Podcast Update

Greetings fellow pipers!

Just a quick update today to let you know about my most recent podcast appearance. As some of you might know, I recently became a co-host to the Universal Humdrum Podcast, a side project by Dave from the Maple City Pipe Cast. I’ve done a few episodes with Dave, talking about The Flash CW tv show, but today we uploaded my first solo episode. On Episode 13, I talk about various local legends and ghost stories I heard while growing up, as well as two strange occurrences that happened to me this past spring. Admittedly, it’s not pipe related, though pipe smoking is mentioned at one point.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and horror youtube videos while at work, so being able to create my own was a ton of fun. If you have some spare time, I highly recommend you give it a listen (though maybe not in the dark).

https://anchor.fm/universalhumcast

I’m also hard at work on my next blog post, which should come out some time next week. Until then, happy puffing friends!

-TheBadgerPiper

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An Ode to the Pipe Tool

It’s been a few months since I last tackled a pipe related haiku. So I decided to write one in honor to our constant companion– the pipe tool.

 

An Ode to the Pipe Tool

 

Oh blessed pipe tool,

Thy utility unmatched,

The pipe smoker’s friend.

 

You came from afar,

Born in the land of the Czech,

And purchased online.

 

You’re three tools in one,

A tamper, a pick, and spoon,

Each serves their purpose.

 

The tamper is true,

Guiding burnt tobacco down,

Flat into the bowl.

 

Like a shepherd’s staff,

You stomp the wayward ashes,

Protecting my clothes.

 

Unyielding pick,

Guard of the straight and narrow,

Setting errors straight.

 

Plunging in embers,

You stir the ash in the bowl,

Correcting the draw.

 

When the ash is low,

The spoon will heed the call,

To clear the dottle.

 

Once the pipe goes cold,

You scrape the bowl clean of ash,

And foul odor.

 

My humble pipe tool,

Covered in speckled pipe soot,

Your badge of honor.

 

You stay by my side,

As I puff my evening pipe,

Like a sentinel.

 

Without your service,

I’d scorch my fingers no doubt,

And holes in my shirt.

 

Though small in stature,

You prove your worth every smoke,

A friend for pipe men.

 

Until next time, happy puffing!

-TheBadgerPiper

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My Chat with the Maple City Pipe Cast

Recently, I had the honor of being invited by Dave of the Maple City Pipe Cast to record an episode for his Everyman Pipe Smoker series. As a fan of podcasts (and the MCPC), I was more than happy to sit down with Dave over skype and talk about my pipe journey. The Maple City Pipe Cast is a great podcast, with bite sized episodes that are perfect listening material while enjoying your favorite briar and blend.

I’ve been able to chat with Dave over the past few months, and he’s one of the nicest, humblest pipe smokers I know. I’m glad to count him as a friend in the hobby, and I highly recommend you check out not only my episode, but all the others in his archive. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

https://anchor.fm/maple-city-pipe-cast/episodes/Everyman-Pipe-Smoker-Series-Greg-the-Badger-Piper-e269a6

On a side note, you can also find us on Dave’s second podcast, the Universal Humcast, where you can listen to us chat about the CW’s Flash tv show. If super heroes aren’t your thing, then keep your ears peeled. I have some other projects in the works for the cast.

Until next time, happy puffing my friends, and I’ll have a new blog up soon.

-TheBadgerPiper

 

The Rituals of Pipe Smoking

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a creature of habit. I like routines, and hate it when people change them on me. As a creative person, there’s this image artists and writers like to present that they’re free spirits and don’t hold themselves to set routines. However, there’s a good chance that even those hippy type artists have some sort of custom that they do before they get into their groove, whether that’s fixing a cup of tea or wearing a certain pair of socks. Even athletes have their own pregame rituals they enact before they perform their athletic sport of choice. Famously, Michael Jordan always wore a new pair of sneakers before each game, as he believed they helped him play better. I can attest to this as I, too, would wear a new pair of shoes before I started writing, until the credit card bills started piling up.

“Can’t you find something cheaper to get your creative juices going?” asked my wife as she glanced down at the most recent credit card bill with a grimace behind a massive pile of shoe boxes.

So I took up pipe smoking. Turns out it’s slightly cheaper than buying new shoes every day.*

It’s not surprising that pipe smoking and creativity are closely associated. Sure, nicotine is a stimulant to jump-start the brain, but I believe there’s more to it than that. As new pipe smokers learn, there’s a ritual to pipe smoking, and that process can likewise be used to enter a creative head space.

When I use the word ritual, I’m not using it in the sense of performing some sort of magical rite. I don’t put on a black cloak with the various pipe patches I’ve accumulated, place a mask of The Briar Report’s avatar on my face, go down to my cellar while chanting the three pinch method in Latin, and retrieve a Diablo pipe (RIP Diablo) and Cult Red Moon tin from an alter filled with pipe tobacco scented candles and a ram’s head made from pipe cleaners. We pipe smokers are of the eccentric stock, but that might teeter on the edge of madness.

The ritual I’m referring to is more along the lines of a routine or procedure in the non-religious sense. There is a process to smoking a pipe that goes beyond grabbing a random pipe off the rack and rummaging for a tin or jar. It requires thought and takes in account the pipe smoker’s mood for the day. Every pipe smoker most likely has one, whether they know it or not, so I’ll use myself as an example.

