Monday, June 25, 2007

54 Trademark joins the ranks!

I just finished a bowl of Wessex burley slices in a new-to-me estate Castello Trademark 4K Rhodesian, model 54 with a #5 bit, complete with rhinestone insert. After a busy weekend a monday off seemed appropriate and this morning was spent on the back patio with the sunshine just beginning to filter through the oaks, illuminating the frolicking antics of a half dozen squirrels and numerous songbirds. A soft breeze was washing through the trees and carrying the scents of the tree covered hillside, baked from the recent summer heat, and it mingled with the fragrant dew covered flower garden at my feet. The combined smells melded beautifully with the earthy burley smoke creating an ethereal incense. With a cup of black coffee, the pipe and the lively hillside brought me out of my tired post slumber lethargy and snapped me back into the focus I held the previous afternoon.

This pipe was the culmination of a long thought out and bothered over process in which I would finally begin a micro collection within my collection, the Bulldog/Rhodesian shapes. I have a wonderful Castello Old Antiquari straight dog with stick bit, but a single pipe is not a collection. I have been studiously pouring over countless photographs of various renditions of these shapes and have come to love those that bear an overly wide bowl, large face and relatively narrow and long 1/8 to 1/4 bent shank. I’ve recently had my eye on several pipes and missed out on them for various reasons, and that had me a bit edgy. I saw a stunning Hedegaard OP1 Rhodesian on and while pouring over several days worth of auctions in the name of being sure the OP1 was the one, it disappeared. Foolish mistake! As gorgeous as it was I should have just snapped it up, but being of a limited budget and wanting to be sure it was “THE” pipe to buy (there wouldn’t be a second for a while) I hesitated and another lucky collector is now undoubtedly enjoying it. Shortly thereafter I placed bids on a couple of pipes over the next few days and was sniped, so when the end of the week rolled around, as I said, I was a bit on edge over the whole thing.

I figured I’d just let the whole idea go and wait until something caught my eye so as to not force a purchase that I’d later regret, and that was pretty much my mindset when I’d called my brother to see if he wanted to join me at the Sunday pipe club meeting. We agreed to go together and once it was decided and I knew I’d be going (Sundays can be so last minute when you have a big family) I went through my usual routine of checking out Second Hand Smokes, an EBay store run by the Sacramento Pipe Collectors Assembly founder and host, Gary Malmberg. Gary graciously hosts the twice monthly meetings in his home and is quite the generous host, allowing members to freely pour over his stock of fine estate pipes. I usually pick out several listed on his site that interest me and make an effort to get ahold of them, learn from them, and learn from Gary. Just caressing these pipes will educate you in a way that reading about them and viewing them on a computer monitor can’t, and these meetings have been like seminars to my novice but ambitious idea of collecting.

So in pouring over his site for the first time in a while I spy a familiar shape, wide bowl, large face, elegantly shaped shank and stem. Hmmm. You can never really tell by the pictures, but it looked very much like what I’d been searching for and I was kind of amazed at myself for not noticing it sooner. Upon examining the pipe in person I was both thrilled and relieved because it was simply gorgeous! The pipe is quite elegant, feels perfect in the hand, has the sweetest little swept back wide mouthpiece and is very, very clean. I believe the transaction took all of 30 seconds to complete, no fuss, no muss, and I’m supremely pleased with it!

At the meting a few lovely examples were filed away in the old memory bank for future reference including a sweet blasted billiard with stick bit carved by Joel Shapiro (his pipes are getting better and better and the engineering is fantastic) and a really cool elephants foot by Tonni Nielsen. As I said earlier, Quite focused I was yesterday afternoon on the possibilities of future collecting, and on cloud nine with my new aquisition.

So now it’s day one, the pipe will get smoked a couple of times today and then take it’s new resting place in the circular 2 tiered rack…In front, where I can eyeball it.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The smokescreen between need and desire.

