You are currently viewing 281. “My Lad[ies] Nicotine”: Beth Kanaley, Silver Gray & Peterson Pipes

281. “My Lad[ies] Nicotine”: Beth Kanaley, Silver Gray & Peterson Pipes

PSA (Peterson Service Announcement)

The CPG System Pipe Update. If you have sent an email to petegeek1895@afinemess.org to get in the queue for a pipe you should have received a response. If not, please email me again.  If you haven’t sent me an email and want a pipe, email me at the above address. Be advised the System pipe will be sterling-mounted and run somewhere between $150 and $250, depending on the options. The pipes will be numbered and stamped CPG or CPG2022. I don’t have any other details yet but will send out an email when I do. If you buy a pipe, you’re eligible for the CPG certificate, and if you’re already a CPG a merit badge will be added to your certificate.

Chicago Pipe Show. I’ve heard from a few Pete Geeks who will be attending the world’s greatest pipe show over Memorial Day weekend. If you  are going and haven’t done so, please email me. We’re going to get together for a pipe on Friday in the smoking tent after dinner. CPG merit badges and/or CPG certificates will be given to attendees!

 

“My Lad[ies] Nicotine”: Beth Kanaley, Silver Gray & Peterson Pipes

I’ve been mentored by women at many of the most important junctures of my life: my grandmother, who taught me how to bait a hook and how to blow my nose in the woods without a handkerchief. My mother, who is not only a close counselor but was wise enough to point out the woman I should marry (which I did). My wife, Mo anam cara of 42 years who has always promoted my pipe-smoking and more or less raised me from a chimp, teaching me at an early stage how to boil water (fact). But it was Beth Kanaley who taught me how to find the right tobaccos, how to select and break in a new pipe, how to find the right tobaccos and what it means to be a pipeman—or woman. I say “woman” because there are precious few of those among us, which makes me wonder why that is so. To answer the question I turned to Silver Gray, who erudition equals her talent as a pipe maker.

Beth Kanaley was the great luminary of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s world of pipes, a “fixed point in a changing world,” as Holmes said of Watson. She was born in 1928 and at the age of 33, she and her husband Ted opened a shop in downtown Tulsa, where they rented space in the Court Arcade Building at Sixth & Boulder. Two years later they were doing well enough to justify their own storefront, moving just a block to Seventh & Boulder, within walking distance of my old downtown high school.

Ted’s Pipe Shoppe has always been renowned—at least in Oklahoma—for its proprietary hand-blended tobaccos, which were a passion for its namesake owner. “Ted used to blend tobacco from barrels in our garage,” Beth told me, “so it was very natural for us to open our own store. He didn’t like aromatics. In those days we started out with some good cube-cut burley, some Virginias and latakia, mahallah and yenidje” and came up with “300, the Founder’s Blend,” which is unlike any blend I’ve ever smoked. 300 is oriental at the match, sweet and buttery toward mid-bowl, oriental towards the bottom, all in an old-fashioned blend made to be gravity-fed. Ted “mixed this for himself and graciously allowed some of his first customers to try some. If you liked it, you were his friend for life. If you didn’t, he talked bad about you behind your back”—at least, that’s the way they tell it at the shop. Jim Inks, perhaps the best-known tobacco reviewer today, gives it the top rating of 4 stars at Tobaccoreviews.com. For several years the shop also blended a version of “300” called “300E,” which added Erinmore Gold, which I find fascinating (and tell Marc Clymer who sent you when you order).

When Ted died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 65, Beth had to decide whether to continue in the business or give it up. At first with the help of her brother and son, the little red-headed spark plug “temporarily” took over the business and in 1972 moved it to its definitive site in the still uber-chic Utica Square.  She soon found she not only had a knack but a fondness for the business that has made it seem more like a hobby until her death in 2012.  “Almost any woman would enjoy this kind of job,” she told a Tulsa reporter back in 1973.

