Since 1812, Englands oldest pipe maker has established a fine reputation for creating fine briar and African Meerschaum pipes. In the early stage of the Barling Company, Benjamin Barling started fitting silver mounts to his hand carved meerschaum pipes. Over time these pipes began to garner much recognition, as it did in 1851, when the Barling African Meerschaums received several awards at the London Great Exhibition. Using Algerian briar and air-curing the pipes for years, Barling was able to create exceptional pipes on par with the Dunhills of the day. By the turn of the century and right up until the company was sold in 1960, pipe smokers all over the world sought out the name "B. Barling & Sons", knowing they were purchasing one of the best smoking pipes the world had ever known.
Beginning in 1960, after numerous location and quality changes, the Barling Company entered a transitional stage. It was sold to what is now referred to as the transition company circa 1961 and the company implemented numerous label and naming changes. These changes were often very complicated and unnecessary. However, shortly thereafter, the company now referred to as The New Barling company was more concise in its numbering and branding of pipes and more assertive in bringing back the old quality and standards from the pre-transitional period. For instance, right after the sale of the company, the first thing that was done was that a numbering system was put in place that made a lot more sense. Four digit-numbering systems were implemented so that from the number alone one could ascertain many of the characteristics of the pipe. The first digit represented size, while the next three are shape number. So for example, 3374, 4374, and 5374 were all the same shape, while the first digit indicated three different sizes. Size started at "2" and went up to "6" followed by King. This loosely followed the old M, L, EL, EXEL, EXEXEL, G sizing system from the original Barling Company.
In addition, the post-transition company switched over to a "Barling London England" script for the shank nomenclature (instead of the block "BARLING'S arched over the word "MAKE".) However, you will occasionally see pieces that are stamped with a shape number like 6409 with the arched BARLING'S MAKE. For a little while, the 1960s transition company used a very small BARLING'S MAKE stamp from before the war to complement their new shape numbers. Many times they used the old pre-war briar blocks as well.
These pipes continue to be an exceptional value for the money. They generally contain Barling written in a cross shape on the stem and the numbering system still remains intact. The briar continues to be top notch and the African Meerschaum holds its own against Turkish meerschaums.
Regarding African Meerschaum:
There has been some speculation recently of an end to the African Meerschaum line of Barling and this information will be continually revised. This is, we believe, attributed to the inconsistent quantities of African block available. The quality has not changed, but the amount available from year to year varies widely. Traditionally, African Block Meerschaum comes from Tanzania and surrounding countries. Given the political instability of late in that part of Africa, it is not surprising that problems procuring the African Meerschaum exist. However, there has not been, to our knowledge, any official statement made to this effect. These suppositions are being made by us based on the evidence available and should not be construed as absolutely accurate. We will update here as we know more about the current state of African Meerschaum pipe production by Barling and other makers (Peterson, for example, has discontinued their line of African Meerschaum pipes). If you are interested and have further information on the matter, we would be delighted to hear from you. We do not fully understand the African Meerschaum situation, but this is as much as we can surmise at this point.
Regardless of the ultimate fate of the Barling African Meerschaum line, we encourage you to give these superb pipes a try they possess many of the benefits of Turkish Meerschaum, but are far less delicate and serve as a superb travel pipe that can both survive a trip and be smoked more frequently than a briar.
Barling continues to make superb pipes to this day, both from briar and African Block Meerschaum. Given their reasonable price, delightful traditional styling and the incredible history of the brand, Barling pipes would make a superb addition to any collection.