A Russian who arrives in England from Austria opens a workshop in London, hires employees, expands, acquires important clients, then leaves the firm to his son who succeeds in maintaining the firm’s excellent reputation. Following the bombing, business picks up again thanks to a German from America who buys the firm, alters the way it is run, and then sells it. The new, prestigious owner transfers the whole activity, sells off the brand, but then later repurchases it. Seen in this light, the history of such a glorious brand as Charatan seems to be somewhat reduced, but this is a brief description of what happens to most firms, with their ups and downs, changes, good and bad surprises, urgencies and emergencies, and in the meantime never forgetting the client’s needs. In this case the client only thinks of choosing a fine pipe to smoke, but when and if the client’s smoking equipment turns into a collection, this is no longer enough. The collection of models gradually increases, and the client wishes to examine them in more detail, seeking to determine date and location of production. However, in order to do this there must be some sort of reference that may be consulted, which the companies, unfortunately, cannot always supply. This is because the ancient archives have frequently been destroyed by fires and other disasters, or else have been neglected or abandoned altogether. However, collectors are a tenacious breed: they build up networks, exchange information, turn into catalogue hunters, library and internet bookworms, pipe archaeologists who are able to describe a model through such minute details hardly perceptible to most smokers.
Pipe firms and companies have only really realized the importance of collectors in the last few decades, and thus to meet their demands, as well as to increase production, they periodically issue a series of appealing, quality pipes. Prior to this, apart from some exceptions, the clients bought pipes to smoke and the manufacturers produced and sold them, making functional, logistic and commercial choices based on practical requirements, not on whether these would become future collectors’ items. Nowadays, the well-know Dunhill code stamped on the pipe which enables collectors to determine precisely the pipe’s year of manufacture is a godsend for them, whereas in fact this practice had been introduced solely so that the annual guarantee could be honoured. On the other hand, Charatan never adopted this practice for the simple reason that the firm’s pipes would have had a lifetime guarantee, which undeniably was fine for the clients, but less so today for Charatan collectors. Nevertheless, our indomitable heroes forge ahead, their favourite pastime being unearthing fleeting, slippery clues.
The companies’ vicissitudes obviously contributed to the loss of important information, but further complications occurred due to the unique climate in the workshop. In fact, at least until Lane arrived on the scene, routine procedure among the expert pipe makers was frowned upon. Of course, stamps and codes were part of the process, but were not the most important part and were not always precise. When Lane and later Dunhill sought to impose some sort of classification, they were successful, but at the cost of losing some of the magic in the workshop. Furthermore, in order to attract more clients Lane himself increased the number of models and grades to the extent that today collectors have serious difficulties in gathering precise data. Moreover, there are those who do not stop at determining a period or model, but complicate their lives further by seeking models made by particular craftsmen. From pipe to pipe, and clue after clue, these resolute sleuths hunt down pipes by Reuben Charatan, Ken Barnes, and Barry Jones. Through details that only their expert eyes can see they try to distinguish between products from Mansell Street, Prescot Street, or Grosvenor Street. The top collectors are like that: the more difficult the enterprise, the better.
However, for those who have a “normal” collection of Charatan pipes, it is essential to identify some solid stepping stones amidst the quagmire of manufacturing information, which may be provided by examining the above-mentioned company vicissitudes.
The logical move would be to split Charatan’s history into two eras, with 1962 as the dividing year, when Reuben’s widow sold off the business to Herman Lane. Thus, the first era deals with the family, and the second with the firm’s subsequent owners. However, this would omit an important stage in Charatan’s history, the time when Lane ran the business and although Charatan was no longer run by the family, it was still autonomous, while following Dunhill’s purchase this was no longer possible and Charatan quickly became just a brand amongst others. Thus, we should really divide the history into three eras: the family, Lane, from Dunhill to Dunhill. In future a fourth era may be added: the family, Lane, difficult years and recovery under Dunhill, but the last era is really too recent to be able to consider it separately.
Before examining the eras and periods in more detail it should be said that the information gathered from experts may not be complete and therefore may be integrated or altered with future findings. As mentioned earlier, Charatan’s manufacturing history is rather complex.
FIRST ERA: THE FAMILY c. 1873 to c. 1962
The two dates are to be considered approximate, as although it is known that the shop could not have been opened as early as 1863, it is also true that the year 1873 is also a rough estimate. On the other hand, we know that 1962 is the year in which Herman Lane bought the business, but it is also known that as early as 1955 or even the early 1950s Herman Lane was the sole distributor of Charatan pipes in the USA. Hence, 1962 is also an approximate year. The first era can be further divided into two periods:
First period: Frederick Charatan c.1873 - 1910
Manufacturing was limited and a pipe was made to last a lifetime, so finding a pipe from this period is extremely rare. - Frederick designed a simple logo combining the initials of the words Charatan Pipes: a “CP” with the P slightly lowered and the bottom part of the C linking with the P. The letters are fine.
