At the top, general information: Département des Pyrénées Orientales; Situation Industrielle; Commune de S. Paul; 3me trimestre 1856. In the middle: a table that occupies most of the sheet. At the bottom the name of the municipality (Saint-Paul), date (le 16 octobre 1856), and the signature of Henri Busquet, the mayor.
The reports on the “industrial situation” were sent every three months to the Prefect. Thus, a routine that was not yet perfected, designed to inform the Governor of how the rising French industry was developing zone by zone, and at a central level the idea was that development should be uniform and widespread in all departments. The table is handwritten and displays seven columns: 1) main manufacturing centres 2) main industries 3) number of active factories 4) number of workers 5) situation of manufacturing and sales 6) reasons for increase and reduction 7) observations.
Since 1856 the Departmental Archives of the Eastern Pyrenees (located in Perpignan) have housed a considerable number of quarterly reports from the municipalities in the department; those concerning Saint-Paul de Fenouillet help us to relive almost directly, albeit with minimal information, the early and subsequent years of briar pipes. Unfortunately, only numbers and not the names of the companies are mentioned, in reference to the factories and workers. However, even simple numbers can tell us much, as together with the notes they offer some insights as to what was happening, as well as involving us from an emotional standpoint.
The first available report from Saint-Paul for the third quarter 1856 only lists all the various types of “industries”, displaying the entire number of “factories” (12) and workers (52). It is immediately evident that the list contains, among other things, fabriques de pipes en suche de bruyère: factories of heather wood pipes (meaning briar). Furthermore, in reference to all the industries, it is stated that: “There is no increase, nor decrease, manufacturing is stable”. This suggests that the fabriques de pipes en suche de bruyère had already existed at least in the second quarterly report (now lost), and perhaps even in the first quarterly report.
From the following quarter (fourth quarter of 1856), information is more detailed, factory by factory. It may come as a surprise that some factories only had two workers, but at that time this was what was meant by industry. Nowadays, looking back it should be more appropriate to call this a proto industry. Back to the table, there are two briar pipe factories out of fourteen, employing 20 workers out of 73. In general, “the situation of manufacturing and sales is satisfactory”, and “The increase in sales derives from shipment abroad”. Conclusion and observations: in the year of the “first” briar ebauchons according to Salvat (his letter to the Echo de la Montagne provides the date as 14th March 1856) the production of briar pipes was already active, albeit limited. The note on the shipment abroad does not specifically refer to a particular product, but it seems logical to suppose that it was easier to increase the sales of a brand-new product (pipes en suche de bruyère), rather than those of the usual turnery-shaped products, such as wooden balls or tobacco boxes. In the 1857 edition (referring to 1856) of the Annuaire du Commerce Didot-Bottin there is still no mention of briar pipes, but the first mention of these products (in reference to Saint-Paul) appears in the 1859 edition, referring to 1858.
First quarter 1857: there are still two briar pipe factories, but the number of workers has increased to 15 out of 82. Production and sales are in general satisfactory. Production remains constant. A note, under observations, is written by the mayor. The person he is addressing is probably the Vice-Prefect:
The pipe industry is destroying the heather shrub. On 15th May 1856, I issued a by-law to stop this destruction, but this by-law, which you approved, has not been implemented.
The question at this point arises: what is being discussed here? The answer is to be found in the Departmental Archives, in a sort of notebook, where we can read a beautifully handwritten list of the Arrêtés du Maire, the Mayor’s by-laws. The by-law dated 15th May 1856 contains a preamble and five articles. Following the usual citation of a few laws, it reads:
Considering that for a long time the vacant land in Saint-Paul has been subjected to repeated acts of destruction / Considering that it is the duty of the municipal authorities to repress these criminal acts through police monitoring:
Article 1: It is forbidden to extract the wood and roots of trees and shrubs in the vacant land in Saint-Paul.
The other four articles contain the norms to supervise and take measures against offenders, namely those who extract, hold, and buy wood or roots.
