Getting Acquainted

By G. L. Pease
It starts with the anticipation;
a few days, a week, two. The deal was made, then it’s all about the waiting. Some are more calmly patient than I am, taking an almost philosophical approach; "It’ll be here when it’s here," they think, and go about their day. I’m the anxious school kid who jumps up to look out the window several times a day hoping to catch sight of the delivery van rolling up my street. I think, at this point in my life, that’s not likely to change, nor do I really want it to. I love the anticipation, like the little ones waiting for the tapping of reindeer hooves on the roof, and jolly old St. Nicholas’ descent down the chimney.

Finally, there’s the knock at the door, the ringing of the doorbell, the dog’s bark to alert that someone, or something, is waiting for me on the porch. It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for; the opening of the door to have that little box finally find its way into my eagerly waiting hands.

1948 GBD Prince

For as long as I’ve been a pipe smoker, there’s always been something special about getting a pipe, shiny and new, or an estate piece in need of restoration, or something in-between. It could arrive as a result of a trade with a fellow collector from far away, or be one of those lucky ebay bids that went well, or a purchase from a pipe maker or one of the stores I deal with. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from, it’s a new pipe- at least, it’s new to me- and, receiving, and opening the box, getting the first eye- and handful of the new pipe is a pivotal point in our burgeoning relationship, and not one to be taken lightly.

So, box in hand, there’s bound to be a moment or two of reverence before ripping into it with wild abandon. No one is watching. I could lie, could make up a story about some elaborate ritual involving the donning of embroidered velvet smoking robes and matching tasseled fez, the recitation of verses from Cowper’s Conversation, whilst tracing mystical symbols in the air with an amber stem recovered from an ancient meerschaum (held by thumb, index, and second finger), and the burning of Latakia in a pipe-shaped censer, but I’d likely be found out eventually. Besides, after all the anticipation, why prolong things more than necessary? A moment is all it gets. Usually, just enough time to go to the drawer for a knife or a pair of scissors.

The box opened, packing materials strewn across table and floor, a compact parcel extracted, sometimes wrapped with so much bubble-wrap and strapping tape it could survive a small nuclear blast- I hate that particular test of my limited patience- and we’re finally getting close to the official introduction.

Finally, after excavating the pipe from the clear plastic and air-bubble sarcophagus in which it’s been safely entombed, the briar is in hand, and the next important part begins, the getting acquainted. First, the pipe is inspected from every angle, disassembled, examined under the harsh scrutiny of light and loupe, sniffed, probed, prodded and reassembled. It’s held in the smoking hand (mine is usually the left one), tested between the teeth, and finally, given a provisional stamp of tacit approval.

Then comes the harder part- deciding what to smoke, and when to smoke it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this; some pipes seem to beg to be smoked right away, while others almost demand a protracted courtship. Those latter ones, the high-maintenance pipes, are usually the expensive ones, the more strikingly beautiful ones, and, are almost always unsmoked ones. They have their charms, of course, a sometimes powerful attraction, or I wouldn’t have gotten them in the first place, but there’s something that keeps them at arm’s length when it comes to actually smoking them. For those pipes, the moment, the setting, everything has to be just right. I’ve had pipes in my collection for years before their time comes. Maybe it’s a disorder of my psychology, but, like my enthusiasm for new pipes in general, I don’t think this is likely to change without significant intervention.

Luciano Bulldog - Pease/diPiazza Designs

I love a beautiful new pipe, even a potentially temperamental one, as much as anyone, and sometimes, in the enthusiasm borne from being in the presence of the shiny new thing, I can inadvertently neglect the old friends. It’s like going to a party, and being charmed by the charismatic newcomer; the experience can be delightful, but it usually lacks the depth and ease of longer-term relationships. The new pipe can be like that. It gets all our attention. We talk to our fellow collectors about it. We show it off. We smoke it carefully, and treat it with extra care, not quite sure of how it will ultimately fit into our lives. In short, we romanticize it.

