By Jakob Groth
This is a short history of Danish hand made pipemaking leading to a presentation of many of the Scandinavian pipemakers after WWII. The purpose is to give a general view of the environment in which this special handicraft art has developed, and to present the main people involved.
Therefore, as a customer of this site, you can have some knowledge of the pipemakers behind the pipes sold here. This presentation does not pretend to be complete, so useful comments are encouraged and will be received with thanks.
Since we will concentrate on pipemakers, let us start with a definition. For our purpose, we will define a pipemaker as an artisan who makes pipes from start to finish. The pipe is the creation of one person; he takes care of the whole process himself. Furthermore, an artisan pipemaker shapes his pipes by hand. A pipe factory shapes its pipes from a master pipe as a template and produces a series of exactly the same pipes. A pipemaker's pipe is individual and no two pipes are identical. The first part of the pipemaker definition excludes some of the pipe producers, like Nording for example, since they have several employees and division of labour for the various stages of pipemaking. We will call a pipe made like this a semi-hand cut pipe.
There is general agreement upon the fact that the story of Danish pipemaking begins with a Swede: Sixten Ivarsson. During the second World War Sixten Ivarsson lived in Copenhagen and worked as a debt collector. When he broke the stem on his pipe he went to a workshop - Suhrs Pibemageri (Suhr's Pipe Work Shop in Copenhagen) - to get his pipe repaired. Unfortunately the repairman was out sick for a period, so Sixten had to fix it himself. He did this so well, that he was offered immediate employment. During the war it was practically impossible to buy new pipes, so Sixten was very busy with the repair job. From this Sixten learned a lot about how pipes should be made and perhaps more important - how they should not be made.
After the War it was again possible to import briar and Sixten began to experiment with making his own pipes along with the repair job. Since at this time it was still not possible to get the desirebel English briar pipes again, Sixten was able to sell his pipes even though they were 5 to 10 times more expensive than the Danish factory pipes (which at that time were not of good quality).
In the 50's Sixten developed his pipe shapes. From the traditional English shapes, starting with the Billard, he made a number of variations that were later to become classics. At the same time he started to collaborate with Stanwell. This also led Sixten to go into business for himself. Sixten had a disagreement with the owner of Suhrs Pibemageri about royalties for the shapes he created for Stanwell. Stanwell was the only Danish pipe factory started during the War that survived the later reentry of English pipes into Denmark. We shall return to Stanwell, even though it produces factory made pipes.
Sixten was never been afraid to teach others, so many of Stanwell's modern shapes from the 50's and 60's are creations of Sixten Ivarsson. In this way Danish Design was spread worldwide by Stanwell just like it was spread with the popularity of modern Danish furniture.
In the 60's Danish pipes had their breakthrough. There was an enormous growth in the export both of factory and pipemaker pipes. This enabled many new pipemakers and workshops to start up in Denmark. Several workshops even became schools for different directions among pipemakers, many of them still famous. Even today, it is often possible to see these characteristic features in the pipes made by pipemakers who were educated in one of the following important workshops:
• Sixten Ivarsson
• W.Ø. Larsen
• Poul Rasmussen
Sixten Ivarsson as a teacher
Besides being the first great createur, Sixten was also a very good teacher. One of Sixten's mottoes was " It is a bad teacher that does not allow his student to become better than himself." Some pipemakers have directly had the pleasure to be taught by Sixten while many have had indirect inspiration. Pipemakers who were taught or guided by Sixten include prominent names like: his son Lars Ivarsson, Jorn Micke, Jess Chonowitsch and Bo Nordh.
Typical for the Sixten School is that he always emphasized very good quality in the workmanship. All details must be done with a high degree of perfection. It was very important to Sixten that the pipes were good smoking instruments - even though the shaping of the pipes is more sculptural than in the other schools. Many of these pipes can be seen as the work of a sculptor trying to make the most of the briar as an interesting material. This means that many of the pipe shapes are asymmetric, in soft and flowing shapes.
Often the finish of the pipes is in a various shade of brown. We realize that when we are talking about characteristics, you have to see dozens of pipes from different pipemakers from a School before you can see a common thread. At the same time, some of these pipes may not have the characteristics of the School.
The work shop of Poul Rasmussen
Poul Rasmussen was perhaps the second pipemaker in Denmark as he was the foreman in Suhr's Pipe Work Shop after Sixten had left. In Suhr's a lot of pipes were repired! Later on Rasmussen established his own work shop in Hornemannsgade.
When Poul Rasmussen died from a weak heart in 1967 one of his pupils wrote: "His biggest importance for the future of Danish handmade pipes is that from his workshop has come many of our most skilled pipe artists, who can thank Poul Rasmussen for there knowledge and ability. They now work individually on the basis he created."
Some names to be mentioned from this school are Emil Chonowitsch (father of Jess), Bjorn Bengtsson, Tom Eltang and of course, Anne Julie, widow of Poul Rasmussen. Some characteristics for this work shop: many classic shapes, not so far away from the factory shapes, often rather slim or slender shapes with "tight" lines. It is in this school that the so called "laboratory" or "chemical" stain is used, though "invented" by Sixten, resulting in a very contrasted grain on many pipes.
The work shop of W.Ø.Larsen
W.Ø.Larsen is Denmark's oldest and probably the most famous pipe and tobacco Store, placed in the center of Copenhagen on the main pedestrian street, Stroget. If you visit Copenhagen and do a "pipe crawl" this Store is a must. In the beginning of the 60's the Store had begun to sell Danish handmade pipes, especially from Poul Rasmussen. This went very well and Poul Rasmussen could not keep up with the demand. W.Ø.Larsen - with their dynamic business manager Svend Bang (he later started in business for himself) - decided to establish their own workshop in rooms next to the Store.
