Can a new, undefined, unknown but innovative object be suitable for export? In a few reports (between 1856 and 1857) in Saint-Paul’s Situation Industrielle some indications of this appear on “shipments abroad” that most likely concern briar pipes. Jules Ligier’s account is more explicit, which appeared in part I of this story, in which he states that the first pipes produced in Saint-Claude (1858) by François Gay also left for Belgium. The report on the Great London Exhibition in 1862 (mentioned in part III) states that in Paris, Saint-Claude and Strasbourg that year good briar pipes were being produced and that there was major export of these pipes to England: “major” most likely in a relative sense for 1862, as judged at that time.
However, there are not only French sources: the following are some sources from Great Britain, the most important destination for these new pipes:
-The article “Wooden Pipes” by A.J.M. which appeared in the journal entitled Notes and Queries of 25th April 1885, reads:
A year or two after 1853 the so-called briar-root pipes, independently discovered, began to appear in England. Thirty years have enabled these intruders to destroy short clays, ruin meerschaums, and even do much mischief to the venerable churchwarden.
- Frederick William Fairholt, in Tobacco: Its History and Associations, (see part III) writes that briar pipes are now common in our shops but are expensive. It is 1859.
- An anonymous writer In Mems. for Tobacconists, published by Cigar and Tobacco World, 1909 explains:
As recently as 1860 briar pipes were unknown in England. The first batch came from Vienna a few years later and created quite a sensation, for at the time smokers were practically limited to meerschaum and clay.
-An advertisement that appeared in The Freeman’s Journal in Dublin of 29th February 1860 asserts:
Briar root pipes, so highly esteemed by Smokers, can be had in Wholesale, in great variety at Edward Keevil’s, 27, Merchant’s Quay, Dublin.
-In another advertisement in the Bromley Record, printed on 1st July 1860 in Bromley (a district in London nowadays), the Tobacco & Cigar Divan company offers briar root pipes.
It is surprising that (as A.J.M. states) the first briar pipes appeared in England in around 1855, but this cannot be totally excluded: the note in the report on the Situation Industrielle in Saint-Paul, fourth quarter 1856 (The increase in sales derives from shipment abroad) could be an indication.
The anonymous author of Mems. shifts the date to a few years after 1860, which is hardly surprising. However, the claim that the first lot of pipes actually arrived from Vienna is rather far-fetched. Yet, Ben Rapaport (in An Intimate History of the Tobacco Industry 1850-1920, published in 2021) argues that in the official catalogue of the Great London Exhibition in 1862, in the industrial section, foreign division, a certain “Lewis Hartman” (actually identified as Ludwig Hartmann) from Vienna has a wide range of shops that sell pipes and pipes for cigars in meerschaum, amber and briar.
Fairholt’s comment (briar pipes are now common in our shops) is perhaps slightly exaggerated, but the evidence of briar pipes in a few English shops in 1859 cannot be dismissed, given that it is a witness from that period that refers to them. However, it is the advertisements in the two 1860 newspapers (there are also later ones, naturally) that provide the strongest evidence: what is the point of publishing a paid advertisement if you do not have the goods you are offering?
Thus, at least around 1860 (perhaps before or after that date) briar pipes were already being sold in Britain. They came from France, or perhaps even from an Austrian who, having bought them from the French, sold them to the British. It is not known how many there were, but they were certainly an almost unknown article, novelties capable of attracting attention, especially if those who offered them knew how to extol their qualities, but also something that people perhaps mistrusted. Thus, starting with modest quantities, the 'briars' began to seek and find a place in the interesting market of British smokers. Initially, dissemination was slow, but then it gradually accelerated. The anonymous author of the book Mems. for Tobacconists - published by Cigar and Tobacco World, 1909 - describes it well:
Attracting much attention as a novelty and regarded somewhat as curiosities, the briars did not at once bound into public favour. … However, the high-class smoker discovered very soon that the wooden pipe was actually less expensive than the clays, that it did not break so easily and that they realized that the majority (not all) were very sweet smoking, indeed; moreover, if mislaid or lost, not much money was involved, compared to meerschaums. Being offered more shapes on the market, and competition reducing prices somewhat, as well as seeing that they were favoured by the upper classes, the middle-class smoker took up briar pipes as being more respectable in appearance and not so fragile as clays. The increasing demand created increased supplies, as always happens, principally from France, and the new technologies that were adopted contributed to lowering the cost, till at last prices came within the reach of the working man.
