A question often asked is how many briars does one really need; whether as a minimum for maximum tobacco enjoyment, or as a comfortable number for a well-rounded appreciation of the pastime.
I myself at present have about one hundred and sixty pipes, more or less.
Two years ago it was slightly more, then I traded about twenty of them, to which I had little or no attachment, for three Petersons which radiated an aesthetic cohesiveness, and needed to stay together.
THE PETERSON TRINITY
There was a look to the set which said "early 1960s". Both the character of the wood -- wherever Peterson sourced their briar in that day and age, and how they cut it -- and shape particularities came into play.
Same previous owner, his sharpened tastes, and his particular eye.
A clean smoker of good habits. No stinky aromatics.
Probably mostly lighter Latakia blends.
They've become favourites, and are in the regular rotation.
Recently I've ended up with about fifteen items from a larger set of about thirty, all with bit-through mouthpieces and tarred-up rims. But again, the shapes and dimensions speak of a specific individual; a chap who probably smoked a pipe from his college years until late middle-age. Aesthetically a sober man, whose tobacco preference included some basic Burley-Virginia compounds, maybe even a restrained Cavendish for a while. It was a habit which sustained him for a long time, which he obviously enjoyed.
The time period was probably late fifties through early-eighties.
Sofar I've restored two -- re-textured the rim of an elegant but well-worn sandblast Canadian, and re-topped a classic bulldog. In the case of both pipes, I've re-cut the stems above the break, so that I could smoke them immediately, instead of waiting several weeks for Schulte to make new ones. As I work on the others, I'll probably send them one by one across the country for stems anyway.
There's an old-fashioned whiff to the smoke on the first two.
I look forward to bringing them all back to life.
A third group of briars, about a dozen in all, indicate a cheerfully casual approach to pipes and tobacco, with some functional pieces of decent quality, not too expensive in their day (sixties and seventies), and three items which children or younger relatives gave him as gifts on suitable occasions. That last can be deduced from type, finish, and brand; the best a child could afford, at that time. The giver of those items may be approaching seventy now.
The man who smoked?
Ah, well ...
He actually didn't smoke very much. A few are barely smoked at all. But the ones which he received as gifts are no less used than the others, possibly because one must not hurt the person who gifted the pipe.
All of them will be cleaned up and smoked again.
For much the same reason.
It is fitting.
All three smokers are probably long gone, but part of their personality lives on in their pipes. And, as you may have gathered, I am somewhat neurotic about sets. Which may be an Asperger manifestation.
TWO DOZEN IN THE ROTATION
So the answer regarding an optimum number of pipes is necessarily vague; you need as many as you need. Enough so that you can vary and rotate, and likely one or two more than that. The person who smokes three or four pipefulls each day will eventually require about fifteen or more, so that each pipe can rest and dry after use. The casual three or four pipe a week man (or woman) probably needs no more than six, and can get by with only two or three. The beginning pipe-smoker starts with one, of course, but should acquire another one within months, and a third within the year.
The obsessive nutball needs over a hundred.
Probably way more than that even.
Most people fewer.
My father got rid of many of his pipes when we moved to Holland, and kept ten. He still smoked a pipe when I was a child, but seldom brought them out by the time my older brother started high school.
When I began smoking a pipe and had finally learned about decent tobacco, he'd occasionally retrieve one from a deskdrawer and have a bowl at the dinner table after we'd cleared the plates.
In the year that he passed he gave them all to me.
They had spoken to me for ages by then.
They reflected the man.
No, they never leave the house, and I have hardly smoked them since.
They still smell of him, and memories come alive.
AFTERWORD: THE WOMAN WITH A PIPE
Frequently readers find this blog by searching about female pipe-smokers. Women who smoke a pipe are a rarity, and many men do not quite know how to deal with such a thing. But there are no good reasons why a woman might not enjoy the same pleasure, or have good taste in briars and leaf.
I like a pipe. Why shouldn't she?
Pipes are gender-neutral.
Many companies produce what they choose to call 'ladies pipes', which are usually ridiculously frou-frou, and bought mostly by peculiar males anyhow. But rational women should smoke the same types of pipes as men, for the same reasons. The bowl-dimensions of a standard pipe are perfectly suited to the task, whereas if it is too small (or too large) things change. The shape should speak to the person, the pipe must be well-made, and comfortable to hold or look at; avoid artsy-fartsy.
Keep it clean, smoke good tobacco.
No nasty aromatics.
A woman who starts to smoke a pipe secretly at home may need no more than one or two. But I expect that her collection will grow, and she'll probably end up with about ten favourites.
Ten is a good number.
Follows a short list of tobaccos for her to experiment with.
VIRGINIAS AND VIRGINIA PERIQUE MIXTURES
Samuel Gawith (S.G.) Best Brown Flake, S.G. Full Virginia Flake, S.G. Golden Glow, S.G. Saint James Flake. Rattrays' Brown Clunee, Rattrays' Hal O' The Wynd, Rattrays' Marlin Flake, Rattrays' Old Gowrie.
G. L. Pease Fillmore, G. L. Pease Haddo's Delight, G. L. Pease Telegraph Hill, G. L. Pease Union Square.
Orlik's Golden Slice.
ENGLISH, BALKAN, ORIENTAL MIXTURES
Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader, Dunhill Nightcap, Rattrays Black Mallory, Rattrays Accountants' Mixture, Arango Balkan Supreme (bulk, hence often fancifully renamed in each tobacconist where it is available), Stokkebye English Oriental Supreme (bulk, so also usually a house blend), and well over half of the popular Greg Pease blends, such as Abingdon, Charing Cross, Kensington, Laurel Heights, Quiet Nights, and Westminster, all of which are exceptional.
Three posts for women pipe smokers:
WOMEN PIPE SMOKERS
[Pipe smoking for mental health, and snarky comments about cigarettes.]
GIRL PIPE SMOKER
[Pipe smoking is a better statement than tattoos. Screw the mindset of the mob.]
PIPE SMOKING FOR YOUNG LADIES
[Good tobacco is not gender-biased; a review of St. James Flake, by Samuel Gawith.]
In the comment string of that last essay, Jonathan called me a "f*cking pervert".
I wish to state categorically that I am NOT a "f*cking pervert".
Perhaps merely a little goofy.
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All correspondence will be kept in confidence.