Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Alas, I cannot say this in regards to the new Orlick-produced versions of the faithful Dunhill tinned tobaccos. This is quite annoying, because I am among the first people to ignore or chuckle ruefully at that vast swath of humanity that can't stop complaining about how the "old version was always better". (Doesn't matter what it is, what subject, what decade... "Dial telephones were better than pocket-sized wireless phones because..... well, because!") I usually feel sad for these folks that can't accept that things do change, and I want to stress that I'm not writing about the Dunhill transition as a whinge about the good old days... but it will probably come off that way anyway. I've now had the opportunity to sample an entire tin of both the new Nightcap and the new Elizabethan, and alas, I am sorry to say but these will no longer be taking places as regulars in my tobacco cellar. It isn't that they are bad blends - both are light, mellow, and Nightcap in particular has a pleasant sort of creamy quality to it. It's that they have become nondescript blends, to me at least. I would not hesitate to recommend either of these to a new pipe smoker - I think they would be ideal starter blends. However, I'll repost here what I recently wrote on alt.smokers.pipes:
"What puzzled me was how identical the blends looked side by side - the bright ribbons are a bit brighter in the newer stuff, but otherwise it would visually appear to be the same mix. I tried two bowls side by side - one Murray's and one Orlick - in clays to test my perceptions. The funny thing was, on first light they were very similar to me - for about the first fifth of the bowl I could barely tell them apart. But as the Murray's version smoked down, it had a very rich sort of raisin/fig flavor to it that was absent from the Orlick version, which just remained soft and creamy. It seemed odd because, to my tongue, the rest of the tobacco (the "wrapping" of the flavor, as it were) was much the same. The Orlick just seemed to be missing that bit of Fig Newton note in the flavor. Odd."
Which leads me to wonder if my European friends know what Fig Newtons are... I can't recall if I've seen any in stores here or not. In any case, as regards the Dunhill tobaccos by Orlick, my opinion is simple - both Nightcap and Elizabethan have had their corners and rough edges filed off. They've lost their intensity, their kick, and their love-it-or-hate-it style to emerge as polished, well-rounded performers who will likely be pleasant to all and loved by few. Considering how much I like a bit of spice stirred into the mix, count me as less than enthused with this particular bit of progress.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
In lieu of any insightful pipe commentary from chez nous today, I suggest reading this excellent editorial over at the Clairmont Institute.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Blogger was apparently down most of yesterday, for those who may have had trouble accessing this blog. I kept checking their site and it continually read "Down for service, for thirty minutes" for most of the day! But all seems well now.
Let me know where you are! If you haven't put a pin in our Frappr Map yet, please do so. I see in our site traffic logs that we get lots of hits from China, Japan, and all across Asia, yet the Frappr map is currently almost exclusively European and American. Let's broaden our ethnicity, please :)
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Today's picture is an example of my output of "invisible" pipes - that is, pipes that never reach the website. I recently made three sandblasts in variations of Bo Nordh's "Rameses" design for an order. I always try to make multiple versions of the pipe requested in any order, so the buyer can have a selection to choose from and so I can have some extra pipes left over to post for sale on the website. In this case, however, the buyer bought all three examples! So, no Rameses pipes will be appearing for sale after all...
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
On a totally different topic, I am trying out Google's AdSense for this blog so we may all be seeing some "interesting" semi-related ads. I'm going to be very curious to see what Google's little robots think my entries are related to as they scan and scurry around - I expect to see lots of ads for piping companies!
Monday, January 23, 2006
I think access to a good pipe shop is important. I don't think I would have seriously gotten into it with out stumbling across McCranie's when I was about 42 years old. It also helps to be able to handle different pipes, feel the textures and shapes, to begin learning what fits you best. Only then have I been able to do much internet buying and make solid purchases. And I have bought a lot through the internet and quite a few on-site at McCranie's. I think it might be important for pipe shops to re-envision themselves. They perhaps should not all look like going into someone's club house. That still feels too cliquish too me. Have you seen the store front for Neat Pipes? http://www.neatpipes.com/ Wow! It is open and inviting and modern. It feels like you could come in and browse without getting looked over for approval by a bunch of "old guys" sitting around smoking. It looks accessible. I think this is important to think about.
It might be worth a shot for some big pipemakers to try some carefully designed ads showing a different "story" about how pipesmoking may be enriching and alluring. I'm thinking Esquire. GQ. A lot of men's magazines spend a lot of pages showcasing "what's cool". They appeal to a desire for nice things. High-end pipes are nice things. But whether such ads in such magazines would be cost effective-I don't know. But there needs to be someway to get new images of pipesmoking and really fine pipes out before a more diverse market of men who perhaps have never even thought about it because of old images of 1950's Dads or nerdy beardy guys (I'm beardy but not nerdy). But smart and self-confident is good. Think Sartre and his pipe.
