“Don’t you have enough pipes? Why do you need another one?” It’s a fair question, though one I’m never happy to hear, especially when it’s coming from a voice in my own noggin. I mean, sure. I have enough pipes. More than enough. By any rational measure, probably far too many. But, pipe collecting isn’t about being rational. Pipe collecting is about passion.
When a pipe speaks our name, calls to us through the mists, singing its siren song, how can we mere mortals resist? Unless we’d have to go without eating for a month, or risk losing the roof over our heads, why shouldn’t we buy “just one more?” Maybe the food thing wouldn’t be so bad (I could stand to lose a few pounds), but it’s the middle of winter. It’s been pouring rain for a week, and I’m pretty fond of having a place with a roof to keep me and my pipes dry. Maybe when the weather changes, I could forgo that luxury for a while too, if it meant answering the call when it came. Scratch that. That’s just silly.
It is a fact that most of us really don’t need another pipe. Most of us probably don’t need as many as we have. No one needs more than a couple pairs of shoes, either, or a week’s worth of socks. Some laughingly refer to it as Pipe Acquisition Disorder (PAD), making it sound like some sort of affliction, worthy of inclusion in the next revision of the DSM and requiring some sort of therapy, or at least an intervention. I don’t. Even after all these years, and, I still find immense pleasure in the hunt for the next addition to the herd. Getting a new pipe just feels good and makes me happy, and that should be enough. Despite this, I do sometimes find myself going through fits of passionalization.
There are times when a pipe acquisition hasn’t quite scratched the itch. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I spy the mad jumble of briars that I loosely refer to as my “collection.” There are many that continue to speak to me, and some have for many years, bringing me a great deal of pleasure when I look at them, hold them, smoke them. Some are pieces of profound artistry and beauty, others, simple, comforting objects of sublime utility. Either way, they’re sources of joy. Why wouldn’t I want another?
But, there are more than a few that, instead, make me scratch my head. Confessing this isn’t easy, but there are pipes in my possession that I’ve acquired for entirely the wrong reasons.
I have more than once been guilty of getting a pipe because of the “trendiness” of the shape or the maker, because I should like it, not because I do. I’ve smoked them, probably dozens of times, enduring the persistent voice in my head telling me all the reasons I should find it the best pipe ever, that one day, I’ll learn to understand it, acclimate to it, and become one with the kool kids. This rarely goes well. It turns out there’s little traction in getting a pipe in the hopes that one day it will ice pick its way up the ladder to the lofty status of being tolerated.
Another side to every coin. There have been times I’ve not bought a pipe that I really liked because silly rationalizations planted themselves firmly in the middle of the road and wouldn’t let me pass.
In the very early days of my collecting, a particular shape that I was very much drawn to, and still am, was looked down upon pretty much en masse by many veterans of the pipe community. Though there were a few outliers, and we did talk amongst ourselves about this peculiarity, the majority seemed to meet the shape with abject disdain. I don’t know why and will never understand it; the shape had been around for decades. Why would it continue to be in catalogues if so universally reviled? But, as a young, somewhat insecure newbie angling to be accepted by the old guard, I was afraid to put my own preference ahead of that of the taste-makers, and resisted the urge to acquire certain pipes for fear of having my membership blackballed. Ridiculous? For sure, but it felt pretty real to a pup trying to hang with the old dogs. (We’re lucky to live in more accepting times, I think.)
There were times, too, I may have passed on a piece or ten because the brand/maker wasn’t à la mode. “Those pipes are nice looking, sure, but the briar is young and inferior, and they lack the pedigree of the maker having been around since before the Big War, and you’ll never be able to sell or trade it later. What you really want is something from Y. Now THAT’S a good pipe.” (Funnily enough, some of today’s desirable brands were yesterday’s pariahs, trading hands for relative peanuts because they weren’t from the grown-up firms. I wish I’d bought a bushel of them!) One fellow even told me that I should only chase pipes pre-1920 because, I’m not kidding, “The old vulcanite tastes better when it oxidizes than the modern stuff.” That was one tidbit I did not pay much mind to, though it was, and is amusing to think about.
Don’t get me wrong; I learned a great deal from my early influences, and I’m grateful for every shred of knowledge they shared with me. Fortunately, now that I’ve become one of the old dogs, I’ve outgrown the need to impress anyone, and chase what I like solely because I like it, ignoring any real or projected judgment from the taste makers. Many good lessons have come along with the ride from there to here, along with, I admit, a whole lot of pipes, good and bad. Maybe, too many. I refuse to count them. Remember the mad jumble of pipes I mentioned up there? It’s a real thing. I just accept that occasional “herd thinning” is just something that has to happen once in a while.
I seem to have wandered a bit off the pitch, so I’ll get back to the original questions. Yes, I probably have enough pipes. No, I really don’t need another. But, none of that holds much sway. I’m absolutely certain that any day now, I’ll hear the song, feel the pull, be drawn into the gravity of the seemingly infinite “one more pipe” zone, and I’m quite okay with that.