Then, one day, we’re reminded. We see them in our racks, those old faithfuls, and they beckon, "What about us? We’ve been pressed into fine service for years. Why have you been ignoring us?" Why, indeed?

There’s something really special about those old, experienced pipes, the ones that have been through it with us, that know our quirks, the ones that deliver a great smoke no matter what. They aren’t always the most beautiful, don’t always have the finest grain, and perhaps they’re not the ones made by the greatest living craftsmen, but they have something deep within them, something beyond the years of tobacco juices they’ve slurped up (so we don’t have to), that makes them great companions, and as with any relationship, that something is borne from the cultivation of respectful familiarity. They can be like putting on a pair of perfectly worn-in Levis, and just knowing they’re yours, and yours alone. They want to be filled with tobacco and smoked without excess ceremony. They’re the pipe equivalent of an old hound that always wants to go with you for a ride, even if it’s just to the grocery store. They become friends, not just trophies. When it comes to pipes that offer the most smoking pleasure, the latest and greatest isn’t always the bestest.

It’s the comfortable pipes, the ones we reach for and smoke most often, that are destined to become our greatest smokers, providing we get off on the right foot to begin with. Years of smoking makes them richer, more distinctively flavorful, and smoothes out any rough edges. Over time, we get to know these pipes better, which tobaccos perform best with them, what packing methods suit them, or their preferred smoking pace. They offer more than just pretty charm. They are more than baubles.

When we return from our dalliances and get back to those old friends, there may be a moment or two of awkwardness. The first puffs might present us with just a tinge of stale resentment for our disregard, but soon enough, we’re walking in step, forgiven for our neglect, and celebrating our reunion with a satisfyingly rich smoke.

Some of my new acquaintances will grow to become old friends, and that’s what it’s all about. The only thing better than a new pipe, or a new friend, is an old one.

Your turn.


Since 1999, Gregory L. Pease has been the principal alchemist behind the blends of G.L. Pease Artisanal Tobaccos. He’s been a passionate pipeman since his university days, having cut his pipe teeth at the now extinct Drucquer & Sons Tobacconist in Berkeley, California. Greg is also author of The Briar & Leaf Chronicles, a photographer, recovering computer scientist, sometimes chef, and creator of The Epicure’s Asylum.

See our interview with G. L. Pease here.

All photos copyright and courtesy G. L. Pease from his personal collection. Opening photo is a Barling Guinea Grain Bent Bulldog.

24 Responses

  • Loved the article, Mr. Pease! Change a few nouns here and there and one would think you were describing a new romantic interest! Ummm… Maybe that was your point! 🙂

  • Great article- we must be very similar, I thought you were writing about me in several instances! You are spot on regarding the “old friend” pipes- one of my great “old friends” is a smallish Longchamp purchased used (but cleaned) from a dealer years ago. While my little Longchamp isn’t beautiful to the eye, it’s unbelievably comfortable and is an absolute champ virginia smoke (all new Va’s pass through the LC first!). Very interesting, our relationship with our pipes!

  • Ha, thanks Greg with providing this pipeman with a resonant chuckle. Always a pleasure reading your missives. And, as usual, a spot on view of the deep, singular relationship between a man and his pipe(s). Cheers, Kashmir.

  • Greg, you have described the feelings I am also so used to have… nice to see I am not the only one with these kind of rituals. Thanks for your always awesome words.

