Tag: prince pipe shape

My no. 1: Abingdon

Sometimes it is with tobacco as it is with music. You hear songs that are ok or ones that suck until suddenly, whoaaa.. What is that?? You listen to it more closely and slowly feel yourself falling in love with it with every time you hear it. After that the song sort of becomes part of your life and you keep listening to it until the day you die. Luckily I am not yet in that last phase but master-blender GL Pease’s creation Abingdon certainly has ingrained itself in my existence.

Unfortunately I can’t remember exactly when I first smoked Abingdon. My First Pease blend was the then hyped Chelsea Morning. With trembling hands I popped that tin, filled the bowl, lit the pipe aaand… It sucked. Perhaps I was expecting the nectar of the pipe-gods or so but it wasn’t on par with anything I had in my mind. I never had it since, maybe I should because during the years my taste-buds have vastly improved. After that I got a sample of Westminster from a friend and it blew me away. Ok, perhaps this “Dark Lord” Pease-guy does know what he is doing after all, I thought. It must have been after that when I tried my first bowl of Abingdon. Apparently I liked it really, really much because when I look at my tobacco tin purchase history the name “Abingdon” often pops up. Nowadays about once a year I open up a tin of it as a treat to myself. It never fails to deliver.

Thanks to Troy Lloyd

Backstory:
I quote GL Pease here: Some may have caught the hints of the inspiration behind this one when I’ve written about it in the past, but for the rest of you, here’s the back story. When I began to think about what I wanted to do with the Classic Collection, I had it in mind to pay tribute to some of the tobaccos of the past that had inspired me over the years—not to attempt their recreation, which is always something of a fool’s errand, but to produce blends that were reminiscent of what certain blends meant to me. It was my desire to paint something of a leaky memory picture of what the now old 759 was like in its relative youth that inspired me to concoct Abingdon. First, there was 759 and there was 759. The blend went through some changes during its life, and not every vintage is like every other. Too, while many have claimed to “clone” or “replicate” particular blends, I have never once found one of these copy-cats to successfully reproduce one of the old blends. In most cases, they’re not even really close. Later vintages of 759 seem to have been more dominated by Latakia. For those, I think Abingdon may be a little closer, though certainly not identical. Abingdon was named after Abingdon on Thames, the home of the legendary MG motorcar. For me, something about that wonderful, oily, intense smokiness of the tobacco recalled the wonderful smells of my old MGA, so it seemed fitting.

Description from the producer:
Abingdon: Dark, Mysterious and Full. Abingdon is the fullest Balkan style blend in the collection. It is rich and robust, powerful and forthright, yet still possessing subtlety and finesse. Dark flavours of wood and leather mingle with delicate undercurrents of sweetness, and deep earthy notes, while the oriental tobaccos provide hints of their verdant, sometimes herbaceous character. A big Balkan blend, reminding us once more of what these blends used to be. Because of the high percentage of dark and oriental tobaccos, it’s recommended to pack Abingdon a little less firmly than you might a lighter blend. Abingdon was released in July, 2003. And another quote from GL Pease himself: Abingdon is not topped or cased. It, like most of my blends, relies solely on the flavours of the leaf to make it what it is. It’s actually a fairly simple formula, but the result is delightfully complex. It’s an interesting mixture as it is quite heavy with latakia, but the orientals are more subdued. The virginias form the backbone of the smoke, but the latakia makes quite a statement.

Package/tin:
A typical American round pop-lid tin with paper wrapper. I must say that for this review I have an old production tin (from 2012). Not too long ago the artwork changed a bit. But still on the front there is a picture of a bulldog shaped pipe on top of a fountain pen and a piece of writing paper. On the back it says: A full Balkan style blend with a generous measure of Cyprian Latakia, seasoned with fine red and lemon yellow Virginia tobaccos, and enhanced with rich oriental leaf. Abingdon is bold and assertive, while retaining a stylish finesse. The Classic Collection draws inspiration from the great tobaccos of days past. The blends offered are not meant as attempts to replicate them, but to pay them homage to capture some of their essence.

Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin I am greeted by the light and dark blended ingredients: Cyprian latakia, red and lemon yellow Virginias and orientals. The cut is a kind of rough ribbon cut with chunky pieces throughout it which you sometimes have to rub out a bit.

Smell from the tin:
The smell from the tin is wonderful to my nose. Sweet, salt, leather, smoke, spice, autumn, wood, earth all mixed into one like the instruments of an orchestra. I would have expected to notice more of the latakia. Perhaps it is the age of tin (6 years) so that the tobaccos inside have mellowed but this does not smell at all like the “bold and assertive” which is promised on the tin label.

Taste:
Upon lighting the blend there sometimes can be a slight bitterness, but it usually goes away after a few puffs. I have to think of my old and trusty Toyota Starlet. When I first start it there is lots of smoke and the pungent smell of petrol but after some hitting the gas it runs smoothly. Sort of the same with Abingdon. When the blend awakens and I am lucky I get some dark fruit/raisin/apricot taste-swirls throughout the rising smokiness from the latakia, the Virginia sweetness and the oriental sourness. For me Abingdon is not a complex blend. Once it gets going basically the same taste stays throughout the bowl with some little nuances here and then. But that basic taste is… So damn yummie! The balance between all the tobacco components is unbelievable. Lots of contradictions but somehow they work together like a well composed symphony. The instruments are soft, creamy, smooth, full, leather, musty, earth, sour, spice, wood and smoky. The resulting piece is Abingdon. Like with the smell I had expected more latakia “oomph” but I am glad it is not there. The dark leaf is almost like the conductor who supports the other instruments and let them play better. In some of the Tobaccoreviews.com reviews I read comparisons with my favourite whisky: Lagavulin. And I have to agree! The two make a perfect pair. Like with Abingdon Lagavulin boasts a lot of smokiness but if you compare it to some other whiskies (Laphroaig, Ardbeg) it really is not that much. Also Lagavulin possesses that rich, full harmony of flavours that Abingdon has. Anyway, in the end the tobacco burns down to a fine grey ash.

Miscellaneous:
Abingdon can bite a little bit if you pack the bowl too firmly and the tobacco is too moist. But if you take that into consideration, no problems at all. It stays pretty well lit throughout the smoke, nicotine hit is mild to medium. In my opinion and experience Abingdon performs best in somewhat larger (Dunhill group 4) prince shaped or pot shapes pipes. It certainly is not an all-pipe friend.

Room-note:
Whenever Ellen sees this tin on the table in our living room she starts to shift uncomfortably. “Is this that blend, you know? Well, I am afraid it is darling.. Oh.. Ok, eh, I am going to sleep/play music/do the laundry/get the f*ck away from here/etc.” As I write this I am smoking a pipe of Abingdon, Ellen just came downstairs and immediately got a red face. “Are you smoking it again? Yes darling. Grrr.. I really wish you waited until I had to go away for work. You can write in that blog of yours it is the most vile, evil smelling tobacco there is! I just did that darling.”

Price:
On Smokingpipes.com a 2 oz. tin will set you back at $10.63 (± €9,30). An 8 oz. tin will cost you $35.70 (± €31,25).

Conclusion:
From all the still available tobaccos I like Abingdon the best. Period. Of course I prefer blends like London Mixture State Express, Renaissance or De Graaff Kegelbaan but eejj, I can’t get them any more. Abingdon possesses an old world quality which only improves with age, a timeless mixture. I can totally imagine myself sitting in my living room decades from now when I am old, wrinkled and slightly senile, while smoking a pipe of well aged Abingdon, enjoying the hell out of it and thinking back to the good ol’ days before tobaccogeddon. Just before Ellen whacks me with her walking stick while shouting “You are not smoking it again aren’t you??”

Of course I wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a smoky 2019!!!

The legend of Renaissance (Reserve)

The Dark Lord

The Dark Lord

Once upon a time in a far away country lived a mysterious man named GL Pease. But he was not just any mortal man. No, for he possessed the divine gift to be able to work with a magical dark leaf called “latakia“, which came from the mystical ancient land of Bilad al-Sham. Pease made marvellous blends with this exceptional leaf that could be smoked in a clever device called a “pipe”. All over the earth people went ecstatic when they tried his creations. He was so good in this that his followers honoured him with the nickname “The Dark Lord”.

