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Friday, May 26, 2006

Idea Gestation

When we moved here, part of our purchase package was a large stock of handcut horn stems. These stems were made by a French family in the Jura who have apparently done stems for generations for various factories in St. Claude. Sadly, they are no more, and as far as I know, the only horn stems available today are those that pipemakers make themselves. I have a huge stock of these things in a wide variety of shapes, but with very limited utility for reasons of design. Nearly all of them have much thicker, much rounder bits than I like. I have made best use of some of the wider ones on a few Ligne Bretagnes through the years, but there are a good many stems which I simply can't do anything with. The ones in the photo are good examples - I don't like their kinked, "bent in one spot only" look, they can't be drilled out to my specs while bent, they are too labor-intensive to straighten, drill, and then re-bend (on a Ligne Bretagne budget), so basically, they sit around collecting dust and their (significant) portion of the packaged business stock price is pretty much a write-off.

At least, until the other day! I picked up one of the bent stems, admiring the beautiful material (I think this is the most attractive stem material by far, and many of these stems are just gorgeous examples of horn) and it suddenly hit me - It could be a tamper! Add a turned briar tamping end and the pieces would make attractive, very practical tampers with an unusual story behind them and a bit of 1930's Gentlemen Hunters Club ambiance. I made these two in the photo and contacted Larry at P&P for his thoughts on selling them. Very probably, at least a few of them will be shipping over in this next box, to see what people think of them in the store. I do not plan to sell them direct myself - direct sales of low cost items by internet are nearly always more trouble than they are worth - but if they are popular I'm sure Larry will have a consistent stock of them.

I love the two sitting here on my desk. The bent stems make a perfect tamping grip. The question becomes, will others like them or think it's a dumb idea? It appeals to me because it's a way of turning a little piece of history (These stems are probably around fifty years old each) that would otherwise just be discarded, into something that can be preserved and used. The only other real option for many of them is to be cut up into decor rings. I'll be curious to see what people think when the first examples arrive at P&P for fondling. No prices are set yet, beyond the general idea that they will not be cheap, but neither will they be priced among the $200 artisan tampers.

[I should probably go ahead and comment here regarding the stems or I know I'll get a hundred email inquiries and ideas about selling them. In a nutshell, no, it would not be worth the labor to sell them. If someone appeared with a serious offer to buy the entire lot, with a few reference photos, then I'd sell them in a minute, but the more likely result of trying to sell them would be inquiries from a hundred different amateur pipemakers who each wanted to buy just five or six, "to see what they're like to work with", only willing to pay a few dollars each but demanding exacting photographs of every stem complete with measurements and details. The classic case where, after photographing and measuring and posting web pictures, one has a day's labor sunk into something that will cost more in email answering & handling labor time than it will ever be worth, when more profitable work could be getting done. Thus, to all the folks who will write me to ask if they can just buy one or two, the answer is Thanks, but no thanks - I just don't have the time to be mailing little boxes of stems to addresses all over the place.]

Another little preview in today's photo is the bamboo-shanked Talbert Briar sitting in the background. It was a pleasant surprise - a beautiful, flawless piece of briar that finished as a stunning smooth. It, among other goodies, is soon to be shipping to Pipe & Pint for sale from their shop. Anyone interested should contact Larry at Pipe & Pint (336-218-8610), but there's no need to hurry since I don't expect it to reach the US for a month. USD price will probably be in the $680-$700 range after conversion. Expect more and more of my work to be appearing at Pipe & Pint. My frustrations with the reliability of international shipping via the French PO have reached the boiling level, and there should be a tidy bit of good news here in the not-too-distant future regarding shipping. That's about all for the moment, thanks for reading!