Blog by Steve Laug
I have written previously about my long desire to pick up a Batson pipe and the fact that for about three years I have been hunting. I have been on Grant Batson’s mailing list and have received notifications regarding pipes that he had finished and was selling. While there were many that caught my eye, I had pretty much come to the conclusion that I would never own one. As I watched more and more of them fit what I was looking for and the prices continued to ascend to heights that I could never scale with my income. It is what my wife calls “champagne tastes with a beer budget”. But like most of you I did not stop looking. In fact I went so far as to figure out how many of my existing pipes would need to move for me to be able to pick one up. Once I had that done I had to decide which ones would go to make room. Once again I assume that at least some of you are like me and making that kind of decision is like letting go of my children. So I made no decision and just let things lie as they were. No Batson pipe would be joining my collection at any time soon. Yet, the more I looked at the pipes the more I wanted to acquire one of Grant’s pipes. However, it truly seemed beyond my grasp.
As is often the case, especially in my life, it seems that the impossible can happen at the least expected moment. One day last fall, in October, 2017 I was on my lunch break at work. I took the time while sipping my coffee to scroll through one of the pipe groups there. That lunch time I was on the Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking Society (GPSS) group. Low and behold while looking at photos of pipes others had purchased, I came across a pipe that one of the members was selling. Even before I read the ad I knew it was a Batson. When I got around to reading it – I know some of you are like me and just absorb the photos first, I read the details. The seller called the pipe a Blowfish Nosewarmer. The look of the pipe had my attention. He said that it was a great smaller pipe with a full-sized bowl, a unique finish and amazing grain. He said that the pipe had been well taken care of. The dimensions were: Length: 4 1/4 inches, Height: 2 inches, bore: ¾ inches, depth: 1 1/2 inches, Weight: 48 grams. The first three photos I have included were from the seller. The way the pipe looked is what caught my eye even before I knew the size of the pipe.I was hooked and immediately sent him a message. I fully expected him to respond that the pipe was already gone. But he did not. He said it was available and he quoted a price that I could actually afford with the birthday money that was coming to me. I did not hesitate for even a moment because this pipe would not last too long. I sent him a message saying that I wanted it and he responded with an invoice on PayPal. Before my lunch was even finished the deed was done and I had added a Batson to my collection. I could hardly believe what had happened. It seemed that one of the pipes on my wish list had actually become min. I copied the photos of the pipe and took them home to look at after work. I had arranged with the seller to ship the pipe to my brother in the US so it would be over a month before I actually saw it in person. When the pipe finally arrived I took a long time just turning it over in my hands to get a feel for the reality of the pipe in front of me. The pipe had an interesting stain that flowed from a dark colour on the rim top and down the left side of the bowl lightening as it moved onto the base of the bowl and the shank. The right side of the bowl was a lighter colour brown that matched the stain on the smooth portions of the bowl and shank. There was a smooth band around the end of the shank and there was a smooth band that ran from the front of the bowl to the shank. It has some stunning cross grain on the smooth portion. The sandblast is birdseye grain that took the sandblast in a unique way. The lay of the bowl is asymmetrical following the shape of a blowfish. But the blowfish has a twist in it that I have seen in other pipes this shape from Grant’s shop. The black acrylic stem is short and stubby but comfortable in the mouth. It flares and matches the end of the shank. The pattern flows from the sandblast browns of the shank to the smooth band at the shank end to the polished black acrylic of the stem.I always enjoy learning about the carver when I buy a handmade pipe. I like to read about his philosophy of pipe making and some of the history of the brand. I find that learning this background information gives me a feel for the pipe that adds another dimension to the smoking experience. When it came I did some research to refresh my memory in terms of information on Batson pipes, I turned to http://gbatsonpipes.com/. On the site under the CONNECT tab I found the information I was looking for. Grant had posted a well written article regarding his history as a pipemaker and his training. I have included the following from his site as it set the stage for me in terms of enjoying this pipe. I quote in some of Grant’s own words to give and idea of what attracted me to his work:
“Two years later, Todd Johnson generously offered me the opportunity to train under him. I took him up on that for 7 months. During that time, I met Teddy Knudsen, who invited me to work with him in his shop in Italy. I’m not a good enough writer to tell you how wonderful that was. Since then, I’ve worked alongside some of the world’s finest pipe makers, many of whom have become close friends. Today, I’m humbled and grateful to have judicious pipe enthusiasts, around the world, as clients.”
I really resonated with Grant’s humility and appreciated his training. I had met both Todd and Teddy in the past when I attended the Chicago Pipe show and have always been an admirer of their craftsmanship and true artistry.
