The Age of Steal : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

The Age of Steal

Why the Age of Steal?
The measure of U.S. economic power in the last quarter of the 19th century was steel, the miracle metal. That very distinctive era was known as the steel age, the gilded age or, as a few historians characterized the period, “when America came of age.” It was also a notorious era, because it was the heyday of the big tycoons of industry, called by some economic princes, and identified by others, unflatteringly and pejoratively, as robber barons. It was also a period of depression. A hundred years later, more or less, in the last quarter of the 20th century, the pipe-collecting community suffered through what can only be described as an age of steal, but the nobility modifier “baron” is not attached to these latter-day robbers. This was not a period of economic depression, as you will read, but it certainly was a depressing period. Almost all that I report on occurred within a narrow time frame, the late 1980s to mid-1990s. What’s interesting and coincidental, many macro-economic reports had labeled the 1990s as a decade of scams, scandals and swindles, so the incidents that I will describe sorta fit right in nicely. Come to think of it, what’s new? Have not the art of deception, the capacity for both good and evil, and nature’s dark side always been part of the human condition? After all, in the Book of Exodus, there’s the Eighth Commandment (Chapter 20, Verse 15): “Thou shalt not steal”! So this type of criminal behavior is really ages-old.

It’s a sad but true fact that within that last 20-odd years of the 20th century, several assorted flim-flams were perpetrated on more than a handful of our pipe brethren, and some of these incidents profoundly and traumatically affected our small community. It was a period when it became evident that there was a new and unsettling dimension to the hobby that unnerved many: “getting over” on your fellow pipe man was eclipsing “getting along” with your fellow pipe man. It was a time when all us die-hard pipe smokers and collectors noticed a distinct absence of “sweetness and light” in Tobaccoland. It was a period in which a few rather clever minds used chicanery against the innocent and the unwitting, and became persona non grata, our own little rogues gallery, if you please.
Before I proceed, I need to say something in my own defense. Some may think that I am beyond my element, outside my niche, far from my area of expertise writing about a relatively contemporary issue. For a half-century, I have been enmeshed in pipe research and related activities, and for that same amount of time, I have been sitting on the sidelines of the tobacco trade, so I am as qualified as the next person to chronicle this litany of episodic, nettlesome misfortunes. Moreover, having spent a 20-year career in the U.S. Army and involved in many classified intelligence operations, that experience has taught me to be leery and cautious when I encounter a certain class of pipe expert, one who’s new to this game, too slick with his words and much too confident in his pitch; in his company, I feel like a mark in that great 1973 movie “The Sting.” So when I smell flowers, I look for the hearse!

Nothing that I am reporting on should come as a surprise to the old-timers, although it may be shocking news to those who recently joined our hobby, say, since 2000; they may not be aware of these cons and capers because, perhaps, no one who’s been around for a long time told them. For the many who’ve been in this hobby for at least the last 25 to 30 years, some of what I chronicle will be quite familiar. I have been witness to a couple of these incidents, and I have only peripheral details about others; I am sure that a few folks who were closer to these incidents can fill in the gaps and voids in my account. If the following are not classified as theft in the literal sense, they sure are, in my opinion, theft in the figurative sense. I take full responsibility for what I report on, and I believe that I am on terra firma as to the occurrences and about a few of the players involved. I cite them as I remember them chronologically, but I am not confident of the precise dates (year, month, day) of each event as much as I am sure that these events happened. As George Orwell said: “In a time of universal deceit, truth telling becomes a revolutionary act.” Well, the checkered period in question was not one of universal deceit, but it sure seemed that way to many of us, so this account, then, is my revolutionary act. I hoped that Pipes & tobaccos would publish this as a teaching aid, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Chuck Stanion feels as strongly as I do, that the magazine’s readership has a “need to know.” As best I recollect, all these incidents have never been compiled, bundled and recorded together anywhere else, so he said: “Go for it!”

