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…

I packed the pair up, and shipped them off to George Dibos (Precision Pipe Repair) with a short note explaining only that I wanted them to be transformed from “Princewardens” to their more traditional form. “You know what to do. Whisper to them.”

George and I talk frequently. I knew I could simply place the aesthetic decisions in his hands, and wait for him to work his magic. My only specification was that the mouthpieces should be black acrylic. (I’ve grown somewhat weary of keeping vulcanite shiny.) This is actually a lot of trust to put in anyone. I’m a serious devotée of the Prince shape, and have seen far too many of them that are out of balance, or that present interruptions in the flow of the very curves that make the shape, when executed perfectly, so graceful and beautiful. It’s one of those shapes that is deceptively difficult to do really well. But, as these bowls were superb, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.

A few weeks later, a photograph arrived in my inbox, along with the brief note, “Is this what you had in mind?” It was the sandblast Prince, made gorgeous by the absolutely classic proportion of the new mouthpiece, but cut more elegantly than any Prince in my little collection of the shape. I think I managed to summon a “Wow!” in response. But, it was only a photograph. These things need to be seen, handled, experienced to really know if they’re right. So, a couple days later, it was in my mailbox. In the hand, it was even more beautiful than the photograph suggested, and between my teeth, it was perfection. Elegant, comfortable, light. Excellent! But, what about the other one?

I tapped out a quick note: “Do you want me to send this one back so you can match the mouthpieces of the two? I really want them to be a pair.”

“No need. The bowls are virtually identical, so they’ll ‘ask for’ the same stem. Sounds crazy, but that’s how it works. When I look at the stemless bowls, they sort of complete themselves in my mind’s eye. I’ll make the other one tomorrow.” A smart ass, huh? Or someone who really does talk to pipes. I impatiently waited just a few days. This time, no photo presaged the pipe’s arrival. Just the box, with my “new” smooth Prince nestled within. Let’s see how good the guy really is…

I got out the calipers, and measured the length of the two pipes to find them within 0.5mm of one another. Held up together, the curve and flow were matched with Precision. The shank of the sandblast pipe has a very slightly smaller diameter than the smooth, so the stems really had to be cut as individuals. They are, therefore, not quantitatively identical, but within the context of the personalities of the two pipes, they are a perfect pair.

Because of the small diameter of the mortise, the airway could only be brought to 3.5mm, rather than my preferred 4mm, in order to maintain enough material to ensure structural integrity. I can live with that. The airway throughout is clean and smooth, and, George tells me, of a constant cross-section. I’ll take his word on that. The tenons are expertly fitted, reaching just to the bottom of the mortise, minus a necessary business card thick (0.2mm) gap to allow for expansion and contraction. These are in every way perfect. A match made in North Dakota.

Since getting them back, this Princely pair has been smoked more than they have been in all the previous years I’ve had them. The draw is easy and ideally suited to the bowl size, and the flavour of that old wood is delivered with fluency. I could not be happier with the pipes, now, nor with George’s always excellent work.

This guy really is good.