Tag Archives: article by Norman Skiba

Wow! – How Sublime


Blog by Norman Skiba

In a way, this is a tale of 2 pipes.  A somewhat synchronous event possibly.  At the outset, I must say that this is based on my experiences, observations, and opinions.  Others will have theirs.  I am a huge Preben Holm fan.  Period.  I have owned more of his pipes than any other pipe maker.  I also have had a number of Celius and P. Holtorp fan pipes – also from the Danish School.  To me, there is just something about the old briar that Preben used that offers this warmth and taste that so many other pipe makers cannot come close to.  What kind of briar and the age of what he used I have no clue, and maybe his old workers and Poul Winslow may know.  But to me, there is just something about that ‘gestalt’ if you may, that just makes it for me.  I also love meerschaums and have had a number of nice meers over the decades.  It turns out that I now own 2 briars and 3 meers  – nowhere near as extensive as in the past, but just a perfect number for my later years’ needs.  I now have more meers than briars.  I love meerschaums more now than ever before, but I love the briars too, so I am not exclusive.  I sincerely believe that they both have a ‘warmth’ in their own unique way – and I do not mean ‘heat’ – I mean a personal, almost friendly or intimate sort of dimension to their smoking Quality.  Some pipes have that Quality and others do not.  That is a main characteristic, to me, of a great smoking pipe and experience.

Yesterday morning I had 2 bowls in a new estate Preben Holm that is ghosted with possibly a Virginia of some sort.  Nothing I would smoke and there is a taste I am not into, so I wanted to smoke a couple more bowls to try to get that taste out of it.  I think maybe another 20 bowls of a heavy Latakia blend and that will start to evolve to what I like.  I tend to smoke more meers than the Preben, and they too are new pipes, so that is the reason I am still working on that extra taste in the pipe.  Well despite a bit of that extra taste from a previous owner and tobacco – I had 2 really nice bowls in that Preben and the smoke was great – it smoked nicely and the taste generally was nice.  No re-lights and just a smooth smoke.  2 bowls back-to-back was an extremely pleasurable experience.  I then proceeded (after about a 10 minute break to swap out the pipes and make another pot of coffee) to smoke 2 bowls in a new meerschaum Bacchus that I have smoked more than the Preben.  So it is going through the ritual christening, if you may.  It has been smoking quite nicely and sometimes really nicely.  However; today, both bowls were just wondrous!  What a smoke!  What a taste and aroma.  An interesting note was that I did notice that I got more taste and more aroma that was more true to the tobacco when I smoked the meer right after the briar than what the briar had to offer.  And as I just stated, the smokes out of the 2 bowls of the briar were also wonderful.  Just different in many ways.  Getting back to the meer – the experience was so beautiful that it was hard to believe that 2 different pipes – 4 bowls – back-to-back – and they were all wondrous!  What are the chances?  The 2nd bowl also had another rather unique experience: toward what was normally the end of the bowl – it just kept smoking and smoking and smoking.  I thought – man this should have finished a while ago – when will it be done?  (Not that I wanted it to end; one just kind of knows the bowl and the length of a pipe and tobacco.)  Anyway, this just seemed like the never-ending bowl.  I got easily an extra 20′ smoke on that 2nd bowl of the meer.  Again, as in the briars, no re-lights were needed.  The experience I had yesterday morning was just so magical I was in awe of the experience.  Maybe unconsciously I was transported to the magical world of The Shire and puffing on Longbottom Leaf or Old Tobey of the Southfarthing.  How Sublime Indeed!

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Briars vs. Meerschaum:  Right Brain – Left Brain – I Choose the Middle Way!


Blog by Norman Skiba

I have seen this discussion and argument in the past and even in the present on various pipe smoking forums.  New threads, old threads – they are all the same.  Personally I am kind of bored with the various arguments.  I have smoked both briar and meerschaum’s pretty much from the start.  In the 60’s and 70’s there was a lot of myth about pipes, briars, tobacco, and meers.  And there still is a whole lot of myths about these various things.  Many people that contributed to this plethora of facts, and opinions, and just downright incorrect information were either ignorant of the information, ego-driven to show their pedanticism, opinionated with an enough-to-be-dangerous knowledge, and people that in this case never smoked either briars or meerschaums, or smoked briars or meerschaums that were of decent smoking Quality to even begin to make a comparison as to the briar or meerschaum discussion at a credible level of discourse.  The creation of myths and biases still continue to this very day.