The shop is named “Ted’s Pipe Shoppe” for good reason. Beth told me when I interviewed her originally that pipe sales were still “very good. Maybe because we don’t go too far into commercial tobaccos. If you do a good job selling the pipe, you make it a ‘toy for a lifetime.’ But you have to teach your customers how to do it. Ted always used to say the smoke doesn’t belong in your lungs. If you do your job, you keep these people. When you see them coming in for 30-40 years, expecting to see the same tobacco—I think that’s important.”

I first heard about the store from a buddy whose dad was an old-time piper and photographer for the old evening paper, the Tulsa Tribune. My pal hated Algebra II almost as much as I did, so we wiled away class drawing Jobey Stromboli pipes with their variously-colored Lucite stems. When I walked into the store in the fall of 1975, Beth politely (if firmly) found out how much I had to spend—“Always buy the best pipe you can afford,” she told me, “you’ll never regret it,” a maxim, incidentally, she repeated verbatim on my final visit to see her. After a few false starts and returns, Beth convinced me to pony up the $12.50 necessary for that Jobey, a black rustic beauty that still sits in my rack.

Unlike the anonymity of buying a pipe online, Ted’s is also important to me because of the pipes I bought there and how some of them came to symbolize important moments in my life. When we left Tulsa in 1980 for grad school, I took with me a handful of pipes from Ted’s. There’s a Christmas pipe from my Grandmother, a GBD Canadian.  Then there’s a Lorenzo Matera Stesa, my first Italian briar, which my mother went with me to get when I was a college freshman. As we sat in the car outside Ted’s, in one of the very few misguided pieces of advice she’s ever given me said she said, “Okay, now you’ve got another pipe. But you’re in college and you’ve got to quit spending all this money on pipes and books!” There’s also the Peterson 11S System my newly-wed wife wanted to give me our first Christmas, but at nineteen was too excited to wait and gave to me in early December. And finally there’s the pipe my best friend went halfers with me to get for my birthday—a pipe which remains one of Peterson’s most celebrated, the Mark Twain.

In Beth’s day, Ted’s always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in style. Ted Kanaley was the son of Irish immigrants from the Cobh (pronounced “Cove”) area of County Cork. I always assumed Beth was also Irish with her her fiery red hair, diminutive stature and dry sense of humor. She wasn’t. Unsurprisingly, Ted’s always sold a goodly number of Petersons. At one time Peterson even made a house-branded pipe for Ted’s “that was really beautiful—a natural finish pipe, no fills.”  How I wish I had one! The current owner, Mark Clymer, says there’s a drawer full of Beth’s old Petes, but I couldn’t persuade him to part with even one. I don’t blame him (okay, Marc, if you’re reading this, please reconsider!).

One of Beth’s fondest memories was winning a Peterson contest put on by Peterson’s US distributor  Halco-Rohr back in the mid-1990s. “My son wrote the winning entry but couldn’t go to Dublin, so I took my friend and book-keeper Kay instead, and we had a wonderful time both at the factory and the Grafton Street shop, celebrating St. Patrick’s day in the raw Irish weather.”

Marc Clymer plying only one part of his trade

Even before Ted passed away in ’71, Beth had learned how to do pipe repairs. “There were probably only two or three women in the country who could turn stems and repair shanks back in those days,” she told me—a figure which probably dropped to zero.  Her 1971 Sears Craftsman metal lathe is still doing its job at the Utica Square store week in, week out, now under the practiced workmanship of Marc. “One time I had a guy who brought in a meerschaum-lined pipe,” Mark told me. It had clogged, and he stopped at the gas station and used the tire pump to clear it—only it blew the meerschaum lining clean out of the bowl and across the parking lot!” In addition to humoring the shop’s regular rowdies, Marc also takes care of Ted’s extensive mail-order business. If you check out the reviews at Tobacco.com, you’ll see why.Ted’s isn’t a large shop, but as Beth and I chatted, I remembered a visit back in my youth when walking in the door I couldn’t see the cash register fifteen feet away for the clouds of aromatic smoke, despite two ceiling fans. Taking me back to her office, Beth showed me a cased magnum Dunhill from the 1930s, which originally belonged to an Oklahoma Indian chief—“I have no idea how much it’s worth. . . . The wood on a really nice pipe is so beautiful. I’ve been kinda blessed to work with this substance for so many years, and still find it pretty darn nice.”