As they became more widespread, briar pipes were differentiated by quality, making them affordable for everyone. The simpler and cheaper ones easily substituted the short clay pipes, as they were definitely superior: briar is still briar. Something similar happened with the medium-finished models, which were far sturdier and smokable than clay pipes, even lending a certain dignity to those who sported them. However, it is more difficult to compare the luxury briars with the sumptuous meerschaums intended for wealthy people. Here we return to the question of the true nature and personality of briar.
How the luxury briar pipe was considered is well described in the report of the members of the French section in the international jury at the 1862 Great London Exhibition, described in part III:
This wood is carved into various beautiful shapes. The pipe bowl is sometimes lined with meerschaum in luxury pipes. However, in ordinary pipes, briarwood withstands tobacco heat for a long time. The beautiful pipes also have amber mouthpieces.
This is only a slight reference to the complex refinements, artistic details and precious metals added to the briar pipes. After all, it is the middle of the 19th century and decorative effects abound. The most paradoxical aspect of these luxury pipes is that by lining the inside of the bowl with meerschaum, the most innovative feature of the wood was cancelled, namely its high heat tolerance. In general, in awe of the “white goddess”, attempts were made to pursue its impressive aesthetic appeal without making any effort to seek original solutions that were more suitable for briarwood.
The refined manufacturers in Paris often did not start with ebauchons, as they bought semi-finished pipes in Saint-Claude and then gave them the finishing touches, as Vernier explains in the article La fabrication de la pipe published in the newspaper Le Pantheon de l'industrie in 1883:
Saint-Claude's pipes are well finished, or almost finished, when they arrive in Paris, but most generally need retouching both from the point of view of the mount, which must be consolidated, and from the point of view of the shape, in which elegance and finish sometimes leave much to be desired. Thus, the mechanical and manual work of the Jules Fexaîné and Pardoux company consists of putting the finishing touches to the almost completed articles from the Saint-Claude manufacture.
The British did something similar, but were more demanding, at least in the 1870s. The pipe-maker Henri Vuillard, in one of his personal recollections dated 1954 and quoted in the book Les pipiers français - histoire et tradition by Gilbert Guyot (1992), relates that around 1879 there were specialised workshops serving them in Saint-Claude. Monsieur Gay-Mandrillon was certainly the most important. All they required from London were the pipe bowls. They had to be of the highest quality in terms of beauty and perfection and be made with perfectly calibrated ebauchons. The English then reserved the right to work on these French products for the appropriate finishing touches. This was at the end of the 1870s, but it is reasonable to suggest that the custom of importing and refinishing went back much earlier, even to the 1860s, albeit in smaller quantities and with fewer specifications imposed on suppliers.
It is difficult to understand who decided to make a briar pipe from the ebauchon, and when in England, because even those who merely modified French pipes then sold them as 'London made'. If someone started in the 1860s or 1870s to make pipes themselves, production was not extensive, as the article The Making of a Pipe by Frederick A. Talbot in The Windsor Magazine, 1899, assures us:
Previous to the year 1883 there was scarcely a single briar pipe manufactured in England. They were all foreign made goods. In the latter part of that year, Mr. J. S. Weingott, the well-known tobacco merchant of Fleet Street, conceiving the possibilities that lay in such a non-competitive and unopposed field, determined to manufacture pipes in England for the English consumer. His enterprise, at first, was regarded askance by others in the trade, while many of the preternaturally sage prognosticated disaster.
However, just as they had learnt to put their own distinctive trait on the pipes made by the French, the English were able to achieve the same result or even better, carrying out all phases of production. What was their secret? They had realised something obvious before the others, but fundamental: briar was "briar". Not meerschaum. The intrinsic personality of such a beautiful material had to be brought to the fore, and woe betide them if they overburdened it with excessive adornments. Only a few subtle additions of other materials were permitted. The shape had to be harmonious, simple but not banal, the result of complex combinations that took into account functionality as well as manufacturing problems.
Around 1870 the natural complement to briar began to be introduced: the ebonite mouthpiece. The result of a meticulous search for beauty combined with utility, those English pipes partially manufactured in France and sold as English, together with their twins made entirely on site, were the forerunners of future industrial design. Innovative, luxurious in their own way (even in price), full of personality and totally recognisable, they were the most likely to flood the world market, including France. The new English style also led the way for manufacturers (as well as smokers) from other countries, and as it established itself, it overshadowed the allure of meerschaum.
