Out, Damned Spot!

14th March, 2012: Posted by glpease in Pipes, Technique

I originally wrote this article for the now long out of print Pipe Friendly Magazine, where it appeared in Vol. 5 No. 4 (1999). I later republished it in the Essays section of my site, and have subsequently migrated it here to the Chronicles for easier access and searchability. -glp

For years, I’ve collected estate pipes, appreciating their history, the value they represent, and lamenting the fact that some of the old marques are just no longer of the same quality they once were. Generally, I’ve had excellent luck bringing old pipes back to life, restoring them to their former aesthetic beauty, and enjoying some wonderful smokes in them. Sometimes, though, a pipe that can be made beautiful may not end up being a good smoke. There are myriad reasons for this, some having to do with the way the pipe was cared for by its prior owner. If the shank is coated with a thick residue of tars, if the bowl is soured, if the cake is too think, too spongy, the pipe won’t smoke well. Fortunately, these afflictions are easy to remedy with the proper application of some alcohol, some pipe cleaners, and a good reaming.

Other times, it’s the memory of the previous owner’s tobacco that lingers in the pipe, invading the bliss of our own favored smoke, rattling its chains and howling, each bowl reminding us that the ghost of something else is there, haunting our pipe. This same thing can happen any time when we change from one style of tobacco to another, especially from a heavily flavored aromatic tobacco to a more natural English style blend. The result can be a less-than-harmonious relationship with a briar. Read more…»

Reflections in the Mists

14th January, 2010: Posted by glpease in Pipes, Enjoyment, Editorial

This morning, I took a somewhat extended walk after dropping my son at school. Our walk is only a few blocks, and I always seem to be in a rush to get back home to begin the daily routines that have become my work over the past few years. This morning, it just wasn’t long enough.

The air is fog-chilled, and the feeling on my face too inviting to ignore. I decided to take the long way home, wandering towards the shore, and stopping off at the water’s edge to watch some ducks and some coots (birds, not old men) fishing in the still tides. A Castello Collection stack, deeply colored with a rich mahogany patina from years of smoking, filled to its beveled top with some old Garfinkel’s Orient Express #11 was my sole companion. Read more…»

A Stout Collaboration

18th September, 2009: Posted by glpease in Pipes

I can’t keep quiet about this anymore. It’s been driving me nuts not being able to talk about it, but we’re finally close enough to the release, and I’m thinking it’s safe to break the silence. After all, the first batch of pipes are done, and they’re stamped, and they’re coming to Richmond, so it’s pretty clear at this point that it’s really happening. It’s not so much that it’s been a Top-Secret, eyes only sort of thing. It’s just that up until this week, it might still have been just another dream. But, now it’s real. Now, it’s time to spill the fagioli.

Back in 2007, Luca diPiazza began discussing a new project to be done in cooperation with Radice. The idea was that Luca and I would create some fun designs that would be made by Radice in limited editions. The first design was to be a shorter, stouter rhodesian variant, almost a Brucianaso (nose warmer) in proportion.

Luca and I discussed the shape concept and the design parameters. I drew up the final sketch, and sent it off to Radice, from which three prototypes were made. Luca and I then selected the one that we felt right for the final model. I smoked that lovely ‘prototipo’ for a couple of weeks, just to make sure that the internal details were right. I’ve always really liked the way Radice’s pipes smoke, and fully expected this one to be great, but it seemed a good excuse to smoke a new pipe. It was fantastic, of course, and so the project was now officially well underway! Read more…»

Windswept Clouds

21st August, 2009: Posted by glpease in Pipes

There is playfulness and joy in so many of the Le Nuvole pipes of Maurizio Tombari, and it simply has to be that way. He and his wife, Stefania, who designs many of the shapes, are such delightful and lovely people, that something of them simply must come through in the pipes. The piece shown, a sort of windswept pot/billiard, reminiscent in some ways of the Castello 55 shape, is a beautiful example of this. Its form is elegant yet dynamic, strong, yet delicate and graceful, all while exhibiting that little bit of joyful whimsy that characterizes so much of Maurizio’s work. It’s what a 55 would choose to be if it were allowed to take flight on its own wings and soar amongst the clouds. Read more…»

