Calming Effect

Irish Countryside I have had writers block lately, for several days now. As I have stated previously, writing and maintaining a blog can be a challenge, as well as a bit of an obsession. There is an addictive property to clicking on the “blog stats” button and seeing your site hits, especially when they hit the high 200’s in one day. So I got to thinking tonight about some things that maybe I don’t write about enough. The first thing that came to mind was my pipe collection.

I started out like any newbie, buying whatever jumped out at me, and in the beginning that was almost everything. It did not matter if it was a basket, mid-grade or high grade, although the latter was and still remains out of my reach. In the desperate attempt to build a collection, my addiction and desire knew no bounds. If there was a pipe that I thought was pretty; I had to have it. I must say I spent a great deal of money in a short period of time just in the collection building process. I flirted with the idea of starting a brand/maker specific collection, but could not really settle on one. I still to this day have a box with about 30 Fischer pipes sitting in my local shop with my name on it. Unfortunately, that box holds pipes that are destined to be orphans a bit longer as they don’t fit my focus anymore.

I spent a great deal of time throwing around the idea of collection focus. I reminded myself that this hobby is supposed to provide us with comfort, enjoyment and relaxation, so I needed to find a focus that would provide all of these things. I looked at others collections, spoke with people about what drove them down their chosen pipe path. What was it that lit their fire for the particular collection they have? After much consideration, I decided on a shape, and that shape was the Dublin. I still don’t know exactly why I picked it, there was just something about this shape that I connected with. The feel, the  way it looked while I was smoking it. Oddly enough, there was also a strange connection to heritage for me. Although the Dublin is just a shape name, the bit of my heritage that connects to that famous city, seemed to link me to these pipes. I guess in some way this comes down to an image, and the pipe smoking part of me always seemed to be in my mind, connected to my Irish heritage.  The daydream of endless green field’s and stone walls, strolling along in a tweed jacket with a pipe firmly clamped in my jaw. I conjured up many more visions like this at various times, even before starting on the pipe, but the pipe always seemed to complete this vision. Hey, no one said this was going to make sense, this is just what went through my crazy mind.

Now that I have given you all the nutty background on my decision, another factor was the benefits that go beyond just liking your choice of focus. Many people ask how you can decide on one shape, one make, one finish. Well, the reasons for choosing a focus also are influenced by the benefits, and for me, first and foremost was the cost factor. Being new to the hobby, I needed to curb my wild uncontrolled purchasing. The best way to do this was to focus my collection thus forcing myself to exercise a little self control when it came to my buying. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but it is much easier to put blinders on so to speak, and if a pipe doesn’t fit your focus, no matter how beautiful, you walk away. There is also another benefit of this self control  and that is the connection you develop with the pipes you buy. Often when you are buying like it is going out of style, you don’t put serious thought into the purchase. It is impulsive and often meaningless. To put it simply, a pipe in my opinion is no different than a relationship, you can run out and date every lad or lass that you meet in the pub, but more than likely it’s based simply on looks and uncontrolled desire. However; when you decide that this is what you want in a person, these particular qualities, and set some standards, you tend to be more selective. Same goes for a pipe, the more time you put into looking at a piece and inspecting it, and understanding it, the more likely you will develop that connection, and if that connection is strong enough, you will make that pipe a part of your life.

The next benefit of focus is quality. My decision to narrow my focus to one shape, although difficult, and requiring me to part with many pipes, allows me to spend more wisely and therefore purchase pipes that are a little higher quality. The less impulse spending you do, the more money you will have, and I don’t need to draw any pictures, but that gives you more spending power when you find that pipe that really warms your heart. I look at my collection now, and though smaller in numbers, I connect with every single pipe on my racks. Each one has a special place, not in just my rotation, but in my heart, and although it may sound corny, there is something special about each pipe I own. While the casual observer may see a rack full of Dublin’s, I see each pipe for what it is individually and know it like it was a part of me. 

