Becker & Musico Silver Spigot Billiard

19th October, 2000


Tonight's entertainment is brought to you (really, brought to me, but that will become clear soon enough) by a Becker & Musico sandblast billiard, with silver spigot mount.

I could almost just say, "A great pipe at a good price. Buy one!" Almost. It would be true, but it wouldn't be very informative, nor very much fun for me, and since the reason I'm doing this is for the fun of it, there'd be little point to such terseness. So, instead, I'll regale you with my endless diatribe about aesthetics, smoking characteristics, stories about my great aunt Alice's miserable little fox terriers, which is only important because my uncle, her husband, smoked nothing but billiards, and he'd probably have loved this pipe.

For those who haven't pressed the delete key, added me to their kill file, or put a price on my head (which isn't really very valuable, so I hope no one wasted too much money), I'll get serious now.

Despite my penchant for alien spacecraft shaped Danish pipes, I really do have a soft spot in my heart for traditional shapes, even billiards. It seems that a good billiard may be the hardest shape to do really well, and I've sure seen some silly looking "billiards." But, it was a little difficult to wrap my brain around the idea of an Italian pipe maker producing traditional shapes, and I mean really traditional shapes. These guys have done just that, and done it very well. The bowl of this one is about the size and shape of a Dunhill group 4 LB, with a competently done silver spigot mounted vulcanite mouthpiece. The sandblast is not very deep, but is very detailed, the black finish is even and shows the depth of the wood well, while the top is smooth, very smooth, and finished in a lovely deep red. The silver mount is a simple affair, a squared off silver cap on the end of the shank, and a smooth fitting mate on the military stem. It's not exciting silver work, but as I said it's competent, even well done, and these days, that's saying a lot, *especially* in a pipe which retails for just under $200. (Without the silver work, a similar sandblast can be had for, I believe, $135.)

I've known more comfortable stems; this one is a little rounder than really suits my dentition, making it feel a little thicker than I'd like. It took a little playing to find a place for it, and once I found it, I couldn't really hold the pipe there for any length of time. So, despite a rather low curb weight, this pipe is really better suited, for me at least, as a hand-holder.

The draw is quite open. I didn't measure the airway, but it seems like it's probably in the 3.5-4mm range, like many of my favorite smokers. I like an open airway, even though it requires a little more attention to keep from over smoking the tobacco. To me, the benefits far outweigh this minor disadvantage.

Prior to this, I'd smoked one bowl in this pipe. I don't remember what I smoked, but it was certainly a Latakia blend, and it was smoked without ceremony, without much attention. Certainly, it was good, or I'd have put the pipe in a different box when I was finished. That was a couple months ago, and the pipe has been sitting, patiently, awaiting its second bowl.

I decided to smoke a bowl of my beloved 30+ year old Garfinkel's Orient Express #11, to really put this pipe to the test. It makes sense; classic shape, classic tobacco. Now, I really love this tobacco, so to put it in a pipe whose smoking characteristics are not well know is a true act of faith. The idea of wasting even a single gram of this, my Holy Grail of tobaccos, on anything less than an excellent smoking pipe strikes terror to the very core of my being. (That's hyperbole - a literary device used to stress a point, in this case, to prove that I really love this tobacco, that it's rare, that it's immensely valuable to me. I wouldn't sacrifice a tin of the stuff to an entire pantheon of gods to save the world from imminent apocalypse. More hyperbole. Sorry.)

Now, about half way through the bowl (I smoke while I'm writing these things), I realize just how much I've been enjoying this pipe. The pre-carbonized bowl is very neutral, the flavor of the tobacco is unadulterated by strange flavors, and the smoke is clear, articulate and cool. The outside of the pipe has become pleasantly warm to the touch, and I've noticed no hot spots, no woody tastes, none of the astringent flavors of poorly or insufficiently cured wood. The pipe has some depth to it, more than I expect from a new pipe, though, naturally, it lacks the richness that can only be developed from months of smoking. But, there's a "darkness," a baritone quality to the smoke that is uncharacteristic of Italian pipes, which seem to more typically sing in a tenor voice.

It's a little odd for a pipe to exhibit even some of the characteristics of a well-seasoned pipe so early in the game, but this one is doing just that. A pleasant surprise, to be sure.

My only complaint is the stem. I do find it tiring to hold this pipe in my teeth. I don't mind hand-holding a pipe, and, in fact, I prefer it, in general. But, I've never quite gotten the hang of typing with one hand, so this is clearly not a "working" pipe. It's not terrible, but it's not ideal. That said, someone with different teeth may find it a perfect fit. Should it ever be necessary for me to be fitted with dentures, I'll be sure to have several sets fashioned in order to accommodate a variety of bit shapes. In the meanwhile, all I can do is whine when the bits are not to my liking, or rework them so they fit me. In this case, it's not the thickness but the curvature that's just a little off, and this being a fairly long pipe by my usual standards, at just over 6.25", the polar moment is just a little taxing. It's a minor complaint, and I certainly wouldn't let this get in the way of my buying another.

The bottom smoke is too soon here, and with a final relight, I prepare to come to a close. There's nothing here but wonderful tobacco flavor. All the way from top to bottom, this pipe has smoked admirably well. I have no doubt that after a couple ounces of tobacco have been through this beauty, it will smoke as well or better than many pipes costing significantly more.

Finally, as the last wisps of smoke begin to dissipate, I realized I had not used a single pipe cleaner during the entire smoke. Bone-dry, and not a shred of unburned tobacco in the ash. A fantastic performance by this relative newcomer.

Though a couple months transpired between the first and second bowls in this pipe, I'm certain the third will be enjoyed very soon. And the fourth...

Report Card:

Cut - B+ An excellent example of a billiard. The stem is a touch too narrow, or the shank a tad too thick, and the bowl is just a little bit too vertical to gain the pipe absolute top marks, but it's no slouch, and I've seen a whole lot of billiards that don't even come close in style, if a billiard can really have style, to this one.

Finish - A- Kudos for a beautiful blast. The grain and birdseyes are really well defined, and the detail is excellent. The black finish is lustrous and deep, and waxed to perfection. The stem, though not as comfortable as I'd like, is well made and finished fairly well, though not quite to a mirror polish. Under oblique lighting, some fine sanding marks are evident. Nothing that a few more minutes at the buffing wheel couldn't fix.

Comfort - C It's not terrible, but it's not great, at least to me. So, average comfort, average grade.

Engineering - A The pipe is open and free of obstructions. The tenon doesn't fit all the way to the bottom of the mortise, but with a spigot or an army mount, this is always going to be the case. The "tenon" is tapered to allow for wear, assuming the pipe is going to be disassembled frequently, and not always under ideal conditions. When I go out on Foreign Legion maneuvers, this just may be the pipe I take along. It's stealthy black finish will surely save my hide while I'm smoking behind the lines...

Smoking Quality - A/A+ To enjoy the second bowl in a new pipe as much as I did this one speaks volumes about good wood, well cured, and properly fashioned into a fine smoking instrument. It's darker in flavor than most Italian pipes, and almost exhibits Famous-English-Pipe smoking characteristics. Though a white dot wouldn't turn it into a Famous-English-Pipe, it might pass in a dark room.

This is a great pipe at a great price. Buy one. Really.

Becker & Musico pipes are imported by R. D. Field, who also brings in Il Ceppo, Ashton and Radice. It seems to me Mr. Field has a pretty nice lineup here! It's only coincidence that I've reviewed two of David's brands to date, but in upcoming installments, I might as well do the other two as well!

- 19 October,