Blog by Steve Laug
I don’t recall when I bought my first Tinsky pipe. But I do know which one it was – a nice Coral finish Billiard with a taper stem. It has a contrast stain on it – a dark brown and a walnut combination. The rim and a band around the top of the bowl and the end of the shank are smooth and sport the walnut finish. I have had the pipe at least 15 years or more and have thoroughly enjoyed smoking it. In fact it was the pipe that got me buying Tinsky’s pipes over the years. I have bought maybe two of them directly from Mark and the others have come through EBay or from friends. I have fourteen of Mark’s pipes to date with one new one on the way. These all vary in shapes and styles but all are fine smoking machines. Only one of the pipes in this collection remains unsmoked. I really can’t tell you why, but I will break it in one day in the near future.
I thought it might be interesting to give a brief history of the brand for those on the blog who may still be unfamiliar with Mark’s work. Most of this material is taken from his website http://www.amsmoke.com/ and from Pipedia which has an article on the brand and quotes many of Mark’s own words.
The American Smoking Pipe Co. was formed in 1978 by Mark Tinsky and Curt Rollar. Both started making pipes for Jack Weinberger (JHW Pipes) while in high school and throughout college. Determined to blaze their own path, they formed their own company – its goal to create unique pipes, lightweight and comfortable, where attention to detail was the rule not the exception. Exulting in their new freedom, they carved out new shapes that were balanced between the radical freehand era of the 70’s and the board pipe look of other conservative companies. Hungry for recognition, they stormed the Eastern and Southern shops looking for markets to sell their pipes. Many hidebound retailers refused to try something new; preferring to sell, well, what has always sold before. However, their pipes did take root in many shops and the business thrived.
They continued expanding their pipe making capabilities, adding employees to help finish the pipes. In 1990, over a disagreement over how much to expand, Curt Rollar left the company. This put a break on expansion and coupled with a U.S. recession and rising anti-smoking fervor served to limit production to supplying existing retailers, thus ending a decade of growth. With pipes sales in decline, we turned to pipe repair as a way to supplement revenues. Finding that we liked fixing things, American concentrated on pipe repair. While working hard at repair and manufacture American is ready once again to expand its markets through its existing network of shops serviced by pipe repair.
With the advent of the Internet, we are exploring marketing pipes directly to consumers in markets not covered by retail accounts. Feel free to e-mail us at MT@MT.NET
Mark can also be reached by mail at:
American Smoking Pipe Co.
PO Box 13
Wolf Creek, MT 59648
Over the years I have collected quite a few Tinsky’s. I have pipes from the time he and Curt Rollar set off on their own and others that are singularly Mark’s from his time in New England and then newer ones from his workshop in Montana. All the pipes I have are made by Mark other than one that was a collaborative work of Mark and Curt. The rest of this article will be a short reflection on the Tinsky pipes in my collection. Looking them over this afternoon as I photographed them I am again struck by the workmanship in Mark’s pipes. They are all exceptionally well made with fits and finishes well done. From the Coral finishes, the Blasts, the Black and Tans and the Smooth finished pipes I have come to expect nothing but the best smoke. They are truly bread and butter pipes in my collection. They are well made utilitarian pipes that have provided many years of service to me and if the oldest in the collection (a 1984) is any reflection on the whole lot they will last far longer than I will.
The first part of the collection that I want to visit with you is the Cauldron and Dublin shaped pipes. I have three pipes in this lot. The first pictured below is from 1988 and is a smooth cauldron that is stamped American in an oval over Reg. No. 88.CR-MT over The Berkshire over the number 37. If my read of these stampings is correct the pipe was made in 1988 and is a collaborative effort between Mark and Curt. The Berkshire is the name of the finish on this pipe. The familiar logo on Mark’s pipe stems has always been a five point star – in this case it is white star surround by a briar circle set in a clear acrylic and inlaid in the stem.
The second cauldron is a slightly older pipe. It is from 1984. It is stamped Sandblast over American in an oval over Reg. No. 0184/*7 and a 5 in a circle. Interpreting these stampings the pipe is from possibly January of 1984. I am not sure of what the *7 means but the 5 in the circle is the size – thus a group 5. It is the same size as the Berkshire above. The blast covers the bowl and shank. The rim is smooth and circumscribed with a ring mid rim. There is a smooth band around the end of the shank and a smooth area for the stamping. The stem has a white five point star set in clear acrylic inlaid into the surface.
