Stay Right Here, ‘Cause These Are The Good Old Days

Russ Ouellette
The title of this article might seem familiar;
it’s the last full line from Carly Simon’s Anticipation, and it got me thinking the other evening. I had seen a display of Pepsi’s Throwback on the shelves and remembered how different the old cane sugar blend tasted as compared to the one made with corn syrup. And then my thoughts drifted to other things like cars only using unleaded gas, how hard it is to find some old favorite items, like Teaberry gum and why cold cuts don’t taste as good as they used to.

It just seems that many, if not most things have changed in recent years, and in a number of instances, not for the better. Sure, we have better technology and things work so much faster than the old models did, but we’ve sacrificed durability for disposability and repairing electronics is basically unheard of; just throw it away and buy a new one.

We have space age non-stick surfaces for cookware only to find out that the most trouble-free non-stick pan is a well-seasoned cast iron one. The more choices I have for new programming on TV, the more I find myself watching reruns and older movies because the new stuff seems so trite and overtly commercial.

If this all comes across like the lead-in to a Jerry Seinfeld monologue, it should, since it felt like I was channeling him as I went through all these memories, lamenting things that had changed or disappeared. So, of course, I began to look at my livelihood, and how things are definitely different than when I began in the seventies, and if things have changed a lot in the last forty years, they don’t even resemble the way they were from a couple of centuries ago.

In the early days of pipe smoking, most pipes were made of whatever materials were readily available, and were usually made by the smoker or someone local. There are a number of examples of pipes made of clay, cherrywood, combinations of stone and wood, corncobs and many other materials. Pipe tobacco was often locally grown, and the variety was quite limited. As the 1800s arrived, a new material entered the picture- meerschaum. This light, white, gold or pink hued material was a good choice as it was easy to carve, attractive and heat-resistant. Most of these pipes were, and are, of foreign manufacture, making the availability spotty and the prices, at times, rather prohibitive.

By the middle of the 19th century, briar began to be made into pipes in France, and more varieties of tobacco became available, and some European products started making their way into the U.S. In the latter part of the 1800s some brands began to be distributed nationally, and the diversity of available items grew rapidly. During this time, the image of pipe smokers also began to change to one of sophistication and calm, which drew more people to take it up. The very image of gentility was the British gentleman, who was characterized by the bowler, bumbershoot, suit with waistcoat and the ever-present pipe.

The cigarette started making greater inroads around the time of World War I, as they were easier to use and didn’t last as long which made them more convenient when time was limited, but the smoke of choice was still the pipe. U.S. brands like KBB, which began to be distributed more or less nationally by the 1880s, were very popular and brands like Dunhill started to become available in this country. Blends containing Oriental tobaccos, Latakia and Perique were more plentiful, and pipe smoking as a pastime and hobby, rather than a habit, developed.

Pipe smoking was still strong through World War II and right on until the mid-seventies, when a precipitous drop-off began, but during that period, some legendary pipes and tobaccos were commonly found in smokeshops. The pipes included Dunhill, Charatan, Sasieni, Barling, GBD, Kaywoodie, Comoy’s among many others along with the influx of Danish-made products in the latter part of this period. Great tobaccos lined tobacconists shelves, like Rattray’s, Dunhill, John Cotton’s, the various Sobranies, Four Square, Marcovitch, Three Nuns and the list goes on and on.

By the latter seventies the decline in pipe smoking became so noticeable that a number of these companies began to fail and some of these beloved brands started to disappear, much to the chagrin of long-time pipesters everywhere. The downturn continued through the eighties and nineties, and things looked bleak for the hobby. Then things changed partly because of a subculture from an unexpected place- the United States.

In the last 30 years or so, American pipe makers have stormed onto the scene and have been recognized worldwide for their craftsmanship. People like Elliott Nachwalter, J.T. Cooke, Paul Bonacquisti, Lee Von Erck, Bruce Weaver, Brad Pohlmann, Jeff Gracik, Rad Davis among so many others raised the level of artisanship of U.S. pipemakers to a parallel with craftsmen from anywhere.

