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 The Price of Artisan Pipes

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RD

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:19 pm

There is a large array of artisan pipemakers today so can't we be a bit more specific about what different pipes are worth? From my observations it goes something like this:

- Pipemaker has a solid track record of making good-smoking and attractive pipes that sell reliably and have an established customer base - $150 to $200

- Pipemaker is well-known and has a strong reputation for reliable high quality, a recognisable style, perhaps a signature shape or two, is collected and sought after by some buyers, and gets talked about on forums like this - $250 to $350

- Pipemaker is generally recognised as one of the top artisans and has been for a while. Very distinctive style and a broad vocabulary of shapes, flawlessly executed. Has a wide and enthusiastic following of buyers who seek out his work and collect it. Never makes a bad pipe. Those that favour his style consider his pipes among the best available - $400 to $500

- Pipemaker is accepted as a master and his work has a level of quality, inventiveness and attention to detail that is second to none. Other pipemakers seek to study his methods. Everything he makes sells immediately and he cannot make enough pipes to satisfy the demand - $700 upwards

Of course a really nice, smooth pipe with special grain, for example, might sell for up to 50% more, and a rusticated or ordinary grained sandblast may be 30% less.

I'm generalising here of course but isn't that the sort of pricing that the market seems to support today?

The real question for me is when does a pipemaker raise his prices? How does he know the high demand is sustainable? How does he know how good he is and how the market views him? Even if he is "hot" right now, will it last, and would a price rise precipitate a drop in how much his prices are sought after?

I think in this case the pipemaker who has established his reputation over many years has the advantage and he knows he isn't a short-term phenomenon. For a relatively new pipemaker I imagine his pricing may be good as long as he is seen as a rising star (and therefore a potential bargain right now) but push things too far and he won't be selling like hot-cakes any more and the market will assume he isn't all that after all.

Are any pipes worth more than, say, $500? Yes, they must be because a lot of the pipemakers in this range can't keep up with demand and they have been in this position for years. And if you are in this position at the top of your profession then, yes, you deserve to make a decent living out of it.

In fact I would like to think that my favourite pipemakers do well out of it. They give me a great deal of pleasure and they deserve whatever success they can get and sustain.

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:44 pm

Good arguments. Only thing I can add is it's not a black and white world when it comes to these things. Values fluctuate with the tide and some carvers are highly sought after for a while, then seem to fade away, both in value and presence. Others put out good under priced work for a long time before raising prices and are highly respected for their consistent affordable work. Still others price their modest work much too high. It's an ebb and flow of fluctuating group desire, save for the few rare masters (Ivarsson and Former) and reliable journeymen (Rad Davis). Trying to disect it and get an exacting answer is futile. Stuff is worth what it will sell for for those willing to pay for it, but it may not be worth that at all to those unwilling to pay. That's as simple as it can be seen.

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PostSubject: Inflation and pipe prices   Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:25 pm

KevinM wrote:
My impression is that pipe carvers -- even Mr. Big Name Carver -- is in no danger of becoming "rich."
Amen to that, KevinM. Laughing

Truth be told, I don't see how anyone in any aspect of the pipe-and-weed biz is in danger of becoming "rich". The entire industry has been under increasing attack. On the weed end, here in the U.S. the supply has been attacked by the Feds driving the tobacco growers out of business through buyouts administered by the individual states. The U.S. once led the world in tobacco production, but as of 2009 was fourth, behind China, Brazil, and India. Between 2000 and 2009, the U.S. lost 22% of its production capacity.

Buyouts are only part of the cause. An aggressive social engineering policy seeks to reduce tobacco consumption through increased taxation. Inflation (a hidden tax) is another killer. Combine that with the decline in smoking and you can see the results in the tobacco industry. The number of tobacco-growing U.S. farms declined from more than 500,000 in the 1950s to less than 10,000 in 2007. There are some kinds of tobacco that are no longer grown, and cannot be obtained at any price.

