Defining Infinity

Fred Brown
CHICAGO—First, you have to realize that you have not died and gone to pipe heaven, and that this experience is real and there are pipes and tobaccos as far as the eye can see. You can actually touch them, pick them up, and grab some free tobacco samples. And that is only one of the more than 300 tables lined with rows of pipes of every shape and design. It is pipes and tobacco mecca.

I’m talking about the 18th Annual Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show held in the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill.

Craig Cobine, Chicago Real Estate attorney, and head honcho of the show, taking over for the venerable Frank Burla, father of the show, says most of the vendors he talked to told him they had "great or good shows."

Craig Cobine, director of the Chicago Show and Brian Levine, National Sales Manager at Brigham USA, chat with Dan Nemets of Saugatuck, Mich.

Everything is relative, of course. The big retail names did as expected, besieged by flocks of pipe hunters and gatherers. Some of the tables bedecked with pink, purple and blue pipes were left looking a bit forlorn, however.

Cobine said the show had the largest Saturday attendance in the club’s history. A good estimate of the show’s deep pull might be the value of the pipes and tobaccos on hand representing all parts of the hand-carving and manufacturing globe. That would probably run to more than $1 million in value. That, of course, is not scientific evaluation, but a WAG.

It was so crowded that it was difficult to walk down the aisles in the gargantuan Mega Center exhibition hall, which is attached to Pheasant Run Resort proper. Numbering from "100 to 900," the narrow aisles and tables were packed cheek by jowl. Even more tables were arranged around the vast walls, which seemed to go on forever. Later, watching crews clean up after the show, it appeared the exhibition center was as large as an aircraft carrier.

This is the Super Bowl of pipe shows not only in America but also the world. The Chicago Show, anxiously anticipated every year since its inception in 1996, is not only the world’s largest pipe show, but it is also probably the largest hobby show in the world.

Craig Watness, 56, of Olympia, Wash., enjoys his seventh straight Chicago Pipe Show

The first day’s attendance on Saturday was a staggering 800-plus pipe enthusiasts (another WAG) and the curious, perusing the 300-plus tables. That was Saturday, which as the first day is a bit misleading. Actually, pipe smokers and tobacco aficionados had arrived on Wednesday and were already wheeling and dealing in their rooms.

Even though the show is built around the sale of beautifully finished and artisan pipes and exquisite tobacco blends, there are numerous events to please the ardent pipe devotee who might want to learn the trade of hand carving a pipe. In addition, the show is an estate pipe lover’s dream come true.

The massive Mega Center at Pheasant Run Resort, home of the Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show

Wednesday was not only the show’s unofficial opening bell, but it also presented a pipe-making seminar in the afternoon. Thursday morning brought another pipe-making gathering, plus the International Charatan Collectors Society. To enter, each person attending the Charatan show-and-tell had to bring five Charatan pipes to the meeting.

Make no mistake, these folks are dead serious about their pipes and tobacco.

Friday is known as the "pre-show" with a pipe swap in the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club 6,000 square-foot smoking tent adjacent to the resort’s Mega Center, where most of the show events are staged.

Friday was also the kickoff of the inaugural Chicago Bowl, a competition for 12 of the nation’s top tobacco blenders hoping to win "the people’s choice award." This first year competition was an English blend contest with 12 large tubs of the tobacco on a table in the smoking tent. Sutliff Tobacco Co. sponsored the event.

Jamie Liskey, 26, lights her pipe in the Smoking Tent. She attended her first Chicago Show with her pipe-maker husband, Steve Liskey. They are from San Bernardino, Calif.

Entered in the contest were: Arango Cigar Co., Cornell & Diehl, Daughters & Ryan, G.L. Pease, Hearth & Home,, Hermit Tobacco, Iwan Ries & Co., McClelland Tobacco Co, Scandinavian Tobacco Group, and Sutliff Tobacco Co.

The winner was announced at the CPCC Pipe & Cigar Banquet Cocktail Party. The food—a variety of dishes of chicken, fish and beef, potatoes au gratin and deserts—was off the charts.

Now, the envelop please. And the winner was: Arango Cigar Co. of Northbrook, IL!

Note on Smoking Tent bulletin board. For the serious pipe collector!

In addition, Friday events included the United Pipe Clubs of America Annual Meeting, hosted by Mike "Doc" Garr, president. Also on Friday, the well-known pipe celebrity and author Rick Newcombe presented "Pipes in the Movies," put together by Rick and his brother. Newcombe narrated the series of video film clips of famous Hollywood actors smoking pipes.

Closing Friday’s events was a panel on all subjects related to pipes and tobaccos, hosted and moderated by Kevin Godbee, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The panel was composed of Garr, Brian Levine, better known as the voice of the PM Radio Show; Russ Ouellette, master blender of P&C; artisan pipe maker and the ever-dapper Steve Morrisette, pipe artisan and author of the "Gentleman Smoker" on, and Fred Brown, Pipe Pundit columnist for

The bar at the Smoking Tent was a popular stop-off before lighting a pipe or cigar

Saturday was the official opening day of the Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show in the massive 38,000 square-foot Midwest Exposition Center at Pheasant Run Resort’s Mega Center.

To call it a spectacle is just not adequate. It is difficult to absorb the show’s immenseness. This was pipes and tobacco overload. The senses rebelled. There is nothing like this on the planet and let there be no mistake, this is the Show of Shows, the Majors, the Super Bowl, all rolled into one.

Steel Drum band keeps the show moving along

Try to imagine all the pipes you have ever seen in shops, the Internet, at your local tobacconists, your buddies at the pipe club meetings, and then just start multiplying that figure repeatedly to the power of multiples.

I am not a mathematician by anyone’s imagination, let alone mine, but you will still need to add some zeroes.

This is big, bold, bodacious briar by the beaucoup. This is truckloads of tobacco Valhalla.

It is like trying to define infinity.

[All photos by Fred Brown]

Read About Several Specific New Products from The 2014 Chicago Pipe Show Here



Fred Brown
is a journalist who lives in Knoxville, TN. He will write this column for monthly. He can be contacted at


9 Responses

  • Thanks for the write up. As a fellow first-timer I was also struck by the enormity of the event and was overwhelmed at times… but that feeling faded and was replaced by pure joy. I haven’t been so happy for so many hours in a row as I was for the whole 72 hours of my trip to and from the CPCC. I’m already plotting for next year.

  • Thanks for the article Fred – I’m very jealous! definitely need to talk to the good lady about a strategically timed visit to CHicago next year. If we bring one of her friends they won’t even notice I’m gone…

  • Nice write up, Mr. Brown. Every account of the event makes it seem that much more important to try and get out there for it. Someday when I have the time and money, but accounts such as yours will stick in my brain to remind me.

  • Thanks for the article. It sounds like the operative word is “superlative”.

  • I love Fred Brown’s reports — clear, to-the-point and enthusiastic. Reading this and his other story about the Chicago show makes me realize how LITTLE I saw, even though I was there from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning! Twenty years ago I met with Frank Burla when he was first planning the show and have been to every one of them since the beginning; I have written about them in my books, yet I am always amazed at how much fun they are and how overwhelming they are, as evidenced by the fact that I read about all kinds of events that I never even saw or knew about. It would take a month to truly appreciate everything that goes on in those couple of days. At best, I saw 100 of the 300-plus tables in the Mega Center. Thanks for great stories, Fred.

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