Reflecting on Innovation

Innovation. If there is one word penned or uttered to inspire encomiums, innovation is it. Further, implicit in the word is the notion that innovation is always good. It is construed as evidence that the innovator is striving to introduce something that is now indispensable but that was previously missing. However, all too often improvement is lacking. There is only difference, but this does not inhibit claqueurs from leaping to their feat in enthusiastic applause.

Innovation comes in many forms. We have engineering innovation, design innovation, materials innovation, packaging innovation, marketing innovation, and process innovation. There are seemingly no limits to which the ambitious and the imaginative among us can explore the wilderness of the new, the better, or at least the different. The challenge, however, is to avoid rushing to market prematurely–a consideration that is sometimes overlooked.

If one wants to retain some measure of credibility or dignity–even in the generously forgiving pipe world–it is a good idea to create distinctions between innovations that are experimental and those where the R&D process has yielded a smart, mature solution.

Sometimes, conversations about innovation are a bit over the top in my opinion, and while I believe that innovative people are critical to aesthetic, technological, and social advancement, all innovation is not created equal. Some innovations are little more than outright Rube Goldberg-esque solutions like the pipe depicted at the top of this post.

Some innovations are not innovative at all. They are ideas that have been explored–and even made–long before. That the current experimenter is ignorant of previous attempts does not make the effort novel. It also does not make revising an idea or revisiting a solution unworthy. But don’t make untrue claims. Socrates’ observation that “There is nothing new under the sun” is almost always true.

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On Liverpools

Comoy Blue Riband Liverpools: Shapes 133, 30, and 434Compared to its cousins, the Canadian and the Lovat, the Liverpool attracts fewer admirers. In my experience, many pipe smokers are not even sure what a Liverpool is. However, this seems to be changing. For mysterious reasons, the Liverpool’s star is rising. It is true for me, and I’ve noticed of late that more than a few of my friends are enthusing about the Liverpools I’ve seen them smoking.

Like the Canadian and the Lovat, the Liverpool is a long-shanked variant of the Billiard shape. Unlike the oval-shanked Canadian, the Liverpool’s shank is round. Unlike the saddle-stemmed Lovat, the Liverpool’s stem is tapered. Like the Lovat, the Liverpool’s billiardish bowl is slightly forward-canted. In summary, a Liverpool is a long- and round-shanked pipe with a tapered stem and a slightly forward-canted, billiard-like bowl.

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Dating Sullivan Powell's Gentleman's Mixture

Sullivan Powell’s Gentleman’s Mixture is one of those venerated vintage tobaccos about which connoisseurs wax poetic. Because so many good things have been written about the blend, it is rare. When one finds a tin, it usually sells for more money than I’m confortable spending for a tin of tobacco. If one is lucky, one spends $125-$150 for 50 gram tin. The tin depicted above had an asking price of $300, and I’m surprised that it wasn’t snapped up before I purchased it from a friend on Sunday night at the Chicago Show.

When a couple of ounces of excellent pipe tobacco can be purchased for $10 to $15, why are people willing to pay 30 to 50 times more for a decades-old tin?

Certainly, rarity plays a part. Things in limited supply tend to sell for more. Curiosity also wields power. If you have heard thought leaders like Tad Gage or Greg Pease rave about a blend you’ve never experienced, it is understandable that you would want to have that experience, yourself, if only to create a more educated palate. Romance and nostalgia also come into play. Many of us remember smoking storied blends like Balkan Sobranie and Gentleman’s Mixture way back in the day.

We wonder: “Is that tobacco as good as I remember?” or “I loved it then, but I wonder if my palate has changed?” We’d love to smoke an old favorite blend again.

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News on my Blue Riband Chicago Show Exhibit and Update on Book Availability

Neill Archer Roan and Jon Guss in front of Blue Riband Exhibit, photo: Mark IrwinA week ago this morning Gary Schrier (my book’s publisher) and I spent the day at our table at the Chicago show with four big cases of books next to my Comoy Blue Riband display. I inscribed the books while Gary sold them. It was really a great experience–one of those very memorable stitches of time that I expect will stick with me forever.

Comoy Blue Riband Exhibit, photo: Mark IrwinThe preceding afternoon, Jon Guss and I presented a session on Comoy, addressing some surprising (and intriguing) results of our research for the book. We had a wonderful audience and a good time. There was food and drink and some great conversation. I felt great about the amount of interest that was shown to my collection exhibit which (immodest as it sounds) turned out to be both lovely and impressive. It is one thing to see three or four Blue Ribands; it is quite different to see 54 of them arrayed in a wide variety of shapes. To really grasp the character of a brand, there is nothing like experiencing critical mass.

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Have pipes. Will travel.

In just over three weeks, I’ll travel to the Chicago Show. This year, getting there has posed a few unusual challenges because I’m exhibiting my Comoy Blue Riband collection at the show.

Originally, I planned to drive. Although it is a 750-mile trek, when I have a lot of stuff to transport—pipes, cameras, lights, tripod, computer, Passion for Pipes merchandise, and sometimes even furniture—driving is the only sensible option.

However, this year my work schedule makes driving impossible; I have to fly there and back. So, I had to find a safe and secure way to transport my collection and exhibit pieces. Thanks to my friend, Neil Flancbaum at Smokin’ Holsters, I discovered CasesbySource.com where I was able to purchase a smart solution.

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