The Pipe Test

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toobfreak

Preferred Member
Dec 19, 2016
1,365
0
I was running a thought experiment the other day asking myself what people like about their pipes. I mean, some people go out spending $800 for a Dunhill, BBB or Barling, others swear by Savinellis, Petes, Big Bens, Ascortis, etc., and while a lot of it is antique, collector, and rarity issues, pride of possession, much of it is also cosmetics, surely somewhere in there is how they smoke too!
At the same time I note the many people buying Grabows, cobs, Kaywoodies or some other lesser grade and swearing by them as well. I've seen the Grabow collectors. Indeed, you can get a beautiful, well made and fine smoking pipe from any of these lines!
Now obviously, there is personal tastes involved, but briar is briar, it all comes out of the ground and before being harvested, there is little chance of knowing an exceptional bruyere from an average one, and while a high-end company might be very selective in the briar they choose, there is nothing stopping a no-name company from getting top notch briar (if even buy accident), and their carver doing a first class bang-up job in carving and drilling it too. Yes?
So then there is the other issue: the old adage that with the better lines, you just get a higher likelihood of getting a perfect pipe. But then, if you bought a B-line pipe and it had an unsatisfactory issue, you could always send it back for another.
That leaves us with the brand name. But does having a given company's name stamped on the shank mean that much to people? Obviously yes, but what if you can get just as nice a pipe in grade and quality for a lot less money from another company? I know a lot of people just don't care.
Now, lots of people are willing to pay a certain price for the pipe they want regardless, but what I wondered, blindfolded, how well could people tell one brand from another /just by smoking it?/
My idea and question is whether anyone has ever conducted a double blind test, individually or as a group, where they took six pipes all of identical size and shape, each from a different brand of widely varying cost, and blindfolded or however in a way that no one knew which pipe was which, smoked each with the same tobacco to see if they could even tell them apart? As they did so, picking pipe A as the best smoking, pipe B as the next best, etc. To be meaningful, repeat the experiment at least three times and see what results they got.
Has anyone ever thought of doing this? And if not, why? I mean, considering the time, money and effort many people put into pipes, I find it difficult to understand, if even only for the idle curiosity of a club, etc., how the different pipes would fare smoked side by side in the dark?
The idea here is that we all know what we think of different brands of pipes in the light of day--- the question is, why hasn't anyone ever tested them to see how they really deliver objectively? Everyone complains of the subjectivity of this hobby, here is one way to create some objective opinions. What if a $60 pipe consistently challenges a $300 pipe, or is even often preferred?
Not predicting anything, just saying that with the large collections and many clubs, I'm surprised no one has ever tried this just to see how different pipes really stand up toe to toe when you know nothing about them other than the smoke they deliver!

 

davet

Preferred Member
May 9, 2015
3,780
0
Interesting, no preconceived biases :puffpipe:
$40


$1480


How much of a difference in smoking quality could there be ?

 

aquadoc

Preferred Member
Feb 15, 2017
1,436
8
United States
As someone who does not have a vast collection of pipes nor any of the quality name pipes, I know that my cobs smoke some blends better than my cheap briar and my lone beat up Savinelli is generally a smoother, more consistent smoke than my cobs but, my old, aged Weber pipes blow all of them away for consistency and sweetness. They just smoke better and seem to taste better. But, I have no high end pipes to compare them too. Would love to take part in such an experiment but who would do this? So many pipers do not even like the idea of estates because of the prior ownership aspect. I would love to know if a Peterson is really that much better than my cheaply restored estates or if Dunhill pipe smoke really does make me 2 inches taller and all my tobacco taste like the breath of angels.

 

jmatt

Preferred Member
Aug 25, 2014
760
0
$1480 for a Savinelli 320? That's a lot of money to pay for grain, right? Most Sav 320's are in the $100 to $120 range. And yes, the Rossi's are Savinelli 2nds.
Back to the original premise: I think it's wrong to say that even a low grade pipemaker could randomly end up with a nice chunk of briar. Briar is harvested, cut to rough sizes, and graded long before any pipemaker purchases the briar. So the most premium of all briars generally goes to the top artisans who can charge a lot more for their pipes based on artistry alone. Then there's differences in how aged and light the briar is per volume, etc. All of the best gets sold off long before the Peterson's of the pipemaking world get their hands on any briar at all.
But in the end, I think people are mostly paying for artistry and craftsmanship, not an objectively better smoke. But even with that generalization I'm ignoring the bottom of the barrel pipes with poorly engineered bowl and draft hole alignment, etc.
Is a Van Gogh really any better than a Thomas Kinkade?

 

aldecaker

Preferred Member
Feb 13, 2015
4,413
3
Sometimes I'm in the mood for irises, sometimes I'm in the mood for kitchsy nostalgia. Oh wait, we were talking pipes.

 

jpmcwjr

Preferred Member
May 12, 2015
13,546
155
Monterey Peninsula
Now obviously, there is personal tastes involved, but briar is briar, it all comes out of the ground and before being harvested, there is little chance of knowing an exceptional bruyere from an average one, and while a high-end company might be very selective in the briar they choose, there is nothing stopping a no-name company from getting top notch briar (if even buy accident), and their carver doing a first class bang-up job in carving and drilling it too. Yes?
No to the first part, and yes, a no name could pay up for superior briar, but not an economical choice.

 

aquadoc

Preferred Member
Feb 15, 2017
1,436
8
United States
JMatt, that may be the rule now but there are beautiful machine made estate pipes with incredible grain, as good as any top artisans grain today. Maybe it was generally more available back in the day. Kashmir posted photos of a $95 Comoy that will blow your socks off. And I do not think his example is an exception.

