Famous Collectors


Ben Rapaport

In the New York Times of November 25, 1894, appeared “Fads of Pipe Collectors. Thousands of Dollars Paid for Rare and Beautiful Specimens. Collections of Well Known Men. Prominent Citizens of New- York Who Have Valuable Meerschaums.” 

And on July 12, 1936, there was “Rare Pipes As A Hobby; America, Tobacco’s Home, Affords a Wide Field for Collectors.” Coverage in this century includes the Miami Herald from March 11, 2001, with “Pipe’s Appeal as Collectible Goes Back for Centuries,”and from Crain’s Chicago Business of April 30, 2007, “Smoke Signals: Pipe Collecting Back in Vogue; Seen & Noted.” 

John C. Ewers, a scholar of the history and ethnology of the Plains Indians, reported in his book Plains Indian History and Culture: 

"During the nineteenth century several collectors in this country and abroad specialized in collecting artifacts illustrating the uses of tobacco in all parts of the world... These collectors generally were men of some wealth who obtained their specimens indirectly from field collectors and/or dealers. But William Bragge, a major English collector, did make one collecting trip to the plains before the buffalo were exterminated." 

Ewers knew about Bragge, but too few past pipe collectors are household names today; they’re known only to other pipe collectors. 

But why collect pipes—or anything, for that matter? 

Maybe it’s as Werner Muensterberger wrote in Collecting: An Unruly Passion: “There is reason to believe that the true nature of the habit is the emotional state leading to a more or less perpetual attempt to surround oneself with magically potent objects.” 

But it’s not just a hobby; it’s an education about history, culture, society, economics, and more. 

In 1992, in A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays, Joseph Epstein captured “collecting” best:

"A true collection ought to have—and a true collector is usually aroused by—an element of the hunt. In this sense, a collection of Dunhill pipes is not, technically, a true (or better, pure) collection. One could, after all, with enough money, simply walk into Dunhill’s, order the full line of the company’s pipes, write a check, and be done with it. A true collector is excited by the rarity, above all by the apparent inaccessibility, of the objects of his desire." 

For those who grew their collections, it was the chase after the rare, the unusual, the unique. In their time, there was no Internet and very few public auctions. They bought in Europe, where the finest specimens in wood, meerschaum, ivory, porcelain, amber, and silver were created, or in a few US cities, such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, where similar finery was sold. They spent serious money, often thousands, on a single pipe. The clay pipes of the early 1600s were plain, and then came wood and porcelain in the 1700s, followed by meerschaum in the early nineteenth century. Eighteenth century collectors had less selectivity, but as carving, etching, incising, engraving, and painting skills became more intricate and artful, opportunities to purchase higher quality, more sumptuous pipes became greater. 

Too few past pipe collectors are household names today; they’re known only to other pipe collectors.Several collected with passion and ardor. 

Pierre Lorillard (1742–1776) opened New York City’s first successful manufactory for tobacco products in 1760 on what was then Chatham Street. According to an 1899 edition of The Book Lover, Lorillard had “a fine collection of meerschaum pipes, which is said to be worth $10,000.” 

Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu (1766–1822), was an avid pipe collector. 

His Royal Highness, Prince Augustus Frederick, the Duke of Sussex (1773–1843), had an immense collection that drew a large audience to London at the Christie and Manson sale of his pipes when he died. 

Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), the seventh US president, was an inveterate pipe smoker and collector; 

a few of his pipes can be seen at his home, The Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck (1815– 1898), 

and Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria (1830–1916) 


were enthusiastic collectors as well, though both were undoubtedly more famous for their politics than for their pipes. 

My idol is William Bragge (1823–1884) of Birmingham, England. 

His collection (which included books, pipes, tobacco boxes and jars, pipe tampers, cigar cases, fire strikers, snuff boxes, rasps, mills, spoons, bottles, and is thoroughly detailed in the 1880 book Bibliotheca Nicotiana: A Catalogue of Books About Tobacco,

together With a Catalogue of Objects Connected With the Use of Tobacco in All Its Forms) literally spanned the globe with more than 7,000 artifacts acquired in one brief and energetic period of 20 years. He was very public, lending the assortment to museums and art clubs in England and Scotland during the 1870s. In 1882, the entire collection, considered the most famous of its time, was consigned for sale in London. In May of 1885, one year after Bragge’s death, The Museum, a Philadelphia journal, called him “one of the few ardent and systematic collectors of international reputation.” 

