Fred Brown
I just
thought I was a pipe smoker. After returning from the amazing Chicagoland Pipes and Tobacciana Show in early May and reflecting on the event, I have decided that even after more than four decades of smoking a pipe, I am a neophyte.

I mean, there are some fellas who take this hobby very seriously. Me, I toss some tobacco into a bowl, light ‘er up and go on about my business. I don’t pay much attention to the tobacco being smoked, let alone the pipe!

Cleaning a pipe is not a ritual for me. It’s a simple Dill’s-Brigham’s-or-BJ Long’s-through-the-stem-and-a-quick-in- and-out-and-off-we-go-again. I realize this is sacrilege to most of the pipe smokers out there, but I’m a codger. What can I say?

Here is what I discovered at Chicago: there are men—and some women by the way—who know not only pipe styles and shapes, but years crafted, nomenclature, and what was produced by whom, and when. I’d be surprised if they didn’t know the tools used as well.

Some pipe smokers even can name the pipe artist, and in many cases, the manufacturer, before any major mergers of pipe making families or firms.

 

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It is just amazing to me that this hobby that I love has so many sides and shades to it. Normally I just think of a pipe as a pipe: billiard, pot, Dublin, bent, meer, the usual suspects. They are instruments, some more intricate than others, that deliver my favorite tobaccos.

I say this out of respect to those of you who really take the time to understand the pipes you love. I mean no offense whatsoever. I am in shock and awe, actually.

In fact, I have some very old pipes—Dunhill, Barlings, Charatans, Petes, Lowe, etc., that I now look upon with newfound reverence and respect.

In Chicago, I ran into pipe smokers of the elite class (no snobbery intended about that, either. It is alright to be elite if you know what you are talking about).

I mean, some of the men and women with whom I chatted told me more about their pipes than seemed possible, unless they were present in the beginning when the pipe was first crafted.

OK. So you have gotten it by now that I’m not a pipe historian. Quite true. I love my pipes and have come to a newborn appreciation for the history. And I have now begun taking a little more time examining my pipes and their ages. Seems I have one or two really old ones. In fact, one of the meers that was given to me is probably from the 19th century. Who knew?

And, I discovered a brave new world of tobacco. Here again, I’m a codger. I smoked my first pipe tobacco in the late 1950s. It was Prince Albert, I think. Or something similar.

Later, in college, I moved on to Sir Walter Raleigh, since that’s what most of my professors smoked.

And then I ran into Dr. Neill Whitelaw, physics professor, unalloyed genius, friend of Einstein, pipe smoker and just plain brilliant.

In his physics lab about the only thing I learned was that the top shelf in the lab was lined with tins of codger blends: Barking Dog, Country Doctor, Revelation, Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Albert, Granger, Half and Half, Carter Hall and several others I can no longer recall.

His pipes, which he smoked while trying to enlighten some of us on the rudiments of physics, looked like burned burls. Some were black they had been smoked so much. Dr. Whitelaw was never without his pipe, or his sharp wit.

He did not suffer fools, thus I soon departed with Dr. Whitelaw’s good wishes for whatever it was I was cut out to do in my college career. Luckily, I found the English Department, which allowed me to stick around long enough to graduate.

Of course, I had to emulate Dr. Whitelaw. I smoked all the codger blends at one time or another. And, I pretty much learned from the master how to treat your pipes—as a smoking instrument.

I’m sure most of his pipes were the drug store variety—Kaywoodie, Dr. Grabow, Medico, basket pipes of the era. I, too, smoked Grabow and Kaywoodie and still have them.

My interest in more expensive pipes changed over time as my salary inched up the pay scale. I purchased what I could afford along the way.

I treated tobacco in similar fashion. Codger blends sufficed until I discovered Edwards’ tobaccos, which I smoked for years, along with my steadfast codgers.

Now and again, I’d pick up a tin of something expensive ($5 being expensive back then). It seemed so exotic. The tobacco had this little wavy filter looking thing inside a tin. The tobacco itself was so different from any I had been accustomed.

