The Five Laws of Pipe Companioning: Coda

by Luca di Piazza, w/ Mark Irwin


Case N° 130916



by Luca di Piazza, with Mark Irwin 




     Like every writer I’ve ever met, I’m hungry for feedback—positive, negative, in-between—anything to create dialogue and talk about pipes and pipe-smoking. I got lucky this time and shortly after the Five Laws began appearing on the blog, Luca returned from a short seaside stint, straightened up the studio and went out roaming the Italian countryside via train. This is his standard modus operandi in the quest for the best new Italian pipes for the boutique. Fortunately for me, his sitting on the train all those hours plus one or two sleepless nights gave him some time to process the laws, and it wasn’t long before I began to receive little tidbits about one or another of them as he traveled from station to station, sometimes assenting to what I’d written, sometimes not, but always illuminating my understanding. 


     Since I wrote this expanded version of essay with Luca in mind as my primary reader, I asked if he’d let me share his thoughts. This might sound like no big deal, but Luca’s a fairly shy guy, having turned me down a half-dozen times when I’ve asked to interview him. I think the only reason he said yes this time is that he’s talking about his relationship with his pipes, and not himself. Enjoy! 






     Mark, I’ve been back from my three day vacation at the seaside and feel like I’ve been catapulted down into a huge mess in the studio. Roberta got back three days ago, but I’m still feeling totally lost. However, the First Law, “pipes are for use”, has been a big topic of discussion among the people who come to Neatpipes Studio. Three of them in particular seem to represent the law as I see it at work here in Milan.  

     One of my clients owns eight pipes, and his main interest is in exploring Virginia tobaccos via different pipe construction geometries and drilling configurations. None of them are what you’d call expensive and he smokes the few he has like hell, sometimes modifying the chamber shape or drilling.

     Another guy who comes in regularly has a large collection of 250 pipes. He buys mainly new pipes and gets great pleasure when lighting up a new one for the first time. Only a few are still unsmoked. He has a 6000€ Ilsted (that’s $7800 U.S.) and told me he’s waiting to find the right time to smoke it. Secretly, I think he’s scared to spend 3000€ during the first smoke, since that’s how much the pipe will devaluate.

     A third guy is mainly a pipe-collector. He has over 600 pipes of different brands and shapes, but sticks mainly to Dunhills and Castellos. He’s a fairly light smoker, two to three times a week, and smokes only straight Billiards.  

     The one who matches your profile of the majority of today’s pipe-smokers is the Ilsted owner.  The one who owns eight pipes isn’t really interested in “collecting the object,” he’s collecting something much more ephemeral—smoking experiences. I’m not sure this is the same as the old-time Absolute Pipe-Smoker. The last guy is the Absolute Collector, or nearly so, but he still uses each pipe he buys, admiring it and taking care of it.

     But I think accumulation and the pleasure of ownership are the huge part of the hobby today, and certainly I feel like I’m part of that movement. I have a fairly large collection of pipes myself, approximately 300 at the moment. Among them are pipes that pipe makers have given to me, different prototypes I’ve ordered, and a lot of pieces I’ve bought for myself. Only 10% or so of those fall into the “collector” category—most of them being the 55 shape from Castello and other makers, of which I have more than 40.


5 pipes from Luca's 55Group. From the top: Castello Sea Rock KK (Original Shape), Castello Sea Rock (Shape 255 NS), Radice variation (with Plateau Rim),
Le Nuvole experiment (made during one of my visits to Maurizio's workshop), J Alan (found last year at CORPS show in Richmond)


     As for the other 260 pipes, I still feel the pleasure of accumulation, of owning and looking at them. Each has a history and a meaning in my pipe rack, and I wouldn’t part with any of them. Having said that, when I smoke, my “rotation” pipes only number the 25 to 30 that I always keep on my desk. 


    Some of the pipes I have are unsmoked or I don’t smoke anymore because my tastes have changed over time, but not sufficiently to part with them. I still use them, at least in the sense of their being part of my collection. 