As stated earlier, I have been fortunate to have smoked both briars and meerschaums pretty much from the beginning of my pipesmoking journey.  Most people, if not all of the people around me were briar smokers and briar master pipe makers.  Most probably never smoked or owned a meer, and if they did, they never smoked it enough to make an educated opinion – just an opinion.  A lot of the myths and information that I learned, and I bet, most people in similar situations have learned are biased and twisted information,  some true – some partially true, and some just off the wall in any sense of possible truth.  As neophytes – how do we know what is credible.  The blind leading the blind.

As an old guy who has been around this journey into pipes and tobacco, I have to say that I have worked hard and went broke to have 3 nice pipe collections in my life.  2 of the collections were extensive and the last in my close to the end of life is extremely modest, but exquisite.  The first 2 collections had both briars and meers, but the predominant pipes were briars. (The types and kinds of pipes are a whole ‘nother story that may be pursued in another little blurb.)  I have always loved the meers – for aesthetical reasons, smoking Qualities, and the artistic carving and coloring experience for example. (Just like the shape and finish and grain of briars) They were nice pipes and smoked wonderfully.  I did notice a difference, yet I could not at the time explain it as such.  Again being surrounded by briar people I may have had some slant on that – i.e. an opinion or observations of this briar vs. meerschaum dynamic of the smoking Qualities that they offered.  This last tiny collection is predominantly meerschaum at the moment – 4 meers and 2 briars (I may get 1 more briar in the future due to my love of pipes and the briar made by a deceased famous pipemaker.)  But that would still make:  meer 4 and briar 3.  I have understood late in life during my sannyasin period as espoused in Hinduism, that 5 pipes are nice – 6 – 7 OK – and No More.  Now you may ask – ‘Why do you go from 5 – 6 or 7 pipes?’  Due to my love of Latakia and a wife who has asthma – I am forced to have to smoke outside and when raining or cold/very cold in my cold small shed.  I need some briars to smoke in the freezing cold where meers are technically possible to crack or shatter so the need for an extra briar or two.  I must say that the briars that I do have are wonderful pipes and wonderful smokers so I love them and do smoke them in the summer too.  Even if I lived in Bali where the weather is pleasant all year, I still would own my briars.  I love wood and I love grain.  But I have fallen deeply, in my old age like never before, for the White Goddess!  I have always had, and smoked, and loved meers; so this is nothing new; however, the Passion is just so Intense at this stage I cannot explain.  The meers I am smoking more during the summer/warmer weather because I love smoking them, and not just because of the weather.  Today for example, I had 3 bowls in the morning in a meer and later on when I took a break after working all morning outside, I smoked an old relatively conservative Preben Holm.  It was wonderful.  There is a difference, in a sense, in the briar experience and meer.  I have struggled to define it for decades and I just cannot.  However, the difference is not ‘a one is good and the other bad’ sort of difference that one thinks exists.  Maybe the term is characteristic(s)?  Maybe it will always be elusive and not definable.  It is so abstract – yet one knows it when it is understood/experienced.  It may just not be graspable in an ideational way or in word play.  It just must be experienced and appreciated each for what they have to offer.

In a post I made on an old thread on a forum recently regarding the briar vs. meer argument (edited and expanded here):

I do say that the meers do smoke drier and cleaner in many respects. I have had some meers that were sweet as in smooth and easy to smoke and enjoy and a few that were maybe a bit brutal if that be the word. Some had a warmth and a dimensionality to the smoke and the taste. I have had some briars that were – yech!  I have also had some briars that have that warmth that I mentioned for the meers.  Again – maybe the meers take a few bowls of a tobacco when new to achieve a warmth that is inherent in it – the pipe itself.  Even briars need to be broken in as such.  Again, each pipe, whether briar or meer can be special or a loser. I find the more I smoke the meers and they develop and are good in their way – the warmth and the taste of the tobacco opens up and improves tremendously.  Funny – similar analogies to briars.  No real answers here, just observations.  It boils down to a good pipe is a good pipe and one that isn’t may not ever be!  Briar and meer!

