Spotlight: Ladies Pipes, Part 1/7, a FRASA French Bent Billiard

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

LadyA pipe in the mouth makes it clear that there has been no mistake–you are undoubtedly a man.
— Alan Alexander Milne (1892-1956) – English author, playwright, poet essayist and storyteller best known for Winnie the Pooh – from “Smoking as a Fine Art,” in Not That It Matters, 1919, a collection of wide-ranging and manly essays

I admit, my choice of the above quote was calculated, but not to raise the ire of any female smokers I indeed admire and whose attention I hope to draw to this forum and others, with the goal of opening a dialogue between the genders who share at least one common love. Of course, as with all well-meaning attempts at good natured humor mixed with more than a grain of satire, I should not be surprised if this one, in the spirit of political incorrectness, backfires in my face like a good ole boy’s sawed-off shotgun packed with too much rock salt.

But no, I think my message is clear. A.A. Milne was a good man and without doubt one of the most celebrated and creative writers of children’s stories of his time, albeit the product of the languid ease and floating, hypnotic comfort of his youth in the English countryside and predetermined defining crucible at Cambridge’s Exeter College at a time when his contemporaries were such traitors as Guy Burgess and Kim Philby to name but two. Yet Milne chose the right path, whatever unavoidable world-view of woman and their “rightful places” in the homes and gardens and still grander scheme of the universe. Milne escaped the abyss of prison, execution or exile to a dacha on the steppes of Mother Russia – outside of his day-to-day harrowing home life. All in all, notwithstanding the opening and somewhat tasteless quote, Milne turned out a bit alright.

So now, a few words about the earth-shattering day at the Stag Tobacconist in Albuquerque, New Mexico, US of A, deep in the Land of Enchantment. How â propos is that, I ask? Holy Shades of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Batman! You see, I was sitting in my customary spot with a view of the entire room against the unlikely and therefore ever-present threat of imminent attack by unknown sinister forces, which seem to lurk in every corner of this wannabe city. The place continues to groan and grumble with unnatural growing pains.

I was sitting there in my comfortable cushioned chair in the smoker’s lounge, working on my laptop, when I overheard a woman who had come in looking for a “lady’s pipe.” I wasn’t eavesdropping, I just couldn’t help overhearing, along with the rest of the conversation, although my interest was piqued and my ears pricked. From her demeanor, I guessed it was her first visit to the shop. She was a rather large lady, dressed in a heavy long black coat. I knew right off that I had exactly what she was looking for at my apartment in an assortment of nice smaller pipes that nevertheless were not minis. I knew not to interfere with Chuck Richards, my friend and mentor, who had engaged the good woman

Scanning my mental knowledge of the shop’s inventory, I settled on a few of the no-name Italians and some mini carved meerschaums in the glass case below where Chuck and the lady stood at the end of the service counter, only a few yards from my curious ears and eyes. To my immense surprise, I watched Chuck (whose lips were pulled back in a look of distaste I recognized, whether or not the woman detected it) as he produced with appropriate care the open box of one of the meerschaums. The woman made a definite sound of pleasure that was stifled by Chuck’s masterful discourse on the pros and cons of meerschaum minis. He went on about the quality of the material and their ability to burn any type of tobacco without a lingering taste; their fragility and special precautions needed to use them, and in particular their construction with small push-in tenons that can be difficult to maneuver the vital cleaners through. He demonstrated and then explained how the cleaner would also be inserted into the shank after smoking but that he couldn’t handle the surface of the pipe because of its porous nature that absorbs skin oils and dirt, leading to serious damage.

Choking back a laugh, I thought I could not have discouraged a sale better if I had tried! I happen to know Chuck despises fancy, carved meerschaums for his own collection but would never hesitate to sell one to the right person. And so he moved on to several nice, shiny, natural finish no-names of medium length and bowl size. My excitement was growing. I decided if and only if Chuck proved unsuccessful in matching the female customer with a pipe – a wholly unlikely event – would I scurry out the door after her and offer the prospective customer my card and services.