Pease_RenaissanceAt the pinnacle of his genius, during a haunting full moon, inside his secret room of wonders, he crafted his magnum opus. Anno Domini 2001 he unleashed a blend upon the world that it had never seen before, unique and magnificent, mesmerizing all who smoked it. Of course it contained the magical leaf from Bilad al-Sham but also a very reminiscent yet bolder cousin of it, coming from the mysterious island of Alashiya. The mixture was completed by red, golden and matured leaf from the Old Dominion and smaller deliciously exotic leaves from the unknown East. The Dark Lord named the blend “Renaissance” because it was the beginning of a period of new growth and activity.

Westminster, one of the best blends ever containing

Westminster, one of the best blends ever containing Alashiya leaf

Unfortunately this period did not last long. In the 11th month of Anno Domini 2004 an infernal hellish fire consumed the hoard of dark Bilad al-Sham latakia leaf. Pease was struck down by grief and with a heavy heart had to discontinue his magnum opus, Renaissance. In the years that followed many people offered (according to them) genuine Bilad al-Sham latakia to the Dark Lord. Sadly it was not the same as the magical leaf he first used. Luckily his divine talent was not diminished so with help of the more pungent, assertive Alashiya leaf he succeeded in creating many awesome blends. But the Dark Lord would always lament the loss of his magical Bilad al-Sham latakia leaf.

© GL Pease

Renaissance Reserve © GL Pease

Fortunately the ancient pipe-smoking Gods had something else in mind. Fast forward to Anno Domini 2015, this is an excerpt from Pease’s hidden diary: Both exciting and frustrating. During Cornell & Diehl’s (the Dark Lord’s grand supplier of leaf) move from the Old North State to South Carolus, several pounds of Bilad al-Sham Latakia leaf turned up. I was send a letter, and asked, “Do you want to do something with this?” A silly question. The right question was what I would want to do with it. That was easy to answer, too. I’ve always said that if I could ever again got my hands on the right Bilad al-Sham leaf, the mixture I’d most want to bring back would be Renaissance. It was always special to me, and has remained one of my faves. Knowing this would be a limited edition, I worked diligently over several months in my secret room of wonders to faithfully recreate the blend using the finest leaf available, taking no short-cuts, not stopping until I had achieved that ultimate goal. True to the original, Renaissance Reserve is a mixture of magical leaf from Bilad al-Sham and Alashiya, matured red and golden leaf from the Old Dominion and smaller deliciously exotic leaves from the unknown East. It is blended in just the right measure, aged in bulk, then given an additional six months in the tins before release, resulting in a rich, complex and sophisticated smoking experience. Unfortunately, we were only able to produce 500 tins of this exquisite mixture to be released and once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s fantastic now, and will continue to develop in the specially designed tins for many years to come, for those who have the patience. I only wish we’d had ten times the amount of Bilad al-Sham leaf we had…

I was so happy I could dance!

I was so happy I could dance!

And here a legend becomes reality, because on 12 July the 500 available tins of Renaissance Reserve became available for us humble pipe-smokers. But where to buy them.. I choose for my regular online tobacconist, 4noggins. This because I know that Rich, the owner, most of the times updates his website around 13:00 CET. So around that time I was refreshing the GL Pease page on his site like a lunatic. 13:00, nothing. 14:00, nothing. 15:00, nothing. Damned! I took a look at the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum and read there that a member had actually phoned with Rich. He was a little late but the site-update was nearby. Finally at 15:45 I was able to order 2 tins (the maximum) and I was ecstatic! At last I was able to smoke one of the greatest blends ever (according to many) containing the fabled Syrian latakia. My expectations were high..

IMG_5108Description from the producer – Package/tin:
I’ve often said that if I ever again got my hands on the right vintage Syrian latakia the tobacco I’d most want to bring back would be Renaissance. Last year my wish was granted when several pounds of that superb leaf were discovered. True to the original formula, Renaissance Reserve is a blend of Cyprian and Syrian latakias, several matured virginias, and balkan orientals blended in just the right measure and aged for many months to provide a rich, complex and sophisticated smoking experience. Only 500 tins of this exquisite blend were produced. The tin is a typical American one with a pull-off lid. The artwork on it is nice but not really remarkable. On an underground of what looks like parchment the name of the blend dominates the tin. Under it a long clay pipe is depicted with in it “G.L. Pease Tobacco Company”. The blend-description is on the backside.

IMG_5110Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin I was greeted by the familiar GL Pease carton inlay. When I lifted that I saw a mixture that was pretty light in colour for a latakia blend. The ingredients are Cyprian and Syrian latakia, several matured Virginias and Balkan Orientals. The cut is one which which is typical for lots of GL Pease blends, a sort of rough ribbon cut with some chunky pieces.

noseSmell from the tin:
I expected to smell leathery latakia when I stuck my nose in the tin. Instead I was greeted by a very pleasant mellow, exotic smoky odour. Once I smelled an empty wine barrel and I had to think about that. That combined with the grassy sweetness of the Virginias and tangy spiciness of the orientals typifies the odour of Renaissance Reserve for me.

011Taste:
The keyword with this blend is balance. I can’t stress that enough, no ingredient overshadows another one. I have never smoked a mixture which had such a great harmony. Especially the cooperation between the Syrian and Cyprian latakia is masterfully done. When I smoke a blend like McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian the Syrian dark leaf is a bit too mellow for me. MacBaren tried to solve this with their tasty HH Vintage Syrian by adding some smoky dark-fired Kentucky. Mr Pease used Cyprian latakia to support its Syrian cousin. And the exciting thing is that you can really notice it. I taste the wine-like, woody, smoky but mellow Syrian leaf. But because of the addition of the more assertive, pungent, leathery Cyprian leaf the two latakias as a whole become more than the sum of their parts. Of course the other ingredients also play a large role. The matured Virginias provide the backbone of the blend with their earthy, dark sweet taste. They are supported by the Red Virginias which taste tangy and yeasty. Golden Virginas provide a grassy, hay-like and citrus flavour. The orientals fall in line with the Virginias and give the mixture a spicy, nutty and pleasantly refreshing sour note. I would place this blend in the “light English” department. It is no latakia-bomb and the orientals work harmonious with the rest of the ingredients. The mixture is complex, but in a good way. Some blends drown in complexness but Renaissance Reserve is easy accessible and heightens the curiosity with every smoke. What do I taste now? Cedar? Thyme? A member of the Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum who smoked a sample from me even tasted some hashish.. Also the mixture behaved well in most pipes, always the sign of a great blend. But I got the tastiest results in my (Dunhill) prince shaped pipes.

IMG_5114Miscellaneous:
Renaissance Reserve smokes smooth like butter on my bald head. Not a bite in sight. Nicotine-wise I rank it mild, although my tolerance for vitamin N has gone up due to the use of some snuff tobacco. Burn-wise I had no problems at all and it left almost no moisture in the bowl.

thumbs2Room-note:
For a blend that contains latakia it has a surprisingly nice room-note. I had no problems at all with Ellen. The wife of a member of the Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum even said it smelled good! And indeed, when I walk into the living room the next morning I smell a pleasant faint incense-like BBQ odour.

moneyPrice:
On the website of 4noggins I paid $11.25 (± €9,98) for a tin. Considering this was a limited blend (only 500 were made) I suspect that in some years the remaining tins will fetch good prices at e-bay.

IMG_5115Conclusion:
Renaissance Reserve just utterly wowed me. It felt like having steamy sex with the gorgeous babe you never ever thought you were going to nail. I just had to keep smoking it. Normally when I am roughly at 3/4 of a tin I lose interest and give or throw the rest away. Now I smoked it up to the last crumb. Although at first taste this blend did not seem really remarkable, it soon grabbed me at my balls and left me wanting for more every time. Like a geisha it constantly teased me, giving me something and promising pleasure with every puff to come. Smoking Renaissance Reserve is an exiting journey in which you constantly discover new tastes. And you know what the best thing is? I got one full, sealed tin left in my tobacco closet. I am a happy man.