The Pipe Whisperer - Part II

14th March, 2009: Posted by glpease in Pipes

Several years ago, I bought a pair of beautiful Princes, one smooth, one sandblasted, from Trever Talbert. These were part of his Ligne Bretagne range; pipes of excellent value, made from old post-war factory-turned stummels, fitted with modern mouthpieces, and  and finished by Trever and his delightful wife Emily “with the same engineering concepts and meticulous finish that Talbert Briars are known for.” The pipes, roughly Dunhill Group 3 in size, arrived, sporting long, almost churchwarden-ish stems, their shanks adorned with lovely copper fittings. They were elegant and graceful, and the old, well aged briar and excellent internal construction delivered superb smoking characteristics, clearly up to the standards that Trever set years ago with his own artisanal Talbert Pipes range.

The only problem was that I rarely reached for them. The mouthpieces were too long for a normal pipe cleaner, and their length put the balance too forward for comfortable clenching. I think of a prince, especially a small one, not as being a hand-held “reading pipe,” but as an easy, comfortable pipe to smoke, especially when working or walking. So, as beautiful as they were, as wonderfully as they smoked, the pipes tended to sit, more often gazed upon than enjoyed for their intended purpose. It seemed a shame.

One day, it hit me. I know a guy… Read more…»

Us vs. Them

20th January, 2009: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Pipes, Enjoyment, Cigars

From what I’ve read on various pipe smokers’ fora, there is some crossover between cigarettes and pipes or cigars and pipes, however, “We,” as pipe smokers, seem to be more than a bit jingoistic about the way we choose to enjoy tobacco. Pipe smoking is seen as superior by many, both smokers and non-smokers alike. I suspect this has much to do with the historical image of the pipeman as thoughtful, educated, considerate. We’re not all Albert Einstein or Fred MacMurray, but there is a strong iconographic link, forged over decades, that still persists to some extent today, even despite the popular influence of the rabid anti-tobacco movement.

The pipe draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts up the mouth of the foolish: it generates a style of conversation, contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and unaffected.

—Wm. Makepeace Thackeray

Personally, though I thoroughly enjoy both pipes and cigars, I have never really been a cigarette smoker. Sure, I’ve had more than a few of the little things over the years in moments of weakness or curiosity, and some have been exquisite. I fondly recall the Balkan Sobranies in their little tin boxes, and the French Boyards, with their black tobacco and yellow corn-paper, sweet and powerful in flavour and in effect, not to mention the Old Holborn RYO tobacco that was splendid. I’m sorry to say these have gone the way of all flesh, even though I would only rarely indulge in their guilty pleasures. Read more…»

Home from Chicago

9th May, 2008: Posted by glpease in Pipes, Enjoyment

After a fantastic weekend with far too much fun and far too little sleep (my dear friend Tom says, “You can sleep when you’re dead”), and an amazing thunderstorm, I’ve returned to the slightly more mundane California sunshine. Monday night, I couldn’t sleep at all, so I went down to the shop to restore a pipe that I’d gotten at the show. Yesterday, I napped. Twice. Today, I begin to feel human, but only just, so it’s time to share some thoughts from the show, beginning with a single word. Read more…»

The Pipe Whisperer - Part I

22nd January, 2008: Posted by glpease in Pipes

For quite a few years, this little Charatan Special has been hiding in its box, feeling bad about its broken stem. It had one of those peculiar Charatan “Double Comfort” mouthpieces that had gotten its fingers slammed in the glove box or something, snapping it right at the junction between the first and second comforts. Truth be told, I’ve never really liked this style of mouthpiece. It’s always seemed like a lot of extra effort in an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The result is a stem that is neither particularly comfortable, nor particularly attractive, and the removal of so much material makes it demonstratively weaker at the junction of the additional “step.” (For those who don’t know what the “Double Comfort” mouthpiece is, it’s a stepped saddle-bit, cut quite flat, with the thinnest section just behind the button where the smoker’s teeth clench it, and a thicker section making up the balance of the saddle.) Read more…»

Nothing Special?

