From the Archives: Glass of ’99 (1998)

By Chris Eudaley

Surely, hand-blown glass pipes and tubes are the modern connoisseur’s weapon of choice. Their sleek, smooth feel and exquisite psychedelic swirls, marbles and designs are only outdone by the outstandingly pristine tokes each use delivers. It’s a genuine marriage of beauty and practicality.

Of course, there are cheaper ways to smoke your stash, but with today’s high pot prices, most money-conscious smokers think twice before rolling up monster fatties with double-wide rolling papers.

Glassblowing is an ancient trade, dating back before the time of Christ. Then, as now, it was taught via a system of apprenticeship wherein a master blower passes the art down to upcoming generations with closely monitored, hands-on training in the workshop. The preferred style of pipe and tube blowers today is called lampworking, which originated on the island of Muranojust off the coast of Venice, Italy. There, glassblowing was enhanced and sculpted into an artform. That’s because the Italian Mafia ordered the glass masters to the island to protect the prized secrets of the Venetian blowers. As a result, the arts of the Venetian masters remained a closely guarded monopoly for decades. But centuries later, glassblowing has gone legit. Today, anyone can learn it, with a number of available apprenticeships and various glass schools located across the country.

The original Pyrex glass pipes came out of Akron, OH in the early ’70s. One of the first on the scene was a blower named Chuck Murphy. At the time, he was only blowing clear pipes. His were good, but it was the passion of his apprentice Bob Snodgrass that launched the glass revolution. After a few weeks of watching Murphy blow pipes, Snodgrass got his chance to step up to the torch and help out with the production process.

“Fire burns and glass cuts, that was my first lesson,” Snodgrass laughs. “The only thing I was really proud of making during that time was a glass mushroom pendant.”

His maiden experience with fire came when he was young, while burning brush and branches on the family farm. He was only four years old and thought the objective of burning the trash was to keep the fire going. He was enraptured and couldn’t keep himself from feeding the flames.

“I made a promise to the coals and burning embers that I’d keep the fire going,” Snodgrass, who is now 52, recalls. “It was real for me, watching the blaze.”

High Times Magazine, December 1998

What he became was the present-day Dali of counterculture glassblowers. Snodgrass is revered by his peers as the Godfather of Glass, especially since it seems by most blowers’ testimony that it was he alone who turned on practically everyone involved in the pipe and tube-blowing industry.

His creations are simply extraordinary. Full-blown homages to the Grateful Dead, fire-breathing dragons inside shotgun tubes, futuristic alien scenarios—anything his, or your, imagination can conceive.

Snodgrass gave birth to a hip new glass culture of highly creative young men and women who literally blew life into an age-old industry, giving it a modern, psychedelic look, while also bearing in mind the true, functional purpose of each piece.

The explosion in glass pipes hit when the blowers of a generation ago traveled with the hordes on Grateful Dead tours, selling their wares to put together enough money to get to the next show. Most of those pieces were poorly made, sometimes manufactured out of the back of blowers’ cars without even being put into a kiln. This is a must if a blower wants to lock the chemical structure of the glass into a hard, stress-free piece. Otherwise, it’s liable to break.

But those nomadic blowers had a flair for psychedelia—ingenious pieces that took the art of glassblowing up the high road. Because of the trippy designs and clean hits the glass provided to pot-smokers, genuine connoisseurs swarmed to these beautiful pipes. In the last, great days of the Dead, nobody in Jerry-land ever had a problem finding a gorgeous glass pipe.

When Garcia died in 1995, a lot of people found themselves without their normal traveling-circus routine and were left without much to do. Some glassblowers settled down in cities and towns that seemed friendly to their skills—places like Seattle, Eugene. Berkeley and Boulder, CO. They set up shops and formed businesses, hiring and apprenticing many of their friends who were equally bereft of activities following the demise of the Dead.

One company that sprouted up during this period was Jerome Baker Designs. Baker, who owns the company, is one of the world’s premier tube blowers. Based in Eugene, JBD is a well-rounded corporation employing approximately 25 men and women, ranging from beginners to longtime blowers.

One of the most respected and successful glassware companies today. JBD specializes in killer glass bongs at affordable prices. They ship hundreds of tubes from their Eugene shop every week and have two shifts of glassblowers hard at work to keep up with demand. Most gratifying, according to company spokeswoman Sephra Baker, is that “Jerome has hired a lot of his friends who didn’t have jobs and gave them a trade and a future career.”

Not everyone stopped traveling altogether. Other tours sprang up to fill the gap—Lollapalooza. H.O.R.D.E.. Smokin’ Grooves and the Warped Tour, to name a few. Many glassblowers were eager to stay on the road and rake in the bucks. They were also glad to pick up new vendors in the growing mail-order market.