Lying on the shelf behind her I saw a shop-worn copy of Theodore K. King’s The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State. I asked Beth about the future of pipe-smoking. She thought about it a few moments and said, “Buy tobacco ahead when you can. Exorbitant taxes are inevitable and will only get worse. But also remember this is really nothing new. Pipe smokers have always come under great criticism. Pipe smokers have the right to smoke because they pay for the privilege. It should always be a hobby, not a habit.”

Beth & Ted

Beth owned and managed Ted’s from 1961 until her passing in 2012—fifty-one years, a record unmatched in the annals of pipe shops, I’m sure. I only saw Beth smoking her pipe two or three times in all the visits I made to the shop over the years. She did tell me there were a number of women customers who, like herself, did smoke pipes, but I didn’t think to ask her why more women don’t.

 

Why Don’t More Women Smoke Pipes?

I have wondered about why pipe smoking has been a male-dominated pursuit for many years. Of course American women smoked pipes in the 19th century, but by the beginning of the 20th, they did so no more. There were women who smoked little cigars, doubtless women who smoked larger cigars, but the cigarette seemed to be their tobacco vehicle of choice—at first, only among the outliers of “society,” actresses, extroverts, women of the night. . . By the 1920s, the cigarette was a symbol of women’s rights and slowly became an acceptable practice, finding it way through Hollywood to anyone who wanted to smoke. Often with a “tube” (as K&P called them) or cigarette holder. By the early 1990s that was all over, aside from a few brave souls who took up the cigar in the cigar boom of that decade. But the pipe? No. So I thought to ask my friend Silver Gray, an extraordinary American artisan with a gift for seeing shapes and designs no one has seen before.  (When I wanted a pipe maker to recreate Charles Peterson’s NAP mouthpiece for us two years ago, she was the first person I thought to ask, because my mother always taught me to go for the best. With help from her partner Brad Pohlmann, one of the great elder statesmen among American pipe maker, she not only did it but then went on to proudly claim it in her own ongoing body of work.)  She offers an explanation for the lack of women smokers in the hobby worthy of a Ted Talk:

Legendary Brad Pohlmann (left), Silver Gray and Chas. Mundungus holding one of Silver’s pipes

Silver:  Several thoughts come to mind:

First, education. Most people (both women and men) don’t know that there is an alternative to tobacco delivery.  Pipes are something grandpa smoked.  I think more people are awakening to the possibility.  Then there’s the question of how to pack a bowl, how to smoke one, what tobacco to smoke, and what pipe to get.  With the ease of research one click away, it’s much easier than it used to be.

Second, availability. With more and more ‘smoke shops’ closing or turning into marijuana shops, a person has to actively seek out pipes and tobaccos.  As you know, we humans are basically lazy.  To seek out alternative delivery of nicotine takes a bit of effort.

Third, ease of use.  I suppose some women might consider pipe smoking to be cumbersome—even dirty. . . .  As you know, our purses are already heavy.  Ask a group of gals for any random item, and inevitably some gal will have at least one!  Shades of “let’s make a deal”!  So to add:

  1. a) at least one pipe
  2. b) at least one type of tobacco
  3. c) at least one tamper
  4. d) at least one lighter or matches
  5. e) several pipe cleaners

The volume of our handbags just increased exponentially, causing the need for a second handbag or pipe bag!

Partially-rusticated Skater w/Clamshell (NAP) button by Silver

Fourth, the stigma. Over the last 20 years and more, tobacco has come to be seen as something to be used only by people on the fringes of society.  A gal can secretly bum a cigarette or be a closet smoker without a public shaming.  Pull out a pipe, though, and all bets are off—you’re a confirmed, dedicated user.  I am frequently stared at or or notice someone trying to secretly take my picture when I smoke in public. What are they thinking—what a freak? Or that’s so damn cool I had to record this?  I’m not sure. I can tell you that a cigarette definitely gets a dirty look.

