The pipe cabinet was a bustle of anticipation. All the pipes were standing up straight and looking their best in the hope that they would be chosen for smoking on Christmas morning, a position of honor, and every pipe's ambition.
It was more than a month before the big day, and while every pipe hoped, most knew that the advantage was with a couple of newer artisan pipes that were getting a lot of smoking time. Still, the others were time-proven smokers, so all hopes were elevated.
Neudorf was not a new pipe and had no hope of being chosen. He'd been purchased abroad at the beginning and had enjoyed years of regular smoking, but now all the other pipes were smoked more than Neudorf. An unassuming lattice Billiard meerschaum stained a rose red, he had colored further over the years, adding pinks and deep maroons to his palette like a developing flower petal, but he knew he was deformed, having been born with a shank not quite as long as his bowl was tall, making him an imperfect traditional Billiard. He was an embarrassment to all the other pipes, who would not associate with him. They called him Short Shank and made him stay alone in a far corner of the cabinet.
With only four weeks until Christmas, the unthinkable happened: Neudorf was boxed and shipped away. He huddled in the dark, wondering what his fate might be. Soon, though, the box opened and Smokingpipes' restoration expert, Adam Davidson, greeted him with elf-like good humor. "Welcome to the Island of Misfit Smoking Pipes!" he said. "We'll have you fixed up soon!" Neudorf had heard rumors of a place for castoff pipes, but thought it a fairytale.
He was cleaned and reamed, polished and photographed, but then placed into another box. Weeks passed before his hopes subsided and he accepted that this must be how unwanted pipes disappeared, refurbished only for their final resting. He should have known that a short-shanked deformity like himself, no matter how well reconditioned, deserved no more than internment here in what was probably a landfill.
One day there was some commotion, and Neudorf's box opened, revealing colorful lights that he thought he'd never see again. It was a Christmas tree. Astonished, he recognized Christmas morning. He was being unwrapped as a gift!
"Look at that!" said an ephemeral voice. "Beautiful! I'm loading and smoking it right now." Neudorf was overwhelmed as his tobacco chamber was filled with a delightful Virginia/Perique blend and fired up for his first-ever Christmas morning smoke. "The colors on this pipe are fantastic," said the voice. "I especially like how the shank is a little short and extended with a longer stem. Wow, what a smooth smoke!"
Other pipes scattered about the room looked on with approval and admiration. The eager meerschaum had found his place at last, and according to legend, if you lean close to your pipe rack late on Christmas Eve, you may hear your own rotation celebrating with the happy Christmas tale of Neudorf the Red-Rose-Stained Meer.
I've smoked a pipe in just about every environment a being can smoke a pipe. I've smoked on six continents, in rainforests and deserts, on crowded streets and serene beaches, in caves, on mountains, and at sea. My mother claimed that I smoked in the womb, because for days after my birth she erupted in clouds of tobacco flatulence that drove our blinded and gasping cat out a window, never to return.
But the most unusual place I ever found myself smoking was at the bottom of a fresh grave, at midnight, in the town's spookiest cemetery.
It was named Wrathmire Cemetery, but the locals called it Banshee's Breath because of multiple unsolved disappearances and hideous wailing drifting from the property. None in town would risk a nighttime visit, but I enjoyed smoking there on evening strolls; it was silent except for the wind churring through the trees and accelerating across the open ground, whistling the cold, dispassionate forest air across the graves, interrupted only by tombstones, each emblematic of a life beyond recapture.
I felt rather than heard thunder migrating through the earth, and a flash in the distance revealed roiling clouds building. Lightning strobed the perimeter of the cemetery, where two security guards were converging. I slipped closer to listen from the shadows.
"You saw it too?" said the larger of the two.
"Yeah, yer damn right," said the other. "It's gotta be the banshee! I'm outta here!"
"You leave me here alone and I'll taze you in your face, Ed! My wife will disembowel me if I walk off another job. Oh my god, what is wrong with you? You've pissed yourself!"
Ed appeared to be staring past me. He pointed shakily and I turned.
My stomach backflipped as the banshee, reeking of despair and rotten entrails, hovered six feet away. Disfigured and hideous, her eyes reflected the infinite torments of perdition, rimmed in fiery crimson and bulging from her skull, drilling into me with distilled, supernatural hatred. Wisps of ashy hair sprang from moldy tufts on her scalp, and her broken and rotted teeth protruded like shards of obsidian when she opened her mouth preternaturally wide and erupted in a shriek of marrow-curdling malevolence harbidging the dissolution of all creation.
