Cuttying to the Quick

For pipe smokers, especially among those who feel a strong connection to things nautical or historical, the cutty is a beloved shape,  perhaps because the shape’s roots are thought to emerge from the earliest of smoking pipes: clay tavern pipes that preceded briar pipes by almost two centuries. You see at the top of this post a rare Comoy Blue Riband Shape No. 347, a briar pipe with design elements that echo its tavern-pipe predecessor: forward cant, casting nipple, and egg-ish bowl shape.

Given how the pipe’s look seems so proximal to its clay pipe origins, one might assume that the Comoy’s 347 shape is the oldest of the cutty shapes the company made, but that’s not the case.

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On Being Cavalier

Updated on Friday, June 26, 2015 at 5:01PM by Registered CommenterNeill Archer Roan

Cavalier (Extraordinaire) by Comoy’s

The classic cavalier by Comoy’s that you see depicted above is a rare bird, the only version I’ve ever seen of the shape by Comoy’s. An Extraordinaire, it is a large pipe that is beautifully grained and impeccably made. I acquired the pipe from the Bisgaards, hitting the buy button the minute I saw the pipe. It was only upon receiving it that I realized that it was likely made in the 1950s. It has the old, arched, serifed Comoy’s type stamp.

As with other consumer products, fashion flexes its muscle in the pipe world, too, especially with respect to the waxing and waning of pipe shapes. For example, for a number of years nosewarmers have been fashionable. So have chubby rhodesians. As a result of this year’s Kansas City Pipe Club’s North American Pipe Carver’s Contest, interest may be renewed in the cavalier shape.

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The Beautiful Stranger

There are some pipes the impact of which I feel so much that they are imprinted indelibly in my memory, I want them so much. Worse, they are the persistent ghost–the unbidden visitor who strides into any moment, however inconvenient or distracting a presence they may be.

And when the owner refuses to part company with the pipe? Does this settle the matter? No. If, anything it’s worse, akin to the beautiful stranger who, once seen, cannot be unseen nor forgotten. The indelibility of these memories astonish me. When there is so much I struggle to remember, these things I cannot forget. There is more than a little truth to Buddha’s admonition that the root of all suffering is desire. Such was my experience of the sandblasted bent bamboo apple depicted above.

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The Crap Shoot

A Perth-blended, cutter-top tin of Rattray’s 7 ReserveWhen it comes to vintage tobaccos, most people seek out the marquee names–the vintage tobacco equivalents of Bogart, Bacall, Flynn, or Davis. The hunt has led to prices spiraling into the stratosphere for tobaccos like Balkan Sobranie, 759, or Sullivan and Powell’s Gentleman’s Mixture. No doubt in the future we’ll see the same scramble for G.L. Pease’s Stonehenge that we see for his Bohemian Scandal. People seek out the legendary.

Me? My tastes run to the more obscure. Personally, my favorite vintage tobacco is Rattray’s 7 Reserve. My love is as blind for this tobacco as Bogie’s was for Bacall in Casablanca. A mature Virginias-based blend with condimental latakia, 7 has that tangy sweetness with just a trace of latakia’s signature herbal smokiness, and the fairly recent is almost good as the original, Perth-blended version. I know that because of the lucious leaf from the tin you see at the top of this post.

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Reflecting on Innovation

Innovation. If there is one word penned or uttered to inspire encomiums, innovation is it. Further, implicit in the word is the notion that innovation is always good. It is construed as evidence that the innovator is striving to introduce something that is now indispensable but that was previously missing. However, all too often improvement is lacking. There is only difference, but this does not inhibit claqueurs from leaping to their feat in enthusiastic applause.

Innovation comes in many forms. We have engineering innovation, design innovation, materials innovation, packaging innovation, marketing innovation, and process innovation. There are seemingly no limits to which the ambitious and the imaginative among us can explore the wilderness of the new, the better, or at least the different. The challenge, however, is to avoid rushing to market prematurely–a consideration that is sometimes overlooked.

If one wants to retain some measure of credibility or dignity–even in the generously forgiving pipe world–it is a good idea to create distinctions between innovations that are experimental and those where the R&D process has yielded a smart, mature solution.

Sometimes, conversations about innovation are a bit over the top in my opinion, and while I believe that innovative people are critical to aesthetic, technological, and social advancement, all innovation is not created equal. Some innovations are little more than outright Rube Goldberg-esque solutions like the pipe depicted at the top of this post.

Some innovations are not innovative at all. They are ideas that have been explored–and even made–long before. That the current experimenter is ignorant of previous attempts does not make the effort novel. It also does not make revising an idea or revisiting a solution unworthy. But don’t make untrue claims. Socrates’ observation that “There is nothing new under the sun” is almost always true.

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