What's new

The Big Tobacco Pipe Information Thread

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Dun.jpg
 
Last edited by a moderator:

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
I've been perusing the stickies above, and posting my own and reading others' question threads here, but I thought I'd try posting a 'permanent' type thread, where people might be interested in keeping it going long-term by posting about all sorts of pipe-related things. How they're made, restoring them, smoking them, interesting stories--anything really. Post information or post questions and have them answered by our resident experts. Interesting things about any pipe-related topic are welcome, as well. Tobacco stuff, history, interesting pipe people, etcetera.

After watching some how it's made videos, I decided to look for some on pipes, and found these.


A Dunhill factory video:



A Missouri Meerschaum video:



A longer video, without narration, by custom pipe maker, J. Allen. I found this fascinating.



And in preparation for my first question, below, here is a Savinelli video.

 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
So now my first question for you pipe experts.

Why the difference in price between a Dunhill pipe and a Savinelli?

I get why custom makers like Alden command high prices, and I get the quality and pride of ownership thing. It may not smoke any better than a Savinelli, just like my Nighthawk Custom GRP 1911 pistol (at $3,000) may not shoot any better than a Springfield Armory 1911 ($750), but I'm willing to pay for the craftsmanship and pride of ownership. No question there.

What I am questioning is how the heck do Dunhills go for 5, 6, or even 7X the price of Savinellis?? I also get the grading thing. A great smoking pipe with a flaw that needs filling cannot sell for the same as a flawless, flame-grained pipe of similar shape. I also get the smaller, probably family-owned shops that produce a smaller number of pipes, but more on a factory scale than J. Allen or Ryan Alden customs, can command middle prices in the $100-$250 range simply because they have their following.

But what is up with Dunhill prices? My suspicion is that it's the name. They mark it up because they can. I can get a London-style rain coat of identical material quality and workmanship, but slap a Burberry label on it, and the price instantly doubles. There are plenty of premium brands that can do that, and that's what I think is happening with the Dunhills. Clearly, if they stick their name on it, it's going to be a flawless pipe, but isn't the premium being paid simply for the name Dunhill stamped on it?

Here are a couple of scans from an Iwan Ries catalog I got with a tobacco order to show the difference in pricing. From the videos from each maker, above, I cannot see a big difference between their processes. What's up with this?

Sav.jpg


Dun.jpg
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
That's what I figured. Like Burberry, or Goldman Sachs, or Channel.

Here's a tobacco making video I found very interesting. It reminded me a lot of wine. Like a grape variety, a tobacco variety can be grown around the globe and it is much-affected by microclimate and soil content. It never ceases to amaze me that we can get quality cigars or pipe tobacco at the prices we can today, given the complexity of the process. We may gripe about prices, but I think it's truly amazing it's so affordable.

 
So now my first question for you pipe experts.

Why the difference in price between a Dunhill pipe and a Savinelli? ... Clearly, if they stick their name on it, it's going to be a flawless pipe, but isn't the premium being paid simply for the name Dunhill stamped on it?

It's a little more complicated than that. The name has added value not just because of its market position, but because of how the marque has made its pipes, and what they have made them from ... which is what established the brand reputation in the first place.

Briar is not necessarily a fungible product. There are age and quality grades of the burls used, and that raw material is then aged, cured and treated according to proprietary methods (which varies among manufacturers) before working them into pipes. Dunhill has a well deserved reputation of acquiring the very finest raw stock in the industry. There is great value attached to the use of the finest raw materials. The best briar, expertly cured and treated, is a lifetime investment.

Older burls have tighter, superior grain patterns and are prone to a lighter, superior smoking pipe. Years ago, it was not uncommon to see the finest pipes use briar that was well in excess of a century old. Those days are long gone. But the oldest, finest burls are still what Dunhill and the other top tier makers fight to acquire. Conversely, many good quality factory pipes today may use burls that are only 20-40 years old.

You are just not going to find an 80 or 100+ year old burl used in a $100 Savinelli. You might find a 50 year old one in some of their higher standard lines.

And then there is the amount of bench time allocated to production. A $100 Savinelli is not going to be as well finished as a Dunhill, simply because the tech is just not allowed that much time on each unit. Dunhill invests substantially more production time on its pipes, and it shows. And they charge accordingly.

That does not make a garden variety Sav a bad smoker. Most are fine smokers. Just like a Chevrolet and a Rolls Royce are both straight driving cars. You get what you pay for.

These are all factory pipes. Artisan grade pipes present its own set of considerations.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
^^^^^^^^^^^
Outstanding, @Columbo That kind of post is exactly what I hoped this thread to be. Thank you! And that makes sense, and I did not know they are better aged that long. I figured a few years is plenty. I can't imagine the burls are not bone dry after 20 years. Do you know what happens to them as they age from 20 to 100 years? That is interesting for sure!
 
^^^^^^^^^^^
Outstanding, @Columbo That kind of post is exactly what I hoped this thread to be. Thank you! And that makes sense, and I did not know they are better aged that long. I figured a few years is plenty. I can't imagine the burls are not bone dry after 20 years. Do you know what happens to them as they age from 20 to 100 years? That is interesting for sure!
To clarify, when one speaks of a century old burl, that’s how old the shrub is before the burl is harvested. These shrubs at one time were allowed to grow for centuries before harvesting the burls.