The first thing to note is the phrase “for a long time” in the preamble: a “long time” probably in terms of years, at least two, which is from the time the first imperfect ebauchons were produced, and thus there was a demand for a great quantity of wood. The second thing is that Article 1 does not explicitly state briar wood, but all “the wood and roots of trees and shrubs”. Why? It is likely that it was worded in this way in case the offender, caught red-handed, declared that they had no idea that it was briar. Another suggestion is that it was true that the first people searching for wood dug up any kind of wood and root, not having the knowledge of what would later become a specific skill of the briar harvesters. Subsequently, stricter norms were applied to the extraction of wood on public and private land, also at state level, in order to protect, among other things, the hydro-geological balance of the soil. The strict and unimplemented 1856 by-law anticipated them.
In the second quarter of 1857, the workers in the two briar pipe factories increased from 15 to 26 out of 89. There is an increase [in manufacturing and sales], thanks to the extensive shipment of briar pipes. Would this also include shipping abroad? It seems plausible.
In the third quarter of 1857, there were two briar pipe factories with 26 workers out of 86, to which were added two factories producing ebauchons with 7 workers. Thus, in addition to finished pipes, the production and sale of semi-finished items was introduced: were they sold to the two pipe factories or to others? To Saint-Paul, or elsewhere? The general situation is satisfactory, neither increasing nor reducing output.
In the fourth quarter of 1857, there were three briar pipe factories employing 22 workers out of 74, and only one factory producing ebauchons with 7 workers. Sales are always satisfactory, and production is constant. However, “there is a price reduction for all manufactured items. The cause of this is attributable to the new workshops established in the department”.
In the first quarter of 1858 the situation changed dramatically: only one pipe “factory” remained which was limited to finishing the pipes and only two workers were employed. However, the number of ebauchon factories rose to 4 and 50 workers were employed. What had happened? The pipes had become less important in Saint-Paul because the factories in Saint-Claude sell at lower prices, and more workers are employed in Saint-Claude! The production of ebauchons was flourishing, however: Nowhere else is this raw material so abundant. There is prosperity due to the little value of the raw material, which other departments lack.
Highlighting the transition from pipes to ebauchons, analysing with acumen the whole context, this report, although limited to a quarter, seems almost premonitory in character when reading it after so many years. It anticipates on the one hand the distribution of roles between the producers of ebauchons for pipes and those who would produce pipes with ebauchons, and on the other the future of Saint-Claude that, thanks to its valiant artisans and successful work organisation, was becoming the undisputed capital of briar pipes, stealing production from the pioneers who had paved the way. Thus, Saint-Paul prioritised the wonderful product extracted from its scrubland: the ebauchon. A reasonable choice. However, how long could this splendid situation last, which almost became a monopoly?
Leafing through the subsequent reports, we notice that while the number of workers to finish the pipes remained around 12, the number of workers employed in the manufacture of ebauchons never again reached 50 but dropped quite sharply: 32 in the next three quarters of 1858, then 24, 20, 20, 20 in 1859; 20, 8, 9, 9 in 1860. Notes in the report reveal that sales were low; excessive output meant that prices dropped dramatically, almost blocking production. In the first quarter of 1861 there were 25 workers, then the number dropped until there was a recovery in the fourth quarter of 1862, another reduction, 19 workers in the second semester of 1864, and so on. Thus, numbers fluctuated rapidly, with a tendency to fall. The report often states lowering of prices due to the production of too many objects. In the third quarter of 1864: prices dropping due to the large number of factories established every day ... the situation was mixed, and to make things worse the Franco-Prussian war would break out in 1870.
