american pipes

American pipes

The use of tobacco and the habit of smoking are the oldest in Meso-America. Pipes from the Jama-Coaque culture in Ecuador dating 500 BC are the oldest in the Pijpenkabinet collections. Their tubular pipes can be embellished with true sculptures in human or animal shapes.

Many pipes from the pre-Columbian era were found in shaft graves in Mexico. Various tribes made terracotta pipes that are by nature fire resisting. Famous are the specimen with large bowls and a stem length of half a meter, typical for the Purepechas. In the Michoacan area figural pipes were shaped after the mescaline cactus. Another curiosity are pipes in the shape of an ankle and foot, the tows leaning out of the pipe as a smoke tube.

The North-American Indians start smoking with tubular pipes as well, here made in stone. The typical tobacco pipe of the American Indian tribes is called calumet or peace pipe. The stone pipe bowl is mounted with a decorated wooden stem. The most famous is the red coloured catlinite, found in a special area. The oldest member of the tribe is responsible for the keeping of the pipe that serves ceremonial purposes mainly.

Another remarkable pipe is the tomahawk, a pipe in the shape of an axe with opposite to the blade a pipe bowl connected with the smoke tube in the handle of the axe. The tomahawk was imported by the Europeans in large quantities and was exchanged with the Indians for hides. Often the stem is decorated with feathers and quillwork.

Smoking pipes from South-America often resemble the shapes and styles from the Northern regions. Typical are the tubular pipes with a fish shaped mouthpiece. From the renowned North-American calumet a ceramic version is introduced. Europeans import the famous oval shaped pipe bolws, soon imitated in local styles.

The Haida on Queen Charlotte Island in Alaska use the black to dark brown argilite for their pipes. A lot of these tobacco pipes are artistically carved with original and unexpected motifs. Even the imported clay tobacco pipes are copied in stone.

When America is overloaded with European immigrants new types of pipe production starts. Then we meet with semi industrial products in local varieties like the Pamplin and Point Pleasant pipes. From technical point of view and in shape they are copies of the European pipes, however the American aspect of the work is recognisable.

American pipes The use of tobacco and the habit of smoking are the oldest in Meso-America. Pipes from the Jama-Coaque culture in Ecuador dating 500 BC are the oldest in the Pijpenkabinet

American Smoking Pipe Co.

In an article, called Go West, which originally appeared in the French Pipe Mag, Erwin Van Hove has this to say about Mark Tinsky: “His more than reasonable prices, and his good-natured personality, have made Mark the favorite of many Americans. It is difficult to find an amateur who does not possess at least one pipe made by the American Smoking Pipe Company, that Tinsky founded in 1978 with his friend Curt Rollar. In 1990, after the departure of his associate, Tinsky continued on by himself building a solid reputation using quality briar from Greece and stem blanks imported from Italy, offering collectors a vast assortment of models and finishes. In short, his pipes are beautiful and well-made pieces that produce a taste beyond reproach. Neither off-the-shelf nor haute couture, they are solid hand mades for an affordable price. And by the way, it is Mark’s pleasure to carve the pipe of your dreams as he readily accepts commissions. Also noteworthy is a future changing of the guard of sorts, as his son Glenn has inherited his father’s talent, and, at the age of 16, is selling his own creations.”


  • 1 Mark Tinsky/ Pipe Maker (in his own words)
  • 2 American Smoking Pipe Co./ The Early Days:
    • 2.1 More Recent History
    • 2.2 The Present
    • 2.3 Addendum
    • 2.4 Contact information:

Mark Tinsky/ Pipe Maker (in his own words)

About the most frequently question asked of me, is, “how did you get into pipe making?” I usually plant my feet, make sure my bowl is lit, and say, “It’s a long story, are you sure you want to hear it?” If the response is favorable I proceed.

Sometime late in high school a buddy of mine got a job cleaning briar for a neighbor pipe hobbyist named Jack Weinberger. He wasn’t a good worker and was pretty soon fired. Another buddy and my future partner, Curt Rollar, immediately applied for the job and got it. At first all he did was clean the tops and sides of the briar so Jack could more easily read the grain of the wood. As Curt was a good worker he stayed on while he went to college and soon became a pipe maker himself as Jack turned his hobby into a business. All my friends envied Curt’s cool job as we worked at various menial teenage jobs at the time. As we had a good source of pipes (the 2cds) we started smoking pipes. Curt eventually liked making pipes so much he took it up full time.

