Blog by Steve Laug
Probably one of the first books I picked up for my pipe library was Carl Weber’s Guide. It has a price tag on it from a used bookshop that I frequented in those days that dates it to June of 2002 and I paid a princely total of $4 for it. My copy is noted on the cover and the cover pages as An Original Edition though I am not sure what that means. It originally came out in 1963 ad copy is one that was reprinted in 1967 by the Cornerstone Library, New York City. Carl Weber was the Founder of Weber Briars, Inc. a company whose pipes have passed through my collection for the past 20 years. I remember finding this book in the book shop – way back in the far left corner of the shelves in the area of collectibles and hobbies. I had read of it but not seen a copy so I snatched it up and made it mine.
The table of contents is very straightforward as to what is covered by the book and as is true of most well written books it gives an outline of the topics covered between the covers of the book.
Table of Contents:
1. What is a pipe?
2. The Briar and the Meerschaum: The King and Queen of Pipes
3. Pipe Varieties
4. Selecting Your Pipe
5. Selecting Your Tobacco
6. The Art and Science of Pipe Smoking
7. How Briar Pipes are Made
8. Pipe Accessories
9. The Pipe as a Hobby
10. Questions and Answers About Pipes
To begin this quick review I want to quote three portions from Weber’s Forward to this little handbook. The first one sets the stage for his proposition that pipe smoking is a most pleasurable pastime. He writes:
“No one really knows why men smoke. Yet long before the discovery of tobacco, smoking had become the abiding joy of many peoples. Since tobacco’s discovery, smoking has truly become one of mankind’s most pleasurable pastimes.” – page 7
The next quote I find particularly poignant in a handbook on smoking. It calls the pipeman to treat his pipe well and it will treat him well. Oh how I wish that many of the owners of the old pipes I refurbish had read these words. He writes:
“The real pipe-smoker soon learns that pipe smoking is both an art and a science. The pipe responds to its owner with exactly the same treatment that it receives from him. The man who masters the techniques of pipe smoking is repaid by a satisfying smoke, a joy which he created for himself with his own hands.” – page 8
The last quote gives the stated purpose of the book in Weber’s own words: “The sole purpose of this book is to help the smoker achieve these rare moments of serenity, which are increasingly hard to come by in the accelerating pace of the modern world.” – page 8
Weber’s Guide can be divided into four major sections – each covering several chapters. These section divisions are my own and are not found in the book. I find that they help to organize and locate material for my quick reference.
Section 1: Chapters 1-3
The first three chapters cover the topic of the pipe. Chapter 1 begins by discussing what a pipe is in terms of constituent parts and what it is used for. It gives a brief history of pipes and tobacco that is truly no different from any other pipe book I have read over the years. It is written in Weber’s inimitable style and is a very accessible quick read. In Chapter 2 compares briar and meerschaum pipes which he calls the King and Queen of pipes. He gives a brief history of the development of both. He concludes this section in Chapter 3 by giving a survey of different types not found in the two main categories already covered: calabash, corn cobs, water pipes and clay pipes. The chapter ends with a brief survey of the field of pipes and concludes with these words; “Whatever your style of smoking, chances are that somewhere you’ll find a pipe to match it.” (page 42)
Throughout each section of the text there are line drawings and sketches to illustrate the point the Weber is making in that section. They break up the text and add interest to the reader.
Section 2: Chapters 4-5
The next two chapters are about how to select a pipe (Chapter 4) and a tobacco to smoke (Chapter 5). The selection of a pipe is very individual. As Weber says, “…it must first of all, fit your personality and character.” He adds another line that has fueled much discussion. He says that the pipe should “enhance” the appearance of the pipe smoker and not detract. He gives examples of how this works in his opinion. He goes on to discuss flaws in briar with helpful insights in how to understand these natural parts of the briar. He discusses pipe shapes and gives three pages of drawing of the various shapes of pipes that is very helpful. He includes a page of stem drawings to accompany his paragraphs on the type of stem that is used. Chapter 4 concludes with a discussion of filter, the personality of the piper and the prices that pipes are selling for. The paragraphs on pipe and personality are interesting and entertaining. He suggests standing in front of a mirror and trying to match the shape of the pipe to your own shape – this idea has also engendered much derision and discussion.
Chapter 5 on Tobacco Selection is a succinct and helpful tool to a person trying a pipe for the first time as well as to the seasoned veteran needing a quick refresher. It begins with a quick botany lesson on tobacco plants before going on to discuss the types of tobacco that are smoked and their taste to the smoker. He has descriptions and information on Burley, Virginia, Cavendish, Maryland, Latakia, Perique and Turkish tobacco. He discusses and offers a diagram of the four basic cuts of tobacco – cube cut, cut plug, long cut and granulated. He ends this chapter with two paragraphs on the art of blending tobacco to suit the tastes of the smoker.
Section 3: Chapters 6-7
The third major section of the book is about the use of the pipe and the manufacture of a briar pipe. Chapter 6 covers what Weber calls the Art and Science of Pipe Smoking and is a good general introduction to our hobby. It covers packing, lighting, and smoking a pipe. It talks about breaking in a pipe, enjoying it and maintaining it. Chapter 7 gives an overview verbally on the birth of a briar pipe from burl to finished product. That is followed by a pictorial spread showing the making of a pipe illustrating what has been said in the first portion of the chapter. It concludes with paragraphs on stem making and finishing the pipe before it leaves the factory to be held in the hands of the pipe smoker.
Section 4: Chapters 8-10
The final section picks up all of the extraneous details of pipe smoking that have not been covered in the rest of the book and are necessary to proper enjoyment of the hobby of pipe smoking. Chapter 8 covers accessories – pipe cleaners, sweeteners, humidors, tobacco pouches of various styles and layouts, pipe racks, ash trays, wind caps, pipe tools and other useful gadgets that fall outside of these wider categories. Chapter 9 on the pipe as hobby cover the pipe collecting aspect of the hobby and addresses the types of pipes that are collected from high-end to oddities – the better mouse trap version of pipes. It ends with a short treatise on how to evaluate pipes that are collected.
Chapter 10 is a Question and Answer section. It covers a wide range of topics that somehow capture many of the first questions that new pipe smokers ask. It is set up in a question and answer format and covers such topics as how to tell the difference between block meerschaum and pressed meerschaum, rehydrating tobacco, sweetening a pipe, repairing broken stems, tongue bite, the meaning of stampings such as Real Briar and Imported Briar, mixing tobacco blends, shapes and their effect on coolness of a smoke, proper moisture levels in tobacco, directions for reaming a pipe and the life expectancy of a briar pipe.
I believe that Weber did an admirable job of meeting his purpose as stated in his Foreward. While the book is not an exhaustive treatment of the topic it is comprehensive. His style of writing is inviting and makes this a very accessible and readable book. Copies of it are readily available online through such sources as Amazon.com and Abebooks. A quick search of the title will give you access to a wide range of copies and prices to match your budget. It is well worth the read and is a great book to have on hand for new pipemen you introduce to our hobby.