  • Wow, Greg, I love your style of writing. I too am similar in my getting aquainted with a pipe, new or otherwise. A friend of mine passed away about Six months ago and his wife gave me all his pipes close to forty of them. Now, of course I was blown away at the privelege and honour to have them. The most incredible thing was that he had stopped smoking when he met his wife in 1973!
    Getting aquainted with them one at a time and choosing what to smoke in each one as I progressed through their ranks demanded absolute Reverence. There were about six or eight magic Inch and Areospheres in the bunch. I gave each one of them what I think was a fair shot.They just didn’t tickle my fancy at all. Rather than toss them I gently boxed them up and put them away for when their intended purpose might be more appreciated in later years. At fifty five years old I figure I have alot more years before I reach ‘later’ years.
    There are some Everymans, Grabows with stingers before they were made to take those God awful psper filters, a few MM cobs,a couple Savinelli’s and a few Jobeys. There were a few that hadn’t even been smoked which demanded reverence and full attention and appreciation. One Jobey I have yet to smoke, it’s still in he velvet sleve in the original box. It’s almost too beautiful to even take a flame anywhere NEAR it but someday, maybe, there will be an occasion to fire the old boy up with whatever I consider ‘holy grail’ at the time to smoke. At the same time it was very difficult to chose what to smoke in the others. I considered smoking what I am most familiar with or, maybe something entirely new to me so that myself and my new friend could establish a unique personal relationship. Gregg let me tell you, smoking a friend’s 35+year old pipes and knowing they hadn’t been smoked for so long was and is still humbling to say the least. I agree that there is unspeakable reverence that only fellow Brothers of Briar can appreciate in getting aquainted with a pipe.

    [Editor’s note: Fixed spelling on Greg’s name as it only has 1 letter G at the end. Correct = Greg. Incorrect = Gregg.]

  • It’s all too true. We are fickle creatures, wont to searching for new interest. And yet when that new interest is found, the newness wears off and we are met with the realization that it was only a new aspect of something we had all along.
    Nicely written, Greg

  • It’s funny. I had the same comment to Greg when he turned in the article that I tought he was describing me.

  • Hei Greg, this is a thrill…
    I almost thought it was me you were describing…
    Fantastic article as ever.
    Love your writing.

  • Hei Greg, this is a thrill…
    I almost thought it was me you were describing…
    But then… it has to be me…
    Fantastic article as ever.
    Love your writing.

  • Thanks for weighing in. I have a feeling these thoughts might be shared by more than a few of us with the “disorder.” 😉

  • My therapis (the wife) has sucssesfully restrained my pad so that it is not as progressed as yours. However I feel I can relate.
    Great article glp. Keep up the great work.

  • Still consider myself in the infant stages of PAD, but I can definitely relate to the different tones of the story. Excellently written!

  • “….while others almost demand a protracted courtship. Those latter ones, the high-maintenance …., are usually the expensive ones, the more strikingly beautiful ones…. They have their charms, of course, a sometimes powerful attraction…”
    As cortezattic says – very revealing about many aspects of life!
    “Then, one day, we’re reminded. We see them … those old faithfuls, and they beckon, “What about us? We’ve been pressed into fine service for years. Why have you been ignoring us?” Why, indeed?
    There’s something really special about those old, experienced … ones that have been through it with us, that know our quirks”
    It’s called growing older!
    I’ve missed out on too many beautiful moments by being hesitant and now, I just rip the package open (insert parallel life experiences!) and certainly never wait to try them out; new pipes get more than their fair share of attention but the time comes when they too become good friends (all those old Levi’s were new once)

  • What’s funny for me, is that my collection has grown fast. I have a couple of pipes that I bought when I first started smoking that I’m finally finding again. But with all of the new friends I’ve acquired, they are all making their way into my life as a pipe smoker.
    Great article, Greg!

  • Wow! Perfectly put, now I can tell my wife and non smoking friends its not just me,
    Great article.

  • It felt good to hear about those pipes that are not necessarily the most expensive or rare but that are the unspoken hero

  • Great article Greg!! Am I the only one that can tell the sound of the Big Brown truck coming down the street??? O the anticipation!!!!!!!!

  • I remember the days when I used to order things by snail mail. As soon as I’d drop the order in the mail slot I’d rush straight home to see if it had arrived yet. Well… it always worked that way for Wiley Coyote.

  • It is wonderful to know I am not alone as I sit in my Lounge and enjoy a new pipe for the first time. I may not have another person sitting with me but it sounds as if a bunch of us have the same feelings about this experience.