Scams, scandals and swindles aplenty
First, what is the precise meaning of the word steal? Writ large, steal can mean anything from taking or appropriating another’s ideas or property, and just about anything in between.  (Throughout, I use words such as scam, scandal, swindle, ripoff, etc., and I know that there are discrete definitional differences among them, but for simplicity, consider all to have the same degree of disrepute.) In any field of collecting that grows in popularity and draws a large number of aficionados from near and far, there is always that element of society that is scurrilous and unethical, humanoids who prosper from assorted scandals, duping the innocent and the unwitting in various ways. That element views deceit as a talent and theft as an art form, e.g., get-rich-quick cons, fake lottery, bank debenture scams, Ponzi and pyramid schemes, shell games, bait and switch, etc. And just about all these folks are religious, in a perverse sort of way: they abide by the simple rule of “Let us prey!” Certainly the pipe and tobacciana hobby is not exempt from this type of shameless activity. Calculating, artful reprobates come in all sizes, colors, and ages, and they are capable of devising all kinds of come-ons. Shysters copy, reproduce, make facsimiles of authentic items and sell out-and-out fakes. Hey, it’s the market forces of supply and demand, or in this instance, demand and supply: If collectors create a demand, pseudo-artisans, quasi-artisans and sham artisans—all types of fraudsters—create the supply! It’s an unfortunate situation, but expensive art does sometimes breed shady sellers.

Other con artists prefer to target their objects of desire and thieve. Stuff happens, so we have to be alert to the crafty world around us. Content theft continues uninterrupted, unabated. It is encountered in the plagiaristic writings of high school and college students, freelance print journalists and bloggers (this last known as website hijacking); it extends to identity theft (affecting some 500,000 Americans yearly),and the manufacture and sale of knock-off Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton luggage. Counterfeit coins and paper money, handbags, clothing, even prescription drugs and passports … the possibilities are endless, and almost nothing is excluded. So pipes, like anything else, can be duplicated, forged and faked, and that’s one form of stealing property. And if someone pilfers pipes outright, this is a more blatant form of filching.

Here’s a 150-year-old benign exemplar of theft. It may not move you, but it is a significant literary black mark to the bibliophiles among us. In 1859, Frederick Fairholt’s Tobacco: Its History and Associations was published in Great Britain; it contained many hand-drawn, original graphic illustrations of smoking utensils and artifacts. For these many years, it has remained a standard work for anyone interested in understanding the development of tobacco as an economic phenomenon and smoking as a cultural phenomenon. Sixteen years later, E.R. Billings’ Tobacco: Its History, Varieties, Culture, Manufacture and Commerce, With an Account of Its Various Modes of Use, From Its First Discovery Until Now was published in the United States. The Fairholt illustrations reappeared in the Billings book without a hint as to where or how obtained. Don’t get me wrong, the Billings book is a great read, but it’s impaired for having used the graphics from another without crediting or acknowledging the originator. Although there were no stringent laws in place here or in the United Kingdom at the time to protect intellectual property, this was certainly across-the-Pond content theft.

In that very age of steel more than 100 years ago, John Friedrich, a pipe and cigar holder manufacturer at 359 Broome St. in New York City, was robbed for the second time on March 17, 1892; the first occasion was in February 1891, resulting in a loss of about $1,400 of goods. This time, the robbers absconded with the entire stock of pipes, holders and his supply of raw amber, valued at between $3,500 and $4,000. The Friedrich family consists of three generations of pipe carvers who began their business in Vienna, Austria, and then in Paris and London before coming to the United States. None of the merchandise was ever recovered. A century later, history repeated itself with rather similar incidents.

Pressed meerschaum pipes in the U.S. market
I must first dispense with one particular manufacturing endeavor, because it’s not quite a scam in the literal sense, and it was not a significant player in the 1990s: those molded pressed meerschaum pipes with incised motifs of running deer or dogs and assorted incised dates of the 1700s and 1800s; they were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s and were sold by such large retail chains as Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck and Company. Anyone who knows his antique pipes knows that their ads stated that the dates were not true. They were what they were: cheaply produced, early 20th century pipes meant to suggest a much earlier time, that bygone era of European pipe craftsmanship. No conscious deception was ever intended in their manufacture or merchandising then, but there have been unwitting folks buying and selling these falsely dated bents on eBay and at pipe shows for the last 15-20 years, and it continues today. I frequently receive queries as to their authenticity and age, and my response is always the same: “They ain’t what they seem!” Might this have been the very first pipe scam in America? Some may think so, but I don’t, because these pipes were not represented as antique in either company’s catalog.

