The Date of Birth
by Luca di Piazza
The pipe is, and should remain, an object for smoking tobacco.
This is an ideal that has always been firmly planted in the mind of the Pipe maker and the small Italian workshops.
The interest of the collectors, who have been prevalent since the dawn of pipe smoking itself, paved the way for the evolution of research and development that would later lead to pipes being marked by both shape and the year in which they were produced. The pinnacle of this kind of research is personified by Limited and Numbered Edition of pipes, which have always been very attractive to all types of smokers and collectors.
Dunhill is a very good example and great study case. Throughout the last century, we can almost date each of his pipes made, we can identify the finish and the exact shape number; sometimes we can even identify the year of when the pipe was sold in the Dunhill store of London.
At the same time Savinelli created a very elaborate and detailed cataloguing system for his pipes, identifying each shape with a number.
This approach was adopted by Castello in the very early stages of his career. From the late '40s (Castello was founded on 1947), Carlo Scotti used a stamp to mark all the Sea Rock, Old Sea Rock and Old Antiquari series with a shape number (a few examples of smooth finish pipes with the shape number exist as well, though these are rare).
These were the birth years of the mythical shape #55, or Pot, the #32, or Canadian, the #15, or Billiard, and the #49, or Calabash. The shape stamp was discontinued at the end of the 1980's, presumably because Castello wasn’t preoccupied with his pipes being sought out by collectors, and instead wanted to focus on making a smoking instrument of the highest quality.
In 1987, Castello went back to stamping his pipes, this time stamping the year of production on his pipes. It is a very difficult system, one in which a person would have to have good knowledge of the brand history; in order to get the exact year of manufacture, we should read the number which is stamped on the pipe and add it to the number 1947, which was the first year of production for Castello. The first "year" number stamped on the pipe is 40 (meaning that if you take the stamp of “40” on this pipe, and add the first year of production, 1947, you get 1987).
Unfortunately this is only a partial sort of cataloguing because only the higher quality pipes are stamped with that number (starting from the smooth "Castello" grade). This means that lower grades as Sea Rock, Old Antiquari or Trade Mark pipes are near impossible to date.
I’ll give you an example: if you get a "Collection" with the number "50" stamped on the shank you will know that it has been made during the year 1997 (again, if you take the “50” marked on the pipe and add it to 1947 , you get 1997).
During the 70's and 80’s, a lot of other pipe makers started to stamp their pipes with the year of production. Mastro de Paja, for example, only stamped the year of production on the best pipes he made.
But Luigi Radice, after founding his own brand in 1980, was one of the lone dissenters. He never felt the need to mark his pipes with something to help the collector to distinguish the year of manufacture. If you are not extremely familiar with his work and have not followed him since the beginning of his career, it will be very difficult to pinpoint at which point in time his pipes were made, and one must also take into account the fact that some models are discontinued, and some pipes were part of shorter productions runs and limited editions.
However, times change, as do pipe makers and it was very interesting to learn that even Radice decided to start stamping all of his pipes with the year of manufacture. Since 2009 we can read, beside the stamp "Hand Made in Italy,” a small number which indicates the progressive number since the year he started making pipes, 1980. So, if we find a pipe stamped with "Hand Made in Italy 31" we know it was made during 2011 or 31 years after the beginning of his career in 1980.
In order to make his pipes even more collectible, Radice, in 2010, created a series of 7 different shapes (with 3 more added in 2011), called the "Classic" line. The pipes belonging to the “Classic Series” have their own unique numbers.
Beside the small "Bottega" or factory, let's take a look at the stamping in the workshop of a single Pipe maker who makes a limited number of pipes every year.
In Rome, Paolo Becker didn’t start stamping his pipes until 2002, in order to underline the return to single production after leaving the "Becker&Musicò" store. On his website (beckerpipes.com) one can find a very interesting and complete dating chart which helps to identify the different stamps and their development, from 1970 until today, from Fritz Becker pipes all the way up to Paolo Becker Pipes.
If asked why he does this, Paolo stresses the importance of being able to immediately identify the year of manufacture at first glance. He thinks it is very important both for the collector and for the retailer who sells his pipes.
In Cagli, Bruto Sordini stamps each Don Carlos with a progressive number. He changes this number on April 2nd of each year.
This number does not really indicate the year of manufacture. Bruto's point of reference, his "year zero", is 1977 when the first pipe came out from his hands. At the time, he worked for Mastro de Paja in Pesaro.
Bruto started stamping his pipes with the date reference in 2002. Each pipe has a stamp that reads "50/2": 50 was Bruto’s age in 2002 and the stamp “50/2”, when looked at mathematically, signifies 25, (seeing as how 50/2 equals 25) which is exactly the years that Bruto spent in making pipes (starting in 1977).
After the first years of including the date stamp, there is a short interruption in the stamping process, but starting in April 2nd, 2004, under request of David Field (Don Carlos U.S. importer), Bruto started including a date stamp once again, stamping the number 27 on every pipe that he made. On April 2nd, 2005 the number became 28, and this process has continued up to the present day. Bruto will stamp each pipe made with the number 34 until April 2nd, 2012.
Let's go to Jesi, where Tonino Jacono has recently decided to stamp the year of manufacture on each of his pipes. All the pieces made in 2011 do not have a stamp but we can recognize them, because for the first time, Tonino stamped a silver logo on the mouthpiece. All the pipes made in 2011 have this silver logo on the mouthpiece. Since 2012, Tonino started to stamp each pipe with the number "12" which means the pipe was made in 2012.
Maurizio Tombari recently had a breakthrough with his pipes as well. Starting January 1st, he decided to stamp each of his pipes, as Jacono does, with the number 12, to indicate that it has been carved in 2012.
We still can find some pipe makers who don’t follow this "trend"; and in all actuality, they simply stamp the pipe with their name and/or some other hallmark to identify the finish or the grade. Two well-known examples of these style of stamps are seen in the pipes of Vitaliano Posella or Claudio Cavicchi. That being said, it is almost impossible to assign a specific date to any of their pipes.
A special thanks to Eric Jelinek for editing the english version of this article.