After I decided to take up pipe smoking, the first major decision I had to make was choosing what would become my first pipe. Now, the most often suggested tip prospective pipe smokers are given when choosing their first pipe is to go with either a corncob pipe or a cheap one like a Dr. Grabow. This isn’t bad advice, as if pipe smoking isn’t for you, you’re not losing out on a big investment. Since I planned on sticking with pipe smoking until I got it, I decided I’d spend more money and get the pipe that I wanted. If worst came to worst, I could just keep it around as a prop while I wrote. I wanted a pipe, and by golly, I was going to get a good one!
I’m reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where Harry is picking out his wand. If memory serves me right, the wand chooses its owner as much as the owner chooses the wand. Maybe it’s just me, but I think picking your first pipe works in the same way. The pipe chooses you as much as you choose the pipe.
In ‘ye olden tymes,’ when someone wanted to buy a pipe, they had to trek to their local tobacconist and pick from a wall or counter filled with pipes for sale. Since we live in the modern era of computers, I ventured to smokingpipes.com and began clicking away at the various company names and began my search. I learned quickly to avoid the company names with pipe makers, as the pipes, while certainly drool worthy, were many levels of magnitude out of my measly budget. I narrowed my focus onto four specific brands: Stanwell, Savinelli, Nording, and Peterson.
Now, picking a pipe from an online retail shop has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, you get a wide assortment of pipes to pick from that would make the average brick and mortar shopkeeper blush with envy. The downside is twofold.
The first is that you can’t hold the pipe in your hands and get a feel for if the pipe is right for you. The shopper only has pictures and the listed facts to give them an inkling of what the pipe is like in person. This is especially difficult for the prospective pipe smoker if they, like me at the time, had never held a pipe before. Plus there are other matters to consider. What shape works best for the new pipe smoker? Will the pipe pair well with the chosen tobacco?
The other problem with buying your first pipe online is you’re stuck waiting for the pipe to arrive. While most pipe sites have fast shipping, you’re still waiting a few days for it to arrive. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it still is one! You will gaze at your order receipt and wish that the roadrunner was personally delivering your package.
With these concerns far from my mind, I decided that I would make my first purchase a Peterson pipe. Of all the brands, Peterson made the kind of pipes that I mentally associated with classic pipe smokers, with the deep brown bowl, a band, and black stem. When I looked at the Peterson selection, I knew this was the brand I wanted for my first pipe.
Next, I needed to pick the right shape. There were so many to narrow down from, each one jumping up and down waving at me as I scrolled through with my mouse. There were straight pipes, bent pipes with bell style bowls, rusticated pipes, smooth pipes, all vying for my interest. I came into the pipe selecting process with some preconceived opinions on what I wanted. I didn’t want a billiard pipe at the time because they looked too plain to me, yet I didn’t want a huge bent pipe. As much as I would’ve enjoyed having a pipe reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, I considered it too cumbersome for fiddling around with when I was just starting.
Then, among all of the pipes jumping up and down waving at me, I saw the one for me. The pipe was an Aran Author with a quarter bend and smooth finish, the 408 shape to be precise. I knew at once this needed to be my first pipe. The quarter bend was the perfect compromise, not too straight, while not overly curved. I found that even the shape name, the Author, appealed to my aspirations at becoming a writer. The pipe had chosen me, much like a wand in Harry Potter.
Photo of Peterson Aran 408 from smokingpipes.com
I presented the page showing the pipe to my wife, pleased with my selection. It was then that my wife announced that she would be making the final selections for my first pipe order, as she wanted this to be my Valentines Day gift. She then tasked me with two jobs, first to pick out everything I would need for my pipe smoking venture, and then to give her a few pipe options for her to choose from for me. Needless to say, I was a bit worried the pipe of my dreams would slip through my fingers, but I complied.
After selecting a pipe tool, a pipe rest, pipe cleaners, and a pipe bag, I gave her a few pipes to pick from. The first was my desired Author, followed by a Stanwell estate I’d be happy with, as well as the Nording listings. Of all the pipes I had shown her in the past, the Nording Freehands were the pipes that caught her eye. The Freehands reminded my wife of something a pipe smoker would have in a fantasy movie, which appealed to her. I thought the Freehands were interesting pipes, but not necessarily one I wanted to start off with as my first pipe.
There are different qualities that a person looks for in a pipe, and they can differ vastly between the prospective smoker and the wife. I was looking for the ease of use and practical qualities for my first pipe, while my wife preferred what was most interesting to look at. As she clicked at each wildly carved freehand and marveled at it, I saw my poor Author waving goodbye as sad music played in my mind. I left her to make her decision and engaged in a video game, hoping beyond hope that she would make the right decision.
My mind drifted back to an article I had read from Neill Archer Roan’s insightful blog post about first pipes. In it, he talked about observing some prospective pipe smokers asking their wives about which pipe they should choose. He wondered why someone would let their spouse make this decision for them, as picking and smoking a pipe gives the smoker a newfound freedom from control exerted over them from their partner. I wondered if I had made some mistake in letting my beloved wife making this crucial purchase for me, but at this point it was out of my hands. After all, I trust my wife, and it was from her consent that I was starting this journey anyway.
Later on that week, while I was watching TV, my wife came into the living room grinning as she held something behind her back. I paused the show as she revealed an emerald green box in her hands. I took the box from her, and with great excitement I opened it and removed the pipe from the protective green pipe sock to reveal my much sought after Author pipe. I had never held a pipe before in my life, and I felt its weight in my hands. It was light, yet with enough weight on it to feel comfortable in both my hands and hanging from my jaw. I stood up and moved in front of the hallway mirror, posing with it as I clenched it. My wife just smiled at my obvious glee.
“It suits you,” she said.
“It does,” I agreed.
My journey to becoming a pipe smoker was near an end, and a new journey was about to begin.
When Valentines Day rolled around less than a week later, my wife presented me with a second box with the SmokingPipes.com logo on it. Upon opening the box, I found the second pipe I would have in my collection. It was one of the Nording Freehands that had impressed my wife. The freehand was black with a shiny finish, half bent and grooved around the bowl. Though I had been skeptical of the Freehand while viewing it on the website, it fit perfectly in my hand. Sure, it was heavier than my Peterson, and fit awkwardly in my pipe rest, but the pipe impressed me with how comfortable it was. I wouldn’t be taking the Freehand on walks, but as a reading pipe it was perfect. I was now the proud owner of two pipes in the span of a week.
All I have to say is my wife rocks.