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                                      The Mill
Nov. 21, 2014    
 Good, Real Good, or Too Good

                    How good is too good?  
That might not be the right question,
but I've got to start this discussion
somewhere.  Let's see if I can bring
this conversation forward in a
comprehensible manner and actually
engage your interest.  The issue is the
reconditioning and
restitution/refurbishing of used pipes.  
To establish a bit of historical
background (I may delete this as
irrelevant and boring), I started in this
hobby by doing what I called
reconditioning used pipes in 1977.  It
was merely an attempt to take the
pipes I bought for about 50 cents at
garage sales and flea markets and
make them smokeable,  and thus
saleable.   If they looked good, they
had a chance of selling.  There was
never anything close to an attempt to
cover up real flaws in a pipe.  
  At the time I started, I did not know
that a single other person on the planet
was reconditioning and re-selling used
pipes.  I thought I could become the
used pipe magnate of the western
world.  If I had the drive and brains of
some of today's young (by my
standards) pipe sellers, I could have
made it.  
  I found out rather quickly that others
were also engaged in cleaning and
selling pipes.  Too the best of my
knowledge, none of them made any
effort to dissimulate and present a
used pipe as a new one.  In my years
and in my travels, I don't think that
issue ever arose.  Now, sometimes a
pipe was smoked for such a short
period, or not smoked at all, that I
could not tell if the pipe was new or
used.  But, as still happens today,
when that occurs, I do what I believe
to be the right thing and make it known
in my description.  There might be a
pipe on the site right now with that
caveat.  Plus, if there is any doubt in
my mind, I price the pipe as used.  That
is simple and safe.
  As with so many areas of retail, this
tradition of reconditioning pipes has
changed.  People have taken
reconditioning to higher levels.  At
least two popular vendors I can think
of off the top of my head refurbish (it's
no longer just a simple reconditioning)
pipes so well that on occasion it is
near impossible to tell if the pipe is
smoked or new.  I guess that the main
reason they do this difficult, tedious
work is to get more money out of the
pipes they buy and then sell.  At this,
too, they are undeniably good.  It
would be hard to argue against this
retail model.  
  It has not been suggested that these
newly minted pipes are presented as
unsmoked by the refurbishers.  Again,
to the best of my knowledge, these
people are up front about the
provenance of the pipes they sell.
Still, this does not stop potential
problems, i.e., far less scrupulous
people taking advantage of others.  It's
not a huge problem in our hobby, but it
is a problem that does exist and
reflects badly on all of us when fraud,
or even cheating, occurs.  
  In order to be as explicit as possible,
I'm printing the letter I received from
one of my customers that engendered
this posting.

Hey Marty,
Quick question:  in this business we
call estate pipes, what's your statute of
limitations regarding your own

Here's my situation. I bought an
unsmoked Todd Johnson off ebay 2
years ago. I
sold it from my website 5 months later
for a very small profit, but the total
purchase price was north of $700.   My
buyer is somewhat known in the pipe
as a collector.

My buyer contacted me last week (after
over 18 months) to tell me he had
begun the process of selling the pipe
through a very well-known ebay
refurbisher/seller. The refurbisher told
my buyer he could not list it as
unsmoked because he himself had
done the refurbishing on the pipe years
ago, so well that it made the pipe seem
unsmoked.   Both myself and my buyer
never questioned that it was
unsmoked, because the
restorationwas just that good.

My buyer just sold the pipe through the
refurbisher for about $300 and wants to
hold me responsible for the difference.

I contacted the gentleman I originally
bought from on eBay and suggested a
return and he told me to take a hike,
and that he doesn't know of anyone
who offers returns after 2 years.

What would you do in my situation?  
As someone who has been in the
hobby a long time and understands the
business, I value your opinion.
  In this case, I suggested that the
parties split the difference between the
$700 and the $300, giving them each a
loss of about $200.  But that does not
get to where the trouble is.  The
trouble is the reconditioning of a pipe
so that it is indistinguishable from
new.  It takes some skill and a fair
amount of work to do that, and in most
cases, it's a positive thing.  But when
the pipe is re-sold in that pristine
condition, the opportunity for fraud
enters the picture.
  Is there a way to prevent this?  Is
there a way to keep yourself from
falling victim to a pipe misrepresented
in this manner?  I don't know and I
can't immediately think of one, but
perhaps you can.  Perhaps you can
come up with some security measure
to keep this from happening regularly.  
Not having been privy to the details of
the sale when it happened, I can't be
certain, but it seems that “N.” was lied
to by the person who sold him the
pipe.  Should that person be called
out?  He does not appear to be willing
to take responsibility for having sold a
used pipe as a new one.  Do we want
to see that happen again.  Do we want
to see it happen to us?  
  As always, I welcome your insights
and comments, although I welcome
some more than others.  Was my
suggestion that the two people who
acted in good faith (the original buyer,
Mr. Q., and the person who bought the
pipe from Q. and then waited 18 mos.
to request his money back) split their
losses the best reply or was there
something more satisfactory, or just,
that I should have come up with?  
  And finally, or as far as I'm able to go
right now, can something be done
about the self-righteous, seemingly
smug refurbishers who take pipes and
with little regard to their original
nomenclature, staining, etc., do
whatever they feel is required to make
the pipe a higher-cost commodity?  In
my not-too-humble estimation, they
bastardize the pipe, inside and out, to
the point that it will never smoke the
way it did originally, but will, instead,
perform like something off a
production line.