Some of the best quality and most innovative tobaccos during this period have come from companies such as McClelland, Cornell & Diehl, Altadis and G.L. Pease, plus a number of smaller "boutique" manufacturers. The newfound supplies of some Oriental varietals and the resurgence of Perique processing have aided in this movement, and the market currently has the widest variety of blends in memory.

With the myriad choices that today’s pipe smoker has, the hobby is seeing a new spark of life. We’re seeing a not-inconsiderable group of college age adults recognize the enjoyment and serenity that pipe smoking can provide. These new smokers are finding themselves in the middle of a new "golden age", and they’re probably not even aware of it.

Having started in the tobacco industry in the mid-seventies, when pipe smoking was still fairly strong, but starting to decline, I’m encouraged by the wonderful pipes being made and the top-notch blends being produced. There’s no doubt in my mind that in another 20 or 30 years, people will use the same reverent tones in speaking of today’s pipes and tobaccos that we "old guys" use in reference to many of our past favorites.

I may miss some of the lines of pipes I used to enjoy and I still wax nostalgic about a bowl of Bengal Slices, but in my years of being a pipe smoker, I look upon today as the new "good old days".


Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe and in Albany, NY. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at or by calling 1-800-494-9144 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm and Friday from 1 pm to 5 pm.

See our interview with Russ Ouellette Here


39 Responses

  • Great morning read with a gentle perspective on the yesterday vs. today thing.
    The article title though…. “Anticipation” has become todays brainworm! Not a bad thing really (-:

  • Really Nice article! It makes me want to either try some new tobaccos or just smoke my pipe in general. Cursed canker sore…

  • I’ve wondered if the throwback Pepsi line is a test to see how it’s received since corn syrup’s reputation has been (rightfully, imo) tarnished.
    I haven’t been smoking a pipe for very long (and was only 2 years old by the time 1980 rolled around) but I can already see myself missing a few blends if they were to disappear.
    I do feel fortunate to have picked up the hobby at a time when the craftsmanship seems to be at a high and NOT taken for granted.

  • I can’t think of a time since the late 1960’s when I first took up the pastime, that pipe smokers had a greater variety of, and easier access to, pipes and tobaccos. This is due in no small part to internet marketing and social networking. I have enjoyed “my” good old days, and the celebrated blends that have since gone by the wayside; but I revel in our current golden age of tobacco too. Thanks for contributing to and sponsoring — a seminal publication in the industry, and springboard to the bounty we currently enjoy.

  • Great article. I wish I could have experienced the days when smoking was something everyone did.

  • I feel very fortunate to have been born in the U.S. at this special part in time where I am able to enjoy such a dawnting amount of variety. The choices are overwhelming. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Good job on the article.

  • This is not unlike the way we carry on when we see a classic automobile, but there is absolutely no doubt that the most reliable cars ever built are the ones being built today.
    There are more great pipe carvers to day than ever before. Sure we miss the work of some of the giants who have passed on, but there are giants working today.

  • From your article is to feel the sentiment, but there is also a great hope for the future. It is the cycle of life. Good things always had and have a chance of success and the people they always find a way to them. Thanx for your article Russ!

  • Enjoyed the whole article and its sentiments.Studying the past is always helpful to understanding the present and future.

  • Great read, Russ! I also started smoking a pipe in the ’70’s, and was in the business for about 8 years (Tinder Box) starting around ’78, so I can relate to what you’re saying. I also miss some of the old blends that are gone now, especially my beloved Bengal Slices. I recently acquired some Bengal slices from a friend from the late ’80’s, and savor a bowl once in a while when I want something really special. But the good news is we do have so many good blends to chose from now, and pipe smoking is on the upswing again.

  • I can only imagine what the expression on my face must have looked like when I was smoking Bengal Slices, the Sobranies, John Cotton’s 1 & 2, etc. That’s one of the reasons that I have so much fun at pipe shows because I get to see the look on other peoples’ faces when I can tell that they’ve become enamored with one of my blends. It’s that same flush of satisfaction and happiness you get when the folks at the cookout rave about your spare ribs.