Caminetto or…?
Now to get into the really juicy stuff. I attended the RTDA annual tradeshow in 1985 at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., as an invited guest of a local retailer. One vendor I met, a known quantity in the tobacco business, claimed to be the U.S. distributor of Caminetto pipes, and his booth was replete with only sandblasted models of “La Pipa del Baffo.” Someone in our group with a much sharper, more expert eye than mine noticed that the trademark stamped on the mouthpiece—the logo of the bowler-hatted Gianni Davoli (the co-founder of Caminetto with Luigi Radice and Giuseppe Ascorti), with that distinctive, distinguished walrus moustache—was considerably larger, much larger than it should be. Was it a new and improved logo, a stamping error, or were these pipes not quite right? It turns out that they were not from the skilled hands of Italian craftsmen; it was determined during the show that these pipes were produced somewhere in the Netherlands; sadly, one or two unwitting retail shop buyers were duped. I overheard a person at the show as creative as the person or persons who made these briars give them a new trade name, Caminottis! I don’t believe that at that time the RTDA was a vetted show, but something scurrilous like this is not the norm at this industry event. I am not aware of any later fallout, and I was not privy to the disposition of these pipes.

Levin father and…
About this same time, along came the very decent Barry Levin, NML Pipes Direct, of Craftsbury, Vt., a pioneer in the mail-order estate-pipe business, an ethical pipe man with a fabulous inventory of briars at reasonable prices. When he died unexpectedly in 1994, a family member assumed the stick. For whatever reason, greed or another of the Seven Deadly Sins took control, the business was killed, the company name sullied, and the sad outcome is still often discussed, because the company shuttered owing money, pipes or both to many disgruntled customers. Want some specifics? The reader can find selected comments on the Internet, and I offer, particularly Pipes Digest #242, Sept. 20, 1997, as one venue.

The Dunghill gang
Here’s another scam that unfortunately has not yet gone from memory. When the president of Pipe Collectors International, C. Bruce Spencer, started his quarterly magazine, Pipe Smoker, in the spring of 1983, it featured a column about collecting, and with the resurgent interest in collecting early Dunhill pipes, the column focused on this brand more than on any other. About three years later, the column ended, but the demand did not, and as the story goes, three culprits became involved in the so-called “fake Dunhill” scam cum ripoff. One was the seller, the front-man, while the other two complicit villains were in defilade refinishing and retooling relatively new Dunhill briars so that they would exhibit Dunhill nomenclature attributable to rarer, earlier models and finishes; one of the several clues to these particular Dunhills was an “out-of-round” white dot on the stem. It’s also claimed that this troika may have also produced and sold the occasional fake Charatan; these and their Dunhills were merchandised at very high prices.

I asked John Loring (recently deceased, sadly), a very knowledgeable Dunhill collector, to chime in, so with his permission, I offer his take on what happened:

In the early 1980s, when the Dunhill pipe was the most desirable ‘apple’ in the eye of the American briar collector, a then-leading American collector, in conjunction with an industry middleman, got together with a leading Dunhill-trained, English pipemaker to produce and sell around 75 purportedly rare Dunhill ‘patent-era’ shapes for, in all, many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. A few of the fakes were actually older, repaired Dunhills, while others were from partially finished Dunhill factory pipes that had been graded out because of sandpits, etc. The rest, the bulk of these fakes, were crafted from raw Dunhill factory briar blocks. In each instance, these pipes were stamped or re-stamped using Dunhill stamping tools to indicate rare patent-era shapes. So exceptional was their quality, and so limited was our understanding of early Dunhill pipes in the early 1980s, that many serious collectors battled one another to pay thousands of dollars for them. One of these fakes received the ‘Pipe of the Year’ award at a pipe show. But you can’t fool all the people all the time and, within a year or so, the scam unraveled with the perpetrators either banished or running for cover. Most of these phenomenal fakes have since been destroyed or been stamped with warning marks, and since that time, we’ve learned how to spot them.

Greg Pease, a reputable gent, had this to say in Pipes Digest #194, July 2, 1995:

During the early 1980s, as I recall, a major scandal hit the collector circuit. All at once, actually over a period of a few months, unsmoked patent number Dunhills in large sizes and unusual (read rare) shapes found their way, like so many little piggies, to market. High-grade Charatans, mostly Coronations, also appeared in some numbers …. Interestingly, all these pieces came through the same source in the U.S. Needless to say, the fellow who masterminded this scandal was cast out from the collectors’ realm, but not until he had made a tidy sum taking advantage of the trust of his fellows.

