The History of Danish Pipes--by Jacob Groth
The History of Danish Pipes
(with his kind permission)
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. 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. In 1945, 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 Workshop 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 work. Since at this time it was still not possible to get the desirable 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 Billiard, 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: that of Sixten Ivarrson, W.Ø Larsen, and Poul Rasmussen (Suhr Pibemageri)
Sixten Ivarsson as a teacher
Besides being the first great creator, Sixten was also a very good teacher. One of Sixten's mottos 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 workshop 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 repaired! 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 workshop 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 walking street, the 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.? 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 Sven Knudsen [Teddy's older brother], 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.? Larsen pipes became a very good name abroad. Among the prominent pipemakers who worked here were: Else Larsen (Denmark's first female pipemaker), Poul Ilsted, Ph. Vigen, Teddy Knudsen, Tonni Nielsen, and Peter Hedegaard.
Typical for the W.?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 billiard 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.
Other prestigious Workshops
Another workshop that has to be mentioned here is Pibe-Dan (Pipe-Dan), which unfortunately closed in 1991. Pipe-Dan was the Mecca 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:
Grading. 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.
Briar. 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."
The names Bang Pipes or S Bang are a bit of a paradox in the pipemaking world since Bang is not the name an individual pipemaker but the name of Svend Bang, who founded the workshop along with a pipe store in 1968. Svend Bang has a long story in the pipe and tobacco world and was- before starting his own business- the business manager and front man at the W.Ø Larsen operation in Copenhagen.
The name of his first pipemaker is now long forgotten but in 1970 Per Hansen started work with him and in 1971 Ulf Noltensmeier joined Per. Per had worked for a short period with Preben Holm and Ulf for a short period with Anne Julie before they moved to Bang. For almost 30 years these two pipemakers have made the Bang pipes. Both of them were born in 1948. In the '70's Svend Bang first hired Ivan Holst-Nielsen and after him Ph. Vigen and Jan Windel?ut neither of them stayed long with Bang. In 1984 Svend Bang went on retirement pension and sold the company to Per and Ulf. When you know the work and the workshops of many Scandinavian pipemakers you realize that Bangs Pibemakers is different in many ways. While other pipemakers work individually, Per and Ulf work together, but they make their own pipes absolutely individually. The workshop is still situated in the city of Copenhagen, while many pipemakers prefer to live in a farmhouse in the countryside or near the sea. Per and Ulf go to work in the city every day from nine to five.
Some years ago Per's pipes were often curved and sculptural while Ulf's pipes seemed more classical in shape. This has changed over the years and today it can be difficult to tell who made a specific pipe. They both say that they are inspired by some of the old masters but what they really benefit from is working closely together. Together they have developed a number of shapes and lines and in our opinion they have always carved some of the worlds finest pipes. They sell their pipes to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, USA, Taiwan and Japan. With less than 200 pipes made by each pipemaker per year they can not cover the demand.
A specialty of Bang is the sandblasted pipes. They do the sandblasting them selves while other pipemakers often send their pipes to a pipe factory to have the blasting done for them. The blasted pipes usually have a very deep blasted texture and a distinctive grain that makes them very beautiful. The silver work on the pipes is also quite unique. They not only make silver bands but also many different wind caps. Also the fit and finish of the pipes is absolutely perfect and the stems are more black and shiny than most others.
Grading is based on (and developed from) the system that Svend Bang originally started in 1970. Since takeover of the firm by the pipemakers in 1984, the pipes are stamped S. BANG København and graded: Black sand, Tan sand, 5 - 9 and A - B. Only unique pieces are individually numbered and often stamped with the actual pipe maker's initials (PH for Per Hansen or UN for Ulf Noltensmeier).
Emil and Jess Chonowitsch
It is natural to continue with the second famous farther and son in Danish pipe making- Emil and Jess Chonowitsch. Emil Chonowitsch is one of well known Danish makers from the 60?s. He started pipemaking in a mature age after running one of Copenhagen's most esteemed tobacconists for a quarter of a century. As for many other pipemakers it was the dream of living a more free and independent life on the countryside that led Emil to his new profession. Before starting his own work shop in a closed school (Atterup Pibemageri), Emil was "adult-apprentice" with Poul Rasmussen for some years. He - again like many others - had to start with a couple of years of pipe repairing before making his own pipes.
Emil was different from many other makers in his line of shapes. He made a series of 12 standard, hand turned shapes, showing his ideas of the classic shapes: Billiard, Canadian, bulldog etc. You can see the "Poul Rasmussen" line clearly in these shapes. Many were slender and tall and with soft, smooth edges on the top of the bowl. You don?t see an asymmetrical Emil Chonowitsch. Many of the classic, standard pipes were sold in Denmark at reasonable prices. Jess Chonowitsch's pipes is very different from his fathers.
