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One Size Fits All?

Posted on 11 January 2018

If you’ve followed my career as a pipe maker at all, you’ll know that I'm very passionate about classic shapes. There is something timeless, elegant, and practical about those minimalist lines that really makes my heart quiver. I’ve found a lot of inspiration from the old brands that many of us now regard as the ultimate expression of form and function. This inspiration isn’t limited to the shapes but also with how the pipes were presented, be it the various finishes, presentation, branding or nomenclature.

One aspect that I felt particularly attracted to was the notion of indicating the size of the pipe in the nomenclature. Dunhill has its famous group sizes, which pipe smokers still use to reference the size of all pipes; Ashton and Castello use letter stamps; other pipes are stamped with words like “Maxima,” “Extraordinaire,” and “Magnum.”  These minor nomenclature changes help the consumer identify pipes they prefer, provide a relative guide to compare other pipes, and create enthusiasm among collectors.

As interesting as these markings are, sometimes they frustrate more than they help. The subjectivity of Dunhill groups sizes is a prime example. In my office I have a Dunhill group 1, 2, 3, and 4 that are essentially the same bowl size and very comparable weight. The dimensions do vary, but looking at the pipes side by side make most people scratch their heads. This problem isn’t confined to Dunhill. Most markings that indicate pipe size seem to be relatively arbitrary or based on criteria not obviously apparent.

Size stamps still incite a certain excitement with me, and for some time I had played with including an indication on the pipe about it’s relative size. This posed several problems. The first and most important was the small volume of Jones pipe production. I’ve seen other low production artisans play with altering nomenclature for all sorts of criteria, from grade to size. Usually the low volume, arbitrary nature of the scale, and confusion it introduced was enough to convince these carvers to abandon these ideas in short order. The biggest obstacle to introducing some sort of size stamp was determining how pipes would fall along the scale. Which factors are most important? Where would the lines between sizes be drawn? These challenges kept me from introducing my own size scale, but I still found the idea beguiling.

After about three years of planning, I’ve finally decided to introduce a new size scale that will be stamped on every Jones pipe starting in 2018. Creating this scale was challenging. To reduce the subjectivity and communicate valuable information to collectors and consumers I’ve based this scale on two criteria: mass of the pipe and bowl volume. These are the most difficult dimensions of the pipe to convey and my hope is that it will aid you in selecting a new Jones pipe and hopefully be helpful when referencing the size of any pipe.

The first task was data collection. I weighed and calculated the volume of hundreds of pipes and plotted the data. Based on the distribution of the entries, I came up with a two digit scale. The first number refers to the weight of the pipe from 1 through 9. Most pipes fall around the middle of the scale at 4, 5, and 6. The second number refers to the volume of the bowl. This scale also ranges from 1 through 9. The larger the number the greater the amount of tobacco can fit in the chamber. I find this number to be the more important of the two, especially if you smoke ribbon cut tobacco. Based on a single number you can assess the capacity of two bowls even if the chamber diameters are different. Pipes that fall outside the normal range of either or both scales are indicated with “XS,” extra small, or “XL,” extra large.

What does this look like in practice? As an example, I will use the first Jones pipe produced in 2018. Stamped on the bottom of the pipe you will see my normal nomenclature and a 4 digit number: 2218. This tells us that the weight of the pipe falls at a “2” on our size scale. Likewise, the bowl volume also comes in at a “2.” We can conclude that this is a small pipe in both weight and volume. The last two digits, 18, refer to the year of production, 2018.

Here’s a few more examples of how the numbers work:

  • 5418 – medium sized pipe and bowl produced in 2018
  • 3419 – medium small pipe with a medium bowl produced in 2019
  • XS20 – extra small pipe produced in 2020
  • XL18 – extra large pipe produced in 2018
  • 7319 – large pipe with a smaller bowl produced in 2019

As a general rule, you won’t see many Jones pipes that exceed the 6 or 7 mark in either metric. This is because most of the pipes I make are pared down to minimize excess wood. The higher numbers are useful when referring to other pipes outside of my own marquee.

Just like any scale, there are limitations. A pipe may fall right at the edge of one designation and another, but any hard line demarcating pipes on this criteria will have this weakness. I feel the designations are as distinctive as possible to eliminate this ambiguity.

That’s it in a nutshell. Please pay close attention to the new scale. I think once you get he hang of things it will help you understand exactly how the size of one pipe relates to another, or whether or not it would be a good fit for your smoking needs.

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