By Todd L. Platek
After a lengthy hiatus of many years, I have returned to pipe collecting and pipe smoking with glee. The reasons may be several, but it’s good to be back.
I grew up in a home filled with pipe smoke. East 89th Street in Manhattan, and, from my earliest memories, dad smoked his pipe with black coffee starting at about 6:00 a.m. each morning, except for weekends when he woke a bit later and lit up at about 8:00 a.m. He didn’t have many pipes by a collector’s standard, maybe a dozen. Nothing too fancy - some Jobeys, Wally Franks, and a Cavanaugh. Bought Brindley’s Mixture and Carter Hall in big cans. Used a plastic tobacco pouch. In the evenings, after work and dinner, he’d sit in the recliner reading and watching television simultaneously, pipes going furiously. Smoke wafted in the room, and we could see the layers of smoke dancing their way higher, then lower, then replaced by ever-new streams. My mother loved it, and whenever my brother or I would complain, my mother quickly interrupted, defending dad’s right to enjoy his relaxation. She thought he looked great with a pipe, and often told him how good he’d look with a cigar, but he was a pipe man, through and through.
Before I went off to college in 1970, I asked him if I could have a pipe, and he gave me a Jobey full-bent, and that was my start. When I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend George Washington University, I quickly found National Pipe and Tobacco Shop a few blocks away, met Ed Love, and bought my own first pipe – a black, sandblasted Savory. It probably cost me a week’s allowance. Six months later I bought a Ben Wade poker there, and smoked Borkum Riff. Within two years, I was working part-time at National Pipe and making my own English blends. I bought a few more Ben Wades, a Dunhill and a Barling with my paychecks. When Jack Weinberger came by, toting his carrying case to sell his creations to National Pipe, I bought one for my dad’s birthday, and later bought him a Charatan. He enjoyed both and I was pleased. He later bought a few Knutes because of the fabulous, and, I suppose, novel Danish freeforms which were unusual in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in comparison to the standard shapes with which he had grown up. Then fell in love with Butz Choquins and Morels, claiming they reminded him of his wonderful trips in France. He never did change tobaccos though, nor those plastic pouches. Pipe smokers are an independent lot.
When I left college and returned to New York, I still smoked a pipe. Then came stints in the Far East, marriage, children, and a hectic life of lawyering. Somehow, the pipes came to rest and I rarely smoked for over 20 years. But I never lost my fondness for my pipes and what they meant to me.
My dad is no longer with us, but his pipes still are. The pipes are part of the legacy he left, and I think of him when I see and smoke them.
Maybe that’s why I returned. Time catches up with all of us, and that’s usually not a bad thing.
Now, as I get older, I find solace in a good bowl of tobacco. It’s that time of the day for relaxing, reflecting and focusing. It can be while sitting at home, walking outside, or driving the car. Puffing while writing. Smoking with fellow pipe lovers. All the joys of the pipe.
It’s also the appreciation of the beauty of the briar. The sweet smell of briar before the tobacco fills the bowl is a pleasure in itself. The thought of craftsmen toiling, with their equal appreciation for the briar, to create the many pipes that now sit before me, or indeed the very pipe in my hand, is humbling.
Discovering only very recently the fascinating and illuminating world of eBay, and meeting pipemakers and fellow enthusiasts, has brought me tremendous satisfaction.
Each pipe I buy is special to me, and I suppose I never met a pipe I didn’t like. From Dunhills, Ben Wades and Parkers, to old Knutes and all those sexy Italian pipes and stylistic French pipes, to the wonderful world of briar crafted by individual American makers like J.M. Boswell & son, Tim West, Mark Tinsky and many others whom I am encountering, my pipe world continues to expand in many-splendored ways and directions.
On April 5, I attended my first pipe show, held in Newark, New Jersey. The people there, exhibitors and attendees alike, filled me with a feeling of brotherhood in their glorious enjoyment of our shared love of pipes and tobacco. As I write this, I am smoking the tan Caminetto I bought that day from Matt Hayes. Paige Simms and Bob Palermo contributed to my collection that day, and we all keep in touch. Helpful friends such as Dave Neeb have been met on eBay, and it's only a matter of time until, at a pipe show somewhere and sometime, we place the faces with the emails and phone calls. It is a warm and welcoming community, and I am proud to have joined.
My daughter’s recent Spring Break occasioned a car trip which I planned, without complaint from her or my wife, around J.M. Boswell’s shop, Matt Hayes’ shop, Pipe & Pint, and few other shops. My daughter can’t wait to go back to J.M.Boswell’s, so she can play with his Labrador Retrievers and see all of Gail Boswell’s birds. My sons want to visit J.M.’s pipemaking shop in the back. And me? I just want to sit and smoke and pass the time of day with J.M. and Dan and whatever other briar lovers stop by to smoke and chat.
We pipesmokers, we happy few.
It’s good to be back.