Frank Burla is a long-time collector of antique and briar pipes who in 1983 helped lay the foundation for what is now the largest pipe convention in the world, The Chicago Pipe Show.
For Frank pipes represent a two-fold interest. They`re not only smoking items, but also objects of art, representing a certain time period, country and social situation in history. His collection, which goes from 450 B.C. to the early 1900s, ranges from Indian peace pipes to round mud pipes (circa the 1800s) formed from a bee`s nest and shells (with a stopper to keep snakes out) to Chinese opium pipes.
“When we first got married I had about 300 pipes in my collection. My wife said, ‘every time you buy a new one you have to sell an old one.’ Well today I have about 30,000. I just forgot to sell.”
Prices for antique pipes can range from $50 to $100,000. The most expensive, according to Burla, are pipes of carved meerschaum, a rare substance derived from the fossilized remains of sea urchins, the best of which comes from Turkey. Pipes with historical value are the most valuable, “especially if it belonged to a king or an emperor,” Burla said.
Frank began working the the Chicago Show full time in 1996 when he retired from his job as an investigator in the FBI. Until recently Frank had an extensive pipe smoking and tobacciana museum housed in his home in the west suburbs of Chicago. He continues to be a pillar in the tobacco pipe hobby, donating nearly all of his efforts to the shared enjoyment of all things pipes.