Now to address the doubting Thomas. Anyone who has a focused collection I’m sure has heard, “You are limiting yourself though, by choosing only that brand, shape, finish”. That could not be further from the truth, and I am disappointed when I hear a brother of the briar say such a thing. The beauty of pipes in general is the endless varieties available to suit every taste. Even with one shape though, there is an endless variety within that genre. Slight variations in the shape, whether it is a classic Dublin, freehand or maybe a panel Dublin. Maybe the shank is round or oval, or square. Does it have a saddle bit, or a taper, and is there a bend or is it straight? Finish is another area of endless variety. There is smooth, and variations of grain within a smooth piece. It may be rusticated, whether partially or full, sandblasted and maybe either of these finishes offers the beauty of a smooth rim to contrast the rustication or the blast. I’m sure I could go on and on, but I think maybe you are starting to see the picture. There is no limit to the unique qualities a pipe can contain even when narrowed to a specific shape. Of course if you delve into other focuses, such as brand, you then open up the door to every possible shape as well as the variations that I mentioned before. There is no limit to the size collection you can create with just a simple shape, and still ensure that every single pipe in your collection is unique.

The first six months of my journey has been quite a ride. I started out not knowing the first thing about pipes, aside from what my uncle had taught me as a kid. Besides that, I knew pipes were beautiful and that I enjoyed smoking them. There were however, so many things that I was ignorant of, and many that I still am I’m sure. Focusing my collection was a major step in this journey, it was a rite of passage of sorts, a separation from my impulsive newbie-ness. I do look forward to many more years of enjoyment, meeting amazing new people and gaining new experiences in this hobby. In the words of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” – “The best is yet to come…”




5 thoughts on “Calming Effect

  1. Nice story, Justin. I took a bit of a different road. Like you, when I started about 12 years ago, I bought just about anything I thought to be reasonably priced. And I could not for the life of me see the need to spend more than $30 for a pipe. However, setting a price limit proved to be a slippery slope. Now, I have an absolute limit of $300. Well, that limit is not quite “absolute”. But it’s close to my limit. My collecting is now focused primarily on makers. I like Mark Tinsky, Savinelli Autographs, Castello, Cavicchi, and Bonfiglioli. I’m mostly on the lookout for bulldogs. But I’ll look at other shapes. I’ll also look at other makers’ pipes. I’m certainly limiting myself more than I did in the early stage of collecting but I’m still pretty flexible.

    Charlie R.

  2. Nice post, Justin. I think you described the benefits of a collecting focus in quite a persuasive and sophisticated way.

    It occurs to me that a focus provides a lens for learning, too. As you collect you’ll learn and maybe not even realize how much. At some point in the future you’ll be very knowledgeable about the Dublin shape. Maybe this is obvious, but it is certainly a side benefit.

    Whenever I talk to people who collect a single shape, it is amazing to me how much they’ve learned about it. There is so much to know…..

    Thanks again for a thoughtful post.

  3. Good work Justin. I firmly believe that along with tobacco choice, pipe choice or focus is also an element of our identity as a pipe smoker. I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt with wondering aimlessly buying any pipe that made my head turn. The end result is spending a lot of money on pipes you may or may not like enough to smoke all the time and a persistent feeling that you’re missing something. We become like women with a closet full of shoes and clothes complaining we have nothing to wear. Focus is a good place to thin some of this out. As I’ve talked about before, we develop an identity and despite the vague influences of the crowd we know who we are as a pipe smoker and what we like. There was a time when I was convinced that the ultimate pipe collection would contain 100 plus pipes. These days I’m very content with narrowing my focus to old Kaywoodies and maintain a collection of something around 30 pipes but definitely no more. While this tends to cut down on the frequency of that “OOOHH I got a new pipe” feeling in the end it kind of ensures that what you have are pipes that have a specific purpose and work very well for you (you know the old quality vs. quantity gig)

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