What's Your Favorite Shape?
For nearly as long as I've been smoking a pipe, going on 21 years, nearly half my life, the question of a favorite shape has often sent me exploring deeply into the caverns of my aesthetic consciousness. It is a question I've always wanted to answer; yet the answer has always seemed just out of reach.
This isn't to say that I don't have favorites, but what characteristics, what common threads tie together my most beloved of pipes? Perhaps in the following paragraphs, I can apprehend some meaning, find some sense in the eclectic chaos that is my pipe collection.
Looking about me, I see Billiards, Lovats, Liverpools, Canadians, Apples, Princes, Bulldogs, Rhodesians, and a wide variety of freehand interpretations of these shapes, though none quite as wild as would often be considered "freehand." Only a few pipes with more than a 1/4 bend are represented, and these have been carefully chosen specifically to be representative.
Let's look at some of these pipes.
A perfectly executed Billiard is an example of perfection in form and function. Everything unnecessary has been removed, and, when the ideal is realized, the balance and grace of the pipe is exquisite. I prefer my Billiards to sport tapered stems, but I also like Lovats, with their short, stubby saddle bits and extended shanks. Of course, the Liverpool is a wonderful compromise between these two shapes, and a particular GBD from the 1920s holds a very special place in my collection for its abbreviated elegance.
The Canadian, and it's kin, the Lumberman, move the beautiful bowl a little farther away from the smoker, allowing us to gaze upon its beauty without removing it from our teeth. As we grow older, as the presbyopia of middle age takes its toll, we should endeavor to find longer and longer shanks. Alas, though, our teeth will ultimately be the limiting factor, as the longer shank provides a longer lever arm and, along with it, a longer polar moment of inertia. A long Canadian makes a poor driving companion.
But, the Apple! A voluptuous Apple in its rubinesque splendor can really set the spirit stirring! If the grain crosses the bowl or is transverse, there's more surface area than on a Billiard for lovely birdseyes to exhibit their beauty. The pipe feels wonderful in the hand, and the small bit of extra weight is a tiny price to pay for the visual and tactile feast enjoyed by the appreciative smoker.
The Prince is an elegant shape, a melding of the aesthetic sensibilities of the billiard and the apple, and, to my eye, only the 1/8 bent prince is truly in line for the throne; the straight version has somehow always seemed to me like a bastard stepchild. The Prince is not the easiest pipe to smoke, though. The length and bend make it troublesome when working at a desk; the thing seems to want to be carried by someone standing tall, engaged in civilized discourse. It lends itself well to emphasizing a point, and the small bowl is perfect, should the conversation become tiring; what better excuse than an empty pipe to excuse oneself from boredom?
The noble Bulldog is a hard shape to reckon. Classic, bold, somewhat otherworldly, it is certainly a shape that makes a statement. From the perspective of practicality, the bulldog is, in a way, an engineer's approach to improving the apple. Heresy, you say? Take away all the extra wood from a nice, full apple, while leaving just an elusion to the roundness, and, if done with talent and skill, a Bulldog may emerge. Perhaps this is too simplistic, but how else can one find a raison d'être for this wonderful shape? Perhaps understanding the genealogy of the thing is unnecessary; the rugged beauty of the shape should simply be enjoyed on its own merits. The first pipe I was really drawn to was a classic squat Bulldog with a tapered stem.
Put that wonderful quarter bend in the Bulldog's shank and stem, and the result is what many consider pure perfection, and, indeed, the Bent Bulldog has always been one of my personal favorites. For some reason, no other shape draws zealots to its camp so readily, so persistently as this one. There is little to be said for this rugged aristocrat of shapes that hasn't already been said elsewhere. The bowl fits the hand, the bend is perfect for comfortable smoking; everything just works. Huzza for the bent bulldog!
There are classic dimensions to each of these shapes, but there are many variations of the classic themes that seem to work equally well. The great pipe artists know how to take something great, and scale new heights in the interpretation. Of course, sometimes their efforts result in something that is silly, or even absurd. But, while the great English marques arguably represent the pinnacle of classicism, the Italian and Scandinavian artisans seem to bring their own wonderful design sensibilities to bear as they create new classics. More choices! Who can resist a beautifully executed, graceful Horn?
I know I've left out some wonderful shapes, but this brief exploartion has revealed that there is, after all, a common thread binding together my favorite pipes. Each, in its own way, represents itself perfectly, when perfectly executed. Function is not sacrificed for form, as seems to be the case with many of the more fanciful freehand pipes, which are neither light nor comfortable to hold (and I'll not mention the fact that many of them are just downright hideous to look at), but, neither is form sacrificed for function. Each of the pipes I've described can be a thing of simple and elegant beauty, as well as the perfect instrument for the enjoyment of a bit of some favored mixture. What more could be asked for? Comfort, aesthetic beauty, excellent functionality; these are the features of my favorite shape.
All of my most beloved pipes will fall into one of the above categories, or be an easily identifiable derivative of one or more of them. For instance, the pipe I'm currently smoking is a 1/8 bent Cognac/Bulldog with a hexagonal shank and a short, Lovat like stem. It's perfect. At the moment, it's my favorite.
That said, I'm afraid I've led you down a very long path for naught. Finally, I've decided that I do have a favorite shape; the one I happen to be smoking when someone poses the question.