Quotes & anecdotes from "The Portable Curmudgeon"

I've neglected this box for far too long.  We are up to the letter
"M."  It starts off with quotes on Man.

The earth has a skin and that skin has diseases; one of its
diseases is called man.    Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Man is a puny, slow, awkward, unarmed animal.
Jacob Bronowski

I love mankind.  It's people I can't stand.  Charles Schulz

To succeed in the world, it is not enough to be stupid, you
must also be well mannered.   Voltaire.

Life is a God-damned, stinking, treacherous game and nine hundred
and ninety-nine men out of a thousand are bastards.
Theodore Dreiser

Literature: proclaiming in front of everyone what one is careful to
conceal from one's immediate circle.     Jean Rostand

For certain people, after fifty, litigation takes the place of sex.
Gore Vidal

London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers of the Empire
are irresistibly drained.                               Arthur Conan Doyle

London, like a bowl of viscid human fluid, boils sullenly over the rim of
its encircling hills and slops messily and uglily into the home counties.
H.G. Wells                                                                                      
The monstrous tuberosity of civilized life, the capital of England.
Thomas Carlyle

Isn't it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live
there?                                                              Herb Caen

A big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup.
Raymond Chandler

Everything in Los Angeles is too large, too loud and usually banal in
concept...The plastic asshole of the world.     William Faulkner

I figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you
play or not.                                               Fran Lebowitz

Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and
discovering that she looks like a haddock.  John Barrymore

Love is the state in which man sees things most decidedly as they are
not.                                                               Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

A temporary insanity curable by marriage.             Ambrose Bierce

The delusion that one woman differs from another.
H.L. Mencken

In the forties, to get a girl you had to be a GI or a jock.  In the Fifties to
get a girl you had to be Jewish.  In the Sixties, to get a girl you had to be
black.  In the Seventies, to get a girl you've got to be a girl.
Mort Sahl

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying--
One of you is lying.                                          Dorothy Parker

Many a man in love with a dimple makes the mistake of marrying the
whole girl.                                                                       Stephen Leacock

Many a man has fallen love with a girl in a light so dim he would not
have chosen a suit by it.                                         Maurice Chevalier

It is a mistake to speak of a bad choice in love, since as soon as a
choice exists, it can only be bad.                         Marcel Proust

It's possible to love a human being if you don't know them too well.
Charles Bukowski

Love is only a dirty trick played on us to achieve the continuation of the
species.                                                                        W. Somerset Maugham

The only true love is love at first sight; second sight dispels it.
Israel Zangwill

Boy Meets Girl.  So What?                                       Bertolt Brecht
This photo was taken only days before my beloved San Francisco
store, Sherlock's Haven,  was closed for good in June of '06, thereby
diminishing the quality of life on this planet no little and quite some.  
The man to my right was my trusty pipe tobacco and cigar taste-tester,
Johnson, of the sensitive palate.  He is now  plying his trade in
Phoenix.  The tall gent behind him is Jimmy Walker, hand picked to be
my successor until lease negotiations broke down.  The hoodlum
looking character to my left is my good friend and Consigliere, Steve
Brunner.  Among the regulars are a number who are still friends and
with whom I have regular intercourse.  There has never been a more
congenial spot than Sherlock's Haven, the Camelot of tobacco stores.  
As its proprietor is how I'd like to be remembered.
I wanted to caption this photo, "I knew more about pipes when I was
seven than you know now," but my P.R. firm nixed that idea.  So, let's
try, "With the pristine palate that accompanies youth, Marty smokes a
blend without a full complement of Latakia for the first time in his life."
I don't actually know what was going through my mind at the time, but
the photo was taken circa 1950, and probably in Williamsburg, Virginia.
(And no, I did not actually smoke a pipe until I was 18 years old, really.)
Shortly after my mother met my wife, she told Joy that all it took to
keep me happy in the back seat of our 1938 LaSalle during our annual
one week vacations was a pipe in my mouth and a cap on my head.  
Joy responded with the fact that nothing has changed except that now
I'm in the front seat.  
Above is my sister, with whom I contentiously shared that large back
seat, and my father.  The sweater was knitted by my Aunt Rae.  The
site was most probably Niagara Falls and the year 1949.  I'm guessing.
Welcome to Pulvers Briar
This website is devoted to pipes and my enjoyment of talking
about and showing them.  For your part, I hope you derive some
pleasure in seeing and reading about briar and meerschaum
There are plenty of pipe websites and lots of good pipes other
than mine.  What will distinguish my site from most of the others
is the willingness to voice my  opinion in the relatively rare
occurrence when a pipe is not superior, or has a noticeable flaw.
Mostly, I'm pleased with the pipes I choose to offer for sale, both
in pipe quality and price.  But please, look and decide for
You will see new and used pipes for sale, the new often having
been hand picked and the used always having been cleaned
and reconditioned and ready for you to smoke upon arrival.  
Please enjoy your time spent here today, and please come back
I'm almost always happy to hear from you and to field your
questions, concerns, ideas or other input.
Feel free to write.
Marty Pulvers
Pulvers' Prior Briar
P.O. Box 61146
Palo Alto, CA  94306

(650) 965-7403