When I’m going to go out and write for the night, I put on my smoking clothes (my version of a smoking jacket) and fix myself a cup of iced coffee. Once I have my drink and laptop ready, I head to the pipe corner of my basement and look over my pipe rack with reverence. Normally, I’ll pick between two to four pipes for the night, depending on how much time I have. This isn’t as simple as one might think, as there’s a lot to consider when choosing a pipe. Do I have a limited amount of time to write? Then I’ll focus on pipes with smaller bowls, otherwise I’ll grab at least one pipe with a larger bowl. Do I want to smoke a specific blend like Exhausted Rooster? Then I’ll grab one of the pipes I’ve devoted to that blend, like my Peterson 05. Do I want to smoke a cob toni— wait of course I do! so I’ll grab my Patriot or Twain and add that in.

Next comes picking my tobacco line up for the evening. Usually, the pipes I’ve picked out determine what blends I choose for the evening. My routine as of late has stayed the same for the past few years: start off with a VaBur blend like Old Joe Krantz, Haunted Bookshop, or Bayou Morning. Then I’ll pick a VaPer or Virginia, like Stokkebye 1855 or Orlik Golden Sliced. For the third pipe and others, I pick whatever strikes my fancy for that day. Some days I’ll pick a favorite Lakelands, or Navy blend, or if its cooler out, a nice English.

Regardless of what I choose, I’ll pack my pipes all at once and bring them out to the garage for the evening. There’s something calming about packing a pipe with tobacco. Unlike other forms of smoking, packing takes thought and intent. I don’t mindlessly smoke a pipe, rather, I take the time to think about what I’m about to smoke, and carefully fill the pipe to the right consistency in the bowl. It should be remembered that a pipe should be relished, rather than consumed and thrown away. There’s merit in this, as sometimes while filling a pipe, I’ll realize that I’m not in the mood for a pipe that night, and go do something else. I’m not a slave to my pipes and tobacco, and you shouldn’t be either.

Once outside with my pipes, laptop, and drink, the ritual can begin. All the necessary items are here before me. There’s the pipe tobacco, which is to be smoked. Next is the pipe itself, which holds the tobacco and delivers the smoke to the initiator and participant of the ritual. There’s the pipe tamper or tool, which the pipe smoker uses to stoke, tamp, and nurse the flame so that it stays burning. Finally, we have the match or lighter to light the pipe, because you can’t smoke a pipe without fire.

After setting everything up, I’ll grab my Bible (ESV if you’re curious), and light my candle, followed by my pipe before devotions. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to spend some time reading the Word and not put God in the back seat. I’ll read a few chapters before heading over to Proverbs and read the chapter that matches with the date. Admittedly, sometimes I rush through it, but I try to a lesson or focus on a verse during my reading. Nevertheless, it’s a good way to leave behind the baggage from the day and start afresh with a clear head.

Now, with my devotions finished, and my pipe nice and going, I open my laptop and write for a few minutes before calling it quits and head to bed. On average, it takes about a month and a half to finish one of these blog posts, and that’s not counting the other projects I work on concurrently.

Kidding aside, I spend about an hour or two writing, though it can feel like minutes. Time has this uncanny ability to speed by when you’re focused and doing what you enjoy. Would I have more time to write if I didn’t have this ritual? I suppose, but it’s worth it to relax at the end of the day, musing over my keyboard surrounded by a cloud of pipe smoke. If I’m lucky, then I’ll be deep inside my story world, typing and puffing, then tamping every few minutes or so, before continuing on. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but as someone with ADD, my pipe actually helps me as when I fidget with tamping my pipe, I’m less likely to wander away from my work and get distracted with something else.

This goes on for a half hour to forty-five minutes, a mixture of smoking, then tamping, and typing, before at last the tobacco has turned to ash. After dumping the ash, a pipe cleaner goes into the pipe, and I grab my next pipe to start the process all over again. This is why I fill my pipes all at once, so that there’s little time between pipes to disrupt my flow. Once all my pipes are empty, I finish what I’m working on, then pack up and reluctantly head back in, wishing I could stay out for one more pipe.

I’ve had this ritual going long enough that it’s stuck with me. If I’m smoking a pipe, my mind wants to work on something creative, or to grab a book and read. That doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a pipe on it’s own, or that I can’t read or write without a pipe; but if I’m in my garage with a pipe, I’m reaching for something to work on. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you have any rituals or routines for when you plan on smoking a pipe? Is pipe smoking part of another ritual of yours? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, happy puffing!

-TheBadgerPiper

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*Not based on true events.

 

Adventures at the Chicago Pipe Show 2018

On Saturday and Sunday, May 5th and 6th, I had the opportunity to take part in the Chicago Pipe Show at the Pheasant Run Mega Center in St. Charles, IL. According to the CCPC website, The Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show (or Chicago Pipe Show) began in 1996, after combining different local pipe shows into one big event, and has a staple in the pipe community ever since. For pipe smokers, makers, and tobacco blenders, the Chicago Pipe Show is the biggest event of the year, drawing people from around the globe to the congested Chicago suburbs.

Ever since my days lurking on pipe forums, I’d read all about different pipe smokers going to the event and speaking about their time with glowing praise. As an outsider living vicariously through people’s posts, I could only imagine what it must be like to go to one of the Chicago Pipe Shows. Here you were surrounded by like-minded folk who appreciated pipe smoking, swapping pipes and tobacco while bonding over pipe smoking.

Needless to say, I wanted to go to one of the pipe shows. While I dearly enjoy chatting about pipes with my online friends, online interactions can’t replace the experience of visiting the show first hand. I wasn’t satisfied just reading about the shows through other people, I wanted to go there in person. I swore that one-year, I’d drive down and experience it myself.

