The History of Pipe Design: Italy

In the first installment of The History of Pipe Design series, we discussed the development of the standard pipe shape chart by early French and English factories. The conventions for shaping and proportion of these archetypal shapes define what we at Smokingpipes and others in the pipe community refer to as "classic" or "traditional" pipes, and this Anglo-French style is foundational to all other design aesthetics. If you have yet to read that initial article, I encourage you to do so as it sets a precedent for what's to follow. Expounding upon the classic style of these French and English manufacturers, a number of Italian pipe makers reinvented and re-imagined traditional shapes into what we now describe as the "Italian neoclassic" aesthetic.

Pre-World War II

The boom of briar as a pipe medium and the rise of mass-produced pipes in the mid-1800s expanded not only to England from its origins in St. Claude, France, but also to Italy. "Pipe making emerged in Italy by virtue of labor costs and geography," says Sykes Wilford, and the establishment of Rossi as an Italian pipe manufacturer is a prime example of this growth.

Through the mid-1800s, most Italian-made pipes were still fashioned from olivewood or boxwood, and many makers were small-scale, selling their work through local wholesalers. Ferdinando Rossi of Milan was one such wholesaler, and he was well established in northern Italy as the preeminent distributor of tobacco-related products in the region. Through one of his pipe suppliers in St. Claude, Rossi witnessed large-scale, pipe-production endeavors and desired to emulate that model in Italy, and after several more trips, he established the Fabbrica di Pipe di Radica Rossi in 1886 in the province of Varese in northern Italy. The Rossi factory would eventually grow to become one of world's largest pipe manufacturers: By its fiftieth anniversary in 1936, Rossi boasted a staff of over 800 (the vast majority of whom were women), a factory replete with its own railroad, cafeterias, and medical staff, and a daily production rate of around 50,000.

Rossi in 1936, Courtesy of Pipedia

Rossi was not the lone Italian or the first to follow the St. Claude model of mass-produced pipes, of course, but his story exemplifies the cross-country influence of this new pipe-making movement. Only a decade earlier in 1876, Achille Savinelli had opened one of the first shops dedicated solely to tobacco and smoking accessories in Italy, and Savinelli, while not a maker of pipes (yet), saw the growth of briar as the future of pipe making, in a sense prophesying what would come to pass only a few years later. Achille began designing his own pipes, sourcing their manufacture to local makers in Varese — where Rossi would later base his factory — and some were even exhibited in the 1881 Italian Industrial Exposition, a trade show that would later become today's Milan Fair.

That all said, even though briar pipe production had found its way to Italy, Italian pipes did not enjoy the same reputation that English and French pipes did. Sykes explains that "Italian pipe manufacturers at this time — pre-WWII — were focused on crafting pipes as mass-produced consumer goods." This parallels the first decades of briar pipe making in France and England, but by the 1920s, "pipes that were being made in London, by the likes of Dunhill and Barling and others, were seen and advertised as luxury goods," Sykes says. "That's not to say that Italian pipes were 'bad' and English pipes were 'good,' but the overall focus was different." Furthermore, these early decades of Italian pipe making didn't introduce that aforementioned "neoclassic" aesthetic; many of these Italian-made pipes emulated the shaping standards of French and English briars, remaining within the conventions of classic pipe design. What we consider Italian neoclassic pipes wouldn't delight pipe aficionados until the mid-1900s, after WWII.

... a number of Italian pipe makers reinvented and reimagined traditional shapes into what we now describe as the "Italian neoclassic" aesthetic.

The reality of two World Wars in the span of not even thirty years delayed the progress of global pipe design. Italy was a prime source of briar, and the European campaign of the War caused a shortage of briar as more focus and manpower were directed to wartime needs. As a result, manufacturers resorted to creative means of saving briar — Dunhill's use of bamboo in their Whangee pipes comes especially to mind. Even beyond this shortage of briar, though, pipe makers suffered from the overall burdens caused by war's stringent effects on the economy and society.

