Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"
Back to:
Aspects of Pipe Smoking
Aspects of Cigar Smoking
Commentary Articles
Complete Archives Index

No 197 - August 21, 2008
Buffing and Beeswax

Next time you reach for your pipe, take a good look at it.
Is it shining back at you?
Does it have a healthy glow?
Could it use a little TLC?

ell, other than applying Savinelli or Denicotea Bowl Polish, here is what Nick von Bergen does to maintain his considerable pipe collection in the hot, dry Namibian climate.

The correspondence started when he asked us whether he could treat the bowl of a pipe with beeswax to protect it in the dry heat. We replied that we could see no reason why not (after all Meerschaums are happily smoked after being treated with beeswax). After trying unsuccessfully with cold beeswax he came up with the following which he kindly shared with us:

Well what I have tried doing is putting the beeswax & pipe bowls in a grill for just enough time for the wax to become molten.
Then I smeared the wax on the bowls & a bit into the shank, where the tenon goes. I then again put the coated bowls in the grill.
I have a microwave with separate grill function, so I can monitor the pipes nicely through the window of the oven/grill.
I changed the positioning of the pipes to give them an even coat of wax, remembering also to coat the top, as that is often damaged or blackened from lighting the pipe in wind etc.
I then let them cool off over night.
Thereafter I cleaned the stem & inside the pipe with sweetener and refitted all together.
The pipes thus treated have a more firmly fitting stem- on my old pipes they were getting a bit on the loosish side.
Whilst smoking you will have a bit of wax coming off in the hand, but the bowls now have an even lustre.
I believe in using what I own, so what I did might not appeal to the person who has a showpiece to show off.
But for putting some wax back into the wood- I live in an extremely dry country- and restore the looks, it did work so far.
I have a good selection of pipes, so each pipe will probably only see embers once a month.
Taking account our harsh weather, I will probably repeat this process once annually to every 2 years.
In-between this, a quick rub across the nose will add lustre to almost any wood :-)
Hope this was of interest

Well if you aren’t into beeswax, or any other DIY exercises, we hope to have a refurbishing service up and running by mid-September. (Our previous man-with-the-magic-touch has sadly passed away.)
Before then you could take advantage of our next pipe “special” and have a priority opportunity to pick up a beautiful “Golden Oldie” aged mature pipe from our latest selection of refurbished pipes from Dunhill, Stanwell, Savinelli, GBD, Peterson and others.
Remember, that when these pipes were produced, they were already 60 years or more in the making. There is no such thing as a good “young briar” pipe.
All the pipes in this new refurbished collection are very good value, with many years of life still in them.

The collection will be on the website from 21 August –
but if you are on our database** we will email you a link for a special preview.
You may just pick up the best bargain pipe of your life.

**(If you are not yet on our database, go to Sweepstakes Entry to submit your details and incidentally be entered in the draw for a free Savinelli or Stanwell pipe.)

Because you are one of those pipe smokers who appreciates fine pipes, don’t miss this opportunity!

Colin Wesley
No.197 August 21 to September 3, 2008

PS To any of you reading this article who are unfamiliar with the concept of “Mature” pipes, let me explain: These pipes come from many sources – an estate, a smoker who has had to give up, a pipe that just didn’t suit the smoker.
They have one thing in common, they are all quality pipes from the leading brands; they haven’t been badly battered and most have their original mouthpieces.
We have the pipe sterilised, cleaned and polished to restore its mature, dignified appearance – like a nice piece of antique furniture. If you have any reservations about smoking a pipe that has been smoked by somebody else – consider the response given to this concern by a sensible shopkeeper: “You don’t take your own knife and fork to a restaurant, do you?”

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"
Back to:
Aspects of Pipe Smoking
Aspects of Cigar Smoking
Commentary Articles
Complete Archives Index

No 198 - August 28, 2008
The Cigar Ashtray

“What’s so special about a cigar ashtray?” I was asked the other day.
Well – let’s look at what happens to your cigar while you’re smoking it.

