The 2007 New York Pipe Show
The Spaghetti Western of Pipe Shows

By Horace Harker


I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that most of you reading this article either enjoy going to pipe shows or if you've never been, would like to go to one. This past March I attended my fourth NY Pipe Show which is held in Newark NJ. The March show is the first of four New York shows each year and although I haven't attended any of the other yearly shows I'm told that the March show is the best of the bunch. This year's show however, was noticeably different from other years. For starters it was the first March show since the New Jersey smoking ban had gone into effect and smoking was no longer allowed during the show. This had an obvious effect on attendance and participation and to a point I can understand why. Personally, I was disappointed and on the way home was discussing with the others in the car my thoughts for writing my report about the show for this month's newsletter. I usually try to be as positive as I can when writing about the adventures of the Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club but I was struggling with this one a little. I put it on the back burner and thought more about it when my mind wasn't cluttered with other things. About a week later, during my forty five minute drive home from work it all seemed to come together; different aspects of this year's show reminded me of that old spaghetti western "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly." You know the one I'm talking about starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, (no not Lee Von Erck) and Eli Wallach.

By now some of you may be thinking to yourself… “This guy’s about a pinch short of a full bowl.” Well maybe I should explain myself so it makes a little more sense. There were parts of this show that were both good and bad, but if the bad continues to stick around I’m afraid things could get pretty ugly. Here are my thoughts….

The Good
Pipe shows are a lot of fun and this show definitely had its enjoyable moments. From the seclusion of an electronic age, pipe shows get you away from your computer screens and allow you to get up close and personal with more pipes, pipe makers, tobacco and accessories than you've ever seen in one place before. Where else can you go and look at hundreds of pipes in the same day, pick them up, inspect them, run a pipe cleaner through them and get a pretty good idea how it'll look on you. At a pipe show you can also talk to folks who work closely with the makers and in some cases you can talk to the pipe makers themselves. You can sample or take samples of tobacco with you to try later. Ok so this year you couldn't sample the tobacco right in the show but if you were anxious enough you could have gone outside to the courtyard or back to your room for fifteen or twenty minutes. You can save a few bucks on tobacco and may even be lucky enough to find a tin or two of that vintage blend you've been wanting to try. You can find pipe cases, pipe stands, lighters and a myriad of other accessories all in the same place and know exactly what you’re buying before you put your money down. Try doing that on the Internet.
But pipes, tobacco and accessories aren't the only things you'll find at a show, the room is also filled with pipe smokers and collectors from all over. Shows like the ones in New York usually attract pipe smokers from the Northeast area but at shows like the Chicago Show you'll find people from all over the world. Those of you who frequent ASP, EBay and other pipe related websites may finally have an opportunity to put real live faces to familiar names like Coopershawk, Pipestud, Big_briar_buyer, Buck12ga, Briarroot Bill & Scott Curtis. You've conversed with Greg Pease, Paul Bonaquisti, Mark Tinsky, Bill Feurbach and others on ASP, at a pipe show there’s a good chance you’ll have the opportunity to meet and talk with them and many others in person. There are so many different ways you’ll enjoy a pipe show but the ones I just mentioned hold true for just about any pipe show you’ll attend.
One other good thing that happened that should not go without mentioning. Our own resident pipe maker Tim Hynick had a table at the show and sold three pipes and got orders for three more. You can't beat a quality pipe at a reasonable price.

The Bad
Normally, it would be hard to write anything bad about a pipe show but some of what I observed at this show could not be considered good. First of all, it’s usually fun to arrive on Friday night and have dinner before checking out the rooms of vendors offering those of us who came early a first crack at what they have to offer. In the last couple of years I have seen a decline in the number of rooms that are open. This year only two rooms had notices posted by the elevator when we arrived but a couple more were added a little later on. We only made it to two of the rooms, found the third one closed already and weren’t even sure who or where the last one was. Both rooms we visited had considerably less foot traffic than recent years. After visiting the rooms we’ll usually head down to the bar where we’ll find a table or two of pipe show guys, living it up over a couple of brews. Last year three of us shared a beer or two with Danish pipe maker Kurt Balleby and had a truly enjoyable time. This year, there were just three of us in the bar and they were out of Yuengling. Talk about depressing.

Now for Saturday, We headed down for breakfast and met up with Dock, Andy and Greg who got up before the crack of dawn and drove down (also different from past years). Usually there are at least three of four tables of pipe guys eating breakfast. This year there may have been one other. We headed out to wait in line ten minutes before the show started and at opening time there were only about fifteen people in line. Once inside there was little congestion and we were able to make our way around the room with ease. For those of you who have been to this show before, this may sound like a good thing but in actuality, it is not. We had heard that Cornell and Diehl would be there with their “sleeve of tobacco for $35” deal but they weren't there. We also had heard that all the tables were sold out but there were at least two empty tables and where there are usually tables all along the back wall, today there was one table and a table with coffee that ran out early. The prices seemed a little steeper this year as well and I overhead one vendor say “There’s a lot of lookers, but not too many buyers.”

We usually like to see our old friends from Hudson Valley which include Bill Feurbach from Kaywoodie, Paul Bonaquisti, Joe Skoda and Rolando Negoita. None of which were there. I remember looking into the room from the main entrance on several occasions and seeing lots of empty space in the aisles, normally the isles would be packed to the gills. Don't get me wrong, there still was a pretty good turn out but I'd say only two thirds of what I remember.

Lastly, and no fault of anyone’s but the show just isn’t the same without Sailorman Jack and his familiar report of “Attention! Attention!” when it was time for the raffle. Speaking of the raffle… I got a raffle ticket and never heard of anything raffled off the whole day?

The Ugly
I seriously considered no going to the show this year. I love walking around to all the tables filling my pipe with any of the different blends that happen to tickle my fancy. What’s a pipe show without pipe smoke? No! What’s a pipe show without people? I’ve noticed attendance but even more so enthusiasm, drop in the last couple of years. The death grip of the anti smoking movement is getting tighter and tighter and we all know that we are not the reason for the smoking bans, but we’re going down with the ship just the same.

We can’t just throw up our hands and give up the fight. These pipe shows are a major catalyst in keeping us connected and to help keep our community strong. There are other ways to bring back the excitement that is fading right before our eyes; we just have to be creative. Maybe we can bring back Friday night and make it a highlight of the show again. Try to keep the rooms closer together and have a sort of block party. Serve some refreshments, play some music. I honestly appreciate all the hard work that goes into putting on shows like these but has there ever been any thought to reducing the number of shows to maybe two a year? After all isn’t it the quality that matters over the quantity? Please know that I am in no way trying to put down the show or its producers. I just miss the spark and I'm letting my thoughts ramble.

There are lots of ways to keep it going and we can’t throw in the towel just yet. Please continue to support your pipe shows. Let’s help to reinvent the pipe.

Please feel free to comment and I'll post what I can in next month's newsletter.

See more photos from the show.

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