Why Such High Cost on Some Pipes?

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pipesmokingtom

Preferred Member
May 4, 2015
3,210
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To George's point, I think the "law of diminishing returns" on pipes kicks in at a steeper curve than most of those examples. A $100 pipe has a VERY good chance these days of presenting the same characteristics of a piece many times more expensive, including smoking performance and longevity making some of the listed prices hard to swallow for some.
Just taking the guitar example, will $100 guitar perform as well as a guitar many times that price? No.

 

georged

Preferred Member
Mar 7, 2013
2,982
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I think the "law of diminishing returns" on pipes kicks in at a steeper curve than most of those examples.
Agreed. That's an excellent point, and explains much. Muchacho gracioso for the insight, Mr. Tom. :D
And compounding that truth, simply being able to detect those differences is something that takes awhile. (What pipe collector hasn't been amused by some of the specimens he purchased in earlier days? Hell, I've been at it 40+ years and it STILL happens. :lol: )
There's an entire field of study which explores human visual recognition. One of its surprising discoveries is that humans LITERALLY can't see something until it has been pointed out to them and given a name. Then, once they DO recognize it, they can't "un-see" it. A fascinating bit of biology that strongly affects pipe appreciation, I think.

 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
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I'll add one more wild card to the mix. High end pipe carvers with a reputation to maintain may go through several dead ends with blocks that reveal surprise flaws severe enough for that work to be discarded. So, with some makers, you're paying for the cost, in time and materials, required to produce something flawless, and that includes the dead ends.
There are a lot of factors that go into the ultra high grade market that have nothing to do with performance, such as, fine materials, unique carving, composition, bragging rights, perceived brand status, and exclusivity.
I agree that you can buy a pipe that will burn tobacco for $50 or less. But at that price point, there's not enough money for the maker to cover any significant quality control. Certainly not much in the way of handwork. And if you appreciate a comfortable bit and button you're going to pay for that work, which can involve more work than making the bowl.
It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that carvers like to be paid for their labor and materials.

 

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warren

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2013
8,667
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Then there are the potential buyers who do not see $5,000.00, let alone $300.00, as a substantial amount of money.
As Sable observed, you can burn tobacco in a $50.00 pipe. Heck, one can decent a smoke from a cheap cob. I had a friend, a veterinarian, who would carve a pipe from birch in camping trips.
I'm not a particularly discerning smoker but, I value workmanship, aesthetics, etc. and am willing to pay for that and a great smoke.
Much as with pens, shotguns, vehicles, steaks, suits, airline seats, hotels, etc, there are different ranges for those in different economic strata, and for those with different needs/desires. While not a shotgunner and have no desire for anything other than my trusty, and not rusty Mossburg Marine I certainly understand the appeal of a Purdy to the serious shooter.

 

sasquatch

Preferred Member
Jul 16, 2012
1,239
903
Whether or not any particular carver is a "good deal", I think the point has to be raised that X amount of dollars, whether it's 300 or 800... is quite a lot of money. Some of us spend 1000 dollars a year on pipes (hell, some of us call it "research"!), others simply can't scrape that for a hobby, and fair enough. So "worth it" is a floating scale too. Obviously S Bangs at 1500 (or whatever they are now) are "worth it" to some, but even then "worth it" and "I think I'll buy one of those" are pretty different things!
I decided a long time ago that I was going to try to hit a certain market with my pipes because I felt like it was the best blend of # of buyers AND $/hour AND personal taste (mine). But the fact is 100 bucks is an unthinkable amount of cash for a pipe for lots and lots of people. And for sure you can get a real decent pipe for less than that with just a tiny bit of effort.
But as George says, pipes are not just pipes, they are (or can be) luxury items, and people participate in the hobby side in all different ways.

