Recently, I opined about a story I had read in PipesMagazine.com concerning a veteran pipe maker and how much I enjoyed the piece. Today, just as we are blessed with a plethora of beautiful pipes and fabulously blended tobaccos, we are likewise fortunate to have very talented writers writing about our pastime.
I sent a note to the author, who will go unnamed at his request, expressing my thoughts about how well written the story was and how it had struck me.
I didn’t think anything more about it until I received a large box of aged tobacco tins from the author.
It is an amazing gift!
The gift overwhelmed me. It was a treasure trove of aged tobaccos.
The youngest of the tobaccos is a decade-old tin of Dunhill Early Morning Pipe. There is a 12-year-old round tin of Dunhill’s My Mixture and a 21-year-old tin of Butera Latakia.
Now, I know that old-time pipe puffers have always been very generous with their stashes. They like sharing and seeing other puffers enjoy their blend choices.
That is one of the truly wonderful aspects of our hobby. We share either our knowledge, our recipes for homemade tobacco blending, our aging tins, and even in some cases pipes themselves.
And, yes, I have given pipes and received pipes as gifts. It is just part of who we pipe smokers are.
To say that I was just completely blown away with this box of aging tobacco is putting it too mildly.
I would dearly love to mention the author, but he has asked me not to in fear of—and get this—hurting someone’s feeling about not sending a gift to others.
So often today, we are too busy to remember kindnesses. Life is too bristly and full of too much bustle. There are scam artists, seemingly, behind every gesture. Or so we think.
So many pressure points today grab our attention. Too much bad news. Too many forces on the periphery of our lives taking us away from what is important. Too much noise.
I have shared tobacco and even gifted pipes to friends, with nary a thought. It is just something old-timers are wont to do.
The old guard relishes helping or advising a youngster with selection of pipe and tobacco. They are sincerely eager for new puffers to get it right so the experience of smoking a pipe will be both enjoyable and a lifetime adventure.
I remember one such fellow helping me, back in the dark ages of my college days. I wanted a pipe, mainly because I thought it was cool and I could not stand the smell of cigarettes.
And then there was my grandmother, Maude. She smoked a cob, and anything Maude did was right! I wanted to be like my grandmother, stalwart, honest, hardworking, pipe-smoker.
My first pipe mentor was an old-timer (time has erased his name from my memory) in the Royal Cigar Co., in Atlanta, Ga.
He showed me several pipes that were out of reach at $20 for a college student struggling to not only stay in school, but also to pay for the education. I worked several jobs in the summertime to pay for my college tuition, buy books and extra bucks for fun was limited.
The gray haired gent in the Atlanta pipe store handed me a basket pipe. "It’s a second by a big name pipe manufacturer," he said. "It’s not good enough to have their name on it, so I’ll sell it to you for $5.
"What’s wrong it with it?" I asked.
"It’s got fills and a different stem. We stamp our name on the side of it, Royal," he said.
"It will smoke just as good as one that would cost you four times that."
I bought it. The mentor then walked me over to a wall filled with hundreds of round tins filled with tobacco. No jars, just tins.
"Here," he said, "start with this."
It was an English blend. Being an English major in college, I was thrilled to discover a pipe tobacco blend in honor of my two passions in life: reading and writing.
He packed the pipe for me, making me watch.
"Not too hard. You just let tobacco fall into the pipe, tap gently with your finger, fill more, tap just a bit harder, and then fill the pipe and tap the top with a bit more pressure."
"Notice", he said, "the fresh tobacco tends to bounce back up when you light it." Now, he said, "This is important: tamp it with a tamper." Of course, I did not have a tamper, so he gave me one. I still have it today.
"Tamp gently and re-light the pipe."
I did as my mentor instructed. Lit the pipe with a match (I still use matches today instead of a lighter) and puffed. Then I puffed some more.
"Now, not so fast on the puffing," he said. "Don’t worry if the pipe goes out. It is supposed to. Go slow. Enjoy the process and the taste. Let it come through your nose. Feel the creamy smoke."
What a wonderful introduction to this magnificent pastime.
That is how it began for me, a pipe-smoking veteran taking the time to share his knowledge, showing me how to smoke a pipe and pick out tobaccos.
It was a wonderful lesson, and I never forgot that moment. It was and is a great example of what my author friend did for me with the gift of a box of tobacco tins.
As my author buddy wrote me, pipe-makers need to remember that it is not all about making money. Yes, so many great pipe-makers today earn a living creating marvelous examples of true art.
But pipe-making, tobacco blending, is also about the pipe, and not necessarily about the money all the time.
I think we have to remember those college students out there who are looking for a mentor in our hobby.
I have watched prices of pipes soar. Pipe tobacco blends are expensive today. What I paid for blends in the 1960s has escalated to 10 times those prices. Of course, prices have risen along with everything else. It is more expensive to blend a tobacco and more expensive to make a pipe today. Tobacco regulations are draconian. Federal tariffs are outrageous, as are taxes on tobacco. All these issues are reflected in the cost of a pipe or tobacco.
But we still have to remember that we need young men and women coming to this hobby to keep it alive, give it new energy as well as to keep it interesting.
Like my pipe author pal, we do that by reaching back to a time when old pipe pros took a moment to be generous and sincere about the passion of pipes and tobaccos.
I am referring to a time that bespeaks a kindly heart.