Saturday, September 27, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: William Moffett

Rear Admiral William Adger Moffett (1869-1933)

Born in Charleston, South Carolina. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1898.

Moffett was not a pilot himself, but he came to be known as the "father of naval aviation" for his leading role in developing naval aircraft tactics and the introduction of the aircraft carrier.

He died in the crash of the dirigible Akron, which went down during a storm off the coast of New Jersey in 1933.

One ship, the USS Moffett, was named after him, and so was Moffett Field in California.

A short biography, as well as a detailed account of the crash that took his life, can be found at the website of Arlington National Cemetery, where he is interred.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mixing your own

Recently there was a question at My Pipes Community about blending your own tobacco. Now, professional tobacco blending is a real art form that requires extensive knowledge and experience, plus a healthy dose of natural talent like any other art. However, there's no reason why the casual pipe-smoker can't have fun doing some kitchen table blending on his own.

A first recommendation: blend small amounts. If you screw up and create the most mind-numbingly horrible tobacco ever invented, you want to be able to throw it away without losing too much of your inventory. Get a small digital scale that will measure very small increments, such as units of at most 1 gram and/or fractions of an ounce. Such scales are cheap and easy to find. I got one some time ago via eBay. Keep a record of what you mix and how you mix it.

Just because your good idea doesn't blow your mind when you first light it up doesn't mean it's a failure. Leaves of varying flavors need to meld together for a while. Allowing time for the leaves to "marry" almost always improves the flavor. My method is to put the new mix in a jar and shake it up real good to get everything mixed, and then vacuum seal it. I have Food Saver vacuum sealer and I use the bags-on-a-roll so I can cut my own size bags. The vacuum-sealing not only helps to preserve it, but also when the bag squeezes down on the tobacco it has a "pressing" effect. If you let such a bag sit for a few weeks, you will have to tear off hunks and rub them out before loading them into a pipe. And yes, I said "a few weeks." I have a general rule of not declaring a new mix a success until I've had an ounce or two vacuum sealed for at least a month so I have a decent sample to pass verdict on.

But where to start, and what to use? I've been a big fan of Cornell & Diehl for a long time, and Mr. Tarler will sell straight leaf of just about anything for your own personal blending experiments. If you order one of the 5- or 8-item samplers, you should be able to get just about every kind of leaf you need. Of course, there are many other places to buy straight leaf, just check around.

One good way to start is if you have a particular liking for a certain kind of "spice" tobacco such as Latakia or Perique. Try adding varying amounts of your favorite spice leaf to already established blends to spice it up a little and make it even more to your liking.

I have come up with two successes so far by adding a spice leaf to already existing blends. One is made by using C&D's Gray Ghost (Virginia and maduro) and adding Perique. The ratio is 13/16 GG and 3/16 P. I do it in increments of 1/16 because when you do come up with something good and you want to order it in bulk, it makes it much easier for Mr. Tarler to mix up your custom blend (each 1/16 becomes a full ounce when ordered by the pound). I call this blend "Don't Tread On Me." The version above is the "mild" version, and is more forgiving to innocent bystanders (it is quite robust). The version I really prefer is stronger, and mixed 5/8 GG to 3/8 P.

The other I haven't really named yet (well, in my experiment spreadsheet I call it "Nightgaunt"), but it is made by mixing 7/8 Yale Mixture (C&D blend of Virginia and Latakia) with 1/8 Perique. Yes, I am a real Perique lover, and I always have some straight stuff on hand for blending experiments.

I don't usually start out by measuring everything exactly. I usually start by just throwing a couple of bowls worth together and giving them a try to see if I want to go further with it. A couple of days ago I threw together some Perique and Balkan Sasieni. I didn't measure it, but it was roughly 70% Perique. It was good and had a real kick. Today I mixed up some Perique with C&D's Oriental Silk (which already has some Perique in it), at about 50/50. This one is actually quite good and I think I'll be refining it in the future.

I don't have any advice for mixing aromatics. I don't care for most aromatics and I have never done any such experimentation with them. Although now that I think about it I can't help wondering what 1792 Flake would be like with a little Perique mixed in.