Is need merely the purification of desire? I’m not speaking of the need that is the basest of human survival mechanisms like eating, drinking and cable television, or even the need we humans manage to put forth and justify as necessary to the upkeep of a modern existence, like owning a car so you don’t have to walk 12 miles to work or having a stove on which to cook your engineered and manufactured canned processed foodstuff. I’m talking need that rises from the little rituals we add to our lives which replace the hours of blank staring out the window that our forefathers called “Evening entertainment with the family”. As Brothers of the Briar there clearly are things we have need of to participate in this smoky affair, but at what point do we digress from reasonable accumulation to obvious excess? Or is it really an excess? Is it perhaps an expression of ourselves manifested insofar as our ability allows? In other words, am I bastardizing the basic human dilemma of need - the fulfilling of a biological instinct that is articulated in demand - by acting on my lust and gluttonously entering into grand consumption with the accumulation of fine pipes in the name of necessity?

As I look over my modest but more than adequate little collection I see timeless shapes perfectly executed by the great carving houses of Britain, artistic renditions of the classics carved by the artists of Pesaro, interpretive shapes turned by the hands and minds of the Danes. That is what I see but that is not all I see. I see holes. I see incompleteness and lack of expression and it metastasizes as an upwelling in my throat that flowers into a psychic vomiting of desire and pig greed. I can be a bit rough on myself at times, I know, but these feelings must be played out to come to either some sort of self-justification or reproach. I mean, you do have to live with yourself, you know? I know of men who fed their desires with cars or motor bikes or even with an accumulation of women friends and were still left with the empty feeling of being unsatisfied, even after the grand accumulation of those things they deemed necessary. So can collecting high grades satisfy the soul?

The French psychologist Jaques Lecan deduced that need, after running amuck in the neural pathways for a while, comes out to present itself as demand and demand has a double function, to articulate need and to act as the catalyst for desire. To take that one step further, Freud states that desire is an abstract and subjective psychic energy, a flow of forces that produces relations. “Rather than existing as a separate essence or principle, desire is experienced through personal interactions, collective social relations and a whole series of assemblages” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). So does our manifestation of desire become pure based on need? The answer, I believe, may lie in another abstract human trait, the expression of archetypal beauty through art.

Tolstoy wrote that “Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impressions”. This clearly can be a bridge out of the stigma of greed and excess and into an arena of communion through the inter-relational sharing of archetypal beauty. And what a relief that can be! I am not amassing a ridiculous collection of silly baubles but am coreographing an expression of beauty that is shared among men. And if my interpretation of A Negoita gourd or a Chonowitsch tulip fires some receptor in my brain that says “Uh,… Purty” and the observations of others end in the same feeling, given that we can relate those impressions similarly and collectively, then I think we’ve got ourselves an example of art as a vessel that serves both need and demand. At least that sounds like a plausible excuse for putting a nice collection together, and an excuse I believe I’ll hold to, thank you.

I recently had a short exchange with a friend over this very subject and he summarized an opposing theory, simplifying it very eloquently by referring to a passage from an ancient commentary on the book of Genesis. “They found a plain in Shinar because they were looking for a plain in Shinar”. He made the argument that “we miss what’s in front of our faces because it’s not what we’re looking for” and that “you projected a part of yourself into those things for the fun of recovering yourself in them”. I cannot disagree with that at all –in fact I quite like it- but I think that, circularly, I can take that observation back to my premise that finding a common beauty or connection in an object validates it as an artistic entity and qualifies the idea that, though surely any evidence would be grounded subjectively, the common value found in these things does increase the value of the objects in many ways and serves to validate their existence and the opinions of those who hold them in high regard. Thus, If I buy hand carved high grade pipes and discuss this niche with other enthusiasts, though I may have projected my own ideals of art onto the object and also allowed them to influence my perceptions of pipe art, I also serve to perpetuate the larger hobby as a whole by sharing this information, selling estate pipes and continuing the niche. This also can be taken a step further. If I had not bought, traded, and by-God lusted after these pipes, then perhaps my own pipe culture experience would not have been nearly so fruitful for me. If this is so, then it stands to reason that, yes, high grade pipes can in fact be seen as true needs to the enthusiast, and I’m sure that this will be of much relief to many of you!

