Morgan Pipes are made by Chris Morgan, who was born and lives in Los Gatos, California. Coming from a long line of pipe smokers, Morgan began his pipe making journey in 2006, starting, as many budding carvers do, with a pre-bored hobby kit. The finished product was Morgan’s first sale. Over the next two decades, Morgan would become something of a household name in the modern pipe smoking scene. But Morgan’s accomplishments are noteworthy not only because his pipes have been able to amass a large and dedicated following, but also because of what these accomplishments reveal about the changing cultural and economic landscape of pipe smoking and pipe making in the 21st century.
Morgan was introduced to pipes through his grandfather, a veteran pipe smoker whose house was full of various briars. Seeing Morgan’s intrigue in an old Shalom pipe, Morgan’s grandfather sat him down and taught him how to smoke it.
In 2006, Morgan made his first pipe using a hobby kit bought from Pimo (of Pimo’s Guide to Pipe Crafting at Home fame), ultimately selling the finished product to a friend. Morgan continued to develop his pipe making for several years and was for the most part self-taught, with a little help from established pipemakers and industry professionals. Morgan remains a firm believer in autodidacticism with regards to the arts, favoring individual learning through trial-and-error over tutelage or apprenticeship. It was through this trial-and-error approach that Morgan began his pipe making career, gravitating first towards the high-grade, hand-made pipe market that was experiencing a boom in the 2000s.
Morgan continued to make high-grade pipes throughout the 2000s, 2010s, and still makes them today, in the 2020s, in the form of his Hand Made line. At the beginning of the 2010s, however, Morgan’s experiments led him to begin branching out in the range of pipes under the Morgan name. This first took the form of a side-project Morgan began working on in 2011, an attempt to produce a cigar-shaped smoking pipe. Morgan’s idea was to create something that would give its users the same experience as smoking a more traditional pipe, but with the portability associated with a cigar. For the next two years, Morgan developed several iterations of his cigar-pipe idea, sending prototypes of each one out to be tested by regular pipe smokers. In the final revision of the design, Morgan incorporated a plenum space into the pipe’s tenon, an idea suggested by Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Romeo, and inspired by the double-chambered ‘reverse calabash’ pipes of Misha Revyagin. This design became The Briar Cigar, which Morgan began to produce commercially in 2013, and whose design Morgan secured a patent for in 2017.
The first batches of The Briar Cigar were produced by Morgan in his workshop. In order to meet demand, Morgan then contracted Tommaso Ascorti in Italy to produce the next batches. Ascorti soon took over the Caminetto workshop, however, meaning he no longer had the time to produce The Briar Cigar for Morgan. Morgan then moved production to another pipe factory in Northern Italy, in what had used to be the Rossi campus, where The Briar Cigar has been made ever since. Morgan notes that one significant demographic of buyers for The Briar Cigar has been military personnel, who find it particularly suitable for use during deployments.
Morgan continued to make high-grade pipes in his workshop and to sell them along with The Briar Cigar. By 2014, however, the high-grade pipe boom of the 2000s was on the wane. Morgan’s customers still wanted uniquely American pipes, but fewer were able to afford a typically-priced artisan piece than in previous years. Morgan responded to these changes in the pipe market by opting to add another line to his existing range: the Blackjack. Morgan took what he considered to be the most important design and engineering aspects of his high-grade pipes and incorporated these aspects into the Italian-made, serially produced line of Blackjack pipes.
Morgan’s next venture was the Bones, an economy line debuted in 2015. Morgan had been having conversations with a friend, the late Chris Chopin, about the best way to offer his customers pipes that were simultaneously “inexpensive” and “transparent.” Regarding the latter, Morgan had become disdainful of the common practice of applying putty fills to cheaper pipes prior to staining. These fills are typically used for hiding superficial flaws in the wood, but have a tendency to be unattractive and to fall out over time. Morgan, instead, wanted a line of pipes that would be forthcoming about their visual imperfections, and even to show off these imperfections as an element of each pipe’s unique aesthetic qualities. Thanks to the contacts he had made in Italy over the previous years, Morgan was able to source century-old stummels, destined to be filled, stained, and sold elsewhere, which he transported to his factory in Northern Italy. The first batch of Bones pipes was then stemmed, stained, and prepared for sale.
