Tag Archives: Short story

Just about a perfect day…

A Short Story by Steve Laug

One of the challenges that I give myself when I have the time for it is to build a story from an old photo. I have written stories about tobacco shops, pipe men, relationships and buildings and rooms by looking at old photos and weaving a story. The photo I have chosen for this story is the one below. In it is a pipe smoker sitting at his desk with an array of photos around him and working diligently writing. His pipe is in his mouth. Sometime if you want a challenge give this a whirl – craft a story from a photo. Here is the photo and the story follows.Outside, the sun was shining and the rain had stopped. Inside, the old house was very quiet. My wife had left earlier in the morning to visit her mother for the day so I called the office and let them know that I would not be in today but would be taking a day off to get some personal work completed. I went to my study and got ready to work. I had a plan and it was pretty simple. Today would be a day to complete the work on my book. I had already written twelve chapters and the prologue but I needed to put some final touches on it and write a concluding chapter. Before I sat down at the desk I adjusted the shade on the window to my left to block the bright light that hit my desk top. I put a fresh pile of paper and the file of completed chapters on the desk top. I sat down and looked out the window in front of me while I loaded up a pipe with some of my favourite tobacco. I tamped it down with my finger and lit it with the matches on my desk. I dropped the burned matches in the ash tray on the desk and sat back to enjoy the initial puffs on the pipe. Once it was going I would start to write.

To give you a bit of an idea how my mind works I want to describe the room I am working in. I have photos and pictures on the walls around the room that give me inspiration but those are not the important ones for the book I am currently writing. Rather, for each book I write I have a practice that has served me well. On the fireplace screen behind me I pin up photos that I use to get the ideas for my stories flowing. I have found that a good photo can add depth and dimension to my writing. Photos seem to give me ideas and concepts that otherwise may not have surfaced during my work. In this case the old family photos, office and building and the central photo of a contraption that looks like a gun all fed ideas that already graced the chapters of my book. I moved them around the board often and also added to them regularly as I moved through the writing process. It always amazed me when I looked at the finished book and then turned around and looked at my pin board. I could see the flow of the story in the photos I had chosen.

The rest of the room is suited to my tastes. The cupboards on either side of the window hold my writing supplies – paper, notebooks, and file folders. I placed my desk at an angle between the windows to maximize the natural light in the room and also to give me some much needed air circulation on hot days. The desk is kind of my kingdom. I have my frequently used reference books on one corner so that I can quickly look things up without losing my train of thought as I write. I have an inkwell and fountain pen there for writing. I have a stack of paper that I can quickly access. But most importantly of all to my left is my pipe rack with a selection of some of my favourite pipes and a humidor filled with tobacco. I also have a small container to hold the matches I use to light my pipe and an ashtray for the burnt matches and the dottle.

I puffed slowly on my pipe as I made the necessary edits to the completed chapters. This was my fifth or sixth time going through the chapters to make sure everything flowed and the content did not contradict itself as it unfolded. It is so easy to mix up names of characters and moments in a story if you don’t consciously check for that as you work. I had caught most of the errors but I am such a perfectionist that I wanted to make sure one final time. I found that it also prepared my mind to write the concluding chapter and wrap things up. I got lost in the writing, almost oblivious to the world around me. I added a few touches to the earlier chapters that the later ones brought to light. I crossed out things were too obscure and rewrote those sections. Before I knew it the morning was gone and the sun had moved to the front window. I stood and stretched out the kinks. I dumped out the dottle in my pipe which had long since gone out. I refilled it and lit it again and stood working through the flow of the book in my mind. It was working well.

I sat back down and wrote out the first draft of the closing chapter. It really did not take too long because of all the work I done all morning. The pieces came together nicely and when the bowl went out on my pipe the chapter was finished. Not too bad. I once more dumped out the ash and refilled my pipe. I lit it and sat for a moment just resting. I turned and looked at the photos on the fire place screen to make sure I had not missed anything important in any of them. Things looked good. I quietly puffed on my pipe while I sat. It was good to just be silent.

I got up and went to the fire place mantle and filled a glass with a little bit of scotch. I took it back to the desk and sipped it as I read the book from front to back yet again. I wanted make sure that the closing chapter pulled together all the loose pieces and did not start new unresolved ones. I read through the pages while sipping and puffing. I was so focused on the read that I did not notice that the pipe was empty until I sucked in some ash. Just as that happened I heard the door of the house open. My wife had returned from her visit with her mother.

I checked the clock and saw that the afternoon was gone. I had been so involved in the writing process that I had forgotten to stop and eat. It seems like that happens a lot when I am in this mode. I feel a bit hungry now; perhaps my wife would like to go to the local pub for an early supper. I finished the reading last page of the book and put it in the folder. It was ready for the publisher. I emptied the pipe and set it in the rack. I loaded another pipe and put it in my pocket for later. It had been a good day with much work finished. I stood up and stretched then walked out to the parlour to chat with my wife and plan our evening’s adventure.

We decided that a light supper at the Pub would do just fine for both of us. I grabbed my hat and she took my arm and we were off for the short walk to the Pub. We chatted about our day’s “work”. She told me about her visit with her mother and I shared the conclusion of book.





The Case of the Murdered Dunhill

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside. — From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

NOTE: I owe the singular logic and chronicle of this story to the author of a French blog upon which I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of discovering, quite by chance, in the course of a search for other, more mundane instruction on Dunhill pipes.  The credit for the blog, almost hidden at the bottom of the page, attributes the work to “pipephil,” whose nationality and working name being identical to that of a certain devoted and well-known researcher of pipes and their histories, I can only surmise is one and the same.  This story is based on an unequal blending of fact and fiction and might better be approached as the latter.   Acknowledgement to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is likewise in order, and, if prevailing opinion of this willing suspension of disbelief warrants, apologies.  Names have been changed to protect the real and imagined

(Being a reprint from the personal blogs of JAMES BOSWELL)


At the age of twenty-six, early in the year of 1989, I was considered an old man to be commencing studies as an undergraduate at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and was branded non-traditional, a distinction which stirs not a grain of animosity in my mind.  The principal difference between the average teenager fresh from the crucible of high school and myself, during my first semester of courses prescribed for those desiring to specialize in journalism, was my already appreciable experience in the workforce I sought to continue.  I had under my belt a solid grounding in the old school style of newspaper writing, owing to an early tossing into the cesspool when I was a mere fifteen-year-old.  Already I was squared away in the requisite determined and, when necessary, obdurate nature to survive the initial condescending underestimation of my ability to recognize obfuscation when I heard it.  These traits were of invaluable help in eliciting a modicum of legitimate answers from the police officers, politicians and other authorities who became the salt and pepper on the main fare of official reports that fed my regular police and city hall beats.

Quartered at first in one of the better dormitories and accustomed to taking my meals at the campus cafeteria, an establishment that over-favored a form of creamed chipped beef on toast that exemplified the military term for that menu item which I will for the sake of good form abbreviate as S.O.S., I straight away took up the tobacco pipe.  As well as soothing my nerves and allowing an air of contemplation conducive to my studies, the pipe expelled the unfortunate after taste of the gruel the school called food.  Pipes were also a family tradition on the paternal side, and so I embraced them with alacrity.  Smoking, of course, was prohibited in the dormitories, but I dismissed the absurdity as did all but a poignant minority of the other inhabitants.

Finding disagreeable the cramped suite of rooms that allowed no privacy and which I shared with three adolescent males who were more interested in beer kegs, parties and all of the other inclinations wholly natural to youngsters, I reached the inevitable conclusion that I must secure a more mature roommate off-campus.  The very same night, while strolling the university grounds taking the long course to the student union building, where I had planned to brush up on the Associated Press Style Book tucked under an arm, and puffing contentedly on the single pipe I then owned, I heard my name called from nearby.

“Boswell!  James Boswell!”

Glancing in the direction of the greeting, I found the young man smiling and waving at me vaguely familiar, but only a name came to mind.

“Beall!” I said, relieved to have no need to fumble with that social awkwardness.

Trapped, I found myself engaged in small talk.

“Wherever have you been hiding?” Beall asked.  “I haven’t seen you in dog’s years!”

Not caring for the suggestion that I in any way skulk and thinking that dogs tend to age with rather unfortunate rapidity, I was off-put before I could answer but endeavored to be civil.

