When astronomers and physicists started adding up masses in the universe, they couldn’t figure out why galaxies don’t fly apart. If what matter we can observe is all there is, galaxies should fly apart because they don’t appear to have enough mass to prevent it. Nowhere close, actually. One possible answer to why we are still here, other than dumb luck, is dark matter, which does not absorb, reflect, or emit electromagnetic radiation, but is thought to constitute 85% of the matter in the universe.
That’s a little like the pipe universe. Nowadays if something is not illuminated by the internet we don’t see it, but there must be more consumers out there, including some big ones, because if only those who emitted forum posts bought pipes and tobacco, I daresay we would all be doing something else right now. Perhaps that’s stretching an analogy, but I needed a rationale to tell you about a friend who is one of the most serious, knowledgeable, and acquisitive pipe smokers I know, or know of. I am telling you that he exists. Don’t expect any further evidence.
My friend was a voluminous buyer and accumulator of tobacco long before cellaring became a thing. More than that, he is a walking encyclopedia of tobaccos, blends and brands. He has all of the pipe books, all of the issues of Pipes & Tobacco and the Ephemera, all of the NASPC newsletters, and lots of other resource material you wouldn’t think anybody would have. He has binders full of tasting notes (yes, actual paper) and reviews. When he finds a well-executed online review or article he prints it out, puts it in a binder and indexes it. Which I thought was a little crazy until one day Passion for Pipes disappeared into thin ether. When a blend changes owners or producers, he will be comparing versions, updating his notes. Eventually I stopped taking tobacco when I visited because it was like taking my own box of wine to Marvin Shanken’s house and drinking that instead of the proffered Chateau Lafite.
My friend has an extensive pipe collection. We became friends when he purchased a pipe in my early days of internet marketing, and when it turned out that he lived just over the hill I delivered the pipe in person. He is not one to spend a grand on a pipe, but he is one to watch and wait, and to pounce when an opportunity presents, so he does have some pipes that put a deep dent in four figures initially. He has examples in his cabinet from many of the great Danish carvers (no Nordhs, to my knowledge), all of the major British, French, and Italian marques, and several pipes of mine, among other North Americans. He has gotten some of my more singular pipes over the years, not necessarily because of his access, but because he has a great eye for pipes and I‘ve learned what he likes. Maybe that’s access. It’s an interesting dynamic, a bit like patronage, perhaps a topic for a separate post someday. I have been influenced and educated by several customers who have far broader knowledge of pipes than I do and who have been collecting for decades. When my friend has a point to make about a shape, he can usually reach into his pipe cabinet and pull out the Tsuge or Maenz or Barbi or Castello or Charatan and show me what he means.
There are several shapes I likely never would have carved if it weren’t for gentle prodding from my friend. I resisted carving a Sphinx for a long time, but up until the recent unpleasantness I would have lunch at his house almost every Saturday, and occasionally he would bring it up, gently. “You know, I’m still interested in a Sphinx,” he would say. So, a few years ago, I caved in.
Same with horn extensions; he had a picture of a pipe, maybe a Sixten Ivarsson, that he would show me from time to time. “If you’d like to try an extension like this, I’d be glad to have it.”
Which turned out to be a really useful technique. We all need a little guidance from time to time. My friend has had a better sense than mine of gaps in my knowledge and technique over the years, and it is a testament to his tact and skill that I usually don’t realized I’ve been guided until moments like now, when I look back and think, “Hey, wait a minute . . .”
My friend’s value to me, personally, should be obvious. What I’m getting at here is his value to all of us involved in this pastime. While there are probably not many people who buy more tobacco or have more extensive and varied cellars than he does, only the retailers and the credit card company would have a clue, and they’re not telling you. My friend is not ostensibly wealthy, so his pipe collection might not compare in some respects to one with dozens of Nordhs or Chonowitsches, but I would challenge anyone of similar means to present a more carefully assembled and curated and meticulously cared-for array. Of course, it’s an empty challenge because unless you become one of the very few people go to his house, pass through the hidden swinging bookcase door and descend the long staircase into his secret subterranean vault you will never see his collection. Ok, I’m kidding about the secret vault. Probably. The point is, he is a serious a pipe man as they come and none of you know who he is because although he may lurk, he will never, ever, post on a forum. Facebook? Please.
I half-jokingly call him Red October, an invisible, Typhoon-class boomer in the North Atlantic of pipes, but dark matter may be more apt. There’s a pretty good chance you know a Red October, or maybe you are one. There must be more of him. Many more. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t be here.