This is a Pipe: Dr.Grabow

By Thomas Martin


I recently started "collecting" Dr. Grabows and was fortunate to find a couple other true collectors who are passionate and knowledgeable. They were gracious enough to include me in their emails and freely shared their knowledge with me. Sharing stories, pictures, and passion for these pipes is what the new Dr. Grabow Collector's Forum is all about. If other pipe forums are overwhelming for you, you might appreciate its focus and limited membership. Of course, you need to have an appreciation for the only American drugstore pipe still available in drugstores! Dr. Grabow themselves (International Pipes & Accessories) don't yet have a website but promise me is coming soon.

I asked my friend David Bridges why he collects Dr. Grabow pipes. Like most pipe smokers, he spent some time contemplating. I'm guessing at least a bowl or two. He told me, "It wasn't until he had been smoking a pipe for over twenty years before even trying a Grabow. and reluctantly at that". "There was no turning back." He'd been smoking pricier pipes and effectively used the "why buy a Rolex, when a Timex works just as well" argument on me. I huffed, he puffed. David considered himself lucky find a few Grabows in scattered retail outlets in his part of rural America. The pickings were slim, so he turned to eBay and was amazed at the different shapes available to him online versus what he could find locally/retail. That piqued his interest. His "coffee table" pipe books made little if any mention of Dr. Grabows despite being an American tradition. If he wanted to learn more, he needed "a sizable sample to sort through for similarities and anomalies." Thus began his Dr. Grabow collecting. He researched the Grabow story with the zeal of someone trying to trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower. He also learned about: Chicago History, the labor union movement, the Second World War, the Great Depression, the explosive growth of retail chains, briar, manufacturing, etc. Short answer; "I enjoy smoking them."

Mr. Bridges wanted to hear my story. Why do I collect Dr. Grabow pipes? Short answer; "because I can..." because I can walk into a CVS, Rite-Aid, or Walgreen’s and walk out with a pipe. We tend to consider "drugstore pipes" to be synonymous with "cheap" pipes. I enjoy them and think of them as "inexpensive" which absolves me from some of the negativism you hear from others on the Internet. To buy one doesn't break me and even leaves me with money be for a box of Prince Albert, or Carter Hall, and a cup of coffee. I even get a little nostalgic remember my first Grabow in 1983. It’s a simple pleasure.

Now when I buy a Grabow, when I open the package, I hope to get one of the anomalies David spoke of. But this is where David's collection and my collection and differ. He is more sophisticated in his approach, think: historical research. My collecting style is more childlike. Like collecting baseball cards, I get a thrill out of absorbing new acquisitions to my collection, deciding how to classify and sort: Smoked and unsmoked? Pipes made in Chicago, or North Carolina, from the US Tobacco Era, or from the Lane Era? International Pipes and Accessories? Smooth? Carved, Filtered? Stingers? Pre or Post WWII? Et cetera. Currently; I'm keeping it simple and sorting by shape and smoked or unsmoked. With over 150 shapes though I need to re-think the rack.

I continue buying Dr. Grabows when ever I see them in a drugstore hoping to keep that retail outlet alive. This is the sentimental equivalent of a high grade collector buying from his local B&M while "he still can". I realize that I have no impact, but voting with my dollar makes me feel American and after all these pipes were America's only pre-smoked pipe. I've got one drugstore down to a minimal supply and when I deplete it, it will be interesting to see if it gets replenished. If the pegs I've depleted are restocked I'll feel some sort of satisfaction that I'm helping to keep an American tradition alive. If the pegs are not replaced then "gone are the days of drugstore pipes" and so ends an era. I'll just have to wait for and continue my winning ways on eBay.

The thrill is in the hunt, and if you collect Dr. Grabows, the hunt never ends. Drugstore pipes are such a part of American pipe smoking history that I feel they deserve our attention and respect. They are too often overlooked and taken for granted. You don't have to buy one, but chances are you have. And to your Grabow I bet there's a story that might include the phrase "but it’s a good smoker" as if qualifying that the "not so pretty girl" you took to the prom was a good kisser. Dr. Grabows are inexpensive but they certainly are not cheap like my prom date.

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