by James Lawson
Surprise: These second-class citizens of specialty tobacco are actually held in high esteem throughout the world.Make room for a solid addition to your pipe department.
Filters and filter pipes in general, according to many, are mere flotsam in the pipe smoking world. Pipe smokerís opinions are sometimes harsh: filter pipes are trashy, poorly-made agglomerations of briar, putty, and indiscriminate layers of lacquer or paint; filters are ill-conceived gimmicks which ruin the flavor of tobacco; filters constrict the draw (or inhalation) to the point where it becomes difficult to smoke the pipe; premium pipe firms have spurned the filter concept. These supposed drawbacks of filters are trumpeted by most American pipe writers, who, in turn, influence the mindset of industry people, retailers, and, ultimately, consumers.
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However, I have gradually learned over the past few years that many of the arguments against filter pipes are glaring generalizations and misjudgments. With apologies to Orwell: all pipes are created equal, but some pipes are a little more equal than others. Price or brand insistence is not an infallible determinant in obtaining a good-smoking pipe. On occasion I have encountered $25 basket pipes - even filter pipes - that smoke better than ones costing twenty times as much.
Should pipe filter be dismissed altogether by todayís smoke shop retailers? Absolutely not. There are numerous styles produced today. I have tried them all: paper, charcoal, balsa, meerschaum, silica gel, cotton, and more. Filters differ in size, cost, construction, and effectiveness - determined by factors such as smoking habits, types and cuts of tobacco, and bowl size.
Retailers that ignore filters and filter pipes are missing out on a growing sales sector, according to many manufacturers and distributors I have spoken to. There is an increasing number of European filter pipe brands - many with private-label filters - that are being introduced to the U.S.
Paper filters are the most commonly found filters in the market today. The two big players in this category are the well-known Medico and Dr. Grabow brands. Between them they have produced literally billions of 6- and 9-mm paper filters. The construction of these firmsí filters are, to my eyes, largely identical: a cellophane sleeve sheaths strips of paper, of which the innermost strip contains dozens of raised (paper) baffles that trap incoming nicotine and moisture.
Medico introduced the first paper filter in 1933. (A 1950s Medico ad featured star Yankee infielder Jerry Coleman touting the benefits of the Medico pipe and filter.) Generations of pipe smokers have made this type of filter a success, as well as the Medico and Dr. Grabow brands of pipes, of which approximately one million are produced and sold annually.
On a smaller scale, the E. A. Carey "Magic Inch" filter has been popular for a half century. This filter - referred to as Papyrate - is a tiny paper sleeve that fits only in the Magic Inch pipe. Over the years, I have talked to many retailers who have been asked by customers if they carry filters for Magic Inch pipes. The answer was invariably no, since this filter was the exclusive domain of the Carey Smokeshop in Canton, Ohio and its catalog business. Soon, however, the Magic Inch pipes and filters will be available to retailers through the companyís newly-formed wholesale division.
|Given the wide range of pipe filter types available today, why would enthusiasts want anything less than smoke shop expertise to guide their way? Service-oriented smoke shops are the ideal venue for filter pipe systems and supplies.
Charcoal filters are very popular with pipe smokers. There are two main styles: the American type (manufactured by Medico and Dr. Grabow), which employ carbon-coated paper with the same type of baffle system found in ordinary paper filters, and the German type (manufactured by Vauen and Denicotea) which are paper cartridges containing dozens of tiny charcoal pellets which shift freely inside. Vauen and Denicotea, the two giants in this category, make similar 9 mm charcoal filters. To the naked eye, the ends are the primary visible difference in these filters: some have two ceramic ends, while others have both plastic and ceramic ones. Vauen pioneered the 9 mm charcoal filter in 1934, whereas Denicotea didnít begin producing their charcoal filter until 1980.
Alexander Eckert, of Vauen, tells me that his companyís filters are tested regularly for quality control and product development purposes. Although results vary, he reports that Dr. Perl filters - Vauenís brand - "reduce nicotine by approximately 60 percent, and condensation levels by approximately 40 percent" over non-filter use.
Both Vauen and Denicotea also produce their own brands of filter pipes. Vauens are now available from XYZ Direct, and although not cheap, these German-made pipes are distinctive and smoke well. (I own and regularly smoke three Vauen pipes - with Vauen filters, of course.) Interestingly, the entry-level to mid-priced Denicotea pipes are also available from XYZ Direct, as well as Adsorba, Aldo Morelli, and Adventure filter pipes. Adsorba is also being distributed by Lane Ltd. XYZ Direct is designing a new, American-made 9 mm pipe that will carry the same name as Wessex tinned tobaccos. All of these pipes come with adapters for non-filter use.
Jobey pipes, formerly distributed by Hollco-Rohr, are now available from F&K Cigar Co. This popular brand of filter pipe is made in Saint Claude, France. F&K also sells Bari pipes and Bari-brand 9 mm filters. Former Nielsen, a celebrated pipemaker who produces the handmade Former pipes in Denmark, also makes the machine-made Bentley, a 9 mm pipe. All of these brands are F&K exclusives.