     In recent years I’ve begun looking at used pipes as “pipes with a different soul.”  I only establish a real connection with a piece when I smoke it; only then do I begin to feel a real affection towards it, which I suppose is my way of affirming that I believe that “pipes are for use.”  But what that use is, and how that relationship with these objects can be described, is a very personal one, and I’m not sure you can go much further with the law than that.




     I’m on the train just now down to Bologna where I’ll meet Posella. Next stop will be Pesaro where I’ll meet Rinaldo, Le Nuvole and Don Carlos. After that I’ll be in Jesi and my last stop will be Rome, where I’ll meet Paolo Becker.


     When I started thinking about the Second Law, every pipeman his pipe,”you mentioned the co-author of your Peterson book, Gary, and I immediately thought about my mentor, Franco Bolognesi. All he ever smoked were Dunhill 127s and 6127s, and he said the same thing Gary does—his hands wouldn’t know how to light any other shape! The last years of his life he did begin to explore smoking other shapes, but he always went back to the 127. The funny thing was that he was one of the biggest collectors of Dunhill pipes in Italy. He had the largest collection I’ve ever seen, in fact. He focused on shapes, so he tried to acquire one or two each of the hundreds of different shapes Dunhill made from 1947 until 1976. But he must have had forty or fifty 127s, 6127s, LBs and 6LBs. He was also in love with the Savinelli 101, a replica of the LB.


Franco Bolognesi


      You spoke of your first pipe. Most of the people I meet in this hobby still have their first pipe, even if they don’t smoke it anymore, having found more interesting or better smoking pipes. But they always hang on to that first one as a keepsake. My first pipe was a Castello, which I bought in the shop I worked in for over two years. They only sold Castello, Dunhill, Bang, a few Petersons and Charatan. Then one day the owner introduced me to Franco Coppo, and Castello was the first workshop I ever visited. I got a small (believe me, small!!) discount, and so I bought my first pipe, a Castello lovat, shape 14, with a beautiful Birdseye grain. I still have it, but it’s not just a keepsake for me, I still smoke it from time to time, and it’s wonderful. I’ve been lucky. 


Luca's First Pipe, The Castello Lovat 14




     I’m on the train to Rome just now. Tomorrow I’ll visit Paolo Becker and pick your chubby Dublin Moorland. When I think about myself and the Third Law—“every pipe its pipeman”—I can’t help thinking about how much I love chubby pipes. It always feels right when I smoke a chubby: the bowl size coupled with the thickness of the wood, the feel of the pipe the hands, the lightness of the shape, the feeling that it was made just for fun. . . .

     I know this is connected to the Second Law [“every pipeman his pipe”] since whenever I’m at pipe shows and have a minute to look around for a pipe for myself, every chubby calls me by name—“Luca! Luca! Over here!”—sometimes even screaming at me from across the hall. The same thing happens when I visit pipe makers and see a chubby on their trays, or when I get online and look at other e-tailers or on eBay. 

     You can see these two laws reflected in the selection of pipes I offer at Neatpipes. While I try to keep it under control, because I know I need to satisfy a wide panorama of pipe smoker’s tastes, I can’t help reflecting my own tastes in the selection of pipes I offer. I personally select each piece I sell, and I believe it’s a lot easier to sell a pipe I like than one I don’t. I’m intensely aware of the fact that if I try to sell a pipe I don’t like, the buyer will know it. I also want the website to give the impression of someone’s taste—my own!—and stay away from the temptation to make it some kind of pipe supermarket.  That’s why people think of it as a “ pipe boutique.” I simply couldn’t run it any other way.

I’ll get back to you in a little while about the Fourth Law and “crazybusy”—I’m in too much of a hurry just now!





      I was really smiling when I read the word “crazybusy” in your quiz for the Fourth Law on “preserving the pipes.”  I see myself in that word, I really do—I’m the hurryman. Unfortunately, I think Milan really pushes you to that kind of life. And I’m not the only one—I can see many of my friends and customers who fit the same description. But I’m trying to fight back by developing my own way to slow down and make myself relax.

