Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vintage Ad (1963): Dr. Grabow Continentals

The Grabow is cheap and ubiquitous, still carried by certain pharmacy chains across the U.S. It was at the Walgreens that was once in the strip mall at Fredricksburg and Gardina (in San Antonio, Texas) that I bought my first pipe, and it was a Grabow, but it was not a Continental.

I have had very little exposure to the Continental series, in fact, I have held only one in my own hands. It was a refurbishing project, and it was in such beautiful shape that I decided I would either smoke it or sell it, but not both. I sold it. I don't remember the shape number, but it had the flat bottom of #24 in the picture above, but with the tall bowl of #20.

Based only on the one pipe that I briefly owned, I think these are higher quality than the usual drug store fodder.

And of course the Dr. G is "the world's only pre-smoked pipe." This was the Grabow gimmick, since everybody had to have a gimmick. Other ads, of which I'm sure I have one somewhere, show a drawing of their pipe-smoking machine: a rack of pipes (the metal kind) through with air is softly drawn (or pushed, I don't know which), automatically smoking the tobacco packed into many pipes at once. This does seem to create a paper-thin starter cake so the pipe doesn't have to be broken in. Theoretically. Many Dr. Grabow's are simply not made with enough briar, and the thin bowl walls and low mass of the wood just don't dissipate enough heat. They smoke hot, and no amount of gimmickry can change that.

I've always wondered exactly what kind of leaf they pre-smoke their pipes with. I suppose it's something relatively flavorless like burley, or possibly burley and Virginia.

There are some older Dr. G's that are good smokers, however, and many can be improved by sanding off the finish so the wood can breathe better. Although such sanding will expose all the fills and ugliness of the lower-grade briar used in these pipes.

I did this myself to another Dr. Grabow (not my first), and after sanding, just applied a wax polish to the bare briar. The fills are obvious now, but it smokes a lot better, and that's what counts for me.

I also thought the ad for the "B B Shot" was interesting.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: William Conrad

William Conrad (1920-1994)

Born in Louisville, Kentucky. William Conrad (born William Cann) began acting in his mid-twenties, but in the olden days before television, he provided the voice of Marshall Dillon when Gunsmoke was still a radio show. He did a lot of what is now called "voice acting," such as the announcer for The Bullwinkle Show, the voice of the Lone Ranger in the 1980 cartoon The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour, and the narrator for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I remember him best as private detective Frank Cannon (I loved his long-range shots with that .38 snubby). People who are slightly younger than I might remember him better as the Fatman from Jake and the Fatman. Many of his roles were that of portraying a detective or lawman, but he sometimes also played the role of villain. He also reprised his role of Frank Cannon in a couple of episodes of another of my favorite old detective shows, Barnaby Jones.

He was active in show business for almost his entire life, his last television appearance being in 1993 on an episode of Bill Nye, the Science Guy. He was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.

Mr. Conrad was said to have had a large collection of Charatan pipes. The type of pipe he is smoking in this picture is usually called a "chimney" or "stovepipe" due to its tall bowl design.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vintage Ad (1949): The Kaywoodie Family Tree

click to enlarge

Here's a nice two-page ad from 1949 that I snagged from somewhere--I don't have the original paper copy. It was a little dim so I tried adjusting the brightness and contrast to bring the pipes out better, but the colors are a little off. For example, I don't think the billiard with the "plum finish" at bottom left was quite that purplish. Interesting finish, though. Clockwise from there is a "hand carved" Dublin (these kinds of deep gouges in the bowl are a real turn-off for me), bulldog, billiard "relief grain," and a pup. There were pups made in all shapes, this one is a bulldog, and were basically just miniature versions of the full-sized Kaywoodies. Cute, perhaps, and interesting for the collector, but small pipes like that generally smoke too hot because there's just not enough mass in the bowl. Next is a billiard sandblast, then a Rhodesian or a bull moose, whichever name you prefer, a poker with a meerschaum insert and another bulldog.