Instead of cubes, the fancy tobacco was slim ribbons of various colors and smells. In comparison, my codger blends reeked of old movie theater cans filled with sand and foul cigarette butts.

Tobacco is not something I usually get all riled up about. I suppose that is due to the fact that I grew up in an era of codger blends and that seemed just fine to me. They smoked, which was all I required at the time. They were cheap and went well with my basket pipes.

Yes, I have advanced to more expensive pipes and tobaccos. But old habits are indeed hard to break. I pick up a pipe that I might have smoked the day before, fill it, and fire it up.

At the Chicago show I discovered smokers who rotate their smoking pipes on a daily basis, if not hourly.

There, one attorney from Munich, Germany, had already purchased his pipes before the official kickoff. He alternated between the S. Bang and another expensive Danish pipe, with a pound of Iwan Reis Virginia.

The attorney carefully loaded the pipe, taking his time to pinch-load, tamp, pinch-load, tamp. Next, he pulled out what looked to be a Dunhill lighter and lit the S. Bang, puffed, tamped, lit again, puffed and leaned back. His eyes glistened. It was that good.

Now, I have never quite had that sort of experience, but I think I’m beginning to understand: There are pipes and there is tobacco. And then, there are very fine pipes and very fine tobaccos.

Just as there are artisan pipe makers, there are artisan tobacco blenders. We are in the Age of Enlightenment in pipes and tobacco. More wonderful pipes are being created than ever before. The same is true with pipe tobacco.

Very talented blenders can even come quite close to re-creating the codger blends of old, despite the fact that agriculture, weather, and a host of other environmental conditions have changed.

Pipe smokers today are truly blessed to have the pipe and tobacco market that exists.

It is daunting to think that pipe smokers of, say, 50 years ago, could only dream of such pleasure available today. And, there were great brands in that time as well as earlier in another era.

But in one lifespan, a pipe smoker can get through only so many pipes and so much tobacco.

There is, after all, a "use by date," on every life.

I hope to make the best of what’s left now that I have seen what it means to own a wonderful vintage pipe and extraordinary tobacco to smoke.

It is a final coming of age, an emancipation of consciousness, in a New Dawn of pipes and tobacco.

 

 


Fred Brown
is a journalist who lives in Knoxville, TN. He will write this column for PipesMagazine.com monthly. He can be contacted at
tennwriter@bellsouth.net.

 

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10 Responses to “Age of Enlightenment: A New Dawn of Pipes and Tobaccos”

  1. claypipesarchaeologist said:

    This story reminds me a good deal of the phenomenons going on today with craft beers and coffees. Personally, I’ll take my Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout and double-shot of espresso from the Profeta in Westwood…but I think I’ll stop there. I can’t see myself surpassing the “pipe/tobacco sophistication” of the author. I enjoy heavy latakia blends, particularly Balkan, but so far (as long as it ain’t Dunhill and can give C&D a run for their money) it doesn’t seem to matter who crafted them. And, although I look upon the beautiful pipes posted here with admiration, I don’t think I have to spend over $100 on a pretty pipe that smokes well. But, I am just starting out. Maybe this will change…

  2. Cortez said:

    As one who started out in what now must be considered the dark ages of pipe smoking, I too marvel at the increase in sophistication and diversity that abounds. Call it what you will, renaissance, golden age, or the enlightenment, I revel in it and marvel.

  3. monty55 said:

    Wonderful piece! I am fairly new to this entire hobby, but I realized fairly quickly that the artisan tobacco blenders of today are really a treat for pipe smokers, historically speaking. Because of all these wonderful pipes and tobaccos (and internet pipe magazines with tons of info at our finger tips), there is no way in hell I would buy a drug store codger pipe and a pouch of half and half and go to town starting out. Instead, and thanks to the above mentioned, I was fortunate enough to start with a nice briar and a tin of Pease. Indeed a new dawn, and of pipe smokers as well!

  4. papipeguy said:

    This sounds so close to my piping experience. I’m now in my 5th decade of pipe smoking but only came to appreciate and understand why good blends are good and many blends are not so good. The internet pays a huge role in our updated education of the hobby.
    Back in the day I had no idea what the components of a blend were nor was there anyone to tell me. It was trial by fire (excuse the poor pun). I smoked it and either liked it enough for any pouch/tin or I moved on to the next thing. Always in search of “The Blend” but, alas, always elusive.
    Thank you for reigniting (ouch!) our passion for what we do.