Yet the Pipe Show would come and go, and inevitably something would get in the way of fulfilling that promise. In 2016, I was laid off from my job, and couldn’t afford going to the show. In 2017, my wife and I had a trip planned for that week to visit family out of state. As much as I love my pipe hobby, family must always come first, no question about it. While watching pictures of the pipe show scroll across my Instagram feed that weekend, I promised that next year would be my year.

So this year, I made sure to black out those days on my schedule for the pipe show. Come hell or high water, I was going and that was that. Mrs. BadgerPiper even set that weekend aside for me, and made sure I was free to go. Let me tell you, folks, I’m thankful my wife supports my hobby, and I don’t take it for granted.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the Pipe Show, while the main show takes place on Saturday and Sunday, the show kicks off on Thursday with a pipe-making seminar, and Friday has a pipe swap. While I would’ve liked to check those events out, I had work, and couldn’t justify asking off just for my hobby. Instead, I was happy with just making it for the main show.

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On Saturday morning, I made the hour long drive through construction down to St. Charles for the first day of the main show. After a quick bite for lunch at Portillos, Chicago’s favorite hot dog chain, I parked my car and headed towards the event hall. It was a sunny day in the lower 80’s, so there were people huddled in groups outside the hall, smoking their pipes and chatting away. I don’t know about you, but seeing other people smoking their pipes in public always puts me in a good mood, and I knew I was with my people.

Since I came a few hours into the show, there wasn’t a line at the ticket table. You might feel differently, but after spending most of my college life in a cafeteria line, I’m fine with arriving a bit late just to avoid lines. Tickets were $15 per person, and covered both days of the event. While I had planned on only going to the show on Saturday, since the ticket covered both days, I ended up coming on Sunday as well and get the most out of my purchase.

I’ve been to collectable shows before for comics, toys, and video games, so I had an idea of what to expect when I walked into the dealer hall. Let me tell you, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I walked inside. The entire hall was packed full of vendor tables, with few empty gaps. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was overwhelmed by the sheer sight of it all, and needed a moment to process it all. Thankfully, right at the entrance was a glass case filled with antique Peterson pipes, and I took a few minutes to collect my thoughts while admiring the beautiful collection of Irish pipes to drool over. Once I had my head on straight again, I headed over to the right corner of the hall and proceeded to check out the dealer tables.

One thing I should mention before I go on, almost all the pipes I’ve purchased have come from online shops like smokingpipes.com. Before the pipe show, the only thing I had to go on for buying a pipe were pictures. The only exception to this was when I visited Peterson’s of Dublin, but even that can’t compare to the Chicago Pipe Show. With Peterson’s, there was just one large pipe case to thumb through. The Chicago Pipe Show on the other hand, dwarfed a strip mall’s worth of Peterson’s.

Row upon row of tables filled with new and estate pipes were before me, each manned by friendly folks eager to sell their wares. There had to be at least a hundred tables with pipes and tobacco on them. Each table, too, had their own unique selection of pipes. One table would have a hundred estate pipes to thumb through, while the next had a handful of masterfully crafted artisan pipes. If your heart was set on a specific type of pipe, you’d find it.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I spent the first hour just walking by each table, just seeing what was there to choose from. I didn’t even think about pulling my wallet out for my first pass around the tables. I knew from experience that if I plucked money down on a pipe right away, I’d find another one somewhere else that I would’ve wished I bought instead.

The only exception I made was when I found the Missouri Meerschaum table. Going into the show, I had a few pipes in mind that I wanted to look for, and one of those pipes was a Charles Towne cob. The Charles Towne cob is one of Missouri Meerschaum’s newest lines of cobs, and Smokingpipes.com has been sold out of it since the first week it’s been available. It’s a bent billiard cob with a hard stem, unlike the usual plastic stems on most cobs. Though cobs aren’t known for their refined style, the Charles Towne stands out as one of Missouri Meerschaum’s finest pipes in their line up.

Though I knew what I was going to buy at the table, I still spent some time looking at the different corncob pipes for sale. As I mentioned before, I had seen these cobs available on websites, but nothing can replace looking at a pipe first hand and seeing how the different shapes compare from each other. For example, the Freehand and General cobs were not the monstrous pipes I envisioned them from their images online. Now that I’ve seen them in person, I’ll definitely pick one up in the future.

There were plenty of people perusing the Missouri Meerschaum table, and the Charles Towne cobs were going fast. I wasn’t sure how many were left, so I grabbed the first one I could and plucked down the money for it. With the purchase of every cob, Missouri Meerschaum included a goodie bag containing a company drink sleeve and a mini keychain cob. I’m a sucker for freebies, and this was a nice bonus for buying a cob. I ended up buying a second cob the next day (The Marcus), and gave the goodie bag to my friend who couldn’t make the show.

With the Missouri Meerschaum table out of the way, I continued walking around the tables for another 45 minutes or so. By the time I finished my first pass through the dealer hall, it probably took me around an hour and a half with only one cob purchased. There were too many tables and pipes to choose from, and I had a pain in my neck from glancing down the entire time. Having gone through the tables once, though, I could now focus on the tables that first caught my eye and narrow down my choices.