- Apart from some exceptions the pipes are quite small (corresponding to Dunhill group 1 or 2).- Stem: May be in amber or horn, as well as in ebonite, and saddle shaped or tapered. The CP logo is stamped on it (but may sometimes be absent).
- Shank: The shape code is stamped on it together with the nomenclature “CHARATAN'S MAKE LONDON ENGLAND" arranged in two lines. This could simply refer to Charatan’s production, but some experts suggest that “make” could imply that the model is entirely hand-crafted. A subtlety that Herman Lane would later make clearer.
Second period: Reuben Charatan 1910 – c. 1962
- In 1962 Herman Lane took over the business from the Charatan family, although he had already influenced production from the 1950s.
- The pipes were mostly larger than the previous ones and corresponded in size to Dunhill group 5. These are slightly less rare, but still difficult to find.
- Stem: Usually in ebonite, saddle shaped or tapered, bearing a fine “CP” stamp. Underboar system (see below) used when necessary.- Shank: The shape code is stamped on it together with the nomenclature “CHARATAN'S MAKE LONDON ENGLAND” arranged in two lines. From 1955 onwards on the models marketed for the USA there is also a serif and circled capital “L” (but not all models bear this) which resembles the pound sterling symbol. The “L” is for Lane, the importer.
From 1958, Lane changed the nomenclature for models marketed for the US to clarify the message: “MADE BY HAND”.- In this period the Underboar was introduced. Its manufacturing period ranged between 1920 and c.1930. This model was equipped with a duralumin plunger trap fitted in the stem, which served to clean the residue more easily. This particular model bore a special stamp on the stem, and also had its own catalogue.
SECOND ERA: HERMAN LANE c. 1962 – 1976
While Herman Lane in the latter part of the first era had a certain influence on production and import to the US market, the business really took off when he bought the firm from the Charatan family, as he controlled everything now. However, initially changes were almost imperceptible, and it was only when Ben Wade closed down in Leeds and all machinery moved to London that Lane brought about some radical changes, paying particular attention to marketing. This is why it would be better to divide this era into two separate periods. To facilitate classification each era will be divided into various periods in numerical sequence.
Third period: Lane prior to Ben Wade closure c.1962 – 1965
These years can be considered a kind of continuation of the previous decade, as Wade increasingly influenced Charatan production without betraying Charatan’s traditional spirit.
- As before, the maximum pipe size is equivalent to Dunhill group 5, and these are generally less rare.
- Stem: apart from some exceptions, almost always in ebonite, frequently saddle-shaped or Double Comfort saddle type, but never tapered. The saddle stem fits into the shank perfectly and has a flattened part. On the other hand, the Double Comfort features a saddle stem with a stepped bit, which is shorter. This type of stem dates from the beginning of the third period, although again this is approximate. Indeed, some experts even date it back to the beginning of WWII. The stem bears a thicker Charatan logo (CP).
Shank: If there is a Double Comfort stem, the shape code is followed by “DC”, if not the shape code is followed by an “X”. Pipes made for the American market bear the Lane logo with a serif, circled capital L. The stamp “CHARATAN'S MAKE - LONDON ENGLAND” is arranged in two lines, and on some models the shank bears the script: “MADE BY HAND”.
Fourth period: Lane following Ben Wade closure 1965 - 1976
The acquisition of the Ben Wade machinery brought about some substantial changes to manufacturing. Some “seconds” pipes still bore the Charatan logo, while others bore the Ben Wade brand logo. Some pipes were also commissioned to Willmer, the British manufacturers and Preben Holm, the Danish workshop. All these circumstances and others that we will add created considerable confusion and inconsistencies in production, and the distinctive precision of the previous “British Style” was a thing of the past.
- Features are similar to pipes from the previous period, but there are some changes:- Shank: The nomenclature “CHARATAN'S MAKE - LONDON ENGLAND” is stamped in three lines. Pipes stamped with “MADE BY HAND in City of London” arranged in three lines was adopted briefly in 1965, for about six months. The same nomenclature was used after that date, still arranged in three lines, but instead of using capital letters for the first part, the pipes now bore lower case script: “Made by Hand - In - City of London”.
THIRD ERA: FROM DUNHILL TO DUNHILL 1977 - present
- Dunhill acquired the Charatan brand in 1976, and for the first six months production went on as before. Real changes started to be made in 1977, increasing radically as time went by, which culminated in the closure of the London workshop and transfer of all manufacturing to Walthamstow in 1982. This date marks the transition from the first to the second Dunhill period. Dunhill then sold the Charatan brand to James B. Russel and the third Dunhill period is characterized by Dunhill’s reacquisition of the Charatan brand.