It was a scandal of major proportions, and although I am not a Dunhill aficionado, given my perverse sense of humor, to me these were BBB pipes, not Britain’s Best Briars, but Britain’s Bogus Briars. And that multiyear scam? Frankly, this trio elevated corruption to a fine art! I have not investigated what or where these three are doing, but they may now be working together again making new-age Caminottis in a Cook Island hut, Danish look-alike Mindall Licke or Moretension pipes in a Mongolian yurt, or replicas of Kaydoodies inside a kraal in Kenya. If you want to read a more refined and comprehensive account of this caper, read John’s lengthy, detailed report, “The 1980s Fake Dunhill” in the Winter-Spring 2005 issue of The Pipe Smoker’s Ephemeris. John did not identify them by name in his article, and I do not in this more abbreviated version; nevertheless, almost everyone who was around at the time pretty much knew who the players were. And here’s why I said as I introduced this caper: “… has not yet gone.” John advised that once in a while one of these ersatz Dunhills shows up on eBay.

Internet e-cons
It was “All Quiet on the Eastern (and Western) Front,” for much of the early 1990s, until eBay became an Internet commercial success, and then all hell broke loose. Stated more colorfully, for those who are committed Web surfers, there suddenly appeared a pixel-and-byte tsunami, or maybe a torrent, of instant tobacco treasures for sale. (Understand, please, in what follows that I am not casting aspersions on all the legitimate guys who sell reliable pipes on the Internet.) Sellers popped up everywhere on the Worldwide Web offering “genuine” and “authentic” Michoacan and pre-Colombian pottery pipes, prehistoric Roman and Etruscan iron pipe bowls (a historic oxymoron), hand-carved African ethnographic and fetish wood, cast bronze and terracotta pipes, antique silver Tibetan tribal pipes, clay pipes from very early archaeological digs, elephant molar fossil and yak horn pipes, etc. … but, truth told, all made just yesterday. From the Orient, with a worldwide resurgence in collecting late 19th century Chinese opium pipes and related accessories, suddenly and magically appeared a community of unskilled, low-tech crafts people from Taiwan, China, Cambodia, Laos and especially Thailand who began to offer opium pipes, bowls, boxes, lamps and tools at very tempting prices on the Internet, but to the discerning eye of a serious collector of these specialty items, none of this stuff is any match in quality or execution to the real deals.

The reader may strongly disagree with Elaine Robbins, who reported in “The World Wide Web of Antiquities” (American Archaeology, Fall 2004): “The Internet is littered with fakes.” Matt Mayberry refers to one particular auction website as “… the world’s largest garage sale” (“The Care and Handling of eBay for Museums,” History News, Summer 2004). And if these two criticisms aren’t convincing enough, here’s a scary observation from Margaret Duda, an established collector of antique silver ornaments: “Forgers eventually became so adept that even museum curators told me they had trouble distinguishing some copies from the originals.” Want more proof? There’s a website offering tips on how to be successful at this game. Check out “How to Sell Fake Art on eBay and Make Big Money” ( “It’s OK; eBay doesn’t care,” are the exact words on its home page. Even if the statement is not true, it sure tempts the ethics-less to devise and contrive new and clever sales schemes.

The following, written by an anonymous Native American, was recently posted on eBay about its offers of North American ethnographic and early Native American pipes. He is a man after my own heart:

I’ve been watching closely, and this seller has sold many hundreds of these pipes over the last couple of years. Many hundreds! Where do they all come from? Not digs or old collections, that’s for sure. Most museums would love to have so many effigy pipes in perfect condition at such a good price. The truth is, these are all fakes of modern manufacture. They all come from Asian bucket shops. That’s why he sells them on eBay and not the open market. And it is a fact that those blank collection labels can be purchased online by the thousand. All it takes to ‘age’ them is a short bath in hot tea or coffee. Then you whip out the old fountain pen and voila, you have what looks like a hundred-year-old label.

And starting in the early 1990s, from somewhere in Europe appeared a meerschaum-like pipe (the medium is actually resin/epoxy), mass-produced in a preformed mold, that has appeared everywhere, at auctions in London, Paris and New York, at flea markets, and antique and pipe shows that is, unquestionably, an authentic, unadulterated, certified, veritable, honest-to-goodness forgery. In October 1994, I received a letter from Lucy Cattanach, European Works of Art Department, Christie’s South Kensington, London, England, who asked for the authenticity of a pipe “which will shortly be offered for sale.” The letter, in part, described the pipe in question:

I enclose a photograph of the pipe, which is carved from amber and bears the signature Gustav Fisher Jnr on the bowl, and Gustav Fisher, Vienna, Exposition 1873 on the stem. I would very much appreciate any assistance you might give me with regard to its background, and especially any information on the maker.