It was a scream of primordial malignity, bestowing utter hopelessness and irrevocable insanity. I involuntarily jumped straight into the air.
I landed at the bottom of a fresh grave, the banshee already reaching for me with earth-caked talons, opening wide the tear in dimensional fabric disguised as her maw as she prepared to render a shriek that would usher my soul to the darkest inescapable depths of the lowest circle of Hell.
She was powerful and would certainly have destroyed me, if she'd been my first beast, or if I had a soul. I raised my palm in a stop gesture, freezing the banshee while I lit my pipe. I built some thick smoke and blew it toward her, weaving an incantation of my own invention into the tendrils of Virginia and Perique, which now constricted around her in tightening cables dragging her toward me. She was startled and terrified. For my listening pleasure, I permitted her to scream as I devoured her.
The guards had collapsed in terrified immobility. I ate their souls and tastiest organs, and resumed my walk, soon happening upon a cat traveling across the graveyard. It stopped and growled, and zipped away. Accepting the delicious opportunity, I relit my pipe and followed.
<<Life expectancy for Pipe Smokers:
Okay, sit down for this.... A US Surgeon General report “Smoking and Health” (No. 1103, page 112) noted, “Death rates for current pipe smokers even with men smoking 10 pipefuls per day
and with men who had smoked pipes for more than 30 years.” On page 92 the report also stated,
“Pipe smokers who inhale live as long as nonsmokers and pipe smokers that don’t inhale live
longer than non-smokers.
What? Life expectancy for pipe smokers is three years longer than... Non-Smokers! Just try to
use that argument with an anti-smoking activist! Of course this is not to encourage people to
smoke, but has more to do with the personality of a typical pipe smoker. Most are type “B”
where most cigarette smokers are type “A”. So a pipe smoker, on average, is a more laid back
person. Second, smoking a pipe is very relaxing. You just can’t be angry when you are smoking
Cigars are also relaxing but it seems, not as much as pipes. Most cigarette smoking is not so
much a relaxing experience as it is a need for nicotine.
Other interesting facts and some to keep in mind:
1) Pipe smoking is the lowest tobacco risk - but the risk is not zero.
2) Pipe smoking risk is much like a second hand smoke risk
3) Pipe tobacco has less nicotine per gram than cigarettes and contains very little of the additives.
4) Wet smoking is the worst risk so be sure and clean pipe thoroughly.
5) If you have any sores in your mouth or a sore throat, wait to let the mouth heal first.
6) The main risks from cigars is chewing the cigar and the direct contact with the lips.
7) 27% of all smokers are pipe smokers in Sweden. In US only 2%
New Year's Eve has traditionally marked an opportunity for me to review the past year in terms of the pipe industry at large, as well as our little corner of it specifically. That's been a routine and happy task; it's a chance for me to assess the direction and goals of our company, and review what we've done wrong and right, as well as examine the well-being of our hobby and industry.
But 2018 was different, and rather than being proactive, we found ourselves reacting more often than anyone would like. Though certainly a year freighted with decisions and outcomes, 2018 was punctuated by calamities beyond anyone's control and the challenge of responding to them.
The year began with the passing of my friend and giant in the pipe world Lars Ivarsson, and ended with the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Smokingpipes' Customer Service Manager, Chip Kushner. In between were our tribulations with Hurricane Florence, a storm that left the Cornell & Diehl building dry, but inaccessible except by canoe. More widely, 2018 saw the closing of McClelland and the discontinuance of the Dunhill pipe tobacco brand. McClelland's closure was particularly sad for us as we had long been good friends with and advocates for Mike and Mary McNiel.
No year is all gloom, though. In late July, Laudisi, parent company to Smokingpipes, acquired Kapp & Peterson, including the pipe factory and the shop on Nassau Street. And although our colleagues Joshua Burgess, and Adam and Chana O'Neill, uprooted themselves from the sandy soil of coastal South Carolina, and we no longer see them daily, they moved to the verdant shores of Ireland, so we can be not only happy for them, but a little envious. We also launched Smokingpipes Europe in November to better serve our customers in the EU, a project that had been in the works since early 2017.
In February, Cornell & Diehl moved down the road to a new 18,000 sq. ft. facility, which gave it the additional space it has desperately needed and, excepting closure around Hurricane Florence, it's let C&D expand production considerably. It also gave us space to double the size of Smokingpipes' warehouse at the main facility, which was equally imperative.