Of course, inflation affects everything else, including the cost of pipes. Its effect is much more pronounced in the artisan pipe market. Increases in the price of tobacco have been mitigated somewhat by the economy of scale achieved through mergers and acquisitions, wherein much of the tobacco is produced by a decreasing number of increasingly larger companies. But there is no such economy of scale in the artisan pipe market, which by definition comprises a large number of individual pipe makers. Inflation hits them directly and immediately. The same inflation and other taxes that make it more and more difficult for you to afford their pipes are the same reasons why they have to add more and more to the price tag in the first place.

I have run the numbers on this, because at one time I considered pipemaking as an alternative source of income. I would have to sell my pipes at godless prices to support my family. Maybe after the kids are out of the nest and I move to someplace less taxatious than the People's Republic of Californicaty, I might reconsider it. But even then, it's not EVER going to generate enough income to make me "rich". And as the increasingly aggressive war on tobacco further reduces the number of smokers, the craft will become even less economically viable. "Greed" doesn't enter into it. Pipemaking artisans will have to sell their work for increasingly higher prices just to survive.

jocolor
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RD

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:57 pm

I agree. It's clearly very hard for a pipemaker to make a living from their trade, and few can do it full-time. Bo Nordh and Lars Ivarsson would have made a comfortable living once they were able to earn thousands per pipe and the pipe sellers were selling them for multiples of this, but they are extremely rare exceptions and even they weren't making enormous incomes.

I don't think anyone should go into pipemaking thinking that they will make a good living out of it. It's easy to see that the numbers just don't stack up. It's a labour of love and, for the lucky and (very) talented few, it pays the bills but not much more. The real reward is not financial - it is to spend each day doing what you love to do and engaging with customers who are enthusiastic about your work. And that's not a bad lifestyle, is it, for those who make it work?

That's just how it is. No point complaining that pipemakers can make far more money doing something else, or can't even cover the cost of their materials. If the economics don't work for you, and that's not good enough, do something else for a living and make pipes as a hobby.

The price of pipes is not going to go up dramatically. There are plenty of cheap ways to get a good smoke (estates, cobs, etc.) so the market will only bear so much.

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 2:25 pm

...so what I'm gathering here is there's a few that feel alienated by a pipe's price (being out of their particular reach) versus the pipe's beauty and allure, and are taking an accusatory position toward the creator? If that's the train of thought, let's sharpen our pitchforks and go for the guys who buy them, for it is they who determine the price and hold them above our heads, teasing us! To arms, Brothers!

It's a good thing we don't do this with women, you know, admire them so much from afar, wishing we were charming/handsome/powerful enough to gather them like figs...maybe settling for a dried raisin instead...and getting all uppity about it...

...oh wait...never mind. Well, when we genetically re-sequence our youth, we'll make sure they all can get the girl and each one will have an $1,000 pipe. I doubt the carvers will object to that, either. Why not? I'll vote yes.

Laughing



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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 2:31 pm

Extrapolating the "value" of one activity by comparing it to another can be misleading, even though it's always tempting. A unionized production line employee makes more than an artisan pipemaker, but union scale is often quite a a bit inflated and the difference is subsidized by the consumer. The numbers aren't absolutes. Someone who can hit only net firing 3-pointers may make a lot of dough without feeding the hungry or healing the sick, but there are aspiring basketball players aplenty who will one day soon inevitably be working in call centers. If you're hiring a band for your daughter's wedding, you can check what Cold Play is getting these days, or you can hire the local glorified garage band. Your choice. The value of a commodity in a free market is what a buyer is willing to pay for that particular commodity. Markets are usually disease spreading, cold-hearted bitches, but there they are.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 2:47 pm

KevinM wrote:
Markets are usually disease spreading, cold-hearted bitches, but there they are.

Something tells me the disease is akin to hypochondria before the market opens, but...

...sailors fresh from the boat pull up to port, have a weekend, come back with sores. Blame the port, blame themselves, blame the girl, blame the microscopic: some need a good antagonist at the end of the day.

