RTDA Tobacco Products Buying Guide

Hopes of a grand-scale, nationwide pipe boom may have been wishfull thinking, but the industry has found the next best thing: a measurable surge in pipe orders that had major suppliers smiling at the San Antionio RTDA trade show. Retailers were tempted with plenty of new offerings.

by James Lawson
with additional staff reporting

Although attendance was down markedly for the 2000 RTDA trade show in San Antonio, traffic was heavy in pipes of all sizes, shapes, and price-points. Why? It is generally supposed that large numbers of recent cigar converts have migrated to the pipe and pipe tobacco sections of the nation’s smoke shops, helping to sustain and even improve pipe sales. Also, local pipe club shows, which originally began as collector and swap shows, have proliferated to the point where exhibitors of all sizes now queue up to purchase tables at the shows.

The most talked-about single pipe transaction at the San Antonio show was the spectacular $10,000 Ser Jacopo Gem Series Diamond on display at the booth of Marble Arch, Rockville Center, N.Y. (800-843-2724). The price of this newly made rarity eclipsed last year’s Ser Jacopo show-stopper by a cool grand. According to knowledgeable sources, this is the most expensive single briar pipe ever sold at the RTDA. The purchaser of the pipe was Steve Richman of Piedmont Tobacco in Oakland, California, who in turn sold it to a pipesmoking Silicon Valley gazillionaire. Shouldn’t all smoke shop retailers have such cash-flush clientele? Marble Arch’s Rob Siegel said that he had a very good show and sold a lot of pipes overall.

There was very little elbow room at the booth of James B. Russell, Upper Saddle River, N.J. (800-221-7738). Company president John Link stated that 800 Don Carlos pipes were sold in the show’s first two days alone. New to the JBR fold was veteran pipemaker Erik Nording. The response to his pipes was stunning; the new and affordable Silver Series Nordings resulted in sales of more than 300 dozen, approximately $60 retail. At the close of the show, an exhausted Nording said that 2000 was his best show ever, so much so that when he returned to Denmark he hired additional personnel to fill his burgeoning production requirements.

David Field, formerly associated with Ashton Distributors, exhibited a variety of quality handcarved briars, including more than 500 Ashtons under his new company, R.D. Field, Philadelphia, Penn. (215-508-9309). Noteworthy was the Radice Millenium, a pipe that resembles the planet Saturn - rings included. The inspiration for this Radice came from a pipe in the 1928 Dunhill catalog; thirty Milleniums were produced.

Monjure International, Jamestown, S.C. (336-889-2390), brought an ever-growing selection of briars in its third RTDA show. The father/son pipemaking team of Dorelio and Damiano Rovera (Ardor and Roverart brands) was in attendance. They introduced a new Ardor Sherlock Holmes Series made of 35-year-old briar and featuring larger bowls. The Brissie Calabash, also made by Ardor, is named for Music City Marketing’s calabash smoker George Brissie, who is now immortalized. Damiano Rovera was justly proud to introduce pipes bearing his own name; his skills have evolved under his father’s tutelage. German pipemaker R. L. Will brought an assortment of his handcarved pipes which drew considerable attention at the show. His Reiner Pipe Art Design pieces are graded as C, B, A, AS, or S class and have retail prices from $395 and up, while the Reiner Design pipes are more affordably priced.

Neils Larsen of W.Ø. Larsen (Davidoff of Geneva, Stamford, Conn., 203-323-5811) notes a continued trend in this market, namely high grade pipes with slightly smaller bowls and more classical shapes. He believes that this is explained by the newer and younger pipesmokers who are unaccustomed to smoking pipes that hold upwards of half an ounce of tobacco. The Crown Larsen line, introduced in 1998, is machine-turned Corsican plateaux in classical shapes. New for this year is the Zulu-Bulldog, a marriage of the bulldog and zulu shapes; three finishes are offered: double-black ($80), port ($125), and cognac ($150). As reported in this space a year ago, W.Ø Larsen acquired a friendly financial interest in Georg Jensen Pipes. Of note is the Convertible line; the pipes are designed to take a 9mm filter, but a unique adapter is also provided for those who prefer non-filter pipes. This adapter is tapered and fitted with a rubber gasket to prevent smoke from leaking around the outside of it and flow freely (no turbulence).

Cristom Imports and Exports, Tampa, Fla. (800-886-7252) exhibited its version of the Millenium 2000 pipe, stamped Thomas Cristiano. This numbered, limited edition pipe comes in either a smooth ($800) or spot-carved ($600) finish and is presented in its own wooden base/stand and glass dome. Cristom also displayed some impressive, giant burl pipe rests and stands made in Italy. A number of retailers, who specialize in high-grade pipes, purchased these pieces as store displays. Diehard pipe collectors would lust after the same.