Lohmar pipe-show 2015

Lohmar_2015While a big part of the pipe-smoking world had their attention focused on the enormous Chicago Pipe Show, another, smaller, European-German part, attended the interesting and cosy Lohmar Pfeifenmesse. I went there last year and had a blast despite the gruesome weather. So on the morning of the pipe-show I opened the curtains a bit nervously and… Sunshine! I knew it was going to be a good day. After a quick shower Rob (forum nickname Robbie-San) already rang the doorbell, just as last year I rode with him. The only difference was that we did not have to pick up the other Rob (forum nickname: Smoking Rob) because he had a gig with his band that evening and could not make it. Yoda greeted me once again in Rob’s car and like last year I had made cheese-sandwiches for the road which we both happily ate while chatting away.

Yesss! Excellent weather!

Yesss! Excellent weather!

To Rob’s delight I pulled out an aged tin out of my bag of Peterson Sweet Killarney, one of his favourite tobaccos, as a “thank you” for driving me. The journey went a lot faster this year, I guess it helped that the German highways did not look like rivers now. Just before 10.30 am we arrived at Villa Friedlinde in the heart of Lohmar, the annual location of the pipe-show. 2015 was a special edition, the 10th one, still organized by pipe-maker Volker Bier. Like last year a large section of the surrounding park also was part of the show. That Volker closely works together with the local authorities was proved by the fact that even the mayor of Lohmar attended the Pfeifenmesse.

dunhill_princeOnce inside I immediately looked for the stand where I bought the Dunhill Shell cherrywood-shape last year, hoping to find more of those gems. But instead I bumped into Eddy. He mailed me some time ago that he recognized one of my Dunhill prince-shaped pipes in my Prince of Pipes blogpost. To be precise the Dunhill Bruyere from the early patent era. Apparently that pipe once belonged to him! He asked me where I bought it, at Esterval, I answered. That also was the vendor where he once bought it. Sadly the old mouthpiece got so thin by all the maintenance over the years that it had cracked. Eddy had it replaced by German pipe-repairman Marco Janzen.

Eddy

Eddy

Unfortunately he was not 100% happy with the new mouthpiece because it was thicker and wider as the old one. On top of that he always had been a little afraid of smoking this fragile prince too hot. So Eddy traded it with another German against a Dunhill bulldog-shape and probably that man sold it to Esterval again. We exchanged some pictures and from seeing those we both came to the conclusion that I now had the old prince of Eddy. After all the mailing we did we decided to meet at Lohmar and bring some of our Dunhill princes. Eddy had brought a Dunhill Shell patent era with him which could have been the brother of one of mine, exactly the same style mouthpiece. During the day we now and then bumped into each other and every time kept chatting a bit. Wonderful guy.

Rainer and Markus at the HU Tobacco stand

Rainer and Markus at the HU Tobacco stand

A stand I did not wanted to miss was the one of HU Tobacco. Sadly owner and master-blender Hans Wiedemann could not come to Lohmar. I mailed him about a question of his excellent Fayyum Kake a couple of months ago and heard to my terror that he had suffered a heart attack. Thank the heavens he is well on his way to recovery but the Pfeifenmesse came to soon for him. So for the day two friends of him, Rainer and Markus, took over business. I also know Rainer, we regularly mail with each other, swap tobacco samples and he helped me out with my blogpost of the vintage Dunhill London Mixture which was made in Germany.

IMG_3089

Yummie home-made liver-pâté

It already was very busy at the stand but Rainer immediately recognized me and we shook hands. I had some things for him and he for me. I brought some Germain Rich Dark Flake with me for him and traded a pouch of Condor against some local made liver-pâté. Believe me, for someone who does not like the soapy Lakeland tobacco aroma it was an excellent exchange. The liver-pâté was made by the local butcher in Rainer’s home-town and is mouth-watering yummie. On a side note, Rainer gets his tobacco canned at that same butcher. Meat or tobacco, what is the difference? Also Hans had a surprise for me, Rainer handed me over a bag with a tin inside. “Guard it with your life, the contents are very wanted!” he said. Inside the bag was one of the last tins of Fayyum Kake! Thank you very much Hans! Fayyum Kake is no longer made (for now), it is pressed by Hans himself and with his condition it just became too much work. For the rest I bought some delicious Balkan Passion and Director’s Cut at the stand.

IMG_3040

Standing in the queue before the food-wagon

Unlike last year the food stand now was outside the villa, a wagon with a big round plate beside it where potatoes were baked. The stomachs of both Rob and I grumbled a bit so we decided to get some Bockwurst. What I did notice was that the prices had gone up, €4 for a simple Bockwurst with one tiny slice of bread was a bit on the expensive side for me. Next year I’ll bring more sandwiches with me.. Behind me in the queue before the food-wagon stood German blogger Ralf Dings of the excellent Jogi-wan blog. He did not immediately knew who I was but when I said “Dutch Pipe Smoker” an expression of recognition came over his face. We talked a bit about how close HU Tobacco came to closing down because of Hans’ heart attack and that that really would have been a crying shame. When Rob and I finally could order some food and drinks I made a strange movement with my hand and accidentally slapped the Dunhill Root Brair I was smoking out of my mouth. It just missed the hot surface of the big baking-plate and hit the side with a loud bang. Under the worried looks of the people in the queue I rapidly picked up the pipe and… Not even a scratch. *Pheww!!*

Foundation by Musico pipes

Foundation by Musico pipes

With our bellies filled it was time to properly look at all the stands. Compared to last year I was a little less impressed with the selection of pipes. The stand where I bought the Dunhill Shell cherrywood shape did not have any new models that I liked. However, they still had the same prince I saw at the previous Lohmar edition but because it was from the 90’s I choose not to buy it. Yes I know, I can be a snob.. I very much liked the offerings of Foundation by Musico, classic shapes with sometimes beautiful blasts. Sadly only just above my budget.. Which I had with quite a lot of pipes. Oooh, this one is nice! Owww, €250.. Nevermind.. As a rule I never pay more than €150 for a pipe (only 1 exception, I once bought a Winslow Harlekin). Partly because I am a cheap ass Dutchman and partly because Ellen will kill me if I come home with an expensive piece of smoking-wood. (“When do you spend some money on me, you cheap ass bastard!”)

IMG_3057

Morta pipes by Colja Schoppe

Maike from Maike pipes has a better price-quality ratio, which resulted in almost selling all of her available pipes. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for new offerings from her. Holger Gunia, master of the short, stubby pipe also did some good business. Few pipes were left when I examined his stand. Obviously inspired by Roger Wallenstein but taking it to a new level a real eye-catcher were the pipes of Uwe Maier. Good to smoke and put on your livingroom-cupboard as a piece of art. The large morta pipes of Colja Schoppe were also very impressive. Not my thing but I can perfectly imagine lots of pipe-smokers will like his offerings.

Rob

Rob

While walking around we bumped into Fred, d’Artagnan and André. The last two also were there last year. After having talked a while Fred and André went their own way and d’Artagnan joined us. Beside pipe-stands there were also stands who sold other hand-made things. Last year I bought Ellen a dark blue bracelet so now I wanted something different and found just that. A lady had for sale all kinds of rings and pendants. I picked 2 pendants, one with a stone which had a purple hue (the favourite colour of Ellen) and one with an ammonite in it. d’Artagnan liked that last one so much that he decided to buy one for himself. Because of the lovely weather we all had dry throats and there was only one cure for that: beer! The voluptuous lady at the stand of the local Lohmar brewery recognized us immediately. Last year we told her we were Englishmen but now we decided to tell the truth, that we were merely Dutchmen. Luckily her smile stayed the same and the beer was once again pretty good (although it could have been a bit colder..). We then went to park near the villa and sat down on one of the wooden benches to catch some sun, chat and smoke a pipe of course.

