The Danish Pipe Shop and the story of Estate Pipes
"I'm not gonna sell old, smelly pipes in my shop!" – my father's exact words when people approached him with their pipe collections for sale in the shop back then. And for a while after I took over the business, my answer was also a blank no.
But then I got wiser.
Today, I almost always say yes to helping people appraise their pipe collections – it makes my work both more fun and also more educational.
With over 50 years of experience, we, The Danish Pipe Shop, have tried a little bit of everything, and as far back as I can remember, we have always received inquiries about used pipes.
Used pipes are also referred to as 'estate pipes', which is a term used in the US who also started the focus on estate pipes. For many years we received inquiries from people who contacted us about their estate pipes, and until 2014 my answer was "Thank you, but no thank you!".
I clearly remember in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, that my father Steffen Nielsen said, "I'm not gonna sell old, smelly pipes in my shop!”. Well then.
Made a 180-degree turn
"I will say I have made a 180-degree turn for several reasons.
One is that I can see a business in it, but another reason is – more importantly – that it feels nice to restore the old ones instead of just throwing them out.
We give new life to the pipes. Many don't think about the fact that a pipe easily can reach 50-100 years old, if you treat it well"
What defines an estate pipe?
In this blog, I will try to describe how we work with estate pipes and at the same time answer many of the questions we receive on an ongoing basis.
But firstly, I want to clarify what an estate pipe really is:
- An estate pipe does not come directly from the manufacturer – it comes from a private person.
- An estate pipe is appraised by us and categorised on the basis of a grading system that we have established ourselves, and which you can read more about here...
- An estate pipe can actually be unsmoked, ie. as new.
It happens in larger collections that we find unsmoked pipes, which is due to the fact that many pipe buyers do not actually smoke them – they just admire them. The reason why we don't sell an unsmoked pipe as a new one is that there is no warranty from the manufacturer. In addition, an old unsmoked pipe will often show small signs of not coming straight out of the workshop.
It is typically the color that has taken off a bit, and they might have a bit of surface scratches from being touched and moved around.
Recently we added a filter to the website so you can search for used unsmoked pipes – which makes it easier for you to find them online.
Where do you find the estate pipes?
Our estate pipes come primarily from Denmark. We rarely buy from abroad, because it requires a certain volume, as otherwise everything goes up in shipping costs. But roughly you can divide them up like this:
- We find estate pipes at markets, flea markets, etc.
- People contact us because they have inherited collections, and we drive around the whole country to appraise collections.
- Pipe smokers and customers who want to change and exchange their pipes.
Who to buy estate pipes? And why?
How do you estimate prices?
As in any other business, it is all about supply, demand, purchase price and market price.
In addition, it costs us at least EUR 15,- per pipe to restore it, produce text, upload images, etc. This doesn't include the money that the website is costing us – both establishment and maintenance – shop rent, employees, etc. Of course, we also look at the condition of the pipes and the brands, and then – with all of the above in mind – we set the price.
When we buy a collection of pipes, we are already well aware of the condition of the pipes. If there are pipes that have visible cracks or are completely rattled, they are discarded. If they only have minor defects, they are taken off as 'Estate Rejects'.
These are pipes that we can't sell individually, as the selling price becomes too low compared to the work, we put into them. So estate rejects are sold from a basket in the store at a very low price or as a 'Estate Box Set' on the webshop.
How do you prepare a pipe for sale?
When the pipes come back from restoring, we check them again. This is the fourth check since we see them the first time.
The pipes are then categorised, priced, and made ready to be sold online.
Then we write a little description of the estate, and we sometimes have to perform a 'who, what, where' from Google or ask around in our network.
When the description is ready, the estate pipe is weighed and measured. The magnifying glass decodes the stamp which is entered under 'marking'. We only write what we can see.
Now the estate pipe is taken through the photo studio, and 4-6 pictures are taken. The image is then cleaned, cropped and saved. The 4-6 pictures are now compressed and uploaded to the estate pipe – and you and the whole world can now see the pipe.
"We do not remove defects, scratches or the like in Photoshop.
It is incredibly important for us to point out. What you see is what you get"
What do I gain from all this?
As you can figure out, I have purchased many pipes over the last 6-7 years, and this has given me many incredible meetings with people from all sorts of places in Denmark.
Some are shocked because they have unrealistic expectations of what their collection is worth, while others are shocked because they find out that they have a pipe worth DKK 50,000. That makes my job both interesting and amusing.
I've never been the big gambler but making a two-hour drive to a seller who couldn't tell me anything over the phone about the collection, because they inherited them – that feels a bit like gambling to me. The outcome is unknown. For the same reason, I almost always say yes, because I'm hoping to find the Holy Grail of pipes.
Another fun thing is to unravel the history of the pipes. In particular, I think it is exciting to find the story behind more unknown Danish pipe makers, and we give all this information to pipedia.org (Wikipedia of pipes).
Over the years, we have seen the wildest pipe collections, and the largest to date was at around 2,000 pipes. Recently we acquired a collection of 500 pipes, but normally we receive collections of 20-50 pipes.
On the picture you see me, Nikolaj, taking a selfie on the way home with the car full of estate pipes...