I'm blaming the pipes. I'd never lust after them if they weren't so pretty. Initiative to force a quota of ugly pipes from master carvers? I vote yes, again.

Laughing
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:09 pm

alfredo_buscatti wrote:


What would I do if I had that talent? How would I price my work? Probably the same as the makers about whose prices I write.


Same here. I know what my time is worth to me. Unfortunately the value of my time as a carver would not come close to approaching that.

My pipe collection is built on the benefits of the economies of scale and the estate market.

Many of the artisan pipes are priced much higher than I am willing to pay. I don't lose any sleep over it.

I could pay it, but I choose not to.

I view myself as a smoker versus a collector. I have a price point that at this time excludes most of these pipes. Most but not all.

That said there are a couple of carvers whose work exceeds that price point whose pipes I will probably buy one day. Those carvers are on this board. I will buy their pipes one day because I feel like I know them a little. And that little bit I know about them I like.

So one day when I'm old and on my last leg I can fire up a bowl and say, "The Rev carved this pipe for me..."
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 5:16 pm

I will maybe spend $500 on a pipe, at some point. But a financial event comparable to the Virgin Mary's appearance at Lourdes awarding me great gobs of cash would have to occur before I'd spend $1000, especially when I can get an off-brand pipe in very good shape off ebay for $50.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 5:29 pm

KevinM wrote:
...The value of a commodity in a free market is what a buyer is willing to pay for that particular commodity.

If by "value" you mean "price" (and that's by far the most common way of measuring value), then verily, thou has spoken the plain truth.

I suppose there is some kind of unspoken implication (or perhaps it's just my own inference) in this thread that there is something other than a free market that should determine the price of any commodity (including pipes). The myriad attempts to do just that have proven themselves to be so universally success-proof that anyone who believes otherwise is simply not in possession of all the facts, or is determinedly refusing to consider them in the service of some prejudice or agenda.

A free market often means I can't have everything I want right when I want it. I can whine, or grow up and face reality. I choose the latter; on balance, that's a condition I can live with. The mischief (at best) and downright evil (at worst) that always results from tampering with a free market inevitably is worse than whatever temporary inconvenience I have to endure while the free market corrects itself.

The upshot:
Freedom is sometimes inconvenient, but it beats the alternative. Wink

alfredo_buscatti wrote:
I will maybe spend $500 on a pipe, at some point. But a financial event comparable to the Virgin Mary's appearance at Lourdes awarding me great gobs of cash would have to occur before I'd spend $1000, especially when I can get an off-brand pipe in very good shape off ebay for $50.
That is an utterly practical and sensible approach. If your aim is to have the best smokes for the least outlay of cash, you never have to spend more on a pipe than the cost of a pound of quality pipeweed. Aesthetics cost extra.

jocolor
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 6:14 pm

Market value being what one or two of the highest bidders may actually pay for a few pieces, percieved value being what most pipe smokers might feel a pipe carvers stuff is worth. If you see a carver selling out quickly at pipe shows and when his stuff appears at auction or even as a showcase on a place like smokingpipes.com, then the two above notions meet and actual value is easier to surmise. If the carver carves, say, 20 or 30 pieces a year and sells only a few here and there at the same shows and on line venues, then you can see how market value and percieved value both come into play, and work opposing each other.

I've been to shows where I've had a carver offer to slash a big chunk off his asking price come sunday. Why didn't they sell out on friday and saturday? Went home with most of what he brought. This kind of thing only fuels the fires. Not judging here, just worth mentioning. To be fair, if another carver sells everything thursday night in his hotel room before the show, he wasn't asking enough.

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PostSubject: Optimizing "market value" and "perceived value"   Tue Feb 19, 2013 7:08 pm

PD:

So, if I understand your definitions, you're saying that "market value" is the actual selling price, which may or may not reflect what "most" buyers are actually willing to pay (the perceived value). For example, when the seller sets the price so high that it's above what "most" buyers are willing to pay, but not so high that no one is willing to pay it, that's a high "market value" relative to the perceived value. But in your example of the guy who sells everything in his hotel room on Thursday night, and his show table is empty, that's a low "market value" relative to the perceived value.

