Jerry L. Eischeid
There are some things that are just in ones blood. Take beer for example. In the long-gone days of my youth, I belonged to an abstemious tea-totaling church. On my very own honeymoon My Newlywed Majesty thought we should try the (free and ice-cold) beer at the end of touring a major east-coast brewery. It was a hot, humid, Virginia day in June and I wrestled with the idea. Having never had it before, I absolutely intrinsically knew that if I tried it, I would like it. I mean look at my surname! You Google that with a "de" for Deutschland and you get a tiny village of the exact same name just outside of Köln (Cologne), Germany in the region of Neunkirchen-Seelscheid! Beer is almost our middle name! Even when My Majesty and I were courting, my dad referred to her as Die Lorelei, the Rhine River golden-haired siren nymphet whose singing lured many unwary river-sailors their death on the rocks far below her perch. Anyway about the beer, I tried it, love it, and imbibe far too much of it to this day to sustain my manly-Bavarian style belly.
And then there are the pipes. My first memory of a tobacco-smoking pipe was the occasional exposition of my great-great-great-Grandfather "K’s" pipe. To ease the word-burden from here on, let me refer to this particular ancestor of mine as Pappy K. Pappy K’s pipe eventually was passed down to my mother and now resides with me. It is one of the oldest of very precious few heirlooms in our family, dating, we think, from the mid-19th century. It’s a traditional German porcelain pipe variously referred to as a porcelain wine pipe, Tyrolean pipe, Black Forest pipe, alpine folk pipe, and several other variations on those themes. Starting at the tobacco burning end of Pappy K’s pipe, there are two glazed porcelain sections, a traditionally wind-capped bowl, and what I’ve heard more than one writer refer to as the "chamber-pot" section, or "wine bowl" as some nomenclaturists posit. I’ve actually heard lore that some Germans floated a little wine in the pot to both flavor and gentle their smoke. The two porcelain sections are fired with a deep loden-green glaze highlighted with thin delicate gold lines.
The body of the bowl has a cream-bone off-white background upon which is emblazoned a mighty Berlin scene of the ever grand Brandenburger Tor, or Brandenburg Gates, which wraps its way around a panoramic full half of the entire outer circumference of the bowl. At the back of the bowl, fashioned directly from the porcelain, is a tiny "handle" that gives the wind-capped bowl the visage of a tiny beer stein. I have noticed that pipes of this type very frequently have sort of safety-keepers of loden-green cord curled through these tiny handles, spiraling around pipe-shank perhaps, and then secured at the upper end of the shank often with two ornamental wooden beads tufted with chamois or badger hair. Both porcelain sections are wedded both to each other and to the shank with cork-lined junctions, not unlike those of a clarinet or other woodwind musical instrument. The first section of shank from the porcelain is made out of cherry-wood, an actual twig of the same and still wearing its bark. This is joined by a node of whatever the 1850ish equivalent of vulcanite was to the next half of the shank, which is a tightly woven tube of black cording that is actually even a bit flexible. This terminates in another node into which a threaded removable bit is installed. The bit itself is cylindrical and not flattened out in the manner of many modern pipes and has two stops, one obviously for teeth to clench and the other a perfect distance from those to brace the lips of the lucky smoker. And there you have a description of Pappy K’s joyously well-worn grand old Teutonic badge of fraternal tobacco enjoyment.
A little over a year ago, after a lay off from pipe smoking of around 30 years, I decided to take another stab at it. And in so doing, decided that I should indulge my heritage and find a pipe to smoke as close to Pappy K’s as possible, his being too fragile, revered, and precious to risk. So after very little effort indeed, I was the proud owner of a brand new, eminently smoke-able as the ad said, old-world style German porcelain wine pipe! I had two things against me, first I was nearly a total neophyte as to method and technique of pipe-smoking in general, and secondly, in my humble opinion now, a traditional German folk pipe is NOT the best place to start. They are in some respects stealthy demonic monsters. They are hard to light, hard to keep going, hard to maintain, very easy to break, even easier upon which to burn yourself on hot porcelain in the manner of grabbing the wrong end of a soldering iron, and so on. Not only that, but at the beginning I could only get a mildly decent burn going if the darn thing was fully loaded… i.e. oh, about six ounces of tobacco per bowl! Not cost-efficient in the pleasure department these days. So I set the new porcelain Krautie aside, read the e-zines, the blogs, the books, and watched the tubes… and learned the basics on some very nice, reasonable, respectable, and actually quite satisfactory briar pipes. I also learned, much to My Majesty’s dismay but loving tolerance, about the thrill of PAD and TAD. But the ancient Germanic gravitations still beckoned.
Eventually a vision began to brew in my head about the possibility and potentials of having my very own custom pipe made for my very self according to my own exact tastes and bizarre ideas. I put together a brief proposal to send to several pipe-makers that went something like this: "I am very partial to something configured using the old German porcelain "wine pipe" as inspiration. Full-bentish. ca 13" total length. But made with modern materials, briar, and exotic contrasting woods. I love the 2-section bottoms of GWPs… and can imagine them realized in briar. I really like both free-handy/plateau briar bowls. I’ve seen some antler pieces worked in beautifully and like that. And finally I am totally a 9mm charcoal filter man and must have that feature built in. Is this something that might interest you? What might this cost? Etc."
