At the Las Vegas pipe show a few weeks ago, I was able to spend a pretty good amount of quality time with a lot of pipe-makers. This included brand new pipe-makers, everything in the middle ground of pipe-makers and all the way to grizzled veterans. We spoke to one another. We had discussions about topics that focused on their perspective. Through a lot of my conversations, I found a unique & consistent element that all of us, be we pipe-maker or not, are very familiar with. This particular familiar item, is something that we collectors and hobbyists likely don’t really think about enough however obvious. That is that pipe-makers have the same life fears & life concerns that all of us have and they go through those fears and experience them, just like us, day in and day out, with the small twist of it relating to pipe-making.
As I listened to many of them describe their thoughts on various issues, their answers humanized them and they went from pipe-maker whose work I tremendously admire to regular person just like me. There was nothing essentially new about what I heard it’s just that this time around, the chorus was so similar, it seemed to highlight the economic climate & the associated & attached fears, that much more.
When I interviewed Jeff Gracik a few years back, he eloquently described the difficult decision he faced to become a pipe-maker since he knew that he had to be able to support his family while doing the thing he loves. (Read Jeff Gracik’s Interview Here)
Master Sandblaster Supreme J.T. Cooke, also highlighted the financial difficulty aspect when I interviewed him several years ago (Read JT Cooke’s Interview Here) and he told me that he himself cannot afford to buy one of his own pipes. Jim’s pipes are simply too expensive & he has other bills and life expenses that take a higher priority for himself.
For many of us, our true dreams & desires get put on hold. Other life priorities have a way of overtaking us. Convincing us that this or that decision is out of reach due to varying ideas, whether true or not. Fear can then set in & once settled, it has a way of directing our life decisions. This process essentially happens mainly because the world we live in, driven by a heavy economic requirement, isn’t as kind as many of us hope it to be. All of us, no matter how rich or poor, should be able to relate to that.
Hearing the pipe-makers at the Vegas show discuss some of the same issues, I thought it relevant for us to hear the perspective of a pipe-maker on a deeper level.
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Ernie Markle, a proven pipe-maker who makes excellent pipes, still does not pursue pipe-making as a full-time job. He still maintains his other job as a financial advisor. His ultimate dream though, is to put that particular job aside so he can pursue a full-time career as a pipe-maker. Ernie has taken absolutely dramatic steps to try and make his dream a reality. The biggest being that he has moved his family, a wife and three young boys, into a smaller home with a smaller mortgage. That’s some intense commitment on Ernie’s part. That step has been completed but still, as of today, Ernie has not been able to make the jump to a full-time career.
Ernie Markle: “So few people can support a family with pipe-making, especially if you have mouths to feed and a mortgage. You have to charge a certain number for your pipes & that is difficult to attain. For me personally, it is just a risk question. Am I willing to take that risk or do I need to play it safe because I have 3 little boys. My answer so far has been to play it safe for the time being. If your fortunate enough to be able to make something you love and provide for your family, well then your double in love.”
Ernie continued by highlighting a common trend that many of us can easily see. He said: “We have seen a massive influx of new pipe-makers over the past 2 years. I think part of that motivation is that they see the dollars that big name makers can charge yet they don’t realize everything that goes into that process, into getting to that stage and to be able to ask those prices. It clearly is attainable but not to a huge majority of people.”
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Sam Adebayo – The new-comer.
Sam’s story is different as he takes the very humble approach as he enters the world of pipe-making. He described his first show experience in Las Vegas a few weeks ago like this: “Of course I was really excited to finally be showing my work. I was finally able to say the words I Will Sell These Pipes! At the same time it was very intimidating in the sense that I care about pipes. With caring about it, I really want to do good. It’s not the criticism of my work that frightens me or that I have anxiety about. I guess its mostly about that I care. I truly however expected to sell nothing and hoped to sell at least one pipe. Part of that came from talking to other pipe-makers and tempering expectations from the others who have come before me. To help me understand the reality of the situation and the reality of the market.” As it turned out, Sam sold all his pipes but one.