 

saltedplug

Preferred Member
Aug 20, 2013
4,639
3,613
North Carolina
Half of my pipes are beaters and not that attractive, perhaps because I never get around to returning the stems to a shiny black. They were estates when I bought them and I've smoked them for many years. The other half are new, and I paid between $100.00-$300.00 for them. $300.00 is as much as I can think about paying for a pipe.
All of them smoke fine, though some have better stems and more or less fine blasts or are pretty smooths. When I smoke the upper tier I usually take a few minutes to admire what was done well by the maker, and when I find evidence of craftsmanship or beauty, I appreciate it. I like pipes, whether mine or shown online. I regularly scan favorite pipe sites to appreciate what's on display, so yes, I do have the pipe bug, and I've defined what I like and why.
But if I had the means to buy the names of Former, S. Bang and Chonowitsch, I'd probably get two or three and smoke them side by side with my beaters and the upper tier, and if I couldn't fall in love with the quality of the smoke they provided, I very much doubt I would buy more. Anyone who has been on the forums has seen any number of threads that simply display a picture of a pipe most recently bought by a member followed by a dozen sycophantic replies, not to gain advantage but to pay the member back for all the times he has said the same vapid thing when they featured a pipe they had bought.
What do they say? "I bet it's a good smoker." But the fact is that if a pipe is drilled well and the wood has been given sufficient cure, any pipe is a good smoker. We go on and on and on about pipe quality, but the things that are so prized have little or nothing to do with the smoke but a great deal to do with craftsmanship. One of these is the thinness of the stem, which goes to comfort, and I will admit that it adds to the smoke. But whether the stem is opened, whether shank and stem meet without a gap and whether mortise and tenon are chamfered have nothing to do with the quality of the smoke.
Mike Glukler said above that when size and grain meet a certain threshold the price takes off; I would add maker to his two. The adage that something is worth what someone will pay for it tells me a lot about the prices commanded by the august makers. But even professional wine tasters can't agree in blind taste tests, and although I've not read about blind pipe tests, I can't but help think the same would hold true. I'm not blind and can say that the cheap slots in my beaters don't noticeably hinder the draw while a Kevin Arthur that is well-opened does not improve it. And I can't find any logic in chamfering unless it is to funnel any smoke that didn't flow from shank into the tenon. My thoughts are that a very sizable amount of the smoke is going to take that easy route. In fact I can't think of why any smoke wouldn't.
I'm sure that the revered makers' pipes are good smokers, but I can't for the life of me understand why anyone, unless filthy rich, would pay all that money for a pipe. And I wish we'd stop hearing the estimation about good smokers which mean nothing at all.

 

warren

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2013
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I can't speak for the hobbyists who smoke. Perhaps they look at the pipe differently. I worked hard a lot of years to be able to afford what I consider some of the finer things in life. I enjoy them. When I started the pipe I was a freshman in college. I could afford one pipe from the Woolworth's store and a couple pouches of tobacco. I thought it to be a very serious purchase, put a lot of thought into which shape would attract the ladies. From there I rapidly became a pipe smoker as doing so was actually cheaper than. So now, the pipe is simply a part of my persona.
I've worked hard, denied myself certain things when younger so I can now enjoy so-called "luxury" cigarettes, great cigars, finer blends and, should I spy a nice pipe in a shop, price is no longer a consideration.
I'm too conservative in my choice of shapes to find much I like in the artisan pipes. I enjoy and admire the workmanship, fit and finish of one-offs. And, perhaps most importantly, I couldn't give a fig as to what others thought of my purchase. If they aren't in my situation, they simply wouldn't comprehend what drives me.
I've only seen one custom pipe I would have purchased. It was already sold, I was perfectly willing to pay a premium price to own that beauty, no questions ask, without laying a hand on it. Only e-commerace pipe I've been attracted too, seen on this site, it was a oner!

