The future of Danish handmade pipes
Since I have been in the business my whole life I am brought up as a great admirer of the prominent and skilled Danish pipe makers.
If you made a family tree you would be able to track the different pipe makers going back to Suhr, Sixten Ivarsson, Nørding, Preben Holm, Pipe-Dan, W. Ø. Larsen etc.
Poul Rasmussen, Sven Knudsen, Anne Julie, Lars Ivarsson, Nanna Ivarsson, Tao, Poul Ilsted, Poul Winsløw, Tom Eltang, Teddy Knudsen, Tonni Nielsen, Hans Former Nielsen, Benni Jørgensen just to mention some names that came out of those great workshops. Many of the last names have then taught or influenced new names.
Being a Danish pipe shop with these names around, one would think it would be easy to make a good business. Well, yes and no – in some ways it is, but there’s also an insatiable demand for these guys and girls, and it’s hard to keep any selection of their pipes.
Support the Upcoming Pipe makers
So, 6-7 years ago I decided to make an "Upcoming Pipe makers"-selection. The idea was to get the new pipe makers pipes out to you the customers, spread the word and give the pipe makers some feedback, so they could improve their skills.
We started selling these new guys’ pipes for around EURO 200. For a new guy it takes probably 1-2 days to make one pipe, so this is not a very high salary when you live in one of the most expensive countries in the world. Well, we then decided to increase the prices to a level, so they would have a chance to live.
Names like Møller Pipes, Henri Pipes, Suhr Pipes, Bay Denmark, Bennwik Pipes and Vesterholm Pipes, Brandon Brooks are examples on these Upcoming Pipe makers – even though Bennwik and Vesterholm today have been in the game a little longer. The challenge is that these guys can’t live from it. Let’s take some fictive numbers. If a pipe maker gets EURO 200 per pipe and he can make 100 per year (which is a lot if you make it 100 % handmade, have another job, family, etc) that makes EURO 20.000 and after taxes you’ll roughly have half of that left. And in this I have not calculated the cost for machines, wood, stem material, travelling, etc.
So my main concern for the future of Danish pipe makers is that if the pipe smokers are not willing to pay EURO 400-500 for a Danish handmade pipe I fear it will fade out in 10-20 years. I am not concerned about the established names. They are doing well and they will continue to do so.
Adding to my concern is the growing numbers of independent hobby pipe makers who sell their pipes for EURO 100-150 from all kinds of social media and eBay. They are happy to get a little to cover the briar cost, but they don’t calculate the number of hours with a decent hourly payment. These guys who really want this and give up their day job can’t compete with that.
The "Open Door Philosophy"
One of the reasons for the success of the Danish handmade pipes is the "open door philosophy" between the established names. Most of them are friends, visit each other, share tricks, swap briar wood etc. That is one of the reasons why we have this high standard you see in Danish handmade pipes. But their success also bites us a little. Not many of them are willing to take in new guys/girls and teach them, because then they don’t get anything produced. No pipes mean no money and believe me, even though you might think their work is expensive, none of them are driving Porches. The only one I know who opens his door to trainees is Tom Eltang. The last couple of years he has helped Johannes for Suhr Pipes and Mike Bay from Bay Denmark. Moreover, all the new names I mentioned are in touch with Tom and his wife, Pia, and they are always very helpful. I know other pipe makers have helped new makers, but currently its mainly through Tom they get the inspiration.
So, to keep these young ones on fire, we need you – you the customers – to buy their pipes and support the future of Danish pipes. I have several pipesmoking friends and customers who are very much into one or two of the established names like Tonni Nielsen, Former or Eltang. Many of these guys buy those pipes regularly and I keep trying to convince them in investing in the young ones as well. That’s easier said than done, and that is also my point of this article. If we don’t sell the new names at a decent price level they can’t survive and the 60-70 years of success for the handmade Danish pipes will come to an end. And if I may be a little dramatic I also worry for my own company – I worry I will have to change the name from "The Danish Pipe Shop" to "The Once Danish Pipe Shop" :-)
And I have the facts. Guys like Vesterholm and Bennwik (who is Swedish but we consider him as one of ours) had to take back their normal jobs because they simply couldn’t make it work financially. I might add they still make beautiful pipes but only in their spare time.
So, with this said, in my very first Nik’s Corner article, I hope my point is clear. I don’t expect you to agree with me but consider this as a whole hearted wake-up call from one who knows the business very well. P.S: All the great photos of Tom, Jon, Mike and Johannes are taken by Austrian photographer Martin Steinthaler aka Tinefoto.
This article was written in August 2018.