“Off fighting the good fight, Beall,” I said.  “Just at the moment I’m considering how to move out of my dormitory but can’t afford a place of my own on my income.”
Where I met Beall and why the devil I let slip my need for a proper roommate eluded me, and I would have kicked myself had that colloquial expression been possible.  With all the delicacy I can muster, I found young Beall to be a nice enough fellow but rather insipid and a bit too friendly.  I braced in anticipation of his putting himself forward as a candidate, and indeed, having among other faults a distressing clutching habit, he seized me by an arm.

“Why, I have just the person for you!  I’ve known him forever, and he’s absolutely perfect!”

Not caring a bit for the sound of any of that and being dubious of Beall’s judgment, my aversion to conspicuous rudeness prevented me from declaring so.  By my own fault, therefore, Beall, still clutching my arm, compelled both of us at once in a straight line toward the north edge of the campus, obviously the direction of the friend’s place of residence.  I managed with some dexterity to dislodge my arm from his grip and counted myself fortunate beyond words that the mysterious dwelling was within easy walking distance.  My subsequent introduction to the man who, though five years my junior, was gifted with the most singular and brilliant deductive powers I have ever encountered, can only be attributed to fate.

When at last we found ourselves on the step and the door to the apartment opened, I had the first dreaded look at my proposed new roommate.  The appearance of Mr. Sherrinford Cavish was altogether the opposite of my preconceived image.  Standing three inches taller than six feet in height, Cavish towered over Beall, whom I had spent most of our walk struggling to devise a means of escaping, and had several inches on me.  His stature had none of the typical lankiness associated with very tall men and was instead complemented by a husky but fit build.  He wore an expensive powder blue dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, medium brown wool slacks appropriate for the season that appeared to be tailored, leather loafers with tassels and no jewelry whatsoever, not even a watch.  His longish brown, wavy and un-brushed hair, wild, for lack of a better word, was the oddest feature I noted.  The old, blackened clay pipe between his lips seemed a natural extension of his mouth and the highest testament thus far of his suitability as a fellow lodger. Then, ignoring poor Beall beside me altogether, his sharp blue and acute eyes narrowed and took in the whole of me with a glance.  I admit I was more than a little disconcerted by the scrutiny I thought rude.  His greeting astounded me.

“Have you been a reporter for any publications I may have read?”

The ensuing dumfounded silence prompted the otherwise meek and silent Beall, who still stood to my side, to remark, “Yes, he’s always like that.”

“Ah!  But you’re here about the room for rent, no doubt eager to quit the dreary conditions of the dormitories,” Cavish said before I answered, astounding me once again.

The man who introduced himself to me by his full first and last name the moment I stepped inside his apartment pursed his lips in a peculiar grin I have come to know well.  One corner of his mouth rose a tad and the other fell.  Initially viewing the practice as a sort of conceited smirk, I soon came to recognize it as an outward sign of the constant processing of simultaneous and unfathomable amounts of complex mental data related to the unparalleled fields of study of which Cavish can only be described as an expert.  Well into that first night, I learned of a comparative few of these, but our mutual fondness for pipes and shared interest in matters of crime were enough for me.  That grin of his meant that Cavish was in good spirits, working out the various enigmas he undertakes to solve for his own odd pleasure and at the request of others.  He calls them cases, but to me they are worse than giant white table puzzles.  Cavish invariably examines each piece with pure logic and science as his only tools.  On my word, I do believe he relishes scrambling the parts of the puzzles his clients – again, as he calls them – believe they have put together.  To Cavish, each piece of the puzzle must be probed from both sides and every angle regardless of how closely it may seem to fit.

“Excuse me,” I said, no longer able to contain my curiosity, “but how did you know I was a reporter?”

Cavish looked me in the eye.  “Elementary,” he said.  “Even without the well-thumbed AP guide under your arm the conclusion is inescapable.  Your red-striped Oxford with its frayed button collar doesn’t go with the ruffled tan corduroy blazer and dark brown elbow patches, as well as the mismatched light blue cord pants.  And that ancient polyester tie is enough to give an epileptic a fit.  Who but a reporter dresses in that style?  Then there are the light smudges of news print on your fingers and the cuffs of your shirt sleeves, not to mention the small note pad and flowy pen in your front coat pocket, icing on the cake, as it were.”

However accurate the conclusions Cavish reached, I still wondered if his lack of tact might be distasteful after all but resisted the urge to do an about-face and march out.

“Very well, then, what about the fact that I live in a dormitory?”

“Good God, man!” he said with alarming drama.  “Only a new student living in the dorms, regardless of age, would eat all of his meals in the cafeteria.”  Reading my face like a newspaper headline, he interrupted the protest I was about to make.  “My exhaustive research of every restaurant menu in Cruces tells me that none of them serves creamed chipped beef such as that which caused the spot on your tie.  I’m happy to say the dish is unique to that venue.”

In this disturbingly fascinating manner was I introduced to the deductive skills of Mr. Sherrinford Cavish.

“Interesting pipe,” Cavish said as he saw me to the door, speaking of the bulldog of which I was rather proud.  “An Italian no-name, I see.  Well, we’ll have to do something about that.”

The following morning, ignoring my petty misgivings as to my new roommate, I fled the dormitory.  I confess with some remorse that I left my affable yet erstwhile fellow cellmates understandably dazed and confused, not to mention sad in a manner that was touching, to see me depart.


Dunhill pipe courtesy These Pipes Like No Others

Sooner than later, I learned of the flipside of the unusual grin I noted.  When Cavish was without a case, he fell into periods of deep broodings and profound depressions that lasted until some new mystery he deemed worthy of his time presented itself.  At the low point of one of these bouts of sheer, unbearable boredom, a piece of mail arrived that Cavish was too despondent to consider.  I took the liberty of cutting open the end for him and found a single small photograph of a smoking pipe in utter ruin, accompanied by a letter imploring Cavish to investigate the matter and some pages printed from a website.

Reading the letter to my lackluster friend did not even make him stir.  Knowing the somewhat perverse delight Cavish takes in the most dreadful horrors this world has to offer, and also taking into consideration his deep love of smoking pipes, I concluded the only hope of rousing him from the lethargic stupor in which he was trapped might be the sight of the desecrated pipe.  I tossed the photograph and printout on his chest that might have been that of a corpse.  As I turned away, I heard Cavish sit up on the couch.  Turning back to face him the next instant, I saw him hunched over his laptop on the coffee table cluttered with many documents only he was permitted to touch.  Moving so that I could watch over his shoulder, I noticed he had pulled up the website from which the printout was made so that he could read the entire text in its original French, which he spoke fluently in addition to Latin, German, Dutch, Italian and Iranian, to name those I have identified.

“The game is afoot!” Cavish said with refreshed vigor.  I shook my head and sighed with no small amount of relief as he stood and began pacing in excitement.  I, on the other hand, needed a break and decided I deserved one for the part I played in reviving him.  Retiring to the comfort of my armchair, I took up an elegant new briar wood prince possessing the tightest vertical grain that I found at my local shop and filled it with a handy Balkan blend.  Already, I had a fine beginning of a collection thanks to a certain compulsion to acquire more and more that I blamed on the bad influence Cavish had on me.  Indeed, the compulsion verged on a disorder.


The masthead of the site, Cavish translated, read “These Pipes Like No Others.”  Succumbing to an uncontrollable urge, I wagered the Dunhill displayed in the blog and photograph just arrived in the mail was clearly well smoked and previously lightly enjoyed. *  I shall savor for the rest of my life the rare flash of utter incredulity on my friend’s face that dissolved back into his typical working countenance of gravest contemplation when he deduced I had to be joking.

“She is extraordinary,” Cavish said, almost in a whisper.  I took a moment to realize he was speaking of the pipe.  “The outer simplicity obscures an inner complexity.”

“No doubt,” I said for the sake of good manners.

Still pacing about the room, Cavish recited the entire text of the blog from memory after his single reading of it online.  In the interest of brevity, I will paraphrase the key points of interest in the blogger’s quite stylish and eloquent narrative detailing his theories relating to the cause of the Dunhill’s destruction.  The general theme as stated in the second sentence was that, whatever act of brutality indeed brought about the end of the pipe’s days of usefulness to anyone, the once noble but now wretched thing was murdered.  Counting myself an aficionado of tobacco pipes, I appreciated the writer’s dramatic use of personification.

When the gruesome remains were discovered, two immediate types of suspects were considered, the more likely being a lone assassin acting on his own insane motives, and the other a terrorist group.  The latter theory raised the possibility of a political link, perhaps the Front de Lutte Anti-Tabac (F.L.A.T.), in English the Fight Against Tobacco Front.  Whoever ended the pipe’s life, the blogger concluded, chose Dunhill rather than any other brand for the general regard of the old British house as perhaps the world’s most iconic maker.  The impact of the act of extreme violence would therefore engender outrage and consternation among pipe enjoyers everywhere.

