How, Really, Is the Pipe World Faring?

Not having been able to attend the Chicago Pipe Show this year, I asked around to see how it had gone, and also how pipe smoking was faring in general. Five well-connected pipe people gave me their views—mixed views, but all credible. Throughout, there rang a note of ambivalence concerning the present and future of pipe smoking in America. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights:

One gentleman I felt should be in a position to know about such things is Carl Staudenmyer, past president and past director of marketing for the Kansas City Pipe Club. It can be said that he was not entirely sanguine. Staudenmyer thinks the pipe industry and hobby are struggling with “obsolescence—functional, economic and physical.” In his view, the entire phenomenon of pipe smoking is dying, and he offered the decline in membership numbers in his own beloved Kansas City club as local evidence. But he did allow one ray of sunshine where it came to this year’s Chicago show, which he said was “the most impressive in eight years or longer.” He added, “Friday and Saturday were packed from opening until mid-afternoon.”

Tobacco Pipe | Photo: Shutterstock

Pipe restoration artisan Robert “Lawdog” Lawing attends quite a few shows every year, including Chicago. What were his impressions from the Windy City? “The show was good over-all,” Lawing reported. “Attendance was similar to or just a bit better than last year. Saturday from the opening of the show to about 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. the action was non-stop. Very busy. Then, from 3:00 Saturday until we left on Sunday at 1:00 it kind of slowed down. Prices were all over the place, but this is normal. The dealers with a value-added product did well. I heard a number of folks say in their opinion the show was terrible, but then you hear this at every show. I sold a lot of high-grade pipes, but the $100 to $300 dollar pipes were a tough sell. And tobacco sales were slow.”

I had to check in with the reigning king of pipemaker supplies, Steve Norse, owner of Vermont Freehand. A big-time attendee of pipe shows, Norse has his finger on the pipemaking pulse if anyone does. 

He said, “I think the health of the pipe industry is holding pretty good, even if it’s slowly going downward due to tobacco regulations. It’s tricky to grow an industry that consumes tobacco these days, but with new pipe carvers getting into the pipemaking hobby, they bring in new people.”

Steve “Pipestud” Fallon said, “The Chicago Show this year was strong, but still nothing like the days when all the international folks showed up from China, Japan, Denmark and Germany. The Las Vegas International Pipe Show last year was great and, according to organizer Brian Levine, they are going to have an even better and more well-attended show this year. I think that being able to smoke in hotel rooms and the showroom are attractions, as well as Las Vegas itself.” One definite note of optimism: “There really are lots of young people showing up at pipe shows and online P&T forums,” Fallon said.

Kevin Brackett, proprietor of Tobacco Pipe Exports LLC in Seattle, is a well-known figure in the trade. He says, “Spirits are always high at the Chicago show. It’s like old home week every show. All of us vendors see each other every year, and we have a sense of community I rarely find these days. Attendance in Chicago is building back to what was normal at the Pheasant Run location, but it’s not there yet.” At any rate, Brackett notes, “there were more people this year than last.” He says the new venue is still “on a learning curve” in terms of logistics: “Things will get better each year as they and we figure out requirements.” Brackett allowed that retail prices at the shows have increased, “but no more than other retail prices in the country.”

I mentioned to Brackett that it’s been years since I spotted a pipe smoker in the wild. He replied, “I see pipe smokers, but not here in Washington state, one of the most severe states concerning smoking laws. No smoking is allowed in any public space, or public street within 25 feet of a door or window. So don’t come to Washington state. You can’t even light a pipe in a pipe shop!”

Like I said, highlights and lowlights. Make of them what you will. I take solace in the fact that no one can see the future. For instance, COVID was a tough break none of us saw coming. Yet it remains equally true that sometimes good things happen out of the blue, and sometimes even out of wise planning. The pipe world is surely due for a turn of good luck—all the more so with the PCA working to make some luck for us pipe smokers. Visit to learn how you can help in the fight.  

This story first appeared in PCA The Magazine, Volume 2, 2023. To receive a copy of this magazine you must be a current member of PCA. Join or renew today at

– Story by William C. Nelson.  Photo: Shutterstock.