Vintage Ad (1942): Kaywoodie--Plowed Earth

Rudolf Wetterau (1890-1953) was a commercial artist specializing in landscape and still life paintings. Several of his works were used for Kaywoodie ads during the 1940s.

If you read the writing on this ad, you can see how it specifically refers to the situation during World War II.
Things you can count on...The goodness of the Earth. The coming of Spring. What else? In America, thanks to the Almighty, lots else. Even with total war, even with dozens of daily sacrifices, and extra sweat put into our work--still, lots else.

Good food, for instance--there's lots of it. Good homes, world's best. Freedom to say what we think. Freedom of choice.

And smoking--don't forget that. You can still smoke your favorite Kaywoodie pipe, if you want to.
The ad goes on to discuss the situation with briar during the war. There were no ships available, nor was it even safe, to import Mediterranean briar during the war. And thus was born that little stamp with which all pipe smokers are now familiar: "IMPORTED BRIAR." To most this probably only seems to be some odd, nonsensical sales gimmick. After all, all briar is imported.

The IMPORTED BRIAR mark began during World War II so pipe smokers would know their pipe was made from the good stuff. Some U.S. pipe companies ran short of briar during the war, when none was being imported. So there were many pipes made from other materials, some of which worked, some of which didn't work so well, but none of which worked as well as imported briar. Maple, olive and cherry wood can make passable pipes, but some other experiments were distastrous. For example, there were attempts made to create pipes from American briar. Unfortunately, the briar that grows on the American continents is not the same as that which grows in the Mediterranean area and is not suitable for pipe-making by any means.

Kaywoodie had enough briar warehoused to last for several years, and they and some other makers wanted to make sure their customers knew that their pipes were still made from good Mediterranean briar. So today we still have thousands of pipes stamped with IMPORTED BRIAR.

As for the pipe pictured in this ad, this was a top-of-the-line meerschaum-lined Flame Grain that sold for a whopping $12.50 in 1942 (equivalent to $157 today, adjusted for inflation). Lining the inside of a briar bowl with meerschaum is just a gimmick (in my opinion, of course), it does not improve the smoking qualities of a pipe, especially a pipe like the Flame Grain that was made from better-than-usual-quality briar. But smaller chunks of meerschaum that were not big enough to be made into a pipe had to be used for something, or the money that bought them would be wasted. Turning them into small liners for briar pipes gave them one more sales strategy. In fact, I'm not sure these liners were made from block meerschaum. They may have been made from pressed meerschaum, created from the cast-off shavings from carving a meerschaum pipe. In either case, this was only a way to save some material rather than throw it away.

Of course, meerschaum-lined briar pipes are still being made, because it's a gimmick that still sells pipes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pipes in Literature: Feathertop

"Dickon," cried Mother Rigby, "a coal for my pipe!"

The pipe was in the old dame's mouth when she said these words. She had thrust it there after filling it with tobacco, but without stooping to light it at the hearth, where indeed there was no appearance of a fire having been kindled that morning. Forthwith, however, as soon as the order was given, there was an intense red glow out of the bowl of the pipe, and a whiff of smoke came from Mother Rigby's lips. Whence the coal came, and how brought thither by an invisible hand, I have never been able to discover.
Thus begins Feathertop by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I recommend you quit wasting time here and go read it forthwith.

Thanks to Brer for the clue. (Go read that link too. It's very interesting.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: Burl Ives

Burl Ives (1909-1995)

Born in Illinois, Burl Ives dropped out of college in the 1930's and became a traveling minstrel, working odd jobs, singing and playing his banjo. During the 1940's he had his own radio show called The Wayfaring Stranger, after an old folk spiritual. Although he was in several movies, he is of course best remembered as a folk singer.

He was once jailed in Mona, Utah during the 1930's for singing "Foggy, Foggy Dew." The local authorities decided it was too "bawdy."

He cooperated with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, naming Pete Seeger and others as possible Communists. His cooperation ended his own blacklisting, which allowed him to return to movies.