MY INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF THE PIPE really include what drew me to this piece of pipe art enough to want to add it to my collection and make it a part of my pipe journey. The seller had described the pipe as a smaller pipe, but that applies only in terms of length. It was well cared for and after my brother did an initial cleaning it was ready for me to use. The dimensions were: Length: 4 1/4 inches, Height: 2 inches, Bore: ¾ inches, Depth: 1 1/2 inches, Weight: 48 grams. The size of the bowl alone tells you that at least at that point the pipe is a normal sized pipe. I would classify it as perhaps a Group 4 sized bowl. There is a narrow band of smooth briar that separates the shank from the stem and provides a smooth transition from the sandblast to the smooth finish of the black acrylic stem. The application of stains – both dark and medium brown to the sandblast finish transitioning to a medium brown on the smooth band and the smooth bottom of the shank and up the front of the blowfish shape works well with the shape of the pipe. The stem is a handmade saddle shape from black acrylic. It is short and thin and surprisingly comfortable for a nose warmer stem. The stem shape and colour works well with the contrasting stains on the sandblast and smooth portions of the bowl. The button on the stem is thin and comfortable.DETAILED IMPRESSIONS – When the pipe arrived it was an impressive piece. The workmanship of the pipe, the deep and craggy sandblast birdseye grain around the entire bowl and the smooth cross grain up the shank and transition between sides of the blowfish shape gave it very tactile feel that really captured me. Some pipes like this one leave a lasting impression in my mind. I remember sliding the pipe out of the sleeve and enjoying the look and the way it sat in my hand. Grant had crafted a stunning pipe that really followed the grain of the briar in a fantastic way. It had the faint aromas of the Virginias that its previous owner had smoked and the bowl had no cake at all. It appeared to have not been fully broken in and there was still raw briar in the bottom third of the bowl. The smooth band around the shank end and working up the underside and across the front of the asymmetrical bowl has beautiful cross grain on it and the arched flow of the smooth band gives the pipe and added touch of class. Examining it up close it is obvious that it is blasted with a master hand. The pipe is stamped on the underside of the shank with Grant’s signature stamp – a wood plane over G. Batson, over 2015, over a stylized GB. The asymmetry of the pipe is easy on the eyes. The balance between the height of the bowl and the length of the shank is perfect. The stain has variation and almost a sparkle when moved in the light. The black acrylic stem stands in stark contrast to the mix of brown stains on the bowl and shank. Together give the pipe an artsy and unique look that is classic Batson. The inner mechanics of the pipe are perfect. The drilling is perfectly executed from the shank and into the bowl – coming out exactly centre in the bottom of the bowl. The airway from the bowl into the mortise is centered. It is smooth in its entrance to the mortise and the mortise itself is also smooth with no rough spot left by drill bit. The end of the shank is sanded smooth and is finished. There is a bevel in the shank end to accommodate the tenon and provide a snug fit against the shank. The bowl itself is U shaped and smooth from sides to bottom. The air way enters the bowl and is smooth and clean.The draught on the bowl is wide open and effortless. Looking at the acrylic stem one is struck by the way the saddle portion of the stem follows the asymmetry of briar. Even the flat blade of the stem has a twist which follows the flow of the shank and bowl. It is hand cut out of a piece of acrylic. The tenon is Delrin and is seamlessly inserted in the stem. The airway is funneled slightly for a smooth transition from the mortise when it is in place. There is a very minimal gap between the end of the tenon and the base of the mortise. From the saddle back it is well tapered with good even angles top and bottom progressing to the button. The blade of the stem that is put in the mouth is thin and comfortable. The draught of the stem is unrestricted and open. When the pipe is put together the draught is effortless. The fit of the stem to the shank is very well done. The button is cut to my liking with a good sharp inner edge and tapered to the tip. It is a thin button with material enough to provide an edge that fits behind the teeth. The slot is rectangular with rounded edges and deeply funneled to deliver a uniform airway from bowl to button. The inside of the slot is sanded smooth and polished. The airway is absolutely smooth from slot to tenon. Grant did a great job shaping the stem and capturing a shape that really works with this pipe.The overall construction of this pipe is very well done. It is light in the hand and in the mouth. The shaping of the stem is exactly what I like in terms of the feel in my mouth. The blade from the button to the saddle is deep enough to give room for how it sits in my mouth. It is well balanced and tactile feel of the deep blast as it warms up during the smoking of a bowl is very pleasant. Like others in my American carver collection, I smoked the pipe at specific times in my life. Since it is a small pipe and comes with a thick leather pipe bag it is a pipe that I have carried with me on various trips I have taken for work. It is a pipe I enjoy smoking while walking on the streets during my visits to other cities and when sitting at a sidewalk café along the way. It is also one I smoke at home on the porch on weekly walkabouts. Since I received it I have smoked it enough to have a good thin cake developing in the bowl. I have dedicated the pipe to Virginia and Virginia Perique tobaccos. It delivered a good smoke from the first smoke I had in the bowl and continues to do so to this day. It draws well; the lighting has never been a problem and continues to be an effortless smoke. Now that I am writing this review up, the pipe is sitting next to my chair to smoke on the weekend. Thanks Grant for delivering a beautiful, well-made pipe that remains a very good smoking pipe to this day.If you can acquire a pipe crafted by Grant Batson I can assure you that it will not disappoint you and you will find that it will become a favourite in your rack. One of the things I love about pipes is that they live far longer than the original owner. I hold it in trust while it is in my care. The craftsmanship of this pipe gives the certainty that it will continue its journey well beyond the years that it is my companion. Thanks Grant for the great pipe… perhaps one day I will add another to my rotation.