As I browsed Brothers of Briar this morning, I stumbled across a thread that apprised me that South African pipemaker Jan Pietenpauw is no longer making pipes. Wanting some confirmation of that, I navigated to Pietenpauw’s web site. Jean’s web site confirms the story.
Pietenpauw’s decision to fold his tent appears to be precipitated by a pipe-of-the-year commission by the U.K. pipe forum, Tamp and Puff, that went awry. I can’t help but wonder if Pietenpauw’s atypically low prices could not provide a margin contribution sufficient to his resource needs.
I like the high quality - low price combo as much as any pipe enthusiast, but I have wondered more than once how in the world Pietenpauw could afford to make such marvelous pipes for the prices he charged. I wonder whether those of us buyers who understand the economics of pipe-making should have encouraged Jean to think hard about whether he should increase his prices.
I gather from reading Tamp and Puff threads that Pietenpauw found itself unable to fulfill orders by forum members because the blocks purchased and dedicated to the project were flawed at unexpected levels. In order to be able to afford to replenish the project’s briar supply, Pietenpauw temporarily set the project aside to make more expensive commissions so that it could afford to buy more briar for the Tamp and Puff commission. (It should be noted that ALL paid orders were filled.)
Understandably, those Tamp and Puff members who ordered pipes felt some frustration at the delay of their orders, and also at Pietenpauw’s spotty responsiveness to email inquiries. Almost without exception, forum members appear to have been gracious and understanding. Although Pietenpauw explained and apologized, it appears that the situation may have been humiliating for Pietenpauw. I sympathize. In the throes of what feels like a no-win situation that is turning into a public spectacle - in our fairly small pipe world - I am sure there have been some sleepless nights for Pietenpauw.
I worry that as pipe folks learn about this situation that they may blame the Tamp and Puff crowd or assume that Pietenpauw was somehow untoward in its business dealings. Either conclusion would be unfortunate and unfair.
This is one of those situations that calls for a nuanced reading of events and some compassion for everyone involved. I believe that the Tamp and Puff members meant absolutely no harm and would be horrified to think that they, as people who wanted to buy Pietenpauw’s pipes, contributed to the demise of his business. Conversely, Pietenpauw almost certainly did its best, but found itself in very unfortunate circumstances caused in no small part by bad luck and perhaps by not charging enough for its pipes.
Jean, Pietenpauw’s principal pipe-maker, was remarkably candid and accountable in his posts. At one point, he wrote, “I certainly would not buy a pipe from me.” These are harsh, self-critical words, indeed. They are words with which I must disagree.
If you are out there reading, Jean, know this. I most certainly would buy a pipe from you. I believe that I am, no doubt, joined by many of those in our community who stand ready and willing to lend you our support and encouragement.
I received quite a nice note from Jean yesterday letting me know that he will, indeed, be carving pipes again, but will be pursuing pipe carving as a hobby. This is a good news-bad news scenario.
The good news is that Jean will still be carving pipes so some of his quite extraordinary shapes - especially one bamboo I particularly love that is owned by Dustin Ash in Arkansas - will still theoretically be available. The bad news is that his production will be quite limited and his pipes will be hard to get. Still, some is better than none.
Jean let me know, as well, that he will not be selling his pipes at the same price level as before. We can all expect to pay more for a Pietenpauw. That’s a good thing.