The largest and most innovative building in the world measured 563 metres long by 124 metres wide, and the height of the central transept was 33 metres. The total floor space, which covered the ground floor and galleries occupied around 9 hectares, while the display area covered over 13 kilometres. Built with astonishing speed in prefabricated glass and iron on the edge of Hyde Park, the Crystal Palace was the epitome of modern technology and design, a worthy construction to house the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, the very first World’s Fair, designed to showcase modern industrial technology, but above all to show Great Britain’s superiority at the height of its colonial and industrial power. From 1st May to 11th October, 1851, over six million people visited the monumental green house viewing and admiring manufacturing exhibits from all over the world. Half of the building west of the transept was assigned to exhibitors from Great Britain and its colonies, and strolling among the vast upper galleries amongst all sorts of objects and machinery, you could also come across a few pipes.
In the South Central Gallery, class 23 - Works in precious metals, jewellery. etc, a Londoner, John Inderwick displayed a silver and gold mounted ornately carved Meerschaum featuring the death of Nelson. The patented tube was designed so as to facilitate smoking. In the North Transept Gallery overlooking the central transept in class 25 - China, porcelain, earthenware etc, William Southorn & Co. di Broseley displayed specially treated clay pipes that increased porosity. The glazing technique was also innovative and the pipes had green mouthpieces. While still in the North Transept Gallery an even more interesting display was in class 29 - Miscellaneous manufactures and small wares, which featured two London manufacturers displaying pipes: John Yerbury with his patent diaphragm pipe, a recent patent by William Staite with a diaphragm system to block tobacco moisture made of extremely hard stoneware that was characteristic of the company that produced it, Josiah Wedgwood and Sons. Benjamin Barling & Sons displayed eight meerschaums mounted in silver and other materials. Two were simple designs, while the others were exquisitely carved featuring mostly animals. They received recognition for this display and won the Exhibition’s much sought-after official medallion.
There were quite a few pipes on show east of the transept that was assigned to other countries: exotic, dry or water pipes; Turkish, Greek and French clay pipes made by Dumeril and Fiolet , two renowned manufacturers. The Austrians and Germans exhibited pipes with porcelain bowls and wooden stems, as well as pipes made of wood and other materials. At least thirteen Austrian exhibitors, and some from Germany displayed pipes and cigar holders in refined meerschaum. Two manufacturers from Ruhla, in Thuringia exhibited a vast array of pipes.
London in 1851 had a population of 3,300,000, many of whom were immigrants from countries that were part of Britain’s Empire or else from the poorest European states, making London an immense metropolis for that time and an excellent market for any kind of product. In the mid-nineteenth century pipes were quite popular in cities, thanks to a new invention, the match, which replaced the tinder box and was far easier to use. Nevertheless, most Londoners were used to clay pipes, and virtually ignored wooden or porcelain pipes. As for pipes made of meerschaum for refined and wealthy clients, most hardly knew anything about this substance. This is why the Exhibition catalogue provides a detailed explanation of the material’s features and uses under the name of John Inderwick. Thus, it was in fact the Great Exhibition that launched sea foam, although it had already been circulating in the form of pipes as early as 1815.
In 1815 (or a little earlier) Benjamin Barling, the third generation of a family of silversmiths, established his firm. Amongst other things the firm imported meerschaum pipes and finished them in silver. John Inderwick, also present at the Exhibition, had begun his career in the late eighteenth century with silver and his shop was long renowned for his prestigious meerschaum pipes. Adolph Franchau, a German,settled in London in 1847 and began to import meerschaum pipes and tobacco. After the Exhibition other silversmiths and pipe makers were to follow, such as Henry Perkins from the 1850s onwards, Emil Loewe, a Frenchman who opened a pipe shop and workshop in 1856, may have also dealt in meerschaum and William Astley, who founded the famous tobacco shop, Astley’s in 1862, also sold meerschaum pipes.
It is unclear whether for these early models the meerschaum pipes were manufactured on the premises, or else they were imported and then finished. The latter seems to be the most likely answer. However, in the 1880s the situation started to change. Chronicles of the time record meerschaum carvers who had been “stolen” from Vienna to go and work in London. Moreover, Frederick and George Kapp from Nuremberg arrived in London in 1865 and the following year were already registered as meerschaum pipe manufacturers. In the early 1870s a young Russian who was already an expert in meerschaum, Frederick Charatan, established his business in Londonand around1875 Joseph B Brown from Kingston upon Hull founded JBB, which offered silver mounted meerschaum pipes. By 1876 there were thirty meerschaum pipe makers and importers working in London, and more were to follow. However, this material had reached its peak of popularity and following another ten years it would gradually lose its appeal. It is likely that one of the main reasons for this was the fact that a new exciting and unexpected material for pipes was making a name for itself.
There are various opinions on how and when the Erica Arborea root was introduced into the world of pipes, but it certainly was unknown in Great Britain at the time of the Exhibition. When Emil Loewe, a Frenchman, established his company in 1856, he may not have displayed his briar root pipes initially alongside his meerschaum models, but it is generally believed that it was he who first introduced the new material in London and others followed him from 1861 onwards: Louis Blumfeld, former employee of Adolph Frankau that had taken over management following Frankau’s death; Benjamin Wade, founder (1860) of the Ben Wade company in Leeds; William Astley, of the famous tobacco shop; Charles Oppenheimer, in 1860 founder of a large import-export company; Samuel Weingott, tobacco seller in Fleet Street in 1865 and the two Kapp brothers. Some just imported or dealt in briar root pipes, whereas others (Loewe, Blonfeld-Frankau, Wade, Weingott and Kapp) almost immediately began to manufacture their own briar pipes in their workshops. However, there were others who were entering this exciting market.
