Winter 97/98
Volume I
Issue 3

CigarCyclopedia!

Christmas Pipes
Collecting
Christmas
Pipes


by RICHARD CARLETON HACKER

with the holidays rapidly approaching, our thoughts are drawn to home and hearth, family and friends, and reflection upon the past, present, and future. For pipesmokers, this is the ideal season for settling back in a favorite chair and firing up a special pipe that epitomizes all that is good and right with the world. Indeed, it is the season for a very special kind of pipe, a pipe that only appears during the very last months of the calendar, a pipe that captures the warmth of the holidays and the excitement of being a very unique type of limited edition, which in itself makes it a very rare gift. 'Tis the season of the Christmas pipe.

Often called Christmas Pipes, in Europe they have been known for decades as Pipes of the Year, End-of-Year Pipes, or by their newer, more sterilized title of Year Pipes. But no matter what your religious leanings or smoking preferences are, the fact remains that Christmas pipes are among the most eagerly sought of all limited edition collectibles. Today's Christmas pipe tradition has roots in the ancient, European New Year's Eve practice of smoking a clay pipe and then smashing it into the fireplace at the stroke of midnight, thus symbolizing an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new philosophy. Today's pipesmokers are much more fastidious; few would choose to follow this Custom with our hand-turned Dunhills or Ser Jacopos!

After a heyday during the Victorian era, the manufacture and appreciation of special Christmas and Year clay pipes has, sadly, begun to wane. However, the specially made briar End-of-Year-Pipes that have taken their place have been quite popular for over two decades. It is only natural that the relatively modern category of annual holiday briars should have been created by manufacturers, as over 60 percent of all the pipes sold are purchased during November and December, either as gifts or as a personal reward to oneself for simply enjoying life. Unfortunately, not all of the predominantly European-made Year pipes are regularly exported to the United States. But for today's smoker/ collector who wishes to enter the seasonally exciting realm of Christmas pipes, here is a look at the offerings that are available in the U.S. this year.

Ironically, Christmas pipes represent one of the most popular, yet least popularized, of all pipe-collecting activities. For those smoker- collectors who already have started a complete set of year-by-year Christmas pipes of a particular manufacturer, it would be unthinkable to allow another holiday season to pass without the ritual of adding the latest briar. To miss one could mean many frustrating years later on, trying to track that particular model down. Small wonder that some of the more limited Christmas pipes quickly sell out well before December 25th. And yet, many pipesmokers are not aware of the complete lineup of End-Of-Year pipes that await the smoking and collecting fraternity. (To help alleviate this situation, in 1986 I authored a limited edition book on these seasonal smokes entitled The Christmas Pipe, which started many a pipesmoker on a holiday hobby and pointed out the universal bond between the Yuletide and pipe smoking.)

Comoy's has the distinction of being the first major brand to create a Christmas pipe expressly for the American market, with its initial issue in 1970. Like all Subsequent pipes in this longest-running series, it was stamped CHRISTMAS on the near side of the shank, along with the year of issue. None of the pipes have been serial numbered. Only 1,200 of the 1976 Comoy's Christmas pipes were made, and subsequent years' models were turned out in quantities of 1,800. Although a number of collectors own the complete 21-pipe set, most of the earliest models, especially the 1976 briar, are very difficult to locate, despite their comparafive1v large numbers. Rarest of all Comoy's Christmas offerings is a factory-cased set, created in 1981, which contained one each of the six Christmas pipes in existence at that time, ranging from 1976 through 1981. Comoy's produced only 150 of these sets, and with all six pipes in unsmoked condition, commands a much higher price than if the pipes were purchased individually. In recent years, Comoy's has included a routed-out wooden stand with their Christmas pipes, which enables them to be displayed when they are, not being smoked.

This year's Comoy's Christmas pipe is a bent bulldog with a handcut Lucile mouthpiece. As with most of their past offerings, the near side of the shank is stamped COMOY'S and "Christmas 1997," and the off side has the standard circular "Made in London" stamp over a straight line "London." Of the 1,800 pipes being made this year, only 450 are being imported into the United States. At a suggested retail price of $75, the Comoy's Christmas pipe is among the most affordable of the lot.

Stanwell, a Danish firm that has been producing pipes since 1942, introduced the first Pipe of the Year (as they call it) in 1979. Most of these annual issues are sold in Europe, where they are extremely popular, with the majority of year-end pipes going to Germany. Very few are ever imported into the U.S. In fact, 1984 was the first year that any appreciable quantities of Stanwell year pipes were brought into America. Annual production run is about 2,500 (although none of the models are serial-numbered) and, needless to say, these handsome, well-made and relatively inexpensive (around $85) briars sell out rather rapidly Most of the pipes are sandblasted and the shank is highlighted with an inserted silver plate stamped with the year. As befitting all of Stanwell's high-end pipes, a silver "crowned S" is inserted into the stem. Since 1995, the year has been printed on the box and a set of Stanwell filters has been included with each pipe.


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