This is going to be a little bit of an diversion from the style of postings that I was attempting, but hang in there. I’ve seen this topic on a few different pipe forums and thought I’d add my opinions. As a forethought, I haven’t read the threads of these topics, so if it seems that I’m taking someone’s opinions as my own, I wanted it to be known that I am not.
Pipes as art…yes. Simply put, a pipe is a piece of art. The simplest support I can give for this would be that a pipe is not only created to be utilitarian (ok, there are pipes that are created as such, but I think we can agree to disregard those…and I could be wrong, but I don’t think so) but something that is also pleasing to see. Recently I ran across an article about the rituals of coffee (written by Greg Pease) and he mentioned a certain coffee brewing instrument, a Chemex® coffeemaker. I did a bit of research on this item as I had never heard of one before, my parents being the Folgers lovers they were, and found that this coffeemaker, in the handblown series, is featured in the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But how can such a simple, everyday item be featured in these esteemed buildings of human achievement? Simple, they were carefully designed, thoughtfully produced and a pleasure to look at. The fact that one may not agree with the curator of a museum doesn’t suddenly make their displays any less of “art”. To this person, it is simply “bad art”.
Am I getting to my point quickly or have I made it…what do you think? Pipes, whether classic shapes or modern designs, are all in some way pleasing to the eyes and/or senses (if not always pleasing to the billfold). I could line up a row of classic billiards from numerous makers and they’d each be different, but they’d be unique. Even machine created pipes are unique; their grain patterns, the way they stained and perhaps even the quirky fit of the stem. But each pipe is different. There isn’t a single pipe (except maybe The Pipe) that is stamped out of a mould, or cloned from a master pipe. Skillful eyes and talented hands make these beauties not only to smoke, but to enjoy and caress and display.
I understand that everyone has a different opinion on what art is. I may consider my bookcase of DVD’s a work of art on its own (more so because I’m amazed they’re not strewn in front of the DVD player), but the next visitor to my house may just look at that bookcase as a piece of furniture with nay a thought to its colour and form. My drawings are my treasures. I worked hard at them, but some people that have seen them have not had the same reaction that I intended, some outright hated them. Pipes are the same way. Some pipes are beautiful things to behold, with form and colour and graining complimenting a wonderful smoking instrument. Some pipes, on the other hand are less appealing to look upon, with forms that seem incongruous and perhaps chunky, with a stain that didn’t compliment the grain at all.
Let’s face it, at its most basic level a pipe is just a piece of wood with two holes in it. There isn’t any other constraint than that. What the carver does to this piece of wood creates the art, or releases it (Michaelangelo on sculptures).
Every pipe collector has heard the legend of Dunhill’s DR pipes. Exotic tales of a dead heath tree yielding its long decayed and seasoned burls for use as legendary smoking objects to be admired and cherished.
To the question about whether DR really meant that the burl was from a dead tree, it probably was not. It seems more likely, given what the earth and water and time does to pieces of organic material in the ground, that this is just a REALLY good example of Mr. Dunhill’s marketing skills. It’s not argued that Mr. Dunhill was a master of marketing. Objects bearing the Dunhill logo still to this day (over 100 years) still command discussion and arguments and praise. Without marketing, where would a company be? Without marketing, would MacDonald’s be where they are today? Would they have grown from a small restaurant, in the ’40s, in California, into the globalised chain which they are today? Probably not and so, likely, the name Dunhill would not have grown outside of London if Alfred couldn’t find a way to make his product stand apart from everyone else’s.
Dunhill pipes stood out from the crowd in a number of ways. First off (and I’m not going to spend the time looking the patents up, because it’s not relevant) they contained the patented innertube system which is carried through today, more for tradition than anything else but it has stuck and become a part of the Dunhill pipe. Secondly, after production of pipes was completely taken under the authority of the Dunhill company (since previously bowls were purchased, already turned, from France) they started introducing other lines apart from what we now call the Bruyere finish. These weren’t different grades as some companies had done/started doing. These were distinctly different “finishes” to appeal to a wider customer base. As is stated in one of the old catalogues (and NOT quoted by any means, as this comes from memory), the Bruyere pipe was cut from briar which was harvested in France, the Root from Italian briar, and the Shell from Algerian briar. Each of the sources of briar had a different colour/trait to it that helped create the final product. The French briar had a red tint to it that lend itself well to the red coloured stain. The root finish, originally, was darker than it is today (closer to today’s Amber Root) and was often finished with a version of the Brindle Stem. The graining from the Italian wood was such that a lighter/no stain could be added as to show it off. The Algerian briar lend itself greatly to blasting. Whether this was ever true, or how long it remained the case is uncertain. What IS certain, though, is that by stating this, Mr. Dunhill has brought you into the workings of the company and made you feel like this product is in some ways special.
A great example of marketing is the issuance of “Limited Edition” pipes (or any object labelled “limited” aimed at garnering attraction). These pipes, while heavily decorated in precious metals, rare wood, bits of long deceased animals, are the same pipes that one is buying at much more ‘reasonable’ prices. The fact remains that labelling an object “Limited” doesn’t guarantee that said object will sky-rocket in value. The label isn’t stating that this was made by some obscure artist in the heart of Berkshire, or that in anyway, apart from added accoutrements, this pipe will differ from the standard selection. By weaving a tale of mystery and history into an object, the consumer base is lured into the mystique. Marketing is a “science” that aims its cross-hairs directly at the consumer and fires everything it has.
The DR designation, as with the OD designation, may just be letters thrown out, like they used to throughout for their shapes (i.e., shape designations on their OD pipes). Why was an “R” used to designate “root” when an “A” was used to designate a “bruyere”? Most likely it is because the R stamp and B stamp looked too similar to the workers.
Without degrading the products of Dunhill or even talking badly of them, this article attempts to show that everything is NOT bible truth. Perhaps the company did come across some actual dead roots that were usable and they garnered the idea from that. However, it is unlikely that that practice continues today. A briar burl does not have to have been dug up already dead to produce straight grained pipes. Why did Alfred state “From the heart of such roots are carved the straight grain bowls…” when the plateau, or outside parts of the burl produce the best straight grains? The answer is because the outside of a dead piece of wood is decayed and cracked. Perhaps this is proof that they were using dead burls and staining their pipes dark to hide the grain. More likely though, it was the prose that got people’s attention and drew them to the “mysterious” dead root pipes. Mr. Alfred Dunhill created a product that stood out and, to this day, surrounds itself in mystery and mysticism.
I in no way make any claims to post in any regularity, but will attempt some form of commentary at least once a week pending I will be able to find a suitable topic on which to remark. Mostly these, shall we say, rantings will revolve around pipes and tobaccos (i.e. histories, makers, myths, facts, etc.) but the occasional wine or other obscure topic my crop into this forum. Also, the look and feel of this page will change as I get more and more comfortable with the settings. Sometimes, I feel rather behind when attempting a new program or interface such as this. Cheers!