“It is quite a two-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for thirty minutes,” Cavish said in characteristically blunt form.  Even with what I knew of his machine-like reasoning ability, I was impressed with the time in which he expected to solve the mystery.


I can only conjecture that Cavish chose a striking natural finish Dunhill Canadian as his own way of paying respect to the victim.  In silence, as requested, and as unobtrusively as possible, I watched while he loaded the pipe with Dunhill White Spot, an English blend not available in this country that he somehow managed to acquire, no doubt through one of his many private sources.  He lay back in the chair, stretching his legs out before him and crossing his ankles as was his habit when formulating his inscrutable conclusions.  After savoring the one fill, he repeated the process.  When the last of the smoke trailed off, I glanced at the clock and observed the prescribed half-hour had passed to the minute.  My friend sat bolt upright and, his eyes glinting through narrow slits, stood.  I waited with greater than average anticipation for him to begin.

“The deplorable annihilation of this ill-fated Dunhill billiard was not an act of murder, as conjectured by the blogger with eloquence that was nevertheless the product of typical human emotion,” Cavish said in an even tone that belied the passion I alone knew him well enough to detect from the deliberate choice of such strong terms.

“That much I myself concluded,” I replied.

“Indeed, as you well know, the inherent inanimateness of the briar wood forming the chief constituent of the whole, by definition, precludes the possibility of homicide.”

“Indeed,” I muttered for lack of anything more substantial to contribute.

“Nor was this the work of any terrorist organization, the blogger’s brio, however excessive, notwithstanding.”

“Oh?  How so?”

“Contrary to popular misconception, terrorists are not as secretive as they would have us believe,” Cavish stated in the form of a thesis.  “Why else would they invariably claim credit for their foul and pusillanimous deeds sparked by a sense of impotence?”  Knowing the last part was only rhetorical punctuation, I waited for him to continue.  “No such communication has been attempted.”

“I see,” I said.  “But wait, Cavish.  There is one thing I still cannot comprehend.”

“Only one?” he asked, again not expecting a direct response but with the annoying twist of his mouth that so infuriated me at times.

“Yes, for the moment at least, only one,” I said in a pointless attempt to defend my honor that was not lost on the great detective.

“Pray tell, my dear Boswell, let’s hear the singular point of your confusion.”

Once more, I knew enough of the man to recognize a note of reconciliation, however feeble I thought it.  “What about the Frenchman’s keen observation that in order to burn briar, how did he put it, ‘extraordinary temperatures are needed which cannot be reached in the combustion of even a dry tobacco’?”

“Aha!” Cavish exclaimed, triumphant.  “There you have it!  Once again, you see, yet you do not observe.  Any careless smoker can burn a pipe made of any material, briar by no means excluded, even to the point of creating a hole through the bowl.  One sees such uncouth damages all the time.  Just ask anyone who restores smoking pipes for a living.”

Cavish continued before I could register a protest.

“The operative word is burn, which is altogether different than incinerate, the latter being the choice our French blogger doubtless meant.  Based on my study of the incineration points of thousands of wood types, I can tell you with authority that briar can only be reduced to ashes, that being the definition of incinerate, at temperatures sometimes exceeding 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Good lord!”

“Quite so,” Cavish went on.  “As you will recollect from the photograph, the Dunhill, though burned more severely than any other specimen I have ever seen, which is no trivial claim, and to the point where evenly spaced horizontal cracks encircle the bowl through to the chamber, the pipe is nowhere near disincorporation into a pile of ashes.”

“Amazing, Cavish!  Simply amazing!  But what does it all mean?”

“It means, my obtuse friend, that the theory of some person or persons unknown filling the Dunhill with a fuel or other accelerant, intent on exploding or vaporizing the pipe, is erroneous.”

Bringing to bear the full powers of my brain to determine possible explanations, all I achieved was a pulsating headache.

“I surrender, Cavish!  How on Earth was the Dunhill destroyed, and by whom?”

Cavish has described himself as a high-functioning sociopath, a self-diagnosis with which I would not have argued until that moment.  The years I have known him, it was the first time he displayed what I would call a normal sign of humanity, the instance being a profound sense of grief manifested in his entire physical demeanor.  I was almost overwhelmed by a foreboding of some cataclysmic doom.  When he did speak at last, he sounded tired, but his usual veil of absolute self-control, dispassion and supreme objectivity was again in place.

“Never indulge in the delusion that the whole of mankind is not, in its most base state of consciousness, a species unequaled for its most natural instincts of callous cruelty and neglect for the welfare of others,” he said, pausing as though in emphasis of his perceived status of being separate from the rest of the world.  I wanted to disagree but held my tongue, letting Cavish expand on his point.  Whether he was aware of the repeated use of personal pronouns usually reserved for beings endowed with life, I could not say.  “Have no doubt, Boswell, she was tortured for some years.  Indeed, her neglect would be criminal were she, to employ a deliberate contradiction in terms, more that a work of art.  I agree with our French friend, the blogger, that the Dunhill was desecrated, and should like to believe his assertion that the act was premeditated.”

Unable to bear the ensuing silence longer, I prompted him.  “But?”

“Premeditation, my dear Boswell, implies a certain amount of forethought.  The atrocities committed against the once beautiful and vibrant example of skilled craftsmanship, created with the sole purpose of providing pleasure to a man, demonstrate the wanton kind of thoughtless, careless disregard for all but the self.”

“Really, Cavish, I think you’re being too harsh,” I interjected.

“In that case, Boswell, why did you acquire so many new pipes of which you could scarcely keep track?  I seem to recall your frequent agitation lest one of them end up falling to the floor, from wherever you happened to set it down, and breaking.  You even went to some expense to commission your carpenter friend to fashion an exceedingly large, elaborate cabinet made more of glass than wood, and filled with separate beveled holders so that you could display even more pipes than you already own.  Whatever possessed you to go to this trouble?”

My blood beginning to boil, I replied in hardly contained anger, “Because I care for them!  And besides, I got the idea for the cabinet from your own!”

“Quite so!” Cavish said with such pleasure he even let slip the rarest of smiles.  I must say that took the wind out of me, and I felt quite the fool.  My good friend had tricked me again.

“Point taken,” I conceded with a sheepish grin.  “But when are you going to reveal the identity of the scoundrel who so monstrously destroyed the excellent Dunhill?”

Cavish turned and resumed his former languid position in the armchair.  I stood there awaiting his solution to the puzzle while he loaded his pipe once more and leaned back, puffing away with a peculiar air of satisfaction.

“The culprit, Boswell, was no monster or group of terrorists.  The person who snuffed out the life of the Dunhill billiard was a common pipe smoker, one who considers these delightful instruments of divine contemplation to be as disposable as a Bic lighter.”

I was flabbergasted.  “Then you have no idea who did it?”

“Thankfully, no, or else I would have to track him down wherever he might live, if indeed he still does, and give him some lessons.  But I can say for certain that the unknown perpetrator of this loathsome deed prefers cigars to pipes.”

“How can you possibly deduce that?”

“Elementary,” Cavish said.  “He used a cigar torch to light his pipe.”

I took a seat in my chair across from him, sighed and filled my well-tended pipe, thinking the end of this mystery a bit disappointing, but pleased the case was closed.

“She is still a beautiful pipe,” Cavish said in a quiet tone.  “She shall always be the woman to me.”


I will leave my changing of name to the deductive powers of any readers who may be devotees of the great consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.  The simplest way to sum up my little homage to the genius of the character and writing of the many Holmes adventures is to quote a funnier Holmesian anecdote, by Thomas Cathcart, another great author, who is still alive at 78.

Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip.  In the middle of the night Holmes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge.  “Watson,” he says, “look up in the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions of stars, Holmes,” says Watson.

“And what do you conclude from that, Watson?”

Watson thinks for a moment.  “Well,” he says, “astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.  Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.  Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.  Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and we are small and insignificant.  Uh, what does it tell you, Holmes?”

“Watson, you idiot!  Someone has stolen our tent!”

* I owe the wry comments of two friends on the Smokers Forums UK, where I posted the graphic photograph of the horribly abused Dunhill, a note of gratitude for the inspiration of these words.



