Pipe Collecting: Avocation or Vocation?

From Pipedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ben Rapaport, March 2024

Exclusive to pipedia.org


I want to conduct an autopsy on pipe collecting yesterday and today, to delve into the hobby and shed some light on this not-so-new phenomenon. I’ll highlight what it means to collect, and suggest that collecting is an avocation that can eventually become a vocation. I make no distinction as to whether someone collects antique, vintage, or new pipes; no matter the type, it can be hard work. After you’ve read this article, you will know whether you are a collector, an accumulator, or a hoarder…or somewhere in between. It’s been often asked and answered online, but I will take a different approach by defining and identifying collectors, collecting strategies, and more.

Maybe you already know that you are a serious, dedicated pipe collector or, maybe, you’re not sure. “What Type of Collector Are You?” was a question posed by the auction house Freemans/ Hindman, on February 25, 2024, to Philadelphian Sidney Rothberg about his eclectic, multimillion dollar art collection; he had an expert eye and impeccable taste. He’s not in our league, but it is often a common question in ours. There are many voices and opinions on this topic; some ring true, others not so much, but all are worthy of being read and considered.

Should there be a purpose, aim, intent, or objective in a pipe collection? Is there a theme, a focus in what one collects? Is it a collective, such as a swarm of bees, a fleet of ships, a flock of birds? Or is it a well-thought-out collection? Does the number of pipes owned determine who is a collector? Many pipe collections have significant sentimental value to their collectors. It’s the personal value a collector places on his or her collection based on the memories associated with the objects. Collecting and pipe collecting are defined, described, delineated, disclosed, divulged, denoted, discussed, debated, detailed, discoursed, depicted, deliberated and disentangled ad nauseum on the Web. I’ll point them out.

Collecting, Writ Large

Theoretically, there is no minimum number of items for a collection. Collections can be very large and, typically, large collections might be divided into a number of sub-collections, and it is possible to have a collection of only one item. I begin with what has been written about collecting in general.

“The world of collectors, like all Gaul of dog’s eared memory, is divided into three parts. There are men who collect for the joy of collecting, the women who collect for the joy of remembering, and the scientists, mature and embryonic, who collect for the joy of investigation and in the holy cause of erudition. …Not only is the usefulness of the thing collected a matter of deep indifference to the collector, but even his tastes and personal habits are not to be gaged [sic] by his assortment of curios” (Anne O’Hagen, “Collecting As A Fad,” The Junior Munsey, October 1901).

The question might provoke a retort, why collect anything? But as a matter of experience we know that there are many people who must collect—people who are born collectors, and who for the most part begin by gathering postage stamps. They collect buttons, tobacco pipes, the shoes and gloves of celebrities, and so on up to snuff boxes, ancient manuscripts, and finally, pictures. …Tobacco pipes can scarcely be claimed as very interesting objects in themselves, however much an assembling of them together may result in a certain interest attaching to the collection” (Sir Martin Conway, “Why Not Collect Photographs?,” The Museums Journal, September 1909).

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines an avocation as “a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment. …Avocations typically are more than release valves from life’s pressures; rather, they offer our lives a different dimension.” More than 100 years ago, Harriet E. Stevens wrote: “Practically the whole volume of the dictionary is found between the definitions of the two words avocation and vocation, and between their meaning there is also a wide difference although in use they are frequently confused. …We are told that the ‘Collecting Bug’ is abroad in the land, and that when once it takes up its abode in your being, it is there to stay” (“An Avocation and a Vocation,” The Vocationalist, 1912).

“A collector should be a person of such perspicacity that he recognizes that certain objects of a byegone [sic] age are worthy of preservation: that certain objects of his own day are equally worthy of preservation. …Variety is the key-note to the fascinating hobby of collecting. …Collecting per se is not an art; it is a science. …In collecting it is obviously the ideal thing to do to collect something that is not already collected” (Arthur Hayden, “Joys of Collecting,” Arts & Decoration, November 15, 1919).

“One doesn’t have to be rich to have a hobby; although the hobby of collecting seems to run hand in hand with a full purse, yet there are things to be collected which will cost you little and yet serve the purpose of mind diversion” (“Get One!,” Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, April, 1925). A century ago, one probably could have built a respectable pipe collection without spending much.

“It has been said that collecting should have some sanity, a saying which, perfectly correct in itself, has a covert reference to the many forms taken by this pursuit, and to the objects accumulated. …A reasonable aim for the collector should be to acquire something which has not already attracted the attention of his confrères, but which at the same time is worthy of preservation” (W. Sanders Fiske, L.L.B., “Tobacco Pipe Cases,” The Connoisseur, September–December 1925).

