The History of Danish Pipes
by Jakob Groth (DK) - adapted and
illustrated by Jörg Lehmann
The names Bang Pipes or S. Bang are a bit of a paradox in the pipemaking world since Bang is not the name an individual pipemaker but the name of Svend Bang, who founded the workshop along with a pipe store in 1968. Svend Bang has a long story in the pipe and tobacco world and was- before starting his own business- the business manager and front man at the W.Ø. Larsen operation in Copenhagen.
The name of his first pipemaker is now long forgotten but in 1970 Per Hansen started work with him and in 1971 Ulf Noltensmeier joined Per. Per had worked for a short period with Preben Holm and Ulf for a short period with Anne Julie before they moved to Bang. For almost 30 years these two pipemakers have made the Bang pipes. Both of them were born in 1948. In the '70's Svend Bang first hired Ivan Holst-Nielsen and after him Ph. Vigen and Jan Windeløv, but neither of them stayed long with Bang. In 1984 Svend Bang went on retirement pension and sold the company to Per and Ulf. When you know the work and the workshops of many Scandinavian pipemakers you realize that Bangs Pibemakers is different in many ways. While other pipemakers work individually, Per and Ulf work together, but they make their own pipes absolutely individually. The workshop is still situated in the city of Copenhagen, while many pipemakers prefer to live in a farmhouse in the countryside or near the sea. Per and Ulf go to work in the city every day from nine to five.
Some years ago Per’s pipes were often curved and sculptural while Ulf’s pipes seemed more classical in shape. This has changed over the years and today it can be difficult to tell who made a specific pipe. They both say that they are inspired by some of the old masters but what they really benefit from is working closely together. Together they have developed a number of shapes and lines and in our opinion they have always carved some of the worlds finest pipes. They sell their pipes to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, USA, Taiwan and Japan. With less than 200 pipes made by each pipemaker per year they can not cover the demand.
A specialty of Bang is the sandblasted pipes. They do the sandblasting them selves while other pipemakers often send their pipes to a pipe factory to have the blasting done for them. The blasted pipes usually have a very deep blasted texture and a distinctive grain that makes them very beautiful. The silver work on the pipes is also quite unique. They not only make silver bands but also many different wind caps. Also the fit and finish of the pipes is absolutely perfect and the stems are more black and shiny than most others.
Grading is based on (and developed from) the system that Svend Bang originally started in 1970. Since takeover of the firm by the pipemakers in 1984, the pipes are stamped S. BANG København and graded: Black sand, Tan sand, 5 – 9 and A-B. Only unique pieces are individually numbered and often stamped with the actual pipe maker’s initials (PH for Per Hansen or UN for Ulf Noltensmeier).
Emil and Jess Chonowitsch
It is natural to continue with the second famous farther and son in Danish pipe making- Emil and Jess Chonowitsch. Emil Chonowitsch ( born..) is one of well known Danish makers from the 60’ties. He started pipemaking in a mature age after running one of Copenhagen’s most esteemed tobacconists for a quarter of a century. As for many other pipemakers it was the dream of living a more free and independent life on the countryside that led Emil to his new profession. Before starting his own work shop in a closed school (Atterup Pibemageri), Emil was “adult-apprentice” with Poul Rasmussen for some years. He – again like many others – had to start with a couple of years of pipe repairing before making his own pipes.
Emil was different from many other makers in his line of shapes. He made a series of 12 standard, hand turned shapes, showing his ideas of the classic shapes: Billiard, Canadian, bulldog etc. You can see the “poul Rasmussen” line clearly in these shapes. Many were slender and tall and with soft, smooth edges on the top of the bowl. You don’t see an unsymmetrical Emil Chonowitsch. Many of the classic, standard pipes were sold in Denmark at reasonable prices. Jess Chonowitsch’s pipes is very different from his fathers.
Gert Holbek is probably the oldest Danish pipe maker - after the death of Sixten Ivarsson, - since Gert Holbek was born in 1928. He is for sure the oldest active pipemaker and he is definitely the one who has been in business for longest time. He started with Poul Rasmussen in 1953. After 1½ year and more than ten thousand pipe repairs (Holbek tells) later, he opened his own work shop and he has carved pipes ever since.
For a number of years he made about two hundred pipes per year, they were all sold through Pibe Dan, until the shop closed in 1991. Pibe Dan’s English catalogs from the 60’s would show his pipes and brought his name to both Europe, Japan and USA. In the latest years the number of pipes has gone considerably down, but he can’t really leave the challenge of a beautiful piece of briar. The few pipes he is making are almost exclusively sold in Japan, where he has had many devoted fans for many years.
In spite of his almost 50 years in pipe business he is not very known among pipe smokers and collectors in Denmark. This is probably because he has never wanted to be a part of the “pipe environment” There has never been any articles about him in the Danish pipe magazines. Only the old regular customers from Pibe Dan will nod the heads with recognition when his name is mentioned. Also he has for long periods worked primarily with industrial design and technical innovations. His sense of form and idiom can be recognized in the set of knife, fork and spoon, called Prism, that he draw together with a friend from childhood in the beginning of the 60’s. The set is still sold in large quantities all over the world. He has also taken a number of patents and he “invented” 2211 – probably the best cleaning fluid for pipes because it both dissolve the residue, it disinfects and it impregnates the smoke passage in the shank and the mouthpiece.
The pipe design of Gert Holbek is distinctly his own and has not changed much over the years. You can see in long distance that this is a Holbek Pipe. Not much tells you that he originally started with Poul Rasmussen perhaps only that many of his pipes have rather tall and slender bowls. On the other hand his very tall pipes, called chimneys, were created in collaboration with Pibe Dan. His pipes are almost ascetic (his own word). You will never find a ring, a ferrule or any decoration on a Holbek pipe. His shaping has soft, but springy lines with soft passage between bowl and shank and the edge of the bowl is mostly concave. The smooth pipes are mostly straight grain in a warm reddish- walnut finish. Perhaps the most characteristic about his pipes is that he grinds the edge of the bite slantingly.
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