News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
Talbert Pipes Website - Kentucky Fried Popcorn - My Web Comic.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pipe Market's Future

Today's pic is a photo of the excellent logo for Breton "Mutine" beer - one of the very few Breton beers I've had that is not half bad! Their brown beer is actually pretty decent.. not quite on par with the Rogue Imperial Stout that a kind soul sent me for Christmas, but very drinkable nonetheless.

I recently received a long and thoughtful email from a fellow named Gary in the US, responding to some of the discussion I had with David Field in our pipe video chat (Which is no longer being seeded on BitTorrent, BTW). I thought I would post his comments in below, and see what readers thought of his ideas about the future of the pipe collecting market. His letter was fairly long, so I will split his text over the next couple of days:

I watched most of your video chat with David Field. I was interested in your discussion about the future of pipesmoking and the nature of current pipe buyers in the larger context of public health issues regarding tobacco. I have felt ever since then that I wanted to add my 2-cents worth to the discussion because, perhaps, I may be the type of customer which the future market will belong to, for better or for worse.

I believe my first real interest in pipes evolved out of reading The Lord of the Rings in high school. That was when I bought my first pipe—a little squat Rhodesian Kaywoodie at an Eckerd’s Drug store back when they had a whole display of pipes. I believe I understand you are from Lexington , so perhaps you know of what I speak. And I bought some Amphora there too. That was about all I knew. Even then I smoked very seldom and really had little idea how to do it well. Then in college I bought another pipe and tinkered with it some. Every few years I’d get either one out and of course my tobacco was dry by then so I’d buy some more—I didn’t know about humidifying tobacco either. I did not know any other pipe smokers. Well, years and years passed. Then about seven years ago I accidentally came upon a real pipe store in Charlotte —McCranie’s. Not a mall store like I’d seen before but a real shop with smokers sitting around and high grade pipes for sell. I was instantly smitten by the aroma of the place and, having never seen high grade pipes, marveled at the quality of their craftsmanship, the beauty of the different finishes, and the great diversity of shapes. I saw a 1999 Castello Pipe of the Year which I fell in love with—it was $795—which was just unbelievably expensive. But it was beautiful. I wanted it but did not buy it. I bought something else real cheap—to start off with—a generic no-name Italian pipe. Then, most importantly, I discovered Frog Morton under Todd McCranie’s guidance and learned about latakia blends and for the first time ever I found a tobacco that I really liked.

Ok, to make a long story shorter: Over these past seven years I have spent well over $5000 on Castellos, Dunhills, Ashtons, Michael Parks, you, and a variety of others. I have spent more than I should have. I am not wealthy. I am gradually figuring out the shapes and finishes I really like. So I’ve sold probably half of what I’ve bought over these years and I have become much more particular about what I buy. Now, here’s the deal: I still smoke very irregularly. In the winter maybe every other week; in the summer maybe once a month. I take seriously the health concerns about the addictive qualities of nicotine and don’t want to go there. I try to be healthy. But I like to smoke occasionally because:


1. I enjoy the beauty of these pipes—what other art can you fiddle with in your hands, hold—and stick in your mouth too?!

2. I like both the smell and taste of latakia blends.

3. I enjoy the solitude of pipesmoking—it is relaxing. Sometimes I read with it


I have no intention of ever becoming a daily smoker. I have no interest in hanging out in pipe shops and smoking—I am just not inclined to hang out like that anywhere with a bunch of guys. But I have benefited a great deal from having a good tobacconist to learn from. I have also bought pipe books which have helped me understand better the fundamentals of pipe and tobacco care. Very important.

Here’s my point: I don’t think there is any getting around the health issue now. I do think the future of pipesmoking, at least if you want to grow the interest, is to somehow market it as something of a delicacy. Like a really fine glass of port which you wouldn’t want to drink just every day but have, say, on the weekend. And definitely marketing the beauty and craftsmanship of these pipes is important. It will appeal to guys like me who for whatever reason like fine woodwork. And there needs to be some kind of larger context communicated. For me, pipesmoking still brings associations of books, contemplation, writing, and yes, still LOTR. The “story” of the 1950’s Dad who smoked a pipe with his slippers—that never worked for me. It would help if somehow pipesmoking could be associated with being sexy or cool but I don’t see that being possible—it would just be weird to even try. Pipesmoking to me is about sitting in your favorite chair, perhaps near a fireplace, with book or pen in hand, with cool or cold weather. It feels like home. It feels like art. Stuff like that.

I'll break off here for today, and continue the posting of Gary's email comments later. I think he is spot on in his belief that the future of pipes is as a luxury item, but at the same time I believe that this is a subtly dangerous approach, because if the middle market and low-end market collapse completely (Which they seem likely to do), they will take the high-end market down with them. More to come!