27th September, 2007: Posted by glpease in Pipes


About three Saturdays ago, I was gazing at the latest offerings presented in the very-nearly-weekly update from Briar Blues. A lot of pipes caught by eye, as they always do, but one grabbed on with whitened knuckles, and refused to let go. I kept closing the window, only to open it again and. I wrote Mike about it, asking if he thought I’d like it. Mike and I have been friends for years, and he knows my tastes well. I can always trust him to render an honest, if understated opinion in full candor. I believe his response was something along the lines of, “It’s an okay pipe, but nothing special.”

I asked if he was trying to dissuade me from the pipe. “Yes, I suppose I am. It’s a nice piece, but you’ll probably find it heavy and awkward. Your call, though.” Almost his exact words. My call. I guess, really, it always is. Read more…»

Two Little GBDs

13th November, 2006: Posted by glpease in Pipes


Over the past few months, I’ve managed to acquire a couple of rare GBD 9438s, saddle rhodesians. I love the shape, but only seek out those that are unusual at this point. I’ve been chasing a Granitan and a Rockroot in the shape for years, and finally scored. (For some reason, while the shape is quite common, it seems to be quite rare in these finishes.)

The Rockroot came from a fellow 9438 aficionado, the Granitan from ebay. Both arrived in serious need of some restoration work. The stems were not in great shape, but everything was there to ensure they’d turn into really nice pipes. Last night, suffering from some sort of back trauma of unksnown cause that’s keeping me from being my usual hyperactive self, I sat in front of some mindless flick on the tele (I know - it’s redundant) with sandpaper (400, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000 grit Wetordry) and the pair of stems, and began the work.

Read more…»

First Bowls - Impressions of a new Will Purdy Pipe

11th November, 2005: Posted by glpease in Pipes


I was working on an article, This Old Pipe, about restoration of vintage briars, when I was derailed by something else; I don’t always have the longest attention span in the world. As I was writing, I was also smoking, really “breaking in” my latest pipe by Will Purdy, and simply HAD to take some time to put a few words on the page about the pipe, its aesthetics, it’s construction, its maker, and its characteristic Purdy smoking qualities. The other thing will just have to wait.

This pipe, one of his “007” models, was one of those unexpected gifts that sometimes arrive to bring some light to a dreary day, and it did that well. It’s a smallish pipe, with a conical bowl, somewhat narrower than Will’s “Martini,” and fitted with one of his exquisite saddle stems in brindle (“Cumberland”) vulcanite. The tobacco chamber, about 19-mm at the top, is drilled almost parabolically, to fit within the constraints of the bowl’s exterior. It’s 29-mm depth provides room for about 3-g of tobacco, just right for a morning’s smoke. Read more…»

Burns the Nose

28th October, 2005: Posted by glpease in Pipes


In the years I’ve been accumulating pipes seriously, my “collection” has undergone many metamorphoses. Even now, it’s more of a collection of collections, than one cohesive entity. I’m not sure it’s every going to have a specific concentration, or even begin to converge upon one, but only time will tell.

In the early days, I was, and still am, fascinated by the bent bulldog and its variants. I set out to acquire a significant collection of the shape, representing as many makers, important and less so, as possible, in as many sizes and variations as I find. The early part of this phase of my collecting was fairly easy. The shape has always been popular among pipe smokers, and makers have responded by making them in respectable numbers. But, the collection began to plateau at a certain point. There were still important pieces to add, but as I already had the easy ones to get, and was finding myself drifting into the thin air of the esoteric, increasing the collection became something that was either going to require a great deal of time, or a great deal of cash - money can almost always be exchanged for time. Finding myself with a shortage of both commodities, I decided to try a different tack. Read more…»

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