Tobacco Whiffs for the First-Class Smoking Carriage - by a London Journalist, 1881 edition, reads:
Meerschaums have to some extent gone out of fashion the last few years, and wooden pipes, more or less elaborately mounted, are now most in favour, for in pipes, as in almost all things human, there is a fashion, and I suppose this is set in this matter by manufacturers, just as it is in our habiliments, a change being good for trade. The great majority of wooden pipes are made of “briar”, or at least they are called by that name... The word is only a corruption of the French bruyère which signifies “heath”. It is of this French wood that the pipes are made, and it is used for the simple reason that it is almost the only wood that does not char when subjected to fire and is practically incombustible. It is sent to this country in roughly prepared shapes and sizes and subjected to the lathe and a variety of hand labour, somewhat similar to that employed in shaping and polishing meerschaum.
What did the writer mean by “roughly prepared shapes”? Only the ebauchons or else the French pipe bowls that needed to be improved? In the first case we would have to bring forward the date of the launch of the first briar pipes entirely made on English soil. In the second case, which is probably the most likely, everything fits without changing any dates.
Tobacco whiffs, 1881, is the second edition. In the first edition, which dates back to 1874, the above-cited passage is different and begins in this way:
The manufacture of wooden pipes does not call for much notice. They are made of a variety of goods, such as maple and cherry wood, the more expensive and popular pipes being those called “briar roots.”… the name “briar" is only a corruption … Real French “briar-root" pipes are made of the roots of a kind of heath, which is used for the purpose because…
Hence, in the seven years between one edition and the other, public opinion and that of the writer on the importance of briar pipes had made some progress.
Going back to English pipes, the pipe maker J.S. Weingott, interviewed by Frederick A. Talbot in the above-mentioned 1899 article, adds a few interesting remarks:
This is where the English pipe is so vastly superior to the foreign-manufactured article. In England the entire pipe is finished by one man, who is thus able to ensure correct and tight fitting of various parts, so that the pipe when finished possesses a beautifully symmetrical outline. In the case of foreign articles, each man makes a different part – by the gross or thousand, it may be remarked en passant – and thus when it comes to the final fitting up the whole article has a disappointing, hotch-potch appearance, though strenuous endeavours are made to cover up the bad workmanship by attractive mountings.
In The Soverane Herbe, a book written by W. A. Penn, published in 1901 when briar pipes had become firmly established, we read:
The last quarter of the century has seen a complete change of attitude with regard to pipes. The briar is omnipresent and omnipotent; it is practically indestructible, and in appearance is equally superior to the clay, which with the meerschaum is essentially a reclusive and philosophical pipe, unfitted for the rush and strain of modern life. The introduction of the neat, workaday briar has contributed in no small degree to the renaissance of smoking.
Meerschaum pipes are the pets of luxurious and poetic smokers. For genuine, hard smoking there is nothing to beat a good briar. Granted a good briar is rare, but when obtained what can beat it? Unlike the meerschaum, one need not handle and smoke it gingerly, in fear of breakage; finger-heat does not spoil its colouring, so swaddling clothes are superfluous. Of course, the briar will not yield the rich shades of the foam of the sea, but the pleasure of the smoker as he sees the darkening wood is not less than that of the meerschaum devotee. The meerschaum is the pipe for the study and house; it cannot be smoked out of doors. But the briar is equal to every occasion. At home, or in the open, in the wind or sun, on land or sea, the briar is ever ready. Sturdy, needing no case, practical and philosophical, it is emphatically the pipe of the Briton. It is not surprising that the wooden pipe is of recent invention, for the wood must possess many qualities. The wood must be hard and practically incombustible, yet light. It must be sapless and inodorous, or when heated the fragrance of the tobacco would be lost. And while not essential, it is a desideratum that the fibre should be gnarled, mottled, or grained, and susceptible of a high polish.
