I’ve noticed over the last few years a decline in prices for vintage Highland pipes. They just don’t seem to be as in-demand as they once were, and I wonder why.
When I started to learn in the 1970s, my first instrument was a set of imitation-ivory-mounted Hardies. I remember that they took ages to get directly from R.G. Hardie in Glasgow, and when they finally arrived they sported a hide bag that was like a new Rawlings catcher’s mitt: tough as 10-year-old beef jerky. I (or, rather, my dad) specifically wanted a Malcolm tartan bag-cover, but they put on a MacFarlane one instead. The chanter was virtually unplayable with one hole being so badly cut that you needed an extra finger to reach it. Much to-do about all that, and Hardie never really bothered to make it right.
It was clear that, back then, the leading pipe-maker of the time sent a bunch of crap, with crappy service, to young American pipers.
Even though we got that bagpipe, it was pretty much understood by me, my parents, and my teachers that it was only a temporary instrument, that the next step was to find a set of older Henderson, MacDougall or Lawrie drones, and, true enough, I obtained a set of 1950s Lawries a few years later, and another set of 1936 Lawries in the 1990s.
It’s different for pipers now. The North American market is a goldmine, and new pipe-makers seem to be springing up all the time. Vintage instruments are no longer in high demand because pipe-making has become more sophisticated. Makers are producing better instruments designed for a modern, sharper pitch. Perhaps most importantly, makers are being nicer to their customers because there’s vastly more competition and a reputation for bad service can spread faster than cans of beer at a march-past.
Are we in a golden-age of pipe-making, or is the best still yet to come?