Rob at the beer garden

Rob at the beer garden

Soon it became time to go, the Lohmar Pfeifenmesse was getting quieter and quieter. I already had in mind to go eat something at the local Brauhäuschen. But the restaurant was still closed when we got there and a note on the door said it was reserved that evening. Later I found out that it was reserved for the Lohmar crowd.. We drove on and found a nice beer garden where we sat down and had some tasty German beers. Unfortunately the kitchen of the beer garden opened late so once again we went looking for a place to eat. “All I want is a picturesque, decent restaurant preferably in a good looking setting” I grumbled to Rob.

Prost!

Prost!

d’Artagnan has some fancy navigating devices in his Mercedes so he pointed us towards just the place I was looking for: Café Restaurant Meigermühle, located in an historical timber framed building at the edge of a forest. To our surprise their neighbour was the local Lohmar brewery (who had a stand at the pipe-show remember). As soon as we stepped out of our cars the same voluptuous lady saw us and invited us inside, where we got a short tour in which she explained the making of their beer in rapid German. Afterwards still smiling we went to the Meigermühle and sat down on the outside terrace. The choice what to eat was easy for all of us: Schnitzel! And to be perfectly honest, the one I had was far better than the mediocre one from last year in Kleve. Tender and tasty with a delicious pepper-sauce, ooooh yeah! After dinner we went our separate ways, d’Artagnan was going to nearby Cologne and Rob and I drove back to The Netherlands. Back at my sleeping address in Brabant we shook hands and we thanked each other once again for a wonderful day.

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Lohmar pipe-show 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast year when all the business with the forum tobaccos had been taken care off German master-blender Hans Wiedemann of HU Tobacco asked if I was coming to the next Lohmar Pfeifenmesse (Lohmar pipe-show). We then finally would be able to shake hands after the loads of mail-contact we had. Hans lives in the South of Germany which is far away from where I live in The Netherlands and according to him the Lohmar pipe-show was the closest to my home. I looked it up and indeed Hans was correct, it was a 230 km. ride for me. He also asked me if I could promote the pipe-show a bit on the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum, which I of course did. At first there was not much response so I decided to ask if fellow forum-member Robbie-San (real name Rob but there are more Robs in this story) was willing to go to Lohmar with me. We had met before at several meetings and I knew he was a good guy and pleasant company. In the end another forum-member, Smoking-Rob (behold, the other Rob), asked if he could join us. Of course, the more the merrier! Also a couple of other forum-members said they would come.

IMG_0924

Villa Friedlinde

It was going to be the 9th edition of the Lohmar pipe-show organized by pipe-maker Volker Bier and his friend Jürgen Hofer. The location is the same every time: Villa Friedlinde in the heart of Lohmar. This year a large section of the surrounding park also was part of the show. To my delight I read in the announcements on a German forum that Volker closely works together with the local authorities who are proud to host the event. Even the site of Lohmar-town promotes the pipe-show. I mean, these days here in The Netherlands you won’t easily see towns supporting a smoking-event. In fact, we don’t have smoking-events any more..

Yess, the Force was with us!

Yess, the Force was with us!

After a few messages back and forth Robbie-San and I decided that he would drive to Germany. He has a car that runs on diesel and that is cheaper. We’re Dutch remember? But that meant I had to come to Brabant first because Robbie-San lives there. No problem, I work there every last half of the week and have an address where I can spend the night. Saturday 10 May at 08.30 sharp Robbie-San rang the doorbell. I grabbed my belongings including some cheese-sandwiches that I made for the road. I had to laugh when I stepped into the car because on the corner of the dashboard stood a miniature Yoda. So the Force was going to be with us! We drove to somewhere along the edge of the city of Nijmegen where Smoking-Rob was waiting for us. After the handshakes he presented a tin of MacBaren HH Old Dark Fired to Robbie-San as a thank-you for driving. For me he had a tin of vintage (1980’s) Capstan Medium Navy Cut that I traded with him for some Janneman Flake.

The Force let us down a bit, Stau! (traffic-jam)

The Force let us down a bit, Stau! (traffic-jam)

On the way to Lohmar it seemed the Force let us down a bit. In The Netherlands it already was raining a bit but the roads in Germany were a gigantic water-ballet so we were forced to drive slowly. On top of that we encountered some “Stau”, which translates as “traffic jam”. Oh well, Robbie-San and me were enjoying the cheese-sandwiches and Smoking-Rob his pipe while we all chatted away. So a bit later than expected we arrived at the site in Lohmar. It was pretty busy with cars but we saw a place where we could park. Behind us stood another Dutch car and it turned out that it belonged to a fellow Dutchman, André. He already had been inside and was just going to put some new acquisitions in his vehicle when he spotted us

My

My “new” Dunhill shell cherrywood shape

“Arno, quickly come with me” he said “I have seen a gorgeous estate Dunhill!” So he literally dragged me through the masses in Villa Friedlinde  to an outside tent in which a vendor had displayed numerous estate pipes. First my eye fell upon a good looking Dunhill shell prince but that was not the one André meant. “No no, here, this cherrywood shape, look at this one! See the blast and how crisp it still looks?” I could not argue with him and felt the Force was with me! Although it was not a patent-era Dunhill the pipe (birth-year 1976) was stunning and the price was ok. My godfather had given me some money for my birthday so I was able to buy it. Sadly I did not have enough cash to also buy the Dunhill prince, other things also had to be purchased.

Robbie-San looking at some pipes in the busy tent

Robbie-San looking at some pipes in the busy tent

Before going back inside we went to the farthest tent where Hans Wiedemann should be. Should, yes, he was just taking a smoke outside the narrowness of the tent. We politely waited until he got back and in the meanwhile admired his tobacco-range on the table. He had three new blends: Red Sparkle, White Dog and an unique blend, Fayyum Kake. The first cake to come from German soil as far as I know. Hans has invested in a tobacco press at his home and this is the first creation to come from it. He had a bar of the blend laying on the table so I decided to slice off a piece and put it in my new Meindert prince. I looked around and decided to walk around the tent. I noticed it was BUSY, people stood shoulder to shoulder but no pushing or things like that. Everybody was really polite. I admired several pipes and snapped pictures of them and their makers. Germany is a big country but it still surprises me how many pipe-makers it has. And also female pipe-makers! Behind one of the tables sat a shy looking short haired woman: Maike from Maike pipes. When I asked if I could pick up and admire a couple of her pipes she even shrank back more behind her table. No need because what she makes is beautiful. To my delight, when I came back later, I saw that she had sold some of her pipes.

Peace man! Thank you brother! (Robbie-San and Hans)

Peace man! Thank you brother! (Robbie-San and Hans)

When Hans came back we were finally able to shake hands. It was a real pleasure to talk to him in person after all our mutual correspondence. Unfortunately it was busy so we we had to keep the conversation short. I also wanted to buy a couple of tobaccos including his excellent Sunset flake. When I pulled my wallet he asked a lower price for the tins, “because it is you”. Well, thanks Hans! “Come back later when it is more quiet, we talk more then” he said. Check! So Robbie-San, Smoking-Rob and myself walked back towards the villa. Just behind the villa was a tent which included a beer-stand from a local brewery. We were all feeling like having a nice cold German beer so we asked the voluptuous woman behind the bar what our choices were. Dark beer and bright beer was the answer. The two Robs took the bright beer and I the dark one ( I love dark beer). De-licious! We had to laugh with the friendly lady because for some reason she thought we were from England and spoke German so well. Robbie-San played his English gentleman role perfectly.

The metal-rod system of Gigliucci

The metal-rod system of Gigliucci

After the beer we went inside the villa and almost immediately bumped into fellow forum-member Robert Jan who was anxious to see the displayed wares. Loads of pipe-makers were lined up beside each other and we shuffled from table to table admiring the handicrafts. We stopped at the table of a man who made the shanks of a lot of his pipes very thin. That is not possible I thought, the shank would be very delicate and prone to breakage. It turned out that the carver, Andrea Gigliucci from Italy, made a system with an metal rod inside the shank to give it strength. I saw a pot-shaped pipe of him which with a little tweaking would make a formidable prince. In English with a thick Italian accent he told me that he had never tried to make a prince-shaped pipe. I hope I can give him the order someday!