The first manager of the pipe shop was Svend Knudsen, but he soon left to make pipes under his own name. The next manager was Hans Nielsen, also known as "Former" (named after the late British actor George Formby, with whom he had some similarity. By coincidence in Danish Former means Shapes). Under the management of Former the workshop grew and W.Ø.Larsen pipes became a very good name abroad.
Among the prominent pipemakers educated here were: Else Larsen (Denmark's first female pipemaker), Poul Ilsted, Ph. Vigen, Tonni Nielsen, Peter Hedegaard.
Typical for the W.Ø.Larsen School is the semi-classic shapes, that means classic shapes, but slightly different, often a little more full or round. The pipes often have lower point of gravity. A typical billard would have a bowl shaped more like a pear and the connection between the bowl and the shank would be clearly distinguished. Yellow and orange are colors more widely used for the finish.
Another workshop that has to be mentioned here is Pibe-Dan (Pipe-Dan), which unfortunately closed in 1991. Pipe-Dan was the Mekka for lovers of hand made pipes made by individual pipe makers. Pipe-Dan sold many of the leading Danish Pipemakers pipes in the Store. Even some of the unknown pipe makers sold their first pipes in Pipe-Dan before they became famous. Pipe-Dan would always let the pipemaker stamp his own name in it along with the Pipe-Dan name.
Pipe-Dan had a workshop, but mostly did repair work. Pipe-Dan had a line of pipes that was called "shape reformed", which meant reshaping traditional shapes. Some of the Pipe-Dan pipes were carved in the workshop which was next to the Store, by Tom Eltang and Ph. Vigen for example.
Yet another workshop that had a very good reputation in the 60's was the workshop of Hans Hartmann, though it never did generate a school. The most famous pipemaker who in his very young days had inspiration from Hans Hartmann was Per Hansen (S. Bang Pibemageri).
Besides these important workshops many pipe factories started and grew. Danish Design had won a good reputation, and in the less expensive lines a lot of semi-hand cut freehand and fancy pipes were sold. The pipe manufacturers could sort of ride on the wave of fancy pipe popularity. Today, we here in Scandinavia have an indulgent smile towards these "fancy creations". These were names such as Preben Holm, Karl-Erik and Nørding. All three survived because they had the ability to change their shaping when the market for fancy pipes decreased and higher quality was in demand.
When one talks about Danish Pipes, it is impossible to ignore the importance of Stanwell. On the contrary to what one might think, there is little contradiction between the factory made pipes from Stanwell and the hand made pipemaker pipes. They are two sides of the creative Danish pipe environment where both sides gain from the other.
Early in the 50's Poul Nielsen Stanwell started to collaborate with Sixten Ivarsson. Poul Nielsen Stanwell realized in order for the Stanwell factory to survive, that besides producing all the traditional classic (English) shapes he had to make the new Danish Design as well. Therefore, Stanwell introduced several of the new Ivarsson Shapes, many of them still in production today. Later other pipemakers contributed to the design of Stanwell.
The 50th Anniversary Jubilee set of 6 pipes from Stanwell is a tribute to Danish pipemakers and partly shows the debt of Stanwell to Danish pipemaking. The set includes one bulldog (Stanwells first pipe from the 40's) and five pipes created by master Danish pipemakers: Sixten Ivarsson (2), Jess Chonowitsch, Anne Julie and Tom Eltang. Even today this cooperation is fruitful; many new Stanwell shapes are created by pipemakers, while some pipemakers have their pipes sandblasted on Stanwell's machinery, and they can hand pick particularly beautiful pieces of bamboo or even plateau briar blocks.
In the mid 70's the time of the larger workshops ended. Sixten Ivarsson was getting too old to have pupils, Anne Julie prefered to run the workshop alone. W.Ø. Larsen closed the workshop and instead contracted to buy straight grain hand made pipes from individual pipemakers and then had their own Larsen name stamped on them; also a lot of factory made pipes and semi-hand cuts were sold under the W.Ø.Larsen name. The pipemakers that have emerged since that time have studied with one pipemaker or worked in a pipe factory and then become independent and learned by doing, developing their own style and design.
In the late 90's we have had a pipe boom, in the USA in particular, following the cigar boom in the mid 90's. This is not the first time; it seems to happen every 5 to 15 years. Each time new pipemakers emerge. It is first after the boom we can see who makes the quality that can survive.
A few other things must be mentioned before we look at the individual pipemakers:
Some pipe collectors seem to be very keen about the grading of the pipes. This is a little strange for us here in Scandinavia, since pipemaker pipes here rarely are graded, whether sold directly from the pipemakers workshop or from a pipe shop. A few pipemakers grade all pipes; more grade the very best pipes, only a few per year; and many do not grade.
The primary reason for pipemakers to grade the exported pipes is that if the pipe has a burn out (which never happens if a pipe is smoked gently), and the pipemaker wants to replace the pipe, he wants to replace it with a pipe in the same price level. Grading generally refers only to the perfection of the grain and the quality of the wood (more or less flawless). It does not refer to the smoking quality. In Scandinavia we think that if you see a pipe that you like; you should buy it - graded or not.
Another thing that we do not care so much about here in Scandinavia is the origin of pipemaker's briar. The price of the briar blocks is not so expensive relative to the final price of the pipe. Most of the high price of a handmade pipe comes from the large amount of handwork not the price of the raw material.
On the other hand the very best blocks with perfect grain, tight wood and few or no flaws can perhaps double income, with the same amount of work. Furthermore the pipemakers buy the briar plateau blocks in large quantities, so when they buy it is very important that the briar is the best quality. A Danish pipemaker expressed it like this: "Don't worry about the briar, that is the pipemakers responsibility."