The Chicago Pipe Show, beloved to pipe smokers around the world, was first hosted in Rosemont, Illinois in 1996. There were events and gatherings hosted in and around the Chicago area previously, but this show, spearheaded by the late Frank Burla and his fellow members of the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club (CPCC), would set in motion the Chicago Pipe Show we know today.
I arrived at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort on Thursday, April 27th with anxious excitement. The Chicago Pipe Show is a staple of the pipe and tobacco world. I assumed it would be the kind of environment where the unique joy of old friendships built from and transcending a mutual passion is palpable in the air. Quite a special event, but for a first time attendee with a few years in the hobby, maybe a little intimidating. My first assumption was correct, but I quickly realized this show was also the kind of occasion where new kinships come about in an instant.
My firsthand, first time, Chicago Pipe Show
After briefly getting settled, I was off to dinner with some of the folks from Sutliff and Missouri Meerschaum. Then it was off to a cocktail hour. I spent much of that evening putting faces to names and talking pipes, tobacco, and beyond with the kindest of company.
My night ended in the smoking tent with plenty of convivial puffing. I personally enjoyed an excellent cigar that was graciously given to me by Rich Messineo from Briarville, if only I could remember what it was. Folks, if you’re attending a pipe show, take some notes along the way, it goes by fast.
Friday - Swap and Smoke
Friday began with the Swap and Smoke in the smoking tent, where vendors and collectors had tables set up with rare tins, pipes, tobacciana, works of leather, pipe making and restoration tools and materials—just anything a person in this hobby would want to see. And of course, as you enter the tent, there is a table set up with tins and jars of tobaccos of all kinds—many of them limited releases, out of production, or rarely available—donated for anyone to enjoy.
I helped myself to McClelland 40th Anniversary. Working from TobaccoPipes HQ here, I’m very fortunate to get to try all sorts of blends. But for the most part, that only applies to things still around, so while I don’t take the privilege for granted, I’m always interested in trying something that made like the dodo before I came to the hobby.
Another such extinction just before my time was Syrian Latakia. The first table we approached was Arlington Pipe & Cigar, a Chicago brick and mortar. Behind the table was a familiar face from the night before, Amu Torres, a pipe and tobacco specialist at Arlington. Somewhere in our conversation the night before, my Syrian Latakia blind spot had come up. Walking up that morning, Amu immediately hands me a tin of Ashton Artisan’s Blend (still in production but now with Cyprian Latakia). A kindness for which I'm tremendously grateful. Friday was off to a marvelous start.
A lot of the folks set up for the Swap and Smoke are collectors offloading some of their personal collections, or pipe makers wanting to make the most of their time in Chicago and come home as light as possible. We came to Bruno Nuttens' table with his wonderful pipes on display. My Heritage Bing is one of my favorite pipes, and I always admire his Twiggy style.
That afternoon we met with Tommi Ascorti of Caminetto pipes, who showed us selections of myriad Italian brands—look out for some beautiful new listings from Kristiansen, Ser Jacopo, Mastro Geppetto, Luigi Viprati, and Caminetto in the near future.
Saturday - Day One on the Main Floor
Saturday morning it was time to set up and welcome the main event.
Pipe shows are enough fun without having something new in tow, but we were all the more excited about this event to show off our first bundle of estate pipes.
Estates are one thing we’ve been wanting to host on the site for some time, and we’re pleased to say that time has finally come, but Chicago had a first look at these pieces of history. Our estates were restored by Rich Messineo of BriarVille. This lot (the first of plenty to come) is mostly Dunhills, but also included a no name African Meerschaum, vintage Peterson, and a Butz Choquin.
At our tables we also had a selection of factory brands ( White Elephant, Barling, and Molina) as well as some of our artisan makers (Chris Morgan, Sean Reum, and Yiannos Kokkinos). At one point our pal Kokkinos even stopped by and showed me how one of the stands that came with a pipe was made from the same briar block (pictured in the top right picture below).
I gotta say, my favorite part of manning the stand had to be when I sold matching White Elephant pipes (well, different pipes from the same line) to a young couple who were sweet as Sutliff Vanilla Custard. That was not something I expected to check off my pipe show bingo card but boy was it wholesome. They were about half as smitten with the pipes as with each other (which is still very smitten) and I hope they are enjoying some delightful smokes together.
Sutliff introduces Pipe Force
Behind us we had the Sutliff Tobacco tables, proudly displaying and selling samples of their new Per Jensen collaboration, Space Force. All of these blends contain Stoved Katerini or Stoved Rustica (some both), which have never been blended with before. Having written the descriptions for these mixtures, I’ve been enjoying them the last couple weeks, and I was pleased to see the Space Force samples appreciated in the smoking tent through the weekend.