Holger Gunia pipe

Holger Gunia pipe

We also passed the table of a pipe-maker who seemed to have specialized himself in the making of short stubby pipes: Holger Gunia. I immediately had to think of another fellow forum member, Huub, who has a vast collection of this type of pipe. I myself am not a fan of these shapes but I surely could appreciate the handicraft and especially the rustication of some pipes which almost seemed to sparkle, very strange but very nicely done. Inside the villa there also was a kitchen which served food and beverages for little money. We all were a bit hungry so decided to go for some typical German food, Bockwurst, which tasted delicious. A must-try when you visit Germany.

The bracelet Robbie-San bought

The bracelet Robbie-San bought

Outside in one of tents there was a table on which all kinds of leather goods were for sale. All 100% handmade in Germany and unique. Robbie-San saw a stunning bracelet which he had to have. Very un-Dutchlike he did not haggle when he heard the price. “I know all the handicraft in the bracelet is worth the money” he said. I wanted to buy something for my girlfriend Ellen so I opted for a dark blue bracelet. You know, I believe that a man has to keep his woman content. If I come home with an expensive (in her eyes) pipe her mood will be much better when she is given a nice present.

The German gentlemen

The German gentlemen

Robbie-San and I wanted to drink something hot (all the rain did not exactly make us feel any warmer) so I got a coffee and he a cup of tea. We sat down at a large table where some Germans already had taken place. I looked at the pipes of one the men, nothing special, but then saw a tobacco I did not know yet, Exclusiv Royal. I asked if I may have a look and the tin was given to me. I looked at it and smelled it, yummie! A granulated cut, interesting. Robbie-San was given permission to fill a pipe with the blend so I pulled out a tin of McClelland Pebblecut and asked if the German gentlemen knew it. They had never seen an American tobacco before and happily filled up a sample bag with it. I wonder what they thought of it when they eventually smoked it.

Fltr: Smoking-Rob, myself, Hans and Robbie-San

Fltr: Smoking-Rob, myself, Hans and Robbie-San

After the hot beverages we went back to Hans because Robbie-San had to get some tobacco samples for another forum member. Smoking-Rob was sitting outside the tent and talking to Rainer, the “little finger” (helper) of Hans. Inside Robbie-San could fill up his sample-bags the blends of Hans while I further talked to the master-blender. I asked him if he had any new projects and he told me he was, amongst other things, working on an oriental-heavy mixture. Interesting! I hope I get a sample of it before it comes out. He also complimented me with this blog and was a bit shocked at how much viewers I had so far, about 90.000. Hell, I am also shocked at how many people read my humble writings. Hans then got momentarily busy with a client who ended up with a gigantic bag full of tobacco tins. He told me that he only buys tobacco once a year, at the Lohmar pipe-show and all blends of HU Tobacco. Impressive! To my utter delight I also saw a tin of Brullende Leeuw in his bag. The forum tobaccos were selling well, Hans told me. When Smoking-Rob once again joined us we did make a group picture with Hans. Smile! And after that it was time to go home. We comprehensively thanked Hans for the time he took for us and walked to the car.

At the restaurant in Kleve

At the restaurant in Kleve

On the way home we decided that we would have dinner in Kleve, near the Dutch border. Unfortunately before we got there Robbie-San was flashed by a speed-trap camera, I hope for him that the fine is not too high.. When we arrived in Kleve it was raining cats and dogs. We got out of the car, went looking for a place to eat, could not find one, got soaking wet and went back inside the vehicle. We drove to another part of the centre and passed a decent looking restaurant. There we all opted for another typical German (ok, typical Austrian..) dish, a Wiener Schnitzel. When, after a looong wait, the waiter finally brought the plates my Schnitzel was clearly smaller than the others to the amusement of the Robs. What, did I get less because of my fat looking head?? Hmzzzgrumble.. After dinner we drove back through the beautiful region of Nijmegen where I was born and said goodbye to Smoking-Rob. Robbie-San then dropped me at my sleeping address  in Brabant, we shook hands and we thanked each other for the wonderful day. Once home I kissed Ellen, said I got her a beautiful, handmade and expensive present and gave the bracelet before pulling out the Dunhill. She shook her head while smiling at me.

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The Frisian prince

Typical town in Friesland

In the Northwest of the Netherlands the province of Friesland is situated (“Fryslân” in the Frisian language, yes they do have their own language). A lot of Dutch people go there on vacation because of the beautiful nature (lots of lakes and canals) and peace and quiet. Friesland is one of the less-densely populated provinces in the Netherlands. It is also well-known for ice-skating, a lot of champions come from Friesland and if there is a very cold winter the famous Elfstedentocht is organized. And it is in a small village in the heart of “Fryslân” where pipe-maker Meindert lives.

Meindert

Meindert

Meindert is 64 years old, a long time pipe-smoker, retired and a Frisian man in heart and soul. That means he is proud, honest, righteous, loves to be on the water, works hard and takes no bullshit from no-one. Working with his hands is also something that is in his blood. His father was a professional carpenter who could make anything out of wood and was not afraid of showing the tricks of the trade to his son. Also for years Meindert was a maintenance mechanic at a local factory and one of his hobbies was being a radio amateur so for that he build small and big antennas. Unfortunately he got problems with his heart and after having seen the gates of Saint Peter twice he was forced to slow things down. But Meindert is not the man to take it easy and do nothing. So through Fred, a member of the Dutch/Belgian pipe smokers forum and Dutch importer of Mr. Brog and Country Pipes he got into pipe making about 8 months ago. That was something which required little physical effort and was perfectly suited for the still recovering Meindert.

One of the early Meindert pipes

One of the early Meindert pipes

On the forum he posted several of his finished pipes and although some of them lacked a certain finesse I could clearly see that Meindert had talent and skills. After making a couple of prince-shaped pipes (my favourite shape) I decided to ask if he could create one of those for me. But I wanted to test the man. I did this by asking if he could make one of the most challenging shapes in my eyes: the 8-side panelled prince. This because it is a combination of symmetry (all corners must be 45 degrees from each other) and flowing elegance. Gracefully Meindert accepted the challenge and got busy.

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Corrections from my side

One of the best things about him is that he can accept constructive criticism. Some pipe-makers are headstrong, have a sort of impenetrable ego which holds them back from getting better. I know sh*t about wood-working and all the machinery (I was born with 2 left hands) but I do know something about flowing lines, symmetry and cohesion in a design. And Meindert is very handy but could learn a bit more about flowing pipe shapes and the little details that comes with such. So he was ready to accept criticism from my side when he send the first pictures of the prince-making process. I would look at them, make corrections in Photoshop and tell him why I did that. For example he mailed me a photograph of the unfinished bowl and by putting lines, arrows and digitally reducing excess wood I could let him know what to do. Of course he was not able to always precisely do what I asked but with every correction he made the pipe got better. The devil is in the details and boy, I sometimes was a real demon. But Meindert never did bulge under my pressure, kept eager to learn and continued delivering the goods. And how good he was was proven when Fred made a visit. Meindert showed him my prince and told him that getting every panel to look exactly the same was a tough job. Fred looked amazed at the pipe and told that such pipes normally are made in machines in pipe-factories where the angle of cutting can be programmed. Something I did not know. So in fact I asked Meindert to be as precise as a machine. And he came damn close!

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Aqueduct

At the beginning of last week Meindert informed me that he had almost finished the pipe. The only thing left to be done was the bending of the cumberland stem but I thought it was a good idea to do that when I was with him. Of course I was going to pick up the pipe myself. I am a bit ashamed to say this, but I have never been in Friesland before. I grew up in Brabant in the South of the Netherlands so for a long time Friesland was almost like an exotic country to me. However, now I live in the province of Overijssel and that is quite a bit closer to the North of my country. Last Friday I took a day off and drove to the heart of “Fryslân”. An enjoyable ride if I may say so. When I drive to Brabant where the head-office of my work is located the roads are always busy and often I get caught up in a traffic jam. The journey North was deliciously quiet with nice far stretched views of the countryside. Suddenly I saw in the distance something that looked like a train slowly passing over a viaduct. When I came closer I noticed to my amazement that it was not a train, but a large river boat which gradually floated above the highway. What I had seen was an aqueduct, something which exists for a long time but was new to my eyes in this form. So strange to see a big ship above you.