Fifth period: Dunhill I 1977 -1981
Features are similar to previous production, except for some differences. - Stem: Up to the end of 1980 the CP logo is the same, with the C penetrating the P, but after that the C and P are separate. - Shank: Although Lane sold off the brand, the “L” for Lane is still stamped on pipes imported by him for the American market. Some experts suggest that the “L” was present only until 1980, but this has to be verified. In any case, the nomenclature in cursive script “Made by Hand in City of London” in three lines was present until 1979 and subsequently “CHARATAN'S MAKE LONDON ENGLAND” was displayed in three lines. An X appears after the shape code for a saddle stem (rare) or “DC” for Double Comfort. It is important to check that the “DC” is not out of line with the shape code, as this means that the pipe is from an earlier production and the DC was added later on.
- Shank: Some pipes produced around 1978 bear the stamp “Chippendale”, which were manufactured by Charatan (Dunhill) for Tinderbox, an American chain store selling smoking equipment. - Stem: Chippendale pipes manufactured by Charatan belong to the Belvedere series and bear the stamp “CD” instead of “CP”.
Sixth period: Dunhill II 1982 -1987
Specialist newspapers of the time sadly announced the closure of the Grosvenor Street factory. Althoughthis does not mark a division between two periods in production, nevertheless it was a breaking point of no return. From that time on radical changes were made, even if they did not have a great impact on the features being examined. Here are some of the differences:
- Stem: The CP logo is the new one, the two letters being separate. - Shank: The stamp “CHARATAN'S MAKE LONDON ENGLAND” is still displayed in three lines. Some experts believe that this period marks the absence of the “L” for Lane, but Lane continued to import until the Charatan brand was sold to Russell in 1987.
Seventh period: James.B. Russel 1988 - 2001
Production was moved to France. - Stem: Double Comfort. In addition to the new, clearly stamped CP, there is the stamp “FRANCE".- Shank: The stamp “CHARATAN of London” (“of London” in cursive script) to which is added “FRANCE” occasionally. The “L” for Lane is no longer present. - To be more precise: the “FRANCE” stamp is not always present on the pipes, and when it is, it may be displayed on the stem or shank.
Eighth period: Dunhill III 2002 - present
There is not much to say on the history of these new pipes for the moment. Catalogues can be consulted online to view the models, and pipes can be bought. However, one feature is the return of the C that penetrates the P once again, displayed on the stem, and on the shank the script “CHARATAN'S MAKE LONDON ENGLAND”. Charatan is back.
We shall now continue our study from another point of view, by examining how the stem and shank have evolved over time:
Stem: Originally in ebonite, amber or horn. Up to the second era it was only in ebonite, apart from a few exceptions. As for its shape, in the first and second era it was tapered or saddle shaped. The Double Comfort was introduced at the end of the second era and was soon adopted in most Charatan pipes. The tapered stem was absent, apart from some rare cases of special series. The saddle stem was for a long time present in some models, but later disappeared. The stem bore the CP logo, where the C penetrated the P until about 1980, and then reappeared in the eighth period. In the first two eras the logo’s script was fine, but later became thicker. In the seventh period the script was more marked. However, there are quite a few variatons on this and experts have to examine all the details, distinguishing between the different stamps used in certain eras (rather like stamp collecters). We will not go into this now.
Shank: The size and shape of the scripts stamped on them vary more or less according to the era and even during one single era. The nomenclature “MADE BY HAND” was introduced during the third period of the second era, but not all pipes bore this script. From the third period on, the shape code was followed by an X on saddle stems and rare tapered stems, and “DC” in the case of Double Comfort stems. The “L” for Lane appeared for the first time when pipes were made exclusively for the American market, and help us to identify the period. However, the L was absent sometimes on pipes that were exported to America, while pipes for the European market sometimes bore this stamp. When Lane sold the firm to Dunhill, he still continued to import to the USA and so the L remained on the pipes. However, once Dunhill sold the firm to James B. Russell, the L disappeared.
The stem did not only display the stamps mentioned above. Another stamp that can help dating is the one referring to the quality of the pipe. Until Herman Lane arrived on the scene there were four quality grades. Starting with the lowest: Belvedere, Executive, Selected, and Supreme. Lane went on to add higher grades from time to time: Supreme S, Supreme S100, S150, S200, S250, S300, Coronation, Royal Achievement, Crown Achievement, and Summa Cum Laude; these last three are extremely rare and almost impossible to find. He also invented other, different grades, even changing the previous pipe classification standards. We will not go into detail here, but it means that if we find an S100 or Coronation the pipe was manufactured following Herman Lane’s acquisition. In particular, the FH mark, or Freehand pipe was commissioned to the famous Danish craftsman, Preben Holm.
We shall leave further detailed analyses and dating to the experts, an enterprise that has only just begun, but which is at the same time surprising and highly satisfying for those who are prepared to rise to the challenge.
Milan, July 2014
Charatan Crown Achievement