To be remembered for extraordinary dedication and devotion to collecting these antiquarian utensils of smoke, one has to leave an indelibly enduring and substantive mark on the pipe-collecting realm. 

Ample evidence illuminates the lasting influence of Baron Oscar de Watteville (1824–1901), Chief of France’s Depôt des Livres and also the director of sciences and letters in the French Ministry of Public Instruction. 

A portion of his collection appears in Racinet’s Le Costume Historique (1876–1877), a portfolio of 500 plates illustrating the dress, utensils, jewelry, weapons of war, and myriad other artifacts of the various ages of man.  

Six plates within illustrate smoking pipes—all belonging to the baron, who wrote the preface for Le Tabac: Le Livre des Fumeurs et des Priseurs. Here and there in the book’s margins appear drawings of his pipes, and, in the fifth chapter, he explains how he began collecting pipes at age 10 after he and his father visited Prince Elim Metchersky, a Russian general who owned an assortment of antique pipes. The most lasting piece of evidence is the baron’s collection, which he donated to Chateau Oberhofen, the Historical Museum of Berne, Switzerland, in 1912. In 1972, the Chateau displayed the collection in a public exhibition and, today, portions of it may be seen by appointment. 

Famous not only for her gardens near Grasse, France, Baroness Alice de Rothschild (1847–1922) of the renowned financier family, 

is also noted for her superior collection of Meissen, wood, and meerschaum pipes (as well as the many Cuban and Dominican cigars that bear her family name). Her assembly of more than 450 discrete examples was bequeathed to the Bibliothèque Municipale de Grasse in 1927. Her pipes have been exhibited on at least two occasions: in early 1989, and again in late 2004, the latter with a retrospective catalogue, La Collection de Pipes de la Baronne Alice de Rothschild. 

One intact collection belongs to the Savinelli pipe company. Achille Savinelli Sr. started making briars in Milan, Italy, in 1876. 

Achille’s son Carlo (1876–1971), also a pipemaker, succeeded him in 1890, and began collecting in the 1930s. The collection now comprises clay, boxwood, meerschaum, porcelain, and other assorted pipes, and is located at the factory in Molina di Barasso. 

Alfred Dunhill (1872–1959), founder of Alfred Dunhill Ltd., the arbiter of style among people who value elegance, 

opened his first tobacco shop in London in 1907. In the early 1920s, he began collecting antique pipes. In 1924, he authored The Pipe Book, which has been reprinted several times in the last 80 years and is considered the definitive work on ethnographic pipes. After Alfred died, his grandson Richard Dunhill

slowly expanded the collection, often snagging the occasional antique meerschaum at auction. After the year 2000, the collections of almost 2,000 antique pipes was no longer a corporate interest, and Christie’s South Kensington auctioned it in May of 2004 and May of 2006. 

Kansas native James Lee Dick, inventor of the Morton Salt box lid with the metal pour spout, started accumulating pipes in 1898. When he died in 1946, he had 609 examples, including representative pipes from the 1700s to the 1940s—from the beautiful to the bizarre and everything in between. His widow donated the collection to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in 1948. From November 13, 2004, through March 12, 2005, an exhibit titled One Smokin’ Collection was featured. Of the 609 pipes, less than 100 are now on display, but this is the only antique pipe collection in this country that is accessible to the public. 

Frequent globetrotter John F.H. Heide (?–1946) of Chicago collected specimens from everywhere and from every age. He purchased pipes from antique shops, private parties and auction houses, deaccessioned museum collections, American ministers in the Orient, and schoolmasters and missionaries in Southern Rhodesia, among others. In the next 40 years, Heide amassed an extensive and diversified collection—1,344 smoking artifacts to be exact—which had been recorded in a typewritten catalogue discovered after his death in November of 1946. Some of his better pipes were featured on the cover of the October 1946 issue of Hobbies: The Magazine for Collectors because, in that issue, George Revilo Carter, a Chicago auctioneer, offered the collection for sale. In an article about Heide in the June 1948 edition of Pipe Lovers, the author concluded that “it is doubtful if one man will ever again possess as many pieces as once made up the collection of J.F.H. Heide.” (But that author never met Tony Irving or J. Trevor Barton...) 

