For years the Barling name has been synonymous with quality, vintage English pipes, renowned for their craftsmanship, engineering, and excellent smoking properties. Older Barlings produced during what is now referred to as the company's "Pre-Transition" era in particular are held in high esteem by many discerning collectors. However, the nomenclature of Barling pipes can be puzzling, and identification of their age challenging, but an understanding of the company's nomenclature and grading system can clarify those issues.
Barling was created in 1812 when Benjamin Barling, a talented silversmith, established a shop along Portland Place, a street located in the Marleybone district of central London. Around that same time, meerschaum pipes were becoming increasingly popular in England. Barling recognized that silver bands and wind caps could be added to these smoking instruments to make them even more aesthetically pleasing and elegant. When briar pipes became more common in the mid-1800s, Barling applied silver accents to them as well, enhancing their presentation.
In the following years, Benjamin's son, Edward, assumed control and in the 1890s, Benjamin's grandsons William and Edward Jr. started to run the company. It wasn't until the early 1900s that the Barling brothers decided to venture into pipe production, roughly around the same time that Alfred Dunhill shifted his focus from leather goods and automotive accessories to pipe making. The Barling company would make their own briars instead of adding silver to other people's pipes, moving their headquarters to a larger space in Camden Town, London. However, unlike Dunhill, Barling was a much smaller operation, producing a limited number of pipes and lacking the necessary resources to market themselves and establish a worldwide reputation. Early Barling pipes were thoroughly traditional English designs, often presented in cased sets and showcasing the company's esteemed, high-quality silverwork in the form of silver army mounts or wind caps. Fitting to Barling's understated pipe making approach, the accoutrements were above all designed to be practical and useful for the consumer.
Despite being a historic company and a venerated name within pipe making, there's a surprising lack of documentation and records regarding Barling, possibly attributable to a fire that destroyed the factory at one point. However, the most renowned time period for Barling is known as the Pre-Transition era.
Pre-Transition Barlings have gained a reputation among pipe smokers and artisan carvers such as J.T. Cooke, who refurbished and repaired thousands of them for Levin Pipes International. Cooke noticed that Pre-Transition Barlings were cherished and particularly enjoyed by their owners. He observed the precise engineering of Barlings, which had tenons carefully matched to the depths of the mortises to avoid airflow and moisture issues, and tenons that were chamfered as they met the stem face, wider lip button slots, and smoke holes that maintained consistent circumference, ovaling and flattened at the lip button to ensure consistent airflow and reduce moisture. Barling found an extra two or three percent improvement for all of a pipe's individual elements, and when combined, those elemental improvements resulted in advanced performance. These observations greatly influenced Cooke as an artisan pipe maker, inspiring him to pay close attention to the internal engineering and individual details of his own pipes, an attitude that grew across the world of artisan pipe making.
The Barling name has been synonymous with quality, vintage English pipes, renowned for their craftsmanship, engineering, and excellent smoking properties.
Pre-Transition Barlings were ahead of their time in terms of engineering and construction and employed many internal engineering characteristics found in artisan pipes today. This is particularly evident in the air hole drilling, as the air holes on the majority of straight Barling pipes are drilled flush with the bottom of the tobacco chamber. Even the attention paid to the proportional balance of each pipe is truly remarkable and is unlike what many other marques and companies were doing at that time.
One aspect in particular that makes Pre-Transition Barlings so popular is the wood used to craft them. Some sources attribute their smoking characteristics to Algerian briar that was between 80 to 150 years old. Algerian briar is thought by some to provide an exceptionally cool smoke due to its inherent porosity which allows for better heat dispersion. But its porosity also created difficulties when curing the wood. If heated using traditional, faster curing methods, the wood could fissure and crack. To remedy this, Barling treated the wood to a lengthy curing process and would ship the burls to a timber company in South London to air cure for at least two years, during which time it was regularly turned for consistent drying. Another aspect that sets the Pre-Transition pipes apart from other pipes created around the same time period were how consistently thick the chamber walls were around the bowls. A possible reason for this may have been to compensate for the perceived fragility of Algerian briar and the risk of pipes burning out if smoked too hot.
