METALandMIRRORS: High Grade Conundrum

Thursday, February 15, 2018

High Grade Conundrum

The first time we spent over $400 on a pipe, having previously bought only in the $100 to $150 range, I thought we’d have gone insane. It was exciting for sure but, also filled with a bit of anxiousness and uncertainty. But we were also very curious to know if higher grade pipes performed appreciably better than the pipes we were typically accustomed to.  The issue with pipes purchased in that price range; they were destined for the collector’s display, and not our mouths.  Our cheapest pipes are Missouri Meerschaum’s at around $10, they go up from there.   
I finally relented on my wife’s persistence and smoked one of those $425 pipes – an Ardor Sherlock Holmes (picture below) packed with Sutliff’s Molto Dolce.  Now considering the price of the pipe, combined with the cost of the tobacco, that comes out to be an expensive first smoke.  LOL.  Not to mention that once you light that pipe, there’s no going back and calling it “new and unsmoked”.

High Grade Conundrum Tobacco Pipe

I’ve always been curious as well to understand the depreciation of a pipes value once it has been “used” versus one that is still unsmoked.  No matter what, I know the value of anything is only what someone is willing to pay for it.  However, I have no intention of selling any of my pipes right now.  Our collection of 76 pipes is a mix of 44 (58%) unsmoked verse 32 (42%) smoked.  And I can tell you, for now, the unsmoked will stay that way given their value and limited-edition qualities.  I simply love the craftsmanship and overall presentation quality of a tobacco pipe so much so that it pains me to actually light one. 

Now, I self-justify in my mind that each time I smoke a pipe for what I’ll call “high-value”, it keeps getting cheaper the more I smoke it. I love data, but I’m no Albert Einstein either, so it seemed clear that eventually I'd start making money when I smoked it to the point I couldn't afford not to buy expensive pipes. A savings of over $200 on only the second smoke? That adds up. Hahaha…I’m kidding, but I do think of the overall investment we have in tobacco and pipes, and it’s significant enough to constantly consider just how high is high enough when buying a pipe.  Does a Dunhill pipe in the $1000 to $6000 range “really” smoke that much better?  I may never know because I can never see buying a pipe that expensive unless I come into a lottery. 

Cleary my wife and I know that we pay for aesthetics. Like all hobbies, the high end is extraordinary.  Much of the value is in the art and sculpture of the pipe. Excellent grain, creative design and fancy accent rings of rare materials are all beautiful, but they don't affect the smoking quality, and that has to be considered.  And sure, you’ll pay for reputation too, if it were so simple and easy, we’d all be making tobacco pipes and charging and “arm and a leg” as they say. But that also goes the other way too.  Just because you crafted a beautiful pipe, does not make you the Leonardo da Vinci of tobacco pipes either.  An artesian you may be, but truly earning that title takes time.  Going to pipe shows and seeing pipes in the $800+ range when no one knows who you are is a difficult pill to swallow when it comes time to pay.  

Now, I can say that the $425 pipe did smoke extremely well; however, I cannot say that it smoked six times better.  But, drat it all, it was better, and I can see why I’m willing to relax a bit more when I do pay so much for a pipe.  It’s tuff to go back to that $10 corn cob.  There are great factory pipes, there's no doubt what-so-ever, and I can't resist them. But artisan pipes also offer something. They offer a better chance at a great smoke. They're carefully engineered to reduce air distortion in the pipe, distortion that creates condensation and an imperfect smoke among other misadventures.

A great factory pipe may not have the perfect engineering, but it can still deliver a smoke as good as an artisan pipe if the briar is excellent, however, there's no real way to tell. You can have a poorly engineered pipe with such superior briar that it smokes great. And you can have a well-engineered pipe that smokes poorly because the briar retains resins, or is not particularly porous, or the soil it grew in permeates it with an unpleasant flavor. Thankfully, that kind of problem can often be a matter of break-in.

So when you look for well-engineered pipes (and factory pipes can be well engineered) you'll get the best possible smoke from whatever the briar may provide. If it's a great piece of briar, it's going to smoke like a well-oiled machine. If not, it will still smoke better than otherwise.

As pipe smokers, our quest is to determine the qualities that we as individuals most prize, and that is different for every person, and for every brand of pipe.

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