Like it or not, the holidays start earlier every year. Now that I’ve officially entered my Grumpy Old Man period, this serves as an opportunity for me to interject, "Bah, humbug!" immediately after Halloween, perhaps even on the same night. Don’t even get me started on the holiday music. On the bright side, it also means retailers offer substantial incentives to kickstart the seasonal spending spree, so in the interest of pragmatism, this holiday wish list is offered in a timely fashion.
Pipe enthusiasts are actually a cinch to shop for, being the type of hobbyist for whom reason is often a distant memory when confronted with, say, an unsmoked 1922 Dunhill with pristine first-run nomenclature to be had for a song–say, the mortgage, or the kids’ college fund. We’re passionate in our way with these silly stumps of burning wood or clay, and our loved ones hopefully love us for these quirks. Of course, the glaringly obvious gift is a pipe–we could always use just one more, and even the cheapest pipe becomes priceless to the recipient when gifted. We can also be very particular about our pipes, though, so suffice it to say you’ll have to do your own research into their likes and dislikes if you plan on gifting a pipe to that special someone. But pipes alone aren’t the only thing the piper in your life would appreciate; let’s look at a few more holiday options, and please add your suggestions to the comments section for more great gift ideas!
Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor. –William Cowper
1 First, go for the obvious choice: tobacco. It’s a no-brainer, clearly. What piper wouldn’t love more tobacco? Helping a friend stock their cellar with several tins of their favorite blend, or perhaps seeking out that peculiar hard-to-find blend like Semois, Tambolaka, or Penzance, is a treat that every pipe lover will appreciate. Maybe you can expand their palate with a variety pack of blends–ask a local tobacconist for a selection from their stock, or try one of the packaged samplers of tins from blenders like Cornell & Diehl, Peterson, or Hearth & Home. Additionally, many blenders offer limited-time holiday mixtures–classics like McClelland’s Christmas Cheer and Peterson’s Holiday are always tops on my list. And if you’re a piper too, trying new blends together is a wonderful gift to share during the holiday festivities. Don’t forget some Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipes–they make perfect stocking stuffers for sampling.
2 If you want to take the game up a notch, surprise them with a vintage tin of their favorite tobacco. Fans of blends that have been around for a good long while, and there are quite a few of those brands, would certainly cherish a tin of tobacco that might be as old and wise as they are. Good tobacco changes over time, and often in wonderful ways that simply cannot be replicated. Vintage prices can exceed current values by orders of magnitude, and thus it makes a perfect gift of extravagance for a loved one. This suggestion comes with a caveat, however–the vintage tin market can be intimidating for the uninitiated; it is suggested for folks with some experience in pipes or the antiques and auction markets, preferably both. Several sponsors and esteemed members of the PipesMagazine.com community are established consignors and retailers with vintage stock, and can take the guesswork out of the equation for neophytes–join the forum discussions and get to know them!
3 Now where to store those vintage tins? For a great utilitarian gift, think cellaring supplies. If you’re here reading this, it’s a safe bet that the piper in your life has already contracted the condition known as TAD, or Tobacco Acquisition Disorder. For modest collections, a nice cabinet or end table makes a perfect storage solution and can be found readily; for extensive collections, additional wings on the house may be in order (I’m looking at you, Peck). Other supplies like hermetically sealable jars, watertight plastic storage bins, desiccants, and Mylar bags all make surefire gifts as well. Toss in a few bundles of pipe cleaners to wrap it all up!
4 Speaking of vintage, a fun, funky or purely functional pipe stand or rack will make them smile. There’s a good chance that if the piper in your life has more than one pipe, she’s already running out of places to put them. She’ll certainly appreciate another stand or rack; aside from their obvious utility, they can be artful accessories in their own right. If you feel like splurging, luxury brands like Dunhill offer choices that retain a good resale value, or some auction site surfing can net you a bargain on a vintage piece. Options range from very basic wooden furniture aesthetics to clever and whimsical creations in a variety of materials like ceramic, metal and plastic. Whatever the choice, your piper will know you’re thinking of them.
