Buying Estate Pipes

This post written by Mr Brizzi.

So, you outbid me on the Estate Pipe. Great! Congratulations! It finally arrives. Your smile beaming, and then… What the..? The pipe was never cleaned. The bowl is caked with dried out carbon and cat fur or sand. The bit, as you examine further has brown dried residue, the finish of the bowl is streaked, and.., [sniff, sniff…]…it stinks almost of stale body odor, or something. But this is a “white dot” pipe, and you purchased it for a price only obtainable if haggling in an open air market, and you are (after all), so worldly, knowledgeable, and.., well.., smart.

Happens every day. Many shops that professionally clean pipes, do an outstanding job, and worth every cent charged. Unfortunately, many people have no clue of what they are doing, and will merely spray Lysol into the bowl, and wipe the entire pipe down, declaring proudly that the item has been “cleaned and sanitized”. Unless you know for a fact, that the pipe is from a professional shop itself, and they indicate that it has been properly cleaned and sanitized, simply resign yourself to the fact that you have purchased a very nice pipe, at a very nice price, and that you, will need to clean it properly. I always inspect my estate purchases in the same manner I inspect newly manufactured pipes, as they too, can have their own share of issues requiring them to be cleaned.

Gently, ease the stem while holding the shank firmly to prevent cracking the shank. Remove the stem. How does it look? If there is a filter, remove it and determine if it needs to be replaced. If uncertain, play it safe and discard it if it is not serviceable. Wipe the tenon with a paper towel, and inspect it paper towel and the tenon for waste particles. Using a common pencil, rub back-and-forth, depositing graphite liberally and completely onto the tenon. Run a dry pipe cleaner through the stem. How smoothly does it slurry its way through the bore of the stem? How does it look?

I cannot purchase 190-proof Everclear here in New York State, and it has been some years since any old timer brought a jug of Shine to me from somewhere unknown, so I use 140-proof rum, or vodka. Pour some liquor into a Dixie cup and insert a pipe cleaner. Place the pipe cleaner into the stem and let it sit for a minute to loosen anything glued to the inside wall of the stem. If there is no obstruction, or anything preventing me to thread dental floss though the stem, I do so. A foot of floss. Hold both ends with one hand, and vigorously move the stem back and forth, with the other hand. Pull the floss out and look at it. Expect to see some brown residue. Dip a fresh pipe cleaner into the Dixie cup that has the booze in it. Scrub the inside of the stem until a pipe cleaner eventually appears clean. Now, dip your finger into either olive oil, or mineral oil, and rub it all over the stem. Leave it wet. Put the stem aside.

The bowl… What are we going to do with this mess? Dip a pipe cleaner into the booze and wet the inside of the bowl and shank. Don’t get cheap with this. Wet it, real good. Let it sit for a minute. I fashion pipe picks, out of either mechanic wire, or a six inch piece of metal clothes hanger. Insert pick into the shank. Rub along the shank bore, going into the bowl. You will be bulldozing, but try to gently shave, any residue in the shank bore and being careful not to break the shank. Open the bowl orifice with the pick. Put the pick aside, and take a piece of 320-grit sandpaper, wet it with booze drizzled onto it with your finger, and put the sandpaper into the bowl. Round, and round, and up, and down [that’s a Chubby Checker song: the Twist], removing lightly, the carbon. Wet the inside of the bowl again, and let it stay wet. Turn your attention to the shank, with pipe cleaners dipped in booze. I work over a six inch brown ashtray I inherited from my Grandfather. Shank nice and clean, now back to the bowl. Look inside the bore of the bowl. If it needs to be reamed, now is the time. Dull bladed instruments or you risk serious damage. Start with easy pressure at first. Remove the carbon. You should have no issues with breakage as the inside of the bowl was soaked, and lightly sanded, already. Take out enough carbon that you can either see fresh briar just peering through the carbon, or you deem the bowl sufficiently cleared of carbon. Wet a paper towel by wadding it and dipping it into the Dixie cup with the booze. Stick it into the bowl, and twist away, rotating the wad of paper towel you inserted into the bowl bore. Of course, it will come out fouled. Using a fresh piece of paper towel, grasp a corner and tightly twist counter-clockwise to form a swab or bore mop. In a clockwise fashion, twist it into the shank. Twirl away, but not so much that you feel the dry paper towel shed or rip. Remove and inspect. Back to the pipe cleaners, and clean the shank until one cleaner comes out clean. Using either olive oil, or mineral oil, dipping your finger, rub thoroughly the outside of the bowl and shank. Leave it wet, and place aside for a minute.

