The Five Laws of Pipe Companioning: 3° Law

di Mark Irwin


Case N° 130826



by Mark Irwin
(with little to no help at all from Charles Mundungus)



Chas Mundungus still pretending to be Robert Benchley


     Where were we? First Law—pipes are for use. Check. Second Law—every pipeman his pipe. Yup. But now it’s time to get into the politics of pipe-smoking, where taste and opinion become creed and dogma faster than a speeding bullet and schisms over COM marks and makers grow up in the twinkling of an eye, turning even the mildest-mannered Caspar Milquetoast into the member of an angry mob. So fasten your seatbelt, try to relax and watch that chuffing or you’ll end up with tongue-burn at the end of this thing.


Third Law: Every Pipe Its Pipeman

     While my eyes sometimes protest that it cannot possibly be so, the Third Law of Pipe Collecting asserts that every pipe has been designed with someone in mind to smoke it: “every pipe its pipeman.”  Ponder this amazing and life-enlarging law as you look at this illustration of the height of artisan freehand fashion from forty years ago:




     These are from a 1974 catalog in my possession which in today’s dollars (according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s CPI Inflation Calculator) would cost between $475 and $710—which is the price bracket of quite a few present-day artisan pipes. I’m not saying that the pipes pictured are above are uglyrepulsive, or heinous or nauseating—don’t misunderstand me! What I’m saying is that, according to the Third Law of Pipe-Collecting, each of these found someone, somewhere, who thought enough of it to plunk down his coin and smoke it. No matter that you or I think one pipe hit every branch on the Ugly Tree going down, or wonder why someone would want another pipe that weighs 196 grams and requires a home hydraulic lift from Harbor Freight to lift it, or that the price-tag of yet another could eliminate the debt of a Third World country. 


     So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that it’s precisely at this nexus between pipe and pipeman that companioning(which you used to call “collecting” before you were enlightened) gets so interesting. This is where we spend most of our talk-time in the hobby: how much is too much to spend? will the shape and size and chamber geometry make for a good smoke for me? is this a shape / brand / style / finish / size I’ll want to pull off the pipe rack every time I see it? can I be seen in the pipe-smoking public sporting it?


     I don’t know if you caught the article in ThisWeek Community News way back in December of 2010 about Bill Unger,* but at the time the photograph of him standing by his collection made me wish at the time I could drop by for a cup of coffee and a pipe—there was a visual narrative at work in that pipe rack that made the whole more than the sum of its parts, and helps explain the Corollary to the Third Law, which states that“every pipe has a story.” (I imagine you’ve heard this adage before. Now you know it’s the Corollary to the Third Law of Pipe-Collecting.) 


Bill Unger and His Companions


Take a look at Bill’s pipes. You see about thirty pipes, almost all of them blast finishes. When I asked him about it before his passing, Bill said, “Yeah, I like the feelof the pipe, so I tend to go for sandblasts. And I like darker finishes.” I confess I had expected to see a lot more pipes—and a bunch of Custom-Bilts, but he said he tried to kept his collection to 50-60 pipes, because that’s about the limit he could smoke day in, day out. And while he’d kept a few Custom-Bilts, they were mostly about the fun of researching the company.


     This Third Law, then, is related to the second (“every pipeman his pipe”) but focuses on the pipe itself: the pipeman’s diamond-faceted, inexhaustible subject for discussion and analysis. This law also brings into focus that vast middle-ground chiaroscuro of pipe companioners that lies between the absolute pipe smoker and the absolute pipe collector. Like the research that goes into acquiring Anton Bruckner’s symphonies (there were as many as three authorized versions for each one), one of the great defining pleasures of our hobby is the investigation, speculation, and romance surrounding a manufacturer, artisan, style or shape.


     The knowledge that is being accumulated in every branch of our hobby seems to be growing exponentially in the past decade and bodes well for the future of our hobby. While some of the online forums have tanked, others have transmogrified or gotten stronger. The past few years have seen significant books, e-books and blogs, and even a publisher devoted exclusively to pipes & tobaccos. Take a look at Scott Thile’s Pipedia and be amazed. Enjoy the NASPC’s Pipe Collector either in its retro-paper glory or electronically. Better yet, check out the pipe shops, forums, blogs, clubs and shows in your region or nation. 


    “Every pipe its pipeman” means that as you get to know the stories of your pipes, find a way to share them. Whatever your pipe may be—whether the famous cob of Washington, Missouri, or the Castello briar of Cantu—acquiring new knowledge and sharing what you’ve learned is fundamental to the joy of the hobby. I can’t concur with the dogmatism of those who think only straight Dunhill billiards or Danish freehands (or whatever the x-pipemight be) are worthy of attention. Who’s to say what grabs your attention if not you? Isn’t that pipe or marque or shape or style you’re enjoying right now what makes pipe-smoking fun for you? And if it’s fun for you, chances are there are others who are just as passionate as you are.


     But don’t stop with telling your pipe stories: cultivate listening as a way of becoming. For every ten pipemen who love to tell the stories of their pipes, I’m afraid there’s only one or two who are equally adept at listening, yet receiving others’ stories is not only what closes the circuit, but if can also add another significant jolt of happy to your own pipe-smoking. It was by listening to the enthusiasm of my old friend Ron Dee that I fell in love with my favorite shape of all time, the #309 “Dutch” Peterson; by listening to Tony Soderman (against the counter-claims of others) insist that there was a Peterson factory in Melbourne, Australia that I found documentation at the factory that there was; and by listening to Swiss friend Phil Blumenthal enthuse about his devotion to “Stumpy” straight Petersons that I discovered what greater smokers they are for myself.


     Pipe-smoking may not seem to count for much large scheme of things, and yet as Trappist Michael Casey writes, “Most of us have been brainwashed into thinking that only big things matter; small things have no significance. On the contrary, meaning is a subjective reality. Something may have meaning for me and not for you. A course of action [or a pipe!] is meaningful to me if it accords with the beliefs and values by which I shape my life. I should never say ‘That is meaningless’ but rather ‘that is meaningless for me.’” Such a statement conveys something about me; it says virtually nothing about whatever it is that I find meaningless.”†  In the end “every pipe its pipeman” means that our enjoyment of pipe-smoking and the hobby itself thrives on a mentality of abundance, not scarcity. There’s no need to belabor the point that such-and-such pipe is a one-of-a-kind, since in point of fact, even two pipes cut in the same shape by the maker are, as Custom-Bilt’s advertising used to run, “as individual as a thumbprint.” “Every pipe its pipeman.”





     *ThisWeek Community News, 16 December 2010. “Pipe-Collecting ‘a hobby and an obsession for many,’ by Kevin Parks. Accessed at .


     † Michael Casey, Fully Human, Fully Divine (Liguori, 2004), p. 155.




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


Fourth Law: Preserve the Pipes