Our February Tobacco Pipe Collector Spotlight takes us on a trip to the cold Ohio winter, where new collector, Michael Bradley, hunts down up and comers while listening to old records and trying to keep his pipe from freezing in the snow. Each month we share the insights and stories of one collector at a different stage in the hobby. If you would like to be featured in this ongoing series, contact us and let us know.
Michael Bradley is a thirtysomething family man who started smoking a pipe just seven months ago. Although new to the hobby, he’s quickly become a strong advocate for up and coming pipe makers like Matt Van. I sat down for a cross-country smoke with Michael to chat about what brought him to the hobby, his favorite makers and his other self-described “old man” hobbies.
A conversation with Michael Bradley
Michael, you haven’t been smoking for very long, but I can see from your Instagram feed that you’ve amassed a pretty nice collection. How did you get into smoking a pipe?
I was watching the old John Wayne movie, The Quiet Man. I love that movie and everyone is smoking a pipe in that movie. It was sort of random, I just thought I would like to try one too.
I like to collect things and my wife says I have old man hobbies. I’m 34 and collect vinyls and pipes. It’s relaxing and fun to learn the stories of all the different carvers.
Do you have a favorite pipe in your collection?
That’s hard, because each pipe I buy is unique in its own way. Each one has a story. I research every pipe I buy before I buy it. My first was a Dr. Grabow I bought from you, but pretty much all the rest are artisan pipes made by one guy making pipes in his small shop.
I guess you could say that you never forget your first right?
My first handmade pipe was a Matt Van and I really enjoy it because since that purchase Matt and I have become friends so there is a lot of sentimental value there. It’s a nice sized poker and I’ve since also acquired another of his pipes. But all of my pipes have some sort of sentimental value these days, so they are all notable in their own way.
I can see that. What about pipe tobacco? Do you have a favorite there?
Nah, it’s equally as hard. I lean towards English blends, but I sometimes smoke Aromatics because my wife prefers the smell. Right now I’m really enjoying Star of the East and Engine #99 right now. I like McClelland’s Frog Morton and On the Bayou. I also love Peter Stokkebye English Luxury and enjoy Lane Limited 1-Q sometimes. So yeah, I’m all over the place.
It’s pretty cold up there right now, do you have somewhere out of the weather to smoke your pipe?
Yeah, I have a sun room where I set up out of the cold. I do sometimes smoke outside in the snow too. Since I have three small kids I don’t smoke in the house and I really prefer to be outside. Unfortunately this time of year the weather doesn’t always allow for that. In the Spring and Summer I’m on the patio all the time.
Do you have any preference about smoking alone or in a group?
Oh yeah! With friends is the best! I think that’s part of why I started my YouTube channel, I like interacting with other pipe smokers and learning their stories. We’re working on getting a Northeast Ohio pipe club off the ground and we’re actually having our first Meet Up on February 7. Most of the time I’m alone, but if I can make it a social experience that’s even better!
It sounds like you’ve tried a lot and really become immersed in the pipe world pretty quickly? How many pipes do you own now?
Right around 20 right now. I post pictures of them on Instagram all the time. They are all handmade except my Dr. Grabow and a corn cob.
What do you think attracted you to become involved so heavily so quickly? What is it you enjoy about smoking a pipe?
I think the social media aspect has really drawn me in faster and more heavily than I would have otherwise. I’ve been able to meet a great group of guys who have similar interests and this community is a really generous one. I’ve met many of these guys in person and a number of them have become friends. The first time someone sent me a box I was amazed! I couldn’t believe someone would send me tobacco just for the heck of it. The pipe community, especially on Instagram, is a really special place.
With young kids, a YouTube Channel and a pipe habit, you’re time is probably pretty limited, but do you have any other hobbies?
Yeah. I’m really into music. I have a vinyl collection that I’m pretty in love with. Just like with a pipe, you never forget the first time you hear a record. It’s visceral.
I’ll never forget when I was young and saw the picture on the album cover of a King Crimson album for the first time. I have a vinyl copy of the album that I can pass down to my son. It becomes a legacy collection.
I also love to read when I have time. I think pipes, books and vinyl all have the same allure for me. They have the soul of the artist imprinted on them and that becomes a special thing to share with people you care about. For instance, Matt Van uses the same tools his father taught him woodworking on as a child. It’s a legacy thing.
Speaking of legacy, if you could smoke a pipe with any one person, who would that be?
It depends on the day. If the devil on my shoulder wins then I would go with Hugh Hefner in the late 1960s or early 1970s. If the more thoughtful guy I am some days wins then MacArthur. I love that iconic picture of him with his cob.
Michael, it’s really been a pleasure to talk with you. To wrap things up, do you have any advice for new smokers just getting started? Maybe something you wished you had known a few months ago that you’re just learning now?
Don’t worry about what is popular. Do your own thing. Name recognition and price are not necessarily indicators of a great pipe. Especially when it comes to handmade pipes.
Get involved on Instagram and YouTube. The community there is a really fun place and very welcoming. Oh, and buy lots of mason jars. People will start wanting to swap and gift you things and you’ll need somewhere to store it.
Maybe don’t dive in as fast as I did, one of these days I’m going to have to stop buying so many pipes or my wife will kill me!
The advice I was given by pipe maker, Chuck Sands, probably sums it up best. He told me just to relax and enjoy it. To put whatever I want in my pipe and just smoke it.
Follow Michael Bradley on YouTube for more thoughts on artisan pipe makers, his favorite tobaccos and life in the cold frigid Ohio air.
Say hello to Michael in the comments below!