Monday, January 30, 2012

Play Those Briar Blues

What makes a great business man? Knowledge, resources, experience? Of course, these are all exceedingly important for providing excellent service. To take the step step from good to great, however, you need a little something extra. Mike Glukler has that something and I knew it from the moment I first spoke with him.

He takes an intense interest in your passions, making it his mission to help you achieve your pipe collecting goal, be it finding your first good pipe or completing an incredibly rare and complex collection. More than anything, he is a genuine and disarmingly kind man.

One of the best examples of the type of business man he is, in my mind, is that he starts almost every single e-mail update with something along the lines of, "Good evening. Please excuse this intrusion into your busy weekend", despite the fact that his pipe updates are one of the highlights of my weekend!

Recently, Mike took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions.

Ethan Brandt: When did you smoke your first pipe? What made you start? Can you describe that experience?

Michael GluklerMany years ago. I was 14 and began with cigarettes. My parents, being of solid European stock, said no to cigarettes, and they bought me a pipe. A straight burgundy pear shaped Yello Bowl. I was given a package of Borkum Riff. I filled the pipe, smoked it to near the bottom. My tongue was raw. I emptied the bowl and the yellow tobacco chamber liner fell out. I did not touch a pipe again until I was 18 years old!

EB: How did you first get into the pipe business?

MGI guess it sort of began in the early 80s. I started to enjoy a pipe, seriously, and ended up working part time in a few of the local pipe shops. In 91, the last real “pipe shop” in this area closed and shortly
after I went back to cigarettes. A few years later a friend came over ( a pipe smoker ) with a tin of
McClelland’s tobacco and suggested I bring out an old pipe and have a bowl. From then I switched
back to a pipe. The more I returned back the more I realized that my income was not sufficient for
my “needs” in pipes and tobaccos. In 1995 I began to dabble a bit in selling pipes for friends on E-Bay.
In 1996 I decided to take it to the next level. Built a web site. Listened to a lot of others in the business
on what to do and what not to do, and the business has grown.

EB: What do you look for when deciding what you will sell on your website?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Sherlock Holmes Makes Pipes Cool...Again...

Recently, I was given the opportunity to start writing periodic pieces for Pipes Magazine, one of the largest and most trafficked pipe websites out there. I was thrilled and nervous, to say the least.

I had a lot of ideas for articles, some of which were good and some which simply wouldn't work for Pipes Magazine. In fact, a recent post on this blog, entitled Come Together...Right Now...Over Pipes, was my first attempt at an article for the magazine.

(Pipes Magazine Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Kevin Godbee)

Eventually, the editor of Pipes Magazine, Kevin Godbee, and I decided on a topic: the new Sherlock Holmes movies, starring Robert Downey, Jr., and their impact on pipes.

It was a challenging project. I consider myself linguistically acceptable, capable of pumping out a fifteen page research paper on a topic that I know nothing about within a couple of hours and receiving a very good grade. However, this was my first time writing for a real magazine.

I have worked on Washington University's newspaper, Student Life, doing restaurant reviews, but that was nothing compared to this.

After thinking and working and deleting and slamming my head against my desk, I managed to produce what I feel is a decent analysis of these movies in relation to the older films and the pipe world as a whole.

(Photo by Shining Darkness)

"So, imagine that there is a chain gun blasting away about 20 feet in front of you. Its target: you. How do you respond? By lying down and calmly smoking a pipe, of course! At least, that's what you would do as Robert Downey, Jr.'s rendition of Sherlock Holmes.

Naturally, this is quite a new situation for Sherlock Holmes, as is easily recognizable by even the most casual of fans. However, no matter which Sherlock Holmes we are discussing, be he played by Robert Downey, Jr., Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, Benedict Cumberbatch, or even if he is simply a character on a page, we can be sure that he will have a particular item: a pipe. The pipe, even more than the hat, coat, and magnifying glass, is a signature of Sherlock Holmes. It defined him. The question that is rarely asked, however, is how did Holmes define the pipe?"

To read the entire article, check out my piece on Pipe Magazine.

Let me know what you think about any part of it: the pipes, the movies, the acting, anything!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Back to Basics, Part II.

(Photo by Patrick Hoesley)

All right, class. I know it's been a while since I've taught your section, but I hope that you have taken opportunity to practice what we talked about last time.

Who here remembers what we talked about before? Yes, you in the second row.

That's right: how to select your first pipe. Now, how many of you have that pipe with you? Good! I see a lot of briars and corncobs. Oh, there are even a couple of meerschaum pipes in the class. Very well done.

When we last met, I was about to discuss how to select your tobacco. Let's talk a little about that now.

Bear in mind, this is how to select your first couple of blends, not how to select a tobacco once you've gotten the hang of pipe smoking. By that time, you will have ideally figured out what you like and how to select a new blend to try.

For now, let's worry about how to select those all-important first blends.

I am not going to tell you the one option that you must do, but rather show you your options, with their positive and negative aspects.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The One That Started It All

(Image: Ethan Brandt, © 2011 Ethan Brandt, All Rights Reserved)

I have written extensively about my obsession with the Rubens Rhodesian shape design by Greg Pease and Luca diPiazza. To see the level of my fascination, check here.