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), known as the founder of psychoanalysis, associated collecting in adulthood with difficulties during toilet training in childhood. If Freud is to be believed, collecting is a direct response to, quite literally, pissing away our feeling of control!

Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant. … This, however, is serious: Becoming serious is a grievous fault in hobbyists. It is an axiom that no hobby should either seek or need rational justification. To wish to do it is reason enough. To find reasons why it is useful or beneficial converts it at once from an avocation into an industry–lowers it at once to the ignominious category of an ‘exercise’ undertaken for health, power, or profit. Lifting dumbbells is not a hobby. It is a confession of subservience, not an assertion of liberty” (Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, 1989).

Psychoanalyst Werner Muensterberger’s Collecting. An Unruly Passion (1993) is, in my view, the lodestar guide for collectors. His roster of driven acquisition-hunters includes the dedicated, the serious, and the infatuated, whose chronic restlessness can be curbed—and then merely temporarily—only by purchasing, discovering, receiving, or even stealing a new find. A more recent book is Dr. Mark B. McKinley, The Psychology of Collecting: Everybody Collects Something. YES You Do! (2015).

Whereas it is virtually impossible to define collecting, and, narratively speaking, to mark where an activity begins, a collecting attitude is unmistakable and distinct. Yet the definitions of collecting tend to be irremediably fuzzy … If one begins reflecting on collecting in a narrative mode, it is equally hard to say when collecting begins to be collecting, as opposed to, say, buying a thing or two ... If the predominant value of an object or idea for the person possessing it is intrinsic, i.e., if it is valued primarily for use, or purpose, or aesthetically pleasing quality, or other value inherent in the object or accruing to it by whatever circumstances of custom or habit, it is not a collection. If the predominant value is representative or representational, i.e., if said object is valued chiefly for the relation it bears to some other object or idea, or objects, or ideas, such as being one of a series, part of a whole, a specimen of a class, then it is the subject of a collection (Roger Cardinal, Cultures of Collecting, 1994).

Author and appraiser Kyle Husfloen opined: “Although many collectors narrow their focus to a select category, I’m afraid the appeal of the unusual and beautiful has made me an eclectic shopper. But, again, I don’t buy just to own but to study and learn about each piece I acquire” (Antique Trader Answers to Questions About Antiques & Collectibles, 2004).

“Collections are like pets: objects of affection: they are also objects of domination and control. …Ownership is essential: the sensuous aspects of collecting—handling, touching, playing with, caring for the collection…” (Susan Pearce, Interpreting Objects and Collections, 2012).

According to the anarchist and socialist Elbert Hubbard: “Life in this world is a collecting, and all the men and women in it are collectors. …Inasmuch as we live in the age of the specialist, one man often collects books on only one subject, Dante, for instance; another, nothing but volumes printed at Venice; another, works concerning the stage; and still another devotes all his spare time to securing tobacco-pipes.” But he includes a warning. “The man who collects many things, with easy, natural leanings toward, say, spoons, is pure in heart and free from guile; but when his soul centers on spoons exclusively, he has fallen from his high estate and is simply possessed of a lust for ownership—he wants to own more peculiar spoons than any other man on earth. Such a one stirs up wrath and rivalry, and is the butt and byword of all others who collect spoons” (Elbert Hubbard, Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Painters, 2020).

“Though one can start collecting these items [stamps, memorabilia, antiques] as a passionate hobby, these collected items…have immense value. These items are on sale across the world. These items are marketed through postal or private networks, through newspapers or specialized magazines, shops or through websites … It needs a detailed plan and hard work … Besides collecting such items, it is also necessary to do research and note down some historical and traditional significance. As this hobby of collections needs tremendous travelling, research and meeting various people, one has to concentrate only on a few specialized fields” (Mousumi Kundu, Career Mantra, 2020).

People will collect just about anything and there is profit to be made while the fun is going on. It’s a healthy outlet and activity, a mix of knowledge and learning, relaxation, the social aspect, the competitive challenge, and nostalgia. The motivations to collect are diverse. Some collect for pleasure, some collect for profit. For dealers I need not explain their motive. Some do it part-time and, for some, doing it full-time. Shalin Hai-Jew has some advice in Maintaining Social Well-Being and Meaningful Work in a Highly Automated Job Market (2020). He devotes Chapter 9 to job opportunities: “Swapping Avocation for Vocation: Expansive Serious Hobby and Leisure Activities to Supplement Diminishing Work Opportunities.”

In October 2021, Martha Stewart’s Blog included this article: “Why Do We Collect? It’s an Art, but the Experts Say It’s Also Part of Our DNA.” She writes: “For some, building a collection boils down to ‘an interest in acquiring knowledge and history’; for others, there’s a satisfaction that comes along with ‘completing or expanding a collection.’ For others still, a collection is all about an unyielding desire to ‘control or organize’ the world around us. Sometimes, it’s all three.”

