Collector's Corner: Put that in your pipe (but don't smoke it)

Smoking may be under fire, but the 'smokerama' market is warming up nicely, says Gwyn Jones
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The Independent Online

round the country, smokers are trying to kick the habit for their new year's resolution. They might try investing the fiver they've saved in "smokerama" - smoking-related collectables. Rather than watch their money go up in smoke, they could see it quadruple.

It's a broad market, ranging from silver Dunhill cigarette-cases and enamel advertising signs to pipes, cigars and cigarette packets. Chris Nunn of the Cigarette Packet Collectors Club has seen some big changes in the smokerama market. "Prices are roaring away in the UK. Packs must be in good condition, old and pictorial, but almost anything in the tobacco field has an interest.

"Collectors now want live packets - that is, with contents - more than empty packs. Prices are going up because of rarity value. There's a cigarette packet I know of which the owner has been offered £1,000 for, and he won't part with it. Prices have basically quadrupled over the past 10 years."

One established market is in cigarette advertising material. Shop display items, signs and posters are particularly popular, says Alan Blakeman at BBR Auctions. "Lesser-known brands or powerful images command the big money. One reason is that people are collecting because they think smoking may be banned. The gap between the good and the mediocre is widening, so buy the best."

More obscure areas have also picked up. "Miners' snuff tins have seen a remarkable rocket-up in value," Nunn says. "Two years ago we could buy a nice one for about £30. Now it would be £95-£100. The other thing is rolling papers; they've risen in the last five years. You're talking about £15-£20 for a very rare one."

Oddly, cigarette cases don't feature much. Ellen Stelter at Sotheby's is selling the John Jesse collection, which contains many cases, but they aren't likely

to be bought by smokerama collectors. "People are collecting from a certain period of time such as art deco," she says. "Then you get specific collectors, and there are people who want a particular brand, such as Dunhill."

One area that is very sought after is novelty vesta cases. Jeff Lovell, Christie's silver and vertu specialist, says: "It's always been a strong market. In the past 10 years prices have risen considerably, but they have flattened out now. People want the enamelled vesta cases and the silver novelties, but even the brass cases have risen strongly; doubled, trebled in some cases, over the last 10 years."

Pipes are always popular and prices keep rising, but it is a very specialist market. Cigars, however, could be an investment. Mitchell Orchant at C.Gars Ltd says: "Some people buy them to smoke, but many clients buy two boxes of any cigar as they are released, one to smoke and one to lay down.

"Of course, it's only hand-made Havana cigars that go up, and only certain brands, sizes and editions will rise in value. But you could have seen growth of about 50 per cent over 10 years, depending on the cigar."

Smokerama is mainly an older person's market at the moment, and this could spell problems for investment values in later years. But it may take on a "forbidden" attraction, which could boost the collectability of items from an age when smoking was seen as stylish and glamorous.

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