Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Neverending Hunt: Rubens Rhodesians

In every type of collection / obsession / hobby, there are those objects that take one's understanding of the subject and morph into something different, something better, something new. The first and most powerful of those transformative experiences for me, in terms of pipes, was only a little over a year ago.

I had only really started collecting pipes in earnest in the later half of 2010, though I had been slowly building a modest lot for a year or so before that.

I remember this particular day quite vividly: I was sitting in Washington University's coffee house, known as Whispers Cafe, in a chair covered with worn, green leather. I had a cappuccino in one hand and was scrolling through the archives of A Passion for Pipes with the other.

(Whispers Cafe)

Eventually, I stumbled upon a post entitled The Piper's Dozen, an entry discussing Mr. Roan's top choices in several categories, including Best Accessory, Best Estate Pipe Dealer, Most Promising Emerging Pipe Artisan, and so forth. All of this was written back in 2009, though I, being new on the pipe collecting scene, was only then reading it in 2010.

At this point, I feel inclined to mention the incredible accuracy of Neill's picks back in 2009; since expanding my knowledge, I cannot help but agree with nearly all of his choices. One example is who he chose for Most Promising Emerging Pipe Artisan: Bruce Weaver. Since the time Neill chose him, Mr. Weaver has shown himself to be a force to be reckoned with, garnering incredible respect throughout the pipe world for his wonderful work and his out-of-this-world sandblasting.

Back to the story. I eventually found myself at the bottom of the list, reading a selection called "Smoker of the Year". There it was: a pipe that I had never seen before, but that called to me like Cthulhu calls from R'lyeh. (What? What do you mean they don't get that reference? Oh, fine!) *Ahem* ...that called to me like a siren's song. (Better?)

(Image: Neill Archer Roan, © 2009 Neill Archer Roan, All Rights Reserved)

It wasn't a classically beautiful pipe; it was rotund, squat, and had abnormal proportions. But it was the pipe for me. I knew it at that moment and I still know it to this day.

Causing myself to be late to class, a decision that I still do not regret, I furiously typed away on my computer, trying to locate a similar pipe to the "Rubens Rhodesian" I saw before me.

I knew from Neill's description that it was factory made, so I assumed it wouldn't be too terribly difficult to find another specimen. Through my research, however, I found out that this was a limited edition pipe. Specifically, I learned that there had been two generations of the Rubens Rhodesian, the first generation having a bent stem, such as in the picture above, and the second having a straight stem. Further, I found out that each version only had one-hundred pieces produced.

This complicated things.

I stopped looking for any other pipe, and focused all of my energy on finding one of those Rubens Rhodesians, ideally the first generation. For those of you who don't know, the Rubens Rhodesian is a collaboration between Gregory Pease (known to many as G.L. Pease) and Luca Di Piazza. The pipes themselves are made by Radice, so the quality is nearly guaranteed.

Prior to this, my sources for pipes had been limited to the larger online retailers, such as Smoking Pipes and Pipes and Cigars. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with those retailers; in fact, both still remain favorites of mine. When one is attempting to find a specific pipe, however, one must needs widen one's gaze.

I eventually found a place called James Island Piper, and there it was in all its digital beauty. A "Clear" finish Rubens Rhodesian, second generation.

(The picture that changed my world)

While I had been intent on finding one of the pipes from the first generation, this little beauty seemed too perfect to pass up.

It arrived at my doorstep just a couple of days later. I was as giddy as a school girl.

I opened the little white package from the United States Postal Service, the shape of which I have come to know and love very well since then. Inside was, naturally, packing peanuts and a small, charcoal box, graced with silver letters reading:

                    Di Piazza

My breathing was already a little heavy upon seeing the box. Inside of that was a short, shorter than I expected, pipe sleeve, inside of which the treasure rested.

The grain was phenomenal; the size, perfect; the draw, unfairly unparalleled.

Yet I found myself unhappy for some reason. I was young (well, younger) and was displeased by the tarnish on the silver band on the pipe. In my mind, pipes were pieces of artistic perfection that could not fade, could not be tarnished.

If memory serves, I even called Don Seatter, the man behind James Island Piper, to ask for an explanation. In retrospect, I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. Seatter and offer my heartfelt thanks for putting up with the naivete of a young enthusiast struck blind by the curvaceous beauty of a pipe.

(Don Seatter)

In the end, I found my mother's silver polish and cleaned the ring up. Once I finished, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and looked at the pipe anew.

It truly was perfect.

I was in love.

All of this goes without mentioning the remarkable smoking qualities of the pipe. It handles any tobacco put in it like a champ, though I have yet to try an aromatic in it. Virginias are sweet and light, while Englishes are complex, while simultaneously letting the individual actors shine.

Truly, I regret telling you all of the wonderful qualities of this pipe, for fear that you will only harden the competition for finding one of the two hundred out there. Silly me, they are hard enough to find already.

One might think that I would be satisfied with the one pipe. While extremely happy, I find myself itching for more, as I knew that this was my shape, my pipe. No matter what else I collected, from then to now to the future, my collection and my pipe smoking as a whole will be defined by the Rubens Rhodesian by Mr. Pease, Luca Di Piazza, and Radice.

Soon, I had my first interaction with Mike Glukler of Briar Blues and located my second Rubens Rhodesian.

(Mike Glukler of Briar Blues)

Though much hunting and searching and searching and hunting, I eventually managed to complete a seven-day set of Rubens Rhodesians.

I could not have been happier. I had seven of my favorite type of pipe in seven different finishes. It was beautiful; it was satisfying; was it complete?

Since that time, my collection of this pipe has expanded exponentially. My appreciation for it has done likewise and it is still one of my go-to pipes. The question is which of the twelve I will reach for!

(My collection and photography skills have both increased! I have added one Rubens Rhodesian to the collection since this photo was taken.)

I will never stop hunting for more of this amazing shape. Once I reach fourteen, I will consider than another milestone, but I won't stop.

This story is not simply intended to show you the sheer madness that love and obsession and passion can create, but rather to show you the happiness that comes along with it. I encourage every single one of you to be passionate. It can be a specific shape, a specific brand, a specific carver, a style, a country, a finish, or anything at all. Just live life passionately and intensely, even when it comes to the humble pipe.

No comments:

Post a Comment