 

georged

Preferred Member
Mar 7, 2013
2,982
1,870
Just checked in and wanted to comment on the high caliber discourse. Very thoughtful and articulate stuff. THIS is why Old School threaded forums will never---quality wise, at least---be replaced by InstaFaceChatBookGram. 8)
Please carry on. :puffy:

 

lohengrin

Preferred Member
Jun 16, 2015
1,198
2
Toddryan84 wrote: "I've ever seen pipes for 5,000 dollars and I just cannot justify that cost for a pipe".
I utterly agree with you.
That's why I offer you this pipe of mine at only 4,800 dollars. A real bargain!


 

chasingembers

Captain of the Black Frigate
Nov 12, 2014
27,765
37,899
Why Such High Cost on Some Pipes?
I think the simple answer is because there are people will pay for them. I budget $2000/year for pipes and tobacco. Generally $500-$700 will go for a commissioned pipe, most of the remaining will go for tobacco and an estate pipe or two. As long as there is an active market for expensive luxury pipes, they will be costly.

 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
13,046
14,350
SoCal
jrs457.wixsite.com
When discussions of this kind happen, I'm always reminded of a conversation I had, years ago, with a collector of ultra high grade Danish pipes. In his collection he had a number of Bo Nordh pipes. So I asked him if they smoked markedly better than his other pipes. His response was, "They smoke as well as my Grabows."
I own some very fine, very rare, vintage pipes. I bought them in part because they smoke magnificently, and I could have paid a lot less for pipes that perhaps smoke as well. But my love of the history of pipes is satisfied by owning these vintage pipes. I also like the looks and shapes of the older pipe styles. So my reason for owning them is broader than how they smoke. As Sasquatch wrote, "people participate in the hobby side in all different ways."
I also don't entirely agree with the idea that the fit between the mortise and tenon have no affect on the quality of the smoke. Gaps can create moisture that does affect the quality of the smoke.
All of that said, there are limits, pretty strict ones, to what I will pay for a pipe.
For reasons that I do not pretend to understand, the Lee Von Erck pipes that I own offer me a wonderfully sweet pleasant smoke that isn't matched by my other artisan pipes. Maybe it's his proprietary oil curing. Maybe it's the secret pixie dust that he infuses into the wood. I dunno, but I just love the way that they smoke, and can't imagine anything better. But I wouldn't spend the money for a new one. They're just out of my range. However, I've been able to assemble a group of estates at a small fraction of their cost when new.
One of the things that I like about Scottie Piersel's pipes, which are still affordable, is her use of a stainless steel tube in the shank that not only reinforces the pencil shanks that she favors, but which also creates an unbroken airway. Her pipes are great smokers. I find that a wide slot distributes the smoke in a way that improves my ability to taste the smoke and Scottie's pipes have that wide slot. So there are elements in the construction that improve my experience. YMMV.

 

saltedplug

Preferred Member
Aug 20, 2013
4,639
3,613
North Carolina
lohengrin, I really really like that pipe and just because I think you're a great guy, I'll give you $10K for it. Just tell me how you want to be paid.:).

 

pappymac

Preferred Member
Feb 26, 2015
2,479
1,704
@sasquatch makes some very good points up at the top of this discussion. For a business to stay profitable they have to make enough profit to cover their time, materials and their losses. That includes retailers who have a lot of overhead to cover (cost of floor space, inventory, utilities, employees costs, taxes, etc.). I even do it as an independent advertising designer - I charge a flat rate for my work knowing in advance that sometimes it will take longer to do a job than other times.
The exceptions to these are grocery retailers. Believe it our not, retail mark-up on shelf items is usually less than 10 percent of inventory costs.
As for pipes, I have often looked at new Artisan pipes and asked how they can price them as they do. Then I think about how many hours of work they put into producing the pipes and figure they have to buy the briar, spend a lot of hours carving and sanding (not to mention starting over if they find a flaw) and then finishing the pipe. I don't begrudge the artisan pipe carvers making enough money to cover their costs and make a profit. What I don't get is why some of the big name manufacturer price their pipes so high based on the name alone.

