A few years ago when I began smoking a pipe in earnest, I think I must have been one of the oldest newbies in the pipe community; the bug hadn’t well and truly bit until I was nearly fifty years old. And it’s not like I had been neglecting pipes in favor of cigarettes or cigars; my interest in smoking of any kind was pretty much nonexistent until I hit my thirties. At that time I began enjoying the occasional cigar, both for its own sake and for its benefit as a kind of tobacco digestif after a dinner ridiculously high in cholesterol and saturated fats. Pipes didn’t interest me in the least. When I noticed them at all, I saw only the effort and not the aesthetic charm. And though my father had smoked a pipe for a number of years while I was growing up, the resulting association provoked nostalgia, but not a desire to emulate. Pipes were obviously an anachronism; why would I (or anyone else) want to smoke one today?
Like so many things that affect our lives, pipe smoking snuck up on me. My oldest brother Matt became an enthusiast about a dozen years ago. Matt and I are two of five brothers, and his involvement in the Seattle club was more a subject for general amusement than genuine interest. I come from a long line of mockers, and it would be difficult (and cruel) to summarize all the fun we had at Matt’s expense. Since you’re reading this it should be pretty clear who had the last laugh. I can still remember the first time he convinced me to try a pipe (yes, I know it wasn’t that many years ago; but you have to make allowances for the erosion of memory that comes with middle age). He packed what I now know was a beautiful little Will Purdy Dublin with Joe Lankford’s Plum Pudding, and passed it over to me.
I wish I could say that that first smoke hit me the way Saul was clobbered on the road to Damascus; that it was seared in my consciousness, like Pearl Harbor was for our parents, or 9/11 is for many of us. But, the truth is my love affair with the pipe built up gradually. It helped that I am by nature a bit of a collector, and so have little natural immunity to the affliction called PAD. It also helped that I grew to appreciate pipe smoking as something that I could share with several of my brothers, and as a way of making new friends at club meetings and shows.
But, like most of us, my interests and obligations extend far beyond the pipe community. Work, family, and other hobbies all demand their share of my time. And in the hobby category is a longstanding love affair with history, as well as a fair degree of experience as an amateur genealogist.
The idea of combining my pastimes didn’t take very long to bubble to the surface. Almost from the moment I began pipe smoking, I found myself gravitating towards the early English factory pipes, and very soon after that, I began to assemble voluminous files on the men and companies behind these legendary marks. From there I branched out to the famous American pipe makers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and finally on to the origins of the most famous tobacco brands. I enjoy research for its own sake; it’s a skill that was integral to the start of my professional career 30 years ago, and continues to be an important aspect of many of my hobbies.
As I dug deeper, however, I began to realize that for every researcher who shared their findings with the pipe community, there were many more who through inertia, or the press of other responsibilities, kept their knowledge to themselves. I looked at the terrific example set by men like Derek Green, John Loring, Ben Rapaport, Neill Archer Roan, and Gary Schrier, and made a kind of New Year’s resolution to dump out my files, organize my findings into some kind of coherent narrative, and then find a way to make them accessible to others.
And that’s the real purpose of the Vintages Project. I see it as a clearing house for historical information about the great pioneers of pipes and tobaccos. This will hopefully be a place where scholarship, in an admittedly narrow field, can find a home; where data can be shared, and hopefully improved. The word “definitive” has little meaning in this sort of archaeology, so let me echo John Loring’s plea: these articles come at a price. If you are aware of any errors or additional information please contact me be clicking here.