Over the years I have added another hobby to my refurbishing one. I have been crafting a set of simple rules of the pipe hunt. A rule does not make the list until it is tried and proven to be a truism repeatedly. These rules are elastic in that they continue to grow as time goes on and my pipe hunting becomes more refined. But, I try to follow these whenever I am on the prowl looking for pipes and even when I am not. I have decided that any trip I take will end up with me stopping and hunting for pipes. My wife and kids can tell you that this is a fact. Over the years I generally end up finding a pipe or two. These rules have worked well for me over the past 20 plus years. The tale below illustrates how well this first rule works for me.
I was coming back into town from a long meeting in the countryside about a half hour away. It was getting late and our host had planned a dinner for us so I was aiming on getting “home” and not really paying attention to the buildings as I came into town. But as I got closer to town and drove by the nondescript buildings on my right, out of the corner of my eye I caught a small sign that said Antique Mall. It was located on the outer edge of a small town, across the railroad tracks from the town centre. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and the sign said the shop was still open so I decided to pull over, park the car and have a look. By the time I got to the front door it looked dark inside so I figured the owner had evidently closed up shop. However, the door was still open, the sign still said open, but the lights were out in the back portion of the shop. I decided to chance it, opened the door, called out and asked if they were still open and a gruff voice called out from a room off to the left, “Well you are inside the shop aren’t you so I guess it doesn’t matter or not if we are open.”
I shrugged off his gruff manner and asked if they had any pipes and tobacciana. He turned on the lights and said he would quickly take me to the cases in the shop that had “what little they had available”. He was not a friendly shop clerk anxious to make a sale and it seemed that the my presence did nothing to change his otherwise grumpy attitude. I had a friend with me and he gave me the “we should probably just leave” look but I ignored it and kept up a steady flow of “yak” to diffuse the situation a bit. I figured if I found anything I would make his day and it looked like the place could well yield some interesting old pipes. It was pretty dusty and looked like it had not had many folks picking through the stock of “antiques”. (I made a mental not to come back here for a visit on my next trip through but I would do so in the early part of the day and give it a good walk through at that time.)
He walked us toward the back part of the shop (calling it an antique mall was an overstatement of epic proportion as it was not much bigger than a small convenience store. I suppose that it may have had multiple vendors gathered under the roof but still mall was overstating the case). There was a lot of clutter in the aisles and the accumulated detritus of junk stores that I have come to appreciate for their potential. It is in shops just like this, passed by quickly by the antique hunter and having a grumpy proprietor that have often yielded a veritable treasure trove of pipes and tobacco items. Many times I have found that these nondescript out-of-the-way shops can be rich with old pipes and tobaccos all to be had at very reasonable prices. There used to be way more of these little shops, but there are still a few where you can find some good stuff if you keep your eyes open.
I began to get excited as we made our way to the first display case. It was a crowded glass case with lots of dust and fingerprints. On the shelf next to the case were old packets of tobacco that looked like ancient drugstore blends, long past their shelf life even with all of humectants. There was also the standard collection of old Edgeworth and Prince Albert tins piled on the top shelf of the case. I bent down to get a closer look at the second shelf as it had a collection of about ten pipes piled on it. (So much for the shop owner’s “what little we have” comment.) I sorted through the lot and among the collection there I found three older pipes that caught my eye. I was attracted to them because of their shapes and finishes. They were all well used and dirty but I examined them showed no real damage under the dirt and oxidation.
This threesome included a Douwe Egbert Billiard, an Amphora Pot and long sandblasted Canadian stamped Birkdale Superb, Made in London England. None of these had show stopping names but the shapes all reflected an older European look. When I first saw the Canadian my heart nearly skipped a beat, it had the look of an older Dunhill Canadian. The white dot was missing in the stem but the hole was clearly there where it had been. I gingerly picked it up and saw that it was a Birkdale – a brand I knew nothing about. (I later found out as I researched the brands and stamping on these pipes on the internet that the Birkdale was probably a Comoy’s brand.) I left behind some older, worn pipes on the shelf that I may have to go back and pick over again when I get to the area in the future. But these three were to my liking. I happily added the first additions to my purchase – three pipes in my hand.
The owner had said nothing as I picked over the pipes and carried them with me. No comments or questions were asked as he locked up the first display case. Once locked, he hurried on to the second display case. I was feeling good about this stop on the road. It was already a great place and I had added three nice pipes to my collection so it did not really matter what I found in the second case. But who can stop looking and hoping for more after that kind of find in the first display case. We rounded the corner in the shop to the second case. On the middle shelf there were more interesting pipes to look over. I could not believe the luck I was having in this old shop. I sorted the 8 or 9 pipes on the shelf and settled on three nice looking older pipes – a Hardcastles Jack ‘O London Billiard, an African Meer Prince stamped Tanganyika with a shape stamp or 27 on the shank and an Old Pal diminutive Barling like pot with a pencil shank. I added this threesome to the lot in my hand. I now had six old pipes for refurbishing. All would clean up very well and be good additions to the collection or be sellable to help fund future purchases. Not too bad a find for a quick stop that could have easily been overlooked.
The grumpy shop owner led us to the counter at the front of the shop where he tallied what I owed him for the six pipes. I had noticed that several were marked $10 and some were $11. He said nothing as he scribbled out the bill and peeled off the stickers recording the display cases they each came from. Once he had finished his scribbling he pushed the bill my way. I could not believe my eyes – the total was $60 plus a bit of tax thrown in. What do you know; the old gent had given me a deal of sorts. He took my cash, put the pipes in an old grocery bag and handed me the change and the pipes. He then followed us to the front door and locked the door as we went out. He had probably spoken a total of three words – no more, no less in the entire time he had walked us around the shop. But I did not go there for the wit of the seller or the ambience of the shop but for exactly what I had come out with – six “new” old pipes that would be a welcome addition to my stock at home.
I guess it goes to show you, keep your eyes open when you are driving through the outskirts of the small towns you pass through on your travels. It is the nondescript shops that often are full of surprises. But then again, don’t bother to look too hard. It will leave more of them for me to find on my journeys.