Barling's style was classically English and their output consisted mainly of straight-stemmed pipes. According to an article by Tad Gage in Pipes and tobaccos magazine, spring 2000, Barling primarily produced Billiard and Pot shapes because Montague Barling, who took over the company sometime after WWI, believed Peterson had dominated the bent pipe market and that Dublins were Charatan's signature shape.
Barling underwent a significant change in the 1940s as the company remained family owned but completely overhauled many of their practices. Montague Barling had only daughters, one of whom married a man with the last name Nichols who agreed to change his name to Barling Nichols to continue the family name when taking charge of the company. Wanting to expand Barling's presence in the United States, Nichols focused on improving the company's marketing efforts while maintaining their adherence to crafting high-quality pipes. Nichols is also credited with popularizing signature Barling terms such as "The Very Finest" and "Ye Olde Wood," using them as marketing phrases that are still immediately recognizable. Under Nichols' leadership, Barling became a major brand in the United States, competing with other English marques such as Sasieni, Charatan, and Dunhill.
Barling's history can be separated into three distinct periods though the exact dates are not precisely distinguishable and various sources offer differing estimates. However, the era in which a piece was crafted has a considerable impact in determining a pipe's desirability and value. The stampings during each era changed over time and it's crucial to identify when they were used in order to identify when a piece was produced.
From its establishment until it was purchased, Barling was a family-owned business that spanned multiple generations. The company was sold in 1960 to Finlay, their largest client, but the Barling family retained control of business operations until late 1962.
The Transition timeline is less clear as various sources claim it ended sometime during the late '60s or 1970. Imperial Tobacco owned a large share of Finlay, the company that initially purchased Barling, and purchased the remaining shares of Finlay in 1963, thus gaining full control of Barling.
After the transition was completed, the company moved to the Isle of Man, between Great Britain and Ireland, while the pipes themselves were manufactured in Denmark from the 1970s and onward.
Pre - 1946
The most difficult aspect of dating Barlings made prior to 1946 is the minimal stamping used as there was often no shape number, size designation, or grade stamped on the pipes. Many pieces were distributed to department stores and tobacconists throughout the British Isles, often featuring the establishment's name on the pipe. Typically, most pieces crafted during this time will simply be stamped "BARLING'S MAKE," with "Barling's" arched over the word "Make." Transition-era Barlings used a similar stamping, but often featured additional markings that set them apart from earlier pieces.
The stems are also quite notable and can be useful when attempting to date a pipe. Vulcanite, horn, and amber mouthpieces were often utilized and featured a small smoke hole in the button instead of the elongated slot that would become commonly featured on pipes crafted after WWII. Pipes with sterling silver fitments are significantly easier to date because of the London Hallmarks, allowing the year to be precisely identified with the proper reference materials. Silver on Pre-Transition pieces will feature the letters "EB WB" followed by a two- or three-character London Hallmark, depending on when it was created. This also allows Barlings with aftermarket silver bands to be easily identified.
Post WWII - 1962
A majority of the Pre-Transition Barlings that currently exist belong to this time period as older examples are comparatively rarer and the company, much like many other English manufacturers, didn't produce many pieces during the wartime years. After WWII, Barling began increasing their exports to the United States and also made efforts to add grade, size, and shape stamps to their pipes, which was implemented under Nichols' leadership.
Many pieces during this era were stamped with one-, two-, or three digit shape numbers, now usually referred to as the Nichols numbering system. Pipes stamped with four-digit numbers that begin with a "1" denote a Pre-Transition piece, while those stamped with any other four-digit combination are almost always from the Transition era or later. However, there are some Pre-Transition pieces that have no shape stamp and are usually pipes designated as "Straight Grain" or "Birds Eye," as were pipes that were specifically made for individual customers. Some Nichols-numbering can also refer to the stem style on a pipe but it lacks consistency when comparing several pieces from this era. Typically, digit codes that end in an even number will have a tapered mouthpiece while those ending in an odd number feature a saddle stem.
