For the New Year
Pipe makers tempt connoisseurs with class and style: New special releases and limited editions prove pipesmoking has plenty of exciting merchandise to offer.
Text & Photos by Richard Carleton Hacker
I was just perusing
my latest copy of The Journal of The Pipe Club of London - of which I am a proud honorary member (one of only two in the U.S., I am told). Nestled in amongst articles on such diverse topics as David Cooper’s clay pipemaking activities in West Sussex, a commentary on the elimination of the Grand Staircase at Dunhill’s flagship store on 48 Jermyn Street in London, and a new Don Carlos P.C.O.L. club pipe by Bruto Sordini (who thankfully has recovered sufficiently from an accident to start turning a few bowls again), one overriding fact became clear. No matter how much the anti-smokers may wail, and in spite of justified industry ruminations about a scant three percent rise in pipe sales, pipesmoking - and more importantly pipesmokers - are here to stay. On our own shores, this was pleasantly evident by a few of the more notable pipes I had time to view while dashing from my own booth to others during the pre-Katrina RTDA in New Orleans this past summer.
One of the most striking pipes - evidence of the manufacturer’s core commitment to the world of briar - was the Dunhill Christmas Pipe for 2005. Continuing a long Yuletide tradition that began for Alfred Dunhill Ltd. in 1980, this is the first new Yuletide pipe since the completion of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” series last year. The new Dunhill Christmas pipe is notable in the fact that its leather “book” presentation case is snow white, accented with 18 kt. gold trim. This is only fitting, because the pipe commemorates the 120th anniversary of the discovery of the snowflake’s unique crystalline structure. In 1885, photographer-scientist Wilson Alwyn Bentley was the first to capture close-up photographs of snowflakes. The pipe itself is a Group 4, shape #342 “Evening Dress” in Shell finish, with an 18 kt. rose gold band embossed with the outline of a snowflake (although the prototype shown in the photograph has a Dunhill “White Spot” logo; this has been changed to a snowflake on actual production pipes). Only 400 pipes are being produced, a 20% reduction from recent Christmas pipes, in order to tweak the rarity factor.
Comoy’s is also continuing their Christmas pipe series, a tradition that began for them in 1976. This year’s offering is a saddle bit bulldog stamped “Comoy’s - Christmas 2005” on the shank. Like recent pipes in the series, the pipe comes with an attractive wooden display stand. But perhaps even more exciting is the fact that this year Comoy’s has brought out 200 Blue Ribands. The Oppenheimer factory is also turning Sasieni 4 and 8 dot pipes. Yes, there is even a return of the South African-inspired 5-dot, a variation that did not exist in Joel and Alfred Sasieni’s day.
As long as we’re on that side of the world, let’s take a hop across the Irish Sea to Ireland. Peterson Pipes is celebrating its 140 years of existence with its Anniversary Pipe, a copy of one of Charles Peterson’s original pipes that is on display in the pipe factory’s museum. While visiting the factory in Dublin a few years back, I photographed the original because I got a laugh from the silver band, which was engraved, “When stolen, please return to 55 Grafton Street.” Evidently, the inventor of the “P Lip” had a sly sense of humor. And evidently the pipe was never stolen, or somebody actually did return it to the factory. In either case, at the time I suggested to Tom Palmer that they should think about reproducing the pipe. Well, for their 140th anniversary they did just that. Like the original, this limited edition pipe is a large bent with “P Lip” and the famous Peterson System, of course, finished with a deep burgundy stain, and a silver band engraved with the Peterson “Thinking Man” icon. But alas, there are no words imploring someone to return the pipe to Grafton Street.
Mention should also be made of Peterson’s Pipe of the Year, ninth in a series started in 1997. Featuring a large Prince bowl accented with a fishtail mouthpiece, this handsome shape is available in smooth and sandblast finishes. Either way, the wood is accented with a hallmarked sterling silver military mount, which is engraved with an attractive Celtic pattern. The shank is stamped with the pipe’s individual number, along with the Peterson logo, and “Y2005 Limited Edition.” Like many Peterson pipes, which are extremely popular in Germany, their Pipe of the Year is adaptable for use with a 9mm filter.
Speaking of Germany, back in 1984 Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, a noted pipesmoker who designed the classic 904 and 911 speedsters, created a pipe with an aluminum-shrouded bowl that replicated a ribbed airplane engine cylinder. His theory was that the ribs would dissipate heat from the bowl just as the ribbed cylinders of an engine dissipated heat from the motor. This avant-garde pipe, made by the Oldencott factory in what was then West Germany, caught on with a few devotees, but generally finished last with serious pipesmokers, who soon discovered that the bowl actually got as hot as an airplane engine when the pipe was smoked. The Porsche Pipe eventually went out of production and prices soared as Porsche fans began searching them out as collectibles.
Now the Dutch firm of Gubbels, makers of Big Ben pipes, has redesigned this style, under license from Porsche. What has emerged is probably the most over-engineered pipe on the planet. It is also a dramatic improvement over the older design. For one thing, the ribs that circumnavigate the bowl are no longer a heat-soaking separate aluminum casing, but are actually part of the briar bowl. Thus, there is no heat buildup, at least not any more than a normal briar pipe, as there is no “bowl metal” to transfer heat to the hand. However, there is a polished aluminum ring secured to the top of the bowl by five flush-mounted screws. A lug wrench is required to remove each of the screws. The aluminum ring can then be lifted off, revealing a pre-carbonized inner briar bowl separated by a thin aluminum ring from the exterior ribbed bowl. It is a lot less confusing than it sounds, and makes for an exceptionally cool smoke, as well as being a sculpted work of art. This 1950s Space Patrol-looking pipe is available in matte black, a rather elegant natural briar finish, or in a porous matte silver. Believe me, if Flash Gordon smoked a pipe, it would be this one.
Gubbels also is producing a second high-tech pipe based upon another classic car, the Bugatti. An elegant touring automobile in its day, Bugatti was actually a cousin of Porsche (how’s that for trivia?) In the 1980s, the Bugatti name was purchased by Volkswagen. There are rumors of a new Bugatti car coming out, but the pipe is already here, and those at the RTDA saw the prototype, which is being made in the same factory as the Porsche pipe. It features a ceramic bowl, an aluminum supporting oval framework anchored to a metallic resin body on either side by eight rivets, and an aluminum cooling heat absorber that looks like a radiator grill. This is definitely a pipe for Gotham City or The Green Hornet.
Other elegant shapes and grains by such artisans and brands as Erik N¿rding, Mastro de Paja, Ashton, Chacom, and Butz-Choquin only prove that pipesmoking - and just as importantly to retailers, pipe buyers - are here to stay. The new Dunhill Christmas pipe for 2005 celebrates the 120th anniversary of the discovery of a snowflake’s crystalline structure. Only 400 pipes are being made worldwide, and each comes in a gold-and-white book-style case.
SMOKESHOP - December, 2005