“The plumber’s pipes always leak.” “A shoemaker’s children always go barefoot.” There are many aphorisms that express the same idea: the professional takes care of himself and his family last.
Originally posted Sunday, January 17, 2010
Five days ago I received an email from Rick Newcombe telling a story about how American pipe maker Jeff Gracik replaced a stem on a Lar Ivarsson pipe. Several aspects of this story struck me as remarkable and very much worth sharing here. First, I found it notable that Lars wanted Rick to have another pipemaker make the replacement stem. Second, Lars assisted Jeff by providing pictorial examples of his stem work in similar design contexts. Finally, Gracik’s final solution was the counterintuitive, but most pleasing design choice. I wonder how many artisans would have lengthened a stem that appeared to be too stubby?
The relationships and interplay between collectors and artisans is wonderful grist for understanding the pipe world. There is often great generosity of spirit shown between the people in our little universe. It struck me reading this story how much true stewardship of both pipes and people there often is among people in the pipe world.
I hope that you enjoy reading this story as much as I did:
FROM LARS IVARSSON TO JEFF GRACIK by Rick Newcombe
There was a German pipe collector who put in his will that he wanted all his used pipes returned to the pipe makers after his death. His name was Gunther Robertus, and he collected mostly high grade pipes, especially ones made by Ivarssons (Sixten and Lars) and Chonowitsches (Emil and Jess).
One of the pipes Lars had made for Gunther in 1984 was a giant bent billiard with a short mouthpiece. When I visited Lars years ago, he pulled out the pipe and told me the story about Gunther’s will. He sold it to me at a greatly reduced price, saying the mouthpiece had a pinprick hole in it and needed to be replaced. He asked if I would mind asking another pipe maker to make the new mouthpiece.
“Cabin fever is a dangerous thing,” I tell my wife. It lurks in dark places. It can take a jolly, gentle fellow like me and twist him to the dark side. Horror of horrors, it can make me commit the most venal of sins. It can make me smoke inside the house.
Last night, as I sat in my leather recliner warming my feet before the fire, and gazing outside at Winter’s handiwork, I realized that I was not all that different from Jack Torrance – the crazed character that Jack Nicholson created in The Shining.
We have several things in common. For example, our wives are both named Wendy. Now that’s poetic irony. Our smiles turn lopsided when we’re made to stay inside too much, as well. I’m a little older than Jack, though, and my memory’s not as good as it once was. It seems I’ve misplaced my axe.
In the tiny space between us
Lingers the scent that betrays me.
Your nose, like you, is for the world’s sweet things:
Honeysuckle, peonies and roses, even the part of you
Imprisoned in your side of the bed - left there by
Your sleepy burrows into the safety of down and darkness.
“So what makes Dunhill pipes so great, anyway? Are they really worth what they cost?”
It seems like an innocent enough question, doesn’t it? Yet, every time this question - or its first or second cousin – shows up in one of the myriad pipe-smoking forums, all hell breaks loose. Sure, sometimes the thread remains restrained or civil, but all too often the thread tone crosses the canyon. Discussion turns to debate and when that happens it is almost certain that there will be a lot more heat than light.
Almost certainly, old-timers roll their eyes and ask themselves, “Do we have to go through this all over again?” I’m sympathetic, I admit, but asking this question is about as reasonable as a Vermonter muttering about mud season coming around again. It’s going to happen and, if you’re around, you’re going to go through it.
Some people – and I’ve been one of them – try to address the question in earnest. The inevitable comparisons between brands and grades of other pipes are made. People who own Dunhills will pronounce their favorite Kaywoodie a superior smoker. Someone who smokes a comparably priced artisan-grade pipe, e.g. a Rad Davis or John Crosby pipe, will make the inevitable argument for putting the money into a truly handmade pipe. Charatan and Savinelli owners will decisively argue for their own preferences. And those who are well-mannered and gracious will almost always close with a statement to the effect of “Of course, this is just my opinion. Smoke what you enjoy and enjoy what you smoke. It’s what’s important to you that matters.”