Published: 20 May 2013
In the previous article I covered my favorite Virginias. I remain hugely loyal to Samuel Gawith and Fribourg & Treyer. I've been loading up on F&T Cut Virginia Plug lately after it became available again for the first time in a quite a while. That tobacco just knocks my socks off. Yes, it's a bergamot cased Va just like Hamborger Veermaster and Dunhill Flake, but the underlying tobacco of the F&T is just spectacular. It's become my single favorite German flake, and that's saying a lot.
I have passed the 100 pound mark in my cellar. At my smoking rate that's about what I need to see me through, with luck both ways anyway. Luck that I make it that long, and luck that I don't outlive my cellar.
At the end of the line, cellaring wise, you start looking at your inventory and really second guessing yourself. Hey I have too much of this. Man I really should buy another pound or two of this. You'll drive yourself nuts, and frankly you'll never achieve perfection because you just can't account for shifts in taste. You do the best you can.
So here I am at the end of the line, cellaring wise, and I have been checking tobaccoreviews.com more than I have for a long time. Just making sure I'm not missing anything. I became curious about McClelland again. There must be something to their Va's, so many people love them. Me, as a Lat blend smoker I wasn't very enthused about their Lat blends, and tins of Dark Star and Blackwoods Flake didn't do anything for me so I just kind of moved on. A kind forum member sent me some McClelland samples not too long ago. Can of worms opened.
Published: 15 April 2013
I lean dramatically to old factory pipes and am not much of an artisan pipe guy. Part of that is me rationalizing what I can afford, but at the same time I have paid artisan prices for a few of my old factory pipes. At the end of the day certain old English makes put a spell on me that doesn't wear off, and knowing this I put my money where I know it will keep making me happy after the acquisition. That, and classic English shapes are anything but dull for me. They are beautiful objects of utility that hit all my benchmarks; lightweight, shapes that showcase the interpretation of the shape and the grain, and generally excellent smokers. The slight differences between six different maker's billiards never fail to fascinate and attract me.
There have been pipe carvers that have caught my eye, but even when I see a pipe I like, if the whole catalog doesn't thrill me it kind of puts me off that pipe and I move along. There are only two contemporary pipe makers who pass that litmus test for me, and one of them is Chis Asteriou.
Chris is a young architect from Athens, and I first really became aware of his work through smokingpipes.com. Beginning seriously as a hobby pipe maker in 2007, his 2011 output was 19 pipes. In 2012, 51 pipes left his bench, and he plans on making around 60 in 2013. In addition to the Asteriou pipes you may find at smokingpipes.com and Massimo Musico's shop in Rome, Chris does accept commissions.
Much of Chris' work to date has been inspired by the English classics. I remember the first pipe of his that really knocked my socks off, a beautiful Liverpool at smokingpipes. Fantastic grain and lines that would have made Comoy's jealous. I actually had that kind of bank on account there at the time, and I agonized over that pipe and a Dunhill Chestnut billiard. I love that billiard but every time I smoke it I think of that Asteriou Liverpool and I will have to commision one from him at some point just so I can stop kicking myself for not buying it.
Published: 18 March 2013
The first couple of tobaccos I ever smoked in a pipe were aromatics. I moved on quickly, because the great tin aroma never translated into the smoke for me.
Next stop was Latakia blends, where I happily stayed for a long time. I also explored Burleys, after a generous forum member sent me a big selection to sample.
As I was winding down figuring out how to finish my half completed cellar, I decided I'd better revisit straight Virginia tobaccos again, just to be sure I wasn't making a mistake in omitting them from my cellar. I took to Va's instantly and in a big way. I scrambled, building a cellar that was focused squarely on straight Va's, with enough Latakia and Burley to provide some variety. Good thing I had a last minute crisis of faith.
I've since revisited a couple of quality aromatics, and I don't hate them, but I still am left feeling that a lightly cased Virginia tobacco provides more flavor and better tobacco satisfaction. For me it's difficult not to smoke straight Va's to the exclusion of all else anymore. Not every bowl sings when you focus on Va's, but the ones that do really sing, and of course, the better your technique becomes the more likely you are to have those epiphanies.
Published: 13 March 2013
Loewe is my favorite pipe maker. How to rank them in terms of the many great London made pipes of their era? For me in the simplest of subjective terms, Loewe pipes from before the Civic era are like Comoy's, but even better. After Civic took over in 1964 I suppose the quality of Loewe was very comparable to a lower end GBD, which means they were still ok pipes but not up to previous standards. But those earlier pipes...to me they're just as good as it gets.
A shape catalog that is very, very English, outdated by today's standards for all but the most ardent Anglophile. Stems that mirrored the fantastic cut of a Comoy's hand cut stem, with the added bonus that the earlier pipes had stems using a softer vulcanite. Almost rubbery, like Charatan Double Comfort stems, or for a modern comparison, like the very soft ebonite Dolly Wood cuts Ferndown stems from. The one modern Dunhill I have that doesn't have a Cumberland stem has a similarly nice, soft vulcanite stem. Just a joy to clamp between your teeth.
There is not a ton of material around on these great old pipes, and there aren't too many of them to be had compared to the other English marques from the period. One thing I've noticed is most of the old Loewes you see look rode hard and put up wet, which tells me that their owners loved them and smoked them, which is the highest praise any brand can gain.
The following is an outline for placing your Loewe pipe within an approximate range of years, gained from what little I've found on the web and the experience I've gained from buying them.
Published: 07 March 2013
I started collecting Orlik pipes sort of by accident. They aren't a brand that receives a lot of forum lip service, and they don't turn up all that frequently on eBay. I got my first, and I was so impressed with the quality of the pipe I went into an Orlik PAD frenzy. Somewhat plain, nothing extraordinary about the shaping, grain nothing to speak of, but there was just something about the cut of their billiard and Lovat and the solid feel of them. They smoke wonderfully, and if I had to pick a single billiard to represent perfection in the wide, wide field of English billiards, my money is on the Orlik shape 20.
Long before the name Orlik became a property of the Danish tobacco concern we're all familiar with, the name stood for quality London made pipes. Founded on Bond Street in 1899 by Louis Orlik, the company produced pipes of similar quality to Dunhill, Sasieni, Barling, GBD, Loewe and Comoy's until 1980, when they were acquired by Cadogan. Like the other hallowed marques acquired by Cadogan around that time, production was moved and quality took a nose dive. These post-1980 pipes became of little interest to collectors.
The following is not an exact guide to dating Orlik pipes. The best we can do is roughly determine whether the pipes are pre-1950, 1950-1972, 1972-1979, and 1979 and later.
In order to find Orlik pipes possessing a desirable pedigree, we'll look to the series that Orlik produced while they were still an independent concern. The series code precedes the shape number in the stamping on the starboard side of the shank. Unlike some brands that have separate series for sandblast pipes, Orlik blasts were graded and stamped with one of the existing series, but not all series had sandblast representatives. Orlik appended an X to the series stamping on these blast pipes, so that an Orlik Supreme billiard shape number 20 normally stamped T20 would be stamped TX20 if in blast finish.