During my second pass, I came across Jim, the owner of Lazarus Pipes from Instagram, who was manning a station with his father. Jim had a table full of estate pipes for sale, all of which he purchased and restored. We recognized each other from Instagram, and had a long conversation about pipes and the show. I’m just a pipe smoker, so I appreciated learning about the process of searching for and restoring estate pipes. I ended up purchasing a GBD Bent Bulldog from Jim, as my way of showing thanks for him and his father taking their time to chat with me. If you’re interested in picking up an estate pipe, look up Lazarus Pipes on Instagram and give his feed a look over.

Now came the tough part, narrowing down my selection for a pricier pipe. While travelling to the show, I had a few brands in mind that I wanted to track down. My pipe rack has plenty of Petersons and Stanwells, so I wanted to try a different pipe maker for my last pipe. There’s been a few brands I’ve had my eye on for years, but have yet to join my collection: Barling, Dunhill, Parker, Sasieni, and Chacom among others. I also heard great things about BriarWorks, which has a line of affordable briars around $100.

During my deliberations, there were two pipes I kept coming back to, a charming new Chacom billiard with a stunning smoky grey stem, and a lengthy Sasieni Canadian estate pipe. Back and forth I went between the two tables, picking up each pipe and giving each a good look over. On one hand, I prefer picking up a new pipe over an estate if I can, if only so I can claim the pipe as my own and not worry about any possible ghosting from the previous smoker. Then again, an estate pipe has history behind it, and depending on the brand and year, they’re better than what is currently on the market. I would’ve been happy with either pipe, but the budget limited my choice to just one. Decisions, decisions…

I ended up buying the estate Sasieni. I reasoned that I could probably find the Chacom later online if I looked hard enough. Currently, I’ve been focusing on collecting pipes in the Canadian family (Canadians, Liverpools, Lumbermans, etc), so I wanted an additional Canadian on my rack. What really stuck out to me about the Sasieni was the length of the stem. Though this is a Canadian pipe, it veers into Churchwarden territory. I’m not joking when I say that this pipe is massive, but it’s thankfully light as a feather. I had seen pipes in this style on ebay, but never had the opportunity to bid on one. Now that I had my chance, I wasn’t going to let it get away from me. A few minutes later, the pipe was in my bag.

With my pipe purchases complete, the next order of business was pipe tobacco. Luckily for me, Cornell & Diehl had a table at the show with a large selection of tins. Since I’m not sure when I can make another online order, I focused on two favorites that needed restocking: Black Frigate and Haunted Bookshop. For my last tin, it was a tough toss up between Sea Dog and Stovepipe Hat. I ended up going with Sea Dog, since PappyJoe on the thispipelife forums gave it a high recommendation. I made a note on my phone to add Stovepipe on my next order, though, as it sounds like a blend that would be right up my alley.

If I learned anything from the Chicago Pipe Show, it’s that no matter your budget, you’ll find a pipe in your price range. I’m not kidding when I say that most estate tables had plenty of pipes around $50 and under. Even if you can only afford to spend $20, there’s a briar with your name on it. That’s not even taking into consideration the tables for Missouri Meerschaum or Old Dominion, which had all kinds of corncob pipes (and clays in the case of Old Dominion). A new pipe smoker could easily spend $20 on a new cob and a tin of tobacco to try. So even if you don’t have a lot saved up in the bank account, you wont be disappointed with your options. I would suggest leaving the credit card at home, or there might be some explaining to do when the monthly bill comes in.

The other lesson I learned from the pipe show is the overall camaraderie among pipe smokers. Pipe smokers are a nerdy bunch, and once we’re together, we’ll chat with whoever will listen. Everywhere I looked in the dealer hall, people were grouped together, talking amongst themselves about the hobby. While looking at one table of unmarked briars, a fellow shopper walked up to me and gave his full recommendation of the pipes. While at another table, hosted by Paul’s Pipes in Flint, Michigan, the woman behind the counter gave me a friendly greeting and explained the process of how their pipes were carved. While I didn’t end up buying one of their pipes at that time, I’ll keep an eye on their products in the future, just from the pleasant interaction I had at the table.

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No other place at the Chicago Pipe Show exemplified the brotherhood between pipe smokers more than inside the smoking tent. Since smoking isn’t allowed indoors at the Pheasant Run Mega Center, the show staff have a tent set up outside for the show goers to smoke their pipes without causing any complaints. Here, pipers can sit around tables or in groups and discuss the finer things of the hobby.

After completing my shopping, I filled my new GBD Bulldog with 965, and ventured into the tent once my pipe was lit. I wandered into the tent and was greeted by a smoky haze. Many a pipe smoker sat around tables or in comfy chairs, smoking while engaged in lively conversations. Everyone was having a good time, laughing and swapping stories or talking about pipes and tobacco.

I wandered the tent for a bit, looking for anyone I recognized from Instagram, but alas, I did not, other than a few famous faces from the pipe world. I confess, social gatherings are not my strong suit, and I chose to stand back and observe. The last thing I wanted to do was walk up to a table, spin a chair around, and sit down with a “Yo, how’s it hangin’?” Once I finished my pipe, I got back into my car and headed home for the evening.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there, as I got in contact with PiperDave from the thispipelife forums. He was at the show, and wanted to know if I’d be at the show on Sunday. I hadn’t planned on it, but I’m always up for meeting fellow pipe smokers, so I changed my plans.

The next day, I met up with PiperDave and his brother, and we spent the next hour or so wandering the Mega Center, chatting about the pipe show. By mid-Sunday, most of the tables had packed up, or were in the process of closing down, but there were still a few tables open for purchasing. Still, we had a good time talking and discussing pipes and life. Dave was kind enough to give me two McClelland advertising posters, which is an honor now that they’ve left the pipe business. I still have to find a place to hang them up in the garage, but they will get displayed.