Melissa Lester (ed.), The Art of Collecting (2022): “It may start with just one special piece that catches your eye and captures your heart, stirring an affection that quickly grows into an assemblage so dear, its sentimental value is beyond calculation. Whether it is a passion for exquisite linens, sterling silver, or fine English china—or simply the thrill of the hunt—that entices us to sift through old attics and antiques shops, estate sales, and European brocantes, we are kindred spirits, linked by an unbridled fervor for curating our favorite things.”

Megan Cooper, “Why Do People Collect Things? 9 Common Reasons” (lovetoknow.com): “Of the nine reasons, I believe that these are applicable to most pipe collectors: To gain more knowledge and learn about something new; pleasure and enjoyment; the community it creates; and thrill of the hunt.” “Being a true collector requires an emotional connection—which can sometimes border on an obsession” (“The Impulse of Collecting—Why Do People Collect Things?,” ligo.co.uk).

According to Itamar Simonson, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, “…people are more likely to begin a collection once they possess two of one item. He says this is because people begin to associate owning the same objects with being wasteful or superfluous, but don’t want to get rid of something they enjoy. This redundancy becomes difficult to justify, and thus, a collection ensues” (invaluable.com).

“Homework isn’t really a prerequisite … it is a lazy luxury to be guided by one’s eye and this alone is sufficient. Expertise is a separate and often fascinating ambition, but it is definitely not critical to the conquest or pleasure of collecting. …Buy what you love, don’t overthink, say no more frequently than yes and spend painful sums when there’s something you believe in and can’t live without…sooner or later you will forget the price though you will always own the pleasure” (“Vocation: Avocation—An Interview With Michael Maharam,” sothebys.com.

The Blog, “The Impulse of Collecting—Why Do People Collecting Things?” (ligo.co.uk): “…being a true collector requires an emotional connection—which can sometimes border on an obsession.”

Notable Collectors of the Past and Near-Past

Pipe collecting has been popular for at least three centuries. “But the French pipes are the most interesting of all to collectors, from the fact that tobacco was introduced into that country long before it was known in England, and also from the ingenuity of a people who can give interest of various kinds to what might seem a simple and prosaic branch of manufacture” (E. R. Billings, Tobacco. Its History, Varieties…1875). A century later, I was surprised to read this in Hobbies (April 1973): “The pipe smoking community is defined as consisting of three distinct groups: the smoker of pipes, the pipe smoker, and the pipe smoker-collector.” What about the non-smoking pipe collector? It might have been an editorial oversight, because many non-smokers collect pipes.

“I used to know a man whose hobby was collecting pipes. He collected all kinds, from the Turkish pipe that cured Napoleon of the weed, when he swallowed a mouthful by mistake, to the highly-ornate meerschaum. Every time he took a trip he bought a pipe or two. He had a cupboard full. Then, every once in a while, he would give a pipe party to his friends. This was his way of getting the pipes broken in. Everyone was required to smoke at least one pipeful in a brand new pipe” (“Local Manipulation,” The Amateur Photographer’s Weekly, January 3, 1919).

Here’s an interview of one collector in 1949. “F. E. Rick has been collecting and smoking pipes of various sizes, shapes and composition for some 20 years, and he has over 100 pipes of his choice. …Rick boasts of a pipe collection that includes pipes as small as one-and-one half inches up to 24 to 30 inches in length, pipes that hold from a very few grains of tobacco up to one half can of tobacco, pipes made of silver with gold-lined bowl, brass, lead, briar, African ebony, hickory, clay, porcelain, corn cobs, meerschaum, calabash and other descriptions” (“Silvis Employee Has Prize Pipe Collection,” Rock Island Lines News Digest, March 1949).

