On 23rd December in 1936, at the request of the competent authorities, the town mayor of Varese submitted to the Chief Engineer of the Royal Corps of Civil Engineering a list of the most important factories in the municipality. There were thirty-seven names, amongst which the Varese Shoe Factory, Suchard Chocolate Factory, Macchi Aeronautics Factory, and the Poretti Beer anonymous company. One of these thirty-seven factories was the Carati Pipe Factory.
Briar pipes: a tradition that had long been cultivated in Varese since 1886, the year in which a small workshop was established that would then expand to become the great Rossi factory, alongside which other large and small factories would appear. One of these, certainly not the least important, was Paolo Carati’s factory, which was established in 1925 in the immediate vicinity of Varese.
However, the French had arrived first. A little later than 1850, according to reliable contemporary records, mass production of this innovative smoking tool had begun in Saint-Claude and as late as 1928 was still the leader in this sector. According to an article in the Corriere della Sera on 16th September, it manufactured ninety per cent of pipes sold worldwide. However, “lately”, the French complained of “facing stiff competition from factories in other countries, which seek to pass off well-made fake pipe as briar pipes, which do not fool a connoisseur”. For this reason M. Jules Mermet, mayor of Saint-Claude, sailed from Le Havre to New York in order to hold a series of conferences in the USA, which was the largest market in the sector, “on briar pipes and an infallible way to recognise them”.
Three days later, again in the Corriere della Sera, the reply of an angry businessman from Morosolo in Varese was published. The inhabitants of Saint-Claude had no right to claim to be the sole producers of briar pipes: “the briar roots are excavated in the woods and moors in Italy, and likewise the workers are Italian, who cut up the briar roots and prepare blocks also for the French pipe manufacturers. Only Italy and France export briar pipes to America, and it is inappropriate to speak of unfair competition by imitators from other countries. It is not the non-existent fakes, but the prohibitive American customs barriers that impede European industry”. This entrepreneur, a man of character, was Paolo Carati.
Who was Carati? It is said he was a tall, handsome man with character, a gentleman and good entrepreneur. He came from a wealthy family with many brothers and sisters, who were farm owners. Born in May 1887 in Abbiategrasso near Milan, after finishing a good education, at eighteen he moved to Milan. When called up for military service in 1907, he was granted exemption by virtue of his profession as a salesman that he had been practising already for two years, or else because in that year he got married. His first daughter was born in 1908. The Savallo Guide to Milan and the Province mentions him for the first time in the 1910 edition, necessarily describing the previous year. Carati falls under two different product-related categories: “Pipes, cigar cases and related items”, and “Bric-a-brac”. The former is logical and plausible, seeing how things developed, whereas the latter is rather curious. Bric-a-brac at that time covered numerous items: silver, costume jewellery, art objects, combs, gifts, bags and wallets, walking sticks, umbrellas, fans, and travel items. In a document dated 6th June 1911, Carati and a certain Balsimelli declare that they registered a de facto company “in order to manage a Sales office for Commercial Firms in the branch of Bric-a-Brac, Glassware, Furniture etc.”. However, on the same day in 1911, Carati also registered the commencement in Milan without partners, of a “business in my name under the company name of “Al Pascià” for the trade of smokers’ accessories”. The reason why there were two simultaneous registrations with the Chamber of Commerce in Milan lies in the fact that a Royal Decree of 1911 had established that such acts were mandatory. Carati’s dual specialisation was still mentioned in the Savallo Guide in 1911, but from 1912 there is no longer any trace of the word bric-a-brac. Pipes were better, obviously made of briar. Paolo Carati had finally chosen which direction to take for his business.
These facts are common knowledge, but something more may be added through deduction. Housed in the Chamber of Commerce in Milan there is Carati’s registration of individual business in 1925, in the name of “Al Pascià”. The purpose for the business is “retail and wholesale trade of pipes and Smokers’ Accessories”, and the date of commencement for the company is 1905. The same date appears on Carati’s letterhead paper in use in 1936, and in the Industrial Directory of the Province of Varese in 1940. It is uncertain whether the brand name of “Al Pascià” was created in 1905, but it is likely that the eighteen-year-old Carati, who had just arrived in Milan, had wished to set up the activity in the best way by adopting a name that at the time was synonymous with extreme luxury and affluence. A name that was appropriate for numerous personal objects, not only for pipes in which immediately appealed to him, together with bric-a-brac. Even the “business” which was declared open in 1911, the first “Al Pascià” shop which was also a workshop for the reparation of pipes, may have already existed years before registering a business became mandatory.