(The problem here is one of money. Even the big names like Dunhill and Butz-Choquin lack the sort of financial resources to regularly advertise in such publications - or at least they are unwilling to do so - and smaller players are priced completely out of the picture. There are friendlier venues like P&T magazine available, but again, we have the problem of preaching to the choir)
Women and pipesmoking? Well, that's even tougher. I would want to hear from some women pipesmokers and I do not know any. But I can't help but wonder if there are a few specific subcultures of women who also could be drawn to it. I just don't know which and I do not know what the "story" would be that would make pipesmoking an appealing experience for them. Or if most pipe designs are in fact not appealing to women. For some reason I think yours, especially the more diminutive Mortas might be appealing. Very cool pipes. I don't have one yet.
There is also something appealing about a pipe with a bowl size that doesn't seem to expect you to smoke a big bowl full. A smaller bowl actually fits pipesmoking as savoring rather than consuming. I do also like the weight and heft of larger pipes because they just feel good in my hands even though it may take me 2 days to finish a bowl.
Internet merchants might try designing their sites with more easily accessible knowledge for beginners and promote good books to that effect. Really good multiple angle photos of pipes for sale helps a lot. You do that well. I also like what http://www.smokingpipes.com/ does and the little blurbs he writes about each pipe. I've bought several from him and returned several too. He never hassles me and I appreciate that or I just wouldn't bother. Sometimes the way a pipe looks and the way it feels in reality does not match for a person. It just goes with the territory. I also like the email notifications from you and others. Important. It reminds me to think about pipes again. And if I see one I really like-well, I'm hooked. I think pipesmokers must all be a bit obsessive-compulsive, maybe.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
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!
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Monday, January 16, 2006
Now, a short history and disclaimer. I am not at this time a dealer in IMP meers, though I have been in the past. Like many briar fans, I had a very low opinion of meerschaums for years, largely down to what I perceived as their poor smoking qualities - gurgles and clunky stems. By chance, I discovered IMP back in 2002 and tried the first meer that ever impressed me. They had interesting shapes (more classical and Danish than "big carved heads") and more importantly, they smoked excellently - possibly due to their briar-like stem & mortise construction, instead of the usual teflon screw-in fittings that curse so many meers. In short order, I went from owning zero meers to owning eight, and now I have something like fifteen - all IMPs. I liked them so much that I stocked them for resale in our old retail shop, but I stopped being a retailer when we closed down that portion of our business to sell 100% our own pipes. Today, if one wants an IMP, an excellent source is SmokingPipes.com, but they are sold in a side variety of online and retail tobacconists'. I should also point out that I don't receive any kickbacks or payment for doing these interviews, and have no vested interest in promoting anyone in particular - I simply pick those industry folks that I know personally, and can write or call for some quick comments.
Please keep in mind that Mustafa is not a native English speaker, though he does a heck of a lot better en anglais than I do in French! Without further preamble, here is the first part of my chat with Mustafa Akkas of IMP:
Trever: To get this interview started, tell me what your role is in IMP pipes, and a little bit about the carver(s)?
Mustafa: I have been working for IMP since 2000 but officially 2002 as a trade & project manager but that might be changing in the near future after my uncle’s (Owner of IMP Pipes) death. We currently have two carvers and one secretary in our workshop. My youngest uncle called Mr. Mustafa Albayrak is the main carver in our workshop now. We are also looking for another quality carver instead of my uncle.
Trever: When did IMP pipes get started as a business?
Mustafa: We have been running this family business since 2000.
Trever: Do you have a goal for IMP, or any kind of "identity" that you feel makes your pipes unique among other meerschaum brands? Do your carver(s) work towards any particular style in designs, or any special thinking in engineering? I've noticed that many of the original IMP designs looked very Danish, for instance - more like Danish briars than the usual meerschaum carved heads and such.
Mustafa: Yes, we do have a goal as a company. Our main goal is “giving a better reputation to meerschaum”. As we all know meerschaum used to be “tourist souvenir” in Turkey and there was not so much quality and detail in past meerschaums at all. We have been trying so hard to change meerschaum’s bad reputation, this is why we called our meerschaums “new generation meerschaums”. I do create some new designs as well as Danish and Italian Designs. We also try to create some marginal designs when we have time to spend on it. I think this is the difference between us and other meerschaum suppliers.
Trever: Is there anything about the public image of meerschaum pipes that you dislike ? Any "popular opinion" of meerschaums that you would like to change ?
Mustafa: Yes, as I mentioned before we really would like to give a new vision to our pipes. I personally do not like typical meerschaums cause they look so cheap and ordinary. We also aim to be competitive with briar companies, not with other meerschaum suppliers. We hopefully will be reached our aims as long as we produce well-balanced and well-engineered pipes in the future.