Spontaneous Combustion : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Spontaneous Combustion

spontaneous_combustionby G.L. Pease

To the casual observer, pipe smoking must seem a simple thing. Some carefully selected, aged, blended and shredded leaves are casually stuffed into a simple furnace, introduced to a flame and gently consumed by fire, bringing the smoker moments of contentment and contemplation and the apparently immeasurable pleasures of taste and aroma, not to mention the warm beauty and comfort of the pipe itself. That’s how it always looks in old black-and-white movies, and that’s what I assumed it would be when I first took up the briar—a simple thing.

But there are many aspects of our pastime that must be more complex than they initially appear, because whenever pipe smokers are in each other’s company for any length of time, at least part of their rich conversation will inevitably turn to some deeper aspects of the two things that we all have in common, often accompanied by good-natured disagreement. Sandblast or smooth? Aromatic or natural? Virginia or Latakia? Factory pipe or handmade? Old or new? Perspex or vulcanite? Bent or straight? What shape is best for which tobacco?

In what some of my mentors would wistfully refer to as “The Golden Age,” when almost every town had at least one local tobacconist, these informal debates would have taken place within a smoke-filled shop, the stage artfully set with elegant displays of pipes, a wide selection of tobaccos on the shelves—in tins, in pouches and in jars—and a colorful cast of players making their entrances and exits. Friendly conversation would be found, new pipes would be proudly shown and discussed, tobacco discoveries shared. Newcomers would be welcomed, taken into the fold, and some of those closely held beliefs pertaining to the secrets of the Gentle Art would be revealed and commented upon by the sitting masters in hushed, reverent tones. Somewhere along the way, things started to change.

As the popularity of pipe smoking began to wane and shops began to shutter, many of these discussions first found other venues and continued as before until increasingly draconian legislation made it all but impossible to find public meeting places in which we could congregate, debate, illuminate and puff away, ultimately driving most of us into our homes, basements, garages, where we could enjoy our pipes in peace.

This could have been the harbinger of death for the social aspects of pipe smoking, but the fates would conspire with us to provide a new setting for our shared folly. In parallel with the beginnings of the decline of public smoking, the worker bees of technology were buzzing about in order to create a new mode of widespread communication, and it wasn’t long, pipe smokers being a resourceful lot, before this new technology was used to create the first online pipe groups. In the early days, simple interfaces allowed only for text to be shared, but in a fairly short time, graphic capabilities became commonplace and photos could be exchanged of pipes that were newly acquired, pipes that were liked, pipes that were coveted. In the nearly three decades since the dawn of this new trend, it has only grown, and today it takes nothing more than a device and a connection to put a finger on the pulse of the worldwide pipe community. Tobaccos can be discussed and reviewed; old brochures, catalogs and other memorabilia can be shared at the touch of a button; and like-minded friends can be found on every continent.

Though there are still many wonderful pipe shops with doors open and trade thriving, many of us live in areas not conveniently served by a conventional store and have had to exchange brick and mortar for keyboard and monitor, but the camaraderie that once seemed threatened with extinction remains alive and well, and is in fact growing as new generations of pipe enthusiasts join those who have come before them in celebration of the briar and leaf. And that the magazine currently in your hands has been in print for 20 years, far longer than any pipe- and tobacco-dedicated publication preceding it, further testifies to the resilience and vibrancy of our beloved pastime, and the support of those who participate in it.

Read the rest of the column by subscribing to Pipes and tobaccos magazine or the online digital edition.

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Category: Spontaneous combustion, Summer 2016

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