Gert Holbek is the oldest Danish pipe maker - after the death of Sixten Ivarsson, - since Gert Holbek was born in 1928. He is for sure the oldest active pipemaker and he is definitely the one who has been in business for longest time. He started with Poul Rasmussen in 1953. After 1 1/2 years and more than ten thousand pipe repairs (Holbek tells) later, he opened his own work shop and he has carved pipes ever since.
For a number of years he made about two hundred pipes per year, they were all sold through Pibe Dan, until the shop closed in 1991. Pibe Dan's English catalogs from the 60's would show his pipes and brought his name to both Europe, Japan and USA. In the latest years the number of pipes has gone considerably down, but he can't really leave the challenge of a beautiful piece of briar. The few pipes he is making are almost exclusively sold in Japan, where he has had many devoted fans for many years.
In spite of his almost 50 years in pipe business he is not very known among pipe smokers and collectors in Denmark. This is probably because he has never wanted to be a part of the "pipe environment" There has never been any articles about him in the Danish pipe magazines. Only the old regular customers from Pibe Dan will nod the heads with recognition when his name is mentioned. Also he has for long periods worked primarily with industrial design and technical innovations. His sense of form and idiom can be recognized in the set of knife, fork and spoon, called Prism, that he draw together with a friend from childhood in the beginning of the 60?s. The set is still sold in large quantities all over the world. He has also taken a number of patents and he "invented" 2211 - probably the best cleaning fluid for pipes because it both dissolve the residue, it disinfects and it impregnates the smoke passage in the shank and the mouthpiece.
The pipe design of Gert Holbek is distinctly his own and has not changed much over the years. You can see in long distance that this is a Holbek Pipe. Not much tells you that he originally started with Poul Rasmussen perhaps only that many of his pipes have rather tall and slender bowls. On the other hand his very tall pipes, called chimneys, were created in collaboration with Pibe Dan. His pipes are almost ascetic (his own word). You will never find a ring, a ferrule or any decoration on a Holbek pipe. His shaping has soft, but springy lines with soft passage between bowl and shank and the edge of the bowl is mostly concave. The smooth pipes are mostly straight grain in a warm reddish- walnut finish. Perhaps the most characteristic about his pipes is that he grinds the edge of the bit slantingly [i.e. at an angle].
Tom Eltang started making pipes in a very young age. Already as a child he was interested in the mysteries of the pipes an interest he inherited from his father. In 1974 at the age of 16 he started as youngest boy by Anne Julie in Vester Voldgade in Copenhagen. He went on the path that coming pipemakers must take: He repaired pipes from morning till dawn for several years. As time went by he was allowed to try himself. After amother 3 years of pipe repairing and carving in Pibe-Dan?s work shop, Tom was ready to become independent. First he had to get some of the youth's need for traveling out of his system. So for one year he sailed around in the Danish seas. Since 1981 Tom has had his own work shop in Taarbaek out side Copenhagen where he also lives with his family. Some times Tom also works as a cabinet maker or carpenter.
The specialty of Tom is in extreme degree his finish, the so-called laboratory stain. He learnt this stain to know by Anne Julie, who has also used it, but no one has perfected this contrasted finish as Tom. Even for Stanwell he has made this finish on some of the best pipes called Golden Contrast. He also created some of their shapes in the 90'ties. Tom's shapes are often very "tight". Tom stamps the very best of his pipes (not many) with a nice little snail.
Sixten Ivarsson as pipe maker
We have seen on the importance of Sixten Ivarsson in general, but here we shall have a little look on what was special about him besides being the first. Sixten Ivarsson started, as we know, with new shapes in the end of the 40'ties and the beginning of the 50'ties. Before that time the shapes were mostly classic. The few shapes that were not classic were wired and formless. Sixten was the first to sculpture the bowls making the so called freehand pipe.
To understand what was so new, you have to know a little about the shaping of pipe bowls. There are basically three ways to shape the bowl:
- A copy cutter (frasing--ed.) machine cuts the block of briar after a master which makes a series of exactly the same shapes. This method is traditionally used by pipe factories.
- The pipe bowl is cut or turned on a lathe by the pipemaker. A good pipemaker can make almost (98%) identical shapes. When blocks are turned they will naturally become round shapes (round bowls and shanks). The redundant wood will then be removed with a running band of sandpaper.
- The pipe bowl is shaped in free hand on a sanding disk with some kind of vacuum to remove dust. This allows the pipe maker to make asymmetrical shapes.
