International Charatan Collectors Society

At the 2009 Richmond Pipe Show, the International Charatan Collectors Society (ICCS) held a private meeting for members only and was kindly invited to attend.

If you don’t know about Charatan Pipes, they actually have an interesting and unique story. The founder of ICCS, Bob Swanson invited us to attend and this is what he told us.

The ICCS is the International Charatan Collectors Society. We started the society in 2006 in Chicago, and it was actually founded by myself – it was my idea, my baby. And it was to try to bring Charatan collectors together from around the world because we just seemed so segmented, and wondered where all the collectors and Charatan pipes were. So, we got together at the original meeting – as I said, this was in Chicago. It was Charatan heaven for the Charatan collectors there. The first meeting had 33 people in it. The pipes were absolutely awesome, unbelievable. The tables were covered. We saw pipes that Charatan collectors were just drooling over. There were originally 28 charter members and five of those were from England and the club has grown to 38 at present.

There was a lot of controversy originally when we started it because we wanted to keep the club to people who own Charatans. We wanted people who were collectors and already into Charatans. So we had a rule which we started which is called the "Five Pipe Rule".

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In order to get in you have to have 5 Charatan pipes. It created a lot of controversy in the pipe world and among pipe smokers, and there were pros and cons on it. Mr. Burla who runs the Chicago show was not real happy with it, but I didn’t back down and we ended up doing it and it became something the Chicago Club and Frank Burla himself finally thought it was a great thing. And it kept it a little bit … I don’t know, in my words maybe pure. So, that’s how the International Charatan Collectors Society started.

PipesMagazine: So, in the beginning Frank Burla from the Chicago Club was not in agreement with the Five Pipe Rule?

Bob: The Five Pipe Rule, yeah.

PipesMagazine: But now he’s embraced it?

Bob: He’s really embraced it and you know Frank was very turned on and very supportive. I don’t want to say he wasn’t supportive. He was very supportive it was just the Five Pipe Rule. And actually the whole Chicago Club just loved the idea and it generated and spurred more clubs. And a Dunhill Club was started. Trying to think what we called it. Originally it was like a, you know a seminar as something to further Charatans and all of a sudden Dunhill wanted to do it and Camoy wanted to do it.

So it really got a lot of activity and brought a lot of people into the Chicago show. And you know they loved what was going on and it’s, it’s been very good for all of us and we’ve marked out a lot of charter members, and you know a lot of names that everybody knows that belong; including Fred Hannah and Rich Esserman. Most of the meetings we have judgings and we get a lot of people that enter pipes and we give out awards for the top Charatans and so forth.

PipesMagazine: How are they judged?

Bob: They are judged by an independent panel, usually three to four judges and people you know that are known in the industry. And for example, the first year we had Bobby Eichorn who isn’t here tonight, but Bobby’s probably one of the, the biggest collectors in the world of Charatans. I mean he has fabulous Charatans – everything that you can think of and they are all top of the line stuff. And you know Marty … I, I think Marty was a judge one time. I know Fred Hannah was. I know Rich Esserman was, and they just, we go around and we judged on best of the grades of the Charatans and then we had a total collection award also.

PipesMagazine: Give me a brief rundown on Charatans in general, for the uninitiated.

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Bob: Charatan and Dunhill for years – I’m an old man okay – were always major competitors. And Charatan was not run by businessmen. They were pipe makers. And they didn’t run the business like Dunhill did. Dunhill were businessmen. Dunhill ran, and still to this day makes frazing machine pipes. You know they’re not really handmade pipes; they’re frazing machines which is just a copy machine if you don’t know what that means. Charatan always made free hand pipes. So, the big difference is Charatan has pipes that are free hand and made with the grain. They look for grain. Where Dunhill looked to make a, a standard shape – and I’m not being demeaning Dunhill. I’m just saying they made a standard shape and they covered up the grain with stain and the grain didn’t mean much. It might have been blasted or whatever, but Charatan was always known for its grain. And there were battles for over 20 – 30 years.

The person with the biggest effect on Charatans was Herman Lane, who started Lane Limited out of Atlanta. He bought the rights to distributorship of Charatan in America. So, one of the biggest distinctions in Charatans in America versus Europe is that when you see a Lane Limited stamp – which is a pound L in a circle – a lot of people don’t know what that means, but that means that it was a pipe that was made by Charatan in England and distributed to Herman Lane and Herman Lane put his Lane stamp on it.

There is a Lane Era and this is a big thing in Charatans. If it doesn’t have a Lane stamp on it, it probably is a European made, a Charatan European made and European distributed Charatan. Okay. And this takes you back to the inability of Charatan to really be a good business manager with it. It doesn’t necessarily always mean that because sometimes Charatan forgot to stamp the Lane Limited stamp on it and so forth. It’s really very hard to date Charatans versus it’s very easy to date Dunhills because Dunhills always have date stamps on them and serial numbers that you can date them by where Charatan isn’t that way. So you have to really know what you’re doing in dating a Charatan.

PipesMagazine: How long have Charatans been around?

Bob: Charatans have been around since the ’40s.

PipesMagazine: Now are they still made now?

Bob: No. Charatan went of business in the early ’80s.

Dunhill won the battle. When Dunhill bought them out they took all of the Charatans that were still in existence and X’d them all out. They stamped them all out and sold them for whatever they could get for them. So, you’re talking a pipe that might have sold for a grand sold for 50 bucks.

PipesMagazine: Wow.

Bob: And, but it was all stamped out by Dunhill.

PipesMagazine: When, when you say stamped out what…?

Bob: All the stamping on the pipe – you know the Charatan make and all this stuff.

PipesMagazine: They got kind of obliterated.

