Las Vegas 2013:
Pipe Show Lightning Strikes Again!
By Steve Johnson
President, Southwest Pipe & Cigar League
It was in 2008 that two incredibly dedicated pipe smokers were crazy enough to embark on the organizing of a show that would take up where California left off after the Los Angeles and Northern California shows weren’t doable anymore. Crazy like foxes, because Steve O’Neill and Marty Pulvers were willing to anticipate popular demand for a new show in the southwest. It took some perseverance to get Steve and Marty through the challenges of their first West Coast Pipe Show in 2009. That positive “can do” attitude has certainly paid off in a big way ever since as the event racked up another major WCPS hit in Las Vegas on November 2 and 3.
I began my trek with our club’s secretary/treasurer Robert Rudd as we headed out Friday, November 1, safely arriving at the Palace Station Hotel about 4 p.m. It was great to see some old friends checking in with us, although we still had to find out what would be in store at the casino. I was eager for a visit, so after my bags were stowed in the room, I had to go through and have a look for myself. And what a wonderful look it was! Pipe smokers all over the place, including a few very active tables next to Jack’s Irish Pub. It’s the kind of unique informal gathering that can only happen right before a pipe show. I’m not much of a Charatan guy myself, but it was nice to know that another meeting by the International Charatan Collectors Society at 5 p.m. kicked off the weekend excitement – perhaps part of the WCPS tradition now? (Charatan collectors coming to this year’s show are invited to attend the ICCS meeting on Friday, November 7. For more details, please visit the WCPS website.)
At 8 on Saturday morning, the exhibitors began assembling their displays. The bare handful of last minute no-shows detracted nothing from the 100+ tables that were being filled to capacity. Before the show opened to the public at 10, a very nice line at the door was already forming up – then it was go time! Guests checking in at the admissions table were able to examine a good selection of high-grade pipes, tobaccos, and pipe books being offered for the raffle. There were plenty of people who purchased raffle tickets going in, so my congratulations to the lucky winners whoever you are! The show added a new feature in the form of a tobacco-tasting contest provided by Paul Creasey of Sutliffe/Mac Baren, Leonard Wortzell of Stokkebye-Lane Ltd., and Russ Oullette of Hearth and Home. (Many thanks to Paul, Leonard, and Russ for donating their great variety of tobaccos to the contest!) That was just the tippy-top of a giant WCPS iceberg, so let’s go in and check out the exhibitors…
Okay, before I continue, here’s my standard caveat. Taking notes and trying to remember the particulars of everyone who exhibited is at best challenging. It is inevitable that some exhibitors got overlooked, so I offer my apologies to those who I did not include in this report. Now we’ll wade in. Let’s start off with our collectors’ contingent. Southwest Pipe & Cigar League member Lowell Ellis continued his unbroken string of appearances at the show. Lowell has been both an experienced collector and a great guy to deal with for many years. Our other collectors and SWPCL members were John Ferraro, Bob Noble, Al Grosskopf, and Mario Persico, all showing fine displays. Our good friends from the NCPS days were collectors Tom Pfaeffle and Tim Dowell. Rex Poggenpohl of the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club displayed an excellent collection as well, and it’s always a pleasure to enjoy spending some time with him. Collector extraordinaire Dennis Congos joined us for his fourth time at WCPS. I’ll round out “collectors’ corner” (so to speak) with Richard Friedman, Mark Helfin, and Brian Burk.
I’d like to deviate from my usual reporting format just a little bit, so we’ll mix things up with special mention of the people who exhibited at the show for the first time. They included online estate pipe seller Ben Crasnean, American pipemaker Zack Hamric, maker of leather pipe accessories Mike Kehayes, collector/estate seller Dale Neff, online retailer Olie Sylvester, new American pipemaker Scott Klein, online artisan pipe retailer Michael Lancaster, and we were pleased to welcome German pipemaker Werner Mummert. A small, but nicely diverse group of first-timers, huh?
