I was talking to my co-author Gary Malmberg at The Secondhand Smoker recently about the advisability of creating a price guide for a new Peterson project I’m planning. His answer, as an estate pipe dealer for many years and Peterson expert, is so good that I present it here with his blessing.
I have seen books that cover specialized antique categories—pipes, lighters, smoking items in general, clay or meerschaum or tribal pipes in particular. I never saw one that looked reliable. Or useful.
You throw a book on the market claiming it is a price guide, and it is out of date in a year. Whitman’s price guides for numismatists are updated every year for this reason. With pipes it’s worse. As a full-time seller, I see trends come and go in months, not years. It’s also worse because a pipe is not a coin. Numismatists buy coins for one reason. They collect them. They don’t spend them and probably won’t eat them. But pipe buyers may buy pipes to improve or complete a collection or they may just want to smoke them or use them as props on stage, and they may care solely for good grain or they may pay for the nomenclature. Coins can be definitively graded and they can be submitted to an independent authority, for a fee, to be graded objectively according to universally agreed to standards. With a pipe there’s nobody for you to send it to and no universal standards. The value is in the fickle eye of the beholder.
How much do you think this unsmoked System meer sold for a few weeks ago?**
If you send an antique off to be appraised, you should be willing to pay for the service, and the appraiser must be objective, working solely for the fee. If you turn it over to an active collector or an active merchant, he may price it low and make you an offer to buy it from you. If the collector or merchant charges you for the appraisal he is also a thief.
With pipes there are no such objective appraisers. The pipe universe is such a small coterie that no one is part of it without also being invested in it. No one has documented the history of pipe prices, certainly not I. I have documented the physical features of Peterson pipes but I have not over the years kept track of prices I paid for or sold them.
What do you think this O1.S will sell for?**
Thought experiment: try your hardest to concoct a price guide in your mind. How would you arrange it—chronologically? alphabetically? How would you would handle the pesky fact that each pipe has a value based on age, size, condition, sub-brand, shape, smokeability, undsoweiter, undsoweiter?
As someone deeply invested in the Peterson, I just don’t believe such a guide could or should be written.
Photos courtesy Gary Malmberg and Todd Becker.
Whitman Guide to Peterson Collecting
by Charles Mundungus
available at fictitious pipe shops everywhere.
*Deadmanspipes recently sold this beauty for $610. Mark Irwin: I was amazed. I was thinking maybe $200? $250?
**This magnificent pipe, the first pictured in both the 1896 and 1906 Kapp & Peterson catalogs, is on eBay now here. Incidentally, the banner pipe, also from The Secondhand Smoker, sold for $275.