Father Tom – Life in Ordinary Time – Interrupted

Blog by Steve Laug

I have been working on a few Father Tom stories that address some of the inevitable issues of growing older. This is the link to the first one (https://rebornpipes.com/2016/05/19/father-tom-after-the-prayers-have-been-said/). The second one looks at a health issue that I have gone through and survived (and I am sure others of you have as well). I reflect on how the pipe ritual of loading, lighting and tamping seems to bring calm and enable perspective in an otherwise tumultuous experience. The act of slowly smoking the pipe brings quietude that makes room for clarity when processing these and other issues. Thanks for reading. — Steve

When he left the house he had enough time for a leisurely walk to his doctor’s office. He could stop along the way and grab a coffee and sip it as he walked. He could puff on his pipe and as he was pretty much oblivious to the anti-smoking folks he would be uninterrupted in his quiet. He had unconsciously put on his clerical shirt and collar this morning after breakfast but it would serve him well. Nothing was to be avoided more in Vancouver than someone walking down the street looking like a priest. It almost guaranteed that he would be left alone and could smoke his pipe without intrusion.

The path he had chosen took him through the Olympic Village and along the water front of False Creek. He ambled along deep in thought enjoying the slight breeze and the cool of the morning. He was smoking a dark Virginia flake that he had lightly rubbed out and stuffed in his pipe. He had learned that trick somewhere along the way. Once it was smoldering it was a good long smoke and the flavours shifted and changed as the fire burned through the various mixed strands of tobacco in the bowl. He slowly puffed his pipe as was his habit – he did not have to think about it any more it was just normal for him. Some people puffed to the cadence of their pace as they walked but he had learned to separate the two and just slowly savoured the tobacco as he walked.

He was not purposely dragging his heals, he just wanted to take the time to process and think through what may be ahead of him at the appointment with his doctor. The walk was perfect for processing and the pipe provided the smoke screen that gave him space to quietly work through things. Strangely enough his mind had not gone to the “what ifs” but rather he had spent some time reflecting on his life. He had to admit that it had been amazingly uneventful for an aging priest in his mid sixties. He had spent the better part of 35 years as a parish priest in a variety of locations in British Columbia, Canada and a young trainee for the priesthood before that. Even his upbringing to get him to the point of entering the priesthood had been unremarkable. He could easily say that his life had been lived in ordinary time – no real interruptions or troubles other than the occasional bumps in the road relationally or within the parish. But truly he had faithfully and dutifully walked/plodded through the years. Until now his health had also proceeded along quietly and oddly uneventful. He was thankful for that.

Despite the long walk, Father Tom arrived at the doctor’s office early. He sat on the wall in back of the office and finished up the bowl of tobacco he was smoking. He quieted the intrusive white coat shakes that were vibrating through him by letting the pipe do its magic. As he puffed slowly on his pipe he found his anxiety lessening and his heart quieting. When he finished the bowl he went in and greeted the woman at the desk and took his place on the Chesterfield in the office underneath the huge Rodin painting of the dancing women. He closed his eyes and sat quietly, unconsciously fidgeting with his pipe in his pocket. He stirred when he heard the receptionist tell him the doctor would see him now and he could go back.

As he walked down the hallway he stuck his pipe in his mouth – it was an unconscious action on his part and certainly a way of giving himself some comfort. As he walked into the office he had a vague memory that the doctor had said he would be away. The person sitting at his desk was a locum who was filling in for him. When Father Tom came into the office the doctor turned to greet him. Now the problems began…she was obviously uncomfortable. He did not know if it was the collar or the pipe hanging in his mouth or what, but she did not seem able bring herself to tell him about the tests. She fumbled around with the papers on her desk and had a hard time looking him in the eye. Finally, she commented that the results of his blood work were back and there were some concerns. That was it and she left him hanging without continuing. It was awkward to say the least. There was a silence that seemed really long to Father Tom. She sat looking down and he stood in the doorway waiting. He made his way to the chair beside the desk and sat down. Still nothing was forthcoming.

To help her get to the point he started guessing – was it the thyroid test? No. The liver and kidney specific tests? No. The blood chemistry in terms of platelets and white cells? No. Hemoglobin tests? Cholesterol? No. Diabetes? No. He went through each test that he had undergone and to each one her response was no. Finally, he got to the last of the list after all of the above elicited a negative response. He knew before he asked, by process of elimination that the answer would be yes. So he as if was the PSA test – the Prostate Specific Antigen tests which contained markers for Prostate cancer… slowly she nodded yes. No further explanation seemed to be forthcoming so he asked what it meant… she swallowed and said that the numbers had shown a significant increase. What did that mean? No answer… he had enough, he stood and said if she was done he was leaving and would wait until his regular doc came home. She said no… she wanted to schedule a biopsy and an appointment with a urologist for him before he left the office. He sat back down and looked at her… what does that mean? Is there cancer? Again no answer… this was absolutely crazy. He was stymied with what to do next so he just sat there.

She got up and left him sitting there. She did not come back so he walked out to the waiting room and the receptionist. She at least was communicative and handed him his two appointment cards. The first was for the biopsy that she had scheduled for early the next morning and the other for the urologist on Monday afternoon the following week. She assured him that the urologist was very good and a colleague of his regular doctor. She bade him goodbye as the phone rang. He sat on the edge of the Chesterfield and reloaded his pipe. He put the pipe in the pouch of tobacco and pushed it into the bowl. It took longer than usual this time around but he had done it for so long he did not have to think about it. His mind was just whirling.

One of the other patients sitting in the waiting room told him that the office was a no smoking environment. He did not even acknowledge her when she spoke, for he was too numb to care. Once the bowl was right and he tested the draw he rose to his feet and went out the door. He lit his pipe and stood in the entry way puffing on the pipe until he got a good burn going. He started walking home in a thick cloud of smoke. This time he took a straighter path home – up Arbutus to Broadway. Once he was on Broadway he walked until he got to Granville Street. At Granville he stopped a small pub and ordered a pint and sat in the sidewalk café. He had no idea what time it was as his mind was swirling. He finished his pint and relit his pipe. He made his way to 16th Avenue and walked East until he got to Main Street. He was not far from home now but he could not keep up with his own thoughts…he sat on a park bench on 16th in the park between Main and Fraser. The lack of information he had been given rattled him and his normal tendency to assume the worst was not helpful. His head was spinning and he could not quiet his fears. He quietly recited the Serenity Prayer as he sat there. Long ago he had memorized the long version of the prayer as he found that the second half gave him much hope and expressed the desire of his heart. It was that version that he recited there in the park.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.

He took a deep breath and slowly let the breath out. He felt a calmness coming back over him that had deserted him since he had received the news. It was a calmness born not of denial but of trust. H repacked his pipe and slowly puffed away while his thoughts became more focused. He knew the “C” word was not final until after the biopsy and the appointment with the urologist but it felt final to him. He would need to set aside the what ifs until that time as they were unproductive now. He knew that whatever happened in the next few days, that his until now ordinary life had certainly been interrupted. All of the ordinary life experiences he had enumerated previously during the walk to the doctor, his quiet uneventful life, suddenly faded into the mist of the potential threat that reared up in front of him now. It seemed strange that only a few hours before he had found comfort in his rituals of the morning. Now that morning seemed ages ago and he had been reeling inside. Somehow the ritual of the pipe and the prayer had brought a new calm over him.

If you had been near by you would have heard him repeat “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…trusting…”. You would have seen an elderly priest, pipe in mouth, talking to himself, deep in thought. He sat that way for a long time, nothing moving other than the imperceptible rise and fall of his chest as he puffed on his pipe. The smoke rose around him and engulfed him in his thoughts. Then suddenly it was if he came to life, he came back to the moment, tamped his pipe, stood up and started walking the remaining blocks home. His mind was quieter than it had been all day. Really nothing had changed but him. Somehow the pipe and the prayer together had given him the space to stand apart from his problem and be quiet. He knew Mrs. Conti would have prepared dinner for him and laid it out. It would be ready for his arrival. He knew that his pipes and his books would be on the table next to his chair. He knew that he had a quiet evening ahead of him. He knew he would face the biopsy in the morning. And he knew that he was not alone as he walked through this.

He went up 16th to Fraser and then up Fraser to his block. Once there he crossed Fraser and made his way home. He opened the gate and climbed the stairs. He unlocked the front door and went inside. He put his hat on the hall tree and went into the kitchen to see what was laid out for supper. He fixed a plate and took it to his chair in the parlour. He sat down, put his pipe on the rest and quietly ate his meal. A thought went through his head and he said it out loud – no, even this is still ordinary time – just interrupted.

