10 Becker Pipes
Becker pipes were started by Fritz Becker, the bearer of an unusual name for an Italian pipe carver, who 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. The brand launched with their names stamped on the shank in 1979, as prior pieces were unmarked. Fritz was a very talented artisan and Paolo absorbed knowledge when they began carving pipes together. Prior to Fritz's death in 1991, each Becker pipe was worked by both men.
Stylistically, Becker pipes are unique in the world. Absorbing some aspects of Italian design and natural-born artistry, many pipes from this maker can be easily recognized from a silhouette. While the pipes are either smooth or sandblasted, their features remain rather constant. Bowls are often standard and set against a very delicate, pencil shank or have the transition turned to a very small diameter around the airway like a Victorian lady's dress. The separation of mass adds delicacy that is often a defining characteristic of Paolo. Unusual for many Italian artisans, Paolo worked with both acrylic and vulcanite rod for the stems and refrained from heavy accent materials. Instead, he would grace a shank with a delicate wafer of boxwood or silver. While briar was the most common material for Paolo to use for much of his career, he became an early adopter of sandblasted morta and strawberry wood, each with very unique and desirable characteristics - eventually both materials would become as common as briar in his work. Paolo graded his pipes similar to playing cards and the better the hand (and stamped to match), the more rare and exclusive the creation.
Paolo Becker passed in late 2014, and though the Becker name came to be synonymous with Paolo in the minds with most of us (understandable considering the great, distinct evolution in shaping and varied mediums he created), to Paolo himself, Becker remains as it had begun - a family brand. Fittingly, Paolo's son Federico now continues the Becker brand, with a style and aesthetic quite similar to that of his father, not to mention the same quality of engineering and design.