DTM_Mellow_MallardAt exactly 2 o’clock I arrived at a petrol station in the village where Meindert lives and phoned him up. This because he lives at the waterside where no car can come. Soon he came walking out of a small side-street and gestured me to follow him. We arrived at the back of his home and shook hands. So nice to see him after all our e-mails. He guided me into the renovated shed of his house which was divided in 2 parts: his working room and the computer room. We sat down in the working room and lit up a pipe. *Pheww* “You are smoking latakia right?” Meindert asked. “I like aromatics myself, I never understood why people like the smell of burned rubber.” “Well, the taste is vastly different than the smell, believe me” I said. Luckily we don’t all have the same tobacco preferences. But I knew Meindert liked a sweet smoked so I brought a couple of aromatic tins that he could keep. In return he had some tobaccos for me which included the Mellow Mallard made by DTM. A blend I did not know but after smoking a couple of bowls I now really like!

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Remember the 3 golden rules: light, space and warmth

Soon the lovely wife of Meindert boldly defied my latakia fumes and brought a cup of coffee which gave me the opportunity to look around the working space. What really struck me was how tidy and organized it was. All the machines were clean and every hand-tool had a logical place and was neatly attached to a wall or placed in a tray. I complimented him with this because I know that some other pipe makers have pretty chaotic working rooms. “One of the first things I learned when I had a working space were the 3 golden rules: light, space and warmth.” Meindert said. “Light because you have to able to clearly see what you are doing. Space as in not having a big room but having the space to be able to properly do your job. Warmth because you can’t work well with cold muscles.” What I also liked were all the old hand tools that Meindert inherited from his father. Where for example a lot of pipe makers use machinery to make their stems Meindert uses his father’s tools. All handwork.

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Heating up the stem for bending

After the second cup of coffee it was time to see what I have came for, my panelled prince. It was smaller than I thought but nonetheless I was pleasantly surprised. It looked better than on the pictures! The acrylic cumberland stem still was straight so Meindert got to work by lighting a candle. Huh? Is he praying for good luck this way or…? I know that pipe-maker Vandaahl uses some kind of industrial blow dryer to heat up the stem for bending. It turned out that Meindert was warming up the stem the old fashioned way. Very tricky and when I nervously looked at him he had to laugh, relax! At bit above the candle-flame he slowly rolled the stem of the pipe around and around with a steady hand. Suddenly I saw that a part of the stem became flexible and Meindert carefully bended it following my directions. I made a comment before that he had a tendency to bend his prince-stems too close to the shank so while I looked over his shoulder he asked if it was ok. Ehhrrr.. Yes?

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Checking the bend

When the stem had cooled down I was able to properly examine the pipe. Damn! The bend could be a bit more but worse, the stem was crooked, it had a deviation to the left. So Meindert heated it all up again and made the correction. Hmm, better but there was a tiny bump on top. No problemo, some fine sanding paper took care of that. But still the bend could be more. Heating, bending, arghh! A good bend but once again crooked! Really, if I were Meindert I would have kicked myself out of the door. But he stayed ice-cold and once again bended the stem. Perfect! I breathed a sign of relief while Meindert buffed the pipe to a shiny whole.

IMG_0812Oh wait! I almost forgot, I still had to perform my pipe-cleaner test. That means that when I fold one of my pipe-cleaners it has to pass the smoking channel pretty easy. And it didn’t.. I asked which drilling diameter was used. “The one Peterson uses (Meindert is a huge Peterson fan), 3.0 mm.” Ahh.. That explains.. Fortunately making the drilling wider was no problem. 3.1 mm, 3.2 mm.. “Meindert” I said “please make it 3.5 mm, that should do the trick.” And indeed with 3.5 mm my pipe-cleaner went through the smoking channel effortlessly. I told him that you also get a better draft with 3.5 mm and thus a better smoking experience. Meindert thought that was very interesting and he is going to experiment with it.

The finished prince

The finished prince

The rest of the afternoon went by too fast. Before I knew it it was 6 o’clock and I had to go home. We shook hands again and I hit the road. The next day I smoked the panelled prince for the first time and I was delighted! The bit felt very comfortable between my teeth, not too thick and also not too thin, just perfect. Of course smoking a pipe for the first couple of times is not really fun because a layer of cake still has to form inside the bowl. But nonetheless I was impressed about the smoking qualities. I also kept looking at the pipe form every angle. I am sure almost every pipe-smoker sometimes takes the pipe out of his mouth and admires it. I sure did that with Meindert’s pipe and am still doing it.

Meindert has to take things slowly because of his health. So if you are interested in him making a pipe for you (he makes about 1 pipe per week) please contact me and I will connect you through.

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2014 PRF-pipe made by Ian Walker

2014 PRF-pipe made by Ian Walker

2014 PRF-pipe made by Ian Walker

The Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (in short: PRF) has had quite a lot of merchandise through the years. Shirts, caps, business cards, mouse-pads, ashtrays, poker-fiches, dice, stone tampers, tobaccos and.. Pipes! Belgian member Shaun took it on to himself to organize the creation of a yearly forum pipe. For 2012 and 2013 we had beautiful pieces from renowned Belgian pipe-makers Elie and Dirk Claessen. My favourite shape is the prince and after years of trying to bribe Shaun with beer, tobacco and beautiful women I finally got what I wanted: a prince shaped forum pipe! And not just that, it was made in Britain by respected pipe-carver Ian Walker.

moneyThis is how the process went, written by Shaun himself: Every year, right after Christmas, I start making a list of possible candidates for the forum year pipe. In this period I do a lot of research, mainly checking websites from pipe-carvers and feedback from their customers. After my initial research I start asking for feedback on the forum, this would be around March. Every forum member can send me suggestions of pipe-carvers they would love to make our year-pipe. This year we had a lot of discussions about the budget, because we wanted to create an opportunity for every single member of the forum to own a year-pipe. I knew it was going to be difficult as the goal was set around €90. This would be a nearly impossible task, because not many craftsmen are eager to make a pipe with this low budget while the expectation is that they still do the best they can. Despite everything I felt the need to try it and satisfy the forum members.

David Enrique

David Enrique

The first one I contacted was David Enrique from France. He wasn’t very happy with my proposal, but promised me that he would do the best he could. So he started searching for old briar blocks in closed Saint-Claude factories. But the following of this lead would soon turn out to be a failure. David contacted me back, said this would be impossible thanked me for the honour and pulled back out of the project..  After this call I felt he wasn’t very happy about me wasting his time on this budget matter. And I couldn’t blame the poor guy! I mean, in his place I wouldn’t settle for less than a good quality pipe. A forum is a great thing, but can also become a marketing nightmare for a pipe maker when the order turns out to be not that great.. Bad comments fly around the internet even faster than… You know what I mean.

Turkey-flag_000The second lead brought me to Turkey. After a long search I finally found a guy in a remote village who had a phone.. With a shaky connection.. I tried in my best English, French and German to explain him that I wanted to place a large order. But due to communication problems and a very high telephone bill, this trail also was a dead-end.

bigbenSuddenly I had a plan, maybe I could contact Big Ben, the old Dutch pipe factory. A factory would certainly give me a good price. From the beginning I knew the chances were slim because a factory always sells to stores and never to individuals. And if stores found out they sold straight to customers, WWIII certainly would be on our hands. Still I gave it a shot but they never answered my mail. I was very disappointed in them because I always had a good contact with the director, Mr. Gubbels. After them I tried Peterson, Stanwell etc… When I saw it already was July I panicked and started screaming like a little girl..

Ian Walker

Ian Walker

Then it suddenly hit me. On our forum I saw some work of British pipe-carver Ian Walker. Forum-member Dewitte (Sven) once bought a pipe from him. Actually a prince model shaped pipe, with a very nice cumberland mouthpiece. EUREKA! I soon contacted him, negotiated a price (€125), got things going and low and behold, at the beginning of this month the 56(!) pipes were delivered at the forum-members homes! Thank you Ian Walker!

