2010 was a fantastic year for me. I was up-and-coming, and, if one wasn’t so revolting, the world was my oyster. I guess the world was my fried clam strips from Long Jong Silver’s, in retrospect.
I was twenty, I was passing 300- and 400-level political science classes in college by day, managing a Subway sandwich outpost where I could eat as many meatballs in foam bowls as I wanted by night, and I’d just been spoiled by estate pipes given to me by my dad, many of which punched well above their age, mileage, and cost, which was free (to me). It was great navigating the initial throes of adulthood and loving life with limited responsibility in my own apartment with my first car, an older co-worker who bought me 36-racks of Keystone from the Save-A-Lot in exchange for a broken TV, and my best friend from high school as my roommate. Then I lost my scholarship, got demoted at work, fought with my best friend, and moved back home. I doubt this was the fault of my new pipes, but it happened.
Then my dad died.
That sucked. Two of the pipes Dad gave me were Italian, from the storied firm Savinelli: a Punto Oro bulldog with a saddle bit and a Savinelli Autograph freehand. Around a year before he perished, I bought Dad an inexpensive Savinelli Oscar Dry bent billiard for his fiftieth birthday. He smoked it a few times -always sending me an update- but I once I received it I knew it was too small for his chimney-like habits. Nevertheless, I still have that pipe today, and when it became time to build a collection of my own pipes I wanted to start with Savinelli, which remains an accessible, historic brand unlike other makes like Lorenzo, Bari, and Stanwell that were once in dad’s collection.
I remembered the Oscar name from the pipe I bought dad, so naturally I started there. The Oscar series has been around for quite some time -the company itself says the marquee is a “historic name in the Savinelli series line.” Despite their heritage, these pipes are near the lower end of Savinelli’s machine-made pipes, though, apparently utilizing imperfect briar that’s been filled with putty. Oh well!
At the top of the spectrum of new Oscar series pipes, a smooth Oscar Tiger will run about $124, while a sandblasted version costs about $100 at retail. With some budgeting, both pipes could be within the scope of the pipe-smoking breadwinner, and they represent a fine value. Today, Oscar pipes feature a combination of traditional finishes -smooth or sandblasted- matched with vivid acrylic stems that feature a star logo reminiscent of a horizontal magic wand.
Beyond the name recognition, there are a couple of reasons why I chose this particular pipe when I decided that a new Savinelli was in the cards for me. For starters, I love a good straight billiard shape- I appreciate that Savinellis of this mode tend to have a tall -but, crucially, robust- bowl- that I ascribe to be a calling card of typical Italian pipe design. Bottom line, though, my choice of pipe came down to its aesthetics: The stem of this pipe features translucent orange and black stripes that match with the stain of the smooth-polished rim and brass ring of the bit. This is a really good-looking pipe!
The Savinelli company was started in 1876 by Achille Savinelli as one of Italy’s first dedicated tobacco-and-pipe stores. His grandson opened a pipe factory in 1948, and today it’s owned by Achille’s great-grandson Giancarlo.
I might be an everyman, but I love an attractive bit, starting with my dad’s Lorenzos I’ve kept that are my favorite pipes.
Savinelli’s Roma, Tre, Regimental, and Oscar rusticated series all look good to my eye. At around $112, you might find that you really like Savinelli’s Alligator series, which debuted in 1972 and features partial rustication that calls to mind the hide of its namesake reptile. I’ve got one in the 311 KS shape that I’ll review another time, but along with Nording’s Erik The Red straight billiard, the Oscar Tiger was the first pipe I bought after my long lull.
This pipe, a 128 on Savinelli’s shape chart, is longer than the company’s 106 and 104 shapes and wider than their 107. From bit to bowl it measures 6.09 inches, it weighs 1.4 ounces, and has a bowl height of 1.87 inches. The tobacco chamber extends down 1.62 inches and has a diameter of .83 inches. My initial smoke was with the included balsa filter, which I threw away and replaced with an included adapter after the pipe had cooled.
I’d noticed an off-center mortise in the Peterson Donegal Rocky fishtail 999 I’d recently purchased and decided to measure the Oscar Tiger. From top to bottom it was a thousandth of an inch off as measured with digital calipers- left to right was off-center to the same degree; the mortise has an ever-so-slight bias to the northeast here. Of the three pipes I’ve reviewed so far, the Oscar Tiger has the straightest mortise by far.
I smoked the Nording first and followed it with the Oscar Tiger, which I packed with Presbyterian Mixture, an English blend of Oriental and Virginia tobacco with a light sprinkling of Latakia with its forest-after-a—devastating-fire aroma. Presbyterian is a tobacco that needs to dry out a little bit prior to smoking, a clause I forgot when I packed, tamped, and lit it. Needless to say I struggled to keep it lit, through no fault of the pipe itself. Nevertheless, when the tobacco stayed ignited the pipe drew evenly and cooly, with no burble, gurgle, or tongue bite.
If you’re not as enamored with the bit of the Oscar Tiger series but envy the price point, a Savinelli Arcobaleno might be more your vibe to a tune of about $84. Completely rusticated with a nickel band and dark acrylic bit, those pipes come in brown, red, green, and blue stains. Once we get past Savinelli’s One Starter Kits -smooth values at around $92 or so, the brand’s next line of normal-sized pipes are Savinelli’s Trevi series- compelling pipes with bright nickel rings emblazoned with a motif that suggests the aqueduct that ended at the Trevi Fountain. I wouldn’t mind a Trevi in the 904 KS shape myself. Savinelli’s Siena and Dolomiti series, both pushing $100, are nice pipes designed in classical styles, but none are as eye-catching at around a hundred bucks as the Oscar Tiger.
Still, that much money is a lot for someone new to the hobby and habit to spend on a pipe. While I’ll argue that it’s worth spending that much for a piece of functional art that should last a lifetime, I’ve been there! If I still was, I’d plunk down $48 for a Rossi Vittoria. Rossi is to Savinelli what Squier is to Fender, and the Vittoria series is a true workingman’s series dressed in dark stain and rustication, while featuring traditionalist styling cues and variations on some of Savinelli’s more famous shapes. From a practical standpoint, the rustication will help hide the dings and nicks your pipe will pick up from periods of careless use, if you’re like me.
Though it’s not as lithe as the 128 shape, I find Rossi’s 8111 (they name their pipes after Savinelli’s, though with an eight in front of the number) to be of similar stature. Rossi’s Notte an d Rubino Antico series also offer some compelling shapes of classic lineage, and would represent much more bang for your buck than a similarly-priced basket pipe or a Dr. Grabow.
Writing for the 2011 edition of Guns Illustrated, my dad said, “I don’t ask much of a pipe: it should stay cool all the way through the smoke; it should break in quickly; it should draw smoothly even if I’ve packed it too tightly.”
I find that dad’s criteria are a fair place to start, though I’ll add my preferences for an acrylic stem, an eye-catching finish, and an economical price point to his inclinations. Though my improper stewardship of the Presbyterian Mixture caused the Oscar Tiger to failed dad’s test, subsequent smokes with tobacco pre-packed forty-five minutes before combustion passed both generations of Shideler druthers, as did repeated smokes with different tobacco. As an inexpensive workhorse that combines modern aesthetics with a classic, sandblasted shape, the Savinelli Oscar Tiger is a great pipe. If only I’d known that back in college. Maybe I’d have stayed in school!