Fritz Becker, the bearer of an unusual name for an Italian pipe carver, is worthy of a story unto himself. An Austrian Jew, he fled in the late 1930s to England and served as an intelligence officer during World War II working as a linguist and translator. Following the war, he settled in Rome and lived there until his death in 1991. Becker was an accomplished painter, sculptor and designer as well as a brilliant pipe maker. In addition to his artistic pursuits, he was the Representative to the Vatican from the World Jewish Congress, an estimable position roughly equivalent to an ambassadorship.
Becker and his son, Paolo, began carving pipes in the late 1970s in limited quantities from choice extra-extra quality plateau briar from Calabria, in Southern Italy. Extra-extra plateau briar is the top quality available and Calabria is considered by many to have the hardest and most durable briar in the world. Becker pipes started to gain their reputation and popularity when Fritz and Paolo Beckers work was discovered by Giorgio Musico. Musico soon realized that the father and son team that made the Becker pipe was producing something truly special. Musico owned a major pipe shop in Rome and began selling Becker pipes. Thus, the great partnership, Fritz Becker and Giorgio Musico began, a partnership that continues today between their sons, Paolo Becker and Massimo Musico who, together, made Becker and Musico pipes. Becker & Musico pipes are currently no longer in production.
Though Musico was involved in the making of the Becker & Musico pipes, Paolo Becker is responsible for every aspect of the Becker pipe. From the shaping and finishing of the bowl to the stem and silverwork, Becker pipes are made by one man. Prior to Fritz’s death in 1991, all aspects of pipe making were completed by both men. Further, each Becker pipe from that era involved the skills of both father and son-- no pipes were made by one or the other, so it is impossible to say ‘this is a Fritz’ or ‘this is a Paolo’ about pipes from the 1970s or 1980s.
Becker pipes are difficult to categorize into a stylistic or aesthetic camp. At times, his pipes reflect the traditional English styling upon which he modeled the designs for Becker & Musico pipes. The English styling can be most often seen in his sandblasts—especially his favored bent pot shape and his smaller bent apple shapes. Often, he does share the neo-classical flair of his Italian colleagues. Many of his diamond-grade smooth pipes and quite a few of the Dublin and horn themed sandblasts seem more reminiscent of Pesaro school styling. Further, at times, Paolo Becker’s style seems positively Danish, with intricate, asymmetric shapes, especially in his highest grade pieces (four hearts and Royal Flush). Needless to say, Becker’s aesthetic is not easily characterized or categorized. Indeed, it is this stylistic variance that is so intriguing.
Though small in production, Becker has garnered a considerable following, both in Europe and in the United States. Currently, he is producing 300-400 pipes annually, almost all of which are coming to the United States.