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #4: Buy estate pipes that challenge your refurbishing abilities

When I formulated Rule #4 it was a natural outcome of my pipe refurbishing self-training. I purchased according to what I wanted to learn until I had learned it. For me this method of buying old pipes provided the class time/workshop time where I could practice some of the tips I was reading about and learning from others in the online community. I have never been particularly shy about asking “how” and “why” questions. Ask my daughters and they will tell that one of my nicknames is “Why”. Buying pipes according to what I wanted to learn in refurbishing quickly became a habit that I really did not take time to think about until I was ready to move on to something new. I often picked pipes that I really was not interested in keeping in my collection but because they had problems that would be teaching/practicing opportunities for me. This has been the case each step along the learning curve for me. In the rest of this article I will trace out my journey in refurbishing through the kinds of pipe I bought. Through this monologue on the journey you will see my process and the method to my madness.

When I began my refurbishing education in earnest my earliest purchases were pipes that were dirty and caked but did not have any issues requiring technical skills. I was looking for very straightforward cleanup jobs. The bowls just needed to be reamed and cleaned and the stems cleaned and deoxidized. They were not chewed on or beat up on the edges of the rim. They were not charred or badly damaged. They had merely been smoked and used. I bought that kind of pipe and worked on them until I was ready to move from learning how to cleanup minimal external and internal issues. I wanted to learn how to clean a pipe from the inside out. I bought reamers – actually I have over twenty different kinds now residing in my work kit. I tried them all until I found the ones that worked best for me. I read about processes of cleaning shanks and bowls. I bought a retort and learned how to use it. I practiced with salt and alcohol treatments. Everything I did was done with a single purpose in mind – to learn how to clean a pipe. Once I felt comfortable in the process of cleaning out a pipe it was time for me move on and learn other aspects of the craft.

The second skill I wanted to learn was to refinish a pipe bowl. This influenced the type of pipes that I hunted for and purchased. I looked for ones that still had intact stems with little damage but bowls that needed to be refinished. I bought sandblasted bowls, rusticated bowls, smooth bowls all types and shapes. I wanted to learn how to remove the finish from a pipe and then to prepare it for restaining. This involved different methods for cleaning each kind of finish.I learned to top a bowl and remove damage to the inner and outer edge of the rim. I learned to steam out the dents in the bowl and to remove or minimize dings and scratches. I learned to sand smooth bowls and rims with varying grades of sandpaper and micromesh sanding pads. Each step in sanding taught me to be pickier regarding the scratches and sanding marks I left behind. Once you have a pipe almost finished and have to start over and resand you quickly learn to work at the preparation more carefully. I spoke with several pipe makers to learn the art of staining and where to get the aniline stains. I learned (and I am still learning) the techniques of staining and practiced them on many pipes. I worked on various colours and blends of colours. I worked on understains and overstains. I worked on learning how to do contrast stains. I worked on buffing the bowls and sanding them after staining. It was a great learning curve, one fueled by the kinds of pipes I bought.

The next step in my refurbishing course came from the previous one. After staining old pipes and still being bothered by the fills that were eyesores to me I decided to learn how to replace the old pink wood putty fills. I tried a variety of methods all learned on bowls I picked up at garage sales, antique malls, junque stores and thrift shops. The idea was to remove the fill and replace it with something that would take the stain. I tried putties and filler sticks and still was not happy. I tried wood glue and briar dust mixed with a bit of stain and was a bit happier. But I found that the wood glue dried shiny and still stood out on the bowl. I moved on to try superglue and briar dust and am very pleased with how it works. It is a dark colour in contrast to the lighter/pinker colour of the putty but it is solid and hard when it dries and does darken with the stain. I began to look for pipes with fills to remove and practice on in the stores. I found many pipes that I practiced on and then passed on to the racks of new pipe smokers. The pipes I worked on had begun to look better and better but I still had much to learn. Everything up to this point was pretty simple and cosmetic. The real challenges were just around the corner for me.

It was time for me to learn stem repairs with a greater degree of technicality. I say repairs and not restemmingbecause as yet I had not tackled that aspect of refurbishing. With that objective firmly in mind I was on the hunt for and purchased pipes with tooth marks, bite throughs on the stems, cracks and broken pieces. I wanted to learn how to make patches on the stems and also to recut and shape a new button on the stem. I shortened the stems. I cut buttons with files and sanding blocks. I learned to shape slots in the button with needle files. I called repair people and pipe makers to make sure I got the right tools. I bought and discarded many in the process of building the right kit. I worked with epoxy patches mixed with vulcanite dust. I worked with patches using pieces of vulcanite and epoxy. I worked with superglue and finally settled on black superglue for patching holes and bite through areas. In the process I learned to use heat from a hot water bath, a heat gun and then even a lighter to raise bite marks in the stem and to reduce tooth chatter. I learned a variety of methods to remove oxidation. All of this was part of the process of learning to refurbish stems.

When I felt more competent in the stem repairs I wanted to learn how to fit new stems to the bowls. I went on to purchasing bowls that were missing stems and learned how to turn the tenons on precast stems and to shape the stems with a Dremel and files. I bought precast stems from Pipe Makers Emporium and also bought lots of used stems on Ebay and scavenged them from broken pipes. The learning included fitting tenons, shaping stems, adjusting the taper, making saddle stems, reducing the diameter at the shank, countersinking the shank to make for a tight fit, shaping the button and opening the slot in the end. Lots of experimenting took place in learning to use the PIMO tenon turning tool which meant that some tenons were too small and others too large. All were part of the process of learning to use the tool, its limitations and methods of working around those limitations.I also learned how to shape a stem from a piece of rod stock. Each step was part of the education for me in stem repair and shaping. You can see with this method in mind I bought many bowls that later I ended up giving away and/or selling very cheaply. They ended up being good pipes for starters.

I always keep an eye out for pipes that push the limits of my restoration abilities to see if I can learn new tricks and tools. For me the purchasing of estate pipes is for my ongoing education. I am always looking for better methods and learning new methods and acquiring new skills and tools. The above paragraphs spell out my learning journey. A few more years down the road I will add new skills and thus new paragraphs to the learning journey. The long and short of Rule #4 is to buy for the purpose of learning.

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #3: Check out every tobacco tin

Blog by Steve Laug

This third rule is one that I have learned through a lot of trial and error. I have walked through and entire shop and found nothing, only to ask at the counter if there are any pipes or tobacco items available and be taken back to a shelf of tins. The shop owner took the lid off several to reveal pipes and pipe items to me. They went back to their till and I went through the shop with new eyes. I not only found pipes in the tins but also found old tobacco that was smokable as well.I have found tins of Dobie Four Square Green, Prince Albert, Half and Half, Flying Dutchman, MacBarens Scottish Mixture, Amphora Brown and Red and others too numerous to mention all available for little cost. In every case, a little hydration and even the open tins provided enjoyment for me. It was these finds that keep me looking through old tins. I have looked and found them in antique malls, thrift shops, rummage sales, thrift shops and even garage sales. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to what I may find in the hunt.

This particular rule has, since that lesson from the shop keeper, played out quite naturally for me. I now always shake every tobacco tin or open each one when I come across it on the shelf. I dig through the piles of tins in the displays – not just tobacciana displays but also collectible tin displays, removing cookie tins, oil cans, spice tins etc. to hand pick every tobacco tin I can possibly check. The only way I am certain they are empty is if I can see the shiny or rusty bottom of the tin through the open lid. I take each of them down and if open, remove lid and look inside. If the tin closed I shake it and see if the contents are still inside and solid. I can often tell by the weight when I pick it up that it has something inside. I have also learned to not get my hopes up too soon as I have opened seemingly full tins with great expectancy and found button collections or nails and screws. Nonetheless I continue checking them out.

The wisdom of following this rule while I am on the hunt was proved to me twice in the last month of pipe hunting. I found two older tins of tobacco that I enjoy and which are no longer available in their original renditions. The first one was an unopened cutter tin of Gallaher’s Condor Sliced. (I wrote about finding this tin earlier on the blog https://rebornpipes.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/tobacciana-dating-an-old-cutter-top-tin-of-condor-sliced/ ) I am not entirely certain regarding the age of the tin but the seal in unbroken and the tin shows no sign of rust on the outside or at the bottom or top edges of the tin. All of which leads me to believe that the tobacco inside is still in great shape. It also does not rattle around when it is shaken which is great news to me. I have found that the rattling inside a tin is a bad sign and can mean that the seal has been broken and the tobacco may be dry and dusty. However, the point is that clearly Rule #3 was proved true once again. I reached for a tin of tobacco on display in an antique mall and came back with this old unopened tin of tobacco. The bonus for me is that it is a blend I enjoy!I am still in the process of deciding whether to smoke it or keep it in the collection for display. The verdict is still out on that decision.



