“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
― Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), French Impressionist painter
I suspect there is some aspect of my basic personality that is incapable, to a degree, of not admiring the tenacity alone required to survive 67-years – and still going – in the admirable pursuit of providing affordable smoking pipes. Remember, this is an industry that has seen all manner of fly-by-night systems for dissipating the high heat of the all-important tobacco that has an inherent tendency to become moist and therefore brackish in the process of flowing through the basic designs of all pipes.
Notwithstanding the relative quality of pipes that evolve based on the periodic new patents from the ever-pioneering designers at E.A. Carey, which also owns the Duncan Hill Aerosphere brand, the system’s section that comprises the so-called “Magic Inch” has changed little since 1948, when the first billiard version was created and marketed. The system involves five elements: 1-2) the first two in the double-pronged tenon, the thin, hollow end of which attaches to the plastic bit and the typical part that slides into the shank; 3) the thin bit insert with six small drilled holes, two each on the top and bottom (when properly inserted) and one each on either side; 4) the newer Papyrate II sleeve (two-ply) – made of very thin, wet slices, from the roots of an aquatic plant, that are pressed together and dried – that fits snugly over the holes of the bit insert, and 5) six horizontal slits in the shank end of the bit, three on the top and three on the bottom. The photos of the bit show the used, brownish papyrate sleeve that came with the original pipe.
Back some months when I was snatching up pipe lots online, I bought one with 10 sundry examples of the craft, including a few nice finds such as a Kaywoodie Filter Plus metal pipe from the late 1950s, a Jobey Extra, a nice glazed clay pipe and others, with this Magic Inch among them. I put all of these in a small box “for later,” except for the beautiful unknown clay billiard that I cleaned up and added new cork in the shank with a hole drilled to fit the screw-in tenon attached to the acrylic stem, for my own collection.
By the way, not everyone knows that Carey does not only make Magic Inch pipes. Here are a few of the company’s representative standard briar pipes. But this blog concerns the vintage Magic Inch billiard, U.S. Patent №. 3,267,941 granted in 1966, shown in the lot above three rows down on the right. A few years ago, I owned, and for a while enjoyed, another Magic Inch, and it wasn’t – well, bad. But first, I have a few comments regarding Carey’s rather imaginative advertising.
Numerical data and the manifold methods of collection, arrangement and interpretation of them for publication as fact by the complex use of statistics in almost every facet of society – including but by no means limited to governmental and other political concerns, businesses and the news media – can be misleading at best and downright manipulative at worst.
Take, for example, the E.A. Carey Smokeshop claim [http://www.eacarey.com/ pipes.html] that it has sold more than one million of its Magic Inch pipes since 1948. That sounds impressive, and suggests that Carey’s pipes are superior to others. But that total averages to 15,152 pipes (rounded up, through 2014) per year. Then again, Carey changes the number of Magic Inch pipes sold in the same period to a vague “hundreds of thousands” [http://www.eacarey .com/magicinchinfo.html]. Allowing for hundreds of thousands to be a maximum of 200,000 pipes, which quite likely is stretching it, the average drops to 3,030. Somehow, I doubt that either annual sales figure engenders any impulse among the world’s other pipe makers to compete with the folks at the venerable Carey Smokeshop online, both in the U.K. [http://www.eacarey. co.uk/] and U.S.
After removing and separating the bit and two-sided tenon, throwing away the old brown papyrate sleeve, on an impulse, I decided to give the old rusticated briar girl an Everclear soak. For some reason, this process took quite a while – say six hours. At any rate, when the old finish was stripped and the wood dried, I began a hand-buff with super fine steel wool followed by a progression of micromesh pads from 1500-3600.
Thinking the pipe, which was dreary in the beginning, deserved something more distinctive and in keeping with its natural reddish color, I chose maroon boot stain. After the quick application and flaming, I rubbed the wood gently with 3200 micromesh.
To clean the hollow plastic bit and tenon, I diluted – and I mean heavily – a little Everclear with a lot of water. I like to think of this as the Reverse Julia Childs Approach. The popular cook once said, “I like to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.” From what I recall of watching Julia in the studio kitchen on TV, I am not surprised that she seemed to have forgotten the apparent equal measures of wine expended in the food and down the hatch. Anyway, I bent a soft pipe cleaner in half and dipped it in the comparatively wimpy solution, which is like comparing wine to Moonshine, and inserted the folded end in the stem, turning it several times and finding it needed replacing. And so I repeated the action, but giving the inner bit the old in-and-out, scrubbing its sides. Only the slightest amount of grime came out on the second run, and I used the same cleaner to work through the slits on the top and bottom. I used a third, dry cleaner to finish.
The outer bit required very little work with one micromesh pad, although I forget the grade, to make it shine. Using a white china marker, I filled in the small, long-empty square with a three-sided C in the middle, forming all but one line of a second square. Thanks to a generous gift of a handful of papyrate sleeves from my good friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, I was able to complete the tenon for ultimate placement into the shank.
All that was left to do was buff the wood on the electric wheels, using white Tripoli and White Diamond, with quick runs on the clean wheel after each. At last, with a finger, I applied a thin, even coat of Halcyon II, and after letting the briar sit for 10-15 minutes, buffed it with the clean wheel.
Love ’em, hate ’em or really don’t give a hoot either way, the Carey Magic Inch has secured its place in tobacco pipe history, as well as giving many a smoker a start in the pleasures derived from fine tobaccos. And as far as I’m concerned, the Carey system works better than most far more complicated attempts.
Imagine, if you will, a special place in the Twilight Zone – an area so horrific only the most heinous attempts at pipe cooling ever make it there. Take, for example, the following specimen, a Jenkins, which, with its screw designed to hang while smoking like a broken appendage from the underbelly of the shank at a point just before the bowl, may never find its way back.