Collecting Estates – What I look for…

(In an earlier post, I wrote about buying estate pipes in various types of shops. This is a follow-up to that post.)

Collecting estate/used pipes can be frustrating at times when shopping antique and collectible shops. It’s even worse when the shops claim to be antique but are really junktique and flea markets. If you want to purchase a good, high quality estate pipe then look for a brick and mortar pipe shop or a reputable on-line retailer like or (A word of caution about eBay. There are many good shops and retailers who sell pipes on there but there are more who don’t list the pipes correctly or give you a reliable description of the condition of the pipes. Do your homework and read the reviews before purchasing.)

Some things to know when shopping …
pipe display
Most antique/collectible or junktique shops only have 3 or 4 pipes at the most. Sometimes you find large numbers in one shop.

First, depending on what you collect, it can be hard finding a pipe to add to your collection. In my experience, unless you collect Kaywoodies, Dr. Grabow’s or Medico, (what I refer to as drugstore pipes), you won’t find many pipes in most junktique shops. I occasionally see pipes made by Peterson’s, Savinelli’s, Comoy’s, etc., but rarely find Castello, Dunhill or Orlik pipes. And, I’ve never seen pipes by Ivarsson or Eltang. As I said before, if you want a high-end pipe, find them at on-line retailers of estate pipes or in local pipe shops.

Second, the pipes are often in bad condition. I find pipes with bowl so caked up you can’t insert a pencil, much less your little finger. The stems look like a chew toy for a small dog. And, they stink. I’m not talking stink like a strong latakia blend, I’m talking a cross between mothballs, mildew and rancid goat cheese. Not to mention the occasional pipe which has a distinct smell of illegal substances.

Third, the price is set too high. I saw a Dr. Grabow in a local drugstore (yes, some still sell pipes) priced at $39.95. A few days later I saw a used, abused Dr. Grabow – the same shape – priced at $60. The shop keeper said that was a good price because it was an antique. I said, “Maybe, but they still make that same pipe and sell it new for $39.” The point is, being old doesn’t make something an antique or collectible. Sometimes I think the research they do on used pipes is comprised of watching shows like American Pickers and Antique Roadshow.  In most cases, I attribute the high prices to the seller’s not understanding pipes and believing just because it’s old, it must be worth more money.

Kaywoodie, Dr. Grabow pipes are collectible…
The Kaywoodie Stembiter I rescued and restored.

Let me back up for a minute. They are large communities of pipe smokers who collect and smoke Kaywoodies, Dr. Grabow, and other brands produced for the “drugstore” market. You can find information on Kaywoodies at and Dr. Grabow at They are both good resources for identifying which pipes arecollectible. I own two Kaywoodies – a Kaywoodie Stembiter 33 and a Kaywoodie 118R.

Kaywoodies with two or four-digit numbers on the stems are highly collectible. The earliest Kaywoodies had 4-digit identifiers (first 2 were finish and last 2 were the shape) and date before the early 1940s. Two-digit Kaywoodies date from the early 1940s until about 1973 when they switched to three-digit numbers.

I don’t technically own any Dr. Grabows. I do however own a Linkman Hollycourt Special made before the name changed from Linkman to Dr. Grabow. The Linkman company started making Dr. Grabow pipes in 1930 and from what I’ve read, the Linkman company closed in the mid-1950s and sold the Dr. Grabow line. Some lines of Dr. Grabow pipes have disappeared and that would make them more collectible in my opinion – El Dorado, Starfire, Regal and Ajustomatic, for example.

What I have…

The bulk of my estate pipe collection are briars ranging from unnamed “Made in Italy” briars to a 1926 Dunhill “Inner Tube” a friend gave me. Most, I found at antique/collectible or junktique shops, street fairs or flea markets. I own several Savinelli’s, a Royal Sovereign, Big Ben Crosley, Britannia 64 and a silver banded Salmon & Gluckstein. I paid between $3 and $40 each for the pipes. Whether I overpaid for any of the pipes may be open to discussion but all only 2 or 3 are not in smoking condition now.

What I look for…
A Mauro Armellini and Elephant pipe stand I found in an antique/collectible shop.

What do I look for in a pipe? First, the pipe must grab my attention – the shape, brand and price for example. Admittedly, I’m more interested in finding name brand pipes. I also have a set limit on what I will pay.

Second, the condition must be where I feel it’s worth the work necessary to restore to smoking condition. If there is too much cake or the stem isn’t removable from the stummel, I will pass on the pipe. If there is damage to the bowl or a hole in it, I don’t buy it. The same with the stem. I don’t buy a pipe with a stem damaged beyond repairing.

Third, I look at the pipe construction. Is the draft hole centered and big enough? Does the stem line up properly? When I can, I like to run a pipe cleaner through the stem to see if it goes all the way to the bowl.

Finally, I smell the pipe. A pipe smelling like old tobacco is restorable. One that smell likes mildew or mothballs may take longer to restored but, depending on other factors, may be worth the effort. If it smells like acetone, glue or other chemicals, I pass. The same if it smells like marijuana or other drugs, they are just too risky.

(© J. Gibson Creative, May 2018)


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