Some of the following pipe collectors may be unfamiliar to you; each sought out different kinds of pipes. The earliest hobbyists on record date to the 18th century: Pierre Lorillard, Duc de Richelieu, and Prince Augustus Frederick (the Duke of Sussex). Those who followed later were England’s William Bragge, Alfred Dunhill, Roger Fresco-Corbu, Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr., and Tony Irving. There was Baron deWatteville (known as the “Mr. Bragge of French collectors”) and Marshal Oudinot of France, Edward A. Barber, Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory), Lafcadio Hearn, George A. West, and William Demuth (“the most important pipe collection in America”). Bragge’s 19th-century collection literally spanned the globe with more than 7,000 pipes acquired in one brief and energetic period of 20 years. Edward Barber’s “…collection of tobacco pipes was made for the purpose of illustrating the history of smoking in all ages and in all countries.” An unidentified 19th-century Dutch collector amassed a collection consisting of the “…common clay pipe...to the costly meerschaum…to the unsurpassable hookah, every variety of the pipe, in every variety of material, found its way to his smoking-room” (“Hobbies and Hobby Riders,” American Bibliopolist, October 1872). “Every room in his (deWatteville) house is hung with pipes, arranged in all sorts of designs, crosses, stars, panoplies, branches reaching the ceiling…” (“A Great Pipe Collection,” The Collector, October 1, 1890). West’s collection consisted of about 600 specimens obtained from aboriginal village sites, graves and mounds in Wisconsin. Living in Japan, American writer Lafcadio Hearn collected books and Japanese “long pipes,” those with a bamboo stem longer than twelve inches in length (Elizabeth Bisland, The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn).

In my lifetime, there were many whose names may be familiar to you. W. Øle Larsen and Erik Peter Stokkebye of Denmark; King Farouk of Egypt; Americans Bing Crosby, Doug Diez, Norman Flayderman, John F. H. Heide, Edward G. Robinson, Arno Ziesnitz, J. Trevor Barton and Frank Burla, all of whom got much press. Ziesnitz narrowed his interest to Japanese kiseru, kiseru-zutsu and antique meerschaum pipes. Following in Bragge’s footsteps, J. Trevor Barton favored historical pipes, such as native American, tribal, ceremonial, porcelain, ivory, and meerschaum. He amassed a huge collection along with smoking ephemera such as tobacco boxes, carved wood pipe cases, books, and tobacco advertising figures in carved wood. Flayderman’s collection consisted solely of Civil War pipes. Heide and Burla collected every sort of antique pipe.

There are probably some whose names would be little known to those who are not students of the hobby, and there may have been others that I have overlooked, but all the aforementioned collectors are now a matter of record. Many have had a degree of influence on other collectors in their respective day. They may have also inspired some of today’s pipe collectors who are striving to assemble a collection of tobacco implements that express the unique character and individual dimension of pipe-smoking around the world.

According to pipeshop-saintclaude.com: “It’s easy to become a collector.” I disagree. There’s nothing easy about collecting pipes, and a special skill is required: knowing, at a minimum, what, how, when, and where to buy. if you not already a long-time pipe collector, and consider becoming one, collecting tobacco pipes can be maddening. Collecting is a disciplined activity, so what’s the secret to be a successful pipe collector? Some call it a 3-D activity: deliberation, discernment, and display. Personally, I don’t believe that a collector needs to display, but I would counter that the third “d” ought to be dedication.

Definition of a Pipe Collector?

There are specific names to identify certain collectors, such as deltiologists (postcard collectors), phillumenists (matchbook collectors), falerists (medal collectors), bibliophile (book collectors). Pipeology is the title of Chapter V in The Seven Sisters of Sleep, but the term is undefined, so how about pipeologist? Unfortunately, I discovered that this word is already taken and its logo is on T-shirts: two crossed adjustable wrenches. Kapnismologist—one who studies the art of smoking—coined by the late C. Bruce Spencer (Pipe Smoker magazine) has fallen out of favor. There’s a term for those who enjoy tobacco, tobaccophile, but there’s no term—at least as far as I know—for a pipe collector.

I did not find an acceptable definition of a “tobacco pipe collector” in a Google search, so I queried Perplexity, a relatively new search engine, and got an immediate response:

A tobacco pipe collector is an individual who collects tobacco pipes as a hobby. These collectors often focus on specific aspects such as particular shapes, brands, finishes, or historical significance of the pipes they collect. Pipe collectors can have a diverse range of interests, from Danish bent pipes to American straight pipes, Italian rusticated pipes, and more. Collecting tobacco pipes can involve acquiring various types of pipes, including briar root wooden pipes, meerschaum pipes, clay pipes, and even plastic pipes with metal liners. The hobby of collecting tobacco pipes dates back to ancient traditions like ceremonial pipe smoking among indigenous peoples in the Americas. Collectors may also delve into the history of pipe manufacturers and the craftsmanship behind different pipe designs.

Not bad, considering that it took only three seconds to appear on my computer screen. Makes sense to me, because pipe collector is a generic term to describe anyone who collects any type of device or implement used to smoke tobacco.