5 A really nice tamper is something he’ll remember with every smoke. While the average piper is always equipped with a tamper, whether it be a Czech tool or a pipe nail, or anything convenient at hand (say, a forefinger, pen, or Chapstick tube), having a really nice tamper to show off at the local tobacconist or pipe club meeting is a modest treasure that will make him smile every time he uses it. As with many of the suggestions, you can spend as much or as little as you wish on a quality tamper, from a tenner up to hundreds for precious metals and brand names.
6 A leather gentleman’s valet. Regular readers will recognize the recurring prop that often appears in my articles here at PipesMagazine.com. It’s a classic accessory item for its intended use of collecting the stuffs from our pockets at the end of the day, but repurposed as a stylish tobacco preparation tray is where it really shines. I tend to take my time and enjoy the preparation of tobacco, whether it’s a plug that needs slicing, a flake that needs rubbing, or simply a slightly moist Cavendish that needs a little airtime to dry. When preparing to visit the Chicago pipe show, I felt that carrying my trusty paper plate around wasn’t an ideal tool for the job, and so looked to a folding leather change tray that would be easy to carry along with my 5-pipe pouch, provide a place to prepare my tobacco at leisure, and look a bit classy in the process. It also serves as a built-in pipe stand, and neatly keeps my other accessories at hand–tamper, cleaners, and matches all nestle comfortably and don’t wander off. For a modest expenditure in the $20-$30 range, it’s the perfect all-rounder gift.
7 Pipesters always enjoy a good book. With a little searching, you can find a number of tomes dedicated either directly or indirectly toward the gentle art of smoking. There are fantastic small-press offerings by the likes of pipe world luminaries Gary Schrier, Fred Hanna, or Rick Newcombe, names that should be quite familiar to any savvy piper. Selections I’d recommend from my own library include Smoke: A Global History of Smoking, by Sander Gilman and Xun Zhou, and Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization, by Iain Gately; both superbly informative reads and, in the case of Smoke, a wonderfully illustrated coffee table book. And let us not forget the English language’s most notable pipe smokers, Sherlock Holmes and Mark Twain.
The quintessential gift that keeps on giving.
8 For a year’s worth of reading material, consider a gift subscription to the North American Society of Pipe Collectors. In addition to publishing both a printed and digital monthly newsletter, The Pipe Collector, the NASPC supports and promotes the art of pipe smoking with pipe clubs and events throughout the nation and all year long. Besides supporting our noble pastime, members are afforded attractive discounts at many retailers, which they’ll further appreciate year-round.
9 This one’s from my own wish list: a thick, cozy wool sweater. Just as nothing imprints on the memory like a particular smell, nothing captures the essence of pipe tobacco like a wool sweater. Unlike cigarette tobacco, which leaves an unpleasant acrid odor, pipe tobaccos, particularly aromatics, leave behind an aroma that is nostalgic, warm, and comforting. There’s something to be said for the faint aroma clinging to clothing–for the non-smokers there’s even pipe tobacco scented colognes and perfumes, as if its attractiveness were ever in doubt.
A little Alfons Mucha number I’ve had my eye on.
10 Alternatively, one may rather wish to mitigate the effects of smoke–so why not try a Lampe Berger? A common topic of conversation amongst pipers is how to cohabitate with non-enjoyers, and a common symptom in couples with an uneven number of smokers is that one is relegated to a basement room, the garage or even farther afield to enjoy their tobacco. I’ve had amazing success using a Lampe Berger; it’s a small catalytic lamp that burns a fuel of fragrance and alcohol at a very low temperature. It also releases ozone as a by-product, and will clear a room of any odors in very short order. Once used to sterilize hospital rooms, they can be had as very basic models in the thirty-dollar range, up to hundreds of dollars for antique or luxury brand names.