Using a dry piece of paper towel, wipe off the stem, bowl, and shank of the olive or mineral oil. Assemble the pipe. Leave it aside overnight. The next day, you should be good to go. Take your finger and rub onto carnuba wax. I like Min-Wax. Lightly and gently massage the entire outside of the pipe with wax. Take particular care and use a cotton swab to help get into the crevice of the bit. Let the wax set three minutes. A piece of paper towel wadded lightly, to remove the wax. Turn the wadded paper towel as necessary. Once the wax is removed, start to buff with the paper towel. Looks okay? Put aside the paper towel, and break out a handkerchief. Double it over, and the more you buff, the nicer your pipe will look.

I have ruined stems by soaking them in bleach to clean them, so I tend to frown on it. I also realize that I am not the sharpest pencil in the cup.

I have had the bowls of three pipes fall off the shanks, when I soaked them too long in salt and Everclear. Not happy. I filled the bowls with Mediterranean Sea Salt [hey, only the best, for my pipes, right?] and topped off with 190-proof hooch. The next day, it looked like ink when I poured it out. Repeated the process, and let it sit two days. Finally, letting it air dry one week, it produced a sweet smoke, and it was heaven. Then the bowl of my Harry Gyer Plum Oil Finish Prince of Wales, fell off while I was smoking it. Oh, did I ever swear an oath! Off I run, 50 miles to my friend Dom, who owned Don-Lou Pipe Shop, in Brooklyn. “What’s this? You ‘dropped’ your bowls, bubby?” He made a joke of it, but said it could be from knocking the bowl hard, or a number of things, and this pipe, is toast. Then it happened to a Don-Lou Lovat, and a Don-Lou Oversized Canadian. Whoa! This, is serious. This time, it was no joke when I brought two of the $35.00 Plateau briars in. This called for an investigation. After intense Q&A, Dom tells me, “Bubby, you can’t run around dropping your bowls all over the place”. That was the end of soaking bowls in salt and Everclear. Both of those pipes were toast, also. My final remaining $7.50 Don-Lou pipe I still have, and the bowl is cracked.., you guessed it. Sadly, Dom passed away, and the pipe smoking world lost a truly wonderful man.

I hope this will help you, with your estate pipe purchases. As outlined, the pipe will be clean, and should smoke beautifully.

Mr Brizzi’s Bio: Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy [BBC television series: Smiley]; I have done all sorts of work to keep a roof over my family’s head, food on the table, a log on the fire… What can be said of a man who is a direct descendant of the Roman General, Brittius? I try to live my life with a measure of modesty, and walk quietly before others, humbly. Leadership by example [“Follow Me”]. I look like Brittius, resembling George C. Scott’s, Patton, and have the quiet demeanor of the late actor, Henry Fonda. I am not a complainer, nor busybody, nor gossip, nor rumor monger. I have earned my place in this world the hard way, and am most honored to bear the exalted title of, Grandpa.

The Rest of the Pipe Smoking Guide

12 thoughts on “Buying Estate Pipes”

  1. Excellent article! I buy estate pipes on eBay quite frequently. You have really given me and everyone else a great way to clean them.

  2. Nicholascott: I am pleased that the information is helpful. I also notice a lot more competition while bidding on these pipes since posting the article. Many of the offerings listed under Estate Pipes, are truly a worthwhile purchase; Even the pipes which require attention. Years ago, I couldn’t think of some which ultimately found their way into my battery of pipes. A point to remember, is that cleaning these lovely estate acquisitions is a relaxing avocation. Take your time, relax, and do things thoroughly. The dividends are a sweet briar (or other material, you bought), and a cool, mellow smoke.
    Best of luck to you, and thank you for your kind words.

  3. Be certain to read the other articles listed within the Contents of this Guide. However you think of it, whether a puppy hanging around and observing the old dog, or simply passing the Colors to the newest qualified soldiers, knowledge is given. All the articles are also very good reading, to be revisited from time to time. As your experience broadens, many items which may appear foreign, all become very clear and helpful. In my opinion.., pipe smoking, is a, Calling.