The Views of Some Pipe Pundits

Before I offer some of these views, I digress to give you my take on Richard Hacker’s Rare Smoke. The Ultimate Guide to Pipe Collecting, Volume 1 (1999) that supposedly addressed this very theme. It was described as “…the first book devoted to the total spectrum of collecting 20th century briars, or ‘estate pipes,’ as they are popularly called” (amazon.com). One review stated: “Rare Smoke clears away years of misinformation and speculation, and opens up a new, fact-filled frontier for the pipe collector to experience and enjoy.” What I have to say may offend his loyal followers, but I’ve read it and felt that it did not live up to its hype; it was not the “ultimate” guide, nor was it an accurate guide. Much of the content was verbatim from his The Ultimate Pipe Book (1989). Robert Dankert’s review on amazon.com was highly critical of it. And the late John Loring was not very kind in “A Dunhill Errata Sheet for R. C. Hacker’s ‘Rare Smoke’” (pipedia.org). (The anticipated Volume 2 might have answered some of my questions, but it never saw printer’s ink.)

Back to pipe collecting. “Whether the collector is interested in the corncob or calabash pipes, the Persian hookah pipe, the Japanese pipe with its metallic bowl and cane stem, or the Turkish pipe with its red-clay bowl and cherry-wood stem, he finds in his hobby that he learns not only about pipes, but also about the people who used them” (“The Hobbyhorse Hitching Post,” The Rotarian, October 1959).

“[C]ommitted pipe-smokers kept collections of pipes. These served as a private shrine, which would also include collections of various kinds of tobacco with a variety of tastes. Pipe-smoking acquired an ethos of collecting, a form of hobby and connoisseurship, with its subtleties and sophistication” (Randall Collins, Interaction Ritual Chains, 2004).

“While the number of smokers might be dwindling, the area of collecting known as tobacciana is as popular as ever. Antique and vintage cigarette cases, lighters, ashtrays, and the like—all hallmarks of tobacciana—are coveted more for their looks than for their intended purposes” (Jennifer Boles, In With the Old. Classic Décor from A to Z, 2013). Strange that she did not include pipes.

“Hobbies have no explanations. It could be anything and everything collecting which can be your hobby. But collecting pipes is not a rare hobby as many people from all parts of the world find this very interesting. This is not mandatory that the person who collects pipes has to be a smoker. The non-smokers also sometimes take interest in collecting pipes” (“Collecting Smoking Pipes can make a Great Hobby,” articlesfactory.com).

Rick Newcombe analyzes A. A. Milne (“Where Will Pipes Be in 100 Years?,” creators.com):

He [Milne] mocks the pipe collector who cares for his pipes by polishing and displaying them and who insists that his tobacco be specially blended.

He writes: "For whereas men of an older school, like myself, smoke for the pleasure of smoking, men of this school smoke for the pleasure of pipe-owning—of selecting which of their many white-spotted pipes they will fill with their specially-blended tobacco, of filling the one so chosen, of lighting it, of taking it from the mouth to gaze lovingly at the white spot and thus letting it go out, of lighting it again and letting it go out again, of polishing it up with their own special polisher and putting it to bed, and then the pleasure of beginning all over again with another white-spotted one.”

Without knowing it, he was actually describing the pipe collector who would emerge a century later — in fact, he was describing most of us in this room — not the snobbery part, let’s hope, but the appreciation of pipes as collectible items that have purpose and meaning that go beyond their smoking qualities.

Milne compares these pipe collectors to book collectors who insist that their books be bound a certain way — picture leather-bound or in certain colors for display on their bookshelves. He points out that most serious readers are oblivious to the bindings on their books. All they care about is the substance of what they read and not what the covers look like.

Madox07 posted his opinion on pipesmagazine.com: “You will quickly find that people around here are divided into more than one category. You have your pipe smokers, then you have your pipe collectors, and thirdly you have what most of us are—pipe smokers and collectors. Truth be told, if you can afford it, why not? Sure ... on a day to day basis you will have 4–5 pipes in rotation, while the rest of God knows how many pieces are just museum display items. But then again, if that is what tips your boat, go for it. Some guys collect stamps, others collect old coins, I personally went through my beer mug collecting period ... so nothing wrong with collecting pipes.” He doesn’t say so, but pipe collecting is a niche hobby.

On Reddit, Scriptonic posted: “There are pipe makers who make pipes that are not ment [sic] to be smoked, they are purely collectible items. A lot of times they are bought by someone who doesn’t even smoke.”

“Eventually, your pipe smoking may even become a pipe collecting hobby that will lead you to participate in a local pipe club to meet other pipe enthusiasts and attend shows to see rare beauties to add to your collection” (“George’s Pipe Smoking Pages,” lepipe.it). Quite true for many.

“Collecting vintage pipes allows you to appreciate the artistry of these famous pipe makers and own a piece of tobacco pipe history” (“Vintage Tobacco Pipe Collecting: Stories of a Bygone Era,” collectorizing.com). I think that this statement applies to collecting pipes of any age.