I choose the Middle Way of Buddhism.  Briar AND Meer.  Enjoy!

 

 

Mystical Magical Latakia: A Journey Back to the Old World


Blog by Norman Skiba

Norman is a new contributor to rebornpipes and I welcome him to the blog. He is a member of the Meerschaum group on Smokers Forum UK and trying to add fresh life to it since the death of Fred Bass. I have enjoyed our emails back and forth over the past week and when he sent this second piece I really appreciated his thoughtful reflection on his favourite blend of tobacco. I invite others of you to write your own and add to the sense of community we have.  Thanks Norman. – Steve

If it were not for Latakia, I never would have stayed with the pipe.  I never liked cigarettes, even the Indonesian Djarum’s and Kretek clove cigarettes.  The Bidi’s of India are just plain nasty!  The Turkish were still not even close.  But there was and still is something about Latakia and the heavy English and even Balkan blends that intrigue me to this very day.  To me, the aroma is just wondrous!

When I first started smoking a pipe it was in my mid-teens.  I tried the (Palladin’s?) Cherry Blend, Borkum Riff, Sail, and two sips of Sir Walter Raleigh – yech!  Then one day I walked into this tiny smokeshop and pipe maker – Smokestacks it was called – which I had been to before and bought a nice natural finish prince he made that was a very nice pipe and my first decent pipe, and I  fell in love with what I smelled.  I asked him what it was that he was smoking, and he said a new Turkish blend he had blended, and it was Latakia that I was smelling.  I knew right there and then THAT was for me.  And to this day it has ever been, although in various manifestations.  Looking back I can say that maybe the first phase of what used to be called drugstore pipe tobaccos lasted a month or two.  I then found Latakia.  So I feel I was fortunate in that case.  I bought an ounce of this stuff to smoke and went through that rather quickly and then bought a 1/4 lb. of it.  I then saw this tin of the White Label Balkan Sobranie and bought that and loved it even more. Within a couple of weeks or so I found the tins of Balkan Sobranie Black Label No. 759 and that was history.

I started to buy really nice pipes that were made by the late Milt Kalnitz using 100 yr. old Grecian briar that he made for me and also some pipes from his personal collection.  I also had gotten a nice meerschaum or two from him.  All this time I was smoking the 759 Mixture and he had the larger round cans of it and not just the thin round tins.  The smoke shop was called Bellezia Tobacco.  They also had Bengal Slices which I also smoked as an adjunct to the 759.  That was all I ever smoked until one day I stopped for reasons I no longer recall.  Then 759 was no longer available.  It still isn’t. This blend was so funky – in a good way – to me – but people around you would wonder if you were smoking your underwear or your socks.

A funny ‘true’ story: In 1972 I used to have to fly a bit for school and also as a professional musician. I had to put up with all that cigarette smoke in the cabins or even next to you – which at that time you could smoke on planes. Well I was smoking Balkan Sobranie Black Label #759 then, I had this huge free-form Danish Preben Holm – I mean a huge bowl. So I lit it up and smoked the whole bowl – people looked at me rather strangely and some thought I was smoking my socks – but no one said a word. But later I thought they must have thought I was nuts and also could not wait for the plane to land!  I still have to laugh!

Anyway, when I got back into my pipes I knew another famous musician from California that I played a concert with and he had some wild Danish free-forms too and I smelled a wonderful sweeter Latakia English blend and he said it was a Dunhill custom blended My Mixture – No. A7859 – soaked in Jamaican rum.  I had Dunhill in New York City auto ship me a pound every month.  It was actually a very nice blend and unlike 759, but Latakia.  Life moves on and I took a hiatus again. When I started again briefly it was impossible to get any of my former favorites so I stopped.  I did try the McClelland’s Oriental Mixture #14, but that was just Ok and had changed from the earlier ones I tried years before. But it never wowed me like 759.  I later found Greg Pease’s Abingdon and found that to be the best at the time and still believe it is a great tobacco, and if I had to – I would smoke it.  However, The Dark Lord came up with Gaslight!  And that was it after all of these years of searching. The Holy Grail! (To me and my likes.) Yes I have tried some others; even a half pound of Penzance was acquired but never finished it because it just didn’t do it.  Gaslight was the Magical Mystical Wondrous blend that is so superb in my Mind that I see no reason to smoke anything else. It IS Special; yet I see no need to have a bowl on a special day and the rest of the time smoke other things.  Every day and every bowl is special so why not smoke it every chance you can in a nice pipe.  I think of it as analogous to a nice bottle of pinot noir which I love – some people say I am going to put this away for a special day.  I have no problem laying stuff down to age and save; however, what I say is that you take a nice bottle of wine and open it and enjoy it and it can take an average day and make it extra special and magical. The day does not make the wine – the wine makes the day Special! That is what Latakia and Gaslight do for me.  Now to sit back and have a bowl in my floral meer.