 

bigpond

Preferred Member
Oct 14, 2014
2,019
11
Ryan, hey, don't sweat it. Most of the folks that wind up here began their trip at a gas station with cob and a pouch. It's small wonder sticker shock follows only a few jumps down the road.
The short answer to your real question is no. More money doesn't always buy you a better pipe.
If you need help navigating yourself to a great pipe that fits your budget just ask. Folks here will help you out. Everyone starts somewhere and even the finest smoking den has passed a cob or two.

 

mawnansmiff

Preferred Member
Oct 14, 2015
5,844
2,615
Sunny Cornwall, UK.
"...unless I REALLY like the pipe or it has some limited edition, or rarity to it."
So, you can like a pipe simply because it is a limited edition or it is a rarity?
So if you were to acquire such a pipe only to find later that in fact it isn't a limited edition after all and is in fact as common as dirt would you then stop liking said pipe?
Your statement suggests if you saw a damned ugly pipe for sale as a 'Rare Limited Edition' you would you still consider buying it.
Surely one buys a pipe simply because they like the look of it and the price is right. At least that is how I buy pipes. Any rarity value the pipe has I would regard as a possible bonus but certainly not a determining factor as to whether I buy the pipe or not.
Just my thoughts.
Regards,
Jay.

 

fitzy

Preferred Member
Nov 13, 2012
2,935
15
NY
@toddryan Talk to Adam aka Clickclick on the forums here. He makes great pipes and they are in your price range.
I would like to know specifically why Todd Johnson's pipes are ridiculously expensive? He makes nice pipes but there are plenty of other's that make just as nice pipes for a fraction of the price.

 

pitchfork

Preferred Member
May 25, 2012
4,027
548
I would like to know specifically why Todd Johnson's pipes are ridiculously expensive? He makes nice pipes but there are plenty of other's that make just as nice pipes for a fraction of the price.
From the looks of them (close-up photos, I've never handled one), they appear to be very precisely made. He's very skillful, as far as I can tell from just looking at his output -- more so than some other makers who make otherwise excellent pipes. Plus, he earned a good reputation among collectors early on and for whatever reasons of chance and luck (in addition to their inherent quality), his pipes became highly collectible. Collectibility begets collectibility, if you catch my drift. And so he charges high prices.

 

tslex

Preferred Member
Jun 23, 2011
1,482
2
"The price of a thing is what it will bring."
- Adam Smith, more or less.

 

ruscho

Member
Jul 8, 2014
134
0
First, I am firm believer that people should be allowed spend their money however they see fit. That said...
It's all about pipe-snobbery. If you look at the $1,000+ pipes, nearly all of them focus on the uniqueness of the carving. Let's face it, those pipes are conversation pieces and would never be smoked. Heck, you don't even know if they would smoke at all :)
I feel that none of the comparisons in this threat are valid. I think the best comparison is with carved wax candles. You can buy 100 plain ole candles, if you need light or, for the same price, you can buy a small "artisan" carved candle that you'd never light. Both can be used when power goes out, but would you?
Back in the days, Dunhill built reputation (and price tag) because their pipes really smoked better than the competition. Today - not so much. I'm a Savinelli smoker from their ~$130 lines. In most cases they are even lighter than Dunhills for the same size, and they smoke without issues.
Now, there are still things like aesthetics and craftsmanship - I introduce you to Cavicchi

Not only are these pipes spotting some amazing grain, but they actually do give you longer smoke :twisted:

The $400-$500 price tag seems more than fair.

 

jpmcwjr

Moderator
Staff member
May 12, 2015
18,519
12,176
Carmel Valley, CA
It's all about pipe-snobbery. If you look at the $1,000+ pipes, nearly all of them focus on the uniqueness of the carving. Let's face it, those pipes are conversation pieces and would never be smoked. Heck, you don't even know if they would smoke at all :)
It is for you, apparently, the snobbery. But not everyone.
I feel that none of the comparisons in this threat are valid.
Wow!
Although I don't recall any threats here.

 
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