Here are two recent contributions. The first is by W.E. Alford, from the book Wills and Development of the UK Tobacco Industry, 1786-1965, published in 1973:
Initially, briar pipes were much too expensive for the common man, but by the 1880s, they were in fairly common use. As they gained in popularity, there was a concomitant demand for the milder Virginia tobacco that was ideally suited for the briar. By the end of the 19th century, briar pipes were the most sought-after models, with new manufacturers dedicated to producing them. Whether the companies turned to briar from sea-foam or else started directly to make briar pipes, they largely paid attention to quality rather than quantity. The transition from making pipes by hand to making pipes to an apparatus occurred around 1870. The invention of steam-hydraulic-power equipment for mass production gave briars the boost they needed: it enabled pipe makers to design very functional shapes.
An assortment of shapes evolved, and they became simpler, so that by the turn of the century, most of the classic and traditional shapes we now are familiar with had been developed, and many continue to be manufactured today. Credit goes to the Brits for having given most of them their shape names.
In conclusion, there are two other passages that could represent the last word on the early days of the briar pipe.
From Hygiène des fumeurs by Lemercier de Neuville and Victor Cochinat – 1859:
The bowl is the soul of the pipe... Thus, the roots of hazel, heather, boxwood, elm, and acacia are commonly employed... Wooden pipes become sweeter with use. They only have the disadvantage of becoming easily greasy and making your hands smell unpleasantly when you have smoked them for a long time. Briar, boxwood, and ebony are generally the types of wood used to make them.
Here the briar pipe has only recently been introduced and the writers underestimate it, equating it with other types of wood. However, they are aware of its existence.
The report by Jules Cahen for the Comité Français des Expositions à l’Étranger on the “Tobacco and associated industries section” at the International Exhibition of Industry and Labour in Turin, 1911, states:
When practising sports, the English, like the hunters, needed a solid and shock-resistant pipe. Briar root pipes were made for them, the sale of which soon assumed a considerable volume and far exceeded that of all other pipes. This article is mainly manufactured in Saint-Claude for export to Great Britain, the United States of America and Australia. These countries use it in such quantities that some English manufacturers have come to set up their workshops directly in Saint-Claude, thus eliminating the middleman.
With the turn of the century a phase came to an end, both for briar pipes and for ebauchons. The evolution could certainly not be said to be over (being never-ending) but one thing was certain: the value of that material was now universally recognised.
At the dawn of the 20th century, pipes were produced by a series of industrial organisations (in France, but to a lesser extent elsewhere as well) headed by commercial organisations in charge of sales on the one hand, and suppliers on the other.
The ebauchons were prepared by a proliferation of often small, sometimes medium-sized industries, which were more or less closely linked to the harvesting areas, as well as tied to each other in many ways and to specialised merchant facilities that supplied the companies and, as time went on, tended to become larger and more important. Small independent pipe factories from Saint-Claude, Paris or Strasbourg remained here and there, which sometimes made no division between pipe production and ebauchon production.
How had this situation come about for briarwood ebauchons? It had all started with a few, often improvised sawmills, frequently linked to other processes and to a specific location, often little organised from a sales point of view. These were industries that were developing in a new market, dedicated to hard work (after an “easy”, brief start) that was not too profitable and also unstable, given that in certain seasons they worked less, that the supplies of burls were exhausted and at a certain point they had to dismantle everything to start again in other places that were yet to be exploited. However, to turn the production of ebauchons into a serious business, to profitably pursue and at the same time efficiently foster pipe industry development, a change of gear was needed – things needed to move from small-scale to large scale production.
In part III of this account, examples of sawmills have already been seen: the Spanish one, initially established in Bescanò, Catalonia, had to “chase the burl” after a few years by moving to Arbucias, some forty kilometres away. The sawmill in Alet, in the upper Aude valley, which probably had fewer sales problems than its competitors in Saint-Paul, was able to rely on the Parisian merchant, Philippe Calmettes.
Frédéric Vassas and Ambroise Salvat had gone looking further east along the coast, in the Var, sensing that the Pyrenean wood would sooner or later run out, but also in order to escape the limits of Saint-Paul. Thus, broadening their horizons over time. For example, Salvat had first run the ebauchon and pipe factory in Île de Levant and then had settled in Saint-Claude to sell ebauchons in large quantities.