Recently, I have made a breakthrough in that particular passion.

After the publication of my most recent story concerning the stout, bulky, beautiful shape, I was contacted by Neill Archer. As some of you might recall, I recently wrote about how it was upon seeing the Rubens Rhodesian depicted on his blog that my craze was sparked.

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

That was the photo I saw. This was the photo that called me and created a fervor in my pipe world that has yet to be matched or even rivaled by any other aspect of tobacciana.

I attempted to sate the desire by setting my aim on any other Rubens Rhodesian I could find. Believe me, it was intensely satisfying to see my collection grow and mature. Still, it was not finished.

I said all of this before, and I rehash only to help you all understand why the message that I received from Mr. Roan was such a bombshell.

He started off with some advice for my blog and photography, an area where he obviously has extensive knowledge. Eventually, however, the topic changed.

He told me that he had seen my most recent article concerning Rubens Rhodesians and he made me an offer.

Trades and purchases are frequent within the pipe world. Sometimes one of the collectors involved comes out on top, sometimes it is an even trade. This offer, however, was nothing that I ever expected.

What was this offer, you might ask.

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

Two, count them, two beautiful example of the Rubens Rhodesian, one from each generation.

Do you see what I see? That top beauty, the one with the darker finish and the curved stem, is the very same pipe that I had seen a little over a year ago on Mr. Roan's website.

I could not believe it. My heart rate increased and I could swear I literally started salivating. In the pipe world, this is like getting a date with the pin-up girl whose picture you hung up in your locker.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity like a dog begging for a treat.

I was so excited that I stayed up far too late that night, considering I had such an early morning, so that I could respond instantly to his messages.

This offer came just a day after I got a message from another pipester on Tamp and Puff, a pipe forum that I have only recently discovered. He let me know that he had found another unsmoked Rubens Rhodesian on an online retailer. I was extremely grateful for the early warning, as I had not yet received the e-mail update alerting me of its presence. Thank you, PapaBear!

(Photo Courtesy of Smokingpipes)

To say that this was an amazing week would be an understatement of epic proportions. Not only has my collection grown to fifteen of the two-hundred pipes ever made (7.5% of the total), but one of those is the pipe that started the entire infatuation. 

Pipes, and life's little serendipitous moments, never cease to amaze me.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Pipe Contest: The Verdict

(Photo by Vince42)

I know that this has been a long time coming. So long, in fact, that there might be those of you who do not even remember the contest. To read about the rules and to see all of the fantastic entries, please refer to the entry entitled A Pipe Contest, or just use the link provided.

Before giving the name of the winning author and the story itself, I would like to thank my two fellow judges: Richard Friedman and Tom Welsh. Both of these men were more than generous with their time and effort. I am extremely grateful to you both.

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, here are the criteria upon which each entry was judged:  Each entry can be awarded up to 25 points for creativity, which includes overall originality and the creative use of the pipe names, 30 points for the amount of pipes used within the story, and 45 points for the quality of the story as a whole. So, this is a total of 100 possible points for each entry.

Now, without further delay, the winning story:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Come Together...Right Now...Over Pipes

(Photo by Gary Birnie)

There's something beautiful hidden within that piece of briar or meerschaum or corn or clay that you are holding. Beyond the external beauty, beyond the physical properties that allow it to turn dried leaves into mystical experiences, beyond the hard work that went into its formation, there is something bigger, yet invisible. That pipe represents a form of global unity rarely found today. You are holding proof that man can come together out of love, out of a shared passion.

(Photo by "psd")

If I am sounding a bit transcendental, cut me some slack, since I have spent the last four years of my life studying religion, philosophy, and literature (hurray for a liberal arts degree!). If you give me a bit of leeway, I hope I can illuminate what I find so amazing about the pipe.

When I picked up my first pipe, not even four full years ago, I knew nothing about the differences between given schools of pipe making, nor did I have any conception of the history of the wondrous object that I had just purchased. I just knew that I put tobacco in the hole, lit it on fire, and puffed, and even that I did not fully understand.

Once I started to widen my gaze and do a little research, I saw some of the most beautiful works of art I had ever seen. The first one that made my jaw drop was shown to me by my older brother, Tommy, who I had also brought along with me in my exploration of pipes.

Sitting at home, puffing contently on my Neerup apple, I saw a message pop up on my computer from my brother, reading something like: “You think your pipe is pretty? Look at this!”

(Photo Courtesy of Smokingpipes) 

To say that I thought that this pipe, carved by Kei'Ichi Gotoh, was magic is an understatement. I was expecting a jinni to slither out of the pipe at any moment. Fascinated, and disappointed by the red SOLD OUT next to every pipe made by Gotoh, I looked for other Japanese carvers, to see if there was any similarity between this carver and his countrymen.

The pipes I found were organic and breathtaking, their curves flowing more naturally and more perfectly than a super-model's. Since then, I have learned that this is one of the signature qualities of the Japanese carvers: natural, organic shapes that push the boundaries of the pipe-making world, while simultaneously showing respect to the traditional form.