Most of it is going to turn to ash, and if you’re smoking one of the Churchills from the last special it will be a lot of ash! So a cigar ashtray needs to be big enough – even the ash from a half corona needs a bit of space.
At some time during your smoke you may need to put the cigar down. Nose down into the ash is not a good idea – the angle of the lighted end may cause the cigar to start burning unevenly, and trying to balance it on a narrow edge may be bad news for the table cloth or carpet.
This is where the channel (within reason, the longer the better) of a good cigar ashtray provides support and prevents accidents.
This resting place is also important when you have finished with your cigar – lay it down and it will go out on its own giving off the least amount of “burnt-out” odour.
(As you know you should never stub out a cigar – unnecessary and smelly!)

It is said that Sir Winston Churchill never travelled without his cigar ashtray – packed in a special box.
Our range includes three fold-up travel ashtrays.
But they’re not only for travelling – when closed they are ashtrays in disguise – beautiful wood/leather boxes to grace any desk or coffee table.
How about when you’ve finished smoking - just close the lid to cover the remnants until they are cleaned out.
The late Theo Rudman carried his cigar ashtray in a velvet drawstring bag – very elegant.
And that’s what cigar smoking should be – elegant!

So practically you must consider the size and the support for your cigar.
And naturally since they are an accessory to one of the world’s most affordable luxuries, cigar ashtrays are usually of fine materials and elegant design: brilliant crystal; spotless chrome; glowing wood – maybe trimmed with leather. Just look at them……..
And then imagine one for your own use.

Don’t just imagine, because from next week (4 September 2008) we will deduct 25% from the price of any of the cigar ashtrays. But don’t delay - the offer is only until 17 September.

Practical, elegant (that word again) and essential – don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your smoking pleasure.

Colin Wesley
August 28 to September 10, 2008

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"
Back to:
Aspects of Pipe Smoking
Aspects of Cigar Smoking
Commentary Articles
Complete Archives Index

No 199 - September 11, 2008
9000 miles from the USA

On Sunday I came home from the shop (yes, I do a share of Sunday duties) and sat down with Gill to enjoy a very welcome cup of tea. “Anything interesting happen in the shop today?” she asked.It’s always interesting, but yes, something extra interesting did happen – and I told her the story.
“That will make a nice little article – why don’t you go and write it down now.”
So much for the lazy cup of tea, but I did as I was told – the story goes like this.

About 1.15 a big fellow with a small, bristly, handlebar moustache and wearing a baseball cap, strolls into the shop. He appears to be on a mission. He looks at me and says in a broad Southern (US) accent “I’ve come 9000 miles to see this shop”. He turns away and surveys the shop for a full minute or two then continues “Where is the Sobranie Smoking Mixture? My friend in Pretoria said I was sure to find some here. He said to me whatever I did on arrival in Johannesburg, don’t miss out on going to Wesley’s in Rosebank. So here I am. I’ve visited your website, and now I’ve seen you for real.”
I apologised that I was going to have to disappoint him: “I’ve been unable to get supplies of Sobranie tobacco for a couple of months.” When it was available we carried large stocks, much of which was shipped to the USA and some to Europe as well as to Russia, Croatia, and other exotic (for us) destinations, and even to the UK - where it is made! He was aware of the strange set-up in which Gallaher, now owned by Imperial Tobacco (another UK company), manufacture the tobacco but can’t sell it in the UK. Unfortunately he couldn’t tell me the reason for this. Our orders haven’t been cancelled, but we haven’t a clue as to when we might receive supplies.
We chatted for a few more minutes, and I mentioned that we had a good substitute in our Houseblends. His eyes lit up, but I could sense a feeling of doubt. I opened the bottle of No.50 Oriental Mixture and passed it to him. “Now this smells great”, he sniffed it more deeply.
While he was savouring the aroma, I told him of how we had visited London in the early 1970s in search of English recipes for our Houseblends. Dr Redstone, a dentist, who with his brother owned the Sobranie name, wouldn’t let us visit their factory, but over breakfast kindly suggested we visited Robert McConnell in the London dockyard (this is well before it was fashionable). “Always add Turkish for smoothness, increase the percentage of Latakia, Perique works well in a flake” (think of Three Nuns). Through this visit we succeeded in establishing recipes for our 5 basic English-type blends using both imported and South African tobaccos.
“Fascinating” he said, “how do you sell this?”
As he started to leave the shop with a 50g pouch of No.50 he turned and said “Now I’m one up on those fellows back home who only visit your website. I’ve been here and bought from you. My name is B……. and I’ll be in touch.” And he was gone. Nice fellow.
Well – that’s the story, and if you don’t know our tobaccos, the 5 original English blends are Nos.13, 15, 50, 52, 58. A sixth blend was introduced a few years later when we discovered the advantages of good American Burley in smoothing a blend – this is No.55 Latakia A, a blend that is exceptionally easy on the throat and palate and has a subtle, comfortable aroma for the surroundings.
Unfortunately we can’t offer you a free sample of, or a special price on, tobacco but we can offer you 25% off something to put it in.