Curt and I were avid bicyclists. We spent many summers touring the Eastern USA. Our dream, however, was to ride our bikes to Alaska. We lived in NJ. at the time. We accomplished this in 1974. I went back to school at Montclair State College, and Curt went back to work for Jack. Each summer after that we planned a major excursion. One year we rode to Nova Scotia. The following summer Curt hiked most of the Appalachian Trail before succumbing to a Giardia infection. I rode to the Gaspe Peninsula. These were only side trips, however as our new dream was to ride around the world.

When I finished school, I joined Curt in the pipe shop. We lived in a ramshackle apartment and rode our bikes to work in Jack’s basement. We worked with Vic Steinhart, Jack’s nephew, who later founded Briar Originals. I also worked with Scott Parfumi, who was the grandson of the famous Joe Cortegani, and Frank Augsberger, who served his apprenticeship at Jack’s. We worked and saved our money for the big trip. In the meantime I certainly enjoyed making pipes. I started at the bottom and was able to work up to being a pipe maker before we left.

We had a great time on our trip. We went through England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. We ferried to Norway and crossed the Scandinavian countries before entering the European mainland through Denmark, into Germany. We crossed through Germany, Belgium and into France. We traversed the Alps in four days through Switzerland and into Northern Italy. We meandered down the Adriatic coast of what was Yugoslavia, through Sarejevo, and South along the Albanian border into Greece. Greece was a wonderful country with lots of good food and friendly people. The end of our oddessy came in Turkey. Sometime during the ferry ride from Greece someone stole our pumps and spare tires. We plugged along as best we could. Around that time the Iranian revolution began and we were advised that Iran wasn’t a healthy place for Americans to be at the time. Tired and discouraged we called it quits in Ankara. We caught a bus back to Istanbul and flew home. Well, what’s this got to do with pipe making?

One morning, while still in Yugoslavia, we decided we would make full time careers as pipe makers in our own business that we would establish when we got back. That morning, American Smoking Pipe Co. was born. We wanted a name that would distinguish ourselves from the overwhelming majority of pipe makers who were European. We were proud to be American pipe makers and we would make our mark when we returned. Our return was sooner than expected but we felt we had accomplished what we had wanted and it was time to move on to fresh challenges. One of our major misconceptions was that we would work only during the winter and leave the summers for bicycling. Needless to say that once we were in business for ourselves our bicycling days were over.

American Smoking Pipe Co./ The Early Days:

We returned full of hope for our new business. Hope, unfortunately, doesn’t alone get you started making pipes. By this time my parents had moved to Fla., so I lived in my tent in Curt’s backyard. I don’t know what the neighbors’ thought but as it was a beautiful fall, I was content. By this time Vic Steinhardt had separated from Jack and was running his own company. We worked for him in exchange for briar. Briar can take up to 4 months to received and up to a year to dry so we needed dry wood in order to begin. A few months after returning Curt’s grandmother died, (1978). She had been living on a 50 acre rundown farm in Frenchtown, NJ. The family wanted us to live there, as caretakers, until they could sell the place. Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth I moved from my tent to a large rambling farmhouse. What a neat place this was. Curt’s grandfather had been in the egg business for a time and had put up many barns and coops that were now falling down. One of our jobs was to demolish these barns. We sold off the old barn board siding, the large oak beams, and used some of the lumber to refurbish a more modern tool shed where after installing a Franklin stove, we established our first shop.

With what money we had left from our trip we purchased a bandsaw and drill press from Sears and commissioned a machinist to make sanding discs and shafts to mount polishing wheels on. We used the lumber from the barns and old motors we found around the property to make tables and sanding and polishing set ups. It was a cold winter though. The tool shed was uninsulated and the stove inefficient. The farm house wasn’t a lot better either! I guess we suffered a bit for our art that year. Some time that Spring our first wood order came in. We were so excited. Using the wood we had gotten from Vic, we had our first pipes ready for sale in July of 1979. Our first thought was to call on customers we knew from Jack’s. Not many were as accepting as we expected. By then JHW was a name in pipe making and an easily salable pipe. By this time the quality had slipped as Jack had gone back to hiring high school students and he himself was incapable of making them himself. We found out that a recognizable name is a very important in selling pipes.

    Early examples and nomenclature, courtesy Doug Valitchka

An early example made by Curt Rollar

Curt Rollar detail

Curt Rollar detail

Curt Rollar detail

Curt Rollar detail

Curt Rollar detail

Curt Rollar example from 1985

Curt Rollar example from 1986

Curt Rollar example from 1987

Curt Rollar example from 1988

Early example by Rollar and Tinsky (1989)

Rollar and Tinsky

Rollar and Tinsky Detail

A few stores that knew us did want to see what we had made. In an effort to separate ourselves from JHW style pipes we made more classical shapes than the wild freehands that were the JHW repertoire. We slowly built our inventory and did a lot of knocking on doors to gain recognition in the industry. I’d like to say our pipes immediately took off like wildfire and there was no looking back from there. What really happened was that we went through a very slow building process and we were able to take advantages of breaks when we got them.