     During the summertime, which in Milan is roughly from May to October, I have a hobby that really gets me involved—gardening. I love it. I have a 300 square meter garden [that’s over 3200 square feet] where I grow more than 100 different kinds of plants. But while my garden helps a lot, the main way I relax throughout the year is by smoking and taking care of my pipes. 

     For me, pipe smoking and pipe care are at least part of the way we can slow down our days a little, no matter how fast we sometimes have to go. In fact, I prefer to smoke my pipe by myself, in the garden, watching TV or drinking beer at home, much more than trying to smoke while I’m at work in the studio. I do both, of course, but I prefer my evening smokes. While I’m out traveling just now, I’ll smoke my pipe during the day, but I won’t really enjoy it until tonight when I can have a drink with Maurizio and Stefania at the seaside.

     I don’t really spend much time preserving and maintaining my own “pipe community” as you call it. I do enjoy cleaning them, but just enough for my own pleasure, not to keep them in any kind of pristine condition. 

     And when it comes to young smokers—and  I have a lot of friends my own age who have started smoking pipes—when they’re told how they should take care of their own pipes, their eyes get big and they’re bored before they’ve even started. Maybe this is a matter of generations, and older guys like to take a little more time, while younger ones do it quickly (no double entendres, please!). 

     Anyway, when someone who’s never smoked a pipe begins and wants advice, I always give them three basic maintenance rules: (1) try to light the pipe without burning the rim, (2) clean the shank/mouthpiece and bowl with a pipe cleaner before you use it again, and (3) try to keep the cake as thin as possible. I tell them to treat their pipes the best they can, but not to stress over it. I’m not at all sure that “pipe care = contemplation” if you push it to a sense of maniacal care, and in fact I wonder if a lot of the advice and talk we read about pipe smoking isn’t just the opposite of what the new, younger generation of pipe-smokers need. It’s not that the younger generation is right and the older one wrong, just that the two have different ways of understanding. And isn’t the real point to enjoy pipe-smoking?


Mark: I think you’re right, Luca, because I know my own generation of pipe-smokers have found their interests and styles of pipe-smoking are extremely different than that of our fathers. I’m very interested to hear what the younger generation has to say about its own experiences with the hobby and with what works for them and what doesn’t. What it means to them to “preserve the pipes”—remains to be seen.





     I’m on the train to Milan back from Rome, with a nice Becker Moorland Chubby Dublin in my luggage for you, together with hundreds of other pipes from my visits of this week. It’s a little bit larger than what I expected, but I’m sure you will like it, and the Moorland is much better with thicker walls, anyway. With all these pipes in my luggage, I feel like I’m the first link in a chain of stories with each pipe at the center, each becoming part of the Fifth Law’s understanding that “the pipe community is a growing organism.” It’s a nice thought.


     When I think about my own pipes, each of them has its own meaning to me. In recent years I’ve thought about writing some notes on each one, maybe just a few lines about the time or place or person I connect it with. But even if I never do, when I pick one of them up, I can still recall the story of each, the “whens” and “whys” when I acquired it. I know I’m still young, but just thinking about these memories makes me feel good. 


     A few months ago I thought I might begin writing a little about part of my collection for the NP blog. At first I wanted to create a new category for each pipe I own, adding pictures and a few lines telling each pipe’s story, but that was too much. So I thought I’d cut it back to just my shape 55 collection, and began taking the pictures. It’s coming along, but slowly. The inspiration for it came a few years back when I was reading Gregory Pease’s website and saw the photographs he’d taken of groups of his pipes. It made Greg’s pipe stories much more interesting, and that’s the other reason I decided to do this: I believe we should share as many experiences as possible with other friends in the hobby. However you share your collection—even if it’s just smoking your new pipe at your next club meeting—helps the pipe community grow.