So - you will be able to buy any tobacco pouch for 25% less than the normal price.
Just look at the range!
Only from 18 September to 1 October - 2008 (time flies so quickly one has to put in the year).

Now is the time to invest or upgrade.

Colin Wesley
No.199 September 11 to 24, 2008

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"
Back to:
Aspects of Pipe Smoking
Aspects of Cigar Smoking
Commentary Articles
Complete Archives Index

No 200 - September 25, 2008
Benchmark or Reference Point

How does a brand become a “Benchmark” or “Reference point” in its field?
High consistency is what counts – not just a one-off fantastic harvest producing a great cigar in limited numbers. (But don’t miss these when they are around – currently a superb Limited Edition Upmann Magnum 50 , 161mm x Ring 50, R548.00 pack of 3 glass tubes )
In the cigar world the test is the combination of quality craftsmanship, flavourful tobaccos
and overall performance of the cigar over a period of time.

In Cuban cigars, the brand is Montecristo with many of its regular shapes achieving benchmark status.

In 1935 Montecristo was established as a “super-premium” brand of 5 sizes by the Menéndez and González families. "Apparently everybody had an opinion on what to call the vitolas of Montecristo, and Señor Menendez got tired of it,” says Angel Pereira, a historian who is researching
a book on the various Cuban cigar brands, “So he decided just to call them 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5”.
And these 5 sizes became the reference point for the length/ringsize relationship of:
Royal Corona – Montecristo No.1 (165mm x Ring 42);
Corona – Montecristo No.3 (142mm x Ring 42);
Petit Corona – Montecristo No.4 (129mm x Ring 42);
Half Corona - Montecristo No.5 (102mm x Ring 40);
and the majestic Torpedo or Pyramid - Montecristo No.2 (156mm x Ring 52).
Variations on these sizes often refer back to the benchmarks, “Thick Corona” (142mm x Ring 43), “Long Half Corona” (116mm x Ring 40).
No “Robusto” size then – the benchmark for the classic Robusto was achieved (in South Africa at least) by the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No.2 (127mm x Ring 50) long before the shape had a generally accepted name or became so popular. A robusto-type shape was introduced into the Montecristo range comparatively recently as the “Edmundo” (a “Robusto Extra” – a little longer and a little thicker at 135mm x ring 52).
Not just the size, the success of the brand was also due to its unique blend – a tangy flavour, created by the ligero leaves being matured in cedarwood boxes, and then arranged in a special way as part of the filler. The carefully selected, oily wrappers added the finishing touch.
Today Montecristo, still Cuba’s largest-selling brand, is produced in 7 factories; including the Jose
Marti factory (Cuba’s premium factory) for Montecristo A and Montecristo No.2.
Montecristo is Cuba’s biggest selling cigar, but whether or not it is the island's best cigar brand remains a matter of opinion. James Suckling writing for Cigar Aficionado in 2004 said “there's no way in a month of Sundays that Montecristo is Cuba's best quality cigar.   …… (However) Montecristo cigars have significantly improved in quality over the last two years.” He may be right for, whatever the past, the Montecristo 5 achieved 91 points (Outstanding) in a blind Cigar Aficionado tasting in
December 2007.