I said it earlier, but I’ll say it again— as thankful as I am for pipe forums, nothing beats talking pipes and tobacco face-to-face with another person. For many of us, we’re the only pipe smokers we know, so it’s important to take these opportunities when we can get them. The Chicago Pipe Show, and shows like it, gives pipers from around the country the chance to meet up and build friendships with fellow pipe smokers. By doing so, we strengthen our community and keep our hobby strong.

It’s been a few weeks since the pipe show, but I’m already planning on attending the 2019 show (2019… where has the decade gone?). If you live around the Chicago area and haven’t gone to one of the shows, I can’t recommend it enough. Even if you don’t, check around online and see if there’s a different pipe show close to you. Even after visiting different local pipe shops and pipe clubs, nothing compares to the experience of a pipe show. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Until next time, happy puffing,

-TheBadgerPiper

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It’s Cobbin’ Time!

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In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed the perceptions people have of pipe smokers. When people think of pipe smokers, they think of the generic 1950’s father figure, the tweedy professor, the glasses wearing bookstore owner, the gruff sea captain, and of course, the hipster. The briar pipe has an air of thoughtfulness and wisdom, or rugged determination. Unless you’re one of those anti-smoking types, the pipe generally has a positive reputation associated with it.

The same, however, cannot be said of every tobacco pipe. That unfortunate victim is Washington, Missouri’s very own corncob pipe. The corncob pipe drudges up images of backwoods hillbillies, redneck farmers, and Huckleberry Finn. In cartoons, the cob is associated with Popeye, Frosty the Snowman, and the Hillbilly Bears. At best, the cob brings forth images of General Douglas MacArthur scowling with his gargantuan cob, or Mark Twain. More often than not, when you see a corncob pipe in art, the smoker is more often than not paired with an overalls wearing Appalachian dweller, with a bushy unkempt beard, straw hat, and a jug of moonshine sitting by his banjo.

Not exactly the most favorable of stereotypes, wouldn’t you agree?

Even amongst pipe smokers, there’s a general schism over the ol’ cob. Some pipe smokers think corncob pipes are an eyesore, worthy of mockery and derision. For them, a simple corncob pipe can’t compare to the beauty and craftsmanship of a briar pipe. If given a choice, these pipers would gladly take a generic drugstore Dr. Grabow before ever letting the amber plastic stem of a cob sully their lips.

Yet there’s another group of pipers who not only smoke corncob pipes, they’re crazy for them. They dismiss the general stigma that comes from smoking a corncob pipe, and proudly puff away on their Missouri Meerschaums. Some even smoke corncob pipes exclusively, espousing the benefits of a well-seasoned cob and ignore all briar pipes. These aren’t people from deepest, darkest Kentucky either, but pipers from all over the world.

As for me? I’m a corncob pipe fan, though I dearly love my many briars. I wouldn’t sell off my briars and replace them with cobs, but they’re an important part of my pipe rotation. However, I didn’t exactly run out and buy a cob once I took up the pipe. Rather, I purchased my first corncob pipe on a whim after I had a couple of briars.

Back when I first stumbled upon the pipe web in the late 90’s and searched around pipes.org, I read an article explaining the world of pipe smoking for beginners. This was way before the advent of youtube, so to get information on pipes; you had to find articles instead of watching a helpful how-to video that explained everything. The author gave two different routes a person could go based on their budget: the cheap way and the not so cheap way. For the cheap route, the author suggested a corncob pipe with a classic codger blend like Prince Albert and Captain Black. I remember thinking that if I was going to buy a pipe; I’d rather start out with a briar, since all the pipes that drew me towards the hobby were the classic billiard briars. A corncob pipe didn’t seem cool to a young whippersnapper like myself.

Fast-forward to the 2010’s, about a year after taking the pipe plunge, I was shopping online for some new blends to try on pipesandcigars.com. After filling my cart with a few tins, I decided I’d take a glance at their selections for corncob pipes. Having spent many hours reading pipe forums, I was well acquainted with the pros and cons of corncobs. From reading the various back and forth debates on cobs, I surmised that the main complaint the cob haters had was all based on aesthetics. They just thought cobs looked stupid, which to me felt a shallow argument. A few felt the corn taste from a cob filtered into the smoke, but that was the strongest point that they had.

On the other side, corncob pipe smokers loved their cobs, despite their sullied reputation. A pipe smoker on a small budget could accumulate a sizable collection for the price of one briar pipe. Unlike briars, corncob pipes didn’t need a rest period between bowls. Most appealing of all, corncob pipes were perfect for sampling new blends. With pipe tobacco, some stronger blends and aromatics could ghost a briar pipe, souring the next few bowls with the remnants of the previous blend.

Since I was still a greenhorn in the pipe world, a corncob pipe had the potential be an asset to my collection. I could smoke all the new blends I wanted without fear of one of them haunting one of my precious few briars for future bowls. So I threw in a Missouri Meerschaum Legend into my cart and placed my order. The pipe was only $5, so if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t feel too put out about the purchase.

One week later, the package was on my doorstep with my brand new cob and tins of tobacco. Upon seeing my corncob pipe, my wife chuckled and gently ribbed me over my purchase. My wife grew up in Kentucky, so she had her reasons for making fun of my pipe. I stuck up my nose defiantly as I marched out to the garage with my cob in hand and the tin of Erinmore I purchased with it, ready to try out my newest acquisitions.