Now that he actually sold some of his first stock, Sam has some new thoughts & concerns, as he explained: “Now that my pipes are out there in the world, I have a whole new anxiety. The praying and hoping that the pipes I have out there in the world, are going to be okay. For example, when you David called me today, the first thought I had before I picked up the phone was…”oh my gosh, is David calling because the pipe I made him is bad? Maybe I sold you a pipe that was drilled bad or it had a flaw? So now those things are there and that kind of changes the complexion of making the pipe. All of that makes me more mindful with regards to making a pipe. Now I am thinking more about a worst case scenario and will my pipe hold up and what can I do, in order to do my best.”
Sam ended our talk by making a clear distinction between a regular 9 to 5 job and being a crafts-men. Sam said: “Job Security is different from pipe security. With pipe security, it relies both on my ability and the market conditions. With my regular job, I don’t have those same concerns.
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Adam and I also spoke a few years ago and in speaking to him again on this topic, the title I used for our first interview ‘Student or Master of Yin & Yang (Read Adam Davidson’s Interview Here) so aptly highlights the young man’s wisdom that is far beyond his age, as you will shortly read. Adam gave me a straight answer, covering many angles including his own experience.
Adam Davidson: “You are correct David in that everyone, regardless of their career, must face some sort of security cross road. My first pipe show (and first pipes) were at Chicago in 2007. I only had five, I think, and none of them sold. I was fortunate to sell a few after the show. In 2008, I went to Chicago with about a dozen pipes and nearly all of them sold for (in my mind) a very significant amount of money. Since that time, many people have asked me why I didn’t quit my job and go full time. There are many reasons for this…Firstly; just because I went to a pipe show & sold nearly all of my pipes & made as much money in that one weekend as I made at my ‘day job’ in the previous four months, doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. The amount of work that went into those pipes (time, mainly), meant I would need to work very, very long hours every week to be consistent with a quantity of production while maintaining quality all the time. This would leave almost no time for anything else. Fatigue also sets in after a short time & it’s not physically smart to constantly be running on low fuel.”
Adam continued: “Secondly; just because I sold all of those pipes at the 2008 Chicago show doesn’t mean that if I worked to the bone after the show I would be able to sell the ‘new’ pipes. Customers don’t buy pipes every day or week. Some of those sales went to guys who only buy one or two pipes a year. When one wants to go ‘full time’ on any sort of artistic/craft endeavor, it’s wise to already have a significant customer base.” It’s clear that Adam has a lot of concerns running through his mind when it comes to this topic. All of them completely valid. To the last point, he added: “Too many pipe makers get excited about a nice trip to the bank. They end up quitting their job, and then they learn about the real struggle.”
Adam Davidson: “Thirdly; (and most importantly) financial growth (money in the bank & credit building) are very difficult without a steady job. When trying to build credit, banks want to see that the applicant is able to pay them back. When one has a steady job for years, good references, & can show that they have steady income, it’s much easier to get a loan. Sometimes it’s still difficult. Sporadic income doesn’t impress creditors. I’m lucky that I enjoy my job with Smokingpipes.com . I’ve learned a lot, made great connections, and it’s helped me find a secure place in what many consider a hobby (but is a career for some of us).”
Adam Davidson: “When a pipe maker (regardless of how many years they’ve been making pipes) increases prices and even distribution, there is a cut-off. When one increases prices, previous customers no longer consider buying their pipes and new customers can be difficult to find. When those higher-priced pipes go to websites there is still no guarantee that the retailer will want regular shipments. Retailers and markets can easily get saturated and then there is nowhere else to go. Of course there are days when I dream about working on pipes full time, having steady demand, and (at times), being financially stable. The days when I don’t feel well, am tired, or have no motivation, I’m lucky to go into the office to do great work besides making pipes. If I was at home there would be no money to be made. Going full-time works for some pipe makers, but it’s not a wise path for many. Taking a risk is only worth taking if losing is an option. Security; financial, insurance, and otherwise is something we all think about. If one wants to consider going full-time, a lot of consideration is necessary.”
When I read Adam’s perspective, obviously I hear & see copious amounts of doubt, combined with a general happiness with his current situation. An interesting duality going in different directions. Nonetheless, Adam brings up an amazing amount of good points & highlights his ability to see a balanced perspective on the subject matter.
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Fears, concerns, doubts & the general difficulties of life, creeping into the minds of the pipe-maker, just as the exact same emotions creep into ourselves.
Next time you see a pipe-maker’s work & you have whatever thoughts run through your mind, please add some of the above items to your process and remind yourself that pipe-makers are human too.
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