Chances are, all of us have bought something off Ebay at one time or another, be it a pipe, a computer game, a baseball card, or even a human hand (I’m not judging you if you have bought a human hand off Ebay, by the way. A friend of mine once had a running bid on the state of Tennessee). And like any Ebay buyer, if you have bought a pipe from someone off Ebay, you have probably experienced the occasional “lemon”, a pipe that looks like it got chewed up by a Pit Bull and then dropped into a septic tank (and probably smells like one too.) If this has happened to you, I feel your pain, but don’t get discouraged. Let me tell you about some things that I have learned in my time as an Ebay pipe buyer that will not only help you get good pipes for a great price, but with a little elbow grease, you can even make these pipes into some real beauties.
Tip 1: Know Your Spending Limit.
This is good advice for any Ebay purchase, but it is especially true with pipes. Consider the following factors: brand name, the current bid, how many bids have been placed, how much time is left, and how much you are willing to spend. Consider the fact that you might have to spend some time and effort to get this pipe smokable again and how much work it is going to take given the photos that you see. If the time and effort it is going to take to make the pipe smokable outweighs the current asking price, just walk away. Odds are, it’s not worth it to scrub and sweeten a high dollar pipe when you could have spent the same amount of money for a new pipe and avoided all the hassle.
Tip 2: Know Your Seller
I make it a policy not to buy from anyone who has had less than 100 sales and has anything lower than 95% positive feedback. Your experiences may vary, of course, but this is a good rule that I like to live by. I have my usual Ebay sellers that I always buy from (and I will NOT tell you who they are. I mean, a fellas got to have his secrets, right?), and I buy from them either because they sell a good product that is readily smokable at a fair price, or they sell junker pipes that need a lot of attention and elbow grease, but they sell for dirt cheap, and I don’t mind doing the work to make them clean again.
Tip 3: As Long as a Pipe is Complete and Has Airflow, It Can Be Made Smokable, If Not Beautiful
When buying an Ebay pipe, look at the pictures and examine it as soon as you get it. Make sure of a few things. 1) That the stem is complete and is not cracked, broken, or, most important of all, is missing. 2) Look at the wood. Are there any major cracks or splits that would render the pipe unsmokable? 3) Once the stem and shank have been sanitized and scrubbed, can you draw air all the way through the pipe? If your pipe meets all three of these criteria, your pipe can be smokable, and with a little effort and determination, you can almost make it look as good as your buddy’s Dunhill. Sure, it doesn’t have the name behind it, but he paid $300 for his and you only paid $10 for yours, which leaves you with an extra $290 to buy tobacco to smoke in your new pipe. On the other hand, you still don’t have a Dunhill, and let’s face it, it probably still doesn’t look as good as a Dunhill, but if your intention is purely to smoke it, it should still do a good job.
Tip 4: You Don’t Need to Spend a Lot of Money on Restoration Tools
I have bought a considerable amount of my pipe collection off Ebay, and I have gotten some really incredible smokers that look great without breaking the bank on things like buffing wheels, waxes, tenon turners, replacement stems, and all that jazz. There are some of you out there who would prefer to have all that equipment handy, and if I had the money and the space to store it, I’m sure that I would have these tools too. But the majority of my Ebay estates, I have made perfectly smokable and beautiful with the help of a few simple, household tools: Oxyclean, Magic Eraser Pads, Micromesh Sandpaper, Pipe Cleaners, Salt, and High Proof Alcohol (anything 80 proof and over will do, both for the pipe and for personal consumption in celebration of a fine, fine job). An Oxyclean soak and a combination of the Magic Eraser and Micro Mesh will get your stems looking black and shiny again. Treat the inside of the bowl with salt and alcohol, scrub the inside of the stem and shank with a cleaner dipped in alcohol and VOILA! You have a pipe that is perfectly smokable and, if you did a good enough job, it should look pretty darned good too.
Tip 5: If You Do Have to Send Your Pipe Off to Get Fixed, Trust Your Repair Person
There will be times when you will buy a pipe that has a flaw that you can’t see from the pictures, and it will be a flaw that you can’t fix yourself, so you will need to send it off to a repair person. It could be anything from re-stemming a pipe to fixing a crack in the briar to drilling a new airhole into the pipe. In this event, trust the person that you send your pipes to. I bought a bunch of estate pipes off Ebay when I first started back up on the pipe, and they were all in really rough shape. I needed some repair work done, and I called a gentleman who seemed reputable to me based off of several internet pipe groups. A few phone calls, $100, and three months of waiting later, I received the same pipes I had received from Ebay, in no better shape than they were when I sent them off and out all that money to boot. Needless to say, it is no one affiliated with this site or anyone who posts on these forums, but I will never rely on this person again, for repairs or anything pipe related.
I realize that some people out there have been burned by Ebay too many times in the past to warrant buying pipes from the service, and it’s like the old addage goes: Caveat Emptor. I do not have the luxury of having a good B&M close by, and even the one that I do have has a very limited selection of pipes, and, like most people in this economy, I am on a budget, so doing the Ebay thing is about the best way for me to get a quality pipe at a decent price, particularly because I don’t mind doing to the work to make it beautiful again. I will close this train of thought by showing you one of my favorite smokers to date: It is a straight pipe with no markings or manufacturer name that I picked up on Ebay for a mere $10. It was fully restored by the person selling it, and it smokes like a dream.
The stem is nice and deep black, has a very open draw to it, and the wood is thick and chunky so it absorbs a lot of heat and offers a cool smoke. Now, it’s not perfect. It has a couple of tooth marks in the stem, and there are a couple of very minor flaws in the briar. Is it beautiful? Not by most people’s standards. Do I care? No. This pipe facilitates a cool, sweet, long burning smoke, and that is all I ask out of any of my pipes. I have never found a briar pipe as good as this one for what I paid for it, and this is proof positive that there are some real gems on Ebay. You just have to look for them.