George Walker

George Walker

Talking about Ian Walker, here is some more info about him: The grandfather of Ian Walker, George Walker, started working for Duncan Briars in England in 1922. After 36 years in 1958 he left Duncan having been head-foreman in charge of production and started Northern Briar Pipe Repair Service, together with his son Peter. Father and son built their business repairing pipes for most of the quality pipe shops in the United Kingdom. When he finished school in 1972, Ian Walker joined the family business. Like everybody else at the factory Ian started as an apprentice, sweeping the floors and making tea (they’re British, duh!). Later he was allowed to polish some pipes and in the evenings he learned how to make silver bands from sheet silver at his Grandfather’s workshop.

A young Ian Walker and his father

A young Ian Walker and his father

In 1983 the parents of Ian bought a local tobacconist shop in Heaton Moor, Stockport. By this time Ian was doing all the repairs and had become one of the foremost pipe-repairmen in the United Kingdom. Wanting to further develop his skills, Ian started making pipes himself in the shop. These pipes sold well and he decided to expand this side of the business and was soon making pipes for other local shops. Further encouraged by several top British pipe makers (like Bill “Ashton” Taylor) to develop his talents, Ian has expanded his business and shortened the name of the company to Northern Briars. Today his pipes are sought after in Europe, North America and the Far East.

Sea Shell pipe

Sea Shell pipe

Ian Walker sources his briar from Italy where, according to many pipe-makers, the best stock can be found. Every pipe is totally hand-crafted by Ian himself and all pipes have hand cut stems using the best grade German vulcanite. The rustication of Ian’s Roc Cut pipes is a time consuming process which is done entirely by hand. This unique finish has proved to be extremely popular as well as finishes of Ian’s own imagination like the Sea Urchin and the new Sea Shell.  Ian’s skill in silver mounting also enhances many traditional styles of pipes.

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

I met Ian at this year’s Inter Tabac Fair in Dortmund. A very jovial, enthusiastic man who immediately noticed the Dunhill I had dangling from my mouth, “Ah! British made! Just like my pipes!” As much as he talks in real life, as little does he write in e-mails unfortunately. I asked him some questions by mail and got decent answers. Only, not long answers.. But Ian had a good excuse, he was very, very busy finishing our forum pipes. Here is the interview:

Ian Walker and the late Bill "Ashton"Taylor

Ian Walker and the late Bill “Ashton”Taylor

From who did you learn your craft? I heard somewhere that Bill “Ashton” Taylor was one of your teachers, is this true? I was taught to make pipes from my Grandfather and Father. Whilst the late Bill Taylor was a good friend, I already was a pipe-maker when I met him. The only thing Bill advised me to do in 2005 was to visit the international shows.

You source your briar from Italy because you believe the best briar comes from this country. What makes Italian briar superior? The Italian briar I use continues to give good results, so why change? My supplier supplies many artisan pipe makers.

What kind of curing has your briar and why? I do not cure the pipes as such. Good dry seasoned briar is the secret. However, I do something to the pipes which my Grand father taught me. Alas, this is a secret, I am sorry.

vulcaniteYou solely use vulcanite for your stems, why is this and why not acryl? I use vulcanite as this is a English tradition. Dunhill, Les Wood/Ferndown etc. The Cumberland mouthpieces are the best quality German vulcanite available. I make acrylic on order.

Can you tell us something more about your regular pipe-series? I mean the Bruyere Premier, Bruyere Regal, Rox Cut Premier and Rox Cut Regal? The Bruyere Premier’s are made from straight grain plateaux. The Bruyere Regals are made from cross grain blocks. The Rox Cut can be made from plateaux or cross grain.

From your Specials-serie I very much like the sea-urchin, helix and oriental. What was the inspiration for these models? I watch for shapes on the internet and shows and also the odd pipe that comes in for repair. This year I have made a pipe, the Sea Shell, just by looking at a sea shell on the window sill.

Ian's boat containing his workshop

Ian’s boat containing his workshop

Can you tell us a bit more about your beautiful signature Roc Cut rustification? This has changed over the years as I tried different techniques of rustication. Last spring I went to a wood festival in Wales and there was a stall selling old tools. I bought a few old gauge switches which proved to be successful. As I work on the boat there is unfortunately is no room for a sandblast machine.

When you have a piece of briar, do you already see a shape in it? Let you dictate the briar which shape is going to come out? When making stock pipes for shows, a block can change shape two or three times for the original idea I started with.

Please describe the whole process from start to finish from having an idea for a pipe (or an order) to the final end-product. 1 briar block. Turn the bowl and drill the tobacco chamber. Turn the shank, bore the shank. Then grind the bottom to marry up with the turned bits. Fit the rod and shape into the stem. Then sand the complete pipe with finer sandpaper wheels and pumice then polishing mops. Stain, stamp and final polish.

When did you began smoking pipe? I started pipe smoking in mid 1970’s.

Northern Briars Uncle Paul

Northern Briars Uncle Paul

What are your favourite pipe shapes and why? All pipe shapes are interesting to a pipe maker. Whilst I like Uncle Paul and Hungarian shapes they are the most difficult to make.

What are your favourite pipe brands (besides your own brand of course) and why? Any artisan pipe makers pipes.  There are so many good young American pipe makers around. I also like Alberto Bonfigliolo and Les Wood/Ferndown. I am always interested when their pipes come in for repair.

What are your favourite tobaccos, what do you like to smoke yourself? It seems that when I find a good tobacco they take it off the market.. I did like Balkan Sobranie flake in a green tin. Then Dunhill Light flake but they changed it and it is not the same.. I smoke Samuel Gawith Full Virginia flake.

On which pipes that you made are you most proud? All the pipes I make. But to make a new shape that I have not made before is always one to be proud of.

Which of your pipes would you recommend for beginning pipe smokers? Any Group 3 size or Group 4 size pipe. Not to big, not to small and straight or with only a slight bend in any finish that suits you best.

Any last words to readers? It has been a pleasure making these pipes for the Dutch/Belgian forum. It would be good whilst on holiday somewhere to see someone smoking one of the forum pipes. All pipe makers know their own work.

IMG_0418For about a week and a half I have the 2014 forum-pipe in my possession. Ian did a great job considering he had to make 56 pipes! According to him he never got such a big order from a forum! For a prince the pipe is quite a robust one, I am used to more slender shapes. Also it is “only” a group size 3 which is a bit surprising for such a large pipe. But then again it really is a unique piece in my prince collection. Technically the pipe is flawless. Thick walls and a pipe-cleaner passes easily through the stem and bowl. I like the used briar, it reminds me very much of the old Dunhill Root Briar. Although that was made from Corsican briar and Ian uses Italian.. I must say he took a real risk with the finish, it is smooth without any rustification or sand-blasting. Very hard to find 56 pieces of briar who are all flawless enough to make smooth finishes. So some pipes have fills I heard (and saw) from other forum-member. Not mine, it just has some kind of small flaw on the bowl which does not bother me at all. The most important is that it smokes good, and that the pipe does. I had a “magical fit between a tobacco and a pipe” with it. The tobacco in question was Penzance, absolutely very yummie!

So, if you’re a pipe-maker and you are interested in making an edition of the annual PRF-pipe, please contact Shaun: hetpijprokersforum@gmail.com

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The Dunhill Shell Story

Dunhill_logoMy love for Dunhill pipes began when I purchased a Dunhill Bruyere pot model from 1976 through a member of the Dutch pipe smokers forum. Before that I had a couple of bent Petersons, a few Winslows and that was it. I was searching for a really good pipe to smoke latakia-blends in, a pipe that would do a fantastic blend justice. And well.. The Petersons did not cut it.. Absolutely beautiful pipes but as far as smoking goes.. Mwah.. I must say, I still have a Peterson from 1923 and that one smokes superb. But the newer ones were just not my thing. My Winslows are superb pipes for aromatic and Virginia/Virginia-Perique blends, but latakia, no. At first I saw a Dunhill pipe as a bit snobbish, not something I like. But when I read something more about the history of Alfred Dunhill (I love history) I began to feel more for the brand. The Dunhill Bruyere pot I bought was a great smoker when filled with the dark leaf. It just tasted better, the draft was better, the mouthpiece felt better etc. But I did not like the look of the pot very much. And then I fell in love with the Prince shape.