The enthusiasm in 1858 was short-lived: those who insisted on producing ebauchons in Saint-Paul had problems in selling them. It is true to say that the demand for briar pipes was gradually rising, but it was insufficient. On the other hand, an increasing number of sawmills for ebauchons offered their product, and competition for the pipes was just as intense. There was no infinite supply of burls to be uprooted and it was already difficult to find some in the region that were big enough. Moreover, the fluctuation in the demand for ebauchons was directly connected to pipe sales. The latter in turn relied on the fluctuating appeal of a product that was still to be established on the market, relying on business cycles and on the political and military events in France during the Second Empire and then the Republic. All this influenced the small world of wood, ebauchons, and briar pipes, which in France outside Saint-Paul was slowly and tirelessly trying to carve a role for itself.
- In the Guide historique et pittoresque des Pyrenées Orientales published in 1899, Pierre Vidal writes: 3 kilometres [from Perpignan] we reached the first mill in Orle called “Moli de las pipas”, a name taken from the sawmill for briar pipes established around 1855 and subsequently abandoned. A competitor near Saint-Paul: it may have been the one mentioned in the report of the fourth quarter of 1857, or maybe another one.
- L’Annuaire du commerce Didot-Bottin 1859 edition mentions in Paris: Calmettes (Philippe), salesman for Gabarron Fréres et Cie, factory that produces briar ebauchons in Alet, Aude. It is significant that in the same report the section on the department of Aude, in particular Alet (Upper Aude valley) has no record that confirms this information. Only in the subsequent edition of Didot-Bottin can we read as regards the municipality of Alet: briar ebauchons, Gabarrou Fréres represented in Paris by Philippe Calmettes. In any case, the 1859 report indicates that the factory in Alet had already been established at least by 1858.
- The report on the award of honour in the Eastern Pyranees in the Bulletin della Societé Agricole Scientifique et Litteraire des Pyrenees Orientales 1860 edition announces that an honourable mention was awarded to Monsieur Vilar, from Céret, for briar pipes. Cèret lies in the Eastern Pyranees.
- Moving on to Spanish Catalonia (the Eastern Pyranees were part of French Catalonia), a table in an 1865 publication (Datos estadisticos Provincia de Gerona) includes a fabricacion de pipas en bruto (ebauchons) para fumar, de raiz de brezo o brunch en catalan (factory for unfinished pipes, and ebauchons) driven by waterpower with the following data: 5HP, 259,200 pieces yearly, initially located in Bescanò, now in Arbucias. As the factory was already in its second location (it is likely that the available supply of briar burls had been exhausted) it is possible that its initial establishment dates back to 1860. This data of 259,200 pieces sold annually is impressive, and reveals a strong, initial development, especially when compared to the 1,440 pieces ordered by Monsieur Gay in 1858.
The evidence in the reports of five or six factories not far from Saint-Paul reveals that they certainly produced ebauchons for pipes, but it is likely that they were not the only ones. Evidence of some other factories has been almost entirely lost, and others may have been identified, but appear “under a false name” in the Annuaire. This is because when a factory produced more than one product, the owner often only indicated in the report the product that was considered most important. Thus, the ebauchons for pipes remained largely unnoticed.
In Lagrasse (Aude) the sawmill for the factories in Saint-Claude owned by François Castan, which had already been active by 1843, was no longer mentioned in the Annuaires from the 1862 edition onwards. In this case, the word ‘ebauchon’ is mentioned, but there is no explicit reference to pipes.
There was also a factory for tobacco boxes and briar pipes owned by Laffont jeune, established in Lanet (Aude) in 1858, or maybe earlier: as we are in the Corbières mountain range, it is reasonable to believe that output included the ebauchons and a certain number were sold as such. Another suggestion is that they were bought from a tobacco box factory in nearby Peyrolles. Another pipe factory mentioned that was operating from 1861 was owned by Ambroise Salvat in Île de Levant, (further away in the Var district) which produced ebauchons.