During his travels across the country, he also collected and cataloged many folk songs that may otherwise have been forgotten. Some of these were published in a collection of simple sheet music called The Burl Ives Songbook, which I happen to have a copy of (a gift from Brer of PowerOfBabel). There is a song in this book called "Tobacco's But an Indian Weed." I have read that this piece of music may have been secretly written by King James I, and was originally titled "On the Religious Uses of Tobacco." However, the sentiment is so similar to Bach's So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife that I think it must be an Americanized (or at least, English-ized) version of the song, with different music.

Click the link below for a simple midi version of the song, which I transcribed myself from the sheet music in the book. Following are the lyrics.

Tobacco's But An Indian Weed
Tobacco's But An I...
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Tobacco's but an Indian weed,
Grows green at morn, cut down at eve.
It shows our decay;
We are but clay;
Think of this, when you smoke tobacco.
The pipe that is so lily-white,
Wherein so many take delight,
Gone with a touch;
Man's life is such;
Think on this, when you smoke tobacco.
The pipe that is so foul within,
Shews how the soul is stained with sin;
It doth require
The purging fire.
Think on this, when you smoke tobacco.
The ashes that are left behind,
Do serve to put us all in mind,
That unto dust,
Return we must.
Think on this, when you smoke tobacco.
The smoke that doth so high ascend,
Shews that our life must have an end;
The vapour's gone;
Man's life is done.
Think on this, when you smoke tobacco.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on the infamous 1792

Wow, it has been a long time since my first trial run of 1792 Flake. I didn't want to smoke it in the Kirsten again, because I wanted to smoke it in a regular all-briar pipe. But which pipe? Having heard scary stories about 1792 permanently flavoring a pipe made me wary. But I needed to smoke this leaf again. One smoke was not enough to form a valid opinion.

I don't think two smokes are enough, either.

So I finally decided on the unnamed Italian bent billiard sandblast. This pipe has always had an odd quirk of imparting its own flavoring to anything smoked in it (sort of chocolatey hints). So I figured nothing would be lost if it became permanently flavored with 1792. Also if you check the old post I mentioned that the tonka flavoring seemed to put me in mind of lightly flavored chocolate coffee. I decided this pipe would be a good match for it.

The bowl of this anonymous 'blast has significantly more volume than does the Kirsten, and it was a much longer smoke. In that first post (linked above) I mentioned that it made me thirsty. This larger bowl made that a problem. In fact, the thirstiness didn't go away for hours. I woke up several times during the night to drink water. This thirstiness effect will probably put me off 1792 for even a semi-regular smoke, but I think I will continue to keep it in my cellar. I am very interested in trying it outdoors and getting some opinions from innocent bystanders.

Room note? Oh, room note. Well, after finishing the smoke I went outside for a few minutes, and then came back in. The house in general was pretty much free of any smell, but inside my Sanctum, where I had smoked the pipe, the room note was not so much a note as a klaxon. Or maybe a gong. A big gong.

1792 Flake is not for the faint of heart. Or the faint of nostril. I think this would be a good barbecue smoke. When I barbecue, I also enjoy outdoors pipe smoking, and I usually stick with something fairly robust that is still noticeable--and that blends well--with mesquite smoke (C&D's Gray Ghost is my favorite barbecue smoke). I'm not sure yet how well 1792 would "blend" with mesquite, but it should have no problem beating it into submission.

Vintage Ad (1926): Tuxedo Tobacco

In 1926 Gilda Gray, then 25, was at the height of her career when her likeness appeared in this ad for Tuxedo tobacco.

Gray was born in Poland (as Marianna Michalska) and came to the U.S. with her parents as a child. She rose to fame in vaudeville and became known for her trademark dance, called the "shimmy." During the 20s she achieved some fame in the movies, but suffered seriously in the financial crash of 1929 and her career never really recovered. She died in 1959 at the age of 58. The Motion Picture Relief Fund paid for her funeral expenses.

During the Cold War era she worked to bring six Polish citizens to the United States, and after they were here she helped pay for their educations. For this she was decorated by Poland "for her interest and help to her countrymen and her country."

