Better Days
A Series on Pipes Smoking's Nostalgic Past

By Ernie Whitenack

"The Final Chapter - Part 2"

Did you read Part 1? If not click here.

(cont. from part 1 ...) Well, the whole thing just petered out except for some faithful at HP and other friends. I eventually gave away most tobacco stock except my favorite, a Balkan I named Balkar Dagh. Accessories were eventually sold and I tucked the remaining pipes in the back of a closet. It was a great experience but I did have some regrets about failing. I suppose I could have tried a store with hired help but had just invested in having a house built and couldn't take the chance. I wasn't about to leave my job at HP for such a gamble.

"Good" tobacco was being sold everywhere. English and Danish imports could be purchased at the "corner store". Drug stores and grocery stores had large displays of every brand worth selling. One odd place for tobacco sales was Mo Black's, a discount hardware store in Waltham, an early predecessor to those of today. A guy at HP approached me with a no-name can of tobacco from this hardware store (plain white label with black type) and asked me what I thought of the contents. I tried a bowl of this rough cut black and tan with a faint perique odor and was greatly impressed. I forget the price but remember it was very reasonable. I frequented this hardware store often but never noticed the tobacco section. The next time I went there it was surprising to see the range of tobacco on display.

Another surprise was the day, while at lunch with a friend, we stopped at a drug store at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Waltham Street in Lexington. There in the center of the store was a glass-toped counter dedicated solely to pipes and tobacco. The lone clerk was an older man with a good knowledge of the products he sold. I have wondered since if he leased the area in the store. I purchased my first freehand that day; a large flame grained Bari for twenty dollars.

During 1978 into 1981 there were vast upper management changes taking place at HP and many disappointed employees. I left in 1979, with the thought of opening another studio. I was followed by many other disappointed folk from the marketing department. At fifty one years, in an era when thirty was over the hill, the chance if obtaining employment was slim. I was temporally working out of my old studio in Brockton. I had sold it shortly after I went to HP to the man I earlier hired to run it. We were good friends and he allowed me full access to the space and equipment. Oddly HP called me a couple of weeks after I left to do a shoot. I continued as the sole photographic vendor to HP for many years.

Meanwhile, an advertising agency in Newton that I was trying to nurture, called me in one day and asked if I would be interested in establishing a studio there. One of the principles was a sometime photographer but not good enough to meet the demands of his clients. The studio space was rent free in return for a discount on my fee to them. It was a good deal for all. They were paying for a little used studio any way and I became a virtual in-house photographer. The one drawback – no pipe smoking – even though one of the partners had several pipes in a rack on his desk. I again reverted to cigarettes during the day unless I went outside for a break and a quick pipe. I think I was a pioneer in the legions of outside smokers that were to follow.

Once again I put my name was on the door, made a substantial investment in equipment and started a sales campaign. Many of those who left HP had started businesses or became CEOs of other medical electronics companies giving me a good place to start. Many became good customers.

Ten years went quickly. Eric was in the Air Force and Betsy was married. I was divorced, slowing down and considering retirement.

I was discussing retirement with a good, ex-HP, customer and long time friend. We were on a job in California. When we returned he called me in the evening and informed me his partner had taken a job with Phoenix Co., a maker of computer BIOS. He asked if I would come to work for him should I decide to retire. I agreed but only part time. So I notified my customers, tied up loose ends and retired to a part time job in 1989. It was an exciting ten years that followed. There was travel to England and Germany and several times a year to California. The opportunity came to visit several tobacconist shops in England. Some were quite modern and others looked like they had been there for two hundred years.

On a side trip to Amsterdam I was taken to The Cloister House, a restaurant housed in an ancient monastery. We were seated in a room with relics on the smoke stained walls and long boards upon which were hung long clay pipes. Under each pipe was written, in a very flowery hand, a name. Questioning the waiter about the pipes, he told us that several pipe clubs met there weekly and as the membership roll was called the club warden would retrieve the pipe for each member present.

