We've covered the general factors to consider when choosing a pipe, and even how to buy a pipe as a gift. For many, however, estate pipes can seem far more complicated — particularly once the nuances of age, stamping, and overall condition are taken into account. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be as complicated as it seems.
There are two basic reasons that most people turn to estate pipes: budget or availability. The former category can include almost anyone, from the new pipe smoker looking to try various shapes, to the seasoned veteran rounding out a rotation. The latter largely pertains to collectors, as the estates market is often the only place one will come across a discontinued series or hard-to-find artisan piece.
Whatever the reason, knowing what you're looking for is a great place to start. Using the Pipe Locator, you can get pretty specific in terms of makers, price ranges, shapes, and finishes. Don't worry if you find yourself overwhelmed by the options — take it one step at a time and you'll be surprised how quickly you start to get the hang of it.
It might go without saying, but if you're looking to collect in a specific area, you'll want to do your research. While we make sure to include information on all of a pipe's stamping, as well as relevant date ranges where they're available, your own tastes and goals will determine what information is useful to you.
In particular, when searching for pipes from a particular maker or marque, you'll want to get a sense for various proprietary stampings. "ODA" and "HT" are special stampings for Dunhill, for instance, and knowing an artisan's grading scheme will make sure you don't miss that coveted piece.
Once you've found a pipe that fits your criteria, the question of condition comes into play. It's entirely possible to find unsmoked pipes in estates, but the larger majority are pipes that have been smoked at some point. Our own Adam Davidson has broken down our estate grading process before, and we have a grading guide available. These are great places to get a sense, if you haven't already, of what sort of condition grades to be on the lookout for, and what they mean.
There are no hard and fast rules here, though the goals you set earlier will help guide you in your assessment. Someone wishing to round out their rotation may be happy to pick up a piece with surface dings, after all, if price and other factors are right. A hard-to-find Peterson can be a boon to a collector, even with, say, a tooth mark on the stem. And for the new smoker who is looking to experience a number of shapes and styles, any number of pipes may fit their needs.
This takes us back to our original guide for choosing a pipe, and its first, most important point: buy pipes you like, and buy the best you can afford.
Once you've got your perfect estate pipe in hand, most of the usual good practices of maintaining a pipe apply. We recommend cleaning your pipes regularly, keeping a rotation to allow pipes to cool and dry fully between smokes, and maintaining a good amount of cake.
Be aware of any specific quirks, however. Older pipes may have amber or horn stems, or tenons made of natural bone — these require a touch of extra care when breaking down and cleaning to avoid chips or cracks. Stingers, too, may need to be temporarily removed to pass a pipe cleaner fully.
There are many reasons to look to the estate market when searching for the next addition to your rotation, as many who use it exclusively can attest. Do you have a treasured estate pipe? Leave us a comment down below, and good luck in your quest.