Back in 1999 or maybe 2000, I can’t remember which, I was innocently working in my office at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame when my curator of the museum, Jay Black, came in to visit about an historic Texas sports memorabilia item on eBay that he wanted to purchase for the museum archives. “eBay, What’s that?” I innocently inquired. So, using my computer, Jay quickly took me to eBay and showed me the item in question, which was a book written about Texas Sports Hall of Fame member Tom Landry, former long-time head coach of the Dallas Cowboys NFL football team. I watched Jay make the purchase using something called PayPal. I thought that was pretty cool and Jay then explained how the whole eBay thing worked. I was fascinated.
I was then totally hooked when Jay, who knew I was a pipe smoker, took me to the pipe pages of eBay. All of a sudden right in front of my eyes were pipes for sale that I’d only read about. Pre-Transition Barlings, patent era Dunhills, Great Line Castellos, etc. It’s hard to believe, but back then one could find only 200-300 unsmoked and estate pipe listings total. I just checked and as of the day of publication of this blog, there were 29,719 unsmoked and estate pipes listed!
That night when I got home, I signed up for eBay and PayPal and looked over the 200-300 pipes that were listed. I found an early GBD Prehistoric bent bulldog that appealed to both me and my wallet. So, I bid on it and wound up winning. The owner said it was in “pristine” pre-smoked condition. There was only one photo of the pipe in the listing but that was not unusual back in those days. I’m not sure but I think 2-3 photos was the max allowed back then anyway. A week or so later I received the pipe and with trembling hands I opened the package. The pipe had a little cake in the bowl but sure looked nice otherwise. Well, it looked nice until I looked at the left side of the pipe and saw a shank crack that was as long as the Mississippi River. The seller’s photo showed only the right side of the pipe. I quickly emailed him and told him about the problem and that I wanted to return the pipe for a full refund since the shank crack was not mentioned or shown in his listing. He told me that he knows nothing about pipes and that it was sold in as-is condition, so no refunds. I left the guy negative feedback and he in turn left me retaliatory negative feedback – in those early days sellers could leave negative feedback for buyers but eBay later changed the rules after many complaints by buyers of retaliatory negative feedback. So there I was, sitting with a feedback history to start off my eBay career at a glorious (-1).
My first eBay tobacco purchase didn’t go much better and I’ll get to that in a minute. First, a little background on why I first started “collecting” pipe tobacco. When I first began seriously collecting pipes and tobaccos in the late 1970’s, I was just starting my career as a television sports broadcaster and expendable income was scarce. I had about a half dozen pipes that I purchased from those wonderful Iwan Ries catalogs and my local pipe shop in Austin, Texas, where I was living and working at the time. But I always had a fascination with pipe tobacco tins and collected them right and left. Hey, you could get a flat 2 oz tin of Balkan Sobranie for $2.75 back in those days and I could afford those kinds of purchases – well, barely. Anyway,from the late 1970’s right up until I discovered eBay at the turn of the century, I had accumulated literally hundreds of all kinds of tinned tobacco. And not because I thought that any of them were collectible or good money making investments, but because I just loved the tin art. I didn’t have the money back then to gather a collection of nice pipes, so I collected full and sealed pipe tobacco tins.
Fast forwarding now to my start with eBay (again, in 1999 or 2000). One night after work I went to eBay and somehow found the pipe tobacco listings – yes, you could sell or purchase full and sealed pipe tobacco legally on eBay up until recently. Once again, I became fascinated because right in front of my face were tobaccos that I had only heard of – original Bell’s Scotland made Three Nuns, Sullivan Powell Gentleman’s Mixture, Cope’s Escudo, Balkan Sobranie 759, etc. And then I saw a tin at auction of something that I had personally always wanted. Again, just one photo in the listing but it looked beautiful. An old 4 ounce tin of Rattray’s Hal O’ The Wynd made by Charles Rattray in Perth, Scotland. The seller indicated that the tin was full and sealed and had no rust or dents and was still heavy with tobacco. I bid $150 for that tin and was shocked when I won it for only $78.50. I was giddy with excitement and went out to my mailbox every day for a week until the package arrived. I raced back into the house, got out the box opener and carefully opened the package. Excuse me while I stop typing for a moment as I feel tears coming on.
(This pause to recompose myself lasted about 5 minutes.)
Okay, I’m back. I reached into the box where the Hal O’ The Wynd tin was nestled right in the middle of a bunch of packing peanuts and lifted it out. Yes, the tin was heavy but not with tobacco. Some of you may remember the old days when there would be displays of fake products in store front windows and/or store counters. What I pulled out of the box was such a display for pipe shop counters! The top of the tin and paper wrap looked exactly like an old Perth era tin of Hal O’ The Wynd, but when I flipped the heavy tin upside down, the bottom was nothing but bare concrete. I had purchased a paperweight display that had no doubt been on the counter of some pipe shop somewhere!
I didn’t want another negative feedback on my less than glowing record, so I left the seller positive feedback this time. All I said was, “Congratulations, you got me.”