take my inspiration from Kermit’s seminal Top 40 hit, It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green:
It’s not easy bein’ green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re
Not standin’ out like flashy sparkles on the water
Or stars in the sky…
As another year draws to a close I sit, stoking my pipe in deep contemplation over the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne, that most famous of Burns’ little ditties.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne
The pipe I’m tending is a Missouri Meerschaum, and fittingly it’s an old one, from the late 60s or early 70s; it was a small token of appreciation from a client for a job well done a few years ago. An ‘auld’ acquaintance, one whom I may never see again in all honesty, but she is remembered every time I light the pipe up and think of the story of it coming from her father’s collection to me. He had been quite a piper, gone the way of all flesh, and she had long held on to many of his personal effects. The aroma of my pipe smoke as I took breaks from her apartment renovation touched a soft spot with her, and she even began to get a little misty-eyed when she offered it to me, relating the sense memory of sitting on his lap, wrapped in the warm and comforting aroma of his tobacco. It’s a small thing, a trifle, with no real monetary value, but this well-worn pipe is one of my most cherished, for within its chamber resides still the breath of a daughter’s father, and her love for him. I’ll not forget my time spent faithfully restoring her family’s landmark residence in Manhattan’s West Village; this pipe will forever bring it to mind.
I’m often asked, "How do you taste so good?" to which I reply that in a former life I was a chocolate éclair. Seriously, though, reviewing tobaccos for publication is a bit of work, but perhaps not as trying as one might think. People often tell me they don’t have as refined a palate as I do, or some other such nonsense, like, "I don’t know how to describe the taste; I only know what I like and what I don’t." To this I say poppycock and balderdash. If you can discern the difference between blend A and blend B, or hot dogs and chocolate éclairs for that matter, then your palate is refined enough. If you truly can’t, then stop reading right here and buy the cheapest tobacco available, because it won’t matter what you smoke. For the rest of us, our own rich experience is all the background we need for tasting—that, and a willingness to trust our own judgment.
To borrow a line from PipesMagazine.com’s own Brian Levine, we are all experts of our own opinion. The main qualifications in being such an expert are a confidence in one’s perception and the desire to define it, which I believe all of us are capable of doing when we allow ourselves to be. Whether you’re interested in simply keeping your own journal of tasting notes, chatting about the latest releases with the guys at the pipe club, or learning how to more effectively communicate to others for publication, you’ll find it remarkably easy to equip yourself with the tools and strategies necessary to fully interpret and profile your tobaccos. My own pipe taste-testing regimen is evolved and adapted from what I learned during my time in the specialty coffee industry, as well as a hobbyist’s experience with wine, spirit and food tastings.