Once the burls are harvested, further years are spent drying and curing that product. And that time, and the processes used, varies among manufacturers.
 
What is the story about Algerian Briar? I heard it was once the most sought after burl and was then over harvested so that producers switched to lesser grades from the Mediterranean in the 50ies?
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
I feel like an idiot, @Columbo thanks for the clarification. I thought they had the blanks aging for a hundred years. :lol1: That makes sense. Those trees are probably like olive trees they can grow for centuries. This thread is already producing. :thumbup:
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
@Kentos Correct again, at least in part.


Wikipedia said:
Erica arborea

Wikipedia said:
, the tree heath or tree heather, is a species of flowering plant (angiosperms) in the heather family Ericaceae, native to the Mediterranean Basin and Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa.[1] It is also cultivated as an ornamental. Briar does refer to the root burl. However, I believe @Columbo is correct, aging refers to how old the plant is before harvesting.

It makes sense to not harvest it too soon, it is a slow-growing, long-lived species. It makes no sense to age a harvested root burl for 100 years. Nothing is going to happen to it from year 20 to year 100. I think the age refers to age of the plant before harvesting the burl. The burls are dried for a few years, but not, I'm sure, for appreciably different times at Dunhill vs Savinelli.

From Wikipedia:

The wood, known as briar root, is extremely hard, dense and heat-resistant, and is primarily used for making smoking pipes, as it does not affect the aroma of tobacco. The football-sized tubers are harvested at the age of 30 to 60 years. They are cooked for several hours, then dried for several months before they are further processed.

Most likely it is the age before harvesting Columbo was suggesting, with Savinelli using younger burls, and Dunhill only taking the burls from the oldest plants.
 

Kentos

B&B's Dr. Doolittle.
There is a lot of info on the interwebs on briar. Some say the best briar depends on the age at harvesting, some say it depends more on microclimate and soil, and post harvesting processing and aging. A fifty year old root is not entirely made of 50 year old briar, as the thing is continually growing. In a tree are the smaller rings the oldest part of the tree or is it the outer rings? If using the plateau wouldn’t it be the youngest part of the root as it is on the outside? I dunno.
 
You do pay a premium for the name but, as Colombo said, it's never that simple. I don't own any Savinellis but I do own a dozen or so Petersons of various grades and a couple of Stanwells. My worst smoking Dunhill outsmokes all of them except one Danish Stanwell that has always been an exceptional smoker.

IMO Dunhill makes the classic pipe shapes better than anyone, and the chances of getting a lemon are as near to zero as you can get. Their reputation goes back a century and is very well earned. They aren't for everybody, and they aren't a necessity, but they are more than just a name to show off.
 

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
As for Dunhill pipes, I would never pay their prices, yet six of my pipes came from that factory. My four Parker pipes were £25 each, and my two Ben Wade pipes were around £40. Maybe not the same grade of briar, or the same level of finishing, but they all smoke flawlessly. Some of mine might even have been designed to be Dunhill, but defects discovered as material was removed, and the pipes downgraded. Dunhill never sells seconds, but they do sell Parker, Hardcastle, and Ben Wade, among others (e.g. some go out to tobacconist as in house brand pipes, such as GQ Tobaccos). Works for me.
 

luvmysuper

My Elbows Leak
Good thread here to pull lots of info from:

 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Thanks, Phil! I did go through that, good info! Did not mean to replace that. Just wanted to start a long-running discussion that might go on for a while. The stickies are always chock-a-block full of good info, best place to start.

I thought this was super-interesting. Fellow repairing pipe fills with brass powder.

 
What is the story about Algerian Briar? I heard it was once the most sought after burl and was then over harvested so that producers switched to lesser grades from the Mediterranean in the 50ies?

Besides age and general grading, growing location is the next most important criteria in burl selection by most makers who buy and stockpile these materials. The micro factors around local climate mentioned by someone all play a part in how these brush and their burls develop, much as a vineyard in New York will ultimately produce a different grape (and a different wine) than a Napa one does.

Historically, the Mediterranean basin has been renowned for the best sources of briar burls in the world. Briar is grown elsewhere in the world, and even in California (as was recently pointed out on another thread). But the Mediterranean varieties are still considered the best and most sought after.

Popular specific sources for Mediterranean briar are Algerian, Calabrian, Corsician, Sardinian, and a few others.

In the case of Algerian briar, it was manufacturer curing and treatment methods that cast its reputation. Algerian briar was not originally thought of as a superior raw stock. But certain makers, most notably Dunhill, developed unique curing and treatment methods that eventually made Algerian into of some of the finest briar pipes ever made. That is why Algerian now has its legendary reputation.

As has been pointed out, many of the oldest sources were harvested out of existence during the first half of the Twentieth Century, when pipe production was at its all-time peak. While we may not see many 200+ year old burls again in our lifetime, longer aged brush are starting to slowly recover, as production of pipes today is only a small fraction of what it once was.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Great info! I wonder what production is now compared to what it was. One indicator would be Missouri Meerschaum employs only 28% of the people they did at their peak.
 
Top Bottom