This is it, I remember thinking to myself. These are the top of the line pipes.

While there are those out there who would agree with this assessment, the Japanese style is but one jewel in the crown of pipes.

My piping education continued. I eventually discovered more online resources beyond the retailers, including A Passion for Pipes, the revered blog of Neill Archer Roan. 

(Image: Neill Archer Roan, © 2008 Neill Archer Roan, All Rights Reserved)

My very first visit to this website brought me face-to-face with an Eskimo, by Tom Eltang. At the time, I was unfamiliar with both the shape and the carver, so, like a good little student, I did my research.

With a few keystrokes, I discovered that Mr. Eltang is a contemporary artisan based out of Copenhagen. I may be American, and thus horrible at geography, but I knew enough to know that meant he was from Denmark. My curiosity piqued, not least of all because I found it intriguing that a Danish man would make a shape called an Eskimo, I determined to find out about other Danish carvers.

(Photo by Ashtyn Renee)

To this day, it is a mystery to me how I went a single day in the pipe world without stumbling onto the wealth of information concerning the Danish pipe-makers. Images of stunning caliber flashed across my screen, filling my hard-drive and my mind with shapes unbeknownst to me previously. These shapes came equipped with titles like tulip, bent egg, elephant's foot, blowfish, and, most commonly, freehand.

(Photo by slynndesign)

Had I been a more casual collector, I may have paused for a moment to admire the stunning prowess of these carvers and then been on my jolly way. Instead, I dug deeper. Soon, I found out how much I owed to the Danes.

Back in the late 50s, a man by the name of Sixten Ivarsson – a name now on the same level to me as Michael Jordan and Jimi Hendrix – did something practically unheard of: he left the bark on the top of a bowl he was forming, rather than removing it, as the classic doctrine dictated he should. This simple decision led to the creation of what we now know as freehands.

Before this innovation by Mr. Ivarsson, pipes looked mostly like what are today called classic shapes: billiards, dublins, princes, maybe a bulldog or zulu or two. The undisputed master of the classic shape was, and is still widely thought to be, England.

(Photo by David Salafia)

Ashton, Barling, Comoy, oh my! ABC, one, two, three, you've got three incredible companies who have been putting out reliable, handsome pipes for years. Beloved by many, revered by some, these pipe markers have stayed close to shore and have not adventured as far as others in terms of shape innovation. However, when you know how to do something pretty close to perfectly, why change?

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten the biggest English name of them all, the big-daddy, the Goliath of pipes: Dunhill. The name itself is still enough to send shivers down the backs of some pipe collectors – in a good way!

During its time, the Dunhill company has helped to reshape the pipe world, creating some new shapes and transforming the meaning of a quality pipe. When Alfred Dunhill opened his first tobacco shop in 1906, he found the quality of pipes coming in from France to be below his required quality level: he saw fills and did not seem to think the pipes smoked as well as they could.

Like a true entrepreneur, Alfred Dunhill set out to fix the problem himself, opening a small factory that followed a simple motto: the best briar at the right price. The rest is history.

Dunhill and the rest of the English pipe-makers have ever since enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for producing handsome, elegant pipes of high quality. They were the undisputed gold standard of pipes, and still probably would be if it were not for little man in Copenhagen by the name of Sixten.

The Danish artisans did not rest on their laurels, however, and have since continued to innovate and create some of the most popular and exotic shapes available today, using some of the highest quality briar available in the world. I actually discovered that a lot of those Japanese carvers whose work I had fallen in love with had studied with some of the great artisans of Denmark, including Sixten and Lars Ivarsson and Jess Chonowitsch.

Okay, I said to myself, I was a little hasty in my conclusion before. This is really the top of the line, the best of the best.

I was so convinced by the superiority of the Danish pipes that I messaged Neill Archer Roan, since his website was the springboard for this whole investigation, to ask him his opinion as to whose work I should focus on in the Danish market.

Helpful as always, he directed me to several of his favorite artisans. He then said something that caught me totally off guard: “Have you looked into Russian carvers?”


(Photo by Marc Veraart)

How many different countries could possibly produce great pipes? Sure enough, I did my research and was once again wildly impressed. In fact, Russia has recently become my country of focus in terms of pipes. The Russian artisans show a vast awareness of the organic possibilities within a pipe, as well as the simple beauty of the classic forms, and are not afraid to mold the two worlds into one piece of art, creating something new and yet, at the same time, timeless.

The pure talent coming from everywhere in the world is mind-boggling: Turkey is home to the master Meerschaum carvers, who come the closest to making actual sculptures of their pipes; American carvers are some of the world's rising stars when it comes to pipes, reinventing the notion of sandblasting and turning it into an art-form of its own; German artisans seem to have taken the best of both worlds from Japan and Denmark and turned it into something new and heart-stopping.

The list simply does not end. Every country bears its particular perspective on pipes and brings something unique to the table. While each is unique, none is an island (even though some of the carvers literally live on island). Every tradition relies on another and somehow, despite physical, ideological, and language barriers, they all come together to form something beautiful: the pipe.