Intro: This is a golden age of pipe smoking! Today there are hundreds of companies and independent artisan pipemakers producing pipes each year with more cropping up regularly. There are thousands of tobacco blends of every variety available along with a steady influx of new blends being introduced. One is no longer limited to the stock of one's local tobacconist's shop because the internet has provided access to unlimited resources for pipes and tobacco. In this age where brick-and-mortar shops are becoming scarce, online retailers (or "e-tailers" as they are sometimes called) are flourishing. Without a doubt, the internet has been a key factor in the evolution of pipe smoking.
Pre-Internet Years ago pipe smokers purchased their pipes and tobaccos at a local shop or through a mail-order catalog. Choices were usually very limited according to what was being carried at that time by the shops. There was not a large variety of brands, shapes and sizes of pipes. Tobacco choices consisted of some premium brands like Dunhill, "drugstore" brands and house blends of local shops. Some of these local shops made some wonderful blends but were virtually unknown outside of the local area.
Information about pipes was not easy to find. New pipe smokers wishing to learn the basics of the gentle art usually had to find a mentor to teach them how to properly pack, light, smoke and care for the pipe. More than a few tobacconists gave crash courses to new customers making their first purchase. Most new pipe smokers were taught the standard "three-level" packing technique, given a bag of aromatic tobacco and sent along their way.
Early Internet Age With the implementation of the internet into the public mainstream came the Usenet group "alt.smokers.pipes". This newsgroup hosted a virtual community sharing a plethora of knowledge and experience in pipe smoking. New smokers could ask questions to seasoned veterans from the comfort of their own sofas. Information about various brands of pipes and tobaccos were shared between people all over the world. Some members traded pipes and tobaccos, discovered new blends and brands, learned new ways to pack a pipe and invented better ways to maintain a pipe. Eventually, the old myths were exposed as just that...myths.
As a result of having access to such a large pool of pipe lore, smokers began to enjoy the gentle art more than they had prior to joining the newsgroup. Several commercial web sites were created as "virtual smoke shops" and soon one could purchase those pipes and blends discussed online. Imagine the feeling of discovering that no-name pipe you thought was a high quality briar was just mediocre once experiencing a true high-grade! The gentle art of pipe smoking was virtually re-invented and re-discovered much to the delight of new smokers and veterans alike.
Present Day Today the internet hosts hundreds, if not thousands, of pipe-related sites. Online retailers have vast inventories and diverse selections. New artisan pipemakers create works of art in their homes and sell them on their own web sites. Some pipemakers and tobacco blenders have participated in the online pipe community giving smokers direct interaction with the creators of their favorite blends and pipes. It is a tight-knit community, a "Brotherhood of the Briar", that continues to support the gentle art and keeps it alive.
Through the internet we have a much better understanding of our pipes. Pipemakers teach us how pipes work and what makes them great and what makes them firewood. We know more about tobacco and how blends come together because we have master blenders sharing their expertise about the Leaf. Having a better understanding of the intricities allows us to appreciate that much more all of the work that is put into our beloved tools of tranquility.
Future Despite the smoking bans and other attempts to reduce tobacco consumption, pipe-related commerce shows no signs of slowing down. People are still buying new pipes, tobaccos and accessories. New blends are still being produced with more to come. In this golden age of pipe smoking we are keeping the art alive and growing. Many new pipe smokers are picking up their first briars each day. There is much available for everyone and it is our duty to enjoy it all.
And then came the Deeming Regulations, 8/2016: