pipe brebbia

Northwest Italy pipemaker with a unique history

marks 50 years with a special celebration

by Dayton H. Matlick

(Originally published in the Fall 1997 issue of P&T Magazine)

  Pipe Brebbia is located near the small village in northwest Italy from which it draws its name. Situated between two lakes in one of the most beautiful areas of Italy, the village is within sight of the awe-inspiring Swiss Alps.
  The entrance to Pipe Brebbia is just at the edge of this village of 3,200 inhabitants, down a quarter-mile lane bordered on both sides by open fields dotted with clumps of trees. The peace of the place surrounds like a sheltering presence.
  The white headquarters building looms straight ahead, two stories tall with one-story wings on either side set forward to create a courtyard. The right section has a large pipe painted on the front, complete with a partly open cap from which smoke curls upward. The left section is newer in appearance, with a drawing of a man working on what looks like an electric motor.

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These six pipes, four natural and two walnut, rate AA and AAA in Brebbia 's Linea A. The two pipes on the previous page are in the popularity-priced Cellini line.

  It turns out that the large central building is more than 110 years old-the original building on the site. In addition to housing the pipemaking facilities on the second floor, most of the first floor is a water-powered electric generating plant that has been in operation since the beginning. What do electricity and the electric light have to do with making pipes? The answer in Brebbia is, "A lot!" But it took 67 years for the connection to be made.    It wasn't until 1878 and 1879 that British inventor Thomas Swan and American inventor Thomas Edison simultaneously developed the carbon-filament lamp, which became a commercial success. This was followed in 1881-82 by the New York City installation of a complete electrical distribution system for power and light, designed by Edison.
  In an amazingly short time, considering the year and the distance, the impact was felt in little Brebbia. In 1884, progressive-thinking Achille Buzzi built a power plant on a small river running between Lake Varese and Lake Maggiore, a beautiful lake steeped in history.
  At first, people in the surrounding rural communities didn't want anything to do with electricity-this work of the Devil. Then the fledgling power company installed free lights on poles in the squares of surrounding villages. Soon the women of the villages were taking their chairs and their handwork into the square at night where they could talk and work together. The age of electricity was launched!
Our story now jumps those 67 years into the future. The Second World War is over and Italy is in shambles. Just about everything from the economy to transportation is barely working. Everything has to be built up again, except the Brebbia power plant, which is still running, as it is today.
  Uncle Bernardo Papa has made some astute investments that survived the war better than most. He advises two of his nephews, Enea Buzzi grandson of Achille Buzzi and Achille Savinelli, to get involved in something that can be exported to countries with sound economies. Because of the Savinelli family involvement in tobacco and pipes for almost 70 years and Enea Buzzi's love for pipes, the potential of making pipes sparks an immediate interest. The uncle's offer of financial backing settles the discussions.
  The building housing the power plant, which now belongs to Enea Buzzi has a lot of unused space on the second floor and proves to be an excellent site for the fledgling pipe company. It has the additional advantage of free electricity to run needed machinery. It almost seems as though the whole development of electricity existed only to set the stage for this pipe drama.

  It is decided that Achille Savinelli will live in Milan, where the most important Savinelli tobacconist shop is located, and be in charge of sales and distribution for the new company, while Enea Buzzi will run the pipemaking operation in Brebbia.
  All pipes made will carry the name of Savinelli and be sold through the Savinelli tobacconist shops. From its 1947 beginning, the new company decides to go against existing trends. Just a few miles away in Barasso, the enormous Rossi pipe company reputedly turns out a rail car full of pipes every day. However, their 900 employees produce pipes so cheaply they must stamp "made from real briar" on each pipe in an effort to convince the skeptics.
  Post World War II Italy is far from the Italy of 1997. The reputation for craftsmanship has yet to be developed. The approach throughout Italy is to make a profit by producing low-quality products as cheaply as possible, making profits based on volume. This is before the heydays of Ferrari, Gucci, Georgio Armani and other Italian companies whose high quality products would come to be known throughout the world.
  Equal owners of the new company, the cousins are in the forefront of this new direction. In contrast to Rossi, they decide to produce high-quality pipes and to follow their uncle's advice about developing export outlets.
However, both principals are strong, opinionated, talented individuals. Friction develops until, by 1953, it is decided that Savinelli will be able to buy some of his pipes elsewhere and Buzzi will sell some of his pipes to retailers other than Savinelli. By 1956, Savinelli builds his own factory only a quarter of a mile from the Rossi factory in Barasso and all pipes produced by Buzzi go out under the name Pipe Brebbia.