Looking at the accompanying photo, I knew the pipe was neither amber nor meerschaum. The telltale signs, the signal giveaways, however, were the two signatures—Gustav never signed his pipes, and his last name was Fischer, not Fisher—and a shiny pot-metal shank ferrule. I responded and received a second letter in mid-November 1994, stating, in part: “… unfortunately we will not be selling the pipe.” (I, of course, was ecstatic to read this news!) I illustrated this counterfeit pipe in Collecting Antique Meerschaums (1999), but that has not stopped the production, distribution and sale of this poorly crafted resin monstrosity with a blood-red precolored finish depicting a man in a stovepipe hat carousing with several buxom females around the bowl. The maker or vendor of this pipe might have promoted it as a Fischer “derivative,” but I call this one a “fake-fake” or “fake2”; after all, Fischer certainly did not make this pipe, what is alleged to be meerschaum is actually resin, and what is claimed to be amber is actually orange plastic! I could list all the other reasons why this is a fraud, but just take my word for it: if you see one for sale, it isn’t worth spit, although I know that several were sold recently at pipe shows and on the Internet for fairly big bucks. Since illustrating that pipe in my book, a second-generation resin job, known as “Nude Victory,” has been circulating in these same venues, and I suspect that it’s from the same source as the first pipe. These two are, for sure, PipeImPostErs! Others of this ilk may be in the pipeline (no pun intended), and if they are, my counsel to whoever is producing them is to sell them at the perfect venue with a very fitting name, OriginalFake, a retail store in Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, owned by the art entrepreneur Brian Donnelly.

In the specialized world of antiques, the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association Inc. maintains the ATADA Theft Alert Page on the Internet to which announcements are posted when early American Indian objects have been stolen from collectors, dealers and museums; rare Argillite, steatite and stone pipes and beaded pipe bags are often incidentals to such robberies, and the Alert Page is the clearinghouse for disseminating the noteworthy details to all concerned. I mention this simply because the pipe-collecting community has no equivalent online network to alert us about shanghaied ‘baccy booty. Do we need such?  I honestly don’t know, because it’s been pretty quiet in Tobaccoland of late … other than an incident at Pheasant Run Resort in May 2008 mentioned later on. But imagine, if you will, how it might have helped, were it in effect when any of the following occurred.

In this section I touch on several events falling within the category of “plunder, pillage and piracy.” Some of the victims or the incidents I mention were or are well known, others not so. The common denominator that links them all is the tobacco pipe, and reporting what I know about each event was, for me, cathartic; for those whose stuff was swindled, it was a different kind of experience altogether. What I highlight are a handful of nefarious incidents in our community that exhibited real hubris and gall. Here are those in my recollection that came to light in the late 1980s and 1990s.  In January 1987, M. Guerard Putnam of Asheville, N.C., a collector of Dunhill, Charatan and many other high-grade pipes, was subjected to a random robbery. He had packed and boxed his collection and placed it in the trunk of his car, intending to ship the pipes to Smokers Emporium in Wilmington, N.C., for restoration. The car was rifled and all his pipes were taken. Fortunately, he had a completely detailed written and photographic inventory … and insurance. He never retrieved his pipes, but he at least received reasonable replacement value for his loss. Sad, yes, but he was wise enough to protect his investment, something many pipe collectors do not entertain, but should. Read on for some more dirty deeds and their outcomes.

Tony Irving, fellow antique pipe collector, opened The House of Pipes at Bramber, Sussex, England, in 1973 using his own collection of some 20,000 smokiana items as the basis for a public exhibition. His collection grew as his private museum became popularized with the addition of a conference hall, study center, executive suite and gift shop. Sometime in late 1989 or early 1990, Tony contacted me to say that robbers entered the museum through the roof one night and took the better pipes and related artifacts; they were never recovered. Of course, it didn’t help the police when Tony confessed that he retained no formal records or illustrations of what he had purchased since he began collecting in 1948, exactly how many pipes were stolen, and their individual or collective values … and he had no personal property insurance. Soon thereafter, disheartened and somewhat impoverished, Tony contacted Phillips auction house, which sold the balance of his collection in a three-phased public auction in 1990.

