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,
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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.