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 What constitutes a high grade pipe?

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Wet Dottle

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Location : Littleton, CO
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PostSubject: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Oct 04, 2009 3:15 pm

Recently, at a local B&M, I overheard part a conversation about high grade pipes that surprised me. Their definition of high grades was much less restrictive than my interpretation. I’ve never seen a proper definition of the term and only have an intuitive understanding of it, therefore I would like to ask those in the Inner Circle what is exactly a high grade pipe. If I look at my pipe cabinets, how can I tell which ones are high grades? Maybe I don’t even have any?...

The first time I encountered the term was in the mid 90s, which makes me think that this is a relatively new concept in pipe collecting. Perhaps its origin is contemporaneous to the beginning of the acceptance of used pipes (Barry Levin)? I would like very much to find out about the origin of the concept “high grade” and about its use.
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Midnight Blues
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Oct 04, 2009 5:16 pm

Although I not qualified to give a definitive answer I will offer my take on your question. In my mind a high grade pipe is one that is made by an established and talented artisan using the best of materials and employing precise engineering to provide a superior smoke. There are those carvers that grade their pipes but even the pipes that do not make it in terms of ascetics still smoke wonderfully. I think that when you see, hold and smoke a pipe such as I have described these aspects all speak for themselves. What I'm saying is I believe you'll know a high grade when you see one.
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Dock
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Oct 04, 2009 6:28 pm

A highgrade is simply the best possible pipe you can afford at the time. Laughing For some that's a cob for others that's an Ivarsson.
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Midnight Blues
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Oct 04, 2009 7:52 pm

Danish_Pipe_Guy wrote:
A highgrade is simply the best possible pipe you can afford at the time. Laughing For some that's a cob for others that's an Ivarsson.

Dock, That's just to simple a reply, man you didn't even use footnotes...
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Justpipes
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Oct 04, 2009 7:58 pm

I have handled a few "high grade" pipes carved by the current big name artist. I have never owned one carved by any of the current who's who of artist but I have several pipes from lesser known or lesser respected carvers that are as nice as any "high grade" that I have ever picked up. I have several Brissetts and Handmade Kaywoodies that would fetch 4 figures if the right name were on them.
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Sasquatch

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Location : The Garage
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Oct 04, 2009 8:09 pm

There is a little "brand snobbishness" for sure. If, for example, I was to produce a pipe in every way identical to a Todd Johnson or a Jack Howell, it would not be worth as much.

But the fact is, I'm a VERY experienced woodworker, and have made dozens of pipes now, and I cannot make a pipe identical to the masters. They are masters.

There was a conversation at the pipe makers forum as regards what a "high grade" is, and one of the replies there was along the lines of "If you are charging 500 dollars a pipe and there's a line up, you are making high grade pipes."

Midnight's definition is probably pretty good. We are looking for pipes that have no defects in materials, no defects in workmanship, and on top of that, express an artistic perfection. That's a tall order, and not everyone can do it.

There are certainly all kinds of pipes that ride the borderlines, of course.
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Dock
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Oct 04, 2009 11:44 pm

Ok, Is Dunhill still a highgrade maker? I don't think so.....

Dunhill pipes are considered the "old guard" of highgrades. Now, take in to consideration that Butz Choquin (a lower grade briar) has been turning bowls for them in France for over a decade and they haven't oil cured their wood since the 1960's due to the high cost in doing so. Why then are they still recognized as a highgrade pipe? It's their branding. When you buy a Dunhill you're subconsiously or maybe consiously "buying into" the brand name. You're buying a pipe from what you perceive to be a high end and excusive luxury craftsman not unlike those that build the Rolls Royce, Jaguar and land Rover autos. You're buying into a hundred years of branding! Dunhill has worked it so effectively that folks will still line up to pay several hundred dollars for an English pipe that's 1/2 made in France.
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Kapnismologist

