I like Nørding pipes for three reasons: They smoke well, they look cool, and Erik Nørding is a badass. Which other pipe maker have you heard of who’s commissioned his own bobblehead pipe stand? I saw Nørding’s Seagull some time ago and was blown away at its unapologetically bizarre appearance within the realm of Danish freehands. I knew I had to have one.
Here’s some quick background on the Nørding marquee: The son of a factory owner, Erik Nørding trained as a blacksmith before graduating from engineering school in the 1950s. An early pipe-smoker from the age of 15, Nørding eventually teamed up with a craftsman named Skovbo to create a line of pipes called SON, an acronym that referenced their surnames.
Nørding renamed the company after himself after Skovbo left the partnership in the mid-1960s. It wasn’t long before his freehand pipes, with a hand-carved style that even Potter Stewart could identify, became enormously popular! Around the new millennium, Nørding and his team of six master carvers cranked out around 15,000 pipes per year in a workshop in his home. Today, most of Nørding’s production is outsourced. Even in his eighties, Erik still finds time to carve some of the high-grade, handmade pipes that bear his name. They’re all out of my budget.
I own six Nørding pipes, from his ultra-utilitarian Compass poker to several from the brand’s handmade Extra series that feature exotic materials in their stems. The first new-to-me pipe I bought was a straight billiard from Nørding’s inexpensive Erik The Red series. That brings us to the Seagull.
Traditionally, Nørding has produced a series of “Hunting” pipes inspired by the shapes and colors of wild game since 1995. I’d love to own one of his elephant or zebra pipes! The Seagull, thankfully, is not part of that series, but I wouldn’t mind helping make a case for it as a surprising number of those dirty dump chickens fly over the landlocked, midwestern city where I live.
I’d better describe the Nørding Seagull before I bust out my trusty pump-action and violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Mine’s big: the pipe measures 6.72 inches long and weighs 2.7 ounces. The bowl is just over 2.25 inches tall, and the chamber is 1.78 inches with a diameter of .86 inches. All in all, I could stuff 4.28 cubic inches of tobacco in it! It’s no Boswell jumbo sitter, but wow- the Seagull has a bowl that lends itself to a lengthy smoke! In terms of shape, SmokingPipes (where I purchased this about a year ago for $92.48 after a 5% discount) calls it a bent brandy, but your mileage will almost certainly vary since my Seagull has a ton of plateaux on top. To my eye, the pipe is a freehand more than anything.
Sorry about that- my cat Disco has never smoked a pipe, but thought it was appropriate to interject with her opinion. Andrew Wike of SmokingPipes had this to say about my exact pipe: “Jet-black stains and a spot rustication of virgin briar is the overarching theme of Nørding’s Seagull series — a line inspired, quite obviously, by the bird itself.”
I take issue with that. Although I think the Seagull series is probably a way for Nørding’s suppliers to use up some subprime briar full of surface flaws, I don’t think I’d call the pipe spot-rusticated. I’d just call it rusticated, since pipe-makers generally employ spot rustication to hide a specific problem in one or two spots of the briar block. For example, I’d say that the Johs pipe below features spot rustication on its heel since it’s confined to one area, albeit a large one.
At the end of the day, I don’t care if the Seagull is a simple gimmick to use up compromised wood. I’m a Nørding stan, and I bought it. I should probably say that I don’t have any formal connection with SmokingPipes, Low Country Pipe & Cigar, or Laudisi Enterprises, Inc. I just tend to buy my pipes there, and the store has seven unique Seagull models for sale right now, and they’re all priced the same at $108.80. Thankfully, that store is unusually up-front about taking pictures of each unique pipe when their shapes vary slightly, and what I ordered is what I got. I prized the shape of this particular pipe’s bowl, the rough plateaux on its rim, and the way the stem fit into the shank of the stummel.
Someone on a pipe forum suggested that the pipe’s texture reminded them of koi fish more than the feathers of a bird. Fine! To me, this pipe doesn’t imply feathers nearly so much as it implies cartoonish seagulls flying in formation. Another comment said the carving looks like maggots. I can’t say I disagree; Seagulls are aesthetically polarizing.
If you’re a pipe-smoker who likes everything you’ve read about the Seagull but are on the fence about its styling, check out one of Nording’s Spiral Freehands. They’re about the same size and feature a similar, contrasting finish. They do look less like a flock of seagulls; though maybe their flowing channels better resemble the ubiquitous haircut that eponymous band sported.
I like it. It smoked a bowl of Pirate Kake just as superbly as one of my more expensive Nørdings, a nice Boswell, or a decent Neerup. Despite its unconventional appearance, the thing did its job. I chose to take it along while I drove to a schoolhouse in Hancock County and had no issue packing, tamping, or re-lighting it. What resulted was a great smoke that helped break in an unusual pipe, one I knew I needed from the moment I saw it.
To answer the sort of question I asked in the title of this post, I don’t know what the Seagull is. Is it a freehand or a Dublin? Is it spot-rusticated or fully rusticated? Does it look like seagulls, fish, or grubs? The truth is, I don’t know, but I know I like it. If you’re someone who wants a unique pipe, if you want a long-lasting smoke whether you sip or quaff, or if you want a cheap-ish way to get into Nørding’s freehand pipes, look no further than his Seagull series. Hang it from your lip with authority, I say! Be different- just like Erik Nørding himself.