The Curiosity of Favorite Pipes

All pipe smokers have favorite pipes, but the curiosity about these pipes is that we often can’t explain why a pipe is a favorite. I have a GBD Celebrity saddle bit straight apple that I smoke regularly and it has never given me a bad smoke. It’s a dark stained pipe, doesn’t have stellar graining and is unexceptional in appearance overall, but I wouldn’t trade it for a pipe worth ten times as much. Frankly, I have other pipes that smoke cooler and/or drier overall, but that pipe is like your jeans or shoes that are perfectly broken-in. After a point, you’ll have holes in the jeans and the soles will be peeling away from the shoes, but you hate the idea of throwing them away. I guess that, even if the pipe isn’t the greatest performer or the most attractive, a lot of the appeal comes from its consistency- you absolutely know what to expect.

I have some pipes that deliver a great smoke all the time, but there will be some element (design, balance, stem thickness, etc.) that keep them from being among that elite group. I own pipes that have a beautiful shape, grain or finish, but don’t smoke well enough to be a favorite.

To complicate matters further, the brand has little to do with it. I’ve been given a pipe as a gift (something I think is wonderful, but it can certainly be problematic) that was made by a manufacturer that I didn’t particularly care for, yet it turned out to be a long-time favorite that has changed my opinion of the maker.

Almost every pipe has something about it that the owner can appreciate. The ones at the low end of the scale wind up in the swap meet pile, but most others hang around for the duration. The ones that hold our fascination are the ones that, when we need that near-perfect experience, will deliver.

What’s particularly frustrating about this subject is that we may have three or four pipes in our collection that fall into the “go-to” category, yet, try as we might, we usually can’t find the common thread that ties them together. I know that, for myself, I’ve compared weight, size, bowl size or geometry, stem type and material, finish and virtually every other descriptor and dimension, and I have yet to find the universal commonality among my favorites.

Maybe your situation is different. You might get a glorious experience with a certain brand or bowl diameter and so on. If so, you’re fortunate indeed, since you have a much greater chance of finding another pipe that will suit your desires.

When we find one of those special pieces, we will tolerate almost anything, or go to extreme measures to keep that pipe in our rotation. I had a Danish squashed tomato with a freehand-type stem that was, at one time, my #1 pipe. I smoked the heck out of that pipe and it never gave me anything but a terrific experience. After a while, I burrowed a tooth mark clear through the underside of the stem, but I was so afraid to ruin the smokability, I couldn’t bring myself to have a new stem made.

Does price have an impact? The answer, in my mind, is a qualified yes. A higher price tag will give you a much better chance of getting a sublime piece than if you were to purchase a board pipe. Of my 5 best pipes, 3 are over $150, and most of my collection is below that price level. That said, one of those 5 is a 30+ year old meerschaum-lined Canadian no-name pipe with a remarkably thin stem. It cost me less than $30, but a Savinelli Autograph or a Dunhill will increase the probability that the pipe will be a gem.

Some of the most beautiful pipes I’ve purchased were no better than average performers. I’ve gotten some that smoked worse than average, had uncomfortable stems or they felt clunky in my mouth. And to make things more confusing, there’s absolutely no way to know for sure if a pipe is going to be a dream or a dud.
I certainly haven’t been able to offer much in the way of help, and my mind is no more clear on this subject than when I started to write this post, but I’ll leave you with a story that illustrates the mind’s role in loving a particular pipe (the people have been kept anonymous to protect the guilty).A number of years ago, a gentleman had purchased a pipe that a friend had urged him to try, because it was of reasonable quality at a fair price. The buyer was skeptical because the price was low, but gave it a try and hated the pipe. He hadn’t smoked it very much and decided to swap it at a pipe show, with a dealer who he liked. The vendor gave him back about half of his original purchase price, which he considered fair. A few months later, the same gentleman was at another show and saw the same vendor and looked over his table. One of the estate pipes caught his eye, and the price seemed low enough. He wrestled with the decision when the vendor suggested than he try a bowl of tobacco in it before buying. The man thought that it was very kind of him to allow such a thing and went off to smoke it. He came back a while later and announced that it was one of the best pipes he had ever smoked and completed the transaction. As he paid the vendor, it seemed as though he was more pleased than normal to make the sale. Of course, unknown to the buyer, he had bought back the pipe he had traded in.
About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at or by calling 1-800-494-9144.