For various reasons, ones aesthetic changes over the expanse of time. I like to believe that mine has matured. I have noticed that as I age, my appreciation for things “old” grows stronger, and manifests itself in somtimes surprising ways. When I was a young man, only new, modern things caught my fancy. I was fresh out of high school and knew that I needed a “new” pipe of my own. Rather than smoke an old pipe that belonged to my father or my uncle, I had to have a “new” one. So I headed to the Tinder Box and bought a small bent “Penthouse”. I smoked everything in it except English or Balkan blends. As a “new” pipe smoker, I knew that I had to smoke something that would impress everyone, so the tobacco I smoked just had to have a killer room note. Yep, you guessed it, Mixture 79. I remember my first 1/4 bowl full. After the second puff, I was in complete and utter awe of my father. His ability to smoke this stuff for extended periods redefined toughness and all that was masculine. I committed myself to study him closely the next time he smoked a bowlful, and determine once and for all if he could actually be taking pleasure in said endeavor. After lengthy observation, I determined that he indeed did enjoy it, and from that moment on, I knew that I would never be the man he was. I moved on to milder aromatics.
My pipe collection grew over the years, and really blossomed about 4 years ago when my lovely wife presented me with a fine old Bewley she had found at an estate sale. There was something about that old pipe that intrigued me. At about the same time, my good friend Larry Smith (he goes by Chicago Pipe here) introduced me to the pleasures of fine English and Balkan blends, among others. The entire pipe - tobacco hobby became a life passion, and since then, I have amassed more pipes and pipe tobacco, than any man in his right mind should ever have. Not to mention cigars, but that is another story entirely.
Back to that old Bewley. She paid $3.00 for it, and I realized there were many similar treasures to be had if one was willing to invest the time canvasing estate sales. I love the old pipes. It gives me great pleasure to clean and restore them. A great percentage of my finds are diamonds in the rough. Many are just rough. Once they are clean and brought back to near pristine condition, the real treat is in the smoking. What was the previous owners pleasure? Aromatic, Virginias, Burley, English, or perhaps a nice balkan? The previous owners pleasure is the ghost and it somehow transcends the pipe itself. Call me crazy, but when I smoke an old pipe, I can not help but try to catch a glimpse of what it was the previous owner contemplated as he sat in his chair and enjoyed this very pipe. Part of his soul is in that pipe. Unfortunately, I have never been able to determine what type of tobacco the previous owner smoked by either analyzing the scent of the un-restored pipe, or by smoking it after restoration, and I refuse to smoke an unsanitized, un-restored pipe. Too bad, because the success or failure of my relationship with any estate pipe is determined to a large extent by knowing what the pipe wants one to smoke in it.
I’ve taken a fancy to very early calabash pipes of late. I find calabash pipes comprised of a small gourd with an acute bend trimmed in silver are extremely elegant and harken back to a time more polite and refined than the one we now find ourselves in. So now I come to the point of this story.
About a month ago, I found a very rough, 1905 calabash pipe that matches the description above. Being an ebay find, I waited for weeks for my purchase to arrive from England. Yep, it was every bit as rough as I had imagined, but I set about cleaning it up immediately. The bowl held more cake than I have ever seen in any pipe. I reamed the pipe and caught the old cake on a piece of white paper. I always dispose of the old cake and other filth by placing it in the waste basket, but on this particular evening, the fireplace was ablaze with a nice fire. Now, for some reason, I took the white paper containing the old cake from this 1905 calabash and poured the crumble from the cake into the fire, and low and behold, the most wonderful aroma of latakia, orientals and Virginias filled the air. I had quite by accident discovered how one convinces the ghost to reveal itself. It should have been obvious to me all along. The old 1905 calabash has a special place in my pipe cabinet and by my chair, and I feel that, in a very small way, I can share something quite special with the person who enjoyed this pipe before me.