Starting at top on the right side we have a billiard shaped "Ninety-Fiver," a billiard Centennial which appears to have a very light or possibly no finish (unusual for a Kaywoodie), and then a Kaywoodie Carburetor. As you can see the Carburetor had a small hole in the bottom of the bowl so that theoretically a small portion of the air is drawn through the bottom of the pipe, mixing with the hotter air that has been drawn down through the tobacco, thus providing a cooler smoke. In my opinion this is just another gimmick that doesn't really have a noticeable effect. They also sold Carburetors as Yello-Boles, one of which I have so I have smoked this kind of pipe. After that is a Chinrester, which looks odd but is actually a very comfortable pipe. The Yello-Bole that I previously mentioned is actually a Carburetor Chinrester (two birds with one stone kind of thing). Then there is a Stembiter, which had an indentation in the end of the bit that was supposed to help prevent tooth damage from strong biters (did it work? who knows?). I had a couple of Stembiters at one time and the strange bit made no difference to me at all. Last of all is the Chesterfield, which was Kaywoodie's version of the Peterson System pipe. There is a small reservoir drilled in the shank which partially extends beneath the bowl to help drain away moisture from the stem. This is a trick which (in my opinion, of course) actually does do some good. I don't have a Chesterfield yet and acquiring one would be an excellent addition to my collection.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My pipe tool!

Many years ago I purchased a nice pipe tool--designed like a pocket knife--that has stainless steel bolsters in the shape of a pipe, with insets of rosewood. About three years ago I lost it. I knew where it should be, but I couldn't find it. I had given up hope.

My son just approached me with it. "Were you looking for this?" Eureka! He was snooping in the very place where I thought it should have been. I must have somehow overlooked it at least a dozen times.

Time to smoke a pipe!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny (1937-1995)

"I took out the pipe with which I was sometimes wont to amuse myself..."

Roger Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio. He attended college at Western Reserve University, from which he graduated with a B.A. in English in 1959. He then went to Columbia University in New York, specialized in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, and graduated with an M.A. in 1962.

Zelazny wrote numerous books and short stories of fantasy and science fiction, often skillfully blurring the lines between the two, sometimes using scientific explanations for how magic worked in the worlds he created.

He is perhaps most well-known for his series of ten books called The Chronicles of Amber. In this series, the city of Amber is the only true reality, and all other places and times are merely reflections and shadows of Amber itself. Members of the family who rule Amber are able to travel through all the myriad dimensions, or shadows, by exerting their will, although it takes time and concentration to do so. The main character and first-person narrator of the first five books is Corwin, Prince of Amber. The second five books are told by Corwin's son Merlin. Both are on a couple of occasions mentioned to be pipe smokers.

Zelazny also co-wrote a book called Deus Irae with another of my favorite authors, Philip K. Dick.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

More pipe-smoking action figures

My friend Brer at Power of Babel has posted a few more pictures of pipe-smoking action figures.

Vintage Ad (1954): Sir Walter Raleigh

So...she's wearing only a bustier. She brings you a carnation. She pins it to your lapel, from behind. She climbs into your lap, and all you can think about is your pipe? There is a time to smoke your pipe, sir, and a time to put it down. And when an attractive, bustier-clad young lady climbs into your lap, it is time to stop thinking about your pipe and focus your attention on the matter at hand.

Besides, it's only Sir Walter Raleigh. It's not like it's good tobacco or anything.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (1924-2005)

Louisiana born and Texas raised blues musician and multi-instrumentalist. Tutored by his own father on piano and guitar, he also became proficient with the fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica and drums. Nicknamed "Gatemouth" for his deep bass voice. In the 1960's he moved to Nashville where he became friends with Roy Clark and made several appearances on Hee Haw. In the late 60's he quit the music business, moved to New Mexico and became a deputy sheriff.

