It was a Sunday morning, after Liturgy, down by the beach. It had been over a year since I had stepped foot into a decent tobacco shop. The local shop owner refused to stock quality pipe tobaccos, saying they wouldn’t sell, likely based upon long outdated experience, before popular pipe smoking took an artisanal turn, but perhaps he was correct. Online orders are not taxed by the great nanny state of California, so I took it as no great loss, patronizing the local for lesser products – pipe cleaners, humidifier disks and occasional tins of German cigarillos. When they shut down I shed no tears.
Yet this shop, of the same franchise, carries some of the good stuff. I made my way in, with baby in tow, the smell of burnt burley in the air, with some sort of topping – perhaps some nut with a hint of vanilla – a sort of grandfatherly smell. Cozy and homey. It was good to know someone was disregarding the law in such a pleasant manner.
Straight to the back, scanning the tins, I found what I was looking for, the shop’s raison d’être, Samuel Gawith’s Full Virginia Flake. Gawith’s offerings have been hard to come by, ever since they lost a shipment due to faulty vacuum seals a couple of years ago. They have never been able to overcome their backlog of demand, with FVF being exceptionally so, being prized for expertly blended virginias grown in regions of the old empire, largely Uganda. The quality really is unparallelled.
The Lakeland tobaccos of Samuel Gawith, and Gawith and Hoggarth, produce some of the last real English tobaccos. Unfortunately, English pipes and tobaccos are slowly becoming a thing of the past. It is one of those American Anglophile oddities to associate pipes with the English – pipe smoking is now more of a continental thing, where it remains at all. I’ll take a good Danish or Italian pipe over a Dunhill or even a Peterson, despite my Celtic pride – but then both now have their tobaccos produced by the Danes.
One of the interesting aspects of English tobacco tradition is how it was inadvertently created by market regulations. Tobacco growing was outlawed in the Isles proper, to ensure the Crown was well supplied with tobacco tariffs. Then casing and mixing tobaccos with any weight of flavorings was prohibited, to ensure as much sold weight as possible was tariffed tobacco. Thus, we have tobaccos from the world over, blended expertly for unadulterated or perfumed tobacco pleasure. In your face Libertarians.
The Danes are doing some interesting things in pipe making these days, playing with hand-carved shapes, taking advantage of the natural grain. On my way out, a pipe caught my eye. The front and back of the bowl rusticated, the sides and top squared off, glass smooth, stained a beautiful mahogany, bamboo insert in the stem. The clerk handed me the piece. It had been carved out of a large block, but was deceptively light. The briar had been well cured. All this was reflected in the price, to my inevitable dismay. At this point my wife arrived with rest of the clan. Seeing what I held, she asked how much, I replied, she rolled her eyes with a “Let’s go.”
I think pipe smoking is a very Christian practice. It is an art. It is contemplative. It takes time out of a world on the go. It is surprisingly cheap.