The Five Laws of Pipe Companioning: 1° Law

di Mark Irwin


Case N° 130812


by Mark Irwin
(With Some Bad Math fro Chas. Mundungus)


     The summer before last, Charles Mundungus and I were sitting in my back yard one evening drinking some Texas-Russian Imperial Stouts, smoking McClelland 2015 and swatting mosquitoes. We noticed that the more smoke we generated and the more Stouts we put away, the less bothersome the mosquitoes were, at which point Mundungus proposed a natural law to account for the evening’s findings, something like  “MP(t) =MPo e ˆ - rt,” where MPo is the initial population of mosquitoes in the backyard, MP(t) is the time we sat down in the back yard with our beers and pipes, -r is the decline rate and e is inverse to natural log. As you can imagine, from there the conversation became progressively more ridiculous until it ended with an observation Mundungus frequently makes (being somewhat of an outlaw and somewhat intoxicated): “If the law supposes that . . . the law is a ass!” –citing Mr. Bumble in Ch. 51 of Oliver Twist.

      Anyway, in between stouts 2 and 3, I began to feel nostalgic for my grad-school days as a student librarian (about the only thing I enjoyed as a graduate student), and with a wink and nod to the father of library science S. R. Ranganathan, I proceeded to sketch out “The Five Laws of Pipe Companioning.” As I look back on the proposal this evening, I realize the pipe-smoking public deserves a full elaboration of these laws, which Mundungus and I believe are in fact universal principles, viz., “laws” in the sense of the underlying operative conditions of our hobby. Which is to say, they’re not something you can decide to believe in or not; they’re more akin to the law of gravity and certain other observable phenomena like speeding tickets, taxes and death.

     Because things like this are never a matter of personal opinion but require the assent of retorts of the broader community, I will post one of the laws each week for the next five weeks, which will allow readers to ponder them at leisure and make rejoinder in the public forum at the bottom of this blog.


First Law: Pipes Are For Use


     If you’re reading this, then the probability is very high that you’re a pipe-smoker, and as a pipeman you know one of your primary responsibilities (aside from the stewardship of your pipes and tobaccos) isproselytizing—being on the lookout for prospective converts to the faith in order make the world a less-stressful and more enjoyable place for all. But a sea-change has taken place in the current generation of pipemen, a change so great that someone new to the hobby might get the mistaken idea that pipes are really for collecting and not for smoking.  You may be thinking Vadit sine dicens—it goes without saying—but I think it needs to be said all the same: we collect because we smoke.  Or as Chuck Wright used to say, “If you don’t smoke it, it’s just wood.”


     The late Bill Unger of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors purportedly had a tattoo somewhere on his body that said, “If you own one pipe you’re a pipe-smoker; if you own two you’re a collector.” The problem hobbyists today encounter, especially when idolizing the pipemen of the past, is in failing to identify the enormous field that lies between the poles of absolute pipe-smoker (one who is interested in the pipe only as a vehicle for his tobacco) and absolute pipe-collector (one who is interested in the pipe only as an artifact of tobacciana). 


     The absolute pipe-smoker is something of a rare breed these days, although your father or grandfather was probably one of them. I remember back as a freshman in college when I showed my Uncle Jim a new, full-bent Bari Squash I’d just acquired. Jim, a WWII Army Air Corps vet, invariably  had a pipe in his mouth and a pouch of Sail in his shirt pocket. He said, “So that’s what you call it, huh, a full droop?” He had lots of pipes laying around and smoked prodigious amounts of leaf, but was never interested in the “lifestyle” like I was. We’re beginning to recognize that we’re a different generation with a different sensibility, one with an almost exponentially heightened interest in both tobaccos and the vessels they’re smoked in. When we stumble on an estate or antique piece, many of us feel the urge to return it to a semblance of its original glory. And even more are concerned to keep our companions clean inside and out. I wonder if perhaps this isn’t one proof that that this is the Golden Age of the pipeman? If you look closely at the lives of two of my earliest pipe-smoking heroes, C. S. Lewis and Mark Twain, you’ll see the difference I’m talking about. Lewis was first and foremost simply a pipe (and cigarette) smoker—one story tells about how he routinely dropped cigarette ash on the carpet without giving it a second thought. Mark Twain, another of my literary pipe-smoking heroes, did in fact love a good pipe and owned dozens of them. But from what I’ve gathered over thirty years of reading his stuff and reading about him, pipes were always always a means to an end—and to the extent they performed, he praised them. But as you 



Exhibit A
. Mark Twain's Peterson 14B: Evidence of an Absolute Pipe-Smoker


see from the 14B Peterson above, he could use them pretty hardly by today’s standards: witness how the space-fitting in the stem has disappeared from hard use and how the bowl has been scorched and burned away all around the rim. Pipes with this kind of abuse used to be fairly common on the estate market even as recently as twenty years ago, where you’d find them “topped”—that is, with their scorched crowns sanded off. This was brought to my attention when I bought a Peterson System a few years back that I was just sure was a rare shape I’d never seen before, a kind of ladle, only to have my friend Chuck disillusion me in his droll way that it was just a topped #307:



Exhibit B. "Topped" Peterson System 307: Evidence of an Absolute Pipe-Smoker


     Antipodean to the absolute pipe-smoker is the absolute pipe-collector, who is also something of an odd fellow. So much so that I confess I’ve only met two in my lifetime. He is a miniature version of the Pijpenkabinet Foundation, recently renamed the Amsterdam Pipe Museum (and by the way, it’s worth a few hours browsing at One of these absolutists was a specialist in meerschaums and the other in clays. I’ve never seen either man actually smokinga pipe, but I suppose they must have, sometime, somewhere, in some galaxy far far away.* They are actually one-man museum curators, and while the pipe-world at large may have enjoyed the benefits of their scholarship, I sometimes feel a twinge of sorrow that they’ve missed all the fun of smoking. 