Now what do you think?
Because this is essentially a subjective decision, we have put together a selection of 3 Cuban cigars for you to compare. These cigars are roughly the same Half Corona size but belong to different price categories.

Montecristo No.5 (Half Corona, 102mm x Ring 40) As we said, Montecristo is one of the top premium brands from Cuba - its biggest in terms of sales, its best known and probably the most widely appreciated - with a distinctive medium to full flavour. And the No.5 is considered the classic half corona size with the ideal correlation between length and ringsize. This cigar forms for many cigar smokers the Benchmark in flavour and format against which other Half Corona cigars are judged.
El Rey del Mundo Lunch Club (Long Half Corona, 116mm x Ring 40) In 1882 the Antonio Allones factory, which had been making Habanos for over 30 years, decided to launch a new brand of premium quality and price. www.habanos.com says “With great confidence but little modesty it was named
El Rey del Mundo - The King of the World. It proved a winner.” Today the cigars are made in same factory as Romeo y Julieta. They have a subtle aroma and are well made with a good draw, generally a little lighter than other Cuban cigars. The Lunch Club is a little longer, and (when available) it was slightly more expensive than the Montecristo No.5. (Cigar Aficionado July 2005: 89 points, Excellent)
Romeo y Julieta Sport Largos – (Long Half Corona, 117mm x Ring 35) This cigar is machine-bunched and hand finished – the filler leaf is cut to an exact length and a slow machine rolls it into the binder. After that it is finished by hand in the usual way – including quality inspection, colour-sorting and aging. The draw should be as good as that of a completely handmade cigar, possibly even better, because a machine is more consistent in forming the bunch than a human. But remember to draw a little slower because of the narrower ringsize. Priced at 25% less than the other two when it was available, it offered excellent value.
If you like the format, ask about or the very well-priced Partagas Princess (127mm x Ring 35; R36.50 each) or, if available, the Fonseca Cadettes (115mm x Ring 36, R63.00 each)

Putting the three cigars together, we offer the “Benchmark Selection” - Only R199.95*
Compare the Sport Largos and the Lunch Club with the Benchmark Montecristo No.5.
Is the format of the Montecristo a worthy Reference Point?
How do the different proportions (between length and ringsize) affect your smoking experience?
Note the different burning rates with the various ringsizes.
Look for the different degrees of flavour.
*Normally R261.00 – price of single cigars in glass tubes

As usual we backed up our cigar experiences and those received back from our customers with excursions into Rick Hacker, Theo Rudman and the websites of Cigar Aficionado and Habanos.
Build your own experience through our 3-pack Selections.

Colin Wesley
September 25 to October 8, 2008

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"
Back to:
Aspects of Pipe Smoking
Aspects of Cigar Smoking
Commentary Articles
Complete Archives Index

No 201 - October 9, 2008
The Benchmark in Pipes

The first pipe to sell for a Guinea, to offer a 12 month guarantee on the pipe bowl and to offer only one quality – the best, Dunhill has long been acknowledged as the benchmark for Prestige pipes.

It is easily identified by the white spot on the mouthpiece – I think still the smallest registered Trademark in the world. The white spot had its origin during the First World War: Mr Alfred (Dunhill) was a perfectionist and he initiated the insertion of a white spot in the top of the mouthpiece of any pipe returning to the factory for repair, to make sure the mouthpiece was inserted the right way up. By 1918 all new Dunhill pipes also had a White Spot on the mouthpiece. This became such a symbol of quality that a Gentleman’s Club in Zurich would
not permit members into the Smoking Room without a “White Spot” pipe.

