Hunger for handmades : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Hunger for handmades

Trending up with a new generation of entrepreneurs

by Ben Rapaport

Myriad online posts and plenty of new pipe books shower praise on them. Many pipe smokers buy them not only to smoke but also to build a representative collection of these originals. In our hyper-opinionated digital culture, just about everyone’s got a confident view- point about them based on either experience, or emotion, or an eye for beauty and tactility, or affordability. What are they? They are alternately identified as handmade, artisan-made, custom- made, high-end or private-label. One website calls ’em high-drama smoking pipes; another calls ’em lone artisan pipes. There is “handmade by machine,” some combination of both processes, i.e., roughed in by machine and eventually handmade to a degree—because drilling, fitting and finishing are done almost universally by skilled human hands using tools, with a degree of freedom dictated by the needs of the work and the will of the operator. Bench- made, meaning individually produced and finished, a descriptor popular a half-century ago, seems to have pretty much fallen into disuse.

Wayne Teipen posted on PipesMagazine.com in 2012: “The definition of ‘handmade’ in the pipe world refers to a pipe that isn’t made using a fraised stummel or premolded stem. A handmade pipe can still be a factory-made pipe.” Unfortunately, there is no rigorous U.S., European or international definition, standard or criterion that governs what qualifies as a 100 percent handmade briar pipe. It is a complex issue to unravel, one for which there may never be universal consensus. Come to think of it, I doubt that there’s a generally accepted definition of a freehand pipe, either. As the folks at TobaccoPipes.com report: “The distinction leads to much confusion. Pipes can
be labeled factory, handmade, semi-handmade or artisan, and the distinction isn’t regulated in any significant way.” Some folks call handmade pipes museum pieces, but those who do might be surprised to read the Cambridge Dictionary definition of a museum piece: “something that is very old-fashioned and should no longer be used.”

All objects produced before the Industrial Revolution, the period of transition to new manufacturing processes, were essentially handmade. Take nails, for example. Two hundred years ago, carpenters used only handmade nails, and those who made them pretty much lived on the edge of starvation. Today, all nails are machine-made,
and they are cheaper and better. Some machines have made life easier even as they supplanted certain human skill sets. In a number of trades, handmade is still the accepted and only production technique. For those who’ve been around a long time, handmade—that word, quite often associated with hand-me-downs—was a mark of privation and hardship. In post-World War I America, store-bought items were seen as marks of status, while certain items— best exemplified by handmade clothes— signaled abject poverty.

Fact is, handmade is post-industrial nostalgia for the pre-industrial. Hand- made is a celebration of our contemporary lives—a living culture. Handmade has soul, personality, and exhibits originality. Handmade seems to shout out upper-middle-class values and tastes. Some studies have concluded that handmade is more attractive—made with artisanal love. Buying handmade, in a way, expresses a disinterest in or a dislike for mass-produced products, the rejection of the machine aesthetic, and the romanticized view of the honored artisan versus the industrial order. In an example of reverse psychology, the effect of the Bauhaus art movement (named after the Bauhaus school in Ger- many and influenced by the architect Walter Gropius) was to make objects look factory-made and mass-produced when, in fact, they had been made by hand at considerable expense.

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Category: Feature Article, Pipe Articles, Spring 2016

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