A special case is that of the Letiévent Company, Thomas, Port, maison à Paris rue St-Martin 213 which appears in the 1853 Annuaire Parisien under the entry of tabletiers. These were the most refined manufacturers of small objects, as they also worked with materials such as horn and ivory, as well as wood. According to the report, among other things the company had a factory in the Belvianes in the Upper Aude valley. From 1849, it was managed by an expert manufacturer, Jean Marcel Raffanel, who had previously produced tobacco boxes in Soulatgé (1842-1847) in the department of Aude, but had also been reported in Saint-Paul de Fenouillet around 1844. The factory and the owner’s address were located in the Laminoir complex, a rolling mill that worked with iron for an important shop located in Gincla in the same region. Raffanel had acquired a part of the area and a quota of available waterpower for his factory. With his younger brother, Jean, and others he manufactured tobacco boxes and small objects. In a few civil status records in Belvianes, dated 1852, he was defined as a tabletier. Raffanel was connected to the parent company, Letiévent, which through its branch in Paris had excellent sales prospects. His surname never appeared in the Didot-Bottin report, which, in the part dedicated to Belvianes, recorded the factory for the first time (together with the rolling mill) in the 1857 edition: tabletterie (fabbrica) de Letiévent, Thomas, Port et Cie. This is in 1856. In the 1858 edition (referring to 1857) there is no longer any trace of the rolling mill, but the factory belonging to the Letiévent remains. The whole Laminoir complex and all its waterpower concentrated on the production of tabletterie, but Jean Marcel Raffanel was no longer in Belvianes. It is assumed that after having developed the company, improving the quality of the workers and production, Raffanel had transferred everything to Letiévent and partners. The following year (1858) Letiévent also disappears, and the company name becomes Port et Carraz.
These were the years in which the tabletterie were appropriately identified in the Annuaires, whereas there was no mention of the ebauchons or pipes. However, it is reasonable to suggest that from 1856, this “secondary production” was included in the company’s activities.
Jean Marcel Raffanel had an older brother called Jean François. Born in 1802 in Carcassonne, from 1825 he was in Saint-Claude and together with Jean Marcel cut the ebauchons with mechanical saws. He continued until 1832, but in the same period (1827-1828) he also tried to become a merchant. Between 1832 and 1833 he ran a cafe in Saint-Claude; from 1835 to 1836 he produced tobacco boxes at the Moulin de Lafenal in Ginestas (Aude); in 1843 he was a merchant in Soulatgé; around 1844, together with his brother he spent some time in Saint-Paul de Fenouillet producing tobacco boxes. He then went to Peyrolles (a region in the Corbières mountain range near the Pyranees in the department of Aude) where he produced tobacco boxes at the Moulin de la Parade from 1851. In 1856 his brother arrived in Peyrolles and Jean François remained there until the end of 1857, just enough time to have another child, and then he left with his family.
Jean Marcel remained at the Moulin. It is likely that if he transferred the business to Belvianes, with the proceeds he bought the business in Peyrolles from his brother. However, he stayed little time in Peyrolles, as in 1861 he was already elsewhere, and would continue moving. Once he left Peyrolles, Jean François had to think of resuming on a larger scale the well-tested profession of being a merchant. However, at this point we slide into the account, the legend:
It was early October in 1858. A rather lively person with a marked accent from the South appeared one day on the ground floor of the Gay Aîné warehouse …
Who was the traveller with a marked southern accent that Jules Ligier refers to in the first part of his account? The name Raffanel mentioned in the account, the one that brings unfinished briar pipes to Saint-Claude is very likely Jean François himself. In the period from 1857 to 1863 we only have the “legend” for information. In 1863 he was a merchant in Saint-Claude and pipe manufacturer (1869-1870). He died in Saint-Claude in 1874 at the venerable age of 72.
The information is largely taken from the article Autour de l’industrie de la pipe et de la tabatiere, by Gauthier Langlois (2019) and another more recent one (2022) by the same author: “Les Raffanel, une famille de tourneurs entre Pyrénées, Jura et Provence: leur contribution à la diffusion de la pipe de bruyère au XIXe siècle” also published in the Bulletin de la Societé d’Ètudes Scientifiques de l’Aude.
