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  • The Quest for the Holy Pipe

    Those of you that know me can definitely attest to my compulsive and often debilitating episodes of PAD (pipe acquisition disorder). Pipes are my passion. I’m constantly on the lookout for pipes that interest me aesthetically, compositionally, that are of particular value, have certain historical significance, or really just about any pipe in general.

    Over the years my collection has swelled dramatically. Currently I own about 160 pipes. These range in nature from typical basket pipes to classic English shapes from famous makers such as Dunhill. Lately, however, I have been particularly interested in other artisan pipes. My primary justification for these purchases has been educational. How do I expect to make a fine handcrafted pipe if I don’t have something to reference? To this end, I have been searching for the pipe that comes the closest to perfection as I can possibly find, a “Holy Grail,” if you will, of pipes. Among my high-grade pipes are four Heeschens, one Walt Cannoy, one Scott Klein, a Todd Johnson, a Jeff Gracik, an Abe Herbaugh, two Rad Davis’s, and several other pipes from lesser-known artisan makers that I respect. Because of the expense of artisan pipes, most of these have been acquired on the estate market.

    Throughout my collecting one name in particular has surfaced time and time again among collectors of the most high-grade pipes. The artisan is a German by the name of Cornelius Maenz. Most of Cornelius’ pipes sell for far more than I’m comfortable paying even on the estate market, however during one of my daily pipe browsing sessions I stumbled across a small estate Cornelius Maenz from Marty Pulvers. Those of you have done business with Marty in the past know that his estate pipe prices are very reasonable. This Maenz was no exception. I quickly emailed Marty and reserved the pipe. Next came several long months of waiting as I gradually paid off the pipe.

    Upon its arrival, I was ecstatic. I had in my possession a pipe made by an artisan who is widely regarded as one of the best in the world, however at first my impressions were mixed. This particular Maenz is a small pipe and rather compact. Everything seemed well done, but nothing about the pipe struck me as particularly spectacular, not enough at least to command the sort of prices they were known for. I spent the next several days examining the pipe turning it over slowly in my hand, examining the bit and the slot, looking at the finish under different lighting, and of course smoking some of the new GL Pease Gaslight blend from it. The more familiar I became the pipe the more impressed I became. For this particular pipe the details were everything. The bit is perfectly polished, no easy task even among artisan craft. The pipe is wonderfully symmetrical, the sandblast even and light, the finish consistent, the drilling impeccable. The draw is smooth and wide-open, and the military mount is excellently finished.

    So what separated this pipe for many of the other artisan pipes in my collection? Did it smoke better? Not really. The pipe delivered a very satisfying dry and tasty smoke, but most of my other artisan pipes do the same. Did this pipe have any sort of revolutionary design concept? Again, not really. I found that, what separated Cornelius’s work from that of many other artisans was simply his painstaking attention to detail. The question the consumer has to ask themselves is whether or not those details justify the price tag. For most the answer is no, but for others who are looking for the “perfect pipe” the answer seems easy.

    As a craftsman the pipe was a good investment. It shows me exactly what one should expect to get when they spend big bucks for a pipe. However it also shows me that I’m on the right track with my own work. My pipes smoke just as good as my Maenz, and can be had a quite a substantially less financial burden. Perhaps the debate really narrows to whether a pipe should be a tool to burn tobacco, art, or some blend of the two, but that, friends, is a discussion for another time.