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.
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.
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,