XYZ Direct, Atlanta, Ga. (404-351-8877) continues to increase its array of quality pipes and accessories. New for this year is the Wessex Pipe line, made in France. The three finishes for Wessex are natural, walnut, and sandblast, the latter is fitted with a cumberland mouthpiece. XYZ Direct introduced a generic line of 9 mm charcoal filters, suitable for such pipe brands as Aldo Morelli or Vauen, which are also distributed exclusively by XYZ. Mastro de Paja also joined the XYZ family in 2000, introducing the unique All-In-One, a pipe with a built-in silver tamper; the Dragon, a pipe with two interchangeable bowls and a leather pouch; and the Jubilaeum A.D. 2000 pipe, which is sold with a special humidor and when, inverted, resembles St. Peter’s Basilica.

Jolly Roger Enterprises, North Providence, R.I. (888-742-4427) introduced two new brands at the 2000 show. The German handmade Billerbeck Pipe has a German-patented bowl coating which purportedly inhibits burnout. Accompanying each pipe is a tamper fashioned from a rifle shell casing - Herr Billerbeck is, by day, a police investigator. Billerbecks retail from $300 to $395. Larry Comeaux, who hails from Arkansas, is a freehand pipemaker whose Comeaux Pipes are now distributed exclusively by Jolly Roger. They retail from $100 to $300.

Music City Marketing, Nashville, Tenn. (800-251-3016), had a brisk pipe trade at the show. It introduced the bent apple-shaped Millésime 2000 pipe from Butz-Choquin. Each individually-numbered pipe comes with a signed certificate of authenticity from master pipe maker Jean-Peal Berrod, and is available in either a smooth Ruby Red, partially sandblasted Orange, or rusticated finish. The Lucite stems are inlaid with briar and mounted on the shank of each pipe is a silver “2000” plaque. Production of the Mediterranean briar pipe is limited to 2,000 units, with suggested retail prices ranging from $100 to $150.

F & K Cigar, Saint Louis, Mo. (800-848-1480), had its best show ever, in all categories. The newly reintroduced Jobey Pipes, particularly the Stromboli (sandblast) and the Filter Smoke models sold very well. Bentley Pipes are now all non-filtered and consequently sold very well. These pipes are largely machine-made by Hans “Former” Nielsen and retail from $165 to $290.

McClelland Tobacco Co., Kansas City, Mo. (888-213-8207), whose best sellers include Red Star 2000, 2010, and 2045, has a keen merchandising aid for smoke shops. The labels for its bulk blend jars are color-coded so that anyone, even a pipe tobacco neophyte, can tell by glancing at the jar what type of McClelland tobacco is inside. Labels with red printing are for Virginia blends, green for Orientals, sea-blue for aromatics, brown for burleys, navy for blending components, and orange for bargain blends. So if a retailer likes to categorize his or her bulk blends by type, or if a customer doesn’t know a AAA burley from yard trimmings, here’s an idea for you.

Altadis USA’s Allied Products Division, Richmond, Va. (800-525-4092), offers retailers sample packs of its entire pipe tobacco line neatly arranged in a series of five folders. Inside each folder are nine tiny sample blends, along with a sheet describing the same. In this way a retailer can easily evaluate 45 (out of hundreds) of Altadis’ blends. Paul Creasy notes that this sales tool has caused the company’s pipe tobacco sales to increase dramatically.

James Norman, Ltd., New York, N.Y. (800-525-5629), debuted Holger Dankse pipe mixtures, 50gm pouch tobaccos offered in four styles. Red Kirsberry Wine blends ripe Virginia and Oriental tobaccos with “Kirsberry,” the Danish cherry wine, for a rich smoke. Original Honey Dew is a very mild, gentle mixture with Black Cavendish and aromatic Yucatan honey. Black & Bourbon blends double fermented Black Cavendish with U.S.-grown burley and Bourbon whiskey for a mild smoke. Mango & Vanilla is a blend of select Virginia and burley tobaccos that are slightly toasted, with a touch of mango fruit and vanilla for mellow, tropical character.

Swisher International, Jacksonville, Fla. (800-843-3731), importer of Denmark’s Mac Baren Tobacco products, has two new tobaccos, targeted specifically at less experienced pipesmokers as they have very little bite and are easy to light. Mac Baren Mild Choice is a mild, aromatic-tasting blend of loose-cut golden Virginia and Cavendish tobaccos, tempered with Burley. It is available in pouches only. Mac Baren Mixture Mild is a mild and slightly sweet blend that captures the signature Mac Baren Mixture aroma. It is a blend of loose cut golden Virginia tobaccos, black Cavendish, and ready-rubbed Burley tobacco, packed in 3.5 oz tins or in pouches. The Mac Baren Christmas Calendar is a perfect holiday gift for pipe smokers. It offers a different sample of each Mac Baren tobacco every day throughout December, all the way through Christmas. Tobaccos span the entire Mac Baren range of blends, cuts, and tastes, from the well-known classics to the latest easy-to-light and smoke tobaccos.

Merchandise Report

SMOKESHOP - October 2000