Bob: Obliterated, yeah. They were I mean evil people. I don’t mean Dunhill, I mean both of them. They were just vicious foes you know. They just hated each other. And you know there’s, I mean I could go on and on and on about this, but I mean that’s basically what happened …

And Charatan’s claim to fame was that they were England’s oldest pipe maker. So, they say that they went back to. I think it’s, 1863, but don’t hold me to that. But basically in America we’re talking like I said in the 1940s. And Herman Lane bought the rights to Charatan in 1955. And there’s a lot of questions on that. I have a book that he wrote about himself, that says 1955 he bought it. So, that’s, that’s a hard number.

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richmond-pipe-show-2009-010.jpg richmond-pipe-show-2009-011.jpg thanks Bob Swanson for inviting us to the International Charatan Collectors Society meeting at the 2009 Richmond Pipe Show, and for telling us the fascinating and interesting story of Charatan Pipes.


16 Responses

  • The ICCS was a great time. I learned a lot of interesting things about the history of Charatan pipes. There were some beautiful pipes at the meeting!

  • This year’s Richmond meeting was as much a “gathering” as anything. And everyone had a great time! Unlike Chicago, where attendence warrants a more formal meeting with a presentation, pipe judging, etc., we kept things more informal at Richmond because it kinda kicked off the show for a lot of folks who were arriving Friday afternoon. As president, I set aside my “gavel,” (an extra large Executive grade Dublin)and let everyone have a great time gabbing and catching up and gawking at great wood.
    I’d like to remind everyone what a great lineup of pipes Charatan produced over the years. Yes, you can collect very high grades and drop a small fortune on them. What’s great about the brand is that many outstanding pieces were created that can be nabbed for a song on the estate market. The genius of Herman Lane’s marketing approach was to create really nice “entry level” Charatan pipes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The same well-aged briar, nary a fill, great craftsmanship, thick walls, cool smoking, decent grain on the smooths and decent blasts on the “Relief” pieces. His goal was to win new converts who would become “Charatan men,” and who might, over time, seek out the costlier finer-grained graded pipes.
    The collector/pipester with a keen eye can snag some amazing pieces from the golden era of British pipe making at ridiculously low prices. If you’ve never smoked a vintage Charatan, try one. You won’t be disappointed, and it’s likely you’ll own five of these beauties before you know it. Then join the Society and share the fellowship that comes with being a Charatan devotee.

  • I continue to learn about and be intrigued by Charatans Tad.
    Thanks you so much for your hospitality.
    I am now yearning to smoke a Charatan. My search has begun.

  • I too have been seriously thinking about getting a Charatan since we left the meeting in Richmond. There were a lot of great looking pieces there. I like the history about them as well.
    Once I have some available funds, I will begin my search for one.

  • I’m trying to take a copy of the biography of Herman Lane “Leaves of a Tobacco Man’s Log”. Would you help me?

  • Hi
    I just picked up a charatan. I like the way it smokes, close to my dunnhill but more smoke. it is a larger pipe and smokes a bit cooler. That being said I would like to know a little more about the pipe from the markings.
    also it has a circle witch what looks like a star inside of it
    and on the opposite side it is marked
    I am new to collecting pipes. I switched from cigarettes about 9 months ago and did not look back. I have 9 brand name pipes and plus a bit obscure Tom Howard witch has a similar smoking experience to the Charatan’s.

  • Hi Jeff,
    Congrats on your Charatan acquisition. They represent an outstanding value these days on the estate pipe market, and even the standard grades (which are very economical) are from the same great wood and feature the quality workmanship of the highest grade collectible pre-owned Charatans. I can give you more info on your nomenclature.
    The stamping of Charatan’s Make, London England and the script “L” in the circle means it’s from the 1950s, 60s or early 70s. Lane Limited initially imported Charatans and then bought the company in about 1955 or so. The script L also indicates it was a US market import, as Charatans sold in England didn’t have this stamping. Nomenclature changed to a script “Made in the City of London” in the 70s and the “L” stamp was no longer used. The “Special” is one of the company’s higher grades, indicating excellent graining and/or unusual shape. Standard Charatans, while very nice, did not carry grade stamps. Too many different grades to chronicle here!
    The 4420DC stamp is the shape number and DC indicates it has a “Double Comfort” bit, which was a patented Charatan bit with a distinct “step down” on the bit. Some guys like them (I do) and some don’t. I find them very comfortable. Hope this enhances your enjoyment. Congrats on switching to the pipe from cigarettes. I’m sure you’ll get hours of enjoyment and true tobacco appreciation you’ve never experienced with cigarettes!

  • Anyone who has 5 or more pipe to show is invited and welcome at ICCS meetings. A voluntary donation is reauested but not required to help with expenses for award certificates and minor office supplies. At each gathering in Chicago, there is a speaker to “educate” us more about Charatans and Charatan lore. We did not want it to become a mini Chicago Show where anyone could walk in. Also, with a totally open show, there is the worry of disappearing pipes. The next meeting isn at the 2011 Chicagoland Show. We meet on Thursdays at 4pm or 7pm. Check the Chicagoland Show web site for exact time and room. We also meet at the CORPS Show in Richmond each fall. If anyone has questions, I am happy to answer as best I can. Feel free to email me at dcongos@mail.ucf edu.

  • Anyone can join the ICCS by bringing 5 or more Charatans to show at the Chicago or Richmond Show’s International Charatan Collectors Society (ICCS) meeting. There may be a request for a $10 donation from time to time to cover expenses of awards certificates, printing, and minor office supplies but it is voluntary. If anyone has questions about the ICCS, please feel free to email me at

  • i have 4 x-outs. 2 after hours. 1 pot belvedere. 1 perfection.can 1 join the club with x-outs?. i love charatans. i will purchase 1 more in order to join the club.
    everybody take care.
    mike lyvers.