This last way of creating and sculpturing pipe bowls was new. And Sixten was the first to really make designed pipes in this way. Several of his asymmetrical shapes were also produced by Stanwell
Many of his shapes had a "drop" under the bowl, so the bowl looked a little like an egg. In Pipe Dans catalog there was l whole line of different eggs, eg. lapwing's egg and ...
Another new thing was the technical perfectionism. Today we expect a pipe maker that makes most of the work in hand aim at make exactly the intended shape, perfect drilling, a comfortable bite of the stem, an absolutely smooth surface on the bowl and the stem, a beautiful grain and other technical aspects. But at that time a lot of factory made pipes had more or less imperfection. Sixten sought of lifted up the technical quality.
Another specialty of Sixten was his use of different materials like bamboo, horn or even bone from a cow. These materials had been seen before, but not in the same elegant way. When Sixten started after the war, briar was very much in shortage. So Sixten had to be creative with the blocks. It is said among other pipe makers that when a "normal" pipemaker could make one pipe out of a block of briar, Sixten would make three. To get more bowls out a block, the bowls had to be with rather short shanks and to get a perfect shape, the shanks had to be elongated with another material.
Sixten was born in 1910. He made his last pipes in 1992-1993. He never had a big production: no more than ca. 200 pipes per year. He sold his pipes to many countries, Japan, Denmark, Germany and U.S. to name a few. Sixten stopped grading his pipes in 1965.
Lars admits that he has been quite privileged. Very few coming pipe makers have had that chance to earn pocket money as a young boy by repairing broken pipes in the work shop of the leading pipe maker. That is how Lars started the hard way in his father Sixten?s workshop. Already as 17 years old lad he sold his first pipes under his own name to Iwan Ries in Chicago. Lars has won the same high reputation as his father. Before Lars decided to become a pipe maker, he wanted to take a ?real? education, so his started to study business economics.
During his studying at the business school he still made a living as a pipe maker. And the pipemaking won over economics- even though he took a degree, he never worked as an economist. Like many other pipe makers Lars preferred the peaceful surroundings in the countryside and left Copenhagen to live in a country house where he also has his workshop. The last years that Sixten made pipes Lars assisted him in the work shop one or two days a week. In the mid 80's Lars wanted to try his creative skills in another way than only pipemaking, so he started to make his own knives, mostly as a hobby. When you know Lars? perfection in making pipes you will also know the superb quality of his knives.
The idea of perfection Lars has inherited from his father. Lars says that he remembers how Sixten said "not good enough" and "keep working" when Lars was young and worked with a detail on a pipe. Today Lars says that you must work on a pipe until you cannot improve it anymore: "Until one more stroke with the sand paper will deteriorate the result." Lars' shapes looked quite a lot like Sixten's in 's younger days but he soon found his own style. Lars has created many shapes by sitting with paper and pen and drawing: not so much entire pipes, just lines and curves. 15 years ago Lars said he experimented by seeing how curved and compact he could make his pipes. Today his shapes are quite compact or quite long. Half of his pipes are asymmetrical. His colors for the finish are often brown or reddish.
He makes about 60-70 pipes per year. 1-2 will be stamped with a fish, which is Lars? symbol for the absolutely best quality. He sells his pipes in Japan, U.S., Swiss and Italy. He smokes Danish produced tobaccos.
Lars has a very talented daughter, Nanna, who has worked as a pipemaker with granddad Sixten for several years, but now she has chosen to take an education as designer and left the pipemaking [NB: She has recently returned to pipe making with excellent results].
Jes Phillip Vigen Gertsen (artistic name: Ph. Vigen) is one of Denmark's relatively unknown high grade pipemakers. In long periods he has made individual pipe maker pipes for other names, including today. He is presently making the top line of Bjarne pipes in his southern Denmark based rural work shop. Born in '53 he started to work in W.Ø Larsen work shop with Former as his primary teacher. When the Larsen work shop closed Ph. Vigen had to find work elsewhere and Svend Bang, who felt a strong demand for the S. Bang pipes, hired him to work with Ulf and Per. It didn?t really work out. So after 1 1/2 years he was employed by Pipe Dan to work in there work shop after Tom Eltang.
His primary job in Pipe Dan's work shop was to do all the pipe repairs, but he also made 8-10 pipes every month. These pipes were - typical to Pipe Dan - stamped with Ph. Vigens own name and the name of the shop. He stayed with Pipe Dan until the shop closed in 1991. After Pipe Dan he tried to establish him self as independent, individual pipemaker, but this was a quite tough period with declining demand for high grade pipes on many markets.