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Sunday, March 23, 2008

The S Word

Biz News - I've just posted a HUGE flood of new Ligne Bretagnes to the LB catalog. They're a mix of smooths and blasts in all-classical shapes, with the two pipes to the left among them.


Somewhere along the way, without me noticing it, "small" has become cool in the world of pipes. When did this happen? I don't know if it's a reaction to the current popularity of small in cars, energy bills, etc, but I'm selling a lot of small pipes lately.

Hop back a year or two and it was quite different, to the point that I often joked that "small" was one of the "Words of Death" that one must avoid at all costs when writing pipe descriptions. "Big", "craggy", "huge", these were sure selling words, but "small" was a killer. Other descriptors had to be found, like "excellent for rope tobaccos" and "an ideal short bowl for a powerful flake tobac", because saying a pipe was small was a great way to ensure you'd be keeping that pipe in inventory for the rest of your life. I guess, as with so many things, the mentality was that you got more pipe for your money if you bought a larger pipe, but this mindset seems to be shifting today.

This is excellent for us, because so many of our Ligne Bretagne stummel shapes are mid-size or smaller. They've sort of simmered along the past six years, gathering a small devoted following of people who love small bowl pipes and would regularly snatch up a few pipes per year, but I'd hear, "They're mostly smaller and I like big pipes" as often as not. This made for a challenge, because there really just aren't that many large-size LB stummels in the line - the group 5 billiard above (stock now nearly exhausted), a tall poker, a huge oom-paul... but these were rarities amongst a sea of group 3-4 (and smaller) bowl shapes. These days, featherweight classicals and pencil-shanked straight pipes seem suddenly hot, and we sell them about as fast as we can finish them. When did this happen? WHY did this happen?

Small pipes offer advantages beyond weight - They're more likely to be flawless or pit-free (less surface means less probability of exposing a flaw) and they're more suitable for smoking in today's anti-tobacco environments (meaning, outside of the restaurant relaxing with friends around the big space heater while Prohibition-minded anti's sulk their way past into their pristine "smoke free" interiors to smell each other's sweat instead). Moreover, they have a sort of art deco elegance about them, evoking memories of women in elbow gloves with cigarette holders. I can't begin to decipher the vagaries of today's market, but I do know I'm fortunate to be well-placed with the right stock at the right time. Perhaps eventually I'll even be able to say "small" in a pipe description without losing a sale!