By Al Sachrov
For Arley Curtz, a pipe is more than just a way to smoke tobacco. It summons up a time when pipe smoking was both acceptable and part of a gentler civility in our culture.
Curtz is a pipe maker and collector of smoking pipes. He has over 300, ranging from simple corncobs to handmade antiques. Each one has a story. As the smoke from a pipe curls upwards, it allows Curtz a time to pause and reflect. “A pipe,” he says, “is a keeper of memories.”
Just as a pipe cannot be smoked in haste, a handmade pipe requires patience to craft. Curtz forms his pipes from briarwood, which grows in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Although other materials such as mesquite and the chalklike meerschaum can be used, Curtis prefers briarwood because of the slow, even burn it provides.
He first examines a rough block, which can range from $40 to $200 in price for possible flaws. Then over a period of 15 to 20 hours, he drills, shapes and burnishes the pipe until it becomes a minor work of art.
But the pipe is only half the equation. There are hundreds of potential tobacco mixtures to smoke and rare ones fetch up to $200 per ounce on the internet.
Curtz suggests that a beginning pipe smoker visit a tobacco shop and be prepared to spend between $75 and $125 for a quality pipe that can wick away heat and moisture. Once a person has a pipe, its packing, lighting and cleaning become a ritual to be enjoyed as much as the smoking itself.
Curtz acknowledges the health risks but notes that pipe smoking can be a gentleman’s approach to tobacco. “I can’t explain it,” he says. “But there are rare moments when the smoke is so perfect it puts one in a state of grace.”