Looking Into My Crystal Ball

Now that we’ve finally slugged our way through what turned out to be a less than exciting and progressive 2020, I think we all can agree that we’re really looking forward to and hoping for a much better 2021 for the entire world. We need greater minds than mine to fix what broke, so I’m just going to discuss my small little niche world of pipes and tobaccos and offer some of my own ideas as to what we will see in our hobby over the next twelve months.

Regarding tobaccos, there has been a definite trend toward rounding up the best Virginia leaf we can find, corralling it in our cellars and hoping for the best as we let it age. Because of the war on tobacco of all kinds, it is indeed getting harder and harder to find quality Virginia leaf. Tobacco farming, once a monstrous and booming industry starting in the post WW II era, is getting smaller and smaller every year.

Here in the USA, there used to be areas of the country where growing tobacco was truly a huge industry. As an example, the largest tobacco belt in North Carolina was and may still be the Eastern Belt. It once contained approximately 65 tobacco warehouses, situated in approximately two dozen market towns beginning on the north side of the South River and extending northward. Literally millions of tons of Virginia and Burley tobacco were harvested in the Eastern Belt combined with the North and South Carolina Border Belts and the Old and Middle Belts. Tobacco growth was spectacular due to the rich red soil in that region and the Eastern Belt featured very rich and somewhat sandy soil that actually used to be under the ocean, and had absorbed minerals that were and still are major reasons why both Virginia and Burley tobacco thrive by being grown there.

To give you an example of how growing pipe tobacco has dwindled to where it is today; back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Edgeworth Sliced pipe tobacco alone was being produced to the tune of 7-million tons annually. Today, the entire tobacco growing regions of the USA annually produce about 7-million tons of tobacco used in ALL of the blends currently being produced in our country, and maybe even less since McClelland’s is now out of business.

What we are now seeing and will continue to see in 2021 and beyond (in my humble opinion), is a continuation of these trendy “Small Batch” Virginia blends that we are currently seeing come from blending houses such as Cornell & Diehl in the USA, Mac Baren’s and Orlik in Denmark, Kolhasse & Kopp in Germany and Germain in England. In Germain’s case, it’s not so much the “Small Batch” special blend releases as it is the fact that their staple Virginia blends are being produced and exported in “small batches,” and that’s why they are and will continue to be hard to get. It is my belief that with the hopeful coming demise of COVID-19 thanks to the vaccine and other factors, production and distribution of quality pipe tobacco will expand again. I sure hope so!

Moving on to pipes. Frankly, 2020 was a really tough year for many pipe makers because there were no pipe shows to attend to show off and market their product. The established makers who had an easily recognizable name, were able to get a lot of selling done online through either their own websites, or the major ones like smokingpipes.com, or both. But the newer pipe makers who really had no recognizable name, were relying only on Etsy, eBay, Instagram or Facebook to hawk their pipes. Without knowing anything about the pipe maker, his or her mentoring process, word of mouth about the smokability of their pipes, etc, it was tough for them to make a sale. And lets face it, while photos of a pipe made by a little known maker may show a handsome pipe, looks alone doesn’t make the pipe a good smoker. What about the quality of the briar used? What about the internal engineering? What about the quality and comfort of the stem? All of those factors go into whether the pipe smokes well or does not. With testimonials hard to come by, these little known makers are behind the 8-ball. I don’t know about you, but I don’t gamble by purchasing a pipe from a maker that I’ve never heard of, no matter how handsome the pipe looks. It the pipe is from an established, well known maker, then I may pull out my wallet. So, let’s hope that in 2021, we’ll be able to resume pipe shows and allow the talented newcomers to prove that what they have to offer isn’t just “smoke” and mirrors.

Here is to a better New Year for our hobby in 2021!

Steve