Post World War II

After WWII, though, global pipe production resumed, and some of today's most notable Italian pipe brands were established in the years directly following the War. Carlo Scotti founded Castello in 1947, and Savinelli shifted from a pipe retailer and designer to a full-scale manufacturer in 1948. This new era of Italian pipe making, however, was markedly different than the pre-War period. As previously stated, during the first decades of briar-pipe making in Italy, the reputation of Italian pipes wasn't as highly regarded as that of French and English pipes, with a focus more on quantity and utilitarian practicality. Brands like Savinelli and Castello altered that narrative, though, prioritizing the manufacture of pipes whose quality and aesthetics could stand next to those from the most respected French and English makers, and with this new, more intentional focus came also a creative shift in pipe design.

Savinelli Factory, Courtesy of Savinelli

"After World War II, Castello was extremely important in creating what's now considered Italian pipe design," says Sykes. Carlo Scotti and Castello approached pipe making from a different perspective than the mass-production focus of other makers in Italy. Sykes says, "Castello prioritized something completely different regarding the methods employed, and the shaping of pipes deviated as well. Even though Castello functioned in a factory setting, it was a very small factory, and those producing the pipes were skilled artisans, as opposed to factory workers."

Shane Ireland explains that "Castello started to put their own spin on the shape-chart standards that had been established in France and England for the previous half century or so." As a result, Castello's annual production was (and still is) much smaller than that of mass-production factory marques, as more individual and hands-on time was spent on each pipe and as greater attention was paid to briar quality, briar curing, more unique shaping, and branding.

Carlo recognized the marketing success that Dunhill pioneered. "Not only were Dunhill pipes of high quality, but they were recognizable and well branded," says Shane. "So, Scotti saw an opportunity in Italy to not only make quality pipes, but also institute worldwide brand recognition that connoted a reputation of luxury and craftsmanship." We see this, for example, in Castello's stem logo: a trim and elegant white bar, not unlike Dunhill's iconic white spot.

The Beginning of "Italian Neoclassicism"

With this small-batch and more artisanal approach, Castello pipes, while still rooted in classic English and French shapes, drifted from those archetypes, and the workshop's artisans explored creative renditions of these traditional pipe designs. This reinterpreted style has since become known as "Italian neoclassicism," and the aesthetic is most characterized by more dramatic proportions, pipe elements that have been altered slightly from their classic counterparts, and more conspicuous finishes.

In the previous article of The History of Pipe Design series, we analyzed the elements of the classic Billiard and how the bowl and shank retain a sense of compositional balance. Neither element vies for visual attention, and any slenderness or muscularity is consistently maintained throughout the pipe. With the Italian neoclassic aesthetic, this design standard is reimagined, and Italian pipes often showcase a bowl whose relative proportions are increased compared to those of the shank. At Smokingpipes, we often describe such shaping as "bowl-centric" — denoting pipes whose bowl's dominate the stummel's visual weight, the shank and stem being more diminutive, supporting characters, artistically speaking. Other times, though, the proportions of a shape's shank are increased beyond those of their classic archetypes. I'm thinking specifically of Castello's stout and chubby Brucianaso designs, hearty Nosewarmers that pack a significant degree of muscularity into a small package.

Other pipe elements are similarly dramatized in the Italian neoclassic style: The shank might flare or taper noticeably toward the stem, or the rim might undulate slightly, and the bowl's heel is usually shaped with a more firm posture compared to classic English and French pipes — this latter design cue most evident in Castello's famed 55 bent Pot design. The finishes of Italian neoclassic pipes often also echo this stylish creativity, with an increased use of craggy rustications; the "fumed" rim of, say, Castello's Aristocratica line; and the carved, "melting wax" motif exemplified by finishes like Radice's Underwood.

Now, none of these elements by themselves justify the Italian neoclassic category. There are English and French pipes that certainly fit one or two of those descriptions; however, the dominance of these characteristics from a number of Italian pipe makers, combined with the benefit of hindsight, has enabled us to observe certain aesthetic patterns and define a different style, emerging over the decades in a different region.

