Choosing a Pipe
So how do you choose a pipe? Before you decide on which pipe you would like to buy, let's discuss how to select the best pipe for you. You could almost say that selecting a pipe is like buying a car. There are a huge variety of cars available, both brand new and used, small economy cars to high performance sports cars. This is the same with tobacco pipes - new and vintage, cheap and expensive.
The price of pipes in most cases is dictated by whether the pipe was crafted by hand, automatic machines, or a combination of both. Some of the carvers you will discover here can spend more than 10 hours on a single pipe. How do you charge to compensate for this time spent?
Time is of course not the only criteria used in determining price by the carver or their company. The quality of the briar or meerschaum, added features such as gold bands and unusual or exotic inserts may also influence the price of a pipe.
In briar, the larger sized blocks with a straighter and tighter grain command a more expensive price. Quality straighter grain plateau briar blocks range in price from 10 to 30 dollars a piece. Some artisans, in pursuit of the very finest straighter grain plateau briar blocks are paying a lot of money for a block even without having seen it.
You must keep in mind that, as with everything, the market drives the prices as well. The ebauchon blocks provide a quality smoke, but the more serious smokers and collectors prefer the highly visible straight grain bowls. Many pipe makers will argue, however, that ebauchon bowls perform equally as well as the straight grain bowls in fine smoking pipes.
Price fluctuations are also the result of other aspects of the production process. For an example, most carvers and factories use stock or pre-formed stems, which require little or no additional work and time by the craftsman.
There are only a few carvers in the industry actually make or cast their stems and then hand cut the shape to conform with the pipes design. In fact, some of the finest artisans spend as much time on stem design and construction as they do on the pipe bowl.
You also need to keep in mind how the pipe is finished. Many machines grade pipes and some hand carved pipes may not have high quality stains and waxes. Each shop has its own formulas and techniques. Also, many machine-made pipes and hand carved pipes have rougher edges or exposed putty marks covering flaws.
Most plateau and ebouchon briar blocks have minor flaws and cavities, and almost all pipes have some slight blemishes. In many instances, the craftsmen can remove this blemish and not harm the quality of the pipe. In other cases the flaws cannot be removed without altering the design or compromising the pipe. These situations require the area to be filled or camouflaged, and the price of the pipe should reflect this alteration.
On less expensive pipes, the putty fill can be very noticeable. Most sandblast and rusticated pipes are finished with a rough texture to hide sandpits or other flaws. A sandblasted or rusticated surface does not mean the pipe is inferior.
Another point to consider is that while sandblasted and rusticated pipes are less expensive, the quality of smoke is not impaired. If anything, it might be enhanced because the textured surface allows the pipe to smoke cooler. Remember as well that the craftsmen has actually given these pipes much more of his time and energy than a standard smooth pipe. In that sense, it should be worth more than a smooth one.
In general, textured pipes are a great way to own a master carvers work without paying a premium. Other blemishes and flaws can include tool and sanding marks left unfinished, holes drilled off centre, improperly fitted stems, air passages that do not draw freely, design elements or features that are not in proportion with the pipe, and poor pipe designs. Each blemish, flaw, or mistake can and should affect the final price of the pipe.