The second tin that I found this past weekend when my son-in-law and I were wandering through some antique malls and shops. As usual I was on the prowl for pipes and tobacciana. This old tin was situated deep in the back of the display case that made up the front sales counter of the antique mall. It was well enough hidden that I had missed it the first two times I scanned the display looking for pipes and tobacciana. When I was settling my bill for a pipe I had found I looked down for just a moment at the case. And out of the corner of my eye I saw the tin. It was well hidden behind some other items – poker chips, lighters, decks of cards and pocket knives so it was easy to pass over. I paused in my paying the bill and asked the clerk if I could see the tin. As she moved the other pieces away from it I could see the tin still had a lid on it and seemed like it also had something inside from the way she handled it as she gave it to me.

I took the tin in my hand and found it had a bit of weight to it – it was not empty. I gave it a light shake to see if the items inside rattled – if it was tobacco it would have a different kind of rattle than nails or screws or even buttons. It sounded like tobacco to me. I checked the lid and could see that it had been opened. I twisted it off and found that when I opened it there was a slight whoosh of air meaning that there was still a seal on the tin. When it was open, I could see that the tobacco inside was a broken flake and was not dried out too much. I picked up a small piece and found that it still had some bend and play in it rather than crumbling in my fingers.

This tin was an old cutter top can of Balkan Sobranie Virginia No. 10. I have smoked this blend in the past and thoroughly enjoyed the taste of it so I was sold on it before I knew the cost. I looked on the backside of the can and saw that they were selling it for $4 – a full four ounce tin of very mature and smokable Virginia. It smelled heavenly and the low price for a tin of this age made my heart skip a beat. That fact that it was full was a bonus to me no matter what the clerk thought. She apologized for the “inconvenience” of the tobacco still in the can, but I was excited about it. I decided to play it cool though and settled my accounts – a pipe and the tobacco and left the store having spent just under $15 US. Once outside to the car, I explained what I had found to my son-in-law and then opened the tin and took a deep whiff. This tobacco smelled divine and the moisture content was perfect for smoking according to my liking. It sits on my desk waiting for me to fill a pipe this evening and give it a smoke.


Both of these finds illustrate the point of Rule #3. It is worth checking all old tobacco tins for potential finds. Some will have tobacco that you can smoke and others will have pipes, tampers, lighters or pouches that can still be used. The list of finds that I have come across leads me to continue to shake and check out all the old tins that I come across on my journeys. I know that each and every tin I pick up could potentially have something worth keeping inside its confines. Whether that find be a pipe related item or just some good smoking tobacco really does not matter to me for both are part of the potential that keeps me picking up old tins and checking them out.

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #2: Look Inside ALL Small Boxes, Cupboards and Drawers

Blog by Steve Laug

A second rule of the pipe hunt that I have learned over the years is that not all pipes and tobacco related items are in plain view as I walk around a shop. This took time to learn and by and large I learned it by asking sellers if they had any old pipes or tobacco items for sale. I used to do this after an initial walk through but now ask as soon as I enter a shop. It saves time and generally is a way of engaging in a conversation that may lead to more pipes. When the answer was affirmative I followed them to the stall or spot in the shop and watched where they had placed the items. This quickly taught me where to look. But they would also often have pipes or items at home or in the back room and they would gladly bring them out for me. I have learned that it never hurts to ask.

As a result I quickly look through a shop (I know quickly is a relative term but to me it is quicker than it used to be and way more focused). I walk through after my initial scan and open small drawers, cupboards, cigar boxes, and look inside revolving display cabinets. This may seem intrusive but trust me, it is not (well at least in my mind it isn’t). Small typography cabinets can hold pipes and tobacciana. Revolving display cases can hold pipes, tampers, lighters and other pipe related objects. I have found wind caps, tampers, Baccy Flaps, Bakelite stems, pipe holsters and other items too numerous to list by just going through these revolving cases slowly looking for tobacciana. Coffee cans, tobacco tins and old cigar boxes can often hide old pipe paraphernalia in their interiors. Don’t hesitate to have a look. Here is a tale of an old pipe I picked up by doing what I am suggesting – a nice older bent billiard for $20. I can tell you it was well worth opening drawers and digging deeper.

My wife Irene and I love doing an antique mall crawl on our days off. We generally visit as many as we can fit in before lunch and then have a good lunch at a neighbourhood pub before finishing the day with visiting a few more shops on our way home. Over the years one of our favourite spots is found not far from Vancouver. Just across one of the many bridges and upriver it is a spot with several antique shops and several larger antique malls. On the day of this tale we had visited several of them in the morning and so far had struck out on any significant finds of pipes or tobacciana for me or anything of interest for her. We had stopped for a great lunch at the local pub and were now visiting the last of the shops. We were almost finished looking and still empty handed. I had passed by some very high priced drugstore pipes – no deprecation intended here as I have many of them in my collection but I am not willing to pay the exorbitant prices that sellers mark these – $50 or more is an unacceptable price in my opinion.

I turned down the last aisle. It was lined from floor to ceiling on the right side of the aisle with display cases. These cases had drawers underneath that were labeled with different key items that resided inside. I did a quick walk by of the display cases checking them out. In one I found a couple of older Brighams that I noted. I would need to get the sales clerk to open the displays for me so that I could look at them more closely. That could wait. I turned my attention to the drawers beneath the cases. In the middle case I opened a drawer labeled miscellaneous collectibles and dug through it. There in the middle of the drawer, nestled among lots of unrelated items such as linens and doilies I found an older looking pipe that captured my attention. I stopped for a minute before picking it up. (I have a habit of trying to guess what the pipe might be before I actually look at. Quirky I know but it is what it is.)
1938 Dunhill Shell

I made my guess (a Dunhill of some sort) and then I picked it up. It was a sandblast bent billiard. I turned it over in my hands and noted a slightly darkened white spot in the top of the stem and then read the stamping on the underside of the shank. It read Dunhill Shell Made in England 8 and underneath that it was stamped Patent No. The number itself was obscured in the dirt and grime that accompanied the old pipe. It was caked with a heavy carbon buildup and the stem was oxidized and had several small tooth dents on the top and bottom of the stem. Other than that it was a good clean find. To say that I was excited is to understate the case. Here in the drawer under the display cabinet I had found not just a Dunhill pipe for $20 but a Patent Era Dunhill pipe with fairly clear stamping and in a condition that would easily be refurbished. I was ecstatic. I called my wife over to show her the cause of my ecstasy and she just shook her head – another pipe. Big deal. She wandered off and I was left standing there.
I almost totally forgot the Brighams and just stood there basking in the joy of discovery! This is what I always dreamed of finding one day in my pipe hunts. And now here it was in my hands. I could hardly believe my good fortune on finding it. I shook myself and carefully cradled the old pipe while I went and found the sales clerk. She brought the keys with her and opened the case so that could add the two old Brighams to the lot. I carried the three pipes to the counter and paid for them before they disappeared in my dreams. The clerk carefully wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them in a bag for me. She handed me receipt for my purchase and I went looking for Irene. I had my haul and I was finished. I just wanted to get home and do some research on this lot.

When I got home I went to my basement work table and used my jeweler’s loupe to check out the stamping more clearly. I had read the majority of the stamping correctly at the shop. I was also able to read the patent number on the bottom of the pipe. I looked up the information on John Loring’s Dunhill dating site and found that I had a 1938 Patent Era Dunhill Shell bent billiard. I could not have been more pleased. I cleaned up the old timer carefully and gave it several coats of wax. Here are a few pictures of the restored pipe.




It is this kind of find that keeps me pulling out the drawers and looking in the boxes and behind tins and displays. I am confident that there are other hidden treasures out there. So Rule #2 will always be right up there next to the first rule I posted about earlier. I will look in every nook and cranny while I am working my way through a shop looking for “treasures”. Will you join me in following this rule of the hunt?

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #1: Never Drive by Small Nondescript Antique Mall Without Stopping for a Look

Over the years I have added another hobby to my refurbishing one. I have been crafting a set of simple rules of the pipe hunt. A rule does not make the list until it is tried and proven to be a truism repeatedly. These rules are elastic in that they continue to grow as time goes on and my pipe hunting becomes more refined. But, I try to follow these whenever I am on the prowl looking for pipes and even when I am not. I have decided that any trip I take will end up with me stopping and hunting for pipes. My wife and kids can tell you that this is a fact. Over the years I generally end up finding a pipe or two. These rules have worked well for me over the past 20 plus years. The tale below illustrates how well this first rule works for me.

