Our December Tobacco Pipe Collector Spotlight takes us all the way from the beaches of South Florida to the rich soil of Washington State. Larry Rubin, a smoker and collector for more than fifty years, talks about cataloging pipe tobacco, finding the perfect smoking spot and retiring up North. 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.
On a cold winter day many of our customers could be found puffing away at their favorite pipes while day dreaming of retiring to sunny Florida. For those of us who spend our lives in the humidity and sun, we often have fantasies of living in a place where the seasons change and the soil is rich with the possibility of new growth. I guess the grass is always greener right?
Larry Rubin spent 40 years building a business in the Sunshine State. When it came time to retire he packed up his pipe collection and, along with his wife, migrated north.
A contemplative fellow with strong opinions about smoking pipes, farming and everything in between, I sat down for a cross-country smoke with Larry to learn about his history, daily rituals and philosophy on life.
A conversation with Larry Rubin
After smoking a pipe for so many years, do you have a favorite?
My favorite pipe is whichever one I am smoking at the moment. I think of my tobacco pipes sort of like children. If I pick one out too often, the others will feel neglected and show that neglect when I pick them up for a smoke later. Just like children, it would be hard to pick out just one that you love more than the others.
My collection has slowly grown over the last fifty years. Each piece carefully chosen for its specific shape, size or pattern. Each piece is worthy in its own right and requires exercise. I enjoy the process of keeping my pipes in ‘good health’ almost as much as the smoking itself and each one is special.
What a beautiful way of thinking about collecting! Now of course, a follow up question. Do you have a favorite pipe tobacco then?
I’ve tried hundreds of different tobaccos over the years and have many in my collection today. It really depends on which pipe I pick up.
I can tell you what I don’t like. I won’t smoke anything with Perique in it, it’s too spicy for me. If a new tobacco gives me a nicotine buzz, I use it to keep the rodents out of the garden. And anything with a fruity casing isn’t for me.
Just like most wine collectors keep a catalog of the different blends they have tried, I have a log book for my tobaccos
and make sure to write down every new blend. Over time it has taught me what I am likely to enjoy and what I should leave on the shelf.
The other thing I consider, when choosing which tobacco to smoke, is what we’ll be eating for dinner that night. I don’t want something heavy on my tongue with certain foods. The weather can also play a factor. The colder months call for much heavier smokes.
I think the farming cycles and weather have an effect on the tobacco crops, just like it does on wine. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a pipe tobacco company that sells by vintage years yet.
Once you’ve picked out the day’s favorite pipe and tobacco, do you have a preferred place to smoke it?
Our property is pretty large, we are fortunate to have many beautiful spots that I can choose for a smoke. We have a very mature hobby farm, so sometimes I’ll go by the barn or into the garden. I never smoke indoors, but I have about 10 different areas around the property where I’ll go, depending on the time of year. I pick a spot, a pipe and often music to go with it.
I’m usually alone when I’m smoking and only once or twice a day. Once in the afternoon, with a larger bowled pipe and once after dinner with a smaller one.
It sounds like you have a ritual around smoking your pipes that is similar to what many artists and writers do around their art. So how many pipes do you own at this point?
42. My pipe racks (pictured at right) can hold 64. I have plans for specific additions to my collection--not because of maker or price so much, I won’t spend more than about $100 on a pipe--but because of patterns or styles that I want represented in my collection.
You have smoked a pipe for most of your life. How did you start?
It’s been nearly 55 years, since I was 20. I was drafted into the Army and served in Korea, stationed in a very remote part of the country. I would read pocket Westerns and smoke my pipe. At that time, you could go to the PX and buy a Dunhill or a corncob. A Dunhill could be bought there for $15 and a one pound packages of Dunhill tobacco for about $3 a pound. If I hadn’t gone into the army, I probably wouldn’t have picked up a pipe. I still have some of those original pipes and they are just as good today as they were back then.
If you were giving one piece of advice to a new pipe smoker what would it be?
I often tell new pipe smokers that they should avoid taking much of the advice from review sites too seriously. If you’re tempted to try a tobacco that’s a $10 tin, then look at the reviews and see what others thought, but don’t take it too seriously unless there is a consensus. Before you spend $10 on pipe tobacco, you might want to know what others have to say.
Try a sampler first if you can. If you don’t like it, then don’t force yourself to finish it to save a buck.
Keep a log book, just like you would on wine. Once you find a blend you like, it’s easier to experiment with other brands. I recommend smoking no more than twice per day and toss a blend if you don’t like it.
Keep your pipe meticulously clean. Clean it every single time.
Good advice and unique from what we usually hear. Any last thoughts you’d like to share Larry?
Well, I’m the only pipe smoker in my family and I’ve asked to be buried with my pipes and a bit of tobacco. Other than that, just enjoy every day! There is so much we have to be thankful for and thank you for reading!