This year’s “St. Louis Pipe Show” took place February 19, 2011, and PipesMagazine.com Publisher, Kevin Godbee was in attendance to cover the show. The show is remarkably in it’s 23rd year, and the official name of the show is, “The Gateway Area Pipe Show and Swap“. Organized by The St. Louis Pipe Club, the show was held at the Heart of St. Charles Banquet Center, in St. Charles, MO.
The well-appointed banquet hall was about a 15 – 20 minute drive from the St. Louis Airport. The show is a 1-day event on Saturday, but as you can imagine, it can evolve into a full weekend for many that travel and stay at the official show hotel; the Quality Inn & Suites. The hotel had smoking rooms and was just across the street making it a 15-minute walk, or a 5-minute drive to the banquet center. The hotel offered a free full breakfast with choices of eggs, sausage, waffles, coffee, juices, fruits and yogurts. The reasonable rates combined with the free breakfast certainly helped allow for a bigger budget for buying pipes and tobacco at the show.
On Friday night, the St. Louis Pipe Club had a Hospitality Suite that was filled with pipe smokers enjoying the camaraderie, which was lubricated not only with the relaxedness of the pipe smoking, but also the self-serve open bar. Prior to enjoying the hospitality suite, there were several restaurants within a minute or so walk, including a steakhouse, Chinese, Japanese, and the author’s favorite; Mexican cuisine.
Show organizers Jay Milton, Bob Callaway and the entire St. Louis Pipe Club put on an impressive show. They filled all the tables in the room, and even had an overflow of tables into the lobby. During the first half of the day, one could barely walk down the aisles unencumbered from the jam-packed crowd of pipe and tobacco aficionados. Smoking was permitted on the show floor and shopping while smoking went non-stop for the duration of the show from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.
The pipe hobby, in the past two years has seen a noticeable influx of younger entrants in general, and this was certainly maintained and evident at the The Gateway Area Pipe Show and Swap. There were several 20-somethings in the crowd of buyers, and some, while old enough to smoke in Missouri (18 is the minimum smoking age there), would be too young to legally consume alcohol. It’s pleasing to see this trend of the younger generation’s interest in pipe smoking continuing so the hobby may live on after the old torchbearers have departed.
Pipe Smoking is Being Enjoyed by More Members of the Younger Generation
There were so many people with tables of pipes and tobaccos that comprised such an astronomical amount of products, that it was impossible to talk to everybody before the day was over. Plus, it would make for an article longer than anyone would read, so here is our specific coverage of a few of the exhibitors at the Gateway Area Pipe Show and Swap in St. Charles, MO. (We are trying to profile exhibitors that previous pipe show articles have not included. See links at the end of the article for past pipe show coverage.)
S. E. Thile Pipes
Scott Thile (pronounced like “feely”, but with a “th”), from Murray, KY has been making pipes for about six years, and has been coming to the show in St. Louis ever since. When asked what motivated him to become a pipe maker, Scott replies; “I love woodworking. I have been a pipe smoker for a long time, so I just loved the idea of making a pipe, just for myself and in the process of doing that, fell in love with it.” Scott currently works on pipes part-time, and his full time job is as a piano technician / piano tuner. He has been averaging a production level of about 30 pipes a year, but this year hopes to make about 50 pipes. Part of the increase is from a club project for the Greater Kansas City Pipe Club where the club will take ownership of 25 pipes.
All S. E. Thile Pipes are individually handmade with most of the briar coming from Italy. However, some of Thile’s pipes are made from Algerian, Grecian, and Corsican briar as well. When asked if he has a signature shape, he initially refers to the Smooth Egg and … “sometimes it’s more of an apple shape bowl, depending on how the wood, which kind of dictates where it’s going to end up. It’s got kind of a square shank and a nice flowing grain flowing out of the bird’s eye here and then up into the straight ring here and then up in the bird’s eye around at the top and that ended up being a really popular shape for me. So I’ve got a lot of people requesting that shape, – but I also do a lot of bull dogs, with my own different take on a traditional bull dog. It really sort of runs the gambit for me right now, but trying to do some standard shapes and some more Freehand.”
Thile pipes range in price … “from $295 for a nice blast with some character to it and maybe an accent, hardwood accent or ivy accent on, or something like that would be, in the upper $200 price range and on up to about $500 for a really super nice smooth pipe. I like the idea of staying in a really accessible price range in terms of a good quality pipe.”
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In addition to pipe making, Thile is also the founder of the pipe wiki site, Pipedia.org, and you can see his pipes at SEThilePipes.com
Pipemaker Colin Rigsby of Dallas, Texas has been making pipes for 5-years, and although he has exhibited at other pipe shows, this was his first St. Louis show. Rigsby has 21-years of experience in the printing industry, and has been a professional musician as a bassist playing a custom-made 6-string. When asked what the catalyst was to become a pipemaker, Rigsby tells his story …
“Well, I grew up around pipe smokers, kind of the same story everybody else has as far as that goes. My father is a pipe smoker, I have some friends that are. Once I decided not to pursue music seriously anymore, I needed a creative outlet. I noodled around with model making and other things, archery, you name it.
