Piping Up

Since moving to Nebraska, I’ve taken up the pipe—to my mother’s consternation, but with my GP’s understanding and my wife’s blessing.

pipes side

My doctor accepted the argument that I’ve never smoked cigarettes, and I don’t smoke daily, so it’s not about nicotine addiction. Instead, it’s about ritualized relaxation.

I’ve been keeping a humidor of fairly pricey cigars for years now, smoking one on occasion—usually with coffee, or sometimes with Don Julio añejo tequila—purely as “I’m setting aside an hour to sit down, forget the world, and appreciate this.”

Pipes take that ritual several steps further: what with packing the bowl, lighting it evenly, tamping an even ash, puffing just enough to keep it lit without making the draw hot, emptying the spent tobacco, letting the pipe cool, and then cleaning and storing it.

pipes up

As for my wife, she actually bought me all but the bottom-most pipe pictured above, some for my 60th birthday, some for Valentine’s Day. Partly it’s that she says they help me stay sane. Partly it’s that she admires the artistry of a well-made pipe (and she enjoys researching their histories).

Allow me to introduce them, from top to bottom:

  • Hilson Fantasia: Topmost is a Meerschaum-lined marbled plastic pipe made in Belgium, probably in 1960. The company went out of business shortly thereafter. I like this one for a 30-minute smoke of something fairly light, like Odin’s Wind.
  • Britain’s Best Briar: BBB started in 1856, and the brass insignia on this gorgeous little pipe places it pre-1970. That brownish marbling in the stem is actually transparent. This one is good for about 45 minutes of something light like Drew Estate 7th Avenue Blonde.
  • Wild Honey: The age of this one is tough to establish; it was mass produced in Italy for a US seller of candies, fruits, and whatnot sometime mid-to-late last century. Meerschaum is misspelled “Meerschau” in the stamp. It’s a cheap little thing, but I like it for smoking whatever’s in my “leftovers mix” jar.
  • Caminetto New Dear 120: This Italian-made pipe is a dream. The white “flying moustache” imprint places it around 1968, when it would likely have sold for $400-$500 new. (Estate versions go for $350 nowadays; Jenny found this one for less than half that.) It’s great for a slow, hour-long smoke of something dense—like Captain Black’s Dark—with a stout cup of coffee. My absolute favorite pipe!
  • Stanwell Briar: This was my first pipe—bought as part of a starter kit—and despite the inexpensiveness, it’s easily my second-favorite. It’s another hour-long smoke, generally of something like Cult: Blood Red Moon or Out of Office: Gone Fishin’. My go-to pipe, like a reliable pickup truck.

pipes stand

Above is the entire collection in the stand Jen got me.

The long pipe to the left is a gift from my son-in-law, and it smokes very coolly—a lot of fun.

The craggy briar topmost came with a cherry-blend sampler, and the applewood next to it upper right came with a Cavendish sampler; neither pipe smokes worth a tinker’s damn (though the tobacco samplers were good). For now, they’re just filling holes in the stand to keep the Fantasia from rolling off. (Its own stem is too wide for a hole.)

Eventually, I’d like to add a corncob pipe to that stand, but for now my checkbook forbids going anywhere near Ted’s Tobacco again anytime soon.

3 Comments

  1. I’m not surprised that the Caminetto is your favorite, Lester. I’ve owned several and still do; in fact I just finished a bowl, a full-bent “egg,” a # 147 that I bought off of ebay. Still, I hope you’ll find a Savinelli that you like. My favorite is a KS 514 capri. I have two, although both are in need of repair thanks to my clumsiness in the case of one. Finally, let me say that I take pleasure in your taking pleasure with briar.

  2. I do appreciate the concern, Don. Is there a reason pipes worry you more than cigars? My rationale has been that this is actually less intake of tobacco, but even more “Japanese tea ceremony.”

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