The firm carried on during the war while the owner served in the Fourth Company of Vehicle Drivers in the 21st Campaign Artillery. When the war ended, he returned to his family and business. But what kind of business? Written on letterhead paper dated 1920 is “Al Pascià” firm, Paolo Carati – PIPE MANUFACTURER – smokers’ accessories. A factory, no less. An enormous step forward for a salesman of a few years before. However, it is a pity that there is little accurate information on this account. It is uncertain whether there was a real factory, or this was just a publicity stunt conceived by a skilful salesman who commissioned pipes from other manufacturers and then added his own brand name. As mentioned earlier, the shop was also a workshop for repairing pipes, so equipped with instruments and machines that could certainly turn out a small number of pipes. According to the guidelines of the time, in order to create a small factory, it was enough to add some extra machinery and workers, in Milan or elsewhere, and it is likely that this is what happened.
The municipality of Morosolo overlooks Lake Varese, wedged between Varese and Gavirate. The hamlet of Ronchetto is nearest to the lake shore. It is precisely there that from 1st July 1925, the Briar Pipe Factory of Paola Carati’s firm was established. Not a small industrial building, nor new, but taken over from the textile entrepreneur, Riccardo Bettini. The main headquarters was still in Milan. There are no uncertainties about this fact, as it is recorded in a document at the Chamber of Commerce in Varese.
This time it was a factory in the true sense of the term, which flourished in Carati’s skilful hands. Over the subsequent four years he moved to Varese, or rather the building remained but it was the boundaries that moved: in 1929, the municipality of Morosolo was dissolved and the part with the lake (with pipe factory) was transferred to the provincial capital. Going back to the first “factory” in 1920, a point in favour of its existence lies in the fact that it would be easier and more natural to expand a small business, rather than building a large enterprise from scratch. As for the chosen location, the area around Varese was perfect: pipe making had already existed for forty years, and qualified workers were thus easy to find.
Little is known about Carati and his business between the 1920s and ‘30s. However, the factory was able to produce a large number of pipes, largely for export, obviously competing with the French and other pipe manufacturers in the area. It is said that there were one hundred employees. According to the 1940 Industrial Directory of the Province of Varese, the factory had an engine power of 50 hp, recreational activities were available, and pipes were exported “worldwide”. Thus, a considerable number of pipes that mostly went overseas. Traditional pipes were sold, as well as more imaginative models that were of good, not high quality, at a decent price. This was the pre-war market, to which one had to adapt inevitably if one wanted a constant level of maximum output.
A new era began in 1936 when Carati’s daughter Adriana took over the business in Milan from her father. Carati, who had moved to Varese, concentrated on what was for him the ultimate aim of his work: manufacturing. This continued during the war, and each worker was supplied with a gas mask in case of need. In the second half of the 1930s, at the height of his career Paolo Carati was awarded the title of “Cavaliere”.
After the war, Carati began again with the same enthusiasm as in 1919. With a change in the structure of the firm, foreseeing years of positive turnover, Carati involved the whole family in his firm. Unfortunately, the period after the Second World War was vastly different from that of the First World War as regards pipes. With the advent of cigarettes and changes in habits, the future of pipes was uncertain, especially for those who produced and traded them in large quantities. In 1956 Paolo Carati was 69 years old. Some time earlier he had already sold some of his machinery, but this time the decision taken was more drastic and the pipe factory had come to an end. Equipment, material and the few employees who had remained were taken over, as was the building. Away from the lake, from Varese and pipes, Carati chose to settle in the sun by the sea in Ospedaletti on the Western Ligurian Riviera.
For their precious contribution special thanks to:
Archivio Storico Presidenza della Repubblica
Ufficio Onorificenze Presidenza del Consiglio
Federazione Nazionale Cavalieri del Lavoro
Archivi di Stato di Milano, Varese, Como.
Camere Commercio di Milano Varese e Pavia.
Unione Industriali Varese
Comuni di Gavirate Varese e Montalto Pavese
Archivio storico Comune Varese.