The heart of every pipe smoker beats precipitously faster at the thought of that one go-to pipe in his or her collection.
Call it, “A Pipe for All Seasons.”
Now, the heavens aren’t going to open with a magnum opus chorus with colorful birds zipping around with pretty bunting strips.
No. But, if you smoke a pipe, you get it.
And if you are a pipe smoker, even with the smallest of collections, you know that feeling.
It’s about the one pipe that conquers all your fears, handles any tobacco leaf thrown its way, smokes like a dream every day, all day, rain, snow, plagues, frogs, locusts, whatever!
My Pipe for All Seasons is an Ashton from the early 1980s. It was given to me by the late Bill Ashton Taylor, creator of Ashton Pipes, master of the pipe universe.
Bill Taylor was so gifted a pipe maker he understood the infinitesimal artistic details of pipes. Down to the grain.
In fact, some of the sandblasts on his pipes remind of rippling waves on an ocean.
That’s not all. He knew in some mystic way how a chunk of briar burl could be worked into a smoking instrument of extraordinary quality.
It was as if he did battle with the burl itself, sandblasting, rusticating, fashioning, smoothing it into submission. Beating it into an articulate art piece.
From the fiery furnaces, Taylor’s pipes bloomed into perfection. Like a Wagnerian opera.
Okay, please forgive me. I went a little overboard there. But you get the idea. Bill Taylor created works of rare pipe art.
I have a number of Bill Taylor’s pipes, and all of them have that “something else” quality that makes them so wonderful.
Yes, all of his pipes incorporated the “oil cure” process that he learned while creating pipes for Dunhill.
And yes, his pipes consisted of the very best Mediterranean briar.
So naturally, one would think a pipe from Bill’s workshop had little choice but to turn out perfectly and deserve the title of a pipe for all seasons.
True. But of all my Bill Ashton Taylor pipes, only one, a hefty straight billiard, rises to that state of beyond the beyond.
At times when I am lonely, pressed and stressed, I reach for that Ashton billiard.
Perhaps this is a mental thing with me. Maybe it is psychological and now has infused my being with a feeling of release and fantasia if not splendor.
I just know that when I light up a Virginia or an English blend in that Ashton billiard, something goes on.
I have no idea what is happening. It just happens. I feel a blanket of relaxation. No, I am not putting any sort of “you-know-what” that rhymes with “wanna” in my pipe. Heaven forbid!
I have found that the Taylor billiard changes me and my perspective almost immediately.
Perhaps you have had similar experiences. It doesn’t necessarily take an expensive pipe for this emotion or some extrasensory encounters—just that pipe for all seasons.
As we all know in our hobby, pipes are special, like many people in your orbit.
But, mayhaps, that memorable pipe differs in one very important aspect of reality—it won’t let you down or disappoint you.
At times when I am at my lowest moments, my Ashton seems to beckon me. It is something I imagine like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey.
The siren’s song is beguiling, of course, but isn’t leading me to some brutish end.
What’s that? You don’t hear the siren’s song?
Maybe you are not smoking the right pipe. Perhaps you haven’t found that “one” pipe that speaks to you in all seasons.
If you are still searching for that remarkable pipe, keep looking. It will turn up one day when you are either perusing new purchases for your precious collection or find it already nestled safely in that collection.
I, like you I’m sure, have many pipes that hold my heart and drive my passion.
But I reach for the Ashton when daily life closes in like a vice.
Then, as if on cue, all drops away, like the fall of a curtain at the end of a stage play.
If you haven’t found the heartbeat of the burl in your collection, maybe thinking back to our nation’s beginnings might lend some help.
Clay pipes, of course, were popular in the taverns. George Washington and other farmer-politicians, smoked, perhaps not just tobacco. Ahem.
We know of course that Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and Gerald Ford were consummate presidential pipe smokers.
And, we should not leave out the greatest of scientists, Mr. Einstein, and legendary authors Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis in our pipe smoking reverie.
It is more than likely that those gents also had a special pipe that spoke to them.
If you look closely at Mr. E’s pipe, you will see that it has been smoked almost to oblivion and chewed on as if by a ferret.
Mark Twain appears in photos with a pipe, Petersons of a calabash structure mainly.
Tolkien and Lewis are very British in photos with heavily smoked billiards.
Of course, if Mark Twain wasn’t smoking a pipe, he was puffing on a cigar.
As were a few of the founding fathers, such as John Adams and James Madison. You can throw in President Ulysses S. Grant in the cigar corner, though he wasn’t a founding father as we know.
He did play a leading role in preserving the Union, however.
So, my point is that the heartbeat of the burl is in us all who take up pipe smoking.
You just have to find that right one. You will know it when it arrives.
There is a sense of well-being, an ease to life’s many tangles and wiggles.
The center holds, as it were, and the bad muses drop away into the abyss.
We are blessed to live in a time when great pipe artists are not only providing us with works of art but thriving in their endeavors.
It is the best of times in our pipe world. The worst of times is yet out there on the stormy horizon.
I for one do not worry about the threat of burdensome rules and regulations on our fair hobby.
Not with my Ashton nearby. I can weather the storm, and you will, too.
We have, you see, the burl’s heartbeat in our hands and it lives in us.
It is our pipe for all seasons.
We are the pipe and the pipe is us. We are one and that is why we will prevail in the future, no matter how many laws are passed against us.
Now is the time to find and smoke that pipe for all seasons.
Fred Brown is a journalist who lives in Knoxville, TN. He will write this column for PipesMagazine.com monthly. He can be contacted at
Ah, well done. It occurs to me that I have a dozen candidates for that rôle, and it’s time to start narrowing the field. (NOT meant to be a reference to current politics.)
Mine is a Sasieni Ashford Natural. I bought it unsmoked, and kept it until a special moment in my life, which turned out to be the day my granddaughter was born. She lives far away. When I smoke that pipe, I always think of her and our next meeting. (she’s her with us this week, so that pipe stays on the rack!)
Thanks for awakening that sense of the ineffable relationship that exists between a man and his predictable, dependable pipe.
Those stellar pipes frequently have some human association with the carver or the person who gave them as a gift, it seems, at least for me. I couldn’t peg one, but of the six or eight, I am always aware that I am in the zone with them.
I have a couple or three that fit this bill. The right the wrongs of my day to day and rise with the sun of a new dawn.
My special one is or was a Kaywoodie Saxon bent. I say ‘was’ because the bottom of the bowl is getting so eroded that I save it now for only special smokes. Even the stem is better than any others, so much so that I transplant it to my next best briar with a strip of paper wrapped around the tenon to make up the difference in size for a snug fit. The stem is vulcanite – so much better than plastic – it seems immune to bite marks and is wide and comfortable, a perfect fit. I didn’t like this second briar until I did the stem swap which transformed it.