Speaking of American craftsmen, that’s a bigger group with makers who’ve been at the show for two years or more. After missing their presence at WCPS 2012, it was a sight for sore eyes to see Paul and Margaret Perri with us again. Unfortunately they weren’t up to exhibiting in November, but SWPCL member and expert restorer/eBay guru Chance Whittamore filled in the gap with some representation by the work of a man we should rightly call the “dean of American pipemakers”. Paul was in good company with other outstanding makers who represent some of the best in American pipecraft today: Bob Swanson (Perry White Pipes, Ft. Lauderdale FL), Brad Pohlmann (Jacksonville OR), Joe Skoda (Skoda Pipes, Philmont NY), Bob Kiess (Dr. Bob Pipes, Sharon VT), Jeff Gracik (J. Alan Pipes, San Diego CA), Ernie Markle (Markle Pipes, Scottsdale AZ), Nathan Armentrout (Armentrout Pipes, Lancaster CA), Will Jennings (Wyoming), Gunnar Weber-Prada (Totem Star, Santa Monica CA), Steve Morrisette (Steve Morrisette Pipes, Nashvile TN), Anthony Harris (Acme Woodturning, Kansas City KS), Victor Rimkus (Rimkus Pipes, Edgewood NM) and his son Nathan (N.W.R. Pipes, Los Alamos NM), Jerry Crawford (Crawford Pipes, Mesa AZ), Grant Batson (Grant Batson Pipes, Nashville TN), Kim Kendall (Penguin Briar, Phoenix AZ), Stephen Liskey (San Bernardino, CA), Colin Rigsby (Shurewood Briar Pipes, Ft. Worth TX), Robbie Cipolla (Ft. Lauderdale FL), Adam Davidson (Adam Davidson Design), Don Gillmore (Don Warren Pipes, Albuquerque NM), and Jared Coles (J&J Artisan Pipes, Fresno CA). Last but not least, it was great to see our Danish transplant-in-residence Tonni Nielsen for the fourth year in a row. WHEW! The following observation I made last year still applies – it was remarkable to consider the depth of “home-grown” expertise being shown here. I was also surprised by the accomplishments of makers with a relatively short time under their belts.
New European pipes were also in force at the show. British craftsman Ian Walker of Northern Briars continues an august tradition of pipemaking, and it was a pleasure to see him back as a WCPS veteran in Las Vegas. Danish carver Kjeld Sørensen made his debut at the show in 2011 under the name of Red Hat Pipes, so it was good to see him return as a second-timer. Last year we were pleased to make our acquaintance with Jim Craig of Ashton Pipes, so it was great to have his presence with us once more as he continues a legendary British name through his pipemaking excellence.
Howzabout more retailers, plus a few importers and distributors? Let’s see what else we have here – importers Gerard Ezvan (representing Vauen Pipes of Germany) and David Field of R.D. Field. Co-organizer Marty Pulvers and his wife Joy were next door neighbors with David, as Marty was up to his eyeballs juggling between show duties and what he had going on at his table. Also on hand were Kevin Brackett of Tobacco Pipe Exports (with a good selection of tobaccos and cigars thrown in), distributor Steve Monjure of Monjure International, retailers Sally Gottliebson of The Pipe Tart, Steve Fallon doing business as Pipestud’s Consignment Pipe Shop, Maxim Engel of Pipes2Smoke, and GM Brian Levine manning the display at SmokingPipes.com. It was great to welcome back some of our other WCPS veterans, including Mike Glukler of Briar Blues, Robert Lawing of Lawdog’s Pipes (also going under The Pipe and Pint), and Donald Seatter of James Island Piper (new and estate pipes). If you wanted to witness a collection of estate pipe that’ll really blow your mind, Rick Hopkins of Ye Olde Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe delivered the goods with the single most impressive display you’ll see when you come to Vegas.
What kind of pipe show would it be without a tobacco bar or two for tasting? Yeah, I know – silly question since the good folks who furnished all the tobacco for the tasting contest had their own exhibits too. Although I don’t want to give short shrift to Sutliffe/Mac Baren and Stokkebye-Lane, Russ Ouellette’s presence at the show stood out for several reasons. First, his expertise as a master tobacco blender is beyond doubt. Second, when you visit the Hearth and Home website, you’ll find out that he’s not just a blender, but a full-service online pipe and cigar retailer. And third, his Saturday afternoon tobacco seminars have become a major highlight at the annual WCPS events in Vegas. Russ was kind enough to let me use a camcorder so I could give his presentation an audience well beyond the four walls of the Palace Station Hotel’s hospitality room. Could this be a genuine first for any pipe show promoting the hobby? Anyway, Russ is up for doing it again, but in the meantime I hope you’ll enjoy his 2013 seminar below. As a fellow “co-conspirator” in the advancement of pipe smoking, it was nice to see tobacco manufacturer Mark Ryan of D & R Tobacco with his display next door to Russ. Cigar aficionados at WCPS weren’t left out in the cold either. Aside from the cigar presence I’ve already mentioned, F & K Cigar Co. rounded out my list of exhibitors attending the show for their second year with us.
As a good pipe pleases your eyes and a lovely tobacco pleases your palate, why not please your mind with some literature on our favorite subject? Well, Gary Schrier of Briar Books Press and noted pipe author Rick Newcombe had us covered there. And if your pipe needs a tune-up or you want to expand your selection of estate briars a bit further, I’ll recommend our organizer and WCPS host Steve O’Neill, who is great pipe restorer in his own right. Mr. Pulvers wasn’t the only one up to his eyeballs running the show, so Steve had a lot of help at his table from his wonderful wife Linda. However, she does a lot more behind the scenes than anyone realizes, and Steve’s words of praise can’t be said too many times – “there literally would not be a West Coast Pipe Show without her.”
