Las Vegas 2014:
Another Record-Breaking Year for the West Coast Pipe Show
By Steve Johnson
Southwest Pipe & Cigar League
I’ve been covering these events since the first one in 2009. I shouldn’t be surprised about it anymore, and yet I am – WCPS keeps getting better and better!
Regardless of my busy work schedule, I’m always able to make time for a 4-day weekend whenever the shows come up. And so it was on Friday morning, November 7 when the SWPCL’s secretary/treasurer Robert Rudd and I began our road trip to Vegas. Upon our safe arrival at the Palace Station Hotel about 4 p.m., it was great to see friends old and new checking in with us. Kinda fun to spot pipe guys even when they don’t have briars in their mouths! Anyway, 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 unique sort of informal gathering that can only happen right before a pipe show. The preshow excitement included a get-together of the International Charatan Collectors Society – part of the WCPS tradition now. (Charatan collectors coming to this year’s show are invited to attend the ICCS meeting on Friday, November 6. 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 opens to the public at 10, a nice line forming up at the door can be expected. But this time the line was longer than I’ve seen before – a harbinger of the incredible day to come. The admissions table included a good selection of high-grade pipes and tobaccos 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!
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 let’s check out the exhibitors…
We’ll lead off with people who made their WCPS debut in Vegas. Rolf Nestingen came all the way from Eau Claire, WI to show his pipe collection. Collector Bruce Kaiser of Belmont, CA didn’t have quite as far to come. Tobacco Pipe Collectors backed up their excellent online presence with a wonderful display of the artisan pipes they represent. Mark Stout of M. Stout Pipes (Ladera Ranch CA) was there with his first show ever. While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a father-and-son team of pipemakers at the show, it was a treat to have Jack and Jim Deschaine with us as first-timers. (Practicing their craft in Auburn CA by the way – there were quite a few Californians displaying at WCPS in November!) John Jensen of Rev’s Pipes has been to WCPS a couple of times, but this was his first as an exhibitor. We’ll include Bob Shadur of Pipes2Dream, Bill Walther of Walther Smoking Pipes, Wayne and Cynthia Toscas of Mr. T’s Estate Pipes (Pismo Beach CA), Don Marshall (D. Marshall Handcrafted Smoking Pipes, Buckeye AZ), and Justin Duval of Investment Grade Pipes (Shawnee OK) on the list. As I round out our contingent of first-time exhibitors, there are two are brick-and-mortar shops back on the southwest show scene after the events in L.A. and northern California were no longer viable. I was so glad to see them again – Cigar Monkey (Merced CA) and Smoker’s Haven (Columbus OH).
American pipecraft continued to figure prominently at the 2014 show, so this is the next category in my list of exhibitors: Nathan Armentrout (Armentrout Pipes, Lancaster CA), Jared Coles and John Klose (J&J Artisan Pipes, Fresno CA), Jerry Crawford (Crawford Pipes, Mesa AZ), Adam Davidson (Adam Davidson Design), Lee Von Erck (Negaunee MI – great to see him again after a two year absence from WCPS), Richard Friedman (Bellingham WA), Don Gillmore (Don Warren Pipes, Albuquerque NM), Jeff Gracik (J. Alan Pipes, San Diego CA), Anthony Harris (Acme Woodturning, Kansas City KS), Will Jennings (Wyoming), Bob Kiess (Dr. Bob Pipes, Sharon VT), Nathan King (Nate King Pipes, Indianapolis IN. Second time at the show, although I forgot to mention him in my 2013 report), Scott Klein (Scott’s Pipes, Elk Grove Village IL), Michael Lancaster, Stephen Liskey (San Bernardino, CA), Ernie Markle (Markle Pipes, Scottsdale AZ), Brad Pohlmann (Jacksonville OR), Colin Rigsby (Shurewood Briar Pipes, Ft. Worth TX), Victor Rimkus (Rimkus Pipes, Edgewood NM) and his son Nathan (N.W.R. Pipes, Los Alamos NM), Joe Skoda (Skoda Pipes, Philmont NY), and Bob Swanson (Perry White Pipes, Ft. Lauderdale FL). Bridging the gap between Europe and America, it was a pleasure to see the return of our Danish transplant-in-residence Tonni Nielsen for the fifth year in a row.
If we could call this a sort of “foreign exchange program,” then Tonni’s opposite number is carver and retired Navy veteran James Gilliam who now lives in Germany, making artisan briars under the JSEC Handmade Pipes brand. Well, there’s a segue for you, so next up here are the other exhibitors who made their hop across the Atlantic. British excellence was on display, with craftsman Ian Walker of Northern Briars and Jim Craig of Ashton Pipes joining the show again. On the retailer side of things, Neatpipes made the plane trip from Milan to give us an eyeful of great new Italian-made briar.
