Price points and quality

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stoshdwalsh
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Price points and quality

Post by stoshdwalsh » Fri Jan 25, 2019 10:46 pm

“Buy the best pipe you can afford”—conventional wisdom, right?

So I’m interested in the opinions of the group in terms of 2 (retail or going rate for estate) price points...

First, what in your experience is the minimum price threshold for what you would consider to be a good briar pipe?

And second, where in your experience is the maximum price threshold, above which you would consider quality to be incremental (i.e. law of diminishing returns)?

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Re: Price points and quality

Post by Steverino » Fri Jan 25, 2019 11:25 pm

Now to be clear, this is what I consider a good briar pipe: one that gives me a good smoke. If I like the looks of it, that's a plus. I have purchased estate pipes for less than $25 that met this criteria. The most expensive new pipe I've purchased was near $140. It meets my criteria too and I like its look and feel. I cannot speak to pipes in higher price ranges but I can't imagine what would be better about the way they smoke. Certainly the fit, finish and visual appeal is likely to be at a higher level and that may have both an actual and perceived effect on how you enjoy it. But I think the crux of the matter is your own definition of what a good briar pipe is. This will, at least in part, determine the prices.
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Re: Price points and quality

Post by Adam Z » Sat Jan 26, 2019 8:30 am

I've heard it said by men with far more experience than myself that once you go past $175-200 you're paying for a piece of art. The pipe you spend $500 on isn't going to smoke twice as good as the pipe you spent $180 on. There are decent factory pipes that can be had around $80, but the average for a lot of the factory pipes is closer to $100 - my first two briar pipes were both Peterson's that were $80-something each, and they both smoke just fine. PipesAndCigars.com has a special right now for Peterson Dublin Edition pipes for $59, and I'll say that if you're in need of a decent briar pipe at a good price, this might be something to look into.

Also, Chris Morgan has a "Bones" series of pipes that he sells for $39 each - I own two of these as well and they smoke just as well as pipes that I've paid $100 for.

OTOH, there are people who think the best smoking experience to be had comes from a $9 cob - remember, they are still brothers and should be treated as such.

So like Steve said, there's going to be some subjectivity in this.
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Re: Price points and quality

Post by Cleon » Sat Jan 26, 2019 9:28 am

There are good smokers at all price points. You have to consider the internal construction though, which is more likely to be better at a higher price point. If all you are after is a good smoke, it can be had relatively cheap.

The look of a pipe matters to me. Life is too short to smoke an ugly pipe. I pay more for pipes that I like the look of and, I think, generally speaking a pipe that looks good will smoke well, and vice versa. I like a good value.

I simply won't smoke a cob because I think they are ugly, just like I would not date or marry someone I thought was ugly. Looks matter to me. It is part of the overall experience.
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Re: Price points and quality

Post by cpd2186 » Sat Jan 26, 2019 9:36 am

Cleon wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 9:28 am
There are good smokers at all price points. You have to consider the internal construction though, which is more likely to be better at a higher price point. If all you are after is a good smoke, it can be had relatively cheap.

The look of a pipe matters to me. Life is too short to smoke an ugly pipe. I pay more for pipes that I like the look of and, I think, generally speaking a pipe that looks good will smoke well, and vice versa. I like a good value.

I simply won't smoke a cob because I think they are ugly, just like I would not date or marry someone I thought was ugly. Looks matter to me. It is part of the overall experience.
Well said!

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Re: Price points and quality

Post by hugodrax » Sat Jan 26, 2019 9:57 am

Cleon wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 9:28 am
There are good smokers at all price points. You have to consider the internal construction though, which is more likely to be better at a higher price point. If all you are after is a good smoke, it can be had relatively cheap.

The look of a pipe matters to me. Life is too short to smoke an ugly pipe. I pay more for pipes that I like the look of and, I think, generally speaking a pipe that looks good will smoke well, and vice versa. I like a good value.

I simply won't smoke a cob because I think they are ugly, just like I would not date or marry someone I thought was ugly. Looks matter to me. It is part of the overall experience.
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Re: Price points and quality

Post by durangopipe » Sat Jan 26, 2019 10:18 am

There’s a bit of Chevy vs. Ford here (one element of the subjectivity).

The big three in affordable, quality, factory pipes are currently Savinelli, Peterson and Stanwell. If you read pipe forum posts going back a few years you’ll discover that all three have lovers and haters. All three have had changes over the years, and all three make inexpensive to more expensive pipes.