  • You did it again Russ..Great Article!!! I started a pipe somewhere around the 60’s in high school but never got it down to a science until college. And I am still learning more and more from people like you. Thanx again for a good read…..

  • Great perspective, Russ. I enjoyed it. I suppose we are in the early days of a golden era, if only in the pipes and tobacco and virtual socialization. Everybody keep up the good work, and perhaps it might arrive for all to see.

  • Great story Russ! I have attended a lot of pipe shows in recent years and each time I go, it is a friendly reminder of some of the great things of the past, BUT, I truly think that we ARE in the best of times in the pipe and tobacco world right now. We have hundreds of great blends available to us and a huge crop of great pipe makers. These are the good old days!

  • It’s a sadness for Brit’s that our industry has so declined; the good side is the US blenders picking up the torch. Just the Revenoor’s obstructing us now!

  • I guess this article must have hit home with a number of you, and that makes it all worthwhile. I can’t express strongly enough my appreciation of Mike and Mary McNiel, Greg Pease and Craig Tarler for driving the artisanal pipe tobacco market and creating a path for those of us who have followed. The American pipe crafters who have brought a new level of workmanship and creativity to this side of the pond are also largely responsible for the feelings I expressed. Maybe I’m being a bit too optimistic, but I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

  • I don’t so much lament the blends of the past as I do all the blends of the present that I will probably never have time to get to in my limited days on this planet. We are certainly blessed to be saddled with the curse of so many blends!

  • I’ve been a pipe smoker for over 50 years and remember the many now-departed blends that I enjoyed in solitary content. Now it is much more pleasurable to try the many blends that you have created with cohorts at our Pipe Club that get a great explanation of the intermarriage between different types of tobaccos.Thanks Russ for the education and the camaraderie at our meetings-we are very lucky to have you.

  • Great article, Russ. For years, my local pipe shop only carried standard shapes by GBD, Savinelli, and some other mainstays. The only unusual shapes were Danish freehands and I still have a couple from the 70s. Today, there are so many excellent carvers in so many countries – even the US! I no longer am confined by what my local store carries, I can buy new, used and skillfully refurbished “antiques” with a few keystrokes. What a deal. Local artisans can market their creations worldwide. We old timers can truly appreciate how this has expanded the options in pipes (and tobaccos), but I try to patronize my local stores too. I’ve seen numerous shops close up and that is sad, so I encourage my younger friends to patronize the local stores in addition to Internet dealers. It is a great time for us pipe smokers.

  • A very pleasant article and made me think of the late sixties when tobacco stores had more pipes than cigars. My local shop now isn’t really worth visiting. Pipes and a very limited selection of tobaccos are considered an afterthought and end up in a distant dusty corner.
    I especially remember Demuth’s (sp?) in Lancaster, PA, supposedly the oldest pipe store in the Americas.
    And Smoker’s Haven in Columbus with what had to be the largest selection of GBD’s in the country. I ordered tobacco (Pure Pleasure and others)whne I was stationed in Viet Nam – No internet, just a sticky, dusty envelope and quick return service.
    Does anyone know where I can buy “Richmonds Navy Cut”? I bought in Germany in the late sixties and recently picked up a tin while on vacation. ($18.00US !!)

  • Great article, I’m glad I live i Denmark, where we have such a rich numbers of good and exelent tobacos.

  • Mr.Ouellette, writes an interesting perspective. I too am a pipe smoker (on and off) for more than 30 years. The internet has been an excellent source of information as well as a virtual pipe shop. It is still great to walk into a brick and mortar store and “sniff” around.

  • Russ, some of your remarkable blends are terrific examples that we are in a golden age of tobacco blending. You have a gift.

  • Wonderful article, and while I agree with you mainly, the two areas of pipesmoking that have suffered terribly, are public acceptance and the health of street level retailers. Without the internet pipesmoking would be as possible as home-built nuclear reactors.

  • Thanks for all the feedback. I want to wish everybody a Happy International Pipe Smoking Day. I’ll have a pipe in honor of the day, shortly.

  • A great perspective, Russ, and very true–let’s just do what we can to make sure it’s not the end of an era with obscene tobacco legislation! VOTE and use your VOICE!