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Mon Oct 05, 2009 12:52 am

[quote="Danish_Pipe_Guy"You're buying into a hundred years of branding! Dunhill has worked it so effectively that folks will still line up to pay several hundred dollars for an English pipe that's 1/2 made in France.[/quote]

Right on, and ditto with a 'Dunhill' tobacco made in Denmark (or one made in Belfast for that matter). Just saying ...
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Wet Dottle

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Location : Littleton, CO
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Mon Oct 05, 2009 1:46 pm

I don’t want to cause trouble, but I never liked the term, which sounds a bit derogatory. It amounts to assigning a rank to pipes and to pipemakers based on some not-too-objective qualifiers. It sounds like something a collector would come up with, not a pipemaker. I don’t know of other hobbies where the concept exists. But I’m not really qualified to judge. That's why I asked.

As a point of comparison, think about collecting pocket knifes or wine (I do both; well, perhaps not wine, I end up drinking everything I buy, but I have knives that are there just to be looked at and will never cut anything). There are more expensive and less expensive ones, depending on quality of finish, artistic value, amount of effort required to produce the item, cost of base components, rarity, etc. but there is no concept similar to “high grade” in the sense of rank. I was in a large knife show recently and, after speaking with many knife makers, I think I would be greeted with blank stares if I asked for a high grade knife (or perhaps be escorted out and asked not to return).
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jhuggett
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Mon Oct 05, 2009 3:49 pm

Danish_Pipe_Guy wrote:
Ok, Is Dunhill still a highgrade maker? I don't think so.....

Dunhill pipes are considered the "old guard" of highgrades. Now, take in to consideration that Butz Choquin (a lower grade briar) has been turning bowls for them in France for over a decade and they haven't oil cured their wood since the 1960's due to the high cost in doing so. Why then are they still recognized as a highgrade pipe? It's their branding. When you buy a Dunhill you're subconsiously or maybe consiously "buying into" the brand name. You're buying a pipe from what you perceive to be a high end and excusive luxury craftsman not unlike those that build the Rolls Royce, Jaguar and land Rover autos. You're buying into a hundred years of branding! Dunhill has worked it so effectively that folks will still line up to pay several hundred dollars for an English pipe that's 1/2 made in France.

There was a young member of BoB.
With pipes he was a bit of a snob.
He said with a shrill,
Of that there Dunhill.
You'd get better smokes from a cob!

Sorry, couldn't help myself DPG! With JT not being around lately we don't get enough limericks. Laughing

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Mikem
The Coordinator
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Mon Oct 05, 2009 4:05 pm

To me its any pipe I can't afford. lol! When I started smoking pipes it was anything over $100. Now I would probably say anything over $500 from a well known carver. I have friends who differ and think that anything from a well known carver less than $1000 is considered a "mid=grade". The way my current financial situation is going Crying or Very sad lately I'm getting back down to my original over $100 is a high grade. lol! On a more serious note, I consider a high grade a pipe thats grain pattern, construction and lack of flaws as near flawless or perfect as it can be, no matter who carved it.
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kilted1
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Mon Oct 05, 2009 4:13 pm

jhuggett wrote:
Danish_Pipe_Guy wrote:
Ok, Is Dunhill still a highgrade maker? I don't think so.....

Dunhill pipes are considered the "old guard" of highgrades. Now, take in to consideration that Butz Choquin (a lower grade briar) has been turning bowls for them in France for over a decade and they haven't oil cured their wood since the 1960's due to the high cost in doing so. Why then are they still recognized as a highgrade pipe? It's their branding. When you buy a Dunhill you're subconsiously or maybe consiously "buying into" the brand name. You're buying a pipe from what you perceive to be a high end and excusive luxury craftsman not unlike those that build the Rolls Royce, Jaguar and land Rover autos. You're buying into a hundred years of branding! Dunhill has worked it so effectively that folks will still line up to pay several hundred dollars for an English pipe that's 1/2 made in France.

There was a young member of BoB.
With pipes he was a bit of a snob.
He said with a shrill,
Of that there Dunhill.
You'd get better smokes from a cob!