That makes sense. The trick is for the pipemaker (or vendor) to match them up. The "sweet spot" is the highest price he can get without carrying any inventory. IOW, if every pipe he makes sells immediately, then his production output (supply) is exactly equal to the market's demand, and he's in the El Optimo Zone.

If he raises his prices and sales decrease, he'll have a supply surplus. In that case, he has to carry inventory. Until he sells the inventory he doesn't have revenue to offset the operating and capital costs it took to produce it.

If he lowers his prices, demand will exceed supply, and he'll have a production backlog of orders he can't produce enough product to fill.

Neither case is optimum. The "right" price is the one that has him working at his ideal capacity (which is his choice to make), with neither a surplus of inventory nor a backlog of orders.

That's a tough call for someone who's new to the market. I expect that it's less problematical for the well-established pipemakers, who have not only their years of experience but also their brand name to rely on in optimizing the match between market value and perceived value.

jocolor
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:00 pm

Vito -> Yup. I think, for the new pipe makers (some, not necessarily all), there are dues to be paid to earn your rep. The problem is, sometimes (too often) folks have so much invested in start up, they can't see not charging top dollar right out of the gate. Unfortunately, irregardless of cost output, the stuff isn't often up to snuff to justify the asking prices regardless of the cost put into the making. For quite some time a lot of folks said Rad Davis was under pricing his pipes, as the construction, fit and finish, and overall design met or surpassed many of his peers who were charging considerably more. Rad earned his bones, and when his prices crept up, they were justified and nobody bitched. Rad earned the respect of the community by doing what he did and his rep is stellar. There are certainly others (Todd Johnson, Adam Davidson) who have so much talent and put out such high quality that their stuff immediately demanded high prices. Statistical outliers, IMHO. For most new carvers, I think the trick is to match output, quality and price with their time spent carving and their reputation in the arena. Ya gotta earn your bones. If you can move 20 pipes a year at around $200 -$250 and those pipes are well recieved, and that also matches your comfortable annual output, then you should be happy with that and just work on improving the little things that will make your pipes better. In a few years if you've moved that"Product Movement Price" into the $350-$450 range or better through reputation, then you've arrived.

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:11 pm

Yes, it's better to think of ranges, I'd say, rather than a to-the-penny #, which might have a lot of randomness in it.

Really, when I look at the asked prices for pipes -- whether artisan, production line or refurbs -- the asked prices mostly seem quite reasonable to me, except for certain well-known examps that are expensive largely because everyone expects them to cost a lot.

It's kind of like fly tying, another home workshop hobby/sideline. There's a lot of skill involved, but at, say, $20 per dozen flies, there aren't many guys who could hope to make it pay, and it's not for lack of trying.

Some avocations just don't translate into vocations real well.

My Bright Idea for the Night -- Let one of the carving BoB's go on Shark Tank and ask the sharks for $100K for 30 percent of a startup pipe carving bidness.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:36 pm

Strangely, I rarely think about how much money others are making, or whether someone is, or is not, making a decent living doing what they've chosen to do.
I do occasionally contemplate why I'm not making more money, so as to better afford my... hobbies!
However, as a collector, I am interested in what other collectors are paying for things, because that indirectly affects my own acquisition strategies.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:23 pm

That's a really good point Harlock, and it's worth saying that I think we'd all certainly hope pipe carvers would make a decent living doing it when they get skilled and do it well. I think we're talking about prices and values the market carries and certainly not any animosity against a carver making some coin. In the past I've thought about what Lars Ivarsson or the Bang boys might pull down in a year, especially if they sat down and really cranked em out (like the Bang boys seem to do). I never felt the slightest resentment towards what seems like a really tidy living if the top carvers push themselves. From what I've read though, most seem to be older and just don't make a lot of pipes every year. One would think that, if a single pipe would command four figures, a carver would want to make several a week. From what I gather, guys like Ivarsson and Chonowitsch only make a handfull a year. Maybe they are only subsidising a retirement income, or maybe they are just too old to crank em out in numbers anymore, or maybe it just takes weeks to make a superb specimen and they'd rather just make a few of those a year instead of cranking out 10 not-too-shabby pipes a week to make the same kind of annual income.

