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.