Sorry, couldn't help myself DPG! With JT not being around lately we don't get enough limericks. Laughing

Ay Yay Yay Yay,
Your high grade delivers wet dottle,
so is it a wonder, high dollars a blunder?
I rather be smokin a Grabow!
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BriarBeagle

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Age : 46
Location : Laguna Niguel, CA
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Thu May 31, 2018 7:02 pm

I thought I would dredge up this thread again and see if there are any new/fresh perspectives on what makes a high-grade pipe. I was wondering myself, which prompted me to look for a thread on the subject. I hear the term commonly thrown around, but there doesn't seem to be any definitive answer, or criteria by which to determine if one's pipe is low-grade, mid-grade, or high-grade.

Any current thoughts from the peanut gallery on this one?

BB
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pepesdad1

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PostSubject: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Thu May 31, 2018 7:42 pm

I don't own one, but I've seen what Sasquatch has produced. His quality can't be beat!

He makes high grade pipes, don't let him fool ya.


Walt
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Brewdude
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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Thu May 31, 2018 8:45 pm

As for me?

High grade pipes are carved from our own members. And they need not break the bank!


Cheers,

RR

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Sasquatch

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Thu May 31, 2018 9:16 pm

Ten years on, I can make a high grade pipe (whatever that is).

So.

One normative definition offered to me years back was this: No one knows exactly what a high grade pipe is or isn't, but if you are making 400 dollar pipes and there's a line up, you are making high grade pipes.

I think what this actually means is that as you go up the price chain, you find fewer buyers, and presumably more knowledgeable ones. A guy buying his first 85 dollar rusticated Peterson is not going to hold the pipe to the same standards that someone looking to maybe drop 600 bucks on a pipe is going to hold that pipe to.

What we start to see is perfection of finish, perfection of line and proportion. And in a sense, by the time a carver is capable of this stuff, he/she is actually mostly performing it and is pretty well known in whatever circles.


I'll post a few pics of my own pipes and point out a few flaws and perfections.

Here's a real decent billiard. Nice briar, the bowl is shaped well, slight taper in the shank yadda yadda. The stem is ... okay but not super super perfect, a little wobble in the shaping here and there. So that's not an uber grade pipe even if it's a pretty good solid handmade. But no "newbie" maker could make that pipe, period.




Here's a pipe with no wobble in the shaping, and perfect grain to boot.



It's "better". Might be a high grade billiard even.


Take a pipe like this, a much more difficult shape, tough curves, tough drilling, it all has to work... and add perfect wood into it... yeah here's a high grade pipe.




A whole bunch of tiny perfections, every angle, every line, every everything - therefore a highgrade pipe of some sort, whether it's a billiard or a blowfish - the same standards apply.

FWIW I think there's a lot of mediocre pipes being passed off as high grades, and at the same time, I think the bar has been raised - where 10 years ago a "great" sandblast was an Ashton, now I don't think they even move the needle, because a bunch of guys are doing better in their own shops. Layton, Alden, King... buncha dudes.


So, is a Dunhill a high grade pipe? Yeah. They kind of defined that market. They have prestige and swagger, even if EACH and EVERY pipe isn't maybe quite as good as it should be, there are still any number of examples that are excellent. Castello same thing in their own weird Italian way. I think lots of Castellos probably don't count as great examples of high grade pipe making, but the best ones surely do. And I think the same of my own work.



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Sasquatch

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Thu May 31, 2018 9:18 pm

Here's another "good" pipe - nice shape, nice even crisp coloration, even though not spectacular sandblast.




and here's the high grade version, where you say "holy shit"








Now I'm using very plain examples, partly cuz I don't carve reverse-speared blowfish (go look at Abe Herbaugh's work), and partly because such pipes are actually easier to judge and talk about and point out things that are maybe not quite right. A blowfish or a horn or something, you have to know a LOT about carving to critique these.
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BriarBeagle

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sat Jun 02, 2018 12:04 am

Sasquatch, I appreciate the feedback, especially from the pipe makers perspective.  I hear a lot of talk about "high grade" pipes, and was wondering if it is really more of a marketing tool.  I still don't understand exactly what makes the difference between two seemingly perfect and similar pipes, where one sells for $500, and the other $2000 (all else being equal).  Are you just paying for the name at that point?  Or perhaps the scarcity of pipes by certain makers that produce in lower volumes?