Who knows.....

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:33 pm

Harlock999 wrote:
...I do occasionally contemplate why I'm not making more money, so as to better afford my... hobbies!
Do I detect the signs of GAD (Guitar Acquisition Disorder) in your post, Brothah Harlock? Twisted Evil

Not that I want to encourage hijacking of the thread, whose participants have so far nobly restrained themselves from such a detour. But I believe it was GLP who first mentioned the wacky world of instrument pricing, with additional observations by Brothah MisterE. If ever there were a textbook case of massive shifts in the differential between "market value" and "perceived value", the musical instrument market (especially so-called "vintage" instruments) is it.

For example, just try glomming onto an original Mosrite guitar from the 1960s heyday of that brand (some specimens of which are in horrifyingly unplayable condition), and you'll get a kilobuck$ sticker shock whuppin' that will make you think Danish pipe prices aren't so outrageous after all. With the pricey pipes, at least you get something you can use right away. I've seen "vintage" Strats and Telecasters that are pure dogs selling for >$10K, and need another $1K worth of work just to make them playable. Mad

By contrast, I've found dirt-cheap estate pipes that need nothing more than some cleaning and maybe some stem work to make them exquisite smokers.

The moral: A pipe jones is economicaler than a guitar jones.

jocolor
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:39 pm

I gotta say that I have loved reading this thread. Very thought provoking. Pricing (the few pipes I have sold) has been quite the challenge and it's nice to hear what the "consumer" has to say.

Thanks boys Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:59 pm

This :
Quote :
Artisan pipes are, by definition, old style, slow, prone to fits and starts manufacturing. Ya gotta love it, because you're not in it for the money. (The Pipepedia section on the history of Italian pipemaking is instructive and always makes me chuckle.) The non-artisan, Henry Ford approach to pipemaking has a built-in price limitation, because it is based on a production line spitting out a commodity at the end.
strikes me as strange.

There are/were guys in Italy like Baldi & Cavicchi who literally carve their stummels by hand. Baldi probably made his own stems from scratch ; Cavicchi uses castings and has his wife do the finish sanding/staining/polishing. Why ? To speed up production (very apparent in the final results). Because time is money. Using it most efficiently means more money.

The "Italians" people think of (Castello, Caminetto & that type of operation) use frazing machines and have multiple workmen finishing the frazed stummels. Very Ford-like. Their appeal is NOT that they are/were "hand made." It's that they are executed to a high standard. Other, "solo" makers (the Sicilians in particular) will work up a supply of carved briar, then call their friends in to help finish them. Everybody ends up with a hand in everybody else's "hand made" work.

In ANY field of craftsmanship, what separates a journeyman (or even a competent apprentice) from a master is NOT the quality of his work. It's that the master can turn out high-quality work at a rapid enough clip to not only make a living, but hire journeymen to do his scut work, freeing him to concentrate on what he does best. The people working for him can't yet.

FWIW

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:10 am

the rev wrote:
this isn't a dig at you kirk, please don't take it as such...

you ain't no lady

rev

Aaaaww shucks, I loves ya too Rev. Wink
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:29 am

Glad to see the tone of this discussion has been so constructive. It's a controversial area. Very Happy

I would define the "worth" of a pipemaker's work to be what the market will pay for them on average, and over time. At least I think that's the only definition of "worth" that is of practical use to the pipemaker or the buyer.