The world was becoming anti-smoking and pressure from family and friends to quit smoking was great. With much determination I put all means of smoking out of sight and started carrying clove candy; it having been recommended as a deterrent to the urge to smoke. I quit for about five years

The job quickly became full time and allowed me to become proficient in computer graphics and somewhat of a technical writer; but I was still an often needy non smoker. I did much of my work at home and the tobacco habit gnawed at me during times of tight deadlines and problem solving. I bought a pack of Winston which I left in a kitchen cabinet but carried a daily ration of four to my desk. The four a day quickly turned to ten a day and I quit again when hypertension came into my life and my doctor said I must.

Several years later my job ended when my friend's health failed; skin cancer spread to his lungs and he passed on; ending a brilliant career for a man who fought his way out of the streets of Brighton to attain two advanced degrees.

One evening in 2004 as I sipped a Scotch and gazed at my pipes still in the wall rack, so long ago relegated to inactivity, it dawned on me that I was seventy six years old and healthy. If smoking all those years hadn't killed me by now it probably never would. With Scotch and ice close by, I spent the rest of the evening reaming and cleaning several pipes. In the morning I attempted to call Ehrlich's for a shipment and found they had moved and changed to primarily a cigar store. I was stunned. It was like learning that the Old North Church was now a parking lot – such a piece of history gone.

I remembered Leavitt and Peirce used to carry DPE and headed for Harvard square. Again it was difficult accepting what time had done to that store. It was full of students buying cigarette papers and hookah tobacco. Few pipes were displayed and the pipe museum was gone. It seemed smaller as if it had been partitioned off. Anyway, I got my DPE with free matches, hopped the T back to my car parked in Belmont and anxiously filled my Oom Paul. The flavor was not familiar. I blamed it on the pipe and my long hiatus from it. I gave the pound a fair try hoping that old smoothness and aroma would appear. It never did. It had changed. I added Latakia and Turkish to the remainder which added needed flavor.

I found Tinder Box in Newton Center and smoked Sherlock's Choice until one day I found the door locked and the store empty. I started a search for a replacement for DPE while trying all sort of stuff; most very sticky and scented. Even Barking Dog's light rum flavor was now very pronounced and artificial. I was told by Watch City Cigar they had the recipe for DPE but could not obtain some of the tobacco to make it.
Ehrlich's catalog touted DPE as seven of the worlds best tobacco pressed and aged for two years before being cut into cubes.

Recently, I kept returning to McClelland's Dark English between tries at several Pipes and Cigars and C&D blends – even had C&D blend a couple for me from recipes I had read about.
I understand that my taste sensation might have changed or one of the medications old age has brought into my life could be causing taste changes, but it seems blenders are spicing up tobacco blends. Could it be to coincide with the trend for hot and spicy food?

I have also learned that the word Burley has, to many, come to mean a flavored tobacco and Cavendish is no longer just a cut of tobacco but a processed and sweetened condiment tobacco. Now this brings me to the vast amount of cheap artificially flavored tobacco on the market. I have often wondered why people smoke a pipe if they do not enjoy the flavor of burning tobacco. But then, "each to their own taste said the maid as she kissed the cow". To me, smoke derived from top grade natural tobacco can be like a good blended wine as the individual flavors come and go throughout the bowl and often mix for an exotic new taste.

Well, I'm still looking for that replacement for DPE but think it might be like hunting for the Holy Grail – a never ending search.

Take a look at . There you will find a delightful collection of catalogs from both tobacco shops and manufacturers. (Don't miss Wally Frank)

Thanks to you guys at the Sherlock Holms Pipe Club I again have camaraderie with pipe smokers and enjoy every moment of our meetings. The monthly lottery and generous members have allowed me to sample many new blends that I probably would never think to purchase.

So, I will end this series of stories with a sincere thanks to you all. It has been a fun project for me and hopefully you have found something enjoyable along the way.

Copyright© 2010 Ernest Whitenack

Other Better Days Articles
Grandpa Baloney
Granpa Newt
The Glamour and Lure of Smoking
Smoking the War Away
Germany, Cigs and Ration Cards
The Final Chapter - Part 1
The Final Chapter - Part 2

Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired.

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