The Savinelli Alligator, a fine pipe with some teeth to it

Last time we talked about pipes, we discussed some handmade varieties by Boswell and Johs. Today, we’ll talk about one of the first pipes I bought for myself, a machine-made Alligator in the 311 KS shape by Savinelli, a storied Italian marquee. It looks weird, but it would have been the perfect companion when I first started smoking!

I was a freshman in college back then, introduced to the hobby by my dad. I mostly smoked in my apartment. Although I kept it to my room, my roommate eventually started to complain and I can’t say I blame him, in retrospect! Dad got me a tent and a propane heater that enabled me to smoke to my heart’s content out on the balcony during the winter, but I soon graduated beyond that and began taking a pipe with me to school.

II lived in an off-campus apartment about a mile and a half southwest of IPFW in Fort Wayne. Going from Parnell to Coliseum Boulevard towards the university’s front gates would have taken about four minutes as the most direct route to class, but there was no left turn across Coliseum in those days, so I had to go a different route.

My car, and my apartment, at the top right, in 2009.

My alternate way to school involved schlepping down Parnell to St. Joe River Drive and back up North Anthony Boulevard, a journey fraught with traffic lights and non-signaled right turns that took about twenty minutes. I had to budget my time, and I soon learned that the extra time I budgeted let me suck down a quick smoke en route.

That’s the first reason that my Alligator would have been perfect in college. The 311 KS is a poker, a shape that distills the pipe down to its simplistic basics as two perpendicular cylinders. Tobacco goes in the first cylinder, and the second goes into your mouth. If they’re weighted right, pokers sit upright on their own- especially when they’re full of tobacco. I’ve never been much of a pipe clencher, but I dream wistfully of an alternate timeline where my 311 KS sat effortlessly on the dashboard of my 1991 Honda Accord during those annoying campus commutes.

A poker, my 311 KS Alligator sits upright on its own.

Savinelli’s Alligator series of pipes -named after its weird, rusticated finish that resembles the skin of a reptile- dates to 1972, but Savinelli itself dates back to 1876. That’s the year that Achille Savinelli opened one of the world’s first dedicated smoke shops, a predecessor to all the Low Bob’s, Tobacco Barns, and vape shops that ceaselessly sprout today. Nowadays, the business manufactures around 100,000 machine-made pipes per year along with a handmade Autograph series. The original Savinelli pipe shop in Milan is still in operation!

My dad gave me a couple of great Savinelli pipes, including a freehand Autograph I dropped on the pavement of my apartment in Fort Wayne and destroyed. I bought him his own Savinelli for his birthday the following year, and I knew I wanted something new from the company when I got back into smoking a pipe a couple of years ago. I bought my Alligator shortly after I acquired my first brand new Savinelli, an Oscar Tiger.

The Ron Venderly Family Bridge. Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Abhijitsathe under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

My classes shifted from the middle to the western edge of IPFW during my second semester. By that point, it made more sense to drive to a small, unfinished parking lot at the end of California Road. From there, I could walk across the cable-stayed Ron Venderly Family Bridge that crossed the St. Joseph River to campus. It was cold when the semester began, especially as I walked over the river, so I wore a black pea coat on my way to school for the first couple of months. My Alligator’s red stain and unique rustication would have provided the perfect pop of color to accent my get-up, and its small size would have fit perfectly in my pocket after I finished smoking, no one the wiser.

Another view of the Alligator 311 KS.

The pipe is pretty compact. It measures a hair over five inches long and the bowl is about two inches tall. It weighs 1.8 ounces, and the chamber’s 1.34 inches deep by four-fifths of an inch in diameter. This isn’t something you’ll puff on for hours, but it definitely would have lasted while I drove, parked, and walked to class.

I’m sure that smoking isn’t allowed on any college campus today. Even if it were, though, I wouldn’t dream of being the lone dickhead walking around campus and puffing on a pipe! I went to a commuter school in the 2000s, not Yale in the 60s, although a classmate of mine once told me, straight-faced, that she had arrived at IPFW via the Ivy League. She had transferred there from Ivy Tech across the road.

The top of my Alligator 311 KS.

I got my Alligator early on when I re-emerged into the world of pipe-smoking. Back then, I was exclusively smoking Carter Hall tobacco, a “codger” blend of ribbon-cut Virginia and Burley that can be found practically anywhere and is always a reliable smoke. The pipe fired right up and was, surprisingly, fine! I assumed that the Alligator would be hot in my hand due to its diminutive size, but it wasn’t. I attribute that to two things- the pipe’s thick walls (they measure about 0.35″ around the chamber) and the signature Alligator rustication.

The heel of my Alligator 311 KS.

All of Savinelli’s Alligator pipes feature a series of flat, roundish islands in a sea of churning rustication that results in a non-traditional finish. It’s what makes them Alligators, and it’s a polarizing look. I bet they really turned heads when they were first introduced fifty-one years ago.

The pipes look even more extreme because they’re offered in blue, green, brown, red, and -exclusively to the German tobacco distributor, Kopp- black. I chose red because I thought the green and blue versions of the 311 KS were ugly and reasoned that I’d rather any brown pipe I smoked be closer to the natural hue of the briar. I think I made the right call since the red is striking next to the acrylic, amber-colored bit, as well as the gold contrast band.

An alligator’s skin. Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Hans Hillewaert under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

At any rate, I found that the pipe’s increased surface area provided by its rustication was pretty effective in dissipating heat. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an alligator in person, and I’ve never gotten close enough to inspect one’s skin, but the pipe’s finish does sort of resemble something reptilian. The resemblence would be closer if I’d bought the green pipe, of course, but I didn’t think to compare the Alligator to the tortoise I babysat for six months.

The Alligator’s rustication is more apparent in this photo of my 311 KS.

That’s okay, though: Sheldon always hissed when I picked him up, and Savinelli makes a separate, tortoise-themed pipe series called the Tortuga anyway, which would have made for a better comparison. But where Tortugas run about $130, I paid $112 for this pipe at SmokingPipes. Neither line is the cheapest way to enter this hobby, but Savinelli’s Alligator series presents a unique take on a storied company’s traditional shape chart. As a 311 KS, the Alligator provides a quick, cool, smoke with stand-out aesthetics. All those things were important to me when I was a freshman in college. Apparently, they still are now that I’m in my thirties!

I’m starting to get away from mass-produced pipes and lean into handmade pieces, and I doubt I’ll buy another Alligator. Nevertheless, I so wish I had this pipe back when I was first in school. It would have been perfect then, but it’s still pretty good now.

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