I started smoking a pipe when I was eighteen, as I was lucky to have a dad who spoiled me with quality pipes he no longer smoked. Despite their age and, often, abuse, almost all of them punched well above their weight, particularly since they were free to me. Two of dad’s pipes were from the storied Italian firm Savinelli: a Punto Oro bulldog with a vulcanite saddle bit, and an Autograph freehand that was worth probably $500 until I dropped it on the asphalt parking lot of my Fort Wayne apartment. Bam. Good morning, concrete! Dad just about kicked my ass over that. It could have been repaired.
Later, I bought dad an inexpensive Oscar Dry bent billiard for his fiftieth birthday. I still have it, and my brother has the Punto Oro. Unfortunately, the broken Autograph went missing during the chaos of settling dad’s estate after he died in 2011; I gave it back to him to send off to be fit for a replacement stem.
When I started back into the hobby and habit of pipe-smoking, I knew that I wanted another Sav. After all, the company is one of the world’s foremost pipe manufacturers: In 1876, a guy named 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 endlessly sprout up in the distressed strip malls of our modern era. In 1948, Savinelli’s grandson -Achille Savinelli Jr.- opened a pipe factory, and today it’s owned by Giancarlo Savinelli, the elder Achille’s great-grandson. Today, the business manufactures around 100,000 machine-made pipes along with the handmade Autograph series, and the original Savinelli pipe shop in Milan is still in operation.
I think that’s cool. Along with Peterson and Dunhill, Savinelli is one of the world’s most storied brands of pipes, and that history is what led me to this 2019 Saint Nicholas author, known as a model 320 KS according to Savinelli’s shape chart. Probably the marquee’s most iconic shape, the 320 KS is available at a huge variety of price points that tops out at north of $600 for the Giubileo d’Oro (Golden Jubilee) series. At $103 brand new, mine is on the low end of the spectrum, though there are several models that are cheaper, even, than mine.
Of course, a hundred bucks is not a trivial amount of money to spend on something that will eventually contribute to your death from cancer. Thankfully, in a world where there’s a Chevrolet for every Cadillac and all manner of Epiphone Les Pauls for every expensive Gibson, Savinelli also manufactures a budget-oriented line of pipes called Rossi. Starting at around $60, the Rossi version of the 320 KS is called the 8320, and it’s available in a couple of rusticated finishes. I don’t have one myself, but I know a couple of people who do and love them. Rossi even makes a larger version of the 8320 called, appropriately, the 8320 EX, which nearly doubles the volume of the bowl chamber.
There are a couple of things I ask of a pipe. First, it obviously has to give me a cool, dry, and forgiving smoke: After all, abstaining from pipe-smoking for the better part of a decade has atrophied my technique. The second thing that’s important is that the pipe look interesting, but not be gimmicky: Although I’m capable of cleaning up and being presentable, I’m most often found looking like a dirty, homeless bum with a ruptured artichoke for a head. That all said, I like the feeling that a snappy pipe gives me whether I’m shorn or unshaven! Finally, I’m not a guy who will ponderously clench a pipe between his teeth, so I appreciate one that gives my fingers something interesting to feel as I hold it.
I guess the last thing I prefer is a pipe that doesn’t take a euphonium’s worth of tobacco and requires that I smoke it for two or three hours. While the cheaper Rossi 8320 EX would probably not cover all of those bases, this 320 KS does. It’s a great pipe!
Let’s start with appearance. Since 2013, Savinelli has released a Christmas-themed collection of pipes called the Saint Nicholas series. They’re usually rusticated, or textured, and they feature some design cues that are inspired by the holiday season, namely with regards to their acrylic stems. The marketing cynic in me believes that the annual release of a limited-edition rusticated pipe is an attempt to build scarcity around pitted or faulty briar that didn’t make the cut to be turned into a smooth-finished pipe, but that’s neither here nor there. My 320 KS, along with the rest of Savinelli’s 2021 Saint Nicholas pipes, features a dark stain and a light rustication that’s almost akin to a sandblast. The stem is an iridescent green, and it terminates in a white band flanked by two brass rings. The whole thing brings to mind a snowy forest of conifers. This is a good-looking pipe!
Savinelli offers other 320 KS models with stems that are similarly fetching in their Camoflauge, Oceano, and Fantasia series, but those have stems that are just a step too far towards the gaudy side of the spectrum for my liking. That said, I do have a Savinelli Oscar Tiger straight billiard with an orange and black stem that I really like, so chalk my aesthetic assessment up to personal tastes and make your own call.
The pipe feels good in my hand, as the stummel (the briar part, not the plastic) fills out my palm all the way up to the transition and stem. As far as measurements are concerned, my 320 KS is 5.43 inches long and weighs 2.6 ounces. Adhering to the “author” shape standard, the bowl is squat at 1.63 inches, and the chamber’s 1.16 inches deep by nine-tenths of an inch wide.
A subset of the apple shape, authors are stubby and feature big bowls- smoking one tends to last a long time. My brother -a widely-educated fellow with a degree in the classical languages-hilariously referred to this pipe a “chode” upon his first glance of it. While I can’t bring myself to call it by that name myself, I have to say- he’s got a point- if “a” is equal to the Savinelli 320 KS and “b” equals Milton Berle in his prime, then a = -b. And that’s enough algebra for the next three years until I decide to finally finish my bachelor’s degree.
I bought this pipe along with a tin of Edward G. Robinson’s Pipe Blend, which is a mix of Burley, Cavendish, and Latakia with a bit of a plum topping to it that was developed under the supervision of the character actor Edward G. Robinson for his own smoking pleasure and is championed, today, by Marvel comic artist Jim Amash. I loaded it up into the Sav and smoked it.
I’m working on my tendency to smoke a pipe hot (spoiler alert: you shouldn’t do that), but during the 320’s inaugural run I experienced none of the hallmarks of smoking it badly- no annoying gurgle, and no artificially-straightened beard hair from excessive heat. The mortise (the hole where the tenon of the stem fits into the briar) was drilled dead-center, which I think helped, as did the half-inch or so of bowl width that separated the burning tobacco from my beard and fingers. Overall, the 320 KS smoked great with no relights, no drama, and no dottle at the end. The end came a little later than usual for me given the size of the vast chamber, but the whole point of smoking a pipe is to take some time to relax. I work twelve-hour shifts and have been moving back and forth from days to nights lately, so I categorically needed the extra opportunity to tranquilize.
If you’re into history and want a representative example of a classic shape by a renowned marquee, the 320 KS in all of its fits and finishes is an impressive bargain, even the Rossi. Mine smokes with no complaints, the aesthetics are arresting without being gross or garish, and it feels good in my hand. The only quibble I’ve got is that it’s hard to fit into the shitty $28 pipe racks I bought from Amazon, but of course that’s not the pipe’s fault.
As far as Savinelli pipes in my stable, along with the 320 KS I’ve got the aforementioned Oscar Tiger straight billiard, a red-stained Alligator poker, and a cheap Oscar Dry bent billiard I bought my dad for his fiftieth birthday. My brother has my old Punto Oro bulldog, and perhaps a couple of other of dad’s old estates. We’ll chat about those in a later review!