Dunhill may be the only company to make “only the best” pipes, and their pipes may still be considered
the Benchmark, but many other manufacturers include equally top quality pipes in their ranges.
So what is a Prestige Pipe, and why is it so sought after?
A Prestige Pipe is made from well-aged briar, confirmed by the good hard grain displayed on the surface of the bowl. Degrees of close, tight Straight or Bird’s Eye grains are the norm. The bowl is either flawless or only slightly specked.
As these bowls are identified in the process of manufacture, they are ear-marked for special attention. Each manufacturer has his closely-guarded secret processes to enhance the beauty and smoking qualities of these chosen pieces - fine sanding, repeated staining and polishing, deep sandblasting, treatment with heat and special oils. All these will do wonders, but they take time and great skill, and are very costly. A Prestige Pipe may undergo as many as 30 finishing operations and can take over 2 months to complete.
The metamorphosis from the rough ebauchon to the finished product is akin to that of a caterpillar to a butterfly.
And the manufacturer may add something to the pipe to make it even more attractive. A better, more complicated finish enhancing the grain, a better quality mouthpiece for both appearance and comfort in the mouth, a little decoration or insignia, in brass or sterling silver, in recognition of its quality.
It must be remembered though, that these decorations, or the pattern of the grain, are mainly cosmetic. They do not affect the smoking quality of the pipe to any great degree. What is important to the smoking quality is that the briar be properly cured and dried (bowls with good graining will respond better to those processes) and then that the pipe be properly made by skilled people.
(See Manufacture of Briar Pipes – Finishing; and “Pipes – what’s in a good brand name?”)

Possibly you could think of Prestige pipes as falling into 3 categories:
The Classic shapes pioneered by Alfred Dunhill. These classic shapes are part of the normal range of
the particular manufacturer – but every now and then during manufacture a bowl of exceptional quality
and beauty is found, which is then given special attention to nurture a Prestige pipe.
Designer pipes. Pipes with unusual finishes and shapes – often created by skilled designers but still conforming to the basic principles of a good smoking pipe. The Stanwell company works with such designers as a matter of course, and there are many individual “Pipe Artists” in other parts of Europe and in America.
Collectables – I’m talking now about the modern pipes created in limited quantities for special occasions. This trend was started by Comoy pipes in 1976 with their “Christmas Pipe”. Today we have the very collectible annual “Pipe-of-the-Year” from many top pipe manufacturers, in limited quantities, often (as in Limited Edition cigars) in shapes that are not part of the normal range. Strict quality controls ensure that only the best briar is used on these pipes. At Savinelli earlier this year we were shown a new pipe for a special edition – only 47 bowls out of the hundreds of the chosen shape that were turned, were found to be of a sufficiently high quality. You don’t get much more limited than that!

Are they worth the extra price?
The demand for Prestige Pipes is testimony to the fact that they are appreciated for their rarity, beauty of the grain and smoking quality. They are always in short supply – testing the integrity of the manufacturer.
A top quality manufacturer will not lower his standards.
Look at the range : And each of the pipes shown is one of a kind – the pipe pictured is the one you’ll receive.

Because the pleasure of perfection is something to experience at least once,
for a short period we offer you the opportunity to invest in a Prestige Pipe for less than usual.
From 16 to 29 October you will receive a 30% discount
off any Stanwell or Savinelli pipe where the normal Retail price is R995.00 or more.

Besides those pictured on the website, we have more.
In fact we have the best selection of Prestige Pipes in South Africa.
You can make arrangements to see some at your nearest Wesley’s.

Colin Wesley
No.201 October 9 to 22, 2008

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"
Back to:
Aspects of Pipe Smoking
Aspects of Cigar Smoking
Commentary Articles
Complete Archives Index

No 202 - October 23, 2008
The Benchmark Montecristo 4

If I ever wondered whether our website articles were read I need have no further doubts. I have been frequently asked over the last 4 weeks "If Montecristo 4 is so good, and such a big seller, why don’t we have it in a ‘Benchmark’ selection to compare?”.
OK, OK – we’ve put one together.

