Ropp’s Etudiante series: The best new heritage pipes under fifty bucks?

I like history and I’m addicted to nicotine. That’s what makes smoking a pipe such a great win-win for me! If you’re the same and have fifty dollars to spare, give the Ropp Etudiante series of pipes a long, careful look: I can promise that you won’t regret it. Not only are these pipes competent little smokers, they’ve got some big history to back up their branding.

My Ropp J06, above; and my Ropp J04, below.

After a terrible experience smoking a truly abominable Dr. Grabow Grand Duke bulldog, I made it my personal mission to find the best value-oriented pipes on the market today from name brands. So far, we’ve discussed Rossi’s great little Piccolo -a Savinelli cast-off, I think- and Scott’s Pipes Burner series, which are fashioned in America from old stummels that were first produced in Italy and France. We’ve talked about Erik Nørding’s Erik The Red series, which serves as a small first step into the Danish freehand mode of pipes, but today we’ll head back to France and talk about Ropp. 

Ropp is a brand with some history to it. The company was originally founded in the late 1800s by a guy named, unsuprisingly, Eugene-Leon Ropp. Unusually, the company’s pipes were most often made from cherrywood rather than briar, and the business remained in the family for three generations until it closed in 1991. Three years later, the company was acquired by Chacom, another one of France’s oldest pipe manufacturers. The brand withered, but in 2015 Chacom revived the name in collaboration with These days, new pipes sold under the Ropp name are fashioned from old stummels in discontinued shapes that the two companies found discarded at the the old Chacom factory.

Like many French pipes from years past, the Ropps are slender and lightweight. Some of them actually feature real horn stems! The Etudiant series, which means “student” in English, is Ropp’s entry level. Don’t let that scare you away if you’re an experienced smoker, though. Unless you demand a timpani drum’s worth of tobacco, I think they’re perfect for the new and old amongst us alike.

The Ropp Etudiante J04, in profile.

Ropp’s J04 and the J06 shapes have been on my radar for a while for no other reason than that they look weird. The J04 is a sandblasted shape that defies easy classification. For lack of a better vocabulary, I’ll call its shape sort of an hourglass pot or a roughly-hewn hyperboloid. The bowl resembles the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant!

Here’s the J04 from above.

The pipe itself is a lot smaller in person that it appears in photos: from stem to stummel, it’s only a hair longer than five inches and weighs in at about three-quarters of an ounce. The bowl’s 1.45 inches tall and 1.25 inches deep. At about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, the pipe’s can fit just a tick under four cubic inches of tobacco. Take that volume with a grain of salt the size of a
“four person” Coleman tent, though, since depending on how dense you pack it, your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Here’s the J04 from below.

The J04 features a jet-black vulcanite stem which will undoubtedly discolor over years of use and eventually require sanding and buffing to restore. On the spectrum of horn to acrylic, vulcanite – a sort of hardened rubber- sits somewhere in the middle for me. I like the way these stems feel, but hate keeping them clean as they oxidize. You would not believe what a terrible pain in the ass it is to restore one! 

The Ropp Etudiante J06, in profile.

The J06 represents a more conventional shape than the J04. Quite simply, the bowl is a tomato fitted to a tapered shank that connects to a saddle stem. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this pipe is ten inches long given the normal size of a tomato, but like all of Ropp’s vintage-stummeled pipes its svelte, measuring at just a hair over five inches long. Like the J06, the pipe weighs three-quarters of an ounce. In fact, all of Ropp’s Etudiant series pipes weigh right around that much, so I wouldn’t be shocked if that metric was targeted intentionally back when the briars were carved. At about 1.2 inches, the bowl of the J06 is much shorter than the J04, but its proportionately deeper, with a chamber depth of 1.09 inches. That gives the pipe a capacity of 3.4 cubic inches. The outside walls of the J06 are thicker than those of the J04 by a substantial margin given its wider shape.

Here’s the J04 from above.

It was early morning when I smoked these pipes, so I elected to smoke Peterson’s Early Morning Pipe in them. For many years, Early Morning Pipe was a Dunhill brand, featuring an easy, slightly-citrusy blend of Orientals, intense Latakia, and Virginia tobaccos. When Dunhill began to distance itself from tobacco products, Peterson took over Early Morning Pipe, along with many of Dunhill’s other blends. I’ve smoked both versions, and they only thing that’s different is the logo on the tin. There’s not much that’s better than a bowl of Early Morning Pipe and a carafe of your favorite French roast to start the day with.

Here’s the J04 from below.

I smoked the J04 first. After a charring light and the corresponding relight, the smoke truly started. It was fine! The pipe smoked noticeably warm, but I had no issues with the gurgle or excessive heat that tends to accompany a good freight-training. I did smoke it sort of aggressively, though, but I finished in sixteen minutes with nary a wad of unspent tobacco at the end, which suggested that I did right by the pipe.

The big surprise was realizing that the weird, cooling-tower bowl of the J06 had been manufactured specifically to conform to the shape of my own hand. We’ve all seen those water bottles from the late 1990s that promised to be ergonomic but ended up fitting nobody’s fingers. The Ropp J06 is the opposite. Unless your hands look like Mickey Mouse’s, you will almost certainly find the Ropp J04 to be extraordinarily comfortable to hold.

The J06 was next: It took slightly longer to smoke than its counterpart, but it was more comfortable to hold as I smoked it in terms of temperature.Though it didn’t fit my hand as perfectly as the J04, that sort of coincidence is uncommon and the tomato was well in line with what I’m used to. I finished the smoke in about twenty minutes. 

Here’s one more view of the Ropp J06 and J04 together.

Of the cheapies we’ve discussed so far, the Ropps blow the Grabow out of the water. Both were similar to the Rossi and the Scott’s Burner, but with a sense of history the Rossi can’t provide and a clear origin that the Burners are a little fuzzy on. Don’t get me wrong: though none of these are going to out-smoke a handmade Boswell or Nørding, I’d probably put the Ropps in the lead as far as name-brand pipes available for fifty bucks are concerned. In a vacuum, they smoked admirably well, punching far above their weight. Their heritage is cool too, and I’d look to either shape as a fantastic first pipe given their cost, appearance, history, and utility. Though I’m hesitant to demote a historic stummel to a life rattling around the floor of a car or a boat, one of these would also make a great beater pipe for the more discerning smoker, which I’m not.

This is Zulu the cat, not Zulu the Ropp.

All that said, I also have a Ropp Vintage Stout sandblasted Zulu that I’ll have to review one of these days. At closer to $80, it features a horn stem and classic shape- my favorite pipe shape, in fact. It’s a nose warmer, but so is my cat -also named Zulu- who loves to get up close while I write these posts.

She just laid on my keyboard. “”////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////*+5269+” she says! We’ll talk about the Ropp Vintage Stout Zulu another time, after I give this other Zulu some tummy rubs.

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