Carlo Scotti and Castello can well be considered the progenitors of the Italian neoclassic design style, but its influence has spread beyond the doors of Castello. "A number of these Italian pipe makers, who we perhaps consider the embodiment of Italian pipe making, are all located in the same geographic area of northern Italy," says Sykes, who has visited the region and its pipe makers on numerous occasions. "Castello is located in Cantù, which is just southeast of Varese, where Savinelli and Rossi are based, and Castello gave birth to Caminetto, which in turn led to Radice. Those workshops are all located in the same general area of Como in northern Italy." Sykes says that "even in bad traffic, you could visit all of those workshops in roughly an hour."

Castello Workshop, Courtesy of Castello

All of these pipe makers remain important curators of the Italian neoclassic style of pipe design, and there are certainly others as well, like Ascorti and Ardor to name a couple. Pipes from these makers are united under similar aesthetic conventions, often displaying dramatized proportions and distinct finishes compared to the classic style initiated by French and English makers. However, neoclassicism isn't the only distinct style within Italian pipe making. There exists another pipe aesthetic separate from Italian neoclassicism whose origins began further to the south in Pesaro.

Pesaro Style

Pesaro is an east-coast city along the Adriatic Sea, southeast of Ravenna and due east of Florence, near San Marino. As a pipe-making style, Pesaro refers to the aesthetic of Giancarlo Guidi — a pipe maker from Pesaro who enjoyed a career at Mastro de Paja before founding the Ser Jacopo brand in 1982. Castello and other neoclassic pipe makers drew inspiration from English and French shape charts, but the referents of Guidi's pipes were rooted more in fine art and his personal life experience. We see this idea manifested most prominently in the Picta and La Pipaccia series from Ser Jacopo: The former features pipes inspired by those depicted in famous works of art, from the likes of van Gogh, Magritte, Picasso, and others; and the latter is a line of pipes designed to reflect those that Guidi saw smoked by fishermen and other mariners around Pesaro. "There's a playfulness in Pesaro pipe making," Sykes says, or as Shane states, "a certain whimsy to Pesaro pipes," that's not as universally evident in Italian neoclassicism.

The playfulness and whimsy of Pesaro pipes are often manifested through the use of flowing lines and dramatic flourishes, but such characteristics vary across Ser Jacopo's portfolio and those of other Pesaro-style makers, such as the Rinaldo brothers. For example some Ser Jacopo pipes appear rather tame, for all intents and purposes, while others — like those of the Insanus line or those with "Maxima" stamps — push the boundaries of what's considered possible in pipe design.

Giancarlo Guidi passed away in 2012, but Sykes had the pleasure of visiting the Ser Jacopo workshop while Guidi was still there. Sykes remembers the visit well: "As you walked around his workshop, it looked more like an art studio. There were art books everywhere. It felt more like walking into an art studio than it did a small pipe factory." Guidi was a pipe maker, no doubt, but one who was deeply influenced by the motifs he observed in fine art. Naturally, his pipes and those inspired by him display a different aesthetic than the neoclassic pipes of northern Italy, which drew inspiration from French and English pipe design.

The aesthetic is most characterized by more dramatic proportions, pipe elements that have been altered slightly from their classic counterparts, and more conspicuous finishes.

That said, it's impossible to discuss Pesaro pipe design without recognizing the influence of Castello and other pioneering Italian neoclassic makers. Even though Guidi didn't draw inspiration from the same classic French and English shapes that Scotti did, "Pesaro as a pipe-making style wouldn't have been possible without Castello," says Sykes. This doesn't mean that Castello deserves direct credit for Ser Jacopo's work but, rather, that Giancarlo was well aware of Carlo Scotti's work and how he started to creatively reinterpret French and English shapes in the 1940s and '50s, setting a paradigm-shifting foundation upon which Guidi could expand in his own unique way. Castello proved that it was possible to design pipes differently than what had been considered standard, or "classic," giving Guidi license to do so as well, albeit differently.

Concluding Thoughts

These two aesthetics — Italian neoclassicism and Pesaro — comprise Italian pipe design. Neoclassicism remains relatively rooted in the traditional Anglo-French style, with added flourishes and obvious differences, while Pesaro blazes an even more whimsical and playful trail, yet both represent a natural aesthetic progression and creative approach that has changed the landscape of pipe making across the globe. The Italian neoclassic and Pesaro styles testify to the evolutionary aspect of pipe making as an artistic medium, one that has continued to grow and change as it expands and benefits from the minds of creative visionaries.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   History Pipe Makers Pipe Making


    • Phil Wiggins on December 6, 2020
    • Good article awesome beautiful A!!!