Addendum – I like Greg and he is a master tobacconist/blender/creator; however, it is not my intention to use this little text piece as a means of offering free or hidden advertisement for his blends. They are mentioned in context to the actual relevant info in this short piece.

 

Why Do We…?


Blog by Norman Skiba

Norman is a new contributor to rebornpipes and I welcome him to the blog. He is a member of the Meerschaum group on Smokers Forum UK and trying to add fresh life to it since the death of Fred Bass. I have enjoyed our emails back and forth over the past week and when he sent this I thought it would be a great intro to him and a thought provoking piece of writing. Thanks Norman. – Steve

I have smoked a pipe for about 50 years now and have had a few hiatuses over this lengthy period. In addition, I have been fortunate to have had a rather extensive pipe collection over these years and various periods of my life. The collection transformed and morphed into a new set of pieces turning into a somewhat different collection over these many years, and which has morphed again. Basically – zero – to a small nice little handful of a collection, mostly meerschaum. I have always had and smoked meers and I find them fascinating and beautiful to see the exquisite carvings transform over time in their coloring and the actual smoking Quality – chronotransduction – change over time. I have spent a small fortune for briars and very fine briars and commissions. I am a huge old Danish fan, especially Preben Holm. Many of the pipes were gorgeous; however, a lot of them smoked great. Some smoked OK. Some were terrible – even the high end pipes and commissions. No offense to the fine pipe makers that made them; but some were a waste of money. I always kept that to myself and never hurt anyone’s feelings or reputation. I also bought a number of so-called ‘Estate’ pipes that were by major makers mostly Danish, that had issues with the smoke – could not get a pipe cleaner through it, and tons of gurgle. I realized ‘late’ that in most cases instead of someone chalking the pipe up to experience and maybe just trashing it or trying to get it properly fixed, they passed on the problem to someone else – me the sucker. I am not a neophyte, but these are chances one takes. Aesthetically, they were beautiful and unique in my eyes. The maker was reputable. But the pipe was what it was – sometimes wonderful and sometimes sour/bitter, and just plain funky.

I have spent decent money on meers too in the past and most were from reputable carvers. a few unknown, yet nice – carving and block and smoke. I was fortunate early on to have one briar master pipe maker and his son who had some nice meers at a reasonable price. Then, for me, it became harder to find. Most meers were bad block quality and the carvings nothing to write home about. Even after years – not knowing about certain carvers or especially the sellers – left me in a quandary about purchasing a nice pipe. I know people who deal on eBay and craigslist with stories about scams locally and within the U.S., let alone, other countries, and in this case Turkey. I also saw some of the prices that were more than I was used to paying for some nice meers long ago, and the combination of dynamics – price, seller, country, etc. made me wary about taking the chance. As I grew older I learned more and acquired more meers. I never could drop a huge sum on a nice meer that was high, high end; however I did try to find amazing carvings that spoke to me and that were more than I could afford. But recently I started asking myself – why do we spend so much on a briar pipe ,and some people I know spend 5x the amount for 1 pipe almost weekly, than I could on 1 pipe? Why did I not go the same route for meers and just know at the end of my life finally ‘Get It!’ The answers are varied, and factual/real, and also speculative. The answers themselves seem a bit amorphous even. I still have more questions than answers. I do find that few briar people do not want to try or never liked smoking a meerschaum because they too – did not get it. They never had a good pipe, or they never gave it a chance to achieve the warmth that a nice one offers after it is smoked for a bit. Initially the meer can seem cold and sterile and that initial dynamic makes people run to their briars. But once the White Goddess speaks to the Soul and the Being and the Spirit within- then one Gets It! But, Why Do We…?