In 2004, I wrote “The Great Divide: You Are What You Collect” (pipedia.org). That article, now on pipedia.org, focused on the differences between those who collect briar pipes and those who collect antique pipes. In 2021, Chuck Stanion (smokingpipes.com) covered the topic admirably in “Collecting: The pipe”:

Many pipe enthusiasts are collectors. We collect a particular shape, or pipes made by a particular brand, or of a particular finish, or within certain manufacture dates, or, well, the different permutations are endless. Danish bent pipes, American straight pipes, Italian rusticated pipes, Castello shape 55 pipes made before 2010, Barling Pre-Transition Billiards, miniature corncob pipes, Dunhill Christmas pipes, meerschaum pipes themed on Roman gods, sandblasted morta pipes, Churchwarden pipes, clay pipes with heel spurs, gold-accented pipes, and an infinite number more. …Pipe collectors tend to collect more than pipes; often equally important is the difficult collecting of information and the history of the manufacturers behind those pipes. It’s as much fun and as challenging to find information as it is to find exactly the right pipe. There’s a “pipe” and then there are “pipes.” Your legends didn’t pose in front of the entirety of their collections; they were captured in a famed photo or two with some well-worn instrument dangling from their mouths. Who can blame the early piper for thinking that’s all there is to it, and that if you just pick up something that catches your attention, you’re good to go for the long haul. If only. As any piper who has been around the block will attest, once the collector’s bug has bitten, it bites again and again. You may start with a billiard, but then you’ll soon eye a bent bulldog, or wonder what it’s like to puff on a nosewarmer, and then look for something with a distinct rusticated finish, and get curious about morta and meerschaum, and what about that boutique maker you’ve just seen on Instagram? The fun goes on. The good news is that a collector’s disposition is necessary for good technique and a quality smoke”.

Salam Sipes (OMS Pipes): “Some people collect tobacco pipes just for aesthetic appeal. They may not ever smoke them. What makes that type of collector happy might be very different from what a daily smoker would want.” According to Mr. Brizzi (notsoboringlife.com): “A true (my emphasis) collection will contain unsmoked (my emphasis) pipes, with date of the year of manufacture, whom the manufacturer is, location of the manufacturer. The pipe may have a particular or oddity, that makes it collectible and desirable. It must be (my emphasis) in pristine condition.” I certainly do not abide with this assertion, but he has every right to have this opinion and post it for others to contemplate.

I save the last, because it is a well-thought-out analysis.

A true collection ought to have—and a true collector is usually aroused by—an element of hunt. In this sense, a collection of Dunhill pipes is not, technically, a true (or, better, pure collection). One could, after all, with enough money, simply walk into Dunhill’s, order the full line of the company’s pipes, write a check, and be done with it. A true collector is excited by the rarity, above all by the apparent inaccessibility, of the objects of his desire. Money alone, to the exclusion of cunning and connoisseurship, oughtn’t to be decisive …One of the distinctions between possessing and collecting is that then latter implies order, system, perhaps completion. The pure collector’s interest is not bounded by the intrinsic worth of the objects of his desire; whatever they cost, he must have them. Except in the case of the rare and exciting find that turns out to be a bargain, he generally knows that he is paying more than he probably ought to for the items in his collection, but he cannot help himself. If he has any introspection, he begins at some point to sense that his collection possesses him. I knew a man who owned a Dunhill pipe. The pipe was expensive, as he readily allowed, but it was a superior piece of goods, and he enjoyed smoking, and therefore the pipe was judged worthy of the expense. In time he bought another. He alternated between the two pipes, which in the arcana of pipe smoking is said to be good for pipes as well as for the smoker, and this made good sense, too. Then he bought a third Dunhill pipe, whose elegant shape and lovely rosewood lured him into further and now no longer quite justifiable expense, and then a fourth. Unlike a plumber, I shall not lay this out pipe by pipe. Suffice it to say that in the fullness—the emptiness?—of time he acquired some twenty-odd Dunhill pipes (Joseph Epstein, A Line Out for a Walk. Familiar Essays, 1992).

Here's a thought. Many articles have been written about the art of pipe making, the art of pipe smoking, and the art of pipe buying, but what about the art of pipe collecting? Is it an art? I had earlier mentioned that Martha Stewart had said that collecting is an art, but I’ve found only one person who’s used the term in relation to pipes, John F. Berner, “The Art of Pipe Collecting and Preservation” (Prehistoric Artifacts, 1988), but it‘s about prehistoric pipes.

Pipe Collecting Guidance

In my opinion, pipe collecting is more vocation than avocation. It’s a calling, an occupation. It’s complicated and requires decision-making. Porcelains, clays, meerschaums, old wood, briar, oddities, one-of-a-kind, antique, vintage, or new. Briar? That’s a whole new world today: factory-made, or contemporary, hand-crafted, limited-edition briars that, of late, come from almost every country. Price may be no object for some, but these artisan briars can be very pricey.