 

brian64

Preferred Member
Jan 31, 2011
5,143
35
The inherent problem with attempting a "blind" test would be that not seeing the smoke tends to have a profound effect on taste...for most people at least.

 

warren

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2013
7,353
35
I'll speak only to my "wind down" evening pipes. Without the visual and tactile part of the pipe I might as well just pop an MCD cigarette into my mouth. Smoking blind would take away from the experience, greatly. My work pipes are more for the nicotine and my oral fixation gratification.

 

theloniousmonkfish

Preferred Member
Jan 1, 2017
767
0
"Back to the original premise: I think it's wrong to say that even a low grade pipemaker could randomly end up with a nice chunk of briar. Briar is harvested, cut to rough sizes, and graded long before any pipemaker purchases the briar."
It's wrong to think one of them could even randomly end up with a nice piece of Briar?
Briar in Grabow pipes.

"The sawyers, based on where the cut came from in relation to the burl edge, decided on the quality. Extra Extra, Extra, First. Mixed was "I don't know", or what missed the bag they threw it at"
Fit and finish is the big difference to me. How much can vary between blocks except grain when they're cut from the same burl? Grabow will not sand to a high grit and lovingly buff each pipe to a shine and rather than discard they will slap filler in pits and seal with shellac but now and again, due to the high volume, nice examples do come out of factories.

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
17,944
129
My own pipe collection ranges from artisans to factories, Savinelli to Stanwells to Beckers to Dunhills, old and new, all in the same two shape categories, bulldogs and Dublins, 20$ pipes to $1200, and which pipe I grab always depends on my mood and what I am going to smoke. But, after the new has worn off, I have learned how each wants to be smoked best, then each pipe is as equal as if I had picked them off the same tree. Only two of them have ever left me feeling buyers remorse. I don't equate price with smoking quality at all, AT ALL. I see price as being just the obstacle for me to get through to get a particular pipe by a particular brand or artisan. A Dunhill bulldog smokes no different from a $20 no name estate pipe, IMO.
People talk about mechanics of the pipes. Sure, sure, sure, maybe I am a neanderthal who codgers scoops and uses a Bic to light all of my pipes, but any subtle nuances in mechanics, engineering, and what not is lost on me. I am not a princess and the pea sort of guy. Maybe other guys are. Good for them.
But, to me price is just marketing and demand. Some are worth the marketing if owning something with a certain stamp on it, some may not be. Price rarely has any impact for me, unless it is just going to take me too long to save up to buy it.

I may never be able to own a rich man's Porsche or Lamborghini. But, the most expensive pipes are still within reach, so it is possible for me to own the Lamborghini of pipes.
So... make of it what you will...

 

mawnansmiff

Preferred Member
Oct 14, 2015
4,794
0
Sunny Cornwall, UK.
I posed the question of the blind smoke a year or so ago and some folks swore blind they could distinguish a £500 pipe from a £50 pipe though I was not convinced and nor were other contributors.
My collection of pipes is a very mixed bag with some premium brands (all bought as estates) and some less than premium including some 'basket' pipes. In all honesty I cannot say the premium pipes I own are any better smokers than my others, in fact of the ten or twelve regulars in my rotation the majority are lesser quality (defined purely by price) pipes and they smoke great.
"the old adage that with the better lines"
Toob, an adage by its very nature is 'old' :wink:
Regards,
Jay.

 

pipestud

Preferred Member
Dec 6, 2012
1,718
5
Robinson, TX.
My experience has been just the opposite of mawnansmiff. While not "always," my chances of getting the better smoking experience is with many of the artisan hand made pipes where the maker uses a higher quality of briar that has been properly cured and pays attention to the drilling, the hand work on the stem to make it a comfort and joy to put in one's kisser, and the overall aesthetics (which enhances the smoking experience for me). There does come a certain point where you start paying for the nomenclature rather than the actual smoking presentation. And there is where your mileage will vary. :wink:

 

aldecaker

Preferred Member
Feb 13, 2015
4,413
3
Low-end pipes are usually not that great. Low-quality pipes are never that great. High-quality pipes usually are that great. High-end pipes are simply a scam.

 

jpmcwjr

Preferred Member
May 12, 2015
13,546
155
Monterey Peninsula
So, could we conclude that probably the quality of the smoke itself—in isolation from all other factors— doesn't vary pipe to pipe as long as the briar is cured and is reasonably well shaped? Of course, packing and drying all done expertly for each smoke. And, natch, YMMV!

 

kirkland

Member
Mar 24, 2017
126
0
Several years ago I brought up this same "challenge" on another pipe forum and also would have liked to include a corncob pipe in the mix along with factory (high end and low end pipes)... and artisan made pipes. I thought there could be some issues as some pipesters would be able to distinguish the higher end pipes due to the better construction of the feel of the mouthpiece (button shape, finishing, etc) so that may have skewed he stats.
I also brought up a challenge wanting to see if blindfolded smokers could pick out their favorite tobacco blends.
On both topics I got very little responses to the post and zero poeple willing to undergo the challenge. I think it'd be a cool experiment to do at a pipe show. But how many people would be willing to possibly find out that they couldn't pick out Stovehaven from OTC ERR or realize the better smoke came from a cob instead of a $800 artesian pipe.I'd also like to think there would be a few guys who could nail them dead-on. But who really knows unless they are put to the test.
I did a blindfolded beer test once and had some friends attempt to pick out their favorite beers. They all failed horribly. After many MANY failed attempts to pick out the brands they did a great job picking out the ugliest girls in the bar though. Beer goggles are wonderful things.