Shortages of Briar

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Jack T

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Oct 30, 2019
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764
I ran across this interesting article in the NY Times about a shortage of pipes in 1964. I had no idea, of course. There are some interesting things in here, including the price of a new Dunhill at $35. Also noted was a "dwindling supply of 100 year old briar roots." It seems that the problem of a shortage of briar deemed appropriate to fine pipe making is an ongoing theme. I'm not an historian of pipes, but I do find this interesting. I thought the article might be of interest to others here.

 

sasquatch

Preferred Member
Jul 16, 2012
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Briar was overharvested for many years, same as whales were when whaling was a thing. Demand was high and supply seemed unlimited, but if you have multiple companies putting out a few hundred thousand pipes a year, there were many, many years where millions of blocks were needed. Things have dropped off in terms of demand - the demand (and supply) of top quality briar is really high right now of course, everyone wants the "best" stuff. But the current situation is good - managed forests and reasonable demand. I am assured by the cutters I chat with that there are no issues these days, it's more about logistics, getting people to do the work properly, than the raw material itself.
 

sasquatch

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Jul 16, 2012
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Shrug Algerian briar being basically awful is what lead Dunhill to the shell process. He pretty candidly admitted that he had a huge stack of crap from Algeria and that his preference was Calabrian briar. The current Algerian stuff is pretty mediocre in my experience, I would never pay for it again as a pipe maker, but some guys like it, and you certainly hear of people who do try to buy up those old "Agerian Briar" stamped pipes. I dunno. As soon as you have a stinger or a gizmo or a filter a pipe is f**'d no matter what the stamping is ;)
 
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oldgeezersmoker

Preferred Member
Oct 7, 2016
1,437
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Shrug Algerian briar being basically awful is what lead Dunhill to the shell process. He pretty candidly admitted that he had a huge stack of crap from Algeria and that his preference was Calabrian briar. The current Algerian stuff is pretty mediocre in my experience, I would never pay for it again as a pipe maker, but some guys like it, and you certainly hear of people who do try to buy up those old "Agerian Briar" stamped pipes. I dunno. As soon as you have a stinger or a gizmo or a filter a pipe is fucked no matter what the stamping is ;)
Edwards and Benton Algerian Briar Pipes were screaming bargains. No stingers gizmos or filters. And when he first started making pipes, Randy Wiley used the FGT/Edwards Algerian briar stock. I believe that a company called Barling might have made some fairly decent pipes from Algerian briar. @sablebrush52 ?
Whether your view of the present briar coming from Algeria is correct or not I simply don’t know. Your view of what the past was like is way too narrow, though.
 

Amurphy

New member
Nov 19, 2019
4
2
This is why, to me, Algerian Briar is so precious. And, it is still available on the estate pipe market. Lesser known names made with Algerian briar are had for reasonable prices and there some of the "unsung heroes" out there are worth their weight in gold.
True I have a Edward's pipe that was my grandfather's. And it is stanmed with algerian briar .
 
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7charb

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2019
696
771
Guerneville, CA
Shrug Algerian briar being basically awful is what lead Dunhill to the shell process. He pretty candidly admitted that he had a huge stack of crap from Algeria and that his preference was Calabrian briar. The current Algerian stuff is pretty mediocre in my experience, I would never pay for it again as a pipe maker, but some guys like it, and you certainly hear of people who do try to buy up those old "Agerian Briar" stamped pipes. I dunno. As soon as you have a stinger or a gizmo or a filter a pipe is fucked no matter what the stamping is ;)
I am assuming that not all Algerian briar is of the same quality. Even if you are a fan (and I am) you'll have to hunt for the good stuff. I do avoid filter pipes, but have 1 or 2 old pipes with stingers that I enjoy. However, those are not made with Algerian briar.
 

7charb

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2019
696
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Guerneville, CA
Edwards and Benton Algerian Briar Pipes were screaming bargains. No stingers gizmos or filters. And when he first started making pipes, Randy Wiley used the FGT/Edwards Algerian briar stock. I believe that a company called Barling might have made some fairly decent pipes from Algerian briar. @sablebrush52 ?
Whether your view of the present briar coming from Algeria is correct or not I simply don’t know. Your view of what the past was like is way too narrow, though.
I also scored a "Colossal" made of Algerian briar that is from the 1940s-50s (guestimate) and it is a superior smoker. Not sure I would compare it to a Dunhill, but then again I got it for $20. Nevertheless, it's a great pipe and not just because it was inexpensive.
 

sasquatch

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Jul 16, 2012
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There are lots of great pipes around, and lots of poor ones. My suggestion would be that all the great ones have really good stems, and the poorer ones have worse stems or some physical impediment. I would go so far as to claim that blindfolded, not a man jack amongst us could tell whether a pipe he was smoking was Algerian briar or Spanish, if the pipe had been smoked more than once.
 

7charb

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Sep 13, 2019
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There are lots of great pipes around, and lots of poor ones. My suggestion would be that all the great ones have really good stems, and the poorer ones have worse stems or some physical impediment. I would go so far as to claim that blindfolded, not a man jack amongst us could tell whether a pipe he was smoking was Algerian briar or Spanish, if the pipe had been smoked more than once.
I can't disagree.
 
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sasquatch

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Jul 16, 2012
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Bingo. The briar source is of more importance to the maker than the smoker.
After buying from 2 sources in spain, 4 in Italy, 1 in Algeria, and 2 in Greece? Yeah. By and large for me it's about who will sell me stuff I can get the most number of high quality pipes out of. I will say that the horrible stuff on eBay from Greece smokes freaky dry, it's a little dirty tasting, but it smokes dry as dinosaur bones. But even then, after a few smokes could I tell? I doubt it.
 