Limited releases are fun, but many of us have faced the regret of only getting a tin or two of something we end up loving, or vice versa. It's a nice change that many will have some familiarity with these blends prior to release to know which really speak to their taste.
Here are the release dates for each (yes, it does start with Episode IV—now, why could that be?)
- Episode IV - First Sergeant Deckard (7.12.23)
- Episode V - Captain Ryan (9.13.23)
- Episode VI - Specialist Falfa (11.25.23)
- Episode I - MAJ O'Meara (1.17.24)
- Episode II - Sergeant Kimble (3.13.24)
- Episode III - Lieutenant General Marshall (5.15.24)
Along with the samples for sale, nine pound blocks of each blend were on display, which were all donated to the silent auction.
I did get some time to make my way around and check out all the great stuff from other vendors. Beside our table we had Shannon and Bret Hock from Missouri Meerschaum with a large selection of their exceptional acrylic-stemmed corn cob pipes. One I was especially interested in checking out was the Reverse Calabash they recently released.
Working my way around the rows, I came to the Seattle Pipe Club table, where I got a sample of their latest offering, Down Yonder, a crumble cake of Stoved Brazilian Virginia.
I could go on and on. Even for a lucky so-and-so like me who’s surrounded by pipes and tobacco 5 days a week, it was something special. I liken it to visiting the Toys ‘R’ Us in Time Square as a kid. The one local to me induced all the giddiness you’d expect, but the one in Time Square had a Ferris wheel. Well, this pipe show had a Ferris wheel, so to speak.
Battle of the Briar
That evening was the Battle of the Briar. Hosted by Jeff Gracik (J. Allan Pipes) and Steven Fallon, three pipe makers (Scottie Piersel, Jared Coles, and Tommi Ascorti) were given the same tools and one hour to take a pipe kit and deliver a finished pipe, which were then voted on. I was tied up for this but luckily the live stream was posted to Youtube. Big congrats to our friend Tommi Ascorti for taking home the gold, but all three of these pipes are gorgeous and I’m just in awe that they could craft such works of art in such a short time.
That evening the TobaccoPipes and Sutliff crew attended a dinner honoring the Master and Doctor of Pipes. James Foster and Nate King are our newest Masters, Scott Thile and Tom Eltang Doctors. All much deserved.
Again, my night ended in the smoking tent, where we broke the seal on Paradoxical, and I enjoyed a smoke of the final installment of the Birds of a Feather series. I’ve had samples of Paradoxical from when it was blended by Per Jensen last January, but as this was my first smoke out of the tin, I kept my tradition of inaugurating each Birds of a Feather blend with my Georg Jensen Granat—a beautiful Danish style bent Egg.
Sunday, Closing Time
Finally, Sunday wrapped things up with another day on the show floor and a few more events. On the show floor, it was much of the same, with many taking the opportunity to make deals and go home a little lighter, or jump on that purchase they were on the fence about yesterday. With foot traffic a bit lighter, I took the opportunity to do some shopping of my own.
I walked away with two pipes I am very happy with. The first is a Stanwell second—a petite, sandblasted Lovat from Lazarus Estates. The other, an Old West Briar. This is a brand from restorer/maker Tim West, which includes pre-turned stummels he stems and finishes.
As you can imagine, I do a good deal of typing and smoking, so I love my light pipes that make for comfortable clenchers.
My time at the pipe show ended with the Slow Smoke Competition. Hosted by the United Pipe Clubs of America (UPCA). The pipes for this year's Slow Smoke were provided by Chacom, and the tobacco was a blend of Red Virginia, Stoved Virginia, and Burley, courtesy of Country Squire. For those unfamiliar, here's the run down from the UPCA site:
Everyone gets a new pipe (Yay!), three grams of tobacco, and two matches. They have five minutes to load their pipes with tobacco, and one minute to light their pipes with the provided matches. After that, it is up to the skill of the smoker to keep his pipe lit. Smoke too fast and you run out of tobacco. Smoke too slow and the pipe can go out on you.
In the end, it was Lester Young who came out champion.
The top three:
- Lester Young 1:06:40
- John Warner 1:06:00
- Allan Boyd 57:03
After the slow smoke, my first Chicago Pipe Show and second ever pipe show came to a bittersweet end (sad to leave, but I was really missing my dog). I can't stress enough, if you enjoy this hobby, try and make it to a pipe show.
Introducing this piece, I mentioned a bit of nervousness going into the weekend as a newcomer, before coming to realize this show was as fertile for new kinship as it is for stoking old ones. That's the thing about a tradition, a pastime, I suppose—it honors the past, but is sustained in the present. Goodwill and neighborliness were the default at the Marriott last weekend. Maybe I'm being a bit schmaltzy, but I think such an atmosphere is rare, and I'm delighted to have been a part of it.