My Dunhill Shell Briar from the patent eraLike I said in my “Prince of Pipes” post, for me the epitome of the prince pipe is an army mount Dunhill Shell briar from the patent era. Why a Shell? I guess just personal preference, I like a beautiful sandblast more than a straight grain. But how did the Dunhill Shell pipe came into being? The “marketing” tale is this: Alfred Dunhill went down into his basement during winter. He wanted to make a couple of pipes (as far as I know he was a gifted blender, not a carver, but ok..) and he accidentally left a half finished one by the heating boiler. Sometime next summer he suddenly thought of the pipe. He found it and it looked like some of the grain had “shrunk”, leaving a relief pattern similar to that of a sea-shell. In reality the company experimented since 1914 with Algerian briar (attractive and pretty inexpensive) for a smooth-finished pipe.  But without success because of the softness of the briar. So the blocks were simply laid aside the stove. After several months it seemed that the heat from the stove had affected the condition of the Algerian briar blocks. They had shrunk to a mere “shell” with the grain standing out in relief similar to that of a sea-shell (I feel like repeating myself). And so the Shell finish was born. Working together with the London Sandblasting Company to perfect the process of accentuating the briar relief, a patent was finally awarded in late 1918.

Pipe bowls lying in their oil bath.

Pipe bowls lying in their oil bath

Another invention was the treating of the wood with oil (oil curing), which strengthened it and removed impurities. Here is how Alfred Dunhill explained the process of oil curing and sandblasting in the patent application: This invention relates to the treatment of the surface of the wood of wooden tobacco pipes, for decorative purposes, and refers to a process by which the grain is accentuated or made to stand out in relief, thus giving the wood a very elegant appearance, without interfering with the durability of smoking qualities of the pipes. Although the sand blast has been used previously for the treatment of the surface of wood, to accentuate the grain, I have found in practice that this treatment in itself does not give satisfactory results as there is a tendency for the wood to become cracked and injured, a result that does not occur with my process where it is used as an auxiliary to the treatment by steeping (in oil) and by heat.

Bowls drip-drying

Bowls drip-drying

In carrying out my invention, I shape the pipe in the ordinary way. I then steep it for a suitable time in a mineral or vegetable oil. For instance, in the case of Algerian briar, a wood very suitable for the production of these new tobacco pipes, the article may be steeped for a long period say for several weeks, in olive oil. After lt has been removed from the oil, I subject the article to the action of heat. This process occupies a number of days, the oil exuded or coming to the surface being wiped off periodically. The result of the treatment is that the grain of the wood is hardened and stands out in relief to a certain degree, but the oil coming to the surface forms an impervious coating.

Sandblasting a pipe

Sandblasting a pipe

I (then) submit it to the action of the sand jet or sand blast, which removes the hardened coating of oil and also has the effect of cutting away the softer wood between the grain and leaving the harder portion -the hardness of which has been intensified by the process of steeping and heating- in very high relief. If the article is again steeped in oil, it will take up a further amount and the treatment by heat and the sand jet or sand blast may be repeated; and so on for as many times as may be required according to the extent to which it is desired to accentuate the grain or make it stand out in relief. The resulting article is extremely hard and constitutes an admirable tobacco pipe for the smoker.

See the underlying red stain?

See the underlying red stain?

The sandblasting techniques were not completely mastered by the Dunhill pipe makers in the beginning of the 1920’s. So the pipes were aggressively, deeply blasted through a “double blast” process. Because of the softness of the Algerian briar especially in the early years the shape of the pipes was often dramatically altered. Sometimes so much that the regular shape number no longer could be used. In the late 1920’s and 1930’s the blast was more controlled, but still deep and craggy. This style continued into the 1960’s and is now considered classic. Since the late 1960’s Algerian briar became unavailable for Dunhill thus much harder briar (Grecian) had to be used for the finish. The consequence of course was that the Shell blast became significantly more shallow. The stain of the Shell is black with an underlying layer of warm red. So especially older Shell pipes reveal a warm shade of red when you hold them in the light. However, I remember reading somewhere (can’t find it now, you always see this..) that Dunhill once decided to make the Shell finish all black. It was not appreciated by Dunhill fans..

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My 1927/1928 army mount Shell prince

I now have two Shell prince pipes, both from the patent era. And I LOVE them. The first is an army mount from 1927 or 1928. I saw this one on the English ebay; the mouthpiece was pretty oxidised, the white spot had turned black and the rim was a bit shaved off. It did have a “buy it now” price that was pretty low so without thinking any further I bought it. When I received the package and saw the pipe it looked better than on the pictures. I even could see the registration number on the stem. I send the pipe to the repairman and he did a wonderful job, it was good to go for years to come. Today this Shell prince is my benchmark pipe for latakia blends.

IMG_0021What I forgot with my first Shell I did do with my second: ask more about the pipe. My second Shell I recently bought (also on ebay) from a very nice British fellow named David. On the picture I saw a patent era Dunhill pipe from 1950 in pristine condition. Except for the tenon, which was cleanly broken. I took the gamble and made a bid which was, to my delight, the winning one. I send pictures of the broken tenon to the repairman and he just said: send it over. One and a half week later I received the pipe back and to my relief the repair was immaculately done. The original mouthpiece was saved, only the tenon had been replaced. I also saw a strange “C” stamp on the bottom that I did not not know of. Well, I know that a “C” stamp can stand for Churchwarden. But obviously this was no churchwarden. I kept on mailing with David (who in the past had a lot of informative talks with Richard Dunhill) and asked him if he knew anything more about the pipe. This was his answer:

IMG_0024In answer to your question, I don’t, I’m sorry to say, have all the background to your pipe, but I am able to tell you that I purchased the pipe in Brighton (on the south coast of the UK) in about 1997. I purchased it from the estate sale of the original owner (whose name was not publicly declared at the time) and whom I understand received it from Alfred Dunhill Limited as a “gift” at some point in the early 1950’s. The pipe may have been given to him because of his association with the Dunhill business as a stockist, a valued supplier, a personal friend of the Dunhill family or perhaps even a favoured customer (actors, celebrities of the era and those notably in the public eye were actively courted and encouraged by Dunhill to be seen and photographed with ‘white spot’ pipes between their teeth in the 1940’s & 1950’s) Unfortunately, however, the exact provenance of your pipe we shall never know for sure.

See the

See the “C” stamp on the left?

On the subject of the ‘C’ stamp, the reference you found is quite interesting as it depends on where and how the ‘C’ is used on a Dunhill product. For instance, it may indeed indicate ‘Churchwarden’ if aligned with the ‘style’ stamp, or a large capacity one-off bowl if used after the letters OD on a Dunhill ‘special’ (ODA’s & ODB’s being slightly smaller)… It was even used on top grade straight grain or ‘Dead Root’ pipes at one time to indicate the degree of quality e.g. DRA, then a DRB, DRC etc.. (I’ll stop now!!) – there are so many different subtleties in the stamping. Incidentally, the ‘C’ for complimentary was also used on other products as I had an early Dunhill lighter that had it over-stamped on the base and which I knew had been a retirement gift.

My two patent era Shell briar prince pipes

My two patent era Shell briar prince pipes

Pipes, such as yours and that are marked with a ‘C’ were deliberately undated (as there was no need to identify the start of the one-year guarantee period) and were stamped with the ‘C’ to show that they were given free of charge to their original owners. Most of the pipes specifically made for members of the British Royal Family were also, I understand, marked with the ‘with compliments’ ‘C’ stamp. That said, don’t get too excited… King George V, his son The Duke of Windsor and his successor, King George the VI, were famously known for ignoring the ‘royal drawer’ preferring instead, to select pipes for themselves from Dunhill’s standard, year-dated stock as they liked to ‘browse’ through the choice and extensive range on offer to all who visited the Dunhill shop in London.

I love information like this, for me it makes the pipe and history come alive. So I hope to stumble upon many more old Shell briar princes, for a good price of course. After all, I’m Dutch.

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