    • Fred Neslage on December 6, 2020
    • I always look forward to these articles, very informative and enjoyable.

    • Fred J. Neslage Jr on December 6, 2020
    • I always enjoy these articles. I love learning anything pertaining to the pipes.

    • Joseph Kirkland on December 6, 2020
    • Excellent article, Truett. Keep up the good work,

    • James Rodríguez on December 6, 2020
    • Excelente artículo, relata parte de la historia y crecimiento de la industria de la pipa de brezo.Mis felicitaciones a quien realizó este trabajo informativo!!!!!

    • Joe Kamari on December 6, 2020
    • Hi SP..I'm the founder of Malaysian Mainly Pipe Smokers. I do like if I can share your articles in my group of smokers. It'a better if your articles can be download and in pdf format. Hope can share the thought in the future. Tq

    • Luis Lopez on December 6, 2020
    • Que artículo tan interesante. Aprender cómo ha evolucionado la industria de las pipas en Italia es algo muy especial para los que tenemos este hobby y lo disfrutamos. Muchas gracias por enseñarnos.

    • 尚志鹏 on December 6, 2020
    • 意大利烟斗在整个烟斗世界做出了非常伟大的成就。打破常规的烟斗外形设计,丰富的石楠木资源,大量从事和烟斗制作有关的设计师和工匠。还有各个意大利品牌的悠久历史。最重要的是一般意大利烟斗价格实惠,从而使的普通的烟斗客能拥有更多的好的烟斗。

    • 尚志鹏 on December 6, 2020
    • 意大利烟斗在整个烟斗世界做出了非常伟大的成就。打破常规的烟斗外形设计,丰富的石楠木资源,大量从事和烟斗制作有关的设计师和工匠。还有各个意大利品牌的悠久历史。最重要的是一般意大利烟斗价格实惠,从而使的普通的烟斗客能拥有更多的好的烟斗。

    • 尚志鹏 on December 6, 2020
    • 意大利烟斗在整个烟斗世界做出了非常伟大的成就。打破常规的烟斗外形设计,丰富的石楠木资源,大量从事和烟斗制作有关的设计师和工匠。还有各个意大利品牌的悠久历史。最重要的是一般意大利烟斗价格实惠,从而使的普通的烟斗客能拥有更多的好的烟斗。

    • 尚志鹏 on December 6, 2020
    • 意大利烟斗在整个烟斗世界做出了非常伟大的成就。打破常规的烟斗外形设计,丰富的石楠木资源,大量从事和烟斗制作有关的设计师和工匠。还有各个意大利品牌的悠久历史。最重要的是一般意大利烟斗价格实惠,从而使的普通的烟斗客能拥有更多的好的烟斗。

    • 尚志鹏 on December 6, 2020
    • 意大利烟斗在整个烟斗世界做出了非常伟大的成就。打破常规的烟斗外形设计,丰富的石楠木资源,大量从事和烟斗制作有关的设计师和工匠。还有各个意大利品牌的悠久历史。最重要的是一般意大利烟斗价格实惠,从而使的普通的烟斗客能拥有更多的好的烟斗。

    • Truett on December 7, 2020
    • @Joe Kamari, thanks for you interest in sharing the article! Unfortunately, we don't have a PDF, but feel free to pass the link on to whomever.

    • David Zembo on December 10, 2020
    • I am a huge fan of the Italian movement. My collection is dominated by Castello, Ser Jacopo, Savinelli, and a gorgeously blasted bent bulldog from a US variant by Paul Bonacquisti.Truett, your beautifully written history of this Italian movement ties it all together. Time for another Castello!DZ

    • bruno molinari on July 5, 2021
    • Bellissimi articoli, bravi!!

    • bruno molinari on July 5, 2021
    • Bellissimi articoli, bravi!

    • Benjamin C on December 27, 2022
    • such a great article, thank you! I’d love to read more in depth articles on Italian pipe making, definitely my favorite!

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