Browsing through works of various kinds published largely in the 19th century, references to the production of ebauchons and/or briar pipes in various French locations can be found. In the eastern Pyrenees, besides Saint-Paul, Orle and Céret we have Saint-Laurent de Cerdans (1863), Amélie-les-Bains-Palalda and Arles-sur-Tech (1869), Bouleternère (1875) Perthus and Le Boulou (1890). Lanet and Alet in the Aude valley are mentioned several times. In the Var department, we have Saint-Raphaël (1869) the Draguignan area (1870), Le cannet-du luc and Collobrières (1877), and Roquesteron (1896). In the Alpes Maritimes: Auribeau-sur-Siagne (1873), Luceram (1890). In Corsica: Sollocaro (1877), Cutuli (1890) Ajaccio, Ucciani, Bocognano, Véro, Cristinacci, Guagno, Serriéra, Galéria, and Propriano (1898). However, there are a good many other places that could also be identified and named.
A good example of a place producing ebauchons is represented by Bouleternère (Eastern Pyrenees) because it is linked to the problem of transport: it was when a railway was established in the village around 1875 that Jean Blanc, originally from Boule d'Amont, set up a small ebauchon factory there by refurbishing the old mill of Oliveda. Monsieur Caruso was in charge for many years, and the harvesting was carried out in the Bula area, especially on the Massif de la Quera. They left every morning and did not return until they had collected at least ninety kilos of burls each. Subsequently, as supplies dwindled, the area was expanded to include places further away. They sent the burls to Saint-Claude but also to Lunel and Cogolin. Until the end of the 19th century, they also sent some to the United States of America and to the Boers of South Africa. The sawmill remained active (although in decline) until the 1870s.
The Annuaire Didot-Bottin reports that in Paris, L.Prax sold ebauchons in 1858. The Catalan surname suggests that he acquired them from the Perpignan area. However, there is no information as to where Alfred Sautel, who was trading in Paris in 1861, obtained them. Skipping forward to 1886, the figure of Ambroise Salvat, a resident of Saint-Claude and a well-established ebauchon merchant, re-emerges on the scene. Therefore, he was in direct contact with all the major pipe manufacturers - a merchant turned businessman, with the help of his brother Baptiste, an ebauchon manufacturer in Corsica. However, it is likely that the network was much wider, as both Baptiste (Corsica) and Ambroise (mainland France) must have had close links with several other establishments that supplied their trade.
Trying to get an overall view of the last four decades of the 19th century, in France but also outside France as the demand for ebauchons increased, one can imagine the activity of many sawmills, most often small and nomadic, gradually associated with new regions to be exploited. Sometimes, they were more stable and larger, as more efficient transport and infrastructures allowed the search to be extended to a wider area. Merchants liaised with pipe factories, signing contracts, or founding companies with one, two, five or ten manufacturers; or else they took over the companies, or explored new suitable areas where they would obtain operating licenses and build new sawmills.
Thus, a network was created that connected and benefited all parties, albeit in different proportions: the small factory had a guaranteed outlet for its product, and the leading merchant, who controlled several sawmills, dealt with the narrow profit margin by profiting from the large quantity of products. The strategic location of Saint-Claude favoured a few local operators and encouraged others to settle in the town in the Jura department.
This long, irregular, and gradual evolution paralleled that of the briar pipe. A small group of merchants emerged that established medium and large companies, and those that competed with one another determined the fate of the entire sector. Taken together, these practical and tenacious men had turned the ebauchon industry into something more serious, more reliable, and much more important.
As for Saint-Paul, its gradual exit from the world of ebauchons can be explained by the pace of life and views of a village of two thousand inhabitants which, all things considered, did not live exclusively on briar wood even during the golden 1870s. It was a highly decentralised village compared to Saint-Claude, which had soon seen its precious wood deposits depleted. However, it was rich in agriculture (vineyards and olive trees) and had a long tradition of working with boxwood, as well as other important activities. The turners had always focused on finished products, and seeing the ebauchons diminish, they had still gone straight ahead: when the late Pierre Bougnol's turnery changed hands in 1873, it employed forty workers, whereas there were only two producing ebauchons. Two furnace factories had appeared in the same years and were quite successful. The reports on the Situation Industrielle of Saint-Paul reveal that the ebauchons were dying a slow death in the early 1870s, and then practically disappeared. However, briar pipes continued to appear, even carved ones. Their last appearance was in 1883, with the note: [production] slow, no demand, [sales] slow, few outlets.
A special thanks to:
Gauthier Langlois (Société d’Ètudes Scientifiques de l’Aude),
Archives Départementales des Pyrénées Orientales