In an interview of Bill Unger in December 2010 for The Columbus Dispatch he said: “It’s a hobby and an obsession for many” (my emphasis). In February 2019, Mark Irwin posted: “It’s A Hobby, Not A Habit” (petersonpipenotes.org). Exactly five years later, in February 2024, Greg Pease, another pipe maven, posted: “But, pipe collecting isn’t about being rational. Pipe collecting is about passion” (pipesmagazine.com).

On paykocpipes.com: “If you walk into any pipe store or browse for pipes online, you’ll soon realize that there are more pipes available than you could ever have possibly imagined.” Visit a weekend pipe show, and the sea of briar that you will experience is overwhelming, mind-boggling, paralyzing! So many choices, such a variety and assortment. I can’t think of more appropriate words to describe the reaction of most pipe patrons. Decisions, decisions. It’s strenuous work! How much to spend? How many to collect? Like all serious, successful collectors, a pipe collector needs a singular passion, a discerning eye, listening, negotiating, and speaking skills, critical thinking, empathy and, first and foremost, knowledge about the art and craft of pipe making. And that knowledge is found in several books that offer insight into the fundamentals of pipe making.

If you’re thinking about transitioning from a pipe smoker to also being a pipe collector, Cassandra (thenewcollector.com) offers this advice: (1) “Set a Size Limit, then Follow the ‘One In, One Out’ Rule”; (2) “Display Your Collection”; and (3) “Beware of Nostalgia and Learn When to Let Go.”

Thecollector.com advises: “1. Look at supply and demand; 2. Consider if it’s too hard or too easy to collect; 3. Start small and simple; 4. Tell people you’re a collector; 5. Join a community.”

I’d add focus! Plan and decide what to collect; shop online, at pipes shows and auctions; start cheap and work your way up to higher-priced pipes; organize and document the collection in detail. I’ll not take on the argument of quality over quantity; every collector understands the difference and, to some, quantity may be more important than quality.

I’ve known a few who came into this hobby by investing in what I have always called a “shake- and-bake” collection which usually contained some of the Clint Eastwood’s “good, bad and ugly” pipes, only to realize later that they made a terrible mistake. Seeking advice on pipesmagazine.com on how to build a collection, unclearthur volunteered: “I have ended up with FAR too many pipes partly from buying lots to get one or two that are of real interest to me.” That sounds like a “shake and bake” pipe collection. I still call it this although, nowadays, the operative term is Pipe Acquisition Disorder (PAD.) (Read Joshua Burgess’s article, “The Four Stages of P.A.D. at smokingpipes.com). When you start a collection, you just want that collection to get big, so you may buy indiscriminately. Eventually, your tastes become more refined and you learn that good collections aren’t about quantity, but about quality. Focus on one particular pipe and, perhaps its variants. Go deep, rather than wide, and you’ll soon become an expert in that specialty.

For me, one exemplary collector stands out, Norm Winokur. He exhibited at the CORPS show for many years with his ever-expanding collection of Rhodesian-shaped briars. To me, it was a spectacular collection: he focused on one shape, every finish, every size, and from every pipe maker … none for sale. I thought that was a brilliant concept. If anyone ever wanted to know about Rhodesians, Norm was the premier expert. On March 19, 1989, he and one of his pipes appeared in The Courier Post, Camden, New Jersey.

On pipesmagazine.com, titanicexplorer sought advice: “I just started to collect pipes. Any Tips?” Member mluag offered some common-sense advice: “Do you want to collect wide or deep? A wide collection would include some meers, some briars, some clays, some gourds, some metal...and so on. All sorts of styles and makers. A deep collection would include a single maker or company and limit collecting to the various shapes they offer to the exlusion [sic] of others.” Member stacen counseled: “Do some online research and find some of the publications and books on the hobby to get an idea of some ways to build your collection.” Some have said that pipe collecting will lead to investigating the literature about and for pipe smokers. Not always!

