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Due to the inconsistencies of nature and the conditions under which Briar grows, only a small percentage of the thousands of pipes produced each year will have a uniformly fine grain pattern and perfection of finish upon which a manufacturer will stamp his name. These "perfect" pipes, which may cost $100 or more, are sometimes called "firsts" and represent the pinnacle of the pipe makers' art. Serious pipe smokers and pipe collectors take great pride in owning and smoking these fine pipes.
The remaining Briar pipes may have tiny, natural surface flaws or sandpits, some of which are almost undetectable, some of which are large enough to warrant putty fills. While these tiny surface imperfections affect the aesthetic appearance of the pipe, they have absolutely no effect on its smoking qualities. These pipes, often referred to as "seconds," are sold at more reasonable prices, under numerous brand names, and represent the very best values in pipe smoking. Other bowls may be selected to be sand blasted or carved to create a rugged, pleasingly rough texture. Most pipe smokers have several of these sandblast or hand carved pipes in their collections.
Briar pipes are available in a wide variety of standard shapes--well over a hundred, in fact. The choice of shape is a matter of personal preference; some pipe smokers have a single favorite shape, others have dozens of different shapes in their collections. Briar pipes are also available in unique, one of a kind "Freehand" shapes. These extremely beautiful pipes follow no particular shape, but are carved according to the grain and size of the Briar.
It is a good idea to heft a Briar pipe when considering it. The pipe should feel comfortable in your hand. A lightweight pipe is well-aged and cured and will offer a good-tasting, cool smoke. Selecting the right pipe is an important factor in the true enjoyment of pipe smoking.
by James J. Fox Dublin