One of our earliest breaks occurred in 1980. I had been to every major store in Washington DC. without making a sale. I went into Georgetown Pipe and Tobacco in the evening and gave my pitch. As I was politely being asked to leave by the manager, the owner, David Berkebile, happened upon us. He agreed to look at the pipes and even bought a dozen, our biggest sale yet and to one of the better shops in the country. I ‘ve always felt indebted to David for looking at our pipes that night. It wasn’t make or break but I was getting pretty discouraged. Our next big break was getting into The Tinder Box at the Lennox Sq. Mall in Atlanta, GA. Allen Mandell was the owner, I swear he could sell horse manure to a farmer. He was a great pipe salesman and a great B.S. artist. He would sell pipes to people who came into his shop for cigarettes! On Saturdays, customers would be lined up three deep along the tobacco bar for the privilege of buying very expensive pipes from Allen. They clamored for his attention while he was busy yelling at his wife or his manager, or anyone else who displeased him. The shop was amazing. Well when I came in he turned away from all this and started selling my pipes right from the wagon that I used to drag them around in. That Saturday we must of sold a dozen or more. He invited me back to his house to stay. Before I left he must have picked out another 5 dozen pipes. He later told me he had a little trouble selling the first bunch. Considering it only took a couple of months I thought he did pretty well. Turns out he had doubled our RETAIL prices instead of the WHOLESALE and sold them for double their asking price. I sometimes wonder if this wasn’t unintentional. (Allen past away in January,1997. A good friend and tremendous pipe person!)

As word gets around quick in the industry about someone’s success we were now having an easier time getting in to see stores. As our pipes smoked well we were getting increasingly larger reorders. Our biggest break came in December of 1981 when I met John Hayes. John had worked as general manager of Georgetown Tobacco, though I had never met him. He opened his own store the weekend I was in town to do a Christmas show at the Georgetown store. Apparently this was unbeknownst to David as his son in law George Brighton had arranged the show. He was quite perturbed with George, he remonstrated , “We have enough of our own stock of unsold pipes to sell. This isn’t the time of year for a pipe show.”

As George had been the one trying to get me out the door the first time at the shop I did enjoy his discomfiture a bit. Being quick on his feet he suggested doing a show at a shop that was just opening that weekend in the Fair Oaks Mall , Fairfax, VA. About 25 miles West of DC. He made arrangements and off I went to John B. Hayes Tobacconist.

They had a good crew of people putting the finishing touches on the store when I walked in. Everyone was young and enthusiastic about getting the store off the ground. I fit right in and helped as I could. The next day we had a lot of curious lookers . We did sell about 15 pipes on Saturday and another 9 on Sunday. Most were in the $25-45 range but at least it was a start. John and Cathy, his fiancee, and I became good friends. We had many common interests and since then they have become my best friends. Our pipe business took off with John’s success. We sell hundreds of pipe a year in his store. At times he had more of our pipes on hand then we did. It was John’s idea to start the annual Christmas shape . We ‘ve made 13 of them. In the hey day of pipe sales we sold 150 Christmas pipes in John’s store in 1987. These were all high end pipes that started at $75 for a sandblast.

The farm was sold in the end of 1979 and we needed to find a cheap place to live. We had always liked the Pocono’s in Eastern Pa. It was also a real cheap place to live so we packed up the shop and moved to Saylorsburg, Pa. A bucolic village that the 20th century had seemed to leave behind. At least on weekends when we looked took the rental. We moved the entire shop in a van. In our next move it took 3 of the largest U Haul trucks. As I said Saylorsburg was real quiet on the weekends, but the following Monday we found out there was a quarry located down the road . When the bog trucks rolled by our little house shook. Our shop though was inside the house in a large basement. This was a real step up in the world for us. It had a two car garage for storage and only cost $240 per month. To supplement my income I opened a karate school at the local YMCA, where I still teach today. In Saylorsburg there were few distractions and we settled down to produce a large volume of pipe making. Our business flourished and by 1982 we had saved up enough money t buy our own house. Its main attraction was a large new shop in back of the house. We moved in October of 1982. This was also the year our mentor, Jack Weinberger died.

    Several American Smoking Pipe examples, details, and nomenclature courtesy Doug Valitchka

American Smoking Pipe Co. In an article, called Go West, which originally appeared in the French Pipe Mag, Erwin Van Hove has this to say about Mark Tinsky: “His more than reasonable prices, and ]]>