The third pipe in this lot is a Dublin and was the first Christmas pipe I was able to purchase. I believe I bought or traded it from a fellow on one of the online forums that I frequent. It is a nice sandblast pipe. The Dublin shape has an oval shank with a slight forward cant to the bowl and slight bend to the stem. It is a comfortable pipe to smoke. It is stamped Tan Blast over Christmas 2004 and a single star. This pipe has the customary metal inset star in a circle set in the stem.
The next group of Mark’s pipes in my collection are Coral finish pipes. In the photo below I have grouped this lot together. There are five Coral finish pipes and one with a Black and Tan finish.
The first of these is a Christmas pipe. It is a square shank billiard that is stamped with Mark’s signature (Mark Tinsky) on the smooth panel on the left side and on the underside smooth area Christmas 2005 over Coral. The stain on this one is a contrast between a dark brown deep in the grooves of the finish and a reddish stain on the high points of the finish. The contrast is well done. The smooth portions of the shank are also a dark brown in colour. It bears the same metal star in a circle inset into the stem as the logo. It is probably a Group 5 size pipe but does not have a size stamp.
The second Coral finished pipe in the above group photo is a thick shank apple. It is probably one of my favourite shapes that Mark makes. I have three of this shape – two Coral finished pipes and a Sandblast. It is stamped American in an oval over Coral with 5 in a circle. The finish feels great in the hand and as it heats up the tactile feel is comfortable. The smooth rim and band around the end of the shank are attractive additions. The underside of the shank is also smooth and provides a place for the stamping. The stain on this one is a combination of dark brown and walnut. The grooves are dark and the high points and smooth portions are a walnut stain.
The third Coral finish that I picked up was also my first Tinsky pipe. It is a beautiful group 4 sized billiard with a dark brown and walnut contrast stain. There is a smooth ring around the top of the bowl and a smooth rim. There is also a smooth band and area for the stamping at the end of the shank. It has been with me for a long time now and is one that I have smoked again and again. It never disappoints in delivering a great smoke. I use it for only Virginias and it literally makes them sing. It is stamped American in an oval over Coral over 4 in a circle. On the smooth left side of the shank it is stamped with the Mark Tinsky signature. The stem bears the metal star in a circle inset.
The fourth Coral finish is another thick shanked apple. I traded for this one and when it came the finish was virgin though it had begun to darken. Through the years the darkening has continued and it shows a lightening in the grooves and the high spots are darkening. It has a rusticated rim and the only smooth portion of the pipe is a thin band around the end of the shank and a smooth patch on the underside of the shank for the stamping. It bears the stamping Coral over Christmas 2003 and the customary metal star in a circle inset in the stem. There is a part of me that wants to give this bowl a good coat of stain to even things out a bit and make it look cleaner. I have restrained myself from doing that until now but who knows what the future holds in that regard.
The final Coral finish pipe is kind of a tadpole shaped pipe. It has the same stain combination on it as the first Coral Christmas 2005 pipe. It is the only pipe of Mark’s that I have that I have yet to smoke. I am not sure why but it sits in my pipe cupboard waiting for the right moment. It is stamped Mark Tinsky in script over Coral over American in an oval. It also bears a 5 in a circle for it size. It is quite a large pipe. The rim is smooth and crowned and there is a smooth band around the end of the shank and patch on the underside of the shank for the stamping. The stem bears the metal star in a circle inlay but it is slightly different from my other Tinsky’s in that the star is pewter coloured rather than the brass that is characteristic of the others.
The final pipe in the group photo above is the only Black and Tan finished pipe that I have of Mark’s. It has almost a Danish flair to the Rhodesian shape. The crowned bowl top is set apart by two concentric rings and the finish is a tan smooth. The rim is slightly rounded. There is also a thin smooth band around the shank end and a smooth plate on the bottom of the shank. It is stamped American in an oval over Black & Tan over Christmas 2000. The stem has the characteristic brass star in a circle inset.