Egypt’s King Farouk (1920–1965)

was a voracious collector of various things: Arabian horses, matchboxes, coins, watches, stamps, Gallé glass, and Fabergé eggs, to name a few. He also had a most extensive private collection of erotica, including many sensually themed meerschaum pipes. In 1954, Sotheby’s was commissioned to sell the dethroned monarch’s possessions, and a few of his pipes are now in private collections. 

Emanuel Goldenberg (1893–1973), more commonly known as Edward G. Robinson, was an avid collector of high-grade briar pipes, many of which were illustrated in
  magazine in January of 1960. “People call me a pipe collector,” said Robinson. “I’m not. To me pipe smoking is far more interesting than collecting.” His compilation was auctioned by a Newport Beach, California, art gallery in July of 1977. 

Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby (1903–1977) and his briar pipe were inseparable, 

even when he crooned. Some of his pipes remain with the family, some in private collections, and others displayed in two California venues called Bing Crosby’s Restaurant & Piano Lounge. Today, the Savinelli pipe company continues to make a series of Crosby-unique pipe shapes called “Bing’s Favorites.” 

Tony Irving (1925–),

little known outside England, opened the House of Pipes in Bramber, Sussex, in 1973 using his own collection of some 20,000 smokiana items as the basis for a permanent public exhibition. As his museum became popular, his collection grew to around 40,000 items spanning 1,500 years and representing 200 countries. Until its closing in 1989, the museum had attracted some 850,000 visitors. However, Tony, not a well man, asked Phillips Auction House to sell the collection in a three-phased public auction in 1990. Tony passed away several years ago without much fanfare. 

Jean-Marie Alberto Paronelli (1914–2004), a founding member of the International Academy of the Pipe and a true father of pipe design, collected not only interesting pipe formats, but also briar pipemaking machinery, tools, and dies that tell the story of how pipes were produced in the early days. As pipe factories shuttered in Italy, and particularly in St. Claude, France (the heart of French briar pipe production), he would purchase everything for display in his Gavirate home. Visitors are welcome to view the 12 rooms replete with about 30,000 pipes from around the world, foot- pedaled lathes, workbenches, and myriad tools of the trade. His collection is perhaps the most unique of its kind and a singular tribute to briar craftsmen of the past. 

J . Trevor Barton (1920–2008 ) of England was a twentieth-century William Bragge. 

After World War II, he was an international representative of an appliance company with countless opportunities to find rare and exotic ethnographic pipes while on business trips to Africa, South America, and Asia. He also acquired pipes for tobacco, dagga, opium, kief, etc., at local county fairs, boot sales, and the occasional public auction. About 40 years later, his collection numbered about 4,000 tobacco-related objects, and he received name recognition in 1985 when he was interviewed on national television, about the same time that he was inducted into the International Academy of the Pipe. He welcomed everyone to his Hertfordshire home and, clad in a velvet smoking jacket, he’d dote on his guests, providing more than an earful and eyeful of pipe history. Those who knew this icon of pipeland, myself included, will sorely miss him. As of this writing, his expansive, worldwide collection of smokables remains intact with his family. 

In the future, others will be added to the rolls of rich and famous pipe collectors. 

There’s one elderly American who has already made his mark with a very unusual and historically important collection of about 150 Civil War- era pipes handmade by soldiers of both the Union and the Confederacy to alleviate the boredom of trench life, and by incarcerated prisoners of war. 

Will he and other present-day pipe collectors become legends in their own time or leave a legacy after they pass on? Only time will tell. To achieve prominence in any field, one must be in the public eye. To be remembered for extraordinary dedication and devotion to collecting these antiquarian utensils of smoke, one has to leave an indelibly enduring and substantive mark on the pipe-collecting realm. In their time, this handful of collectors achieved prominence for how and what they collected; their legacies within the pipe world will surely endure beyond today.