I was coming back into town from a long meeting in the countryside about a half hour away. It was getting late and our host had planned a dinner for us so I was aiming on getting “home” and not really paying attention to the buildings as I came into town. But as I got closer to town and drove by the nondescript buildings on my right, out of the corner of my eye I caught a small sign that said Antique Mall. It was located on the outer edge of a small town, across the railroad tracks from the town centre. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and the sign said the shop was still open so I decided to pull over, park the car and have a look. By the time I got to the front door it looked dark inside so I figured the owner had evidently closed up shop. However, the door was still open, the sign still said open, but the lights were out in the back portion of the shop. I decided to chance it, opened the door, called out and asked if they were still open and a gruff voice called out from a room off to the left, “Well you are inside the shop aren’t you so I guess it doesn’t matter or not if we are open.”

I shrugged off his gruff manner and asked if they had any pipes and tobacciana. He turned on the lights and said he would quickly take me to the cases in the shop that had “what little they had available”. He was not a friendly shop clerk anxious to make a sale and it seemed that the my presence did nothing to change his otherwise grumpy attitude. I had a friend with me and he gave me the “we should probably just leave” look but I ignored it and kept up a steady flow of “yak” to diffuse the situation a bit. I figured if I found anything I would make his day and it looked like the place could well yield some interesting old pipes. It was pretty dusty and looked like it had not had many folks picking through the stock of “antiques”. (I made a mental not to come back here for a visit on my next trip through but I would do so in the early part of the day and give it a good walk through at that time.)

He walked us toward the back part of the shop (calling it an antique mall was an overstatement of epic proportion as it was not much bigger than a small convenience store. I suppose that it may have had multiple vendors gathered under the roof but still mall was overstating the case). There was a lot of clutter in the aisles and the accumulated detritus of junk stores that I have come to appreciate for their potential. It is in shops just like this, passed by quickly by the antique hunter and having a grumpy proprietor that have often yielded a veritable treasure trove of pipes and tobacco items. Many times I have found that these nondescript out-of-the-way shops can be rich with old pipes and tobaccos all to be had at very reasonable prices. There used to be way more of these little shops, but there are still a few where you can find some good stuff if you keep your eyes open.

I began to get excited as we made our way to the first display case. It was a crowded glass case with lots of dust and fingerprints. On the shelf next to the case were old packets of tobacco that looked like ancient drugstore blends, long past their shelf life even with all of humectants. There was also the standard collection of old Edgeworth and Prince Albert tins piled on the top shelf of the case. I bent down to get a closer look at the second shelf as it had a collection of about ten pipes piled on it. (So much for the shop owner’s “what little we have” comment.) I sorted through the lot and among the collection there I found three older pipes that caught my eye. I was attracted to them because of their shapes and finishes. They were all well used and dirty but I examined them showed no real damage under the dirt and oxidation.

This threesome included a Douwe Egbert Billiard, an Amphora Pot and long sandblasted Canadian stamped Birkdale Superb, Made in London England. None of these had show stopping names but the shapes all reflected an older European look. When I first saw the Canadian my heart nearly skipped a beat, it had the look of an older Dunhill Canadian. The white dot was missing in the stem but the hole was clearly there where it had been. I gingerly picked it up and saw that it was a Birkdale – a brand I knew nothing about. (I later found out as I researched the brands and stamping on these pipes on the internet that the Birkdale was probably a Comoy’s brand.) I left behind some older, worn pipes on the shelf that I may have to go back and pick over again when I get to the area in the future. But these three were to my liking. I happily added the first additions to my purchase – three pipes in my hand.

The owner had said nothing as I picked over the pipes and carried them with me. No comments or questions were asked as he locked up the first display case. Once locked, he hurried on to the second display case. I was feeling good about this stop on the road. It was already a great place and I had added three nice pipes to my collection so it did not really matter what I found in the second case. But who can stop looking and hoping for more after that kind of find in the first display case. We rounded the corner in the shop to the second case. On the middle shelf there were more interesting pipes to look over. I could not believe the luck I was having in this old shop. I sorted the 8 or 9 pipes on the shelf and settled on three nice looking older pipes – a Hardcastles Jack ‘O London Billiard, an African Meer Prince stamped Tanganyika with a shape stamp or 27 on the shank and an Old Pal diminutive Barling like pot with a pencil shank. I added this threesome to the lot in my hand. I now had six old pipes for refurbishing. All would clean up very well and be good additions to the collection or be sellable to help fund future purchases. Not too bad a find for a quick stop that could have easily been overlooked.

The grumpy shop owner led us to the counter at the front of the shop where he tallied what I owed him for the six pipes. I had noticed that several were marked $10 and some were $11. He said nothing as he scribbled out the bill and peeled off the stickers recording the display cases they each came from. Once he had finished his scribbling he pushed the bill my way. I could not believe my eyes – the total was $60 plus a bit of tax thrown in. What do you know; the old gent had given me a deal of sorts. He took my cash, put the pipes in an old grocery bag and handed me the change and the pipes. He then followed us to the front door and locked the door as we went out. He had probably spoken a total of three words – no more, no less in the entire time he had walked us around the shop. But I did not go there for the wit of the seller or the ambience of the shop but for exactly what I had come out with – six “new” old pipes that would be a welcome addition to my stock at home.

I guess it goes to show you, keep your eyes open when you are driving through the outskirts of the small towns you pass through on your travels. It is the nondescript shops that often are full of surprises. But then again, don’t bother to look too hard. It will leave more of them for me to find on my journeys.

Experiencing a New Smoke Shop in Bellingham, Washington – The Senate Smoke Shop

Blog by Steve Laug

For many years now I have been making the trek from Vancouver, British Columbia into the US to Bellingham, Washington to visit a pipe shop in old Bellingham, a place called Fairhaven. The shop is called the Fairhaven Smoke Shop and is located at 1200 Harris Avenue Suite 100 Bellingham, Washington. When I first started visiting shop 15-18 years ago it was operated be an older gent who seemed like he could have cared less if he had customers, but he had a huge assortment of estate pipes and some great older tobaccos. I got to know him over the years and enjoyed his company. About 8 years ago a young fellow – mid 20’s bought the shop and took over. I had visions of it becoming yet another head shop! But you got to give him credit. He kept it as a pipe and tobacco shop (mind you he added the typical glass pipes and hookahs). He upgraded the shop layout and look, added new pipes and tobaccos and continued in the tradition of a pipe shop. He set up a web presence at http://fairhavensmokes.com/ I really expected the place to shrivel up and disappear in the anti-smoking environment of Washington State. But instead it seems to have done well.

On Saturday I made the trip to Bellingham once again. I really was hoping to get a side trip over to Fairhaven but we did not have time to visit the shop on this trip. My wife and I brought along two of our daughters for the day. Whenever we are in Bellingham my wife and I always visit a little coffee and donut shop on Holly St. called Rocket Donuts so we wanted to show it to the girls. As we made our way to the shop my youngest daughter pointed up the street to a sign that said The Senate Tobacconist and Smoke Shop. I have walked down that street for over 20 years and I had never seen that shop. You know how sometimes you wonder if you missed seeing something because you were focused on other things? That is what crossed my mind when she pointed out the shop. My wife and the girls went in for coffee and donuts but needless to say, I had to go check out the shop.

In a world in which more and more head shops with glass pipes, bongs and the like are replacing the old bona fide tobacconist shops I had really low expectations about this shop. I walked up the street toward it and paused to read the sandwich board on the street. As yet I had not looked in the window. I have to say the sign had elements of both hopefulness and resignation in its words – hopeful: tobacco at the top of the list, and cigars – resignation: herbs and glassware. Before getting to the shop I had already made up my mind as to what I could expect when I entered. Glassware! Herbs! Sheesh, it was almost like experiencing again what I had experienced when the Tinderbox Tobacco Shops became glorified gift shops that also sold tobacco and cigars. So was this going to be a head shop that also sold a few cigars and some tobacco? I tell you what, I almost turned and went back to the coffee and donuts. I really did not want yet another disappointment.


But my curiosity got the better of me and I shrugged my shoulders and went over to the window and looked in. I fully expected a typical smoke shop/paraphernalia shop but what I saw was not that. I could not believe my eyes. The glassware was not that visible and what I saw through the window was a pipeman’s feast – lots of display cases with pipes and tins and jars of bulk tobacco front and center. Then in the back, away from the window were bookcase style humidors with many cigar choices. Off to the side in the corner was the collection of glassware. To be honest I never went over to that corner to have a look. It is truly amazing in this day and age to see a shop like this in my neck of the woods. This was a fully-fledged tobacconist!