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oldgeezersmoker

Preferred Member
Oct 7, 2016
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would go so far as to claim that blindfolded, not a man jack amongst us could tell whether a pipe he was smoking was Algerian briar or Spanish, if the pipe had been smoked more than once.
(Scratching head) than why did your initial contribution to the thread denigrate Algerian briar of all eras from Alfred Dunhill forward ? Edwards Algerian briar Pipes from the 1970’s and 1980’s that I am most familiar with were light for their size, broke in as easily as any Italian or English brand at multiples of the price, had decent machine made mouthpieces and can be obtained inexpensively today on the estate market. And the early Randy Wiley freehands from that era were at least as good a pipe as anything any artisan today is making. Again, they can be obtained at reasonable prices on the estate market. And there is a market.
 

7charb

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2019
696
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Guerneville, CA
(Scratching head) than why did your initial contribution to the thread denigrate Algerian briar of all eras from Alfred Dunhill forward ? Edwards Algerian briar Pipes from the 1970’s and 1980’s that I am most familiar with were light for their size, broke in as easily as any Italian or English brand at multiples of the price, had decent machine made mouthpieces and can be obtained inexpensively today on the estate market. And the early Randy Wiley freehands from that era were at least as good a pipe as anything any artisan today is making. Again, they can be obtained at reasonable prices on the estate market. And there is a market.
Some fans of Algerian briar sounded off in this thread (I am one). It is my understanding others were simply pointing out that just because a pipe is stamped "Algerian Briar" does not mean it was made of A-grade briar. Makes sense. I have seen a ton of no name and unfamiliar named pipes on EBeast stamped "Algerian Briar". It is likely that some of them are not even made of Algerian Briar. Others with low quality Algerian Briar.

In my opinion, Edwards consistently turned out solid pipes made of good quality Algerian Briar. I base this opinion on having owned and restored about a dozen of them and having researched background on Edwards pipes.
 
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oldgeezersmoker

Preferred Member
Oct 7, 2016
1,437
495
Some fans of Algerian briar sounded off in this thread (I am one). It is my understanding others were simply pointing out that just because a pipe is stamped "Algerian Briar" does not mean it was made of A-grade briar. Makes sense. I have seen a ton of no name and unfamiliar named pipes on EBeast stamped "Algerian Briar". It is likely that some of them are not even made of Algerian Briar. Others with low quality Algerian Briar.

In my opinion, Edwards consistently turned out solid pipes made of good quality Algerian Briar. I base this opinion on having owned and restored about a dozen of them and having researched background on Edwards pipes.
Of the dozens and dozens of pipes that passed through my hands over the years since the early 1980’s, there are a relative handful that I truly regret no longer owning. Maybe no more than 5. One was an Edwards in a shape I saw referred to as a Capitan or El Capitan. Lovat shank and stem, thick Dublinish, pottish, bowl, flat bottom. I picked it up as an estate piece, it was carved to no doubt work around what would have been places that required fills and there was a nickel repair band. Great smoker.
 

7charb

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2019
696
771
Guerneville, CA
Of the dozens and dozens of pipes that passed through my hands over the years since the early 1980’s, there are a relative handful that I truly regret no longer owning. Maybe no more than 5. One was an Edwards in a shape I saw referred to as a Capitan or El Capitan. Lovat shank and stem, thick Dublinish, pottish, bowl, flat bottom. I picked it up as an estate piece, it was carved to no doubt work around what would have been places that required fills and there was a nickel repair band. Great smoker.
Sounds like an amazing pipe. I have been surprised about how many different shapes/styles Edwards produced.
 

mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
27,587
3,493
As I posted recently, Iwan Ries sourced Algerian briar pipes from Benton for years, and though showing the occasional fill, these were excellent smoking pipes, sturdy and smooth finished.
 
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sasquatch

Preferred Member
Jul 16, 2012
1,035
179
(Scratching head) than why did your initial contribution to the thread denigrate Algerian briar of all eras from Alfred Dunhill forward ? Edwards Algerian briar Pipes from the 1970’s and 1980’s that I am most familiar with were light for their size, broke in as easily as any Italian or English brand at multiples of the price, had decent machine made mouthpieces and can be obtained inexpensively today on the estate market. And the early Randy Wiley freehands from that era were at least as good a pipe as anything any artisan today is making. Again, they can be obtained at reasonable prices on the estate market. And there is a market.
Again, there's a huge difference between the pipe MAKER's view of a product, and the pipe SMOKER's view of a product. I hate Algerian briar. It's cut poorly, it's full of big flaws, out of 20 select grade blocks I probably get about 2 smooth pipes and 4 in the garbage. Same money buys me wood out of Italy that I would get 18/20 smooths and maybe 1 in the trash. So I don't want that briar. It loses me money.

Dunhill's take in "About Smoke" is, as I said, candid about his feelings on the wood, he couldn't get nice pipes out of it, so it sat around until it dried and shank and showed some interesting grain, and the sandblast/oil cure was the result. That's not my opinion, that's what Dunhill wrote in the book.

The idea that there's some particular block from some particular hillside that smokes magically better is BS imho. I've bought from everywhere, smoked everything, spent thousands of dollars searching for this answer. And the answer is, the briar is a very, very small portion of how good a pipe smokes (given that lots of excellent pipes are not made from briar at all we should not be surprised). I wanted very badly to have magic briar, to make the best, most reliable smoking pipe on the planet. And to do that, takes skill in making stems. And ..... basically any old briar that isn't junk grade. I have Spanish, Greek and Italian wood in my shop now, I'll happily make anyone a pipe from any of those, or for the truly dedicated, three identical pipes from 3 different sources. And they'll smoke.... about the same.
 
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