  4. This is intended for the blog Writer, or Originator of this post:

    While browsing for something else, I ran across this site. I read a bit that conflicted with my own knowledge, and I decided to read some more.

    The #1 thing I have learned in all my life, is learn from someone who knows What the hell their doing, and how to do the job right the first time! This applies to EVERYTHING!

    I have also learned much by trial and error, mostly error, but this is NOT where I would go to learn pipe cleaning, or how to purchase an estate pipe. I only read the part about cleaning and the falling off of several bowls, while soaking them in Everclear type alcohol. I read on to see what other non- wisdom I would come across.

    If your buying pipes for under ten bucks or a name brand pipe for $35 dollars, you deserve everything you get! Haven’t you ever heard the old time honored adage: “You Get What You Pay For”? It’s 100% Truthful!

    If you don’t have the money for something to buy it right, don’t buy it. Your just throwing your money away! I laughed to myself about your pipe scrubbing. Oh Brother, if your buying pipes where you have to do all this, all you’ve got is Junk, Pure Junk!

    I don’t mean to thrash you brother, but who are you giving this advice too? I don’t think your the one to give advice about this, according to what I’ve read. No offense, but all I’ve read is What NOT TO DO!

    Maybe this is for guys just off the block, first timers who don’t know, and tell other people what they don’t know, but it’s certainly NOT well sounded advice. Why do you people clog up the net, just to run off with the mouth?

    Maybe I thrash you, but that was not my first intent. The main point I’m trying to get across to you is this: If you don’t know, Keep your mouth shut!


    • Dallas,

      Why not contribute your knowledge on the subject rather than throw stones?

      We’re all in this great hobby together and comments like these add no value. If you disagree…fine but provide an alternative.

  5. Dallas: I just read your words, buddy. Back in 1974, what I paid for those pipes, WAS big money. My gross pay was around $220.00.
    You, obviously are a rank fool. I list information that others find acceptable. I am not perfect, and if you had bothered to use you brain, you would see that I am far from perfect. Periodically, fools in the caliber of yourself simply cannot help be run their mouthes and blurt things out. So sit back back and relax, or show yourself out. So don’t tell me to shut up, asshole!

  6. hi to the gang.. this my first lil post here. i was fortunate enought to find a box full of Don-Lou pipes. even tho i’m not a pipe smoker, i was mezmermized by the craftsmanship of these rare pipes. sad to say that with the economy and my piss-poor planning for the GOLODEN YEARS.. sure. i find that i must part
    with these treasures.. if anyone might be interested or know of a collector of estate pipes. please let me know., thank you . and a very merry christ to you all…. robert

    • Robert, my man!!! Were you one of my fellow customers at Don-
      Lou, or a neighborhood kid? My computer was down for a substantial period of time, however, I too, am in need of better economic times. If anything pans out in my direction, I will want EACH AND EVERY pipe my late friend made. FYI: I wanted to purchase the machinery and cabinetry in the shop, but I could not reach Dominic’s son Lou, and it is my belief that a license, bond, or some other crap is necessary to get into the trade, for some big stacks of poker chips.

    • Hello my name is Danielle and I am Dom’s granddaughter. I was wondering if you had any information about my grand pops pipes and his pipe stands. I would appreciate any information that you have. Thanking you in advance

  7. I have pipes that belonged to my grandfather 1900’s I need to sell a lot of antiques, I don’s know where to start.I don’t know the names to adv. them could you or someone give me advise. thank you

    • A location which I believe would best serve your needs is e-Bay. Contact them to list. If unable to identify makers of pipes, they could be something, or they could be nothing, but they will more than likely be of interest to someone, and appreciated by a new owner. I was poking around, looking at houses for sale in about a 100 mile radius, and still cannot believe how many non-smokers have a tobacco pipe displayed on the fireplace mantel above the hearth. Usually followed by a sincere recollection of their late grandfathers, or one just like Grandpa smoked, that they saw for sale and simply could not resist the purchase. Best of Luck.

  8. Hello, my name is Danielle and I am Dom’s granddaughter. I had a few questions for you about my grand pops pipes and his stands as well. I was looking to buy some of his pieces and wondered if you still had any. This is extremely important to me and I would appreciate any information that you might have. Thanking you in advance


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