No matter how many pipes I add to my collection, I haven’t lost that excitement that comes with breaking in a new pipe. This time was different, since this was the first time I was smoking a pipe made from a material other than briar. Would I like my new corncob pipe, or would the haters be proven right? There was only one way to find out.

After removing the filter from the black plastic stem, I stuffed a flake of Erinmore into my cob and stuck a charring light, lighting the flake tobacco with a few gentle puffs. After the second light, I sat back and puffed away, paying closer attention than normal at how the pipe smoked.

How did it go? Well, I can’t say I remember much of it. One moment I was lighting my pipe in my cold garage in the middle of February, and the next, I was in a barn somewhere deep in the Ozarks. My heavy winter coat had disappeared, and as I glanced down, I discovered I was wearing a pair of old overalls, slightly obscured by the large beard that had grown on my face. My office chair had been replaced by an old rocking chair, and my coffee switched with a jug labeled “XXX” on the front. Though I swore I had been alone in my garage when I lit my cob, a fiddler appeared on the other side of the barn, scratching away as he called out lines to a square dance. Needless to say, I was quite bewildered as I rocked in my chair, watching the scene play out in front of me while smoking my new cob.

Okay, none of that actually happened. I’ll be honest, I could taste hints of corn in my first few bowls, but once I broke the cob in, the problem went away. Just like a briar, the cob needed a breaking in period to remove the corn taste. On a side note, I later learned that Mark Twain would hire people to break his cobs in for him. Once his cob was well seasoned, he’d put on a new stem and smoke away. Not a bad job if you ask me.

After I broke in my Missouri Meerschaum Legend, it quickly proved its usefulness as a team player on my pipe rack. I could try any blend I wanted without fear of ghosting my pipe. This opened the door for me to try Lakeland tobacco, which is notorious for leaving behind a soapy, floral taste in a pipe. Any new blend that had a strong scent to it went to my cob first for a try out.

 

Due to the low price point of a Missouri Meerschaum pipe, the cob is the pipe for the everyman. The corncob pipe fits in the rack of the rich and poor alike. For the poor piper, they’re a way to build a rotation of pipes to smoke. For the rich piper, the cob serves its purpose by smoking new blends, so that a particularly nefarious tobacco doesn’t mar their high grade Dunhill.

For the average pipe smoker, though, the cob is the perfect companion for everyday use. The piper can load up a Country Gentleman and mow the lawn or putter around in the garage without fear of dropping and breaking their pipe. While on vacation, a pipe smoker can puff away on their Legend cob in the middle of a lake or stream while waiting for their next big catch. I’ve read tales of pipe smokers who have dropped their cobs in the water while fishing, only to let their cob dry out and use it again a short time later. If a cob gets destroyed or left behind, the piper won’t take a hit in their wallet in replacing it. For just a few dollars, they’ll have a new cob ready to pick up where the last one left off.

One if the biggest strengths of Missouri Meerschaum Company is that they sell a variety of cob shapes to fit the need of every piper. There’s the Legend, which is roughly the size of an average billiard for a normal smoke. Then there are the smaller cobs for quicker smokes, like the mini cobs or the Pony Express. The Country Gentleman and Patriot have deeper bowls for when you want a longer smoke. And if these pipes just aren’t large enough, there’s the Natural Freehand, as well as the gigantic MacArthur cob. Nothing says, “I’m a pipe smoker and I don’t care what you think of it” quite like puffing away on a MacArthur cob while raking the leaves in your lawn. That’ll turn some heads.

Another great aspect about owning corncob pipes is that they’re easily modified. Most corncob pipes come with a plain, plasticlike finish to them. If you search around online, you can find ways to give your cob a personal touch. Using wood filler, sand paper, and a furniture marker, I was able to give one of my cobs a makeover, making it look a bit more rugged in appearance. There are some creative pipers out there that give their cobs a complete overhaul, completely changing the cob from its original appearance. If you’re interested in making your own pipe, it’s not a bad idea to take a cob and mess around with it to get your feet wet.

Despite their usefulness, there are a few downsides to a corncob pipe. As stated before, cobs need a few bowls to hit their sweet spot. Corncob pipes also come with plastic stems, which can crack if the piper clenches too hard. I also find that cleaning the plastic stem of a cob isn’t the easiest, due to the width of the airway in the stem. However, there are some online pipe vendors that sell forever stems for cobs. Forever stems are made from vulcanite or Lucite, like the average briar pipe. While I don’t have a Forever stem, I plan on purchasing one or two in the future for my favorite cobs. This is a great option if you hate the idea of smoking a pipe with a plastic stem. Truth be told, I don’t mind plastic stems, but they don’t hold a candle to vulcanite or Lucite stems.

Finally, cobs have a much shorter lifespan than the average briar. Depending on the size and width of the bowl, a cob will eventually burn out after repeated use. I haven’t had a cob burn out on me yet, but looking over the bowls of my cobs, its evident that one day they’ll break down. On the other hand, once that cob falls apart, its just one quick stop online to purchase an exact replica of the fallen pipe.

 

So should you pick up a corncob pipe? I think so, but ultimately that’s up to you. While it’s true that a cob doesn’t exude sophistication like a Peterson or a Dunhill, you’re still purchasing a useful, hard working pipe. The pros of owning a corncob pipe outweigh the cons, and you’ll have a pipe with a rustic and rugged reputation. Sure, you’ll get some weird looks from passersby; but you’re smoking a pipe anyway, so that comes with the territory. Smoke what you like, and who cares what a stranger thinks?

