State of the Estate Market

Years ago, perhaps starting in the mid-to late 1980s and certainly in the 1990s,  one of the hobby’s periodicals published an article purporting to give we pipe collectors/hobbyists insight into what was hot and selling well and what was in less demand.  Since the article was the work of one person, it could only be accurate to a point.  Barry Levin must have been the writer a bunch of years as selling used, and new, pipes was his livelihood.  Used pipes at the time were a relatively new business.  There was a guy from Texas who wrote the article a few times and Rob Cooper may have been one of the contributors.  I, too, wrote it times and no doubt my submissions were the least accurate of all.  At no time do I have my fingers on the pulse of anything and my corner of the pipe world probably reflected no more than that…a segment too small to be representative.  

This was a long time ago…Larry Roush was an attendee at pipe shows selling collections and not yet a pipe maker and Mike Butera was unknown as an individual, because he was kept under Levin’s thumb.  The used pipe market was driven by mailers…some with photos (Levin…very advanced) and some solely by descriptions created on a manual typewriter (me.)

What, according to memory was hot back then?  Hard to remember in totality, but for sure there was a time when Barling, hyped no doubt by Levin, was in great demand and commanding very high prices.  I know of one person who flew from Calif. to Barry’s home in the woods of Vermont just to be at the heart of a Barling auction that Barry was conducting.  As many of these pipes came from one man’s collection, that individual did very well as a seller.  The Barling market today is a lot less fierce.  On the other hand, I am seeing nearly no great looking old Barlings…can’t recall the last time a terrific Quaint crossed my vision.

After that era came another, prompted by the entrance of UpTown in Nashville, with Keith Peters (I hope I have the name right) at the helm.  He was astute and focused on the most skilled of the Danish makers…establishing a market for their pipes at prices never seen before, and there was a near mania for them.  People couldn’t wait to spend thousands of dollars, if they had it, for briar pipes.  Nice briar pipes to be sure, but in the end, nothing more than a briar pipe, and smoking no better than other well constructed briar pipes with quality, well aged wood.  Is UpTown still in business as an importer of pipes?  If so, they no longer seem to be a household name in the pipe world.  

Smoking pipes is now the big name in new and used pipes, but I don’t get the impression that they hype one brand, or one country, over others.  It looks like a steady plugging away is their long term game plan.  If asked (and I neither have been nor will be) that seems the most solid policy for both the business and consumer.  

But it’s still interesting to know what’s in the mind of a large segment of the pipe consuming public.  I would like to know what others are seeing and doing and I’m happy to tell you all what I’m seeing and doing in what is still, as it was from 1977 to now, my corner of the pipe market.  

It is a one-man business with a total sales of 60 pipes for the first 3 mos. of 2020.  That sounds about average and is probably more information than I should part with, but what the hell.  Over the years, the best selling segment (the pipes are partitioned by nation of production) are the English pipes.  By far.  Dunhill is still a very solid brand.  All the old English brands have a following and as long as the pipe is in good condition and properly priced, it will sell, usually sooner rather than later.  Not only do the English pipes outsell any other country’s pipes in plain numbers, they do so despite the greater proliferation of brands from other major pipe producing country, to which I count Denmark, Germany and Italy.  (France and even Holland produce a lot of pipes, but their bands don’t generate a lot of interest in the U.S.)

That English pipes outsell those of Denmark and Germany is understandable because the top rated pipes from those nations can be quite expensive, and so they are limited to a small segment of the collectors.  But Italy has an awful lot of great brands, and many of them are not too expensive, yet a used $150 Dunhill will outsell an $85 Ser Jacopo or Radice.

Castello might keep pace with Dunhill at more or less the same entry price of $150 for a solid entity but an entry level used pipe by one of the other brands will have to be priced considerably below that to draw interest, even if the new price of that pipe is about the same as a Castello or Dunhill.

What accounts for this demand is perhaps the question most interestingly asked, but if an answer is wanted, it will have to be asked from someone other than me.  In the new pipe market, my instincts tell me that the Italian pipes are the biggest sellers.  But it’s hard to sell a new pipe, so my site focuses on used pipes that have been purchased inexpensively and can thus be offered for a low and appealing price.  When all is said and done, price is what drives the used pipe market.  And that’s the state of the estate market from Northern California.  

Marty Pulvers