Estate Condition Statements: Part II
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28 October 2010

Estate Condition Statements: Part II
 Rim darkening and charring

After the initial post done last week about the evaluating the condition of estate pipes, we will now move past examining the unsmoked pieces and work our way down the line. With each additional blog post, the evaluating numbers will start to trickle down from 5/5 with the range being noted and explained along the way.

Going back to a very obvious point from the last post, the condition of a pipe is much different than a collectible vase or oil painting since it's designed to be used. We all gravitate toward pipes for their overall shape, design, and finish, though each one ends up calling to us in a different way. Some prove to be better smokers than others due to size, shape, engineering, and other factors. It should be noted that whether a pipe be lightly smoked or heavily smoked its condition doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the piece nor the enjoyment derived from it.

Usually, a pipe that is smoked will get a rating of 4.9/5 or below. These higher-rated pipes are all in extremely good condition and often just had either one bowl (or less) run through the pipe. This can be determined by looking at either the precarb lining (which will be factory-done in most cases) and is even more noticeable in a bowl that's left natural wood. If the pipe is extremely clean and there is no darkening on the rim, dings on the briar, or tooth marks, it will typically receive a 4.9/5. Other factors can knock it down slightly. Since this post is about rim conditions, we will focus on these and ignore any additional subtracted points for tooth marks, aftermarket stems, replacement tenons, and such (these will come in a later post).

Let’s compare three good examples. In this first photo, the pipe is in really great shape, but the inner rim is slightly darkened which would give it a rating of 4.85/5. This is simply a result of normal, careful smoking where the tobacco heats up the wood and wax, so it's more of a coloring issue anything else.

The second photo shows a pipe exhibiting rim darkening that extends well outside the inner rim. Though this is mainly the result of filling the pipe to the very top with tobacco, such use may cause the briar to patina and will often leave behind some stubborn tars that can be difficult to remove without topping the pipe (sanding down and re-staining the rim – which we never do). Some of you may think it’s silly for me to condition a black pipe or a dark sandblast with this 4.8/5 rating (because it’s already dark), but some of the finish can be burned off of a smooth piece and nearly-impossible to remove tars manage to work their way into the little nooks and crannies of each blasted ripple (which is why the photo examples a naturally-stained pipe for reference). Looking closely under the light, there will be a slightly different color from the original briar, so “4.8/5 Rim darkening” will be noted.

In this last example, the rim is significantly darkened, showing burned marks from a lighter (which will char the wood, become soft, and later come off on the buffing wheel). Sometimes the inner rim is showing signs of chatter marks (a result of using a knife which bounces around while trying to scrape the cake). These combined factors, depending on severity, will give the pipe a rating of anywhere between 4.5-4.75/5. Once again, the focus here is on the rim, not the reamed chamber (which could drop the rating to 4.25/5 if it has these factors and is unevenly reamed).

Rim darkening is relatively easy to rate, but the additional charring, reaming, dings, tooth marks, etc. are all factors in evaluating the condition. Like I mentioned before, we often get estate pipes in that range between very clean to heavy rim darkening. Assuming that they all belonged to the same smoker, it’s actually the ones that are in a lower condition that tend to be their favorites evidenced by how much it they were used.

Next up: Scratches and dings on smoked pipes.

Posted by adam at 4:00 PM | Link | 2 comments

Re: Estate Condition Statements: Part II
I wonder why the scale is so high - still - when there are what I think of as significant defects in the pipe. 4.25 out of 5 is still pretty high. Not even 1 full point has been deducted for a lighter-caused burn of the rim area. This makes me wonder about the scoring bias.

Posted by Neill Roan on October 28, 2010 at 6:52 PM

Re: Estate Condition Statements: Part II

It has to do with the way that they add together. Let's assume the pipe has a replacement stem, some rim char (per your example), surface problems such as scratches and dings, and, say, finish problems on the shank. Cumulatively, for a functional (but probably pretty bloody ugly at this point) pipe, that's getting it down awfully low when all those sorts of things are combined. But it still needs to be able to receive a score that differentiates it from pipes in better condition.

Like all arbitrary scoring systems, it's self referential. Like, say, letter grades in college, it's internally consistent, but there's no external absolute truth against which it can be assessed. Given we have to allow for so many possible simultaneous cosmetic and/or functional problems that could, in theory, exist all at the same time, a given problem, even a serious one, can't drive the score down terribly far on its own. Make sense?

Posted by sykes on October 28, 2010 at 7:35 PM

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