I was doing a few other things and I still enjoy those things. But what really attracted me to the whole pipe thing was the history behind the pieces. I really draw a lot of inspiration from old English wood. I have a lot of respect for Danish carvers and the Italians and so forth, but I really gravitated towards old designs. And maybe that’s not cutting edge, but it’s just what I’m drawn to and I really enjoy it. My work reflects a little bit of all styles, I try not to do too much of one thing and I do get a lot of inspiration from many areas, but my main inspiration comes from the old Comoys and Dunhills. It’s very elegant and classic and it will never get old.”
Rigsby makes 25 – 30 pipes a year that typically range in price from $200 to $400. Custom orders can fall out side that range depending on the specifications.
See more of Colin Rigsby’s pipes at his website: ShurewoodBriarPipes.com.
Bobby Nesbitt, Two Friends Pipes
Estate pipes have been quite popular for many years with the obvious benefit being a significant reduction in price from what the same pipe sold for as new. Two Friends Pipes specializes in estate pipes, (and occasionally new pipes). Some of the pipe makers they cover include; Sixten Ivarsson, S. Bang, Rad Davis, Bo Nordh, and Nanna Ivarsson. They also include brands such as; Castello, Charatan, Dunhill, Peterson, Tsuge and even Peterson and Savinelli amongst others.
Their selection of available estate pipes is currently around 100 with another 600 in the process of going up on their website.
Two Friends does a complete restoration using buffing machines, cleaning the shanks and stems, and reaming the bowls if needed. “We try to leave a little cake in there; I don’t bring it back to bare wood. But I’m set up to do all that, so when you get a pipe from us, it’s clean, sanitized, and ready. I’ve been doing this for nine years, but I’ve been a pipe smoker for over 30.”
See available pipes at: TwoFriendsPipes.com.
Some of the pipes available from Two Friends Pipes …
Larrysson Pipes & Askwith Pipes
Paul Larrysson-Hubartt was represented by his parents Nicky and Larry. They were also showing Askwith Pipes as Chris Askwith is Paul’s apprentice. Paul was born in Iceland, formerly based in Indiana, (USA) and now lives in Cornwall, England. Both Larrysson and Askwith Pipes are hand-made in England.
Larrysson Pipes was showcasing a specially designed group of pipes for the St. Louis show in a woodland theme including an acorn, and tree bark.
Larrysson turns out about 200 pipes a year ranging in price from $250 to $450. Some retailers stock the pipes, and they can also viewed and ordered from his website: LarryssonPipes.com. Askwith Pipes can be found at: AskwithPipes.com
Bob Oswald – Whitewood Leather
Whitewood Leather of Overland Park, KS was exhibiting a incredibly eye-catching line of pipe and tobacco accessories made of leather and exotic skins, including ostrich, elephant, kangaroo, ring lizard, snakes, alligator, eel, fish, and lambskin. All of their products are hand-made in the USA. Whitewood Leather’s line includes snap pipe rests and lighter cases, but we focused on the extensive and impressive line of tobacco pouches.
Bob gave us a quick rundown of his merchandise; “Ostrich skins are $125. We’ve got elephant for $150. Toads are real popular; those are $60. Cobra skins are $50, or $75 with the head. Eel skins are $80. Shark skin, that’s $75. Kangaroo, is $80. Most of the fish skins, are $50. We do also embossed cowhides and lambskins. This one’s cowhide tortoise shell. We’ve got cowhide embossed alligator for $45 – $50. We’ve got pipe bags for $12 to $20. Pipe cleaner cases for $10. Lighter cases for $10 to $25. Pipe rests for anywhere from $5 to $10.
Shop and browse at WhitewoodLeather.com.
Russ Cook Pipes
Russ Cook from Mt Pleasant, Michigan has been making pipes for 15-years and he will be our last stop on the St. Louis Pipe Show tour.
The author was getting anxious to take off his journalist hat and switch into pipe hobbyist mode, so I rapid-fired a barrage of questions all at once, and let Russ take it from there… How did you get into pipe making, how long have you been doing it, how many pipes do you make a year, and what’s special about your pipes?
Russ Cook: “I got into making pipes after I started smoking pipes probably about 15 years ago. I started making pipes at first on a small scale for about five years. The last eight years has been large scale as far as hand cut stems and lot nicer materials. What’s special about my pipes? I pay a lot of attention to detail, a lot of attention to the engineering to the internal parts. I’ve had very good reviews from customers that I’ve had. I really try to make the pipes look really nice flowing-wise and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It’s more of a hobby than a full time thing for me because I’ve got a full time job so…”
PM.com: What’s your regular job?
Russ: I work at a factory making restaurant equipment, stainless steel kind of things, and a lot of different stuff we do. So I don’t get time to make a lot of pipes. I do very small numbers, last year I made 27 and that’s a pretty big year for me.
Prices range from $250 to $400. Most of the briar is from Italy, my stems are ebonite or Cumberland. I do tend to start dabbling into Michigan Morta and sunken logs from the Great Lakes that’s been down there for years and years and years. That’s something I just started last year.
Check out Russ’ website at: PipesbyRussCook.com.
We’ll leave you with a few more photos from the The Gateway Area Pipe Show and Swap.
Thanks to “PipeDude” for letting me hangout in his room and smoke & drink until after midnight. I purchased the 1930’s Kaywoodie pipe he is holding, along with another one.