I’ve bought a lot of pipes since I started back up into the habit and hobby. Nearly all of them were new, but occasionally I spring for an estate pipe- they can represent a fantastic value in the world of pipe-smoking, so long as you can put up with the baggage they can occasionally bring.
What’s an estate pipe, you ask? It’s a used pipe, though some retailers might categorize them differently. For example, the online store Stem and Briar lists pre-owned pipes that have never been smoked as new pipes. On the other hand, SmokingPipes will label an identical pipe as an “estate pipe (unsmoked)”. Both list pipes that have already been smoked simply as estate pipes.
It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. If you’re weird about giving someone you know a bite of your sandwich or drinking from the same solo cup of jungle juice, you’ll probably be repulsed at the act of smoking the pipe of a total stranger.
If you’re down with a particular estate pipe but are revolted by the whole “try before you buy” thing while you vacuum up some old man’s spit through down your craw, it’s probably best to ask the proprietor of your local tobacco store about what constitutes an estate pipe in their eyes, or at least look at the FAQ on the website.
I didn’t set out to buy estate pipes. My entire collection began as estate pipes! I’d long been captivated by my dad’s pipe-smoking, and once I turned eighteen I told him to tag me in. He happily obliged and gave me a ton of pipes -eventually numbering nearly thirty- that had fallen out of favor with him for being too small, too old, or too…something. Greedily, I nabbed them all up! Once I established a concrete interest in smoking them, he bought me a new Boswell for my birthday and a new Peterson for Christmas.
I’ve gotta say, though I stuck it out with both new pipes, I preferred the estates. It takes time to break in a new pipe, though new Boswells are pretty quick to get past the aggravations the process brings. See- a lot of times, a new pipe requires a good build-up of carbon on the inside, and that only comes with repeated smokes while the virgin briar builds it up. With the Peterson in particular, I was tired of the hot smokes, burnt-tasting tobacco, and constant relights, though a portion of that can be chalked up to my shitty, new technique. Some of dad’s old Boswells, Stanwells, and Lorenzos were great companions, and I kept some of them when I gave the rest of his collection to my brother. When I got back into this hobby, I decided that regardless of the kerfuffle, I wanted new-to-me pipes, break-ins be damned.
I’ve come to find out that the initial smokes to break in a pipe of decent quality aren’t as bad as I thought eleven or twelve years ago. The first estate pipe I actually purchased was a Nording Extra -Grade 1- that we already talked about. After it underwent a deep clean and possible restoration, SmokingPipes listed its condition as having “Minor Rim Darkening” and “Mild Chamber Carbonizing.” The pipe that was sent to me was flawless, though, as far as both my tastebuds and eyes were concerned. There was nothing to worry about as far as slurping up the DNA of its previous owner, and big props to SmokingPipes for providing a detailed breakdown of the status of the estate pipes they sell, along with photos of the exact pipe. I’ll come clean and admit that my purchase was a mistake- it was a Monday and I didn’t have to work the next day on my factory schedule, so I was a little tipsy from a twelve ounces too much of Bell’s Two-Hearted. I realized that it was an estate after I clicked the buy button and began plans to give it to my brother. Once it arrived and I saw it, though, those notions fell out the window.
I’ve bought some more estate pipes since. The second came from the Danish brand Neerup, also from SmokingPipes. Its condition was listed as “Minor Rim Darkening.” I bought it and -due to the craggy nature of the pipes plateaux- didn’t notice any problem. It easily passed muster.
Some of the cheapest estate pipes SmokingPipes offers now have various issues that they make sure to call out. A $45 Savinelli Roma has a small ding on the rim and light oxidation. A Viking Odense costs the same, but is listed as “Smoked, But Rather Clean.” It’s not until we jump up in price that we see some other issues, like “Chamber Slightly Out of Round,” or “Stem Logo Worn Down,” which may be a bigger deal to some than it is to me.
I will tell you straight up, though, that when “Tooth Marks” come into play on a vulcanite or acrylic bit, I’m out. I can’t deal with tooth marks, even though they can be sanded out of vulcanite in an annoying, time-consuming process that still leaves me with the impression that “Yep, there were toothmarks here.”
As a millennial who’s gone most of his adult life without great dental insurance, I don’t want a pipe with the bicuspid remnants of someone twice my age! I firmly believe that dental records are for identifying a burnt-up corpse, not for enjoying a pipe.
Before you go hit eBay up for the next big pipe discovery from an estate lot, know this: most sellers know what they’re selling, but many will feign idiocy when describing their condition or provenance. If you’re ready for a marathon session with some sanding pads, then by all means buy the lot. But if you have a certain pipe you’re looking for, put the marquee in the search box for a query like “Nording estate pipe” or just “Nording pipe,” for that matter.
Also, if you’re a novice, start with the Buy It Now filter, but be wary of shipping- this goes for eBay purchases in general. A lot of times, you can find a similar pipe elsewhere at a flat cost with a flat rate of shipping. SmokingPipes will provide free shipping on anything above $100 or so- just enough to snag a quality estate pipe, some tobacco, a lighter, and a pipe tool.
I think everyone has collections, My mom tells me that, when I was a toddler, I’d run around the house compiling things of a similar nature and the organize them on the floor in some particular order. Cups, for example: I’d fine all manner of colors and sizes and arrange them according to either attribute. Today, I collect a bizarre manner of things: pipes, for one, but also county courthouse postcards and old Showbiz Pizza robots. All of them are “estate” items, in that they’ve been previously owned by someone- whether it’s Mildred T. Oldbat or a family fun center in Naperville, Illinois.
I like to look at the postcards, but I like to use the robots. Of the two categories, estate pipes fall into both- they’re functional and they’re art. While the condition of both postcards and robots was made clear to me when I acquired them, one of those collections required a lot more work than the other due to get to the point where I could appreciate them.
Pipes are going to be the same. Do your research and find as much out as you can before you jump the gun. You might come away with a great find!