If you’re interested in buying a cob and you don’t have one, you can’t go wrong with a Missouri Meerschaum Legend. A Legend is a great entry point for a cob, with a bowl that’s just the right size for an average smoke. If you end up enjoying the Legend and want to pick up a second one, look at the selection offered by your preferred pipe shop/online vendor and pick a shape that fits your smoking style. My personal favorite cob is the Country Gentleman, as the larger barrel shaped bowl holds a surprising amount of pipe tobacco.

I have one word of caution if you choose to dip your toes into the world of corncob pipes. Once the cob bug bites, you’ll find more and more corncobs sitting on your pipe rack with your briars. You’ll place orders online for tobacco, and to your surprise, you’ll find that a cob somehow slipped into your cart. I wouldn’t be too concerned about that, though. It’s only natural that you have a few cobs on hand for the right occasion.

I also wouldn’t be too alarmed if you and up buying a rocking chair for your porch or backyard. After all, you’re not just limited to smoking cobs while sitting in a rocking chair. I mean, you can smoke a briar pipe in a rocking chair; it’s not a rule you can only smoke cob while sitting in a rocking chair. That’s ridiculous.

If you wind up with a pair of overalls for when you smoke a cob, though, that might be a reason for alarm. Then again, that front pocket is mighty handy for storing a corncob pipe and tobacco pouch. Now that I think about it, overalls are very practical attire for a pipe smoker.

If after a few months of smoking a corncob pipe you’ve joined the local jug band, then you’ve reached the point of no return. If you spot a washboard while antique shopping for estate pipes and think, “I bet I could play that”, then I suggest sticking with briars for a few weeks until the feelings subside. Keep an eye out on your favorite Pandora stations, and make sure that a Country music station hasn’t found its way into your list. Once you’re part of The Possum River Jug Band, there’s no escaping your fate.

But don’t let these dire warnings deter you from trying a corncob pipe. You might end up with a new favorite pipes if you do. Or two. Or ten. Now if you’ll excuse me, the neighborhood kids are playing out on the street in front of my house. Those no good hoodlums keep goin’ on my lawn to get their kickball. I have my Country Gentleman cob filled with Old Joe Krantz, so I’ll be sittin’ on my porch givin’ ‘em the stinkeye while puffing my cob.

Darn kids these days. No respect, I tell ya.

Happy puffing,

-TheBadgerPiper

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Advertising You Want To Read

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When I was a wee badger, every Saturday night my family would go to the grocery store for our weekly food shopping. While most lads and lasses my age would’ve found this boring, I always looked forward to it. As soon as we entered the store, I’d make a beeline towards my favorite spot— the magazine aisle.

Back in the 1990’s, the magazine shelves spanned for almost the entire aisle, filled to the brim with magazines focused on countless topics and hobbies. Most of these magazines were dull, boring magazines that held no interest to teenaged Badger Piper, but back then I could always find at least one magazine that would catch my eye. Sometimes if I was lucky, these stores would even carry comic books. I remember buying my first comic book at a pharmacy store (Marvel Vs DC #3), which led to a life long love of super heroes.

Over the years, I’d discover new magazines to throw in my parent’s shopping cart. I’d buy magazines on video games, comic books, and even MAD Magazine. Of these magazines, the video game focused ones were my favorite. Back before I had the internet, I had no idea what video games were coming out until they showed up in stores. Video game magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly were a godsend, providing me monthly updates of game previews, reviews, and editorials. These were thick, and I mean THICK magazines, and the holiday issues often went over 300 pages, chock full of content and gaming ads.

I need to stress how important the video game magazine was back in the day. Without gaming magazines, the consumer had no way of knowing what games were good when at the game shop/rental store. The average kid/teenager would pick a title based on the box art, or if it was a licensed game based on a cartoon/movie. Sometimes you’d find a gem, but more often than not, the game was trash. Based on my terrible NES collection, I can tell you that I wished I learned about them sooner.

Over the years, and with the growing popularity of the internet, the magazine aisle started shrinking in size. Why would someone need to get their gaming information from a monthly magazine when they could get online and read up to date information as it happened? The interest-focused magazine slowly became irrelevant, and I watched as my beloved titles like EGM, Nintendo Power, and Wizard Magazine disappeared from shelves for good as they ceased publication.

 

Fast-forward to today, and that magazine aisle is now just a sickly shell of its former self. As a lover of history, I believe the death of print magazines is not only a shame, but a real loss for mankind. Today, we can go back and read archives of old magazines at libraries, or buy them off of ebay. Magazines are physical, tangible records capturing a moment in time. I can grab an old gaming magazine and see what was the latest hotness in April 1997.

As great as the internet is, there are real risks to storing all of our information online. Without warning, an entire site can disappear, erasing articles forever. If the webmaster doesn’t have an archive of the site, all that information is gone forever in a blink of an eye.

As I said, I love learning about the past, and one of my favorite topics is reading the history of books and literature. For more than 3000 years or so, mankind has written on papyrus, vellum, clay tablets, scrolls, and other materials to record history or tell stories. If we’re talking about cave paintings and whatnot, it’s even longer. These records and stories have had to survive wars, fires, disasters, and time itself to reach us today.