Blowers were busier than ever by ’96 and concentrated on advancing their prowess in order to keep up with new competition, which by now had become fierce on the West Coast. At the recent World Hemp Expo Extravaganja (WHEE2!) near Eugene, which featured live glassblowing demonstrations, the number of blowers exhibiting and selling their products doubled since the first WHEE event. Currently, there are over a thousand glassblowers in Lane County, which includes the Eugene area. These staggering numbers are sure to increase over the next few years as the stoners of America find new ways to express themselves.

Competition, of course, has amped production. Custom-ordered pipes and bongs are now shipped all over the country to the delight of smokers everywhere, and gourmet headshops carry a variety of glass-blown wonders. Craig Rubin, owner of 2000 BC, L.A.’s premier headshop, says, “In the early days, I’d go to the Dead shows with a pocket full of cash specifically to buy glass for my store. Now, glass pipes and tubes are definitely our number-one seller out of everything we carry.”

It’s big business, with estimates that the industry exceeds $10 million. And that figure doesn’t include the business which is done on the barter system.

Most of the glass artists have only been practicing their craft for the past two to three years. Yet, a whole new element of design and structure seems to sprout up every time a new blower comes on the scene. A prime example is a group of innovative young blowers from Rollinsville, CO who in ’95 started Spaceglass, a shop that specializes in beautiful waterpipes and hookahs. They weren’t the first to blow glass hookahs and bongs, but their pieces are elegantly crafted, with a distinctive yet uniform design that gives each one a classy feel that even nonsmokers would appreciate.

High Times Magazine, December 1998

There are a number of reasons why potheads prefer glass. The best pipes and tubes are made from borosilicate glass, which means they’re shock resistant. They’re extremely hard to break. Even better, you can custom order in practically any style, color or shape you desire. They make fabulous gifts.

A glass pipe or hong can also be cleaned to look as good as new. Using rubbing alcohol and rock salt, the resin that builds up from smoking can be wiped clean with rags and pipe cleaners. Also, glass has health benefits over plastic, ceramic and metal pipes and bongs, as glass doesn’t give off harmful vapors or fumes like plastics and metals do when heated. Rubbing alcohol will completely sterilize your pipe and keep you free from harmful germs and bacteria.

Remember, plastics and ceramics are porous. Mold and bacteria can grow inside pores, which can irritate the throat. Most experts testify that glass pipes and bongs will provide the cleanest hits that your stash has to offer.

Good pipes start at around $20, while the ultimate custom piece could set you back a few thousand dollars. Your average tube runs about $150 to $250, but the price can go up according to the difficulty of the design and the cost of the materials.

The better quality pieces have gold and silver oxidized into the glass to imbue the pipe with the amazing ability to “color-change.” The glass doesn’t really change colors, but as pot resin lines the inside of the piece, the color of the pipe intensifies and rainbow-like effects occur. In effect, as you smoke, you create your own personalized work of art.

As the blowers take their talents further, often they go beyond mere smoking devices. Many pursue the greater goal of producing straight art pieces out of their shops. They reinvest the money earned from glass smokeware in the very best equipment available to produce soft-glass pieces—vases, paperweights, jewelry, decorative bowls, containers and goblets.

“Pipes led us to our love of glass, which inspires us to expand our creations into the art realm,” says Matt Romano, one of eight skilled blowers from Diablo Glass in Boulder, whose work is excruciatingly detailed in conception and color. “The money the Diablo team has generated is going toward a traditional-style glass furnace, which will allow us to expand our art to new heights.”

Glassblowing isn’t just a hobby for most of these artists, it’s a full-blown passion. “I live, breathe and bleed for each piece I produce,” says Jerome Baker. “I even dream of fire and flames. I’m so fixed on it all the time, it just stays with me.” Todd Pabilsag, from Pabilsag Glass in Boulder, relates, “The only problem with this business is that I want to smoke out of everything I make!” “The future, for us, will be global expansion,” says Sephra Baker of JBD. “The quality of the product can only get better and the designs will get more diverse.”

Well, while the glassblowers are working hard at creating the smoking accessories of the future, I’m going to take a few minutes to test out one of these beautiful pipes of today. If you haven’t had the opportunity to break in a virgin glass pipe or bong, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. It’s simple. Just pack the bowl with the finest buds you have stashed away, admire the sheer beauty of the pipe and fire it up. Forget about the future, let’s party like it’s 1999!

High Times Magazine, December 1998

Read the full issue here.

The post From the Archives: Glass of ’99 (1998) appeared first on High Times.


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