In the lead-up to the sale of the Bones line, Morgan launched a social media campaign via YouTube, in the form of ‘teaser’ videos. Within two weeks of the line going on sale, 600 Bones pipes had been sold. As of 2023, 75,000 Bones pipes have been sold, and the line has acquired a significant cult following. Bones pipes have been sold through Morgan’s website, TobaccoPipes, and Cup O’ Joes in the US, Smoke King in the UK, and Pfeifen Shop Online in Germany. Initially, Bones pipes were only offered as briar pipes, however in the years that followed, Morgan also began selling versions made from the wood of the strawberry tree. These Bones pipes were sold under the Arbutus label, the name being derived from the scientific term for tree itself, Arbutus unedo.
Morgan soon added another line to his catalog, appropriately named The ONE. Having imported a large number of briar blocks that were too small to be used for traditionally-sized pipes, Morgan instead used the blocks to produce short, stemless pipes. These pipes were made, like The Briar Cigar, with portability in mind, however the price was closer to the Bones line. Morgan describes The ONE as, “the simplest interpretation of a briar pipe on the market”, and furthermore notes that they smoke “exceptionally cool” due to the lack of turbulence that would otherwise be caused by the transition from shank to stem. Owing to the success of these all-briar pieces, Morgan moved their production to his factory in Italy, where they continue to be produced.
To date (2023), Morgan’s most recent line of pipes has been the Workshop Series, the result of a collaboration with friend and fellow pipemaker Sean Reum that began in 2022. Like Morgan’s Hand Made pipes, the Workshop Series are pipes made by hand by Morgan and Reum in their respective California and Montana workshops, with labor split between the two. Advertised as a pipe for smokers wanting to move a step up from factory pipes, pipes in the Workshop Series have been offered as more affordable versions of the artisan high-grade, typically featuring sandblasted finishes and Lucite stems.
At present, all of the pipes mentioned (Hand Made, The Briar Cigar, Blackjack, Bones, Arbutus, ONE, Workshop Series) continue to be sold through Morgan’s website and through various vendors, including TobaccoPipes and Cup O’ Joes, Iwan Ries, Smoke King, Pfeifen Shop Online, Germanus, Cigarworld, and The Danish Pipe Shop.
Around 2014, Morgan met Mike Lancaster, founder of Tobacco Pipe Collectors, a club for collectors and enthusiasts of artisan pipes and pipe making. Lancaster invited Morgan to be a partner, and the two worked together in discovering hitherto-obscure pipemakers in order to introduce them to the wider artisan scene. Lancaster passed away in 2023. You can listen to a tribute to Lancaster from the podcast Pipe and Tamper, along with a re-released interview from 2016, here.Morgan has collaborated in the blending of various pipe tobacco blends over the years. The earliest was produced by Russ Oulette and was named Morgan Cake. More recently, Morgan has worked with Sutliff Tobacco Company on three blends: Bayou Buck, Jackalope, and White Rabbit.
In 2019, Morgan was recruited as a consult and a propmaker for the television series, The Underground Railroad, set in the United States during the early- to mid-1800s. Morgan’s role was ensuring historical accuracy for pipe smoking scenes in the series, as well as producing the kinds of pipes that would have been smoked by various groups during this period. This included crafting ‘slave’ pipes, fashioned from rudimentary materials, as well as traditional tobacco pipes. During production, Morgan collaborated with Chris Kelly, of Eldritch Pipes, to create ‘Ambite,’ a synthetic amber substitute, for historically-accurate meerschaum pipe stems. The series was released in 2020.
Morgan and Sean Reum currently produce a podcast together, called Beyond the Pipe. You can find the podcast here.
Chris Morgan Website Morgan Pipes, Inc. Los Gatos, CA 95030 USA Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook: facebook.com/morganpipes Youtube: youtube.com/morganpipes
- This article is based upon information supplied by Mr Morgan via interview.