She didn't smoke a pipe, but apparently she liked men who did.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: J.S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

I know what you're thinking: Hey, he doesn't have a pipe! What's up with that? We got rooked! I have something extra in place of such a picture for this installment, but I'll get to that later.

Johann Sebastian Bach is such a prominent historical figure that there's not much I can say about him that you can't easily find elsewhere. His body of compositions--more than 1,000--represent the pinnacle of the Baroque era. Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin admired him greatly and were influenced by his work. Some musical scholars have professed the opinion that the Baroque period ended the day that Bach died.

But there is one small thing that sets him apart from them all. He once wrote a song about pipe smoking.

Found in the Noten-Bchlein vor Anna Magdalena Bach ("Little Notebook for A.M.Bach") of 1725 (Anna Magdalena was his second wife), this brief song was called So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife. I think the general meaning of this in English would be "thus is my tobacco pipe" or perhaps "and so is my tobacco pipe."

Based on the time during which Bach lived, I must say that he undoubtedly smoked clay pipes, because it was long before briar was discovered to be a wood made for pipes. Even more certain is the information held within this aria, which refers to a clay pipe.

Here follows an English translation of the original. Since this is more or less a literal translation, the meter and structure of the original poetry is no longer intact, but for my purposes here it will suffice. It was sent to me by someone on some pipe forum several years ago.
Whenever I pick up my tobacco-pipe,
Stuffed with good tobacco
For pleasure and pastime,
It gives me a sad impression -
And leads to the conclusion
That I resemble it in many ways.

The pipe was made from clay and earth
And so was I.
One day I will be earth again -
It often falls from the hand
And breaks before you know,
My destiny is the same.

The pipe is usually not colored;
It remains white. So therefore,
One day when I am dying
My body will turn pale.
Once buried it becomes black, just like
A pipe that has been used for a long time.

When the pipe is lit,
One sees the smoke disappear instantly
In the free air,
Leaving nothing but ashes behind.
The glory of all mankind is consumed
And the body turns to dust.

So often it happens while smoking,
That the stuffer is not handy,
And instead the finger is used,
Then I wonder when I burn myself,
If the ashes make such pain
How hot will it be in Hades?

Since such is the case,
From my tobacco I can always
Erect enlightening thoughts.
Therefore, in comfort I smoke
On Land, at sea and at home
My little pipe, with devotion.
Here is another translation thanks to Olivier at My Pipes Community.
Whene'er I take my pipe and stuff it
And smoke to pass the time away
My thoughts, as I sit there and puff it,
Dwell on a picture sad and grey:
It teaches me that very like
Am I myself unto my pipe.
Like me this pipe, so fragrant burning,
Is made of naught but earthen clay;
To earth I too shall be returning,
And cannot halt my slow decay.
My well used pipe, now cracked and broken,
Of mortal life is but a token.
No stain, the pipe's hue yet doth darken;
It remains white. Thus do I know
That when to death's call I must harken
My body, too, all pale will grow.
To black beneath the sod 'twill turn,
Likewise the pipe, if oft it burn.
Or when the pipe is fairly glowing,
Behold then instantaneously,
The smoke off into thin air going,
'Til naught but ash is left to see.
Man's fame likewise away will burn
And unto dust his body turn.
How oft it happens when one's smoking,
The tamper's missing from it's shelf,
And one goes with one's finger poking
Into the bowl and burns oneself.
If in the pipe such pain doth dwell
How hot must be the pains of Hell!
Thus oer my pipe in contemplation
Of such things - I can constantly
Indulge in fruitful meditation,
And so, puffing contentedly,
On land, at sea, at home, abroad,
I smoke my pipe and worship God.
And so, for Bach, his pipe was an example for his faith and a tool for his devotion.

To hear a simple midi version of this song, click the following link.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008


From the Dunhill website's Terms and Conditions:
ALFRED DUNHILL does not authorise linking to its Web Site from a third party web site without its prior written authorisation.
As Jed said, "Yet another company that doesn’t understand the web."

Alfred must be whirling dervishly in his mausoleum right about now.

via Freedom Sight