My personal bias is that in recent years an inexpensive Stanwell (Vario,for example) is more likely to give me a good initial smoke without tinkering than an inexpensive Peterson (for reasons, once again, you will find hotly debated by partisans online).

I’ve only owned a few low-end Savinellis so I have no legitimate opinion there, but all of the ones I have smoke well.

French factory pipes are an incredible bargain (Ropp, Genod, for example) if you lean toward small bowls which many of them have. They are good smokers, but the grain on most of them won’t knock you out.

And I, too, like Cleon, care about the looks and the skill and attention paid to the internal workings of a pipe that a master craftsman brings to an exceptional piece of briar, a hand-made stummel and a hand-cut stem. Pipes by artisans are priced by their established reputations, and usually the reputations and high prices occur only after word spreads about both the aesthetics and smoking qualities of the master craftsman’s pipes. The prices are almost always well-earned.

The best deal in the world is a pipe by a gifted artisan just before the world discovers him or her or one by a fine pipemaker who, for reasons known only to God, has been around for years but remains greatly under rated (and under priced). Again, quite the debate there and a topic requiring a bit of research and maybe some gambles.

Some factory pipes by older brands before the firms were taken over by conglomerates and their bean counters are also superb looking and smoking pipes that used to be available as estate pipes for a song (Comoy’s, Orlik to name two). But you have to do some research, and acquire a bit of experience to choose wisely, and over the past few years their prices have risen some.

That was a long answer, forgive me, but there is no glib answer to your question.
And no right answer. More of a conversation, really, that can go on for as long as you have the stomach and desire to participate.

If I were forced to answer in a single sentence it would be this: Buy an inexpensive Stanwell if you want to keep it really simple.

And now the Peterson fans (I have a fair number of Petes, by the way) will jump in, and so will some other very knowledgable pipe smokers with very legitimate disagreements.
Last edited by durangopipe on Sat Jan 26, 2019 10:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Price points and quality

Post by DAN » Sat Jan 26, 2019 10:20 am

I don't have any cobs, but I can tell you that as far as smoking experience goes, I just don't believe in expensive pipes anymore. I have some that are pricier than others. There just doesn't seem to be that much correlation between price and smokeability. I have lowly Irish Seconds that smoke as well as anything I own. I have a Boswell that is superb. An old and excellent Bari canadian. A Peterson B5 that shows great promise.

But if I had to make my pick for the best consistent combination of price, smokeability, and looks, I'd have to go with Tilsheads. I have several and one more is on the way. With patience and sniping, one can be had for a reasonable price. I paid around fifty bucks for each of mine. They typically feature gorgeous grain with a small flaw for which you will have to search, and a very free draw. The briar is light. These pipes are both delights and bargains.
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Re: Price points and quality

Post by SlowToke » Sat Jan 26, 2019 10:34 pm

In my experience, the minimum price for a good quality pipe is somewhere around free. Most pipes in any price range can be made to smoke well with effort and know-how and the right tools. Now, if you're talking new pipes that you purchase at typical retail prices I'd probably say around $20 for a Grabow, Kaywoodie, or the like. How well a pipe smokes is mostly determined by the internal construction from the bit, through the airway, to the tobacco chamber. If all is in good order (and the discussion about what 'good order' is, is a long and detailed one) it is likely to perform just fine. The quality of the briar will have an effect as well but to a lesser extent. Quality cut, cured, and dried briar makes a difference. Green, wet, poorly cured briar smokes terrible. All that being said, a handmade pipe from a skilled artisan is going to outperform low end pipes 9 times out of 10 due to the attention to the finer details of the inner workings of a pipe. Also in my experience, the point of diminishing returns is most consistently right around the $300 range. A newer maker that's priced below this point will make a good smoking pipe from time to time but their consistency in getting everything right isn't there just yet. Once they breach the $300 range and are selling well, you can assume they have the techniques down well enough to put the internals together sufficiently. There are exceptions to all of this.

The brand of pipe that makes up the majority of my pipe collection is Stanwell. They don't perform all that well right out of the box, in my opinion. I redrill them. Once I fix them, they smoke well. None of them smoke as well as one I've made from scratch with my own hands. Not because I'm all that and a bag of potato chips because I certainly am not; but, rather, because I do know how to engineer the inner workings to suit my smoking style. It's not wizardry and any number of folks can do it.
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