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Pesaro original

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The first Pesaro pipe factory, Mastro de Paja, continues to share its pipe passion

by Stephen A. Ross

Mark Twain took a rather dim view of patriotism, once writing that a patriot was “the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.” There was a lot of hollering going on among a small cadre of wealthy Italian pipe-smoking businessmen in the late 1960s, but these unhappy patriots knew exactly what they were upset about. The popularity of Danish pipes was rising fast, spurred by the revolutionary and interesting freehand shapes carved by makers such as Sixten Ivarsson, Sven Knudsen, Poul Rasmussen and Svend Axel Celius. Italian pipe manufacturers, who had been global leaders for much of the post-World War II era, were losing ground fast because of it. Italian pipemakers of the era specialized in crafting classic pipe shapes that were beautifully executed and relatively inexpensive but, these men felt, were largely uninspired and uninteresting. The group of dismayed Italian pipe smokers wanted to reverse that trend and return their country to the top of the pipemaking world by establishing a new Italian pipe brand that would challenge the Danes’ growing supremacy; the only problem was that none of them knew a thing about making pipes.

Mastro de Paja owner Alberto Montini

Mastro de Paja owner Alberto Montini

But they had money, so the group elected Terenzio Cecchini as its chairman and charged him to find someone who knew pipemaking to establish a new factory. In 1970, Cecchini discovered Giancarlo Guidi, an aspiring artist and designer who made pipes on the side to make ends meet. Two years later, Cecchini convinced Guidi to join the fledgling enterprise as partner and production manager. They found a suitable workshop in Pesaro, a picturesque town nestled on the Adriatic coast about 120 miles south of Venice, and established Mastro de Paja, which roughly translates into “Master of Wood” in the local dialect.

While the patriotic businessmen had realized their goal of establishing a new Italian pipe company, it’s doubtful that any of them could have envisioned the impact their project would have on Italian pipemaking. Even though much of its early existence was dominated by bitter disagreements between the pipemakers and the investors, Mastro de Paja achieved all that its creators had hoped by adding a new and powerful voice to the Italian pipemaking scene. But because of the rivalry between the talent and the money, it spawned a fledgling pipemaking industry in Pesaro. The creative talents behind the now famous and much-loved brands Ser Jacopo, Don Carlos, Le Nuvole, Rinaldo, L’Anatra and Il Ceppo all worked at Mastro de Paja early in their careers. Indeed, Mastro de Paja was the training ground of the Pesaro school
of pipemaking.

And 46 years after its establishment, the original Pesaro pipe factory is still going mp2strong. Mastro de Paja is now owned by Alberto Montini, an energetic man who joined the company as a young accountant in 1984. When he arrived at Mastro de Paja, the company was floundering—a victim of the pipemakers’ exodus in the late ’70s and early ’80s—but Montini brought direction, led expansion to new markets and streamlined production, incorporating his own designs to make Mastro de Paja more competitive.

“From my earliest days at Mastro de Paja, I found that I loved pipes. And so day by day I learned a lot about pipes, and now they are my life,” he says. “When I became the owner of Mastro de Paja [in 1995], I started implementing my ideas. I started to design shapes and collections. Every pipe we make now is designed by me.”

To support his point, Montini leaves his comfortable office on the second floor of the Mastro de Paja facility and strolls onto the production floor downstairs. He opens a drawer in a desk to reveal hundreds of pieces of card stock paper cut out into various pipe shapes. While there are a few outlandish-looking designs in the collection, most of the shapes look fairly familiar—more variations of classic shapes than fanciful artistic endeavors.

mp4“Fancy pipes are nice, and I design a lot of them, but mostly I design classic shapes because a pipe must be comfortable in your mouth. And that’s the main reason I think classic shapes developed in the first place,” he says. “The pipe market is very competitive, and it’s more important for us to make classic shapes. On the other hand, there are a lot of handmade-pipe makers in Italy. You can see a lot of different and strange pipes. In the last few years, we tried to make some very artistic and fancy pipes, but now we are concentrating more on making these classics. In the end, pipes are only as good as the briar they’re made from.”

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Category: Feature Article, Summer 2016

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