Carl Weber: “The best advice for a beginning collector is to patronize reputable pipe dealers,” but that was written a half-century ago in the pre-Internet, pre-pipe show era. But there’s other advice from him quoted elsewhere. “As [Carl] Weber argues:

Most interested pipe smokers become collectors sooner or later … every smoker eventually learns that he should have at least four or five pipes and smoke them alternatively.’ …Collections could include pipes of all sorts from all over the world, but even a smaller selection of new and non-exotic pipes could be understood as a collection, in part because of the careful selection process involved in the choice of each pipe. Pipe manufacturers also encouraged pipe collecting through expensive matched sets of briar pipes. These ranged from Kaywoodie’s seven-day set, including more elaborate and rounded shapes for Saturday and Sunday, to their elaborate presentation collection, which included 28 matched briars, plus carved head, meerschaum and calabash pipes in a walnut cabinet, for the astronomical sum of $2,500 in 1959 (roughly $20,000 today, and more than the Renault convertible sports car recommended in the same article (Anna Moran and Sorcha O’Brien, eds., Love Objects. Emotion, Design and Material Culture, 2014).

Eddie Gray of The Pipe Nook, LLC, has a mission: “I want The Pipe Nook to be that informative website for others just getting into pipe smoking, as well as for those who are looking to build their pipe collections from a handful of pipes into something more. Pipe collecting can be a fun hobby, but it can also be an expensive one. My site is designed to help thin the herd of choices out there today.” Gaston describes his approach, “Collecting Tobacco Pipes” at windycitycigars.com. Unfortunately, “Tobacco Pipes—Pipe Collecting,” is a self-serving website, because it just sells pipes.

I’ll throw in another two cents. To me, there are only three pipe categories: antique (at least 100 years old); vintage (20 to 100 years old), and new. As a certified personal-property appraiser, I submit that the following categories would be appropriate for pipe collections. I do not consider recycled/estate/new old stock/used pipes as a category, nor are price and aesthetics which are personal attributes. The list is no particular order of importance and, for some collectors, a few may not be applicable to their situation.

  • Medium/material
  • Antique, vintage, new
  • Ethnographic/primitive
  • Size: standard, magnum, salesman’s sample, other
  • Shape/style/series
  • Finish
  • Limited edition (one-of-a-kind/autographed/dated)
  • Fittings, accouterments, ornamentation, added features
  • Factory-made, artisan-made
  • Condition: mint, used, reconditioned
  • Country of origin/provenance
  • Pipes once owned by famous people
  • Source: maker, pipe show, online seller, B&M store, other

These categories may help you decide how to build, expand, and focus—or refocus—your collection. Although current-market value and price paid are not categories, I recommend that the collector make such notations.

When I valuate a collection, I always think of the annual Passover holiday for the Jewish faith that memorializes the liberation of the Israelites from slavery and the Exodus from Egypt. This question is always asked: “Why is this night different from all other nights? When I conduct an appraisal, I ask: “Why is this collection different from all the other collections I have appraised? “What are its distinguishing features?”

As I see it, ya’ gotta’ do the work to get all the benefits of the avocation. There’s plenty in this essay to chew on, and although it may appear self-serving, anyone who has asked me how to succeed in collecting, my counsel has always been: investigate before you invest … study before you spend. Do necessary homework: network! And never buy pipes as an investment; buy them because you enjoy owning (and/or smoking) them! The generally-accepted reward is the pure joy and excitement of collecting but, of late, for some, there’s the monetary value in acquiring pipes as an investment for future financial gain. Overall, I’d say that there’s ample online information for most every pipe collector.

When growing a collection, mistakes may be made, but mistakes help to gain deeper knowledge. Hopefully, these mistakes are not costly ones. Be aware that impulsivity is not a desirable characteristic of pipe collecting, especially when it is gradually becoming more expensive to begin or to expand. This is one problem that you can’t blame on global supply chain issues!

Online Resources

There are many online guides about collecting in general: “The 11 Rules of Collecting Antiques and Vintage”; “1001 Rules for Collecting Antiques”; “Three Rules for Collecting”; “How to Collect Things: 13 Steps”; “Collection Control: 10 Tips to Tame Your Hoard”; and “Rules of Collecting” are just a few of the counsels to the uninitiated or neophyte collector of anything. And there are those who offer suggestions and tips such as “246 Cool Things to Collect.” You may choose not to read any of these, because none is written specifically for pipe collectors, but there are some good ideas and suggestions that can apply to pipes.

  • Barbara Gutierrez, “Why do we collect things?” (news.miami.edu).
  • “Is it Hoarding Disorder, Clutter, Collecting, or Squalor” (hoarding.iocdf.org).
  • “When Does Collecting Become an Obsession? Making Sure Your Hobby is Enjoyable and Not a burden” (vintagearcadegal.com).
  • YouTube’s “My Tobacco Pipe Collection/Rotation” is an eight-minute video that’s more about how this person rotates his 18 pipes by the type of tobacco he smokes.

To all those who collect different pipes for different reasons, I close with this reflection: “I may not collect what you collect, but show me what you’ve got and I will be glad to see it, because, by god, we are both brothers in the briar” (Ralph William Larsen, Doctor of Pipes, 2013).