During the 1970's the European interest in American roots music got him back into the game, and he began touring and recording extensively, becoming an official ambassador for American music and participating in tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

He continued to record and tour throughout his life up until he was diagnosed with lung cancer (yes, that's right) in 2004. He was evacuated from Slidell, Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and went to his brother's home in Orange, Texas, where he died at the age of 81.
If it were necessary to identify one individual who best represents American music in all of its idioms and styles ... one who could single-handedly play the soundtrack that has sprung forth from a nation born from hopes, sweat, fears, blood, misdeeds and glory ... a land that grew an unheralded voice as it expanded westward and cultures clashed, cultures united, cultures bore new means of expressing their emotions - things called the blues, jazz, honky-tonk and Cajun - if we needed one person who lives and breathes all things American music and can present it in all its varied glory ... Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is that person.
--from the Gatemouth website

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Vintage Ad (1944): Kaywoodie--Talking It Over

Talking it Over by Rudolf Wetterau
Home is a lot of little things--the way you want 'em. A certain chair, and the ticking of a clock, the smell of what's on the stove, your old hat, and good friends.

And among these is a pipeful of tobacco, and plenty of time to enjoy it.

Kaywoodie pipes are part of this picture. When the work is done, when the slugging is over, you'll have the finest pipe that money and experience and painstaking care can produce...
A typical World War 2-era Kaywoodie ad. Emphasizing home and peaceful pursuits during a very bad time. Also, I have noticed, an emphasis on taking the time to relax after the hard work has been done. The usual speech about "imported briar," because some other pipe makers did attempt to use inferior American briar for pipes, since briar imports were cut off during the war. And the notice that "Many Kaywoodies go direct to our fighting men--please be patient if your dealer temporarily can't supply you."

Pictured is a top-o-da-line Flame Grain lovat. I don't go much for straight pipes, but I would for one like this.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Donald Duck and the Inca Idol

This is a crosspost from my other blog, but I thought it would also be appropriate here.

My good friend Brer at Power of Babel recently posted about another eBay score: an old Disney comic book called "Donald Duck Sees South America." This was a book he remembered from his childhood, but was lost to the ravages of time and young readers. It reminded me of a treasure I have.

In the early 50s Wheaties held a promotional offer: send in 15¢ and a box top and get a set of 8 pocket comics. It seems that my grandmother did this to get these little books for my mother, who would have been 6 years old when this book was offered (it is copyrighted 1951). She didn't get them all, and perhaps some of them were lost or destroyed, but I have about a dozen in all. I remember reading them myself when I was very young. My grandmother had to repair them occasionally, and now they bear patches of aged yellow cellophane tape. When I "grew up," (cough) she passed them on to me, safely sealed in a heavy-duty ziplock bag. I stashed them away in a safe place, but didn't ever revisit them. (Click to enlarge all images).

Some forty years on now, my memories of these have faded and I hardly remember anything about them except that I did read them, many times, when I was first learning to read, which would have been when I was four and five years old. The one that I remembered best was "Donald Duck and the Inca Idol." Brer's post reminded me of those books, and of this book in particular. The image of that idol perched on the cliff with storm clouds all around was just awesome to my four-year-old imagination.

The story starts with Donald's nephews getting into trouble for hauling Donald's bed outside and jumping off the roof onto it. After he scolds them, they decide to run away. Meanwhile...Uncle Scrooge discovers something with six toes in a mysterious unmarked tome that excites him. By the way, I can't say for sure, but it's a pretty good bet that this was my first exposure to a literary pipe smoker.

Uncle Scrooge calls Donald and asks him to go to Peru to retrieve this artifact for him. The nephews decide to run away some other time.

This picture doesn't seem particularly awe-inspiring now, but when I was four years old the image of that idol perched on the precipice with lightning crackling around it fired my imagination like nothing else. Although I had forgotten most of this book, this image has stayed in my mind since I first read it. "It'll take at least a minute of deep thought!" I have to remember that line.

Of course, there were some misadventures. An uncannily accurate strike of lightning hits the idol while Donald is standing between its strange odd-toed feet. It, and he, plunge off the cliff. OH. MY. GOSH!

Eventually they make it back home, with the idol, but not before risking their necks a dozen times! Uncle Scrooge is ecstatic that the six-toed foot wasn't damaged.

I would now like to repeat that I had forgotten most of this story. It's been at least 40 years since I last looked at it. I had forgotten how the story ended. So I felt surprise, delight, and laughed out loud at the climax.

Now that's a pipe rack!