2016: Year In Review

12/29/16 by Sykes Wilford

2016 has been a very strange year. And while that is true of the world outside of pipes as well, it is particularly true of our little hobby.

On the one hand, the hobby is thriving. People are excited about the vast realm of pipe tobaccos; at present, Smokingpipes.com has more than 1,600 pipe tobacco offerings, and sold a greater amount in a wider selection than ever in 2016. As for pipes, there are more than six thousand options on offer on our site alone. Pipe smoking, like so many other hobbies these days, is increasingly specialized, personal and decommoditized. Gone are the days when every corner store had a handful of pipes and pipe tobaccos (often the same ones) and while we tend to think of that sea-change sadly, it's also a tremendous boon: the selection available to the hobby has never been wider, richer, or more varied.

On the other hand, the hobby faces a baffling new legal environment in the United States, one that nonsensically includes pipes along with pipe tobacco in the regulatory scheme. As Rick Newcombe highlights in his article for reason magazine, it's an environment that will be particularly tricky for smaller manufacturers to navigate and includes provisions for pipes that are ill-considered and thoroughly confusing.

The pipe tobacco industry in Europe has faced only somewhat less incoherent regulatory changes in the past year, as it tries to comply with TPD2, and works to shoe-horn itself into a regulatory environment, written with cigarettes in mind, that simultaneously introduced tougher reporting requirements and fragmented packaging rules among its twenty-eight member states.

However, assuming the industry successfully navigates the new environment — and we certainly believe it will — the future is decidedly rosy for our little corner of the tobacco world. Small-scale craft pipe tobacco brands — such as Cornell & Diehl, McClelland, G. L. Pease and Samuel Gawith — had a wonderful year, as more and more people explore niche, specialty pipe tobaccos. We saw releases like Cornell & Diehl's Bijou and Corn Cob Pipe & a Button Nose, the relaunch of Drucquer's, the re-release of Dunhill's Ye Olde Signe and Dark Flake, plus Samuel Gawith's Cabbie's Mixture, and much more.

Similarly, the breadth of selection in pipes is staggering, more so than it has ever been. More artisan pipe makers in more parts of the world are doing interesting work. Twelve-odd years ago, I was on a panel for a German pipe publication discussing the future of pipe making. At the time, many of the panelists were worried about the aging of the core group of Danish pipe makers and the small number of top-tier young pipe makers. I argued that the artisan pipe making community would become global over the next decade. And it has. We work with talented pipe makers from Denmark, of course, Germany, Italy, the UK, Greece, Japan, China, Brazil, and most remarkably, many in the United States. More than half of those countries had only a limited, or no, high grade artisan pipe making community a decade ago. Even the United States could only boast a small handful of top-tier pipe makers in 2004; now one could argue that it has become the nexus country of the artisan pipe making explosion we've seen during the past decade.

And factory pipe quality and selection — especially from the 'big three' Savinelli, Peterson, and Chapuis-Comoy, maker of Chacom, Ropp, and other brands — has improved markedly over the past few years. Indeed, we also saw the opening of BriarWorks in Nashville, TN, the first true pipe factory to open in decades. And we've seen really interesting pipes from factories recently, ranging from Savinelli's Chubby Cutty to Peterson's Amber Spigot that became available, and proceeded to sell out, yesterday.

On the whole, we have a lot to be thankful for as we come to the end of 2016. Aside from trying to make sense of the new regulatory environment, it's been a really fun year for us here at Smokingpipes.com. We've had lots of great pipes to look at, think about, photograph, describe, and discuss. We've had fresh tobaccos to try, and old tobaccos to rediscover. And, as always, wonderful customers to work with, for which we are truly thankful.

So, I raise my pipe to you (a Savinelli 140th Anniversary with C&D Sunday Picnic, as it happens) and thank you for another great year. For your interest in our wonderful hobby, for your enthusiasm for pipes and pipe tobacco, for your friendship, and for your kind continued patronage of Smokingpipes.com, thank you. Happy New Year!