The complex affairs of the two Raffanel brothers confirms the nomadic spirit of the lathe turners of the time. Their stay in Saint-Paul de Fenouillet around 1844 is significant, at the beginning of the briar pipe era; it is likely that they had relationships with the Bougnols, Vassas, Salvats and other local turners, maintaining them even after they left Saint-Paul. It does not seem far-fetched to count them among the pioneers of briar pipes.
Readers of the 1857 Annuaire Didot-Bottin, which reported the situation in 1856, the year of Ambroise Salvat's ebauchons, must have wondered what had happened to the pipes in bruyère du Brésil. The unusual offer came from the Lepape company in Paris, which claimed to be a specialist in such a product. Of course, the reference to Brazil was false, as normal Pyrenean briar was used. However, to persuade the purchase of a new and unfamiliar product, why not add a touch of the exotic?
Étienne Meyre of Le Temple (department of Gironde) had been less imaginative and more practical the year before (1855) in the brief description attached to the patent application of his briar cigar holder (racine de bruyère). Illustrating the characteristics of the device (a large mouthpiece) he concluded:
Manufactured from abundant material of little value, this article has a real advantage in terms of both sturdiness and durability.
Browsing through the Annuaires Didot-Bottin of the various years (always referring to the year preceding the edition) it appears that: in 1857 Hochapfel frères sold briar pipes in Strasbourg and Paris/ In 1858 L. Prax, in Paris, sold ebauchons; there were two briar pipe factories in Paris, four in Saint-Paul, one in Lanet./ By 1860 there were ten pipe factories in France, two of which were explicitly stated to be in Saint-Claude/ In 1861 Alfred Sautel sold briar ebauchons in Paris. The first French briar pipes appeared at the Great London Exhibition in 1862.
It was a slow start, with a brief burst of enthusiasm related mainly to the novelty, followed by a period of indeterminate and uncertain growth. This was not only, as already noted, for the ebauchon producers in Saint-Paul, but also for the whole industry. It is true that turnover increased, but not dramatically. As the new article struggled to gain a foothold, that complex, evolving mechanism of connections between ebauchon producers, pipe makers, and merchants dealing with these products was occasionally less successful. The problem lay precisely in the new pipes, in their nature and in their image.
-Frederick William Fairholt, in his Tobacco: Its History and Associations published in 1859 states:
Wooden pipes have been introduced into England, and pipes made of briar root are now common in our shops, but expensive.
-The report of the members of the French section of the international jury at the London Exhibition 1862 reads:
In France it is in Paris, Saint-Claude and Strasbourg where the best briar pipes are made. This wood is carved into various beautiful shapes. The pipe bowl is sometimes lined with meerschaum in luxury pipes. However, in ordinary pipes, briar wood withstands tobacco heat for a long time. Beautiful pipes also have amber mouthpieces. There is a great export of these pipes to England.
-Andrew Steinmetz (“a Veteran of Smokedom”), in his The Smoker's Guide, Philosopher and Friend, 1865, claims:
Of wooden pipes little need be said. They were much in vogue a few years back, but the "taste" has decidedly diminished. If they do not heat so rapidly, their absorption is very defective, and they always look dirty.
-E.Cardon, in Le Musée du fumeur, 1866 relates:
(The briar pipe) for the past decade or so has been extremely fashionable, to the detriment of all the older types, which it is gradually causing to be forgotten. Roughly cut by the peasants of the department of the Landes, it first appeared in the form of a simple bowl equipped with a reed functioning as a stem, which shortly afterwards was replaced by a small goose-bone, and this article sufficed for a few years. However, since Paris and Saint-Claude have adopted this manufacture, and since the Eastern Pyrenees, where these roots are found in abundance, have been able to supply them with better quality ebauchons and of greater volume, the pipes have come in all shapes.