The best shows are known for their diversity of exhibitor presence, and WCPS 2014 kept up with plenty of that. So let’s continue my list with the following retailers and distributors who’ve been with WCPS before: Kevin Brackett (Tobacco Pipe Exports), Steve Fallon (Pipestud’s Consignment Pipe Shop on eBay), David Field (R.D. Field, LLC), Sally Gottliebson (The Pipe Tart), Brian Levine representing Brigham Pipes and Sutliffe Tobacco, Steve Monjure (Monjure International), and Donald Seatter of James Island Piper (new and estate pipes). 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. 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.
Because collectors and pipe clubs are a cornerstone of the hobby, their representation at the show continued to be an important part of the WCPS experience. Such being the case, we’ll take a look at “collectors’ corner” (so to speak). Hopefully you don’t think I’m biased here, but I’ll start with the SWPCL contingent. Lowell Ellis continued his unbroken string of appearances at the show – great guy, and his estate pipes are always priced fairly. Our other collectors and SWPCL members were John Ferraro, Bob Noble, Al Grosskopf, and Mario Persico, all showing fine displays. Good friends from the Northern California Pipe Show 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 fifth time at WCPS, with collectors Brian Burk, Andy Camire, Mark Helfin, and Pete Prygelski exhibiting at the show again. Yep, “collectors’ corner” – and that was a pretty big corner!
I don’t want to leave anyone out if I can help it, so this part of my report ends with the following notables: Lovo Cigars, In Search of Pipe Dreams author Rick Newcombe, Chuck Richards (DesertPipe Restorations), Mark Ryan of Daughters & Ryan Tobacco, Gary Schrier (Briar Books Press), and SWPCL member and expert restorer/eBay guru Chance Whittamore. Then last, but certainly not least we had Steve O’Neill pulling triple duty as the show’s organizer, host, and a great pipe restorer in his own right. 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 sums it up in a way that can’t be said too many times – “there literally would not be a West Coast Pipe Show without her!”
To say that Saturday was exciting would be an understatement, and the amount of energy on the floor went beyond anything I anticipated from the show’s history. With that said, there’s one little piece of history which hasn’t changed – as day 1 wrapped up, 5 p.m. found hotel security with their hands full clearing the ballroom. The catering staff had its hands full too, and as the afternoon gave way to evening, cocktail hour at 6 provided a nice opportunity for après-show socializing while the caterers were busy doing their magic in the banquet room.
Compared to a frenetic day of activity at the show, 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 special feature of pipe shows everywhere, WCPS has become one of the premier show dinners in the country. Filled-to-capacity advance reservations didn’t leave any seats open for people who were hoping to get in at the last minute – as a former show organizer myself, I’ll testify that Steve’s ability to make it happen is quite an accomplishment! The food being offered on the buffet was up to the Palace’s Station’s usually high standards, and our dinner included complimentary red and white wines, followed by a scrumptious dessert selection with 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 Brian Levine of Sutliffe. With all the dinnertime conversation going on among the tables, this was one of the most memorable evenings I’ve had – and it was just getting started! Next item on the agenda was Steve O’Neill introducing the guest speaker, Mr. Mark Ryan. As the man who single-handedly brought Perique tobacco back from the brink of extinction, what a fitting choice it was to hear him weave his story in a fascinating and humorous way. I can’t thank Mark enough for what he brings not only to WCPS, but also his unique talent in and dedication to the tobacco business. The evening concluded with another fitting choice, when Steve presented the show’s Lifetime Achievement Award to none other than Lee Von Erck. Well done, Lee – you really deserve it!
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. Conventional wisdom about pipe shows tells us that foot traffic coming through the door on Sundays can be anywhere from slow to pretty much dead as exhibitors clear out early. Well, my friends, that conventional wisdom went bye-bye in 2010 and it hasn’t been back since. In fact, when I review the weekend in its entirety, everyone there will agree that attendance at WCPS 2014 was a true record-breaker. I’m running out of superlatives, so if I can describe this in just a few words, it’ll be – amazingly, unbelievably awesome!!!
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. 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.
The next chapter of WCPS history has yet to be written, so by all means please help Steve, Linda, and Marty write it by coming (or coming back as the case may be) to the Palace Station on the weekend of November 7 and 8. And be sure to check out the 7th 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!