Bill Unger : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Bill Unger

When Bill Unger announced his terminal leukemia in the publication he edited, the Pipe Collector, he was pragmatically blunt. His words could be paraphrased as, “I’m not enduring invasive medical procedures, so I have less than a year. But now on to important matters: the future of the Pipe Collector.” And he described the transition to a new editor and new secretary/treasurer for the North American Society of Pipe Collectors (NASPC), positions he held longer than I can estimate. Virtually forever.

No sentiment. No reminiscences. No sad farewells. Just encouragement to maintain memberships and support the publication: “First of all, renew your membership now without delay. … Second, keep writing those good articles for the Pipe Collector. Do that, and everything should be fine for something that is unique in the pipe world. …”

That was December 2012. He passed away less than a month later, on New Year’s Day 2013.

His farewell perfectly reflected his personality. It wasn’t about him; it was about the things he believed in. This was a man who gave to the pipe community and supported the hobby with everything he had right to the end of his life.

Bill was easy to spot at any pipe show. Tall, muscular, with vestigial long gray hair and beard from his counterculture days in the ’60s, he inevitably worked the words “Have you renewed your membership?” into every conversation. He loved Tracy Mincer pipes and wrote a book about them, The Custom-Bilt Pipe Story. Anyone who has authored a book on pipes can tell you it’s not done for profit; it’s done for love of the subject and a need to contribute to the community.

Perhaps his most important contribution was his work on the Pipe Collector. As editor, he helped people find their own voices and offered them a place to publish their opinions, speculations, theories, knowledge, histories and stories in the finest pipe newsletter of all time. An accomplished writer himself, with a Ph.D. in English, Bill rarely wrote much for the publication. He preferred helping others do so.

I knew Bill for 16 years. We would talk on the phone regularly, especially regarding submissions that were made to both the Pipe Collector and Pipes and tobaccos magazine, which I work for. We were never competitors—we worked together to find the best venue for particular articles. I’d often hear from a writer with an article that Bill had said would be better in P&T than in the Pipe Collector, and I reciprocated when circumstances merited. Sometimes we’d find ourselves both wanting the same simultaneously submitted article and had to resort to a coin toss. Bill would toss the coin and tell me over the phone whether I had won. He was remarkably lucky.

Bill Unger was fun, knowledgeable, generous, ethical; he was a friend to most and an inspiration to pipe smokers everywhere. I admired him, and now I miss him terribly. The best thing we can do to remember Bill, though, is to support the pipe community in general and the Pipe Collector in particular. To quote Bill: “Are you a member? You should subscribe today!” And every time you receive it in the mail, give a silent thanks to Bill Unger for all he has done to make pipe smoking and collecting a more enjoyable hobby.

—Chuck Stanion

The Pipe Collector, published six times a year, may be subscribed to by joining the North American Society of Pipe Collectors. Dues are $18 per year U.S.; $22 Canadian; $35 elsewhere; or $10 for an emailed PDF. The NASPC may be contacted at P.O. Box 9642, Columbus, OH 43209-9642; email:; website:

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Category: Feature Article, Spring 2013

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