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Pictured above, Constantino(right) adjusts a pipemaking machine that will be operated by Ousmane Camara(left)

  A second trend the young company soon is fighting is not one of their choosing. At the time the new pipe company starts, pipes are the cheapest and most popular way of smoking in Italy; cigarettes are relatively expensive. However, the popularity of American cigarettes is established by the American occupational troops. Major progress in the automation of cigarette-making soon results in huge reductions in cigarette prices. The economic advantage of pipes is gone! Combined with the decision to produce high-quality pipes, the fledgling company has more than enough challenges.
    "To succeed, Brebbia had to innovate." says Luciano Buzzi, son of Enea, and head of Pipe Brebbia today. "In the early days, my father created a cap for pipes that would keep out the rain, but let needed air in through strategically placed holes. We were also one of the first to move to acrylic mouthpieces---mouthpieces that always look good. We also developed a smoke dispersing device-a small insert for the mouthpiece. It breaks up the stream of smoke and spreads it more evenly throughout the mouth. Especially if you are a beginning pipesmoker, it can reduce tongue burn. The insert pops out for cleaning your pipe.
  "The secret of Brebbia's successes is that we are a mix of classical, freehand and personal designs-selling a balance of finish, quality and form to fit individual tastes. In every pipe you can see the origin of the shape. As a result, all of our pipes look familiar, even if the shape is basically new.
  "To foster this, we make all of our mouthpieces by hand, giving each a particular look. We also like to give our shanks a cylindrical shape; and we pay special attention to the point where the shank and bowl come together. We want to give the impression that the bowl grows organically out of the stem. People who are 'Brebbia fellows' can tell this look at any distance."
  While Luciano talks about these innovations, his pen is seldom still. Soon drawings fill page after page-simple, direct, informative. The mini-mystery of the drawings is solved when he talks about joining the company 20 years ago.
  It turns out that Luciano, a tall, soft-spoken, but typically emotional Italian, is a graduate architect. At one time, his goal in life was to design houses. He progressed to the point where he had designed some home interiors. Then, when he was 23, his father asked that he come to the factory and help with its reorganization. He started in shipping and warehousing and never turned back. "I fell in love with the creativity of producing beautiful pipes from briar. Now, the pipe is my life!" says Luciano.
  His home is evidence that the architectural training is still with him. He designed a structure with an off-center roof where beams soar upward in an interesting interplay of shapes. Glass barriers between the beams reveal this wooden beauty, while keeping air movement, including heating and cooling, under control.

  In a nearby garage rest three other projects-his "girls"-two Harley-Davidson motorcycles he has modified himself, and an immaculate 1946 MG-TC-one of the original molded wood frame models-that he has restored himself. All rest under protective covering until they have their turn again in the sun.
  When Luciano joined Pipe Brebbia 20 years ago, there were 35 employees, down from 90 during the company's hey day. In the earlier days, with the far greater numbers, workers were specialized. Today, with 14 people making pipes, supported by three others, including Luciano, the workshop turns out 14,000 pipes a year from primarily Ligurian Italian briar. For the last 10 years, all pipes produced have been based on Luciano's architecturally-aided designs.
  In the meantime, Enea Buzzi has been pioneering new directions on his own. They can all be traced back to his project to compete with Falcon pipes, beginning in 1964. To do this he had to learn to mold metal, especially aluminum. Then he mastered the really difficult technology of applying chrome to cast aluminum.

(Continue to PAGE 2 of the article)

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