Very ornate pipes have also been made, and for a time a good number of artisans have been employed in the carving of these pipes, thus making the pipes more expensive, too costly for wooden pipes. Smokers ended up preferring the meerschaum pipe, which is more elegant and better, to the extent that briar consumption is now almost confined to the plain pipe, which has also already been somewhat abandoned, since some types of real meerschaum pipes have appeared at reduced prices.
-Pierre Larousse, in his Grand Dictionnaire, 1874 explains:
The briar wood pipe is for travellers, hunters and in general people obliged by their status and circumstances to move frequently and be subject to bumps or shocks.
Fairholt's, Steinmetz's and Cardon's remarks suggest that there was some confusion between pipes made of generic wood (rightly less appreciated) and those made of briar: a confusion that went on for a long time and did not benefit the briar root. The high prices denounced by Fairholt are not surprising: whenever something new comes out, those who want to be among the first to use (and display) it must allow for imperfections, malfunctions and considerable outlays. The defects reported by Steinmetz can be interpreted in two ways: either these pipes appeared "always dirty" because smokers were not yet accustomed to keeping them clean, or instead it was simply a negative perception deriving from the colour of the wood. What is narrated in the Musée du fumeur corresponds to substantial truths. However, it should be considered that the author was a well-known meerschaum pipe maker, and this obviously influenced his opinions.
Cardon asserts that the number of coarsely cut pipes (like those made by the Landes peasants) were enough for a few years: perhaps from 1853-54 to 1856-57? And indeed, as Ambroise Salvat assures us, it was from 1856 onward that the Eastern Pyrenees were able to provide better quality ebauchons. Even the pipes of 1858 mentioned by Jules Ligier do not yet seem finished, and evolution was necessarily laborious and gradual. In addition to being better, the ebauchons supplied by the Eastern Pyrenees became at some point of greater volume. Thus, we see the emergence of a diverse range of ebauchons, of different shapes and sizes according to demand, which would gradually become organized according to increasingly precise and standardized criteria.
"Very ornate" pipes are also alluded to in the Monographie par l'École del Filles (cited in Part II), narrating that Pierre Bougnol (cadet) had brought in some pipe carvers from Italy and the report on the London Exhibition also confirms this trend. But "ornate briar" was not a good idea. Setting out to carve it in the same way as meerschaum was carved was a bad move: not so much because of the cost (later machines would be invented that could solve the problem industrially by exploiting the pantograph principle) as because the new material had its own specific nature, its own precise personality that had to be emphasised, if the product was to be truly launched. Cardon says with relief that briar consumption is now almost confined to the simple pipe, but he failed to understand that it was precisely the way to go. Meanwhile, it was meerschaum that imitated briar to tackle competition, at a time when certain types of [undecorated] pipes of real meerschaum are appearing at reduced prices.
According to Larousse (we are already in 1874) the briar pipe is suitable for people who, moving about a lot, are in danger of breaking an elegant meerschaum pipe, or a more common clay pipe. Another passage in the same text correctly explains the smoking virtues of briar, but the sentence quoted above is the most important one: it highlights a serious problem for the new material in its quest for success.
There was a risk of creating a dichotomy (and for some time this occurred) between the "traveller’s" pipe, "worker's" pipe, sturdy and without embellishments, and the more elegant and artistically decorated pipe that cultured clients did not want to give up. Yet, the briar pipe had what it takes to become something more, to be desired and flaunted even by those who moved in elegant circles. However, for this to happen a revolution was needed in the mentality of smokers, the imposition of a new type of aesthetics linked to harmonious, but rigorous lines consistent with practical needs. A peaceful revolution, in short, that would soon (but slowly) break out. Where? In England.
A special thanks to:
Gauthier Langlois (Société d’Ètudes Scientifiques de l’Aude),
Guy Normand (La Revue Du Fenouilledes, Saint Paul de Fenouillet),
Archives Départementales des Pyrénées Orientales