     So where does this leave us? Between the two “abolutes.” Using the “pareto principle” (or 80/20 rule), I would suggest that 80% of today’s pipe-smokers fall between these “absolute” poles, leaving 10% or less at either end. That being the case, I think what is needed in the hobby today is an intelligent way to identify and talk about where most of us reside in the hobby—a name for this unnamed zone.


     If you were lucky enough to get a copy of the recent reprint of the ca. 1922 Barling catalog offered by Jesse Silver, or have seen any of the Briar Books Press eye candy reprints, then you’re probably familiar with the notion of the “companion,” a pipe case containing anywhere from 2 to 7 pipes, either matched or contrasting.


Barling Companion Cases, ca. 1922


     As I looked at these and others made by the early pipe factories, I began to see a kind of sacramental here—an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality most of us take for granted, viz., our pipes are our companions as in “companion: a comrade, one who accompanies or associates with another.” In the original Latin, it referred to a Roman legionnaire who “broke bread” [pan]with his fellow soldiers.


     I suggest this because the connotations of the word collector,while sweet to some, has a largely pejorative ring to many ears (including mine)—it stinks of conspicuous consumption, lab specimens, bad horror movies, and the objectification of reality so dear to the heart of industry and advertising.  But companion!—there’s a word that never loses its warmth and freshness. To most of us, pipes are in a very real sense our mess-mates, fellow campaigners who suffer the slings and arrows right alongside us, giving us heart and courage to carry on. To belittle them as part of a collection, as mere commodities or products, is insufferable. Surely they deserve better?


     If you’ve been a pipe-smoker for any time at all, you’ll also concede that companionship lies at the heart of our hobby, whether we practice our puffing in solitude or with fellow brothers of the briar. “Companioning” our pipes we smoke them, clean them, admire them, adore them; failing that, we hopefully see they find their way into other smoker’s hands who can appreciate them more than we do. 


     Companioning also makes allowances for those weaklings like Mundungus who still suffer the ravages of P.A.D., since according to this First Law of Pipe Collecting, the pipes we buy we buy to smoke, even if we don’t get around to it for awhile. I like to think of my unsmoked pieces as novices waiting entry into the cenobium (or monastery) of my pipe “companions”—and doubtless you can think of other tropes meaningful to your life and circumstance. 


     Companionship thus offers us a growth model from the acquisition of our first pipe to our latest scratching of the head wondering where on earth we’re going to put another pipe rack. Mundungus calls this the “Acquistion Axiom of Pipe-Smoking” (which I later found out he stole from the Malthusian growth model): “The formula for exponential growth of a variable x at the positive growth rate r, as time t goes on in discrete intervals (that is, at integer times 0, 1, 2, 3, ...), is  xt = x(1+r)t. In pipeman’s terms, fill in any time interval you like, and if pipe-smoking remains at a relatively fixed rate over time, the pipe smoker generally will be found to accumulate pipes and tobaccos at a geometric rate corresponding to his financial capability.” 


     There may be exceptions that prove the rule, but even the absolute pipe-smoker who routinely used up and discarded his pipes would have found it true on a smaller scale. But in today’s hobby of companiojning  (doesn’t that sound better?), the only real moral danger (assuming one is fiscally responsible) is the acrimoneous grumbling of “pipe-envy” encountered at shows and in various publications when someone of greater financial resources seems to, however innocently, being making status claims based on the rarity, cost or number of his pipes. But more on that later.


     There is a corollary to the First Law that needs to be mentioned, since it will serve as a bridge to the Second Law. You’ll find paraphrased in the writings of both Fred Hanna and Rick Newcombe to the effect that if a pipe is for use then a perfect pipe is one that delivers a perfect smoking experience, regardless of price or maker.” Despite occasional testimony to the contrary,  this corollary asserts that my factory or estate pipe mightfor me deliver every bit as perfect a smoking experience as your Missouri Meerschaum, Tom Eltang, or Jess Chonowitsch does for you. We can (and should!) deliberate all day on what makes for the perfectly engineered, blasted, crafted, stained or finished pipe, but isn’t what really counts at the end of the day that mystic conjunction of pipe, tobacco, and smoker which only the individual pipeman is qualified to judge?  “Pipes are for use.”



*And do check out John P. Seiler’s ever-growing Pipes & Sci-Fi saga, Emperor Leopaldo’s World,available online. Seiler details its origin and growth in the August 2013 issue of NASPC’s The Pipe Collector, pp. 15-16.




72 pipes in current rotation
18 unsmoked pipes
05 pipes on order or reserved
01 pipe I can’t quit thinking about: Paolo Becker Chubby Dublin Morland
Average time spent daily looking at pipes: 3 hrs 02 minutes
Average time spent daily thinking about pipes: basically, all day
Average time spent daily smoking pipes: 2 hr 10 min minutes


Second Law: Every Pipeman His Pipe