Many women are reluctant to call this type of attention to themselves.  Rightly so.  Our society has such strict public rules of how pretty someone is—how thin they are, etc. etc. Then add the pipe (no matter the craftsmanship) and attention is drawn to yourself without question. Unless a gal is a confirmed extrovert, this type of attention is uncomfortable.

For myself, I stand by the thought that a cigarette is fast food while a pipe is a gourmet meal.

 

Smooth Acorn-Hawkbill with Clamshell button by Silver

To Beth and Silver I propose we raise a bowl today in their honor and in tribute to all the women who have mothered us in the best and most affirming sense of the word, whether biological or nurturing mothers, soul friends, sisters or spiritual directors. For your patience and understanding of our hobby—whether we smoke indoors or out—for your constancy and fidelity and interest in us and even in the our pursuit of our art—thank you.

Many thanks to Karen Clymer for the portraits photo of Ted and Beth Kanaley;
to Marc Clymer, for carrying on the Ted’s tradition in Tulsa,
to Smokingpipes.com for photos of Silver’s pipes,
and of course to Silver Gray herself!

 

 

Another batch of “Catch & Release”

Yes, I’m saving up for the Chicago Pipe Show! Here’s a few more “catch & release” Petes, including a Mark Twain strutcard from 1982, all on eBay. Global Shipping available.

  

SLAVA UKRAINI!

Молись за Україну
Pray for Ukraine

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
18 days ago

Good morning, from those days we went to a shop for buying pipes,tobacco and have a talk…………..and Oh, Silver Gray !

Martin
Martin
18 days ago

Nice read thank you again. I grow up i the 80s and my dad & uncles did smoke pipes an cigs in the livingroom also mum sometimes. I can remember that I light a cigarette for my dad was an normal thing. So time is changing, these days you get to be stoned if you smoke indoors.

Ken Sigel
Ken Sigel
18 days ago

Great article! What great characters! Oh how I long for a nearby pipe store – source of knowledge, pipes (that I can hold while considering a purchase), and tobacco I can smell. We do have a pipewoman in our group. So when a very, very tired 12-1/2 came my it had to refurbished and repaired and sent her way! Mark, thanks for this colorful piece.

Michael Laeding
Michael Laeding
18 days ago

I was very surprised AND happy to see the picture of the Skater of Silver’s manufacture show up in this article! I am the happy owner of that pipe and can honestly say that the NAP feature it has offers me one of the nicest and most unique feels of smoke delivery of any of the pipes in my rotation. Thanks for this wonderful post that appears here on Mother’s Day!

Chris Streeper
Chris Streeper
18 days ago

What a wonderful article to share on this particular day. Not many women have influenced my pipe smoking but I did happen to meet Mrs. Beth during a visit to Ted’s on a trip to Tulsa back in 2000. I had to pay a visit OU, OSU and the University of Tulsa. Other than visiting fraternity row at each campus I only a couple items on my list… a trip to Ekimo Joes, visiting the Oklahoma City Memorial site and finding a good pipe & tobacco shop. I found Ted’s by recommendation of the Greyhound bus driver who shuttled me… Read more »

Last edited 18 days ago by Chris Streeper
Christopher Lauer
Christopher Lauer
18 days ago

Great article on this special day for all mother’s everywhere. I would like to raise my my pipe to all women pipe smokers and especially all mothers as without them we would not be here to enjoy one of life’s most simplest pleasures.

Bob Cuccaro/TLIP
Bob Cuccaro/TLIP
17 days ago

Great article once again Mark! Excited to see a CPG pipe being made 🙂

Marlowe
Marlowe
4 days ago

Good reading (again) Mark. I’d so like to go to the CPS but we’re moving to the new place a few days later. One of these times my good friend and fellow pipe smoker are going to make the trip.