Pipefuls : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine


Pipefuls iconby William Serad

I was quite surprised to get no response to Mr. Stanley Nigro’s letter regarding re-engineering pipes to work properly. I thought he threw down the gauntlet. And I was surprised because I do it when required. I am sure there are others who do, but no one wrote a ring- ing affirmation, nor did they roundly condemn the practice. So, do you adjust airways and the like? Let’s see if anyone in the readership has an opinion.
It was good to hear from Rob Denholz, whom I have not heard from in some years. He wanted to add his opinions to the topics of filling, breaking in and building a cake. He writes:

“I like to fill by drizzling in tobacco while tapping the bowl to help the tobacco settle; this followed by a gentle tamp with my finger. I like some resistance to the airflow, but not too much.

“When breaking in a new pipe (a rare event for me), I subscribe to the Cup O’ Joes approach, believing that the best results are obtained by smoking a few bowls that have been one-quarter to one-third filled, then adding more for a few bowls, etc. I collected Connoisseurs for many years. When I bought my first one and asked Ed Burak how to best break it in, he replied: ‘Just fill it and smoke it.’

“Having finished a bowl, Clarence Mickels used to cover the tobacco chamber with his thumb and shake it, which resulted in a thin coating of fine ash being evenly distributed over the inside of the chamber … then dumping the dottle and leaving the ash there, as is. I do this to this day and build a smooth, even cake this way.”

I must say, I have never heard of this trick, and I thought I had heard them all. I inadvertently do this in dumping dottle, but I have never shaken it to evenly distribute the ash. It seems that it would coat the bowl while still warm. We all know the pipe carvers who have their own secret recipes for coating the bowls of their new pipes. Frankly, I have never been fond of whatever their alchemy produces and prefer bare briar. But the idea of ash is a new one. I must try this on a new pipe, which won’t be too soon. It is a rare occasion to acquire a new pipe for me, living under threat should I bring “one more pipe into this house.”

Denholz continues: “Speaking of a pipe taking a while to break in … although I’m not usually attracted to Mark Tinsky’s designs, I very much liked his 1996 Christmas pipe. When I contacted him to buy one, I asked for a natural finish, but he had sold out, so I took the next best thing (I forget what he called that lightly stained finish). About a year later, collector Michael Gold died and a group of Americans [American Smoking Pipe Co.] he had owned found their way back to Mark. When I learned of this I contacted Mark and was happy to hear that there was indeed a natural in that group.

Photos from the Christopher Morley Pipe Club in Philadelphia at a meeting with Russ Oullette as guest speaker (All photos used with the kind permission of Dan Z. Johnson.)

Photos from the Christopher Morley Pipe Club in Philadelphia at a meeting with Russ Oullette as guest speaker (All photos used with the kind permission of Dan Z. Johnson.)

He added that it had the best grain of any from that year/style. So, I bought it. It smoked hot and harsh, but I liked the shape and appearance so much that I persevered … smoking it a few times a month. After a year and a half, all of a sudden, it smoked like a dream. I’m enjoying it to this day (and, boy, has it colored nicely). Parenthetically, Michael had asked Mark to put a silver band on the shank. Mark overlaid a band but noted that his stamping had thus been covered up, so he re-stamped the shank below the band. I didn’t want the band; he removed it before sending me the pipe. Consequently, I have a double-stamped American … maybe the only one existent (think double-die 1995 Lincoln cent!).”

Perseverance pays! I have tried tobaccos that I knew had desirable traits hidden at first that could be brought out. I have tested various bowl shapes, various pipemakers, various conditions, humidity levels and anything else I could scientifically vary until I found the key. It was usually worth it. In the case of pipes, it is mainly a matter of time. I have never given up, and the pipe usually relents and becomes cooperative. One need only invest the effort patiently, with the right tobacco and a friendly attitude. It is like the people who talk to plants. I don’t talk to the pipes, but I try to exude good thoughts in the hopes that they will get the idea of their place and function in the universe.

Regarding Clarence Mickels, in a later letter Denholz continues: “Mickels was a one-of-a-kind guy. I always looked forward to seeing him at the New York shows. I had a dirty meerschaum with me when I visited the room he was sharing with Chuck Rio. I asked Clarence if I could leave it with him to have it cleaned. He took it in the bathroom and washed it with soap and water in the sink! Worked fine.

“At the Ohio show, one morning, my then business partner Steve Abrams and I were having breakfast when Clarence walked in smoking a gorgeous rusticated bent. Steve told him how much he loved that pipe. Clarence took it out of his mouth and handed it to him; sold it to him for $50. But there’s more … 10 or 15 years later I’m helping Steve sell his pipes. He sent me a box of a dozen; that Mickels was in that box. I grabbed it for my own rack and sent Steve a check. A wonderful pipe.”

And a final experiment from Denholz’s letter that readers may wish to reproduce: “I’ve been reading old Pipes and tobaccos and recently came upon an article (1999 or so) in which you recommended trying some after-market blending. The idea of combining (the original) Frog Morton with McClelland Virginia No. 24 looked like a good bet. I popped a 1995 tin of Frog and a 1997 tin of 24 and mixed up a batch. Fabulous! Smokes like a cloud! Delicioso!”

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Category: Pipefuls, Winter 2016

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