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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rheinbach!

Biz News - New pipes are up! I've posted the pipes we brought back from Rheinbach. Several of them have already sold to customers on our email list, but there are still a few available - new Talbert Briars and a sole Ligne Bretagne churchwarden.

We're back from the Rheinbach pipe show. We had a really good time and the show was a lot of fun. In the interest of trying to sort out a lot of random and not always connected impressions, I'm going to split up my writing on our travels between this Pipe Blog and our Life in France blog, because we also visited downtown Cologne and Lille (and have things to say about both), but they have little to do with pipes.

For starters, though, let's talk about Rheinbach, the show. I know everyone wants pics, and I have just posted a gallery of Rheinbach show photos, with more galleries to come on the different topics of our trip. There you can see some photos of our table, of the show environs, and of many other pipemakers' tables including David Enrique, Love Geiger, Bruto Sordini, Heiner Nonnenbruich, Bertram Safferling, and more. It was quite a nice show, all the more so because it was a one man effort on the part of Achim Frank, rather than a club show. This is both a good and a bad thing - On the one hand, a one man show can be very concise and tightly planned, but on the other hand, putting on a show is a huge undertaking and leads to quick burnout. I hope there will be future Rheinbach shows, but I could not fault Achim if he chose not to, just to avoid the work. Also, this show had a bit of drama when Per Bilhail and Tom Eltang departed the show early due to some misunderstanding over the rules of tables and vendor selling. I don't know the details, but I was sad I missed Tom (We literally said hello at the door as he was leaving with a crate of pipes and materials under his arm).


The display of Eltangs at Achim Frank's table

How did it differ from US shows? It was smaller than most - around the size of TAPS, maybe, or perhaps half the size of CORPS. However, it had a HUGE ratio of "horsepower to weight" - It was virtually an assembly of all the best European pipemaking gods. And then there was me rattling around in their midst. Very intimidating company...! One certainly must stress a little when going to a show where you'll be surrounded by tables covered in Beckers, Eltangs, Barbis, and so on. Unlike a US show which would be largely full of dealers, estate vendors, tobacco blenders, etc, there were only a couple of tables of tobaccos and estates, with the largest portion of real estate given to individual artisan pipemakers and their works.

Also unlike a US show, they had alcohol!



Someone got very wise when they realized there would be a great market for interesting whiskeys and other "microbrewery" drinks at a pipe & tobacco show.

So what were my personal impressions? Please keep in mind that these are my opinions only, not meant as any sort of empirical judgments or anything to take very seriously. Overall, one thing that struck me was that the pipes were mostly quite small by my standards - certainly sizes that I would feel very awkward about charging high prices for. I suppose it may be partly my American mindset, but I'm still not quite sure what to think of 850 € pipes that are the size of thimbles. Apparently there is much more of a market for such pipes than I would have guessed, though, as even the medium-sized high grades at the show tended to seem quite small to me. Also, more and more I think the standardization of the Danish high grade "look" is getting quite boring... the endless tables of smooth contrast-stained horns and blowfish all tended to blend together a bit. One notable standout was Axel Reichert, who had some amazingly neat and original shapes that showed genuine originality. Heiner and Love Geiger also had some fun shapes, while Bruto Sordini's table stood apart for his distinctly Italian style. As usual, Cornelius Mänz had a cool display, aside from just generally being a fun fellow to talk to.

Aside from lots of small pipes, another big trend I noticed were pipes with pencil-thin shanks, or just pencil-thin construction in general. Personally, I find this both freaky and terrifying - the breakage risks inherent in such reed-like pipes is not something I would want to be responsible for, as I'd feel bound to issue refunds or replacements every time someone snapped the bowl off of their shank just by gesturing at someone with their pipe. I can see the appeal from an artistic perspective as well as from a "WOW - The ENGINEERING!" perspective, but I guess I'm too innately biased towards the opposite (thick, rugged) end of the spectrum. I did feel a bit mis-matched to the forum, though, at our table behind our selection of large ODA-ish thick-walled sandblasts.


I look rather insane in half the show pics...

Other observations! The Europeans apparently haven't followed the current hot trend in the online pipe forums against silicate-based bowl coatings, as nearly every pipe there used that sort of mix, despite much lofty prognostication online about why it's "bad". I was probably the only one there using an edible carbonizing (Note - I prefer silicate coatings myself, but I bow to the demands of the market when it's feasible, such as in coating recipes). I had no ideas of what to expect to sell, but in the end, the pipes we sold were the most exotic Talberts and the price-friendly Ligne Bretagnes, of which we very nearly sold out. The only middle-range Talbert I sold was a smooth, which suggests to me that European buyers simply aren't looking for (or perhaps not accustomed to) the concept of high-end sandblasts as desirable pipes. Then again, they don't seem to have had much exposure to same, either - There's really no way to say this without sounding superior or snotty, so I'll just simply say that I found the European high grade blasts there a pretty mediocre lot. There were a few standouts that reached "OK" to "Good" levels, but by and large I often found myself picking up a 700 € sandblast that looked as though it had barely been touched, and then either buffed to non-grain-discernible finish or simply stained uniformly brown and stamped done. The focus certainly seems to be All-Smooth-All-the-Time, with little thought or development given to creating blasts as an art form and end unto themselves. Unsurprisingly, the really extraordinary blasts that I took all sold out within two days after the show to American collectors. I guess this means I am inescapably a product of my home culture! I'm not complaining, however, since I was proud and pleased to at least have something a bit different on display, because after all, isn't variety one of the great reasons for attending a pipe show?

Coming away from the show, I'm ready to jump back into the workshop. As usual, the back-and-forth with the other makers has given me lots of new ideas to try out, new goodies to order, and new inspirations in design. I've picked up some new staining techniques to try, and I think I will work on making a few more smaller, high-end smooth pipes, just as an experiment to gauge the reactions of the market. Obviously such pipes sell over here, and it's certainly easier to get a flawless small pipe from a block than a flawless large pipe just due to the law of exposed wood-vs-flaw odds. Sales were good (We paid for our trip and came home with money, the essential bottom line) so I'd do it again if the show continues. Keep checking back here over the next day or so, and also in the Life in France blog, for more photo galleries and travel commentary on the after-show dinner, Achim Frank's pipe shop, Peter Heinrich's pipe shop, and the cities of Cologne and Lille. In closing, here are a couple of pics of a very unusual Talbert that was actually sold even before it went to the show...