An Estate Experience: Uncovering A Superb Smoking Preben Holm

Blog by Norman Skiba

Where do I begin?  As a few of you know from recent posts here on Steve’s website, I am a huge Preben Holm fan.  I have had many of his in all shapes and forms as such.   Massive ones, larger ones and some that had an elegance to their medium to larger size.  Steve has two straight Preben’s that he has redone that are real beauts and I wish I had one of them – even though I am not a straight pipe kind of guy but more into the bents.  (Not a hint Steve, but a compliment to you and Preben.  See:  Boy I like these pipes!!!)   Recently I found 2 rather conservative Preben pipes – one still in the Danish style and tradition and the 2nd was ultra-conservative for Preben.  Shorter and a smaller bowl with no plateau at all.  The first had no plateau on top and nice plateau at then end of the shank.  The larger pipe was so unique in my eyes that I bought it.  Smokes wonderfully.  I am very happy I bought it.  The ultra-conservative 2nd pipe I just received was one nightmare of an experience.  This one was unlike any other Preben I have ever seen in my life.  I wanted it and bought it.  So – – –

I get the pipe and am excited to see it in person.  I knew the specs, however there is nothing like having it ‘in hand’.  Shorter and smaller and lighter – as expected and looked nice.  This was from a major pipe retailer and this is where the nightmare begins as such.   I tried to remove the stem to clean it before lighting a bowl.  It was as though the stem was crazy glued to the shank.  I immediately called the seller and they kind of sing-songed their way around the issue.  Finally they said they would take it back but i had to pay for return shipping with insurance etc. Are you crazy?  You guys sent a pipe that has a serious issue and you won’t issue a call tag/return shipping tag.  Your expert ‘Estate’ department people never quality controlled the pipe.  That was the first thing they should have noticed.  This pipe never should have been sent out.  At least not without fixing it.  This had a saddle bit and with a fine shank and a stem that needed channel locks properly protected from the teeth was the only was to get it done, and even that was a nightmare.  I did not want to snap the stem or shank. I looked carefully prior to trying to remove it with a tool instead of the fingers/hands, and I see a semi-circle swirl that was twisted under the shank and along the thicker part of the stem where it meets the shank just above the tenon –  there were plier teeth marks on it and also major scratches from slipped pliers or whatever that the previous owner probably used to try to remove it.  That is why he sold it/dumped it off.  The ‘Estate’ team missed all of these marks and damages.  (Maybe they were the ones that did it and not the owner.)  You can see by now i am furious!!!  So I carefully and protectively removed the stem with 40,000 gray hairs more from this experience.   I did not want to snap anything. I got it off but it was impossible to get it back on without the aid of the channel locks.  So I decided the next morning to try a bowl or two to see how it smoked.  WOW!!! Easily from the first puff it was one of the top 3 pipes I have ever smoked!  No B.S. I did a 2nd bowl and Wow! the same thing.  So I decided to let it cool and then re-remove the stem and to try to sand the inside of the shank down to see if I could fix this myself.

I removed the stem ever so carefully with the channel locks and tried a rough paper-backed piece of wood sand paper rolled up just so it would fit tightly into the shank and twist.   I do not know the grit but the twisting soon ripped the piece and it broke off.  I tried this twice with another break off and pulling the pieces left in the shank out by the little bit left sticking out of the shank.  I then went to some metal oxide metal sandpaper with a cloth backing – super fine, and again do not know the grit number.  It took a few attempts to get the proper length rolled up to fit inside – just barely.  I twisted the sandpaper many times and tried the stem and it took a number of these attempts to see any progress, but it was very tough and the last quarter inch or more was still tight and frozen.  So I tried it some more.  I also used a number of newer pieces since they got a bit messed up in the twisting action.  I also did a push and pull (in and out action) of the rolled sandpaper instead of the twisting it in the shank.  The last bit I tried was to sand the stem which i did not want to do at all, but ended up maybe doing 5 rotations with the fine sandpaper and tried it and it worked.  Better to take off a little at a time than too much.  You cannot put it back as such.   I cleaned it and smoked a 3rd bowl and it was Heaven.  That night I took it apart – sans tools – and it seemed to work out nicely.

So I uncovered a super fine smoking Preben and also one extraordinarily unique Preben in the context of his ‘wild’ style.  The style is so unlike me that it is weird in a sense; but I like it.  The smoke is incredible.  The fix was stressful in regard to the potential for snappng of the stem or shank; but the fix was rather easy – just a bit tedious.  I was careful to not scratch the briar at all.  So how and why did the ‘Estate’ team drop the ball, let it go ‘out of house’, and sell it for the price they did and then ho-hum the serious issue.  In 50 years I have never had to remove a stem with anything other than my 2 hands.  That is absolutely insane.  It is past a mistake.  I will never buy another pipe from them no matter what Preben they may have.  This major faux pas just broke my trust in them.  And in old age – ‘tudes’ just don’t make it with me.  They never did. 

So – despite the frozen stem to shank dynamic, this Preben is a real winner. It is an upretentious little pipe, with subtle lines and shape possessing the ‘Power of the Smoke’. I cannot wait to try it again later in the week. One lovely little pipe. As John Coltrane would say: ‘A Love Supreme!’ (By the way did you know that Charlie Mingus smoked Balkan Sobranie No. 759 Black Label?) It makes one wonder what would Preben have done had he lived longer? Preben seems to have touched the briars with his Spirit. This is one element of what makes a Preben a Preben. His pipes are a magical connection to the past.

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