“Pipe Dream Comes True in a Chambersburg Shop”

Featured in The Herald-Mail, Sept. 26, 1982

By Keith Snider

J.M. Boswell’s pipe dream has come true…..in the form of Boswell’s Pipe and Tobacco Shop. 
But Boswell’s dream consists of more than simply owning and operating a tobacco shop.  He is also a seasoned pipe maker.  He makes big pipes, little pipes, unusual pipes.  What he doesn’t make, he says, are average pipes.
Boswell, born in Elba, Ala. 25 years ago, discovered his craft by accident.  His family moved to Carlisle when he was 10, and he got a job delivering newspapers.  One of his customers was a man who owned a tobacco shop.  He offered Boswell a job, and the youngster turned out to be a natural pipe maker.
“It’s a success story,” he says. “That’s how most people find success.  They fall into it.” 
Three years ago, he took a big gamble and moved to Chambersburg to open his own shop at 170 S. Main Street.  He left a $300 a week job to pursue his dream.
“We (his wife and he) sold everything we had to get into this business,” he says.  “We sold a nice house in Carlisle and borrowed from everybody and his brother.”
What prompted him to choose Chambersburg?
“I thought this was a good market and a chance to make a nationwide name” he says.  He doesn’t envision a chain of shops, he adds, just international recognition.
Boswell feels he is the best at his chosen profession.  It’s not bragging, he says smiling, just the truth.
“My aim in life is to be the best pipe maker in the world,” he continued.  “I’ve mastered the art of pipe making.”
He claims there are only seven bona fide professional pipe makers in the United States.  “There are a lot that say they’re good and aren’t,” he says.
Boswell makes about 30 basic styles of pipes regularly but has made hundreds of others.  He figures he has produced 10,000 to 20,000 pipes in seven years.  His pride and joy is a replica of the Mack Trucks bulldog.  He doesn’t bother to discuss the common styles, saying they are easy to make.
Boswell approaches a rough block of wood as a sculptor would a chunk of granite.  He visualizes what style of pipe can be formed from the wood, then pencil sketches his mental image onto the block.  He makes the first cut on a bandsaw and removes the rough edges with a sanding wheel.  The tobacco hole is drilled next, then the air hole is bored, and then there is more sanding.
Most of Boswell’s pipe stems are made of hard rubber.  He places them in a pot of boiling water to make them flexible and bends them to the desired angle.  He also uses deer antler for stems.
He finishes the process by finishing the pipe with natural dyes.  Wood stain would come off on the smoker’s hand, he says.  The finished product is coated lightly with beeswax for shine.
The blocks of wood are from the hump of the white heath tree and are native to the Mediterranean.  Boswell pays an importer $7 to $35 for each block.  Because the material is costly, Boswell tries to keep the final price low.
“I put the prices right and they sell,” he says.  Boswellmoves about 36 pipes in an average week, selling many more at peak times such as Father’s Day and Christmas.
Boswell also has 60 pipe repair accounts with shops throughout the U.S. and Canada.  It’s the latest facet of his business.
“They run it over with a truck, I can fix it,” he says.  “Don’t throw away them old pipes until you check with me.”
Boswell custom blends his tobaccos and has come up with what he thinks are 22 of the best blends on the market.  All sell briskly and he sees no reason to increase his inventory.  He ships his blends to other shops, but doesn’t actively seek accounts.
When he opened the shop, Boswell attempted to create a homey atmosphere.  The pipes are displayed in early American cabinets.  Tobaccos are arranged in large jars, and Boswell encourages customers to relax in a padded chair and try a sample.
“I’m not a high-pressure salesman,” he says.  “Pipe smokers know what they want and you can only help them so much.”
The area has accepted Boswell and his sales philosophy.  Sales are increasing by 36 percent a year.  His inventory is worth $35,000, up from $5,000 when he began.  He has a six-year supply of wood, worth nearly $10,000.
“I’ve found favor with the people of Chambersburg, and they’ve found favor with me,” he says. “I’m down to earth; I’m not over your head.”
Boswell has become successful by working about 60 hours a week and maintaining a positive attitude during tough times.  But he has no desire to become rich at the expense of his family.  His wife, 3-year-old son and 3-month old daughter often visit the shop, sometimes eating lunch with him.
“I could move to the big city and triple my business.  But it wouldn’t be good for the family,” he says.
Boswell most enjoys the creative aspect of his trade.  “It’s really satisfying when you take a piece of wood and turn it into something worth $100.”
Basic pipes cost up to $50, with carved heads priced from $50 to $1,000. “Carving is something you develop,” he says.
At “25 and going strong”, Boswell intends to operate his shop for many years.  Will his son take over the business? Boswell hopes so, but it will be the boy’s decision.
The youngster already has had an initiation of sorts.  Boswell gave him a small pipe bowl to teeth on.  What else for a pipe makers son?

click to go back to Boswell in the News