Selsey is in West Sussex, where another (name withheld) antique pipe collector of some fame owns a summer cottage; he kept his better porcelain pipes there to look at and enjoy when he was on vacation. Sometime in the mid-1990s, he contacted me to advise that his cottage had been vandalized. The police, I am told, did not link the proximate geographical coincidence of the Irving robbery and that of this person. A few, not all, of his exquisite porcelain pipes were recovered several years later when he spotted them in an antiques stall at a weekend antiques fair in London. The seller, when shown proof, ceded the few that he had purchased—but refused to volunteer the seller’s name—to my friend; the theft was never solved. Needless to say, until he passed away recently, my friend was heartbroken knowing that he would never recover or be able to replace all his lost treasures.

The Valentine Museum in Richmond, Va., had owned the Half-and-Half Pipe Collection since 1957 and decided to dispose of it in 1991. An inventory was conducted just prior to the sale, and it was discovered that about 10 to 15 percent of the 250-odd antique and vintage pipes had been “lifted” from the open-storage shelves, a mystery to the museum’s staff as to when they were taken and by whom in the intervening 34 years. None of these missing pipes have reappeared.

As Mary Dunhill reports in Our Family Business, during the German air raids on London, rockets hit the Duke Street Dunhill shop in April 1943. She writes: “Though many records and the greater part of Father’s library were saved, most of the rare pipes, snuff boxes, and antiques from our museum were lost forever.” That’s because much of what was on display inside the shop was removed and strewn around Duke Street, as firefighters feverishly worked to control the blaze. A passerby or some passersby walked away with many of the museum artifacts, and a few of those pipes crossed the Atlantic. How do I know this? In 1993 or 1994, David Wright, then the curator of the Museum of Tobacco Art and History in Nashville, Tennessee, showed me some color Polaroids of six pipes that a widow of an antiques restorer in upstate New York wanted to sell to the museum; David was not interested, but I was, and I bought them. When they arrived, I recognized all of them: five of the six were illustrated in Alfred Dunhill’s The Pipe Book (1924); one of these five, a mammoth ivory pipe, is the color illustration on the spine of the dust jacket of this edition, and the sixth was a bone, ivory and wood pipe that had once belonged to that famous late 19th century pipe collector William Bragge. I immediately contacted the widow, but she had no background on the pipes and could not recollect how her husband had obtained them, or how long he had them in his possession. I then contacted the Dunhill Museum archivist, Ian McOmish, and although he was fascinated by the reappearance of these pipes some 50 years later, his concise response was “finder’s keepers.” These six may, in time, become the most famous purloined pipes, their DNA notwithstanding.

Probably the one incident of the 1990s that touched many very deeply was the egregious sleight of hand against a lifelong, true devotee of briars, the late, great Basil Sullivan of Indiana, whom it was my pleasure to be acquainted with for about 25 years. He had an exemplary Charatan pipe collection (featured in the Winter 1984 issue of Pipe Smoker magazine), and he was acknowledged by one and all as a gentleman par excellence. Basil was one of the two co-founders of the Indiana Briar Friars (IBF), which hosted its own show for many years in Indianapolis, and he exhibited at many other pipe shows through the years. He was in his day to Charatan as Edsel James was to Dunhill. Basil, gregarious, ultra-friendly and unassuming, trusted everyone, including an Indiana state trooper whom Basil took into his confidence. The trooper asked to see his extraordinary collection, and Basil invited him to stay a few days. His closest friend and IBF co-founder, Dave Braddock, provided several details of the twisted tale of how this trooper choreographed his lawbreaking act of legerdemain. He made a copy of the house key Basil loaned him so that he could come and go as he pleased when Basil was at work. (Not a good idea at all … ever!) Days later, he used that duplicate key to gain entry to the house when Basil was not at home, and when Basil returned, he discovered that a significant number of his fine Charatans were no longer present. A kitchen window had been broken, suggesting a forced break-in from the outside; Basil did not suspect that his trooper friend had breached his trust and was the culprit. That trooper, however, had begun selling his swag to unwitting collectors and to an unspecified (at that time) retail tobacconist. Word of the robbery spread rapidly. A fellow collector spotted what appeared to be some of Basil’s Charatans in a showcase at the National Pipe Shop on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., called Basil, and described what he saw. Basil called the shop, informed the owner, Ed Love, that these were stolen property; the owner set them aside and gave Basil the name of the person who sold them to the shop. In time, the trooper-felon was tracked down, tried, found guilty and served time. That handful of bilked pipes was returned to Basil—many others were irretrievably lost—and it was the end of a love affair. Basil stopped collecting and exhibiting, sold his residual pipes and never quite returned to his former jovial self. Until his passing, he had changed his positive outlook and had become distrusting, disillusioned, disheartened … and justifiably so!