But of course, Chuck sold her a very nice pipe, albeit twice the size of those I will show in this series. Thus was conceived the idea for this series, which, in my original plans, I envisioned, as usual, in a single blog. After a mere glimpse at the boggling research needed to undertake the endeavor, however, not to mention the difficulty of blogging seven restores in one space, I had the brainstorm of splitting the project into a series.

My friend on the Smokers Forums UK (, who goes by the username “im2for1” there, is a Team Member at the Forums and owner of Ladies of the Briar for women only on Yahoo Groups and Friends of the Ladies of Briar of Facebook. She is also vice president of New Jersey Fellowship of Pipe Smokers on Yahoo and Facebook. With some careful, specific prodding, I hope to elicit some invaluable intelligence from Liz as this series progresses.

Here are some pictures of the seven pipes, which I relegated to a special pile on the big work desk in my office. I automatically segregated them for their unusual small sizes but had no idea that distinction would someday come in handy.Lady1 Lady2Now, for a description of my first foray into a so-called Ladies Pipes, although it could be smoked without shame by a man (if I didn’t already sell it to one of my best customers, known to some readers here as Ashley and going back to my first real restore). This is a FRASA (from the brand mark on the shank), a French piece of work about which I can find no background. Lady3I wonder if the larger capital letters indicate an acronym. It’s a lovely, little, delicately curved, natural, dark red briar billiard.Lady4 Lady5 Lady6 Lady7 Lady8RESTORATION
This was one of the cleanest pipes I’ve ever come across in a lot, but I’ve never seen one yet on which I couldn’t improve. I showed all of the pipes I’m restoring for these blogs to Ashley at one of our weekly pipe meetings a few weeks back, and I had a good idea which one she would like best. I’ve come to know her tastes, having sold her several pipes, not to mention one to her husband, Stephen. Her hand went straight for the FRASA and her eyes sparkled with P.A.D. I knew I had her. I pointed out the clean but slightly rough to the touch chamber, which took a flashlight to determine that it had indeed been lightly smoked. Then there were some minor blemishes on the bowl. I also said I’d like to lighten it up a bit, unless she liked it the way it was.

“Go for it!” she said.

And so I tossed the bit in an OxiClean bath.Lady9Moving to the stummel, I wiped it down with purified water and soft cotton cloth gun cleaners before using 320-grit paper gently and evenly before micro-meshing from 1500-12000.Lady10 Lady11 Lady12Removing the bit from the OxiClean and rinsing it, I wet micro-meshed it to a nice dark shine.Lady13I sanded the small chamber with 200- and 320-grit papers and retorted it just to be thorough, but I didn’t expect to find anything, and I didn’t. Now, that’s a clean pipe!

I finished by buffing the stummel with white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba, and the bit the red and white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba.Lady14 Lady15CONCLUSION
In the next installment, I plan on getting more to the meat and potatoes issues of relative numbers of women who partake of the magic instrument of divine contemplation – recognizing, of course, the futility of trying to get anywhere near exact numbers. I also hope to have feedback from Liz and others like her who are as active as any men in their smoking communities, with some insights into the kinds of pipes they actually enjoy, whether “ladylike” or more “manly.” Yes, sir (or ma’am), the times, they are a-changin‘.

I’ll leave you with these parting shots of two lady smokers, one real and one – ahem – well, never mind.Lady16 Lady17

3 thoughts on “Spotlight: Ladies Pipes, Part 1/7, a FRASA French Bent Billiard

  1. Pingback: Spotlight: Ladies Pipes, Part 7/7, Concerning the Summit of Diminutive | rebornpipes

  2. Mark Irwin

    Well done! I hope you’ll include Peterson’s “lady pipes”–still marketed as such in Europe–the Barrel and Tankard. First introduced in 1945, Harry Kapps thought of both shapes in this way in the 1950s and 60s. This year Peterson will add another 10 shapes to the original 2, sprucing them up a bit, in the “Short Classics” line. I doubt they’ll be called “lady pipes” here in the U.S., but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are in Italy.


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