In addition to the others, I had the good fortune to find Creative Briar Pipes by Al Perkowski. On his pipe gallery page, Al had an original pipe style he calls a "Ramses", one of his best-selling types. I was instantly struck how the pharaonic-crown style of the bowl would make a perfect briar bottom for a modern realization of the traditional German motif. Al also is an enthusiast for utilizing beautiful lathe-turned and highly polished stag-horn in several different ways, which he suggested immediately for use in the shank of our Deutsch-Geist pipe. Right away I thought this an inspired idea! There is much in German lore about one Saint Hubertus who converted to a pious life after being confronted by a vision of an immense majestic stag with a huge rack of antlers, between which was a luminous crucifix from which he heard a commanding voice calling him to a life of service. Many heraldic arms in things Germanic make a Hubertus tribute by featuring the majestically antlered stag and cross motif. Al suggested stag-horn sections for the shank using cross-grained turned palm-wood for the ends and ornamented with three rings of briar matching the briar of the bowl section. The palm-wood sections have a rich dark brown color punctuated by black specks. And the shank is topped with a hand-turned full-bent stem. You can see the results in the pictures.
Al uses only the highest quality Grecian, Algerian, and Italian plateau briar and his positioning and treatment of the magnificent flame grain in this custom pipe is pure genius. You can view it from the front of the bowl to back or vice versa and either way, deep blazing flames terminate in beautifully boiling bird’s eye roils. Al said of creating this pipe, "I found this pipe to be very interesting to build. I think it captures the German Porcelain Wine Pipe concept nicely." Al’s genius even extended to such thoughtful but invisible features as mounting the shank on a hollow Delrin rod to both stabilize and strengthen that section and also protect the precious exotic woods and stag horn from discoloration from the inside out over time. I am truly amazed and delighted by how my custom pipe’s concept evolved and came to be what I am sure will be not only a most precious possession to me, but possibly a future heirloom imbued with the awe and gravitas Pappy K’s pipe had for me as a youngster. I must also tell you that the Al Perkowski pipe is a magnificent smoker with a lovely easy draw and a natural coolant/condensing system by virtue of its length that makes smoking it a complete joy. Also I found that once we got started, I couldn’t stop short, so I asked Al to make me a matching tamper and pipe-stand out of the same materials! Magnificent! I must also say that one of the premier joys of this custom pipe adventure for me was working with Al Perkowski who is as fine and professional a gentleman as there can be, and himself the quintessential pipester. He embodies all the old American-school values of customer service and satisfaction, is eminently precise, punctual, and immediate in his communications, and in short, is a return to many American ways that are now largely lost most places!
Finally, let me divulge a few unanticipated thrills I’ve reaped from my new modern-ancient pipus germanicus. I confess that I am a card-carrying out-of-the-closet lover of aromatic pipe tobaccos. Give me that magnificent decadent dessert soaked cavendish-laden sweet Virginia triple A burley Better-Than-Sex-Cake Blend and I am in seventh heaven. Like a great many men my age, I had uncles, cousins, grandfathers and significant mature men all through my youth that smoked aromatics. When I smell those heavenly wafts out there, I might not be able to tell you a specific brand or blend but a fine and delicious aromatic pipe tobacco flips so many memory, nostalgia, and ambience switches in my brain it is truly amazing. And my own personal chief enjoyment in pipe-smoking is the aroma! Which brings me back to my custom German-style pipe! It is a gigantic boon to enjoying the aroma of your tobacco, whichever style you choose and prefer. There is something about the bowl being over a foot away from your face that allows you to really wallow and rejoice in the marvelous bouquet of the smoke, almost as an objective observer! Another unexpected major advantage is that, because of the length of the pipe, you can see clearly down into the bowl upon light-up. Actually seeing how well the light is going has allowed me to at least half the time of flame to bowl, a great advantage in not scorching the rim. It’s the same after tamping and for relights… you can see exactly what you’re doing and control it accordingly. There is nothing about this custom pipe that I do not like! And in terms of its heft and solidity, should I ever need to improvise a defensive weapon, I’m covered!
The creation and acquisition of this custom pipe has been a great adventure for me that has superbly exceeded all my expectations in the immense pleasure, joy, and sheer exuberance of calling some of the creative shots, working with such a congenial and master pipe-maker as Al, and then embracing the results to have and to hold and to enjoy most likely ‘til death do us part! To anyone who covets such an amiable and pleasant adventure, I wholeheartedly commend it!
About the Author
Jerry is a para-pseudo-retired musician and music educator whose primary instrument, not surprisingly, was the PIPE-organ. (No, seriously!) He holds boundless post-graduate credits that led nowhere and a Master of Divinity degree, the very name of which makes him laugh every time. He presently plays tuba locally (what a pipe that would make!), works on his infinite and eternal Honey-Do list, and enjoys interludes between all that with a fine pipe and tobacco on a woodsie back-porch next to a mesmerizing gurgling fountain.