Having recounted all this, having believed that I had captured all the bad news of those years, I am now obliged to report that we’re not quite out of the woods yet! On background, a series of FAQs are posted on the CPCC’s Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show website, one of which is Number 26: “Is there a standard of behavior at the show?” The answer is: “Yes. Any criminal conduct such as theft, fraud … will result in immediate expulsion from the show and an immediate report to law enforcement authorities and/or hotel security …. Violations may result in expulsion of the violator from the show by the Show Director.” Kudos to whoever crafted this nifty bit of guidance governing the conduct of attendees and the show management’s automatic response to bad behavior. I was one of several hundred participants and visitors attending the 2008 show, but the following distressing news was not made public until two months after the show ended. A Chicago Tribune staff report headline, July 30, 2008, reads: “Thieves make off with antique smoking pipes.” “A thief took a briefcase with 12 antique smoking pipes valued at $4,500 from a man who had been attending a pipe show May 3 at the Pheasant Run Mega Center in the 4000 block of East Main Street. The victim delayed reporting the theft in the hopes that the stolen items would be turned in to authorities. Police have no suspects.” I contacted Frank Burla, the show manager, who believes that the victim was Mr. Derek Green of England, and that a bag, not a briefcase, containing briar, not antique, pipes was accidentally placed into a trash receptacle and disposed of by the resort’s clean-up crew. If, as Frank contends, Derek Green was the victim of a chance error in judgment, then his loss is outside the scope of this article; if, on the other hand, it was the theft of antique pipes, as the Chicago Tribune reports, then it is heist history revisited. In defense of the CPCC, however, I have to say that in the lengthy history of this annual, security-conscious gala gathering, such tragic events are a very rare anomaly.

Those turkeys!
Then, there is something else, not quite the definitional theft: copying the shape, style or motif of someone’s pipe, mass-producing reproductions, and selling them on the Internet without giving credit to the owner of the original, or to the book in which the original is illustrated; this is universally known as image theft, when there is no permission, attribution or compensation. This is not happening with briars—at least so far as I know—but it is definitely happening with antique meerschaum pipes and cheroot holders. Without finger-pointing or name-calling, I will say that this is an ongoing activity at the workbench of several Turkish meerschaum pipe carvers who constantly and consistently use the images of other people’s antique meerschaum pipes that are illustrated in several books, including my own A Complete Guide to Collecting Antique Pipes and Collecting Antique Meerschaums, and not seeking permission from the owner to reproduce that pipe or cheroot holder. And if I am out of line stating this, then at a minimum, I consider what’s being done unethical, that others would copy for profit the pipes and cheroot holders from private collections without the owner’s OK. Imitation is the best form of flattery, an oft-repeated maxim, but imitating without permission is no different than the wave of counterfeit (knockoff) merchandise that enters this country. To me it’s less part of the explosive trade in “counterfeit chic” and more the recognition by those who have no conscience to make these knockoffs, knowing that there is considerable demand for some of the more rare and unusual antique pipes and cheroot holders. I’ll grudgingly give credit where credit is due: one Turkish carver, in particular, is very skilled and makes a mean copy, but in my view, he is guilty of failing to give honorable mention to the source of the item(s) copied.  He and the other copycats in Eskisehir who have selected the illustrations in my books cannot plead ignorance, because the ownership of each pipe and holder appearing in both books is identified below each image, and I have never been contacted to put him or any other Turkish pipe carver in touch with the owners(s) of the reproduced pipes and cheroot holders that they offer on eBay. Unfortunately, there is little we can do about this other than to hope that the Turks self-police, cease and desist, or make amends with those whose pipes and holders are used as models for reproduction.