Anyway, it was nice to see some pictorial references in your post.  You do some fine work.  Those bent billiards that you showed are really special.

Best,

BB
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Sasquatch

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sat Jun 02, 2018 11:02 am

AT some point, you are paying for a name, or rarity of production (a rare shape, a rare grade of briar, a carver who only makes 20 a year, whatever). A 500 dollar pipe should exhibit noticeably, obvious differences in quality all the way around over a 100 dollar pipe. A 2000 pipe probably won't show more "quality" per se, but perhaps difficulty of execution.
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KevinM



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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:15 pm

Over here you have a form for functional pipes — it has check marks for eye appeal, minimal obvious defects, doesn’t whistle when you draw on it, takes a cleaner etc etc.

Over here you have a piper who really knows his stuff, can spot an imperfection, knows perfect briar when he touches it to his forehead, has drilling that might have been done by a surgeon and buys mostly from the most inspired, well connected carvers.

The former pipes could be entirely satisfactory companions out on the deck as you watch the sun set. The latter have checks in all the functional check boxes AS WELL AS lots of other boxes Mr. Functional might never have thought of. I’ve often admired and coveted High Enders, but at heart I’m strategically easy to please. I’m the kind of pipe smoker who likes a rugged rustication, because he’s less likely to drop it. Your ideas may vary . . .
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Sasquatch

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:24 pm

I agree with all that.

I'd just add that there's "high grade" rustication and "sundeck" rustication. Check out a Castello Sea Rock vs a Peterson Kinsale and there's a world of difference between carving an intricate texture and buffing it just smooth enough vs tapping a piece with a dremel 80 times and calling it done.

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KevinM



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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:38 pm

Sasquatch wrote:
I agree with all that.  

I'd just add that there's "high grade" rustication and "sundeck" rustication.  Check out a Castello Sea Rock vs a Peterson Kinsale and there's a world of difference between carving an intricate texture and buffing it just smooth enough vs tapping a piece with a dremel 80 times and calling it done.  


‘Tis true, ‘tis pity, and pity ‘tis, ‘tis true.
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Richard Burley

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:41 pm

This sounds simplistic, but with me, it's the grain. Workmanship, materials, engineering, and artistry are a given. Only a pipe with those attributes plus superior grain is a "high-grade." For example, I don't consider most Castellos to be "high grade" when the grain is pedestrian, which is usually the case. It's kind of a I-know-it-when-I-see-it thing. A pipe that for lack of a better term is a true high-grade makes me drool. They tend to be double the price of the same pipe with everyday grain. I own exactly none.
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Zeno Marx

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:50 pm

I can't touch this question with a ten-foot pole. I have no idea how to really answer this with any clarity or consistency. There's so much context here. I consider(ed) Ascorti to be high-grade pipes when I was paying $35 for the things. I reckon price has to play some part in it now, but in years' past, it didn't. Times, they have a-changed.
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Richard Burley

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PostSubject: Re: What constitutes a high grade pipe?   Sun Jun 03, 2018 8:00 pm

Zeno Marx wrote:
I can't touch this question with a ten-foot pole.  I have no idea how to really answer this with any clarity or consistency.  There's so much context here.  I consider(ed) Ascorti to be high-grade pipes when I was paying $35 for the things.  I reckon price has to play some part in it now, but in years' past, it didn't.  Times, they have a-changed.

Smart man. It's a non-objective term. Feel free to add your hallucinations just as I have. Laughing
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