A Eunology of Old Pipes

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T he desire to collect pipes is a natural development of the pleasure one has in smoking them, appreciating their different shapes and styles, letting them rest, picking them up and holding them one by one before choosing one rather than another. It's true that each pipe has its own story, but a "vintage pipe" has something extra, something that is different, not only because it represents a portion of its brand's history, but also because of an another objective factor. Twenty or thirty years ago, or more, briar was certainly more "compact". Today, the models are more refined, the pipes are more beautiful, but smoking an older briar is a pleasure that those who have tried do not forget. This is probably due to the raw material's characteristics, to
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The procedures for boiling and preparing the briar sections from which pipes are made, and especially the traditional seasoning techniques, also concur in the creation of that special taste possessed by pipes worthy of being collected. Obviously, we are referring to pipes that have been kept in good condition, that have not been dropped or mistreated, whose cake has not been clumsily removed or tampered with. The original ebonite mouthpiece can help us understand how the pipe has been smoked. The long discussions that l've had in my friend Novelli's shop in Rome, however, have taught me far more tUan the mere recognition and enjoyment of old pipes. News, curious tidbits and odservations have accumulated, and have enabled me to understand different periods of the history of famous pipe brands.
They have led me to collect the material for a pipe history made up of pipes themselvespipes that I can smoke and collect. Having the ability to date a Dunhill is not only a simple memory exercise to see whether or not the reference to a patent is present. There is no doubt that since the 30th of June 1982 (when the Cumberland Road factory was ciosed and transferred to the Parker factory in Andrews Street) something has changed, both in the level of the craftsmanship and the quality of the product. Many people are not capable of recognizing antique fakes (i.e. the fakes made in the same period in which the real products were produced), such as the excellent Dunhill fakes that were available after the war. The famous Astleys sold at 109 Jermyn Street are also great pipes: they represented the first choice of the James Upshall pipes. But coming back to our discussion, it is important to remember the first steps of every famous brand: they are the years during which, besides the briar, the artisanal character of the pipe is assured. If you who have a Castello with an "SC" on it: they are not the initials of Carlo Scotti. These letters were used to indicate the pipe's size (just like the first number in modern Dunhilis) during a period in which very few pipes were made each year. Only years later, when Franco Coppi entered the business, did the traditional "k" make its first appearance. "K" for "kino"- a homage to the faithfully kept tradition of Castello pipes which were initially "free" and liable to be altered by unscrupulous vendors. A problem which was resolved long after. The "prehistory" of Castello ends when the shop that Carlo Scotti had opened abroad, where he had fled for political reasons during the war, was ciosed. The "antiques" phase begins in 1947, when the Castello factory opened; while the "vintage" phase can be dated to 1987, when the stylized castle begins to appear on the collection series pipes along with the number 40 (and so on). This number shouid be added to 47 to find out the year in which the pipe was made. By doing this we can learn more about an important star of our great artisanal tradition. Such a star that we have received a lot of news from the United States, where for years Americans have been looking for and collecting not only Castellos, but also the glorious old Caminetto pipes. I personally can vouch for the unrivaled excellence of a "business" Caminetto, with the characteristic whiskers, that has come back to Italy from across the ocean. I'm tempted to keep writing and draw the map of all the Italian craftsmen that produced pipes during the sixties and seventies, but I agree with the words written not too long ago in this very magazine by an extraordinary person: M.E. Gherardini. She observed that for smokers time is dilated; it has a slower, extravagant rhythm. And this is why old, vintage pipes hold their own and keep us company.