A priesthood of pipe smokers
by Vernon E. Vig
On June 10, 2016, the Confrérie des Maîtres-Pipiers de Saint-Claude (Brotherhood of Master Pipemakers) marked its 50th anniversary. This was an important milestone in the life of this iconic institution, which continues in this age of anti-tobacco anxiety to celebrate the pleasures of pipe smoking and to preserve its traditions. It was also a special event because the Confrérie used the occasion to induct and honor a “Premier Fumeur de France” for the first time since 2007. The honoree is Nicolas Stoufflet, a longtime French radio personality, who also authors an informative blog on pipes and tobaccos called “Pipe Gazette.”
The Confrérie was formed and is headquartered in Saint-Claude, a small city in the Jura Mountains of eastern France near Geneva. It was the birth- place of the briar pipe (in the 1850s), and during the early 1900s it produced millions of pipes annually, which were exported globally. Although current production is much lower, Saint-Claude is widely regarded as the pipe capital of the world. (See “Proud heritage,” a feature article by Stephen A. Ross in the Summer 2014 issue of P&T, and “The briar trade” by Ben Rapaport in Summer 2013. See also three additional P&T articles by Ross: “Preserving tradition” on Chacom in Fall 2013, “Labor of love” on Butz-Choquin in Winter 2014 and “Continuing a legacy” on Genod in Winter 2014.)
The Confrérie was organized as an association under French law in 1966 at the urging of Edgar Faure, a powerful politician and government minister from the Jura region.
(There had been an earlier union organization, the Chambre Syndicale des Fabricants de Pipes de Saint-Claude.) I was living in France at the time and often saw photos of Mr. Faure in the press—always with a pipe in his mouth. Although it has been a long time since a politician has been brave and proud enough to appear in public with a pipe (we miss you, President Ford!), the mayor of Saint-Claude attended the celebration and spoke warmly of the Confrérie and of the importance of pipemaking to his city.
The bylaws of the Confrérie state that its purposes are “to unify the pipe man- ufacturers of the Saint-Claude region— owners, artisans, workers—and to orga- nize events to spread the reputation of pipes made in Saint-Claude.” While it may thus appear to be just a trade association to promote French pipes, the Confrérie can more accurately be likened to a lodge or an ancient guild, which sets cultural values as well as commercial promotion. In fact, it has taken on a broader role of bringing pipemakers and pipe smokers together in a global fellowship that is based on respect for pipes and pipe smoking.
The Confrérie now has some 1,300–1,400 members from many parts of the world who represent a broad range of occupations and professions. In the beginning most were closely involved in the pipe industry in one way or another, but today the “Confrères” come from all walks of life: politicians, professors, writers, actors, administrators, journalists, engineers, businessmen, contractors, celebrities and working folk—even lawyers! As in all pipe clubs, what one does in life doesn’t matter. The common denominator and the main requirement for membership is a passion for pipes.
I was fortunate enough to be inducted into the Confrérie in 2012, and I more recently attended the June 2015 meeting at which two other Americans, Ric Glaubinger and Sykes Wilford, became members. I expect they will agree with me that the induction ceremony was a unique and memorable experience. A description of the ceremony will help you to understand the Confrérie. We were eight candidates on the day I was inducted, including three French citizens (a painter, a retired mason and an engineer), three Germans closely associated with pipes (Peter Heinrichs, Kurt Eggemann and Oliver Kopp) and Danish pipemaker Poul Winsløw.
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