Reflecting on My Collection of John Calich Pipes

I don’t remember when I first became familiar with Calich pipes. They were not a brand that I had heard of or seen. I do remember that the first time I saw one of his pipes was when I was visiting Mike Glukler of Briar Blues and he had a John Calich pipe for sale. It had to have been before 2003 because of health issues that tied me up from 03-04. I know that I was immediately drawn to the rusticated finish it had and the two tone stain that Calich had used to accent the rustication and the smooth portions of the pipe. He used a dark brown stain as an under stain with an oxblood top stain. The contrast was well done. The pipe was a large Lumberman shape. The stem was vulcanite with a small tooth mark on the top of the stem. It was stamped CALICH 02 over Hand Made 4E over Made in Canada. I had no idea of the age of the pipe or the meaning of the stampings but I paid for it and it became mine. It smoked very well so I began to keep an eye open for John’s pipes.
From my research I found that John’s pipes are graded 3E – 8E. Retail prices range from$ 145.00 to $ 500.00. Each pipe is stamped “CALICH” and the E grade. His earlier pipes were graded from 3-14, and a single, tiny silver dot is applied to the top of the stem. Armed with that information I found that the first pipe I purchased was a newer pipe of John’s and was stamped 4E which made it a mid-grade pipe.

Soon after that I found two more of his pipes on EBay. This was a time when you could still pick up good deals on relatively unknown pipe makers. The first pipe I picked up was a nice billiard that obviously had seen some use and had a replacement stem. The fit of the stem was poor and the gap and space between stem and shank was large. The scratches in the vulcanite made the stem a real mess. The pipe had beautiful grain under the grime and was stamped CALICH EE over Hand Made. I bid on it and won. The EE stamping did not fit the grading information that I had found on the internet.

I wanted the seller to send it directly to John for a new stem. This put a bit of hurry into the equation so I hunted down John’s number to see if he would be willing to make a replacement stem for this pipe. I called him and we had a great conversation on the phone. We talked about all things pipe and pipe making. It was delightful to talk together and we did so for quite a while before I got around to asking him if he would make a stem for the old billiard.

I still remember the conversation. He asked about the stamping on the pipe and within a short few moments he told me when he had carved the pipe. For the life of me I wish I had written it down because today I cannot remember what he said. He said to go ahead and have the pipe sent to him and he would make a new stem for it. I emailed the EBay Seller and asked him to send it directly to John Calich in Mississauga, Ontario. He gladly did so and the pipe was on its way to John.

It was not too long before John called me and told me the pipe was finished. He packed it up and sent it to me. I was excited because I had not even seen the pipe in person yet. I had no idea about the real size of the pipe or the actual condition though it looked a bit rough in the photos. I couldn’t wait to see it. When it arrived in the mail I opened the package and unwrapped the pipe. John had not only restemmed the billiard but he had cleaned it up and polished it so that it shone like new. It did not even look like the same pipe. It was a cross cut piece of briar with stunning birdseye on the sides of the bowl and shank with cross grain on the front and the back of the bowl.

I did a bit more digging on the internet to find out some information on the dating of Calich pipes as the information on Pipedia was not complete. What I found was very helpful. His early pipes were graded with numbers from 3 – 14. By the late 1980’s Calich introduced 15, 16, and even one 17. In the mid-90’s the grade system changed employing a number of E’s. The more EE’s the higher the grade. This helped me understand the stamping on the billiard. Thus the pipe was a double EE grade and was made in the mid-90’s.

The last gradings that were used on the pipes were a number and an E. For example the stamping went 3E – 7E (10E was the top level but levels exceeding 7E or 8E seemed never to have been used). This information came from and has been edited for my use.
The third Calich I bought was also on EBay. It is a Liverpool with a very nice flame grained tall bowl. This one is stamped CALICH 83 over Hand Made 10. It was dirty and the bowl was caked and the rim covered with tar and oils. The stem was original, bearing the silver dot on top. The vulcanite was oxidized and had small tooth marks on the top and underside of the stem. It cleaned up very nicely and is a great smoking pipe. From the information above it is clear that the pipe stamping means that the pipe is the earliest one I have – made in 1983 and a grade 10 pipe.
Thus the three pipes I have in my collection by John Calich come from the three different periods of his carving. The first I purchased, the Lumberman 4E, was the latest Calich. It was made in the third period of his classification numbers. The second one, the Billiard EE was from the middle period where the classifications were multiple E’s. The third pipe, the Liverpool 10 is the oldest pipe from the first period of stamping when Calich used just numbers 3-14. I had not realized that my pipes covered most of the years that he was carving.

Here are two photos of the threesome together. I took these photos to give an idea of what the size of the pipes were in comparison to one another.

I learned from my reading that John was a full time pipe maker for over 40 years. His pipes were mostly traditional shapes. His signature style was rustication and smooth on the same pipe along with a unique skill to stain a pipe in contrasting colors. He used only top quality Grecian and Calabrian briar. The mouthpieces are hand finished Vulcanite “A”. Each pipe was entirely made by hand. John Calich was featured in the summer 2005 issue of Pipes & Tobacco.

John Calich died in 2008. From my limited exposure to John I have to say that he was a gentleman and a great pipe maker. He was known as one of Canada’s finest carvers. I conclude this article about John’s pipes with a tribute written by Maxim Engle on John’s passing in 2008. Maxim says it very well in my opinion and his words match the various interactions I had with John over the phone.

John Calich – Pipemaker 1928-2008.

John passed away late last week as a result of cancer and heart failure. His cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos many years ago. John originally worked in the sheet metal and the air balance industries. In his early forties, he decided to become a pipe maker. He was largely self taught and developed his unique two tone staining on his own. He travelled widely in the US and Canada seeking pipe knowledge. He went to New Orleans to find out about the manufacture of Perique. He drove on his motorcycle to visit JT Cooke in Vermont. There his bike fell over in slow motion as the asphalt melted under the stand on a hot summers afternoon as he and Jim looked on and laughed. He continued to drive his bike into his late 60’s.

John shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with colleagues and member of the Burlington and Toronto pipe clubs. He was always encouraging to younger pipe makers and new pipe smokers. John’s pipes were mostly sold in and around Toronto. I was privileged to have been able to give John’s pipes a wider audience through the web site and always sold all he could supply me with. His pipes were extremely popular in Japan.

I will miss smoking a pipe with him in his workshop while he either showed some me restoration technique or we just sat and talked. During his brief illness, before he passed away, many of you conveyed to him your best; I knew he really appreciated that. The pipe smoking community will miss him.

If you own one of his pipes light it up with your favorite tobacco in memoriam. He would like that.
Be Well, Smoke Well

11 thoughts on “Reflecting on My Collection of John Calich Pipes

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  7. josh

    Hi, I have a Calich I inherited from my dad but it is missing the stem any thoughts on where to start finding a replacement?

  8. Jacek A. Rochacki

    These pipes are simply beautiful. I like specially the first one with rustication; I am not much for rustication – I prefer sandblasted surfaces as the relief follows natural structure of briar, but this one is just a beauty. It reminds me some of the “pebble grain” surfaces on some Ashtons, and an Astley’s lovat from my own modest collection, which, according to information from owner of Astley’s, has been made by Dunhill on Astley’s order. And I think that thick walls provide cool smoke.

    This article with detailed information on late John Calich is of special importance for us in Europe, as many pipes from “across the pond” are not so known here. Thank you, Steve, so much !

  9. upshallfan

    What an interesting collection. I had read the name, but didn’t know anything about Calich. I love the silver stem logo.


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