For example, let’s look at the literature of the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons spoke and wrote in Old English, the predecessor to our modern English. Though the Anglo-Saxons recorded their history and stories down in manuscripts, only enough material has survived the ages to fill a small book. Who knows what we lost, thanks to those pesky Vikings? I’m sure most readers have read the epic tale of Beowulf, or are at least familiar with it. The fact that we have Beowulf at all is a miracle in and of itself. Only one manuscript of Beowulf exists today, and it was almost lost in a fire in the 17th century. Imagine what could’ve happened if someone hadn’t braved the flames and pulled it out just in time? Without it, we might not have The Lord of the Rings today.

We have these stories today because they were preserved with quill and vellum. My fear is that one day, all of our digital records could disappear in an instant, forever lost. Even the articles in this blog could vanish without a trace, all due to human error.

 

So what does this all have to do with pipes and tobacco? Why I’m glad you asked! With the loss of magazines, I’ve had a rectangular shaped void in my heart. I’ve missed having a monthly magazine to flip through at my leisure. Since I’ve started smoking a pipe, I’ve wanted a pipe-focused magazine or catalog to scour and read in my spare time. While there are some great pipe focused magazines out there, I haven’t been able to subscribe to them. Sure, there are some great substitutes out there, such as pipe podcasts; they can’t replace my love of the print medium.

This brings me to the subject of this blog post. Back in 2012 when I was starting out as a pipe smoker, I placed a tobacco order with Pipesandcigars.com. A few months after I placed my order, I received a catalog in the mail from P&C. I had no idea this was coming, so when I opened my mailbox and found the catalog, it made my day.

I spent the next few days pouring over the catalog, thumbing through the pages as I looked over the different products P&C had to offer. Sure, all this information was on their website, but having a physical copy of the catalog has its advantages. For example, while I knew a lot about the different pipe brands out there, my pipe tobacco knowledge wasn’t up to snuff. Here, I could go page by page through their tobacco selections and read the descriptions for each blend. I didn’t have to scroll through a website and click on every single blend that had an interesting name to see what they were like. For a pipe newbie like me, this was a valuable tool, and perked my interest in blends that I might’ve passed up before.

I thought that the catalog was a one-time deal, but a few months later, a new catalog arrived in the mail. Since then, the P&C catalog has been a welcome addition to my mailbox, and I look forward to it every month. I wish I still had my original catalog though, as with the passage of time, some of those blends in my first catalog disappeared as they phased out of production.

I want to take a moment and thank the kind people over at P&C who put the catalog together. There’s a lot of care put into each edition of the catalog, with the P&C staff chiming in with recommendations for new blends. Each page is full color, highlighting a variety of pipes, tins, and blends for the pipe smoker, keeping them updated with the latest products that might be a great addition to their rotation. I’ll often check out the pages highlighting tobacco blenders that I haven’t tried before, and see if there’s something new that I might like. I credit the catalog for helping me discover War Horse Green last year, which has become a weekly smoke for me.

If you haven’t ordered from P&C and subscribed to their mail catalog, then you owe it to yourself to do so. Having a physical pipe catalog is an incredible tool that will only help you refine your pipe tobacco wish list. Your wallet might not appreciate it, but your cellar will.

 

I need to stress the importance of what P&C is doing with their catalog. With each new edition, they record a specific moment in time for the world of pipe smoking. Recently, Dunhill ceased production of their legendary pipe tobacco line. Over the next few months, every online retailer will run out of their stock and remove Dunhill’s logo from their webpage for the foreseeable future. Early Morning Pipe, Nightcap, My Mixture 965, Elizabethan Mixture, and even the dreaded Royal Yacht will vanish from all online sites.

However, thanks to the P&C catalog now we have detailed records of Dunhill’s current line up, as well as when each blend entered the market. While this doesn’t mean much for most pipe smokers, for the pipe tobacco historians out there, its useful information.

On certain pipe focused webpages and forums, you can find scans of old pipe tobacco catalogs that date back to the early 20th century. The pipe nerd can go back and read a scan of an old Peterson catalog and see how the company has evolved over time. We have records of the available tobacco blends from, say, the 1950’s, all thanks to these print catalogs.

The P&C catalogs continue this old tradition, not just for our benefit, but also for those pipe smokers who will come after us. One hundred years from now, future pipe smokers trapped in the matrix will be able to pull up these old, archived catalogs and get a snapshot of our tobacco market. They’ll be able to learn about the Syrian Latakia blends that disappeared in 2017, or the McClelland red Virginia blends that vanished in 2018.

To some pipe smokers, this isn’t all that important. After all, what’s the use of remembering a discontinued blend if you can’t smoke it? Yet pipe smoking and history are intertwined, considering that pipe smoking is already viewed as an odd throwback of days gone by. Just as we keep the hobby alive by sharing our knowledge for those who are interested in the hobby, P&C is archiving pipe history in their monthly print catalog.

Of course, P&C isn’t just printing these catalogs out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re a business, and they’re mailing these catalogs to your doorstep in the hopes of another purchase from their website. However, I’m a capitalist, so I have no qualms being advertised to with products that I might like. Good on ‘em, and I’ll gladly buy from them again and again. But by creating these catalogs, P&C is also providing a valuable archive for decades to come.

So I tip my cap and raise my pipe in honor of P&C and the hard working men and women who spend time creating the P&C catalog every month. Whether you know it or not, you’re preserving our history.

Puff in peace, my friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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Disclaimer: I do not work for pipesandcigars.com, nor do I receive any sort of compensation for writing this article. I’m simply a fan that appreciates their work.