Not to make it too simple for Montecristo No.4, I’ve chosen two other Petit Coronas with high Cigar Aficionado ratings to challenge its reputation as a Reference Point.
 (Points Scale: 88/89 Excellent; 90/93 Outstanding)

FIRST though, you need to do some preparatory work: Read the last cigar article on “Benchmarks” – together with as many of the links as you have time for.

Now consider these 3 Petit Corona cigars (129mm x Ring42) in a play-off for the Championship.

The contenders (mixed metaphor?)
At 88 points: Romeo y Julieta Petit Corona
Romeo y Julieta is one of the best known Havana brands. The balanced and aromatic blend makes it the classic medium-bodied Cuban cigar. This is an excellent handmade cigar with plenty of taste for its size.
At the November 2007 tasting Cigar Aficionado awarded the cigar 88 points (excellent) and described it as:  
CA - A solid cigar with flavors of nuts. It has a smooth quality on the palate with a light, earthy, herbal character. Well-made.
At 89 points: Sancho Panza Non Plus
The name Sancho Panza was taken from the faithful squire to Don Quixote. It was first used in 1848 and since then the cigar has enjoyed a reputation for quality amongst discerning smokers. Sancho Panza is rarely seen in South Africa, as it is normally only distributed in selected markets - popular in Spain.
Using a medium-bodied blend of tobaccos from the Vuelta Abajo region, all sizes are "totalmente a mano, tripa larga" - totally hand made, long filler.
CA - Slightly pressed with attractive, tawny color. The draw is a bit tight, offering a very cedary smoke with some nuttiness and earth on the finish. (Hint: If you find the draw a little tight for you, cut a bigger hole.)

Teeing off last, the defending champion at 93 points (up from 90 last year): Montecristo No.4
The best known and probably the most appreciated Cuban brand, its distinctive medium to full flavour forms for many Cuban cigar smokers the benchmark against which other brands are judged. It is one of the top premium brands from Cuba - its biggest in terms of sales and its best known – the benchmark of Cuban cigars for size and flavour.  
Theo Rudman wrote: “Brands success has a lot to do with unique tangy flavour. This partly created by storing ligero leaves for filler in special type of cedar wood boxes, partly because of unique technique of arranging filler leaf. Generally slightly milder than Cohiba with less ligero leaf in their blend.”
According to Cigar Aficionado, Enrique Mons, one of Havana's great cigar aficionados and the head of the humidor room at La Casa de Habano, the city's most prestigious tobacconist, could smoke anything he wants, considering the vast selection of cigars in his shop - all the sizes and shapes of Cohiba, Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch, among others - but when he decides to smoke a cigar he usually picks a Montecristo. "I have always smoked a Montecristo", says Mons. "It's a unique cigar with unique character. The blend is rich, but more importantly, the wrappers are very special."
CA - Pressed and golden with a perfect draw. Despite its small size this cigar is complex with leathery, spicy flavors and a profound coffee note that precedes a more subtly spicy finish.

Print the Cigar Tasting Form – and you be the judge!

Colin Wesley
October 23 to November 5, 2008

The Petit Corona Benchmark Selection is available from October 30
In a pack of 3 Glass tubes - R265.00
3 glass tubes in a travel box - R345.00

PS Also mentioned last time were “Limited Editions”.
At the Cigar Dinner we will be tasting Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada (Short Corona Extra, 135mm x Ring 46). That could definitely be described as “just a one-off fantastic creation producing a great cigar in limited numbers”. I’ve tried one already - what a cigar!
You can buy it as part of the Dinner Selection, in boxes of 25 or in 3-packs in glass tubes.

PS  Find a Prestige Pipes at an even better price! The new selection of Refurbished pipes is
now on the website , and there are some real gems (including 3 Dunhills). The Preview Day
for people on our database is over. Make sure we have your email address.

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

  . . . . .