By 1865 the Barling companyhad also adopted briar rootand mounted exquisite silver fitments on briar pipes as well as meerschaums. The same went for JBB and Charatan. In 1874 Frederick Kapp moved to Dublin to later establish Kapp and Peterson while his brother remained in London and ran the business for another decade. In 1876 Louis Blumfeld, owner of the Frankau company, realising how briar pipes were becoming increasingly popular decided to create the BBB brand, Blumfeld’s Best Briars, which subsequently would change to British Best Briars.
In 1879 Henry Comoy, a Frenchman from Saint-Claude (the “capital” of the emerging briar industry) arrived in London. His family had been manufacturing pipes since 1825, so they were already familiar with this new material and Henry immediately started creating briar pipes when he opened his first workshop. In 1883 the tobacco seller Weingott established a a company for briar pipe manufacturing, called S. Weingott & Son, and in 1888 William Henry Carrington founded his firm in Manchester producing meerschaums and briar pipes bearing the WHC brand. In 1890 Thomas Martin founded his first workshop in the village of Blakesley producing the Blakemar brand, following eight years of apprenticeship in various companies, including Loewe. In 1898 Frankau opened a factory in Homerton that would last till the 1980s. One year later in London Louis Orlik established his company and John Louis Duncan established Duncan Briars.
At the turn of the century English pipe makers were increasingly competitive and numerous, perhaps too numerous considering that the market was in decline due to the introduction of cigarettes and cigars. However, in difficult situations the best and strongest competitors generally emerge. In 1900 the Oppenheimer company bought two pipe manufacturers in Saint-Claude in France and in 1902 it purchased the GBD company, which had been founded in Paris in 1850. Subsequently, in 1906 a large factory was established in Saint-Claude housing the two manufactures previously acquired. In the same year Barling began to produce some briar pipes as part of their output and in 1909 the company became independent producers of their collections. In 1907 Alfred Dunhill opened his shop on Duke Street and in 1910 began to produce pipes independently drawing on the experience and expertise acquired from Joel Sasieni, one of the best, highly skilled craftsmen who had been “stolen” from Charatan. In 1908 Edmund Hardcastle established his company and then WWI broke out.
It seemed that after the war in peacetime pipes were still in demand. Thus, in 1919 the Davies & Huybrecht company, better known as London Castle, was established, producing highly refined pipes sold in only one shop in London. In the same year, Joel Sasieni, after having worked for Charatan and Dunhill, chose to become independent and founded his own personal company.
However, the 1920s were difficult times for pipes and many manufacturers were aware of this. Indeed, already in 1917 the Perkins company had been acquired by the Adler family associated with Oppenheimer, whose GBD brandwas produced both in London and Paris. It was Oppenheimer that incorporated both Frankau, under the BBB brand and Loewe in 1920, and also began to participate in Comoy’s equity. Indeed, the rise of Oppenheimer was rather turbulent, and in order to avoid confusion created a holding company, Cadogan Investments Ltd, which controlled all the other pipe companies. The company was named after Cadogan Square in London where the offices were based. In 1929 Comoy approached Cadogan but was not yet acquired and meanwhile JBB and Weingott were sold by the family and subsequently changed hands several times, damaging the brand in the process. On the other hand, the companies that remained under Cadogan continued to be successful, as the holding allowed the companies complete freedom of action. Dunhill was also active, in1922 founding the Parker company, and in 1935 began to acquire Hardcastle which would be completed in 1946.
Cigarettes became popular following WWII, making life for pipe companies difficult, even if pipe manufacturing continued as before. Thus, in 1960 the Barling family gave up and sold the company off to the Imperial Tobacco Company. This was the beginning of a difficult period for the brand, which would only flourish again in 1975 thanks to the new owner. Likewise, in 1962 the Charatan family also sold their company to a German-American company, Herman Lane, which also acquired Ben Wade in the same year. Following another change of hands Charatan was acquired by Dunhill in 1976, which sold the brand and then re-acquired it in 2002. Although Sasieni had been bearing up well under pressure, the family sold it in 1979, and its tradition of fine quality pipes continued until it was sold in 1986. In 1980 Cadogan finally acquired Comoy, Orlik and Weingott. Company policy had to change with the times and no longer were the subsidiary companies independent. Now compamies were merged and some brands had to be sacrificed in the process, such as Weingott, and Carrington/ WHC of Manchester that closed down in 1988.
These were no longer times for general pipe smokers and pipes became part of a niche market for discerning and demanding clients. Under the umbrella of great names and holdings glorious brands still continued their business. Others, antique but orphans, were saved and went back into business, while yet other pipe makers worked independently.
In 1976, when the glorious factory was sold to Dunhill, a few master craftsmen from Charatan decided to leave to establish their own business, such as Barry Jones and Kenneth Barnes, who founded a company at Tilshead called the James Upshall company, which was then sold in 1996. In the early 1980s Ashton pipes were introduced, the owner being William Ashton Taylor who had worked for a long time for Dunhill. In 1995 Duncan Briars was bought by Ben Wilson, John Duncan’s brother-in-law; in 1998 Wilson himself bought the Ben Wade brand from Dunhill and re-launched it. In 1999 London Castle closed, as well as the prestigious Inderwick and Astley's.
The twenty-first century will be full of surprises in the field of British pipes, hopefully positive ones. In the meantime collectors vie for antique and vintage models, such as Dunhill and Charatan, as well as for Barling, Sasieni, Comoy, BBB, Ben Wade, Loewe, and Orlik. There are also those who seek to piece together the almost forgotten past of no less interesting minor brands, which have also played a role in pipe history.