  5. 4dotsasieni said:

    Great read, and thoughtful commentary. I seem to have gone the other way, in other words regressed in my long history (some 55+ years) of pipe smoking. Apart from my initial purchase of drugstore pipe and tobacco, I immediately became a fanatical aficionado of the hobby, carefully choosing the best pipes and tobaccos I could afford, spending hours reading everything I could get my hands on, devouring pipe shop catalogs, and spending WAY too much time filling, tamping, cleaning, polishing and inspecting my treasured pipes.

    Now I just reach for the nearest pipe at hand (although I do rotate), stuff it carelessly with whatever tobacco appeals to me at the moment (mostly Latakias) and puffing away contentedly but very un-methodically. I don’t think I’ve spent over $150 on a pipe in the last 20 years.

    All the above doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy pipe smoking as much as ever — I’m just much more casual about it.

    Thanks for the insights, Fred.

  6. blendtobac said:

    Great job, Fred. This is a hobby by the people, for the people and of the people. Whatever your preferences, there are choices for you that will satisfy. Like what you smoke, smoke what you like. God save the Queen.

    Russ

  7. Greg said:

    I really enjoyed this article. Not only does the author reminisce about days-gone-by, he also relishes today’s offerings and anticipates tommorow’s. A wonderful job of interlacing his pipe-life.

  8. murf said:

    A very nice read. I feel like I have been spoiled, like a kid in a candy store when it comes to tobacco. Of course I started out with old and dry Bork um riff and had no idea what I was doing. And I would buy a different pouch, still scorch my tongue on occasion, but that was just how I thought it was.

    Then I had my own personal enlightenment. I started buying the crafted tobaccos. And that’s where the kid in the candy store part comes in. Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoy some captain black white and Granger now and then, but I don’t think I could smoke those everyday. And my dad just gave me a pouch of velvet because that’s what his dad smoked.

    I still have some cheap pipes. I’ve got a few expensive ones too, but nothing over $100. For me it’s more about the tobacco. I still take great care of my pipes, probably better than the author. But for me, the tobacco is the main player. The pipe merely plays a supporting role, albeit an important one. That being said, I think there is no such thing as a really bad pipe but improper technique with a lesser quality pipe. You need to learn how to smoke pack tamp each pipe as an individual to make it perform its best

  9. grumpy74 said:

    Great read. I enjoyed every thought and makes me wonder if I will ever get to that level of appreciation.

  10. ststephen said:

    We all start somewhere, and those who begin at the top of the ladder will lack the appreciation those of us who began on lower rungs have.

    I began pipe smoking in earnest shortly after getting hired in a smoke shop- where no one smoked a pipe. The internet was in its infancy, and I wasn’t there yet anyway- so I taught myself nearly everything with the help of a magazine or two and the very occasional pipe smoker who happened by. Cigars lured me over considerably- we ordered little pipe tobacco as there was virtually no demand, and this was in the days of the great cigar boom. There I was in a smoke shop, and I had to leave the place and get re-interested in pipe smoking via online exploration. But I had learned about Latakia and Perique via the Peter Stokkebye tobacco we carried, and bought my first briars with a nice employee discount.

    To this day, I still don’t own a pipe which retailed for over $100. The ultra-fancy designer pipes make for great eye candy, and I’m sure they smoke wonderfully; I just don’t have that kind of money to devote and I don’t feel at a loss on that account either. I’ve got many no-names, seconds, basket-pipes, a few meers and cobs, and the local chain “smoke shops” (mostly convenience stores for cigarette smokers) where I live now carry some very affordable meerschaums.

    I just miss the opportunity to have worked in a smoke shop when pipe smoking was a more mainstream thing. I also miss being able to walk into a brick-and-mortar and find affordable products aimed at cigar and pipe smokers. This part of the tobacco experience is lying in the dustbin, so to speak.

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