Need creates demand which is satiated by art. How beautiful, these expressions in smoke. So go ahead! Gather up your fancy-shmancy pipes and proclaim their beauty from the rooftops. You’re in good company.

Monday, May 28, 2007


I just gathered up and threw out my body weight in garbage. Two years ago the wife and I, having just been set free from the raising of three children, two horses and a gaggle of miscellaneous pets, took a little apartment in town in an attempt to scale way down and take a test drive in a life of neat and tidy smallness. Apparently I’ve been doing it wrong as I managed to place seemingly important things here and there over the months only to gather them into three large boxes two years into this and haul them out to the dumpster, forcing me into a sweat and a reevaluation of the term tidy.

These many months have brought much light to a subject I desperately desired to absorb and feel out, a fabulous lightness of being; a simplistic manner of going through life unencumbered by the weight of the excesses of the twenty first century consumer.

As I said, in many ways I seem to have been going about it all wrong.

This infatuation with traveling light is really more a matter of soul than of property, although the two are very much interrelated. Foregoing the trappings of too many sporting arms and fly rods, cars, clothes and multimedia apparati has been a blessing. I now manage to better enjoy fishing with only a couple of rods that force me to push my abilities on the water rather than relying on a stick to cover any given situation. A single rifle and brace of shotguns has me stalking the woods, fields and marshes with much more care and thoughtfulness, thus creating a more aware and self reliant hunter. It is one area of my life where this lightening of the load in the name of philosophical enlightenment has paid off.

And now I find myself trying to qualify my pipe and tobacco passion. This is one area of my life where I cannot seem to reason that less is more. Well, at least not with the pipes. The tobacco journey has been an interesting one insofar as I have actually come to the realization that a mere handful of fine blends will keep me happy. There is, however, the fact that I have, by count, some 60 plus blends resting in canning jars that I absolutely do not want to part with since they can, to reason with excess, be used as “something different for a change” blends that will keep me puffing something other than the staples for many years.

Pipes are a whole different story. I determined at one point that I needed a substantial rotation of pipes so that even in a prolonged smoking frenzy I would never be without a clean, dry, sweet pipe. That number managed to come out to around 50 pipes, although it has dwindled somewhat recently. Not by much though.

Now I am in a state of mind where I am reasoning that those pipes, mostly of modest but decent quality – what one would call perfectly serviceable – should be replaced one at a time with very fine pieces that appeal to my sense of design and aesthetic perfection. Stanwell, Peterson and Savinelli are falling to Castello, Ser Jacopo, Dunhill and the like. My current mania has me drooling over pipes by S. Bang, Joura and Negoita. What to do, what to do!? Perfectly good and absolutely acceptable blue collar pipes (that, by the way, mirror my own place in this world) are laid aside, no, given away, to make room for something that presents itself as artistically superior, a horribly abstract and unreasonable notion. So how to make peace with this dereliction of dogma?

I recently was very honored to be a guest at a gathering of fine gentlemen who exceed me in wit, style and by-God brains. These fellows were very fluent in the culture, history and depth of appreciation of fine pipes and tobaccos. The backgrounds of these men is quite varied and included bankers, artists, scientists, musicians, law enforcement officials and even a philosophy student. A common theme among us bound this socially disparate group tightly. Fine pipes. It bridged gaps of knowledge and personal experience, of age, and of social disposition. Never did the subject of affordability or relative value come up, only an appreciation of artistic and engineering excellence. I have found, in fact, that the common pipe, when carved with care and skill and placed into the hands of a true brother of the briar, is not only a piece of art but a bridge between men, a common thread so deeply embedded into our souls that it demands absolute friendship and respect from it’s admirers.

So this begs the question: Is the high grade pipe an excess or a necessary, albeit expensive, accoutrement to the soul of man.

I’m really hoping it’s the latter!

I’m quite sure I’ll get over this feeling of excess in my simple, tidy little life, but in the meantime, barring the revelation of an answer to the question I pose, I suppose I’ll just have to allow it as a much welcome chink in my psyche and keep saving my dollars for that next great briar.