By Kevin Godbee
Richmond Virginia is steeped in tobacco history and tradition, and that makes it a great location for an exposition dedicated to pipes and tobacco. The second weekend of October was the 27th year in a row that the C.O.R.P.S Exposition & Celebration was held. It’s quite impressive, and no small feat to have a show catering to pipe smokers with a 27-year history.
C.O.R.P.S. stands for Conclave of Richmond Pipe Smokers. They are one of the largest pipe clubs and have been based in Richmond since 1984. This year the show changed venues from the Holiday Inn to the more posh surroundings of the Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa. The hotel is in the Richmond area, but technically, the actual town is Short Pump, VA.
Personally, I liked the new location for a couple of reasons. Even though the Hilton is a little more expensive, it is of course a much nicer hotel. You get what you pay for, and with what some of us spend on pipes and tobaccos, I can’t see why anyone would complain to pay a little more for a room in a much nicer hotel. They did overbook the smoking rooms and seemed to hand them out on a first case basis, leaving some that were promised a smoking room without one, including myself. I could see some complaints about that, and there were. However, the solution was to make friends with someone that had one, and pipe smoking at a show is certainly about socializing anyway. I liked the town of Short Pump as well. It seems like a new, or revitalized town, if it is not new. There was lots of new building going on and there were several convenient nearby shopping and restaurants, many within walking distance. So if you didn’t want to spend extra dineros on dinner at the on-site Don Shula’s Steak House, you could walk a block or two to a Spanish Tapas or a Mexican restaurant.
The question I always get asked after every show is; "How was the show?"The short answer is; "It depends on who you ask." Personally, I can’t really have a bad show. I can ask ten different people and get ten different answers though. Speaking generally about all shows, there are always some people that say they had a bad show. This is usually the case if they didn’t sell enough product to cover the costs of travel and table space. There are always people that say they had a good show. To me, any show is what you make of it, and I am of the opinion that you can’t measure the return solely on just the immediate sales you made.
Interestingly, for this recent 2011 C.O.R.P.S. show, there were some past regular exhibitors that didn’t show, however, the local walk-in traffic was up from last year according to club president Craig Norris. It seems like we are still following the trend of the last few years with new blood entering the hobby.
One of the great things about the C.O.R.P.S. show is that you can smoke in the exhibit hall, and there were two other rooms to smoke in as well - a 3/4ths walled-off adjacent to the exhibit hall with tables for coffee (provided free) or lunch breaks, plus another room across the hall. I spent the evenings drinking, smoking and socializing in the banquet smoking room across the hall. There was a bar set up nearby. The bartender’s tip jar was pipe themed for the event. It was actually his dad’s two meerschaum pipes and tobacco jar, which you can see in the photo on the right.
I arrived at the hotel at 2:00 pm on Friday and there was already a contingent waiting to check in, and more people arriving every minute. By late afternoon there were already a number of people smoking and mingling in the smaller smoking room, and the bar was already in action.
Here are just a small fraction of the photos I took spanning the weekend to give you a general feel of the events from Friday late-afternoon into Sunday afternoon. As you can see from the pictures, The C.O.R.P.S. Show is certainly substantial, with a meaningful attendance.
For many pipe smokers, the enjoyment of the pipe is usually a solitary activity. Often this is fine, as pipe smoking is a relaxing thing to do, and it is easy to clear one’s mind and slow down in peace and quiet. In contrast and in similarity, I find that being at a pipe show in a room with over 100 people that all love pipes and pipe smoking is a truly uplifting experience. For some reason, any tobacco I smoke at a pipe show always tastes better. The camaraderie of the community, seeing old friends and making new ones - friends that are all pipe smokers - is an awesome event.
See if you recognize any of these people in this gallery.
At times, certain pipe makers are referred to as being "Artisans". I would describe Olie Sylvester as being "Artsy" and truly unique and creative with his line of Monstrosity Pipes.
The pipe on the left is the "Coons Tooth Pipe". Olie describes it as; "There is a raccoon’s tooth coming out the back of it. It’s a meerschaum bowl set inside of a corncob bowl with a piece of hardwood coming out for the shank. Around that is Spanish Moss from De Leon Springs, Florida, and then it ends up with a little piece of briar, which the stem goes into.
Olie explains the second pipe pictured below as a; "2-piece deal where you have a pipe that is sitting inside another half of a pipe. It’s held together with twine, but it’s secured in there really good. It has a Delrin tenon and it’s pressure fit. There’s nice big chunk of briar on the stem."
Pipe maker Bob Hayes was displaying a unique pipe with an interesting and moving story behind it.
Last June was Craig and Patty Tarlar’s, the owners of Cornell & Diehl, 60th Wedding Anniversary. To celebrate, their family took some family-heirloom jewelry and re-set it into a pendant and earrings for Patty. Bob Hayes made a diamond shaped pipe as Craig’s gift.
After creating the concept, Bob collaborated with Alex Florov. He spent a week working with Alex in his shop in the Chicago area around the same time as the Chicago Pipe Show, and then finished the pipe in his own shop in North Carolina. Bob is in the "C&D family" as he is married to Craig & Patty’s daughter, Pam.
For the dinner celebration and party, they made custom placemats with a photo of Patty and Craig along with their marriage license from 1951. Craig was kind enough to send me one, so now when I eat breakfast every morning I can see Patty and Craig, and I will subliminally want to follow up breakfast with Bayou Morning Flake.
Last, but not least, Bob Swanson / Perry White Pipes won for the second time in four years for the "Best Pipe in Show". The winning pipe is a MAGNUM XL Rhodesian with Palm embellishment.
Kevin Godbee is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of Pipes Magazine. Kevin started smoking pipes and cigars in 1998 and started an online cigar magazine & community site in 2005. (The site was acquired in 2008 and no longer exists.) He launched PipesMagazine.com in 2009, and in less than three years the site has become the largest trafficked pipe smoking related site, and the #1 Source for Pipes and Pipe Tobacco Information.
In the beginning of his career, Kevin worked in the hobby and specialty toy business for 16 years in sales, marketing, advertising and product development for three different manufacturers, and with his own company.
Over the last 10 years working in the online business, he has become an expert in Internet Marketing and SEO. Kevin is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT) through Tobacconist University, a member of Cigar Rights of America and is a "Media Member" of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association. In his spare time he sings, plays guitar, cooks, and enjoys all the wonderful places to go and things to do in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg, Florida where he lives in his penthouse bachelor pad. Kevin has been smoking pipes and cigars for 14 years.