The last thing I would ever want to see is for a talented pipemaker to lose his business because of unsustainable high pricing, as much as I like to see talent rewarded. There's also something to be said for building loyalty by offering the customer outstanding value and giving them a better product than they feel they should expect for the money. I think generally that's the best way to build a successful business. Pricing should be a little lower than "worth" or market value.

As some of the recent posts have started to point out, the pipemaker can only make their business work if they are realistic about the prices they can command, on average and over time, and they adapt their processes to control the cost and time spent making each pipe so that they can still make a living or, hopefully, make good profits. Just like any business. If they can't do this then they can't remain pipemakers for long, even if they are capable of making outstanding pipes

Look at it this way - if you take twice as long as Pipemaker A to make a similar pipe then you're earning half as much (all other things being equal). If you double your prices to maintain the same income as Pipemaker A then you're basically asking your customers to pay a premium because you are inefficient. That's not a reason to charge more, and your customers won't pay it (they'll just buy the equally good pipes that Pipemaker A sells for half the price).

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Wed Feb 20, 2013 7:25 am

Yak wrote:

The "Italians" people think of (Castello, Caminetto & that type of operation) use frazing machines and have multiple workmen finishing the frazed stummels. Very Ford-like. Their appeal is NOT that they are/were "hand made." It's that they are executed to a high standard. Other, "solo" makers (the Sicilians in particular) will work up a supply of carved briar, then call their friends in to help finish them. Everybody ends up with a hand in everybody else's "hand made" work.


Actually you're wrong in the case of Castello. They make a pipe pretty much the way any "artisan" makes one, the difference being they have several guys doing it in a larger shop.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:01 am

Quote :
Giancarlo Savinelli’s doctorate in political science has trained him to be a cogent arguer, always ready to document his thesis. “There aren’t three schools, only two: the industrial, and the artisan. The first is the factory tradition and the second is the Pesaro school of Ser Jacobo, Mastro, and the others."

Giancarlo explains that, with few exceptions, the northern makers have developed their images from industrial models. The Pesaro school is baroque, ornate, and owes it’s concept to Danish handmade pipes of the 1960s, and that style sometimes influences northern pipemakers a bit. But mostly it is the “series” pipe made in factories that conditions the northern school’s work. The school includes pipemakers Ascorti, Radice, Castello, and, around Gavirate, where Savinelli established his factory half a century ago, companies such Ardor, Talamona, and Molina. The pipes produced by these makers have a clean-line aesthetic, only baroque when they want to imitate.

"It's also in the character of the people," he says. "The northern mentality has a work ethic conditioned by factory culture and strong notions of community organization. Without that, industry is not possible. The south [in which he includes Pesaro] is more individualistic, anarchistic, and creative. It's a question of sensibility." Regional bias is strong in Italy.

Giancarlo defines Savinelli's company culture as classic factory production. Castello, he says, moved away from that by producing fewer models and finishes in more individualized and somewhat larger shapes. He believes that Castello and the other makers who grew out of Castello are midway between. "It starts with the machine and develops from there," he comments.

"There are only artisan hand-mades and factory-produced pipes. After all, many of the fancy shapes that look handmade can be produced on a machine with the right die... and most are!" He adds with a wicked grin, "Ask some of the artisan shops to show you the fraizing machines they keep hidden in a backroom. Do you think that anyone who publishes a shape chart can produce hundreds of the same pipe individually, by hand, with any consistency?"

Excerpted from an interview in Pipesmoke Magazine (Spring, 1999)

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:07 am

That's kind of the point, Castello has no consistency. Pick a shape from their chart, then get your hands on half a dozen examples of that shape. The shaping and the dimensions of the pipe vary, sometimes wildly.

I'm not sticking up for Castello because I have a stake in it. My tastes lean toward old English factory pipes. But the pipes they turn out start as block and rod, so making blanket statements about frazing or pre cut stummels in their case is untrue.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Artisan Pipes   Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:52 am

Giancarlo Savinelli doesn't know what he's talking about.

OK. Cool

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