Perserving tradition : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Perserving tradition

Chacom preserves nearly 200 years of history

By Stephen A. Ross

chacom1

In 1825, the Comoy family began making mouthpieces out of mostly boxwood in Avignon, a small village located in the hills surrounding Saint-Claude, France. It was merely 10 years after Napoleon Bonaparte’s crushing final defeat at Waterloo and only four years after the exiled emperor’s death on the South Atlantic Ocean island of St. Helena.

After years of warfare waged across Europe during the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, a sizeable percentage of the French male population were “the Grumblers,” hardened veterans of the French army who had survived years of turmoil. Many of them sought to live out their remaining years peacefully—often smoking pipes and telling tales of their experiences. A majority of the customers who bought pipes with the Comoy family mouthpieces were these former soldiers.

Henri Comoy was born in 1850, just six years before Saint-Claude’s pipemakers started using briar for their pipe bowls. Henri became a prisoner of war during the Franco-Prussian war. Held in captivity in Switzerland, Henri met cousins

Antoine Grenard

Antoine Grenard

from the Chapuis family who were also involved in the pipe trade. They discussed merging their family companies to better position themselves in the burgeoning briar pipe industry after the war.

Nine years later, Henri and several employees moved to London and established H. Comoy & Co. Ltd., the first briar pipe factory in England. The factory in Saint-Claude provided the London factory with materials, including turned briar bowls.

World War I erupted in 1914 and the close association between Comoy and Chapuis was interrupted. Factory workers in England and France went to war, and many factories shifted their production capabilities to supporting the war effort.

Once the war ended in 1918, business resumed and the association between the families strengthened. In 1922, the factory in Saint-Claude was renamed Chapuis Comoy & Cie. Two years later, Henri died and his sons, Paul and Adrien, assumed management of the factories, aided by their cousins, Emile and Louis Chapuis.

By 1928, the London factory was able to produce enough of its own pipes that it no longer needed supplies from the Saint-Claude factory, especially considering the two factories were producing the same shapes. To keep the Saint-Claude factory running, the Comoy and Chapuis families established the brand Chacom—joining the first three letters from each family name. The Chacom brand would be sold exclusively in France, Switzerland and Belgium.

During the Great Depression, Chapuis Comoy & Cie. merged with La Bruyere, chacom-3another large pipemaking company in Saint-Claude. The Chapuis Comoy & Cie. factory expanded to employ more than 450 people, making it one of the biggest pipemaking companies in the world.

After World War II, Chapuis Comoy & Cie. and La Bruyere ended their association and the Chacom brand quickly expanded, establishing itself as the best-selling pipe in France and Belgium by 1946. Two years later, it had established prominence in the Scandinavian countries and Germany and established distribution in the United States. Chacom was so successful that the company purchased La Bruyere in 1957.

Chapuis Comoy & Cie. would remain linked to Comoys of London until 1970, when Yves Grenard, an employee at Comoys of London, bought the factory in Saint-Claude and established its independence.

Yves oversaw the company’s growth as the overall pipe industry began to wane. Under Yves’ management, Chapuis Comoy & Cie. established the Chacom brand in more countries, including Japan, the former Eastern Bloc and China. Yves saw more opportunities for growth as other factories closed down and sold their stocks of briar and their trademarks. Through the 1990s, Yves purchased Saint-Claude brands such as Vuillard, Jeantet, Ropp and Jean Lacroix and brought their production to Chapuis Comoy & Cie., forming an umbrella group named S.A. Cuty-Fort. Throughout the 1990s, Chapuis Comoy & Cie. employed more than 120 people and distribution grew to more than 50 countries.

Yves’s son Antoine assumed management of the company in 2007. Yves enjoyed watching his son guide the company for five years before his death in 2012.

Growing up, Antoine treated the factory more as a playground than a production facility. There was all the old machinery to marvel at. There were countless dusty racks to climb that contained an almost endless supply of briar bowls waiting to be finished in storerooms scattered throughout the factory. chacom4And there were the briar sheds on a hill behind the factory that could inspire adventures for a curious young mind. Antoine likes to joke that even before he started working at the factory he made his father’s secretary nervous with his boyhood exploits.

As Antoine became a teenager, he began to work at the factory, spending all of his holidays from school learning pipemaking and getting lessons on how to run the company from Yves. He traveled with his father to Germany and even attended the RTDA show in Chicago when he was 14. Antoine recalls being shocked at attending those shows and seeing so many pipemakers because he had thought that the only pipemakers in the world were from Saint-Claude.

He left Saint-Claude in the late 1990s to study mechanical engineering and obtained a degree from a design school before moving to Paris.

Coming from a small town of approximately 12,000 people in a remote part of the Jura Mountains, Antoine had difficulty adjusting to Paris. It was just too big and life was too fast-paced. The cost of living was also exorbitant, especially for a young man just out of school.

Leaving Paris, Antoine looked for design work in Saint-Claude, Lyon and Geneva, about a 90-minute drive from his home, but found nothing but graphic design opportunities, which he didn’t want. He moved to Dublin and lived there for 18 months and learned English before his father asked him to return to Chapuis Comoy & Cie. Thinking it would be a challenge and, ready to return home, Antoine accepted.

Read the rest of the story by subscribing to Pipes and tobaccos magazine or the online digital edition.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Fall 2013, Feature Article

About cstanion: View author profile.

Comments are closed.