Size stamps were also utilized with their designations ascending from small to large in this order: SS, S, S-M, L, EL, EXEL, and EXEXEL. The stamps primarily referred to bowl size and were often placed along the shank near the bowl on smooth pipes, while on sandblasted pieces they would be stamped along the bowl's heel or the shank's underside. There were also magnum and giant shapes, and although they were never stamped as such during the Pre-Transition years, they were easily recognizable due to their dramatic proportions. Lengthy Canadian shapes were stamped "LF" or "LLF," meaning long flat and long long flat. There are of course exceptions and variations when it comes to the size designations, but for the most part they're fairly consistent and incredibly useful when considering purchasing a Barling.
According to Tad Gage's article in Pipes and tobaccos magazine, during the Pre-Transition era, only one master pipe maker at a time would grade Barlings. This most likely accounts for the variation in grading among Pre-Transition Barlings over the years as the stummels were probably graded relative to other stummels the pipe maker encountered at the time. From 1946 until 1962, Barling's grading system consisted of pipes designated as Ye Olde Wood, Fossil, Special, Birds Eye, Guinea Grain, and Straight Grain. Some of these stamps continued to be used in the Transition and Post-Transition periods but featured additional stampings that made them distinguishable from Pre-Transition pieces.
The "Ye Olde Wood" stamp was perhaps the most commonly used and would occasionally adorn pipes that displayed extraordinary grain but didn't receive a higher appellation due to their subjective grading. The Fossil stamp was reserved for sandblasted pipes produced between 1946-62 and were often stamped "Ye Olde Wood" and T.V.F." Since Barling primarily fashioned smooth pipes, Fossil pieces are comparatively rarer and highly sought after.
Smooth pipes with either some straight grain or for those that displayed exceptional cross-grain were stamped with "Special" in script. The "Birds Eye" stamp is by far the rarest among Pre-Transition Barlings due to it being introduced during the later years when the company was still family owned. It was used sparingly, reserved for cross-cut oriented stummels that exhibited exemplary birdseye.
Barlings that received a Guinea Grade designation often featured remarkable flame grain or straight grain patterns and while they were air-cured like all Barlings, they were also oil-cured to emphasize, as a company catalogue noted, shimmering color and grain contrast that imitated the luster of a British guinea gold coin. The words "Guinea Grain" were often followed by "Regd," signifying the phrase was patented, and would sometimes feature the letters "EB" at the end of the shank in honor of Edward Barling.
Pipes designated as "Straight Grain" represented the pinnacle of Barling's grading system and were usually stamped "Ye Olde Wood" and "T.V.F." They are quite rare and were often specially crafted pieces, typically lacking a shape number or any additional markings.
There were other, less common stamps that Barling used throughout the Pre-Transition era. They offered a filtered pipe line called the "Trotube," which was similar to Dunhill's Inner Tube, but it never gained popularity. Another filtered series was called the CYG-Smoker and was marketed toward cigarette smokers who inhaled, according to Barling documents. Each pipe within this series used an absorbent, aluminium-lined paper filter for moisture control.
Quaints are particularly notable pipes as they were marketed only as such and never actually stamped "Quaint." They were intricately carved by hand and according to Tad Gage's article, only one master carver was allowed to craft them. Quaints reportedly originated in the 1930s and were crafted from Straight Grain and Guinea Grain stummels that had minor flaws covered by partially rusticating those areas. They're highly desirable pieces that often feature an incredibly detailed and patterned rustication style.
Barling pipes continue to occupy a special place in the pipe world, especially those from the historic company's venerated Pre-Transition era. Their engineering and craftsmanship were impressively advanced for the time and significantly influenced how pipes would be crafted in the following decades. Pre-Transition Barlings continue to appeal to discerning collectors, fans of vintage English pipes, and those who appreciate superb smoking instruments.