I opened the door and went in. I laugh now, but I must have looked like a kid in a candy shop. I eyed the open topped display case of tins and pouches of tobacco for sale on my left. I looked at the brands of tobacco that were carried and available and was pleased to see many of my favourite blends. I proceeded down the display counters on the left and looked at pipes – Vauen, Peterson, Ascorti, Big Ben, Stanwell, Butz-Choquin and others beautifully laid out for the buyer to see. There were both briars and meerschaums of every shape and size and price range. The display cases were well lit and the pipes were well displayed. It was a briar feast for the eyes. I only wish I had had more time to look things over more carefully. I walked past the cash register and the Three Brass Monkeys on display in front of it, past the tobacco scales on the counter to have a look at the bulk tobacco selections. There was an unbelievable array of blends – Aromatics, Virginias, English and some straight blending tobaccos – Latakia and Perique. There were even some cigarette cut tobacco. I went through the well labeled Virginia, Virginia Perique and English blends and took each lid off to have a good sniff of the blend in the jars. I skipped over the aromatics – chocolate, raspberry, cherry, vanilla, mocha, caramel and other mixtures with edible names as it has been a long time since I smoked them. I could easily have spent more time going through the many blends that were carried by the shop. As I was only in Bellingham for one day I could only purchase a 100 gram pouch and hope to not get dinged with duty at the border. But I would be back!




I wandered through the cigar humidor sections – I loved the cherry wood cabinets that each housed cedar lined walls and shelves and a humidor unit so that each glass doored cabinet was a sealed unit. The only thing missing that I could see were the Cubans that we have in Canada. There were all kinds of cigars and all kinds of sizes. I am pretty cigar ignorant but the selection seemed to cover a wide range of country of origin, price, blend and style.





I went back to the bulk tobaccos and picked the blend I had chosen, a Dark English – Virginias, Stoved Virginias, Latakia, Orientals and Perique and carried the jar to the scale to have the proprietor weigh it out and bag it up for me. To my surprise the gent behind the counter was the same fellow who had purchased the old Fairhaven Shop, now eight years older. He recognized me and remembered our first meeting many years earlier when he had given me two tins of Erinmore Flake on a visit I made to the shop. I asked him how that shop was doing and he said it was doing well. I asked him when he had opened the Senate and why. He responded that he had always wanted a shop in this area and had opened the doors four months earlier. Business was doing well and he loved the new location. We had a great visit and I asked him about several tobaccos that he did not have. He said he would order them in. I paid for my tobacco and a couple of bundles of pipe cleaners before I headed out the door. I am looking forward to another longer visit soon.


If you find yourself in the Bellingham area, I would heartily recommend that you stop by the shop and have a visit. The shop is called the Senate and is located at 215 West Holly Street, Suite H-20. The phone number is 360-756-7552. It has a great selection of pipes and cigars as well as house blends and tinned tobacco to purchase. The proprietor Mike Waters is a great guy – personable, knowledgeable and genuinely interested in serving the pipe and cigar smoking public. Stop by and say hi. In this anti-smoking state of Washington in the anti-smoking climate of our world it was great to see a new tobacco shop open its doors. It was encouraging to see this young fellow doing well enough in his first shop to open this second one. The store will have a web presence soon as the shop website, http://www.senatecigar.com is under development. Check it often as Mike says that the full site will be open soon. Who knows we may run into each other at the shop. Until then enjoy your pipe!


Steve Laug

Mark Twain on Nicotine Nannies – The Moral Statistician

I came across this old file on my computer and thought I would pass it on to you all. I always enjoy Mark Twain and here he takes on the nannies who would tell us how to live our lives. Incredibly refreshing to read!

Originally published in Sketches, Old and New, 1893

I don’t want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it.
I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc. etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc. etc. You never see more than one side of the question.

You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young; and that hearty old Englishmen drink wine and survive it, and portly old Dutchmen both drink and smoke freely, and yet grow older and fatter all the time. And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking. Of course you can save money by denying yourself all those little vicious enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can’t save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment where is the use of accumulating cash?

It won’t do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing a good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. And you never dare to laugh in the daytime for fear some poor wretch, seeing you in a good humor, will try to borrow a dollar of you; and in church you are always down on your knees, with your ears buried in the cushion, when the contribution-box comes around; and you never give the revenue officers a full statement of your income.

Now you know all these things yourself, don’t you? Very well, then what is the use of your stringing out your miserable lives to a lean and withered old age? What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don’t you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as ornery and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your villainous “moral statistics”?

Now, I don’t approve of dissipation, and I don’t indulge in it either; but I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices. And so I don’t want to hear from you any more. I think you are the very same man who read me a long lecture last week about the degrading vice of smoking cigars, and then came back, in my absence, with your reprehensible fire-proof gloves on, and carried off my beautiful parlor stove.

What’s the Story to be told by 3 Old Unsmoked Pipes without Stems?

I bid on these three pipes on Ebay based on the pictures I have included in this post. They were two different lots from the same seller in California. They were unsmoked according to the seller and as best as I could tell from the photos they looked at least very clean if not unsmoked. They arrived yesterday in the post and they are amazingly clean. All three are unsmoked and what I would label as New Old Stock. I am curious as to how they were separated from their stems and when this happened. They all came from the same seller and I asked what happened to the stems and was told that they were that way when they bought them. That is not a problem as I can easily restem them. They are all older pipes – my guess for the second and third pipe is that they came from the early 1900’s. Not sure about the BBB.
The first is a BBB Hand Made Dublin shape with an oval shank. In the photos the bowl looks dark, but upon examination it is unsmoked. It may have stain in the bowl that I will have to remove before it is smoked. The finish is very good with no fills. There are a few small scratches and dings that come from sitting unused for so long. I am guessing but I would say that the three and several others that the seller had all must have been kept in the same box for years. This one has a very clean shank mortise area so it should be fairly easy to match a stem to it. I am waiting on a BBB stem but in the mean time I have fit it with a vulcanite stem. I have to clean the stem up and finish the fit and the polish but it looks good.





The second pipe is a GFB calabash. It is stamped Premier on the left side of the shank and America on the right side. The band says GFB in an oval with 3 stars above that and Sterling underneath. The band was loose when it came. The photos made it a bit hard to tell what the size of the pipe was and also what the grain was like on it because of the lack of focus. When I took it out of the package I was glad to see that it was smaller than expected. The finish is great and the bowl is pristine. The shank and bowl are raw smooth briar. The silver was tarnished but the pipe was unsmoked. Like the one above it has some small scratches and dings from sitting in a box for so long. I am pretty sure this is an early 1900’s pipe. It is identical in shape to a 1912 BBB calabash I have here. The beauty is that I will get to break in this ancient old pipe. It is incredibly light weight. I worked on a stem for it last evening and have it fitted and the first stage of sanding and polishing finished. I will write it up when I am finished on the weekend.





The third pipe was a bit of a mystery to me. It is stamped with a gold filigree – REX in a script on the right side of the oval shank. It has a long shank and a factory fit silver band that is also stamped REX and Sterling. It too is unsmoked and very clean. Again like the others it has a few dings and scratches but otherwise is in good shape. There are several very small sandpits on it but they do not detract from the look and finish. I tried several lengths of stems on it before settling on an oval stem that would go on a Canadian. It looks right on this old guy. I can find out nothing regarding the REX stamping though my guess would be that it is an American made pipe. The seller noted that this one is an early 1900’s pipe as well but I got no response on how they know that. The look and feel of the pipe, the size and shape, the silver band all would argue for that age but there is no way to know for sure that I can tell. Do any of you recognize the brand? Some thought it might be an early Barclay-Rex pipe but I cannot find any back story that would make that certain. So for now the mystery remains. I will finsih polishing and shaping the stem over the weekend and then do a write up on the threesome. They are all beautiful examples of well made bowls.





With these three in hand from the same seller I am very curious as to their stories. Where did they come from? Who had them? Were they always without a stem? Were they purchased and set aside for a special time and then got separated from their stems? Did their stemless condition guarantee their not being smoked? Or maybe they came from a shop somewhere and the stems just were never put in place after they arrived from their makers. Who knows? All I know is that they will soon be put to the use they were intended for. I wish they could tell their stories. I for one would love to sit and listen. Wouldn’t you?

I just finished the initial work of restemming them. Here is a photo of the three bowls with their new stems inserted. A lot of work remains in terms of fitting the stems but the idea is clear from these photos.