The third group of pipes in my Tinsky collection is the Sandblast finished pipes. I have three Sandblasts. The first of these is probably my favourite Tinsky. I have carried it around the world with me on various trips. It has been smoked quite globally in all of my travels. It is a custom-made pipe that I bought as an estate from Mike Glukler of Briar Blues. It is a bent apple of sorts with a vulcanite ring on the end of the shank. The stem is a faux stick bit with a saddle. The grain on this one must have been a flame grain and the blast flares up evenly from birdseye on the bottom of the bowl. The rim is smooth as is a band around the end of the shank and a panel on the bottom of the shank for the stamping. It looks to me like Mark used a fine rustication pattern around the band and the panel to give it a more defined shape. It is stamped American in an oval over the Mark Tinsky signature over Blast with a 4 in a circle. Each line of the stamping is separated by a finely cut rustication. The stem does not have the typical star inlay as there is not a surface that would hold it.
The second Blast is a thin shank apple or ball. It has a deeper more craggy blast than the previous pipe. It is smaller in terms of the bowl and size though it is still a group 4 bearing the 4 in a circle stamping. The rest of the stamping reads Mark Tinsky in script over Tan Blast on the side of the smooth patch on the left side of the shank. On the underside of the shank it is stamped American in an oval over 4 in a circle. The bowl ascends to the rim leaving a thin rim that is also blasted. There is a smooth band around the end of the shank and a smooth patch that runs up both sides and on the underside of the shank. The stem bears the customary brass star in a circle inlay.
The third Blast is a Rhodesian that I also really like as it has become almost a signature shape for me. It is a thick shank Rhodesian with a dark and medium brown stain over the blast. The darker brown has settled into the grooves of the blast and the medium brown on the high parts of the blast. The majority of the bowl is covered with a blasted birdseye that is really interesting. There are a few spots where there are small portions of flame grain. The fascinating part of this blast is that you can also see the rings of grain under the top blast. It is a beautiful pipe. The twin concentric rings setting apart the crown on the bowl were cut before the blast and the centre between the rings also shows the blast well. The stamping on this one is on the smooth patch that runs up the sides and underside of the shank. It is stamped Mark Tinsky in script on the left side of the shank and on the underside it is stamped American over /6 in an oval over Blast and 5 in a circle.
The last two pipes in my Tinsky collection have smooth finishes. The first is a beautiful pipe that is by far the largest of my Tinsky pipes. I was gifted this by a good friend one evening while we were at his apartment in downtown Vancouver enjoying a fine cup of tea and smoking aged tobaccos together on his 7th floor balcony. It has some stunning straight grain all around the bowl and birdseye on the underside of the bowl and the shank. The medium brown stain really sets off the grain. The shape is a thick shank brandy. It is stamped on the left side of the shank with the Mark Tinsky signature. On the underside it is stamped with American 2/ in an oval over Sunrise over a 6 in a circle and a single five point star.
The second smooth finished pipe is an older Liverpool shape. I picked this one up on EBay for an amazingly low price as it did not have a stem on it. The bowl was in good shape but the finish was shot. It looked like it was not worth buying from the photos that the seller included in the advert. Because of that I got it for cheap. When it arrived I reamed and cleaned it. I polished the bowl and then called Mark to see if he would be willing to restem it for me. He agreed and I sent off for restemming. I expected Mark to use a current stem and brass star in a circle logo inset on the new stem but he did not. When it returned it had the appropriate aged inset of a star in a briar ring inset in acrylic. The difference between this inlay and my other early Tinsky is that the star inside the acrylic is brass in colour rather than white. The pipe is stamped on the underside of the shank American in an oval over Reg. No. over 7/93 – MT thus dating the pipe to July of 1993. The MT stamping differentiates it from the pipes made by Curt Rollar in that period which bore the stamping CR after the date stamp.
Looking over my collection of Tinsky pipes this afternoon I have been struck yet again by their beauty and by the good quality work that Mark does in his pipe making. My pipes cover a time period of thirty years and the quality remains impeccable. The finishes remain constant. The Coral finishes of the early years are almost identical to those of the more modern era pipes that I have. The sandblasts are consistently the same and the Black & Tans remain constant. The smooth finished pipes are consistent from the early 90’s pipe I have to the more modern 2000’s era Sunrise. I am impressed by that fact. It is not often that in the evolution of a craft that the craftsman maintains his signature finishes even as he progresses in his skill. Thank you Mark for creating these fine pipes that I have taken great pleasure in owning and smoking. I look forward to adding more to my collection.