Forwarned is forearmed
Probably other, lesser scandals about which I know nothing and which probably slipped under my radar occurred in this same period of time, or they might be occurring as this article goes to press. What I do know is that there is no way to stop this kind of sham-scam unless the incident is made public and the responsible person is outed, labeled a pipe pariah and ostracized from our community. If it happened to nice folks like Tony Irving, my unnamed British collector-friend, and to that stalwart Basil Sullivan, it can happen to just about anyone. If you are a center-stage collector with a valuable collection of pipes, and you don’t want to risk the flame, then avoid the fame! I know that I am singing to the choir, but I’ll say it anyway: those who have a substantial investment in their collection are not risk-free! Heed my counsel: be not uninsured like Tony Irving or my other English friend! Get some, perhaps a personal articles floater, or increase your homeowner’s personal property insurance with a scheduled personal property endorsement to cover the value of your collection, especially if it comprises rare, irreplaceable pipes, whether new, vintage or antique.

Will there be more pipe fakery in the future? Might there be (meerschaum) miscreants and (briar) bunkos in our midst now or in the future? Who knows? I hope not, but I am not naïve. For confidence men and grifters, the temptation to swindle and scam is too hard to resist; they seek every opportunity, rise to every occasion and are always ready to employ an effective deception, any of an infinite variety of con games in their repertoire or kitbag. What’s for sure is that the educated buyer, the careful buyer, the questioning buyer is best served by doing business with only those who have reputable track records and satisfied customers; don’t do business with folks you don’t know or whose creds cannot be verified by others whom you do trust. These things do not normally, generally, usually happen at pipe shows, even if the show is not vetted, but it is a common occurrence on the Internet. Sometimes it’s a questionable pipe from an unknowing seller at an antiques show, or it’s a dubious pipe offered by an inexperienced auctioneer of a reputable auction house here or overseas. It can happen anywhere and be offered by anyone. Remember that all those Caminottis, DunGhills and Char(l)atans have not been destroyed, so some are still out there in circulation.
Furthermore, there might be someone at a future pipe show surreptitiously eyeing your stuff on display, someone unfamiliar to all the regulars, someone who seems overly anxious to ingratiate himself to you and asks to see your stuff in a more private setting, someone like that state trooper who deceived Basil Sullivan. Watch out for spies and be leery of lies! Make sure that those who ask to see your collection in the privacy of your home are trustworthy and are known to the collector community. If you don’t like the vibes that person is giving off, don’t let that person into your confidence. Prudence and caution should be your watchwords at all times. Be on your guard. Make sientia est potentia your mantra. Learn from George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As a footnote, as a jeremiad to all this, however distasteful it is to recount and read about this handful of ugly events, this spate of blemishes, they do paint the unfortunate “dark side” of our hobby’s recent history. Although none of these events have hobbled the hobby, we should be outraged enough that they are etched into our memory and not forgotten … or repeated. This subject is decidedly unpleasant, and to be privy to or witness another tobacco-tricked victim is yet more disturbing news. Incidents like these may now be out of sight, but they ought not to be out of mind! I am old enough and wise enough to know that one or a few bad apples do not a rotten bushel of apples make, but I am also cynical enough to believe that things like this can happen again, because the perverse always seem to persevere and, as the proverbial ‘they’ say, lightning can strike twice in the same place, right?

Unfortunately, lighting did strike a second time, just as I was putting the finishing touches on this article. Marty Pulvers broadcast an e-mail APB—more specifically a BOLO (be on the lookout)—on June 9, 2009, that the Walnut Creek, Calif., home of an old friend and good customer of Marty was burgled. “He had, almost exclusively, very high-grade pipes, including at least two, and perhaps more, Bo Nordh pipes. His focus was on extremely fine straight-grain pipes. If you are approached with the possibility of acquiring high-grade pipes from a dicey source, please contact your local authorities because this is felony material; it is not a misdemeanor.” As of late July 2009, Marty was not aware that any of these pipes had surfaced … and I think that they probably never will. In this hobby, it is fact that high-quality briars are hot items and are always in demand. This group of briars is, literally, really hot, and how they were obtained ain’t cool.

Although these few rascally incidents brought to light are not harbingers of the future—it would be irresponsible speculation on my part to suggest otherwise—I strongly recommend that in addition to caveat emptor and caveat vendor, all pipe-hobbyists adopt another appropriate aphorism: caveat collector! In closing, those who have a taste for the techno music of the legendary drum and bass artist Klute know that his first double-album CD release in 2003 was titled Lie, Cheat and Steal, but the title of the second disc in this set sums up my attitude toward all these past—and all future would-be—scoundrels: You should be ashamed.

By Ben Rapaport


Category: Web Extras, Winter 2011

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