Another positive was the launch of Savinelli's most popular release in years with the Oceano. Smokingpipes also started working with famed Danish pipemaking duo S. Bang and celebrated German pipemaker Cornelius Mänz.
Customarily, these little end of year epistles of mine probably read like those grating Christmas missives you receive from your second cousin detailing his children's many academic, social and athletic feats. But every year brings surprises, both good and bad, and I remain optimistic. The industry is diminished by the closure of McClelland, pipemaking has seen the end of an era with the passing of Lars Ivarsson, and we will continue to miss Chip terribly here in Longs, SC, but the hobby is vibrant. Pipemaking is better than it has ever been, with more creativity and talent than we could have hoped for a few years ago. And we continue to have a vast array of tobaccos for our smoking pleasure, despite the loss of some favorites.
If 2018 showed us anything, it was the importance of the many personal connections we love about our industry. Most pipe-related businesses started because of a love for the hobby and the people involved, so ours is an industry happily populated by friends and those who share our passion. We're intertwined; we depend upon each other and are all affected when disaster strikes any part of it. We build friendships, and sometimes we must watch them fade. But there are always new and interesting friendships waiting, and knowing that, we move forward with confidence.
So, thank you, dear pipe smoker, for your support of the hobby and industry, and for making Smokingpipes a part of it. We look forward to the new year and all we can do to make our hobby stronger, and to share with you whatever triumphs or cataclysms we may all experience in 2019. It's a great time to be a pipe smoker, especially so because the friendships we cherish come free with the pipes we acquire. We all have each other. No other industry can claim that; no other industry is made of the stuff that attracts such original and independent individuals as pipe smokers.
A couple of branches up in my family tree is a great uncle of some sort who was an Indian agent for the U.S government in the late 1800s. I mainly know about this person, whose name I do not recall, because many of the Native American artifacts that he collected during his career remained in my great-grandfather's house. There was a saddle frame made of bone, a leather knife sheath, some beaded clothing, an incredibly smelly buffalo hide, and most fascinating, a genuine peace pipe.
Indian agents were not highly thought of by society, which is somewhat reassuring given the level of disrespect shown to Native Americans and their artifacts, especially the peace pipe, which is a sacred item. Indian agents were responsible for making sure Native Americans learned to farm, learned to speak English, did not "idle for want of an opportunity to labor," did not drink alcohol, and did not leave the reservation without a permit.
From our perspective, that is a loathsome job that no one should take. But even in the 1800s, Indian agents were publicly deemed as corrupt, unprincipled opportunists and were routinely subject to derogatory news articles. I'm not proud of this ancestor's career choice, but there are worse in my family tree, so I won't obsess about him.
However, he did inadvertently gift me with an interest in pipes. Whenever we visited my great-grandfather, I would bolt to the basement, which was filled with fascinating objects, the best of which was the peace pipe. Made of genuine pipestone, also known as catlinite, mined only in Minnesota and only by Native Americans, the bowl was a deep red streaked with white, and the stem was a white wood (probably ash or sumac, most often mentioned in articles) with leather wraps, feathers and beads.
It was decades later when I started wondering about pipes like the one I'd known as a child. Native Americans did not have electric drills or long drill bits of any sort. How, I wondered, did they drill a smoke hole through a foot and a half or more of solid wood? The question is even more intriguing when considering the many sacred pipes with curved stems. Flexible drill bits were as unthought of as regular drill bits.
At last, I ran across a 1949 article in Pipe Lovers magazine that satisfied my curiosity. The cores of the woods used for stems contain pulpy, soft, pith centers. The Native pipemaker would pour grease into the wood and the pith would soak it up. Then a small hole was fashioned for placement of a hungry grub, which was sealed inside with pitch. The grub would eat through the greasy pith and come out the other side, leaving a smooth, even smoke hole behind.
What an elegant solution to a puzzling problem. Further research indicated that some tribes merely laid lengths of wood on ant hills, and the ants would eat the soft pith. Quartz was used as a smoothing agent, like sandpaper, and some tribes did use drill bits of sorts, with hard white quartz points at the end of a thin shaft wrapped by a bow string attached to a bow, generating rotation as the bow moved forward and back, similar to a well-known fire-starting technique.
The ingenuity of ancient peoples continues to amaze me. In fashioning pyramids or pipe stems, they found brilliant (or, in the case of pyramids, brilliant and brutal) ways to accomplish their goals. Many problems that puzzle us today were solved long ago with simpler and more insightful means than we would imagine.