Thursday, December 29, 2005

These are the Golden Years

This is the "Golden Age" of Pipes and Tobacco
You know, I firmly believe this. This is the golden age of pipes and tobaccos. Things change. Change is possibly one of the only true constants on this ball of dust that we call Earth. Given change we then must look at quality, availability and overall selection before we make a statement such as this. I'm certain that you all will agree that quality, availability and overall selection is at a peak right now - so let's go ahead and proclaim this the golden age of our hobby!
This age is definitely not the golden age for smokers, however. We're vilified, looked down upon, taxed, insurance-premiumed and 'lawed' to tears. While our government allows big business to pollute our enviromnent (read: the air we breathe and the water we drink - the most basic necessities of the human species) they allow the court of popular opinion to regulate and demonize smoking as if a fellow smoking a bowl of latakia is responsible for the pollution of the world. And we smokers have very little choice but to take it and walk on. So for the smoker, we're back to the point of figurative public beheading of anyone that smokes anything in public. For the sake of this missive, let's agree that pipe smokers are persecuted unfairly and move on.
There is very little doubt that pipes and tobaccos of today are of superior quality to those available even 20 years ago. No pipe smoker was saddened any more than I when Balkan Sobranie (Sobranie of London) left the business but my goodness, even a prejudiced opinion like mine has to admit that the selection of very fine, high quality tobaccos has never been better. Drucquers is gone but look at what Drucquers produced in it's lineage.. Greg Pease! Many of the older British blending houses are gone but the Germans, Danes and Dutch have done a marvelous job of providing these same blends and countless others to replenish our cellars.
Are good tobaccos gone forever? You bet your sweet bippy they are! I loved Gallahers Rich Dark Honeydew Flake but I have to say that Sam Gawith "Full Virginia Flake" is just as good if not even better. Balkan 759 was never one of my favorites and I prefer Margate. Balkan White, oh the mystical Sobranie... how I lament thy passing.... but I gotta say that while Presbyterian Mixture isn't Sobranie, it's darned good tobacco and is available at most tobacconists or via the internet.
Could you argue that Dunhill blends are now garbage vs. what they are now? Of course you could and in many instances you may be absolutely correct. I don't smoke them all, campers, so all I can pontificate about is what I know. And what I know is this: Some specific blends are gone, many specific blends have changed but the overall quality, availability and selection today is far greater than it has ever been. Is the original Three Nuns available today? NO. Is there something as good or possibly even better available? YES. You may have to (God forbid) step outside your comfort zone and try several different tobaccos... but, they're out there.
Pipes in the last 30 years have evolved dramatically from their elder, Luddite brethren. There is more attention to detail now. Sure, they're more expensive but the attention to detail (overall) is far superior than what the past has given us. The fun part of this 'argument' is that we can look at the evidence for ourselves and see what makes the most sense.
Let's pick on Dunhills. Find me an all original Dunhill that has a tenon that 'kisses' the face of the mortise in the shank. You'll look through 1,000 to find 50 that meet this critical specification. Draft holes on the bottom and somewhat centered? Fit and finish? Funneled tenons?
Back in the day, pipes were to be smoked - they were for the most part consumable goods. Why did Alfred Dunhill put dates on the pipes? Because he knew that most of the folks in Liverpool were going to smoke that pipe daily, many times and knock the pipe out on a brick.. Alfred replaced enough pipes to finally make him think of this dating system. It later turned out to be a great marketing decision but on day one, the date code was to keep abused pipes from coming back across his counter.
Thank you Alfred Dunhill for all that you did! But seriously, the pipe was a very well made utensil for smoking tobacco.
Rather than going on and on and on, I'll close here. We're living in the Golden Age of pipes and tobaccos right now, folks. The past 5 years have seen more people making more improvements on more products than ever before. Are some very good things gone? Absolutely. But 5 more things have rushed in to take their place in the market. Are they the same? No. In most cases, they're different and in some cases better.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Last Great Trade, Part IV

Well, here I am again trying to do the right thing by helping Mike Davis get rid of a big tamper that looks so out of place when he displays his collection of hawkbills. Think about it Mike, you will have a lot of free space to put more hawkbills on the table once that big tamper is gone!

I do have some vintage tobacco... I bought this tobacco, again, trying to help some other poor fellow to make room. He had a bunch of these old Dunhill mixtures that he had not smoked in 35 -40 years. Of the couple of cans I've
opened, these mixtures do smell a little better than Mike McCain's stuff - more like 10 year old sweat socks that have washed at least once.

I should also note that the Dunhill London store needed to clear out some stock to make room for $3,000 suits and the like. That tobacco sure took up a lot of store space - so much space in fact that Dunhill ran out of room for those $600 shoes and $200 ties. What's a poor company to do? I helped out Dunhill and bought some of that tobacco too.

Now, I am running out of space! My wife keeps asking me why do I have so much tobacco around - she needs space for more jewlery, china and other stuff. So what can I do...!?

I have to get rid of some that old tobacco to keep the peace with my wife. Mike, you can take some of that 40 year old stuff or the Dunhill store mixtures - whatever. This tobacco has got to go pronto or else I will be sleeping in the car.

So Mike what do you say? Will you help out a fellow pipesmoker in his time of need?

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Last Great Trade... or... Sweaty Socks?

Well, it looks like Rich might be interested in my "crappy tamper".

"Fitting in and improving"? Hmmmmm…… In the development of my collection, I tried to establish a representative collection including all finishes available and in most sizes and from all eras of production. In doing this, the preponderance of the collection is 4K to G size and a good variety of finishes and colors. Of course, I only have a single epoca and it's a drip wax (as opposed to the Rock or Shingle style). And I only have a few large pieces… a GGG Old Antiquari, a GG Trademark, and a GG Sea Rock. Even so, there's a good sampling of the finishes, colors, sizes and periods representing Castello production.

What would "fit in and improve" this collection of mine… Now that is an interesting question. Being that it's almost Christmas time, I'll make a list and check it twice...

My number one, without a doubt want to add piece would be a "mi reserva' 84. I'm not even sure they made one, but if they did, that would be my numero uno (I mean, where else 'should' a mi reserve 84 be than in this collection!! ). After that, an 84 with an ivory inlayed logo would be high on my list of improvements. Of course, that would also be a very early piece for Castello. AND, to think of a Rock or Shingle Epoca or even another Drip Wax version…that's just too much for me to imagine. I have quite a large number of pipes from the 80s and on but older pipes interest me a lot. Smooth pipes with an SC and registration number stamping would be of interest… “large K” pipes.. things of the older vintage are surely interesting to me specially if one was to have the green marbled stem. I have 5 of their colored stems but nothing in the green. Another way I could improve this collection is to expand the larger pieces. Such as other GG and GGG sized pipes in finishes I currently don't have such as the Castello, Collection, Perla Nera type finishes. Even with the maturation of the collection, there are always ways to improve it. Finding the right piece is always the challenge.

But what good are pipes without tobacco? I don't mean average, contemporary production tobacco, but rather, excellent, balanced, smooth blends from the golden age of pipe smoking. Now that's something that could be of interest. Even though I don't smoke straight VA or VA/perique blends, I bet there are still some excellent blends with orientals and latakia out there that I have not experienced. Although, Rich's remembrance of the 'old sweaty socks vintage' that he shared with my pal McCain does make one squeamish at the thought of old rare tobacco.

Well, Rich has quite a bit of thinking to do and so do I. Won't it be great if we pull this one off?

While visions of 84s danced in his head...

Regards, PipeStem