“The new pipe-makers are coming, the new pipe-makers are coming!!”
At the recent Las Vegas Pipe Show, those general words were a big topic of conversation. Why? Because as far as the eye could see, new pipe-makers were making their first public appearance at the show. I imagine that a good 70% of the conversations I had with collectors & pipe-makers alike, touched upon this subject in one way or another. Several weeks ago, Brandon Marquette, an avid Adam Davidson collector and fellow pipe-smoker posted a similar comment on Facebook and the flood of thoughts I had at the show, plus some new ones came to the fore-front and so here we are.
There are so many new & highly talented pipe-makers starting to poke their heads out. The questions are numerous. How will the brand new pipe-makers affect the market? How does today’s brand new pipe-maker & their effect on the market, compare to that of a new pipe-maker from several years ago? What happens to prices? Are there pricing pressures to see? There have been numerous changes over the past few short years and it is an interesting analysis to review the changes within the pipe marketplace. How does it all fit together and what will the end result be in the future?
When we discuss the ‘pipe market’ it should first be made clear that it is a very small market place. At the retail level, one of the largest pipe retailers in the United States carries a mere 69 individual pipe artisans. A decent number but not exactly an enormous figure. That number though gives us a starting point for analysis.
I will make a small attempt at a prediction and say that over the next 5 to 7 years, the retail market place will increase by a rather large 30%. That 30% or 1/3rd, carries with it a mere number of 20+ new pipe-maker names to be added to pipe retail rosters. Unfortunately I do not know the rate of growth up until this point but I can confidently say that whatever it has been, it will be surpassed in the coming years.
There are simply way too many new & very talented pipe-makers out there. People with the strong ability to craft briar wood into something that looks so aesthetically pleasing – that they will simple make it & achieve ‘member status’ of the pipe selling community. These new pipe-makers are coming out from all over the world. Looking at Russia today, as one small example, there are a good 10+ names of absolutely amazing carvers whose work the general pipe smoking public has not seen yet. That is just one country, albeit a large one. Japan is producing many new carvers. China and Greece as well. Of course the US is producing carvers too. The new pipe-makers are coming and we will see a lot of new names very soon. The next question becomes, how will their entry impact the market as a whole.
Pipe prices in general have risen dramatically over the past 2 years. It is safe to say that we are in a pricing bubble right now. The funny thing however is that this bubble will not pop anytime soon. Because the market is so small, those relatively established pipe-makers with at least 5+ years under their belt’s, who have already achieved pricing above $1,000 will likely retain their status. Where the bubble is most visibly seen & where some popping will occur over the next few years is with brand new pipe-makers & the sub $1,000 market.
There are new carvers coming into the market today with prices above $500. A few years ago, $200 to $300 was the “norm”. It is these new pipe-makers entering the market over the next few years who will flood the sub $1,000 market and make it extremely price competitive. A large amount of new talent and not enough perceived demand will put a new downward price pressure on most of this new talent. Why do I use the word perceived demand? Because many high-grade collectors will either feel overwhelmed and/or not find a way to trust these new pipe-makers. There will be so many new pipe-makers coming in, how will they know which ones to collect? Which of these new pipe-makers will be worthy of their dollars? This problem is in fact a good thing for smart collectors of high grade pipes because their choices for pipes under $1,000 will increase dramatically over the next few years and there will be many collectors who will find a way to take advantage of this. The pool of talent will be plenty. The exceptional new talent however will be few. Those two groups, talented & exceptionally talented, will be mixed together for the next few years giving collectors a bonanza of options to choose from.
Whenever I discuss pricing, I can’t help but think about several pipe artisan masters who have stayed ‘true’ to some form of pricing strategy. Even as the global market changes and luxury goods become more expensive, there are some pipe-makers who have not acted in an overzealous pricing manner, even as the market has in general done so over the past few years. These particular pipe-makers have found a way to restrain themselves. Most of the names I will mention are from the European realm and I use them because they explain this issue with ease.
Is it not the oddest thing to see a pipe by Former, a pure Danish master, priced the same as some new carvers? Former’s pricing still averages around $1,000 today and we have relatively new carvers commanding the same prices. There are in fact a few relatively new carvers who deserve that pricing status, based on their sheer talent but the number of deserving makers who regularly sell out of all their work at those figures is very small. The others who list their prices at those figures will likely deal with some price adjustments over the next few years as the available talent pool grows and grows & becomes more competitive. TobaccoDays covered this topic a while back in the article (‘What is the best pricing strategy for new pipe-makers?’. Click to read)
I admire the confidence that many new pipe-makers have & it is their confidence that allows for the comparison to continue. Established pipe-makers like Danish artisan Peter Heding averages below $1,000 for a pipe where he could easily command over $1,300. Tonni Nielsen, another Danish master, likely averages around $1,200 for a pipe these days. Cornelius Manz, the German wunderkind, also averages just over $1,000 for one of his pipes & Manz, could easily go above $1,500. A few quick examples of established Masters whose pricing has remained very steady. Their pricing growing at a pace that has elements of ‘common sense’ related to it. Common sense from a business point of view or some element of long-term strategy attached to it. It feels like this common sense has shifted over the past few years for several new pipe-makers as these new pipe-makers seek to command the higher dollars quicker. I am not sure if we can negatively judge the free market. It is what it is & those collectors choosing to pay those dollars for relatively new carvers are deciding that their work equates to that of the previously named masters. I cannot go further on that line of comment. The market will always be a mystery and what people choose to pay for something and why, will always be a roller coaster discussion. In the end though, it remains a point of comparison and provides us with accessible thoughts of analysis.
Other points to mention
There will be many carvers who avoid the retail marketplace altogether and focus exclusively on private commission work. Perhaps a smart strategy but a difficult one.
There are also carvers out there who will be happy to produce 2 pipes a month and because of the economy they live in, those two pipes can easily cover their basic living expenses & a little more. An interesting side-effect of these particular carvers is that they will naturally keep their production low which will obviously keep their demand high. Even with that higher demand for their hard to get pipes, they will be satisfied to ply their craft at their 2 pipes a month artistic pace.
There are so many different angles to our small hobby and a lot of fun facts to explore & digest. The main thing I am looking forward to though over the next five years is finding the diamonds in the rough. There are in fact pipe-makers today, on par with the likes of the Danish & German masters mentioned above, whose work is selling at around $500. There is a lot of amazing new talent out there today and much more is coming. That price inequality is what collectors should start exploring & be looking out for. The sub $1,000 market will be re-defined over the next few years & hopefully for the better.
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