After Saturday wound down from seven hours of excitement (wow, that’s for sure!), 5 p.m. found hotel security with their hands full clearing the ballroom. Same with the catering staff as they had to prepare the banquet room for the Awards dinner. A good number of dinner guests ambled in for cocktail hour starting around 6, then at 7 it was time for the evening’s festivities to begin. Filled-to-capacity advance reservations didn’t leave any seats open for people who were hoping to get in at the last minute, but that was just another sign of the show’s ongoing success. Compared to a frenetic day of activity on the floor, being able to spend time with friends old and new gives us the chance to relax and enjoy our special camaraderie. While this is a wonderful part of any pipe show, it has become one of the premier show dinners in the country. The buffet menu was changed from previous years, but the food was nonetheless up to the Palace’s Station’s high standard of excellence. Our dinner included complimentary red and white wines, followed by a scrumptious (dare I say nummy?) dessert menu and coffee (or tea, if you’d prefer). Each dinner guest was also treated to a very nice selection of tinned pipe tobaccos generously donated by Paul Creasey of Sutliffe/Mac Baren.
Upon the end of our feasting, Steve O’Neill introduced the guest speaker – none other than Chuck Stanion, long-time Editor in Chief of Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine. Chuck’s talk was not only humorous and entertaining, but also highly informative because his dedication to the pipe hobby combined with a background in publishing allowed him to share his unique insight on the history of pipe magazines with us. Unfortunately that history has been troubled for a very long time, but it’s a testament to P&T’s longevity after so many other hard-copy pipe publications have come and gone over the years. Many thanks to Mr. Stanion for an outstanding job with his speaking appearance. To finish a memorable evening, it was time for – drum roll, please! – Steve O’Neill presenting the WCPS 2013 awards. The winners were Joe Skoda, Excellence in Pipemaking; Colin Rigsby, Most Improved Pipe Maker; and Steve Monjure, Outstanding Contribution to the Pipe Community. Hearty congratulations to all three of you, gentlemen! Although the song may have been over, the melody lingered on with some lively after-dinner conversations going on in the hospitality room. It also happened to be the night when we got our hour back from daylight savings time. That was used to good advantage, and things kept on until the wee hours of the morning.
The ballroom had airtight security over everything, so when 9 a.m. came on Sunday, the exhibitors didn’t need much to get their displays back up. Then it was go time again at 10 as the show opened to the public. Which brings me to a rewind of Saturday and my overall impressions of the show. I’ve been to my fair share of pipe shows over the years. First, there would be a big crowd in the morning. Next, there would be a lull around lunchtime, then another influx of people in the early afternoon. Finally, the foot traffic would taper off getting toward closing time. However, the 2010 show defied my expectations of what would be the normal ebb-and-flow for this kind of event. The action was pretty much nonstop from beginning to end, and exciting to see that so many people actually had to be chased out at 5 p.m. on Saturday. While foot traffic is usually lighter on the second day of a pipe show, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the show defied my expectations there as well. More exhibitors were staying all the way through to 3 p.m. – and so were more attendees. Watching the experience first-hand not once, not twice, but three times was simply amazing. Pipe show lightning has struck again for the fourth time, so let’s see the trend continue as WCPS has been clearly on an upward trajectory since Steve and Marty started it all in 2009.
We owe Steve O’Neill, Linda O’Neill, and Marty Pulvers a huge debt of gratitude for all the tremendous work they’ve been doing. Their success is the reason why the West Coast Pipe Show continues to grow in such a big way. A special thanks to all the generous individuals who donated all the items that went into the weekend raffle. Thanks again to Paul Creasey of Sutliffe/Mac Baren, Leonard Wortzell of Stokkebye-Lane Ltd., and Russ Oullette of Hearth and Home for their generous tobacco contributions. And finally, we can’t thank the staff of the Palace Station Hotel and Casino enough. They treat us so well, and do a superb job on all fronts – it’s a pleasure to know that the show really feels like home when we keep coming back to the same venue every year.
As we look back at another phenomenal year, we’re also looking forward to an even bigger and better show in 2014. We’re on for the weekend of November 8 and 9, and be sure to check out the 6th Annual West Coast Pipe Show on the Web for more information. I will now leave you with two pieces of advice. First, if you’re even thinking about being an exhibitor at the show this year, I strongly suggest that you buy your exhibit space as soon as possible – it’s bound to sell out even faster than it has before. Second, if you weren’t able to attend the show last year, you really, really, really missed out. I know it might seem way too early to start making plans, but mark the dates now, and do everything you can to be there.
See you in November, my friends!