In the mid-19th century, Saint-Claude, the small French commune nestled in the Jura mountains, changed pipe making forever with the popularization of briar as the wood of choice for the smoking instruments. And since nearly the earliest days of briar’s dominance, the prominence of the Barling name has been central. Although manufacturing of these pipes became gradually sparser in the decades following the 1960s when Barling was acquired by Finlay & Co., a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, Barling pipes continue to be discussed, studied, collected, and appreciated.
For a century-and-a-half, Barling thrived as a family business with a history in tobacco pipe smoking that reached back far into the annals of the industry. The debates and scholarship devoted to understanding Barling’s history epitomize the intersection of the schmaltzy nostalgic and the studious wonk. It's at this improbable convergence that many of us with this passion of pipe smoking seem to meet.
Generation after generation of Barling men weaved and bobbed their company through an ever-changing industry and culture. The family’s craftsman tradition can be traced back to the 1700s—and well before they were turning pipes from briar, the Barling business clearly had a niche as artisans with a focus in tobacco products.
The company was eventually purchased in the 1960s. The following decades saw many different phrases for the brand. Most recently, the Barling name has been seen on Peterson-made pipes, complete with P-Lip stems. However, the brand’s presence has not been significantly felt outside of the estate market for some time, at least not until now.
The history is fascinating, but it isn’t over. With a new line of Barling pipes, we’re seeing a new era for the famed brand. In celebration, let’s take a look back at some of the history, before delving into what these new pipes are all about.
History of Barling Pipes
Origins - From Silver to Briar
Benjamin Barling, born in 1788, was the first Barling to lead the eponymous company, which he likely launched in 1812 as a jeweler. At the very least, the Barling business was operating by 1815 when Ben first registered a silver hallmark. However, the line of Barling craftsmen stretches back two generations still; Benjamin’s grandfather, Aaron Barling, had worked as a goldsmith, while his father, John Barling, was a silversmith.
Ben would be married in 1811 and go on to have seven children—four sons and three daughters.
Benjamin Barling Starts a Dynasty
Of the sons, Edwin and William would go on to join Ben in the business, taking up their father’s trade, just as their father and grandfather before them had.
Hallmarks that list Ben as a jeweler, copper worker, silversmith, goldsmith, and engraver evince the breadth of craftsmanship passed and elaborated upon through the generations. Additionally, a hallmark from 1882 tells us that Edwin and William were also listed with an array of skills within the craftsman profession. This foundational artisanship passed through the family may offer some insight into the Barlings’ adaptability, as we'll see their capacity for taking on new specialties and bringing certain creative processes in-house (all of which we will soon delve into).
The evolution into Barling, the briar pipe company, was soon to come. But we can observe that, as early as 1840, within their jack-of-all-trades craftsmanship was a niche for tobacco products such as cigar cutters and match strikers. One of the earliest instances of Barling (at this time B. Barling & Sons) engaging with pipecraft is in 1851 at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations. Here, the team was awarded a medal as manufacturers of “silver-mounted meerschaum smoking pipes.”
We can see that by the time Ben passed away in 1870 and his sons took over the operation, the gears were already in motion for Barling’s prestige in the world of tobacco pipes.
Barling & Sons - Briar Pipe Makers
The third generation of Barlings to join the business would see the full integration of briar pipe making. The Barlings were still considered jewelers and silversmiths in census reports up into the late 19th century, but in 1901, the listing changed to pipe makers, and in 1911, to briar pipe manufacturers.
Barling Needs Sons
Although Edwin had three sons, two of whom spent some time in the trade, they ultimately would go in other professional directions and, despite being the younger brother, it would be William’s three sons (William Henry, Alfred Montague, and Walter Frederick) who would inevitably take the helm.
With the death of Williams in 1882, his sons were made partners and helped their uncle run the company until Edwin’s death in 1905 when they fully took the reins.
Taking Bowl-Turning in House
To discuss the prevalence of Barling as briar pipe makers and their role as such in the earliest period of the material's mandate on quality wooden pipe making, let’s first turn to the origins of this shift in the industry.
Briarwood’s Origins in Tobacco Pipe Making
Tucked in the Jura Mountains of western France sits the small commune of Saint-Claude, the unlikely pipe capital of the world.
Woodwork had been central to this region since the 7th century when monks would craft religious tokens such as crucifixes and rosaries. The appreciation for the craft came to spill-over into secular enterprise, seeing woodturning workshops sprout up, manufacturing toys and other nonreligious items. Naturally, the introduction of tobacco in France led to the manufacturing of pipes (mostly made of boxwood at the time), and with Saint-Claude's existing infrastructure of workshops and expertise, Saint-Claude pipes developed a reputation for excellence.
This reputation only found a stronger foothold as the pipe making community of Saint-Claude hosted an early embrace of briar in the 19th century. As you can imagine, there are complications when working with a wooden instrument meant to take a flame. However, it was discovered that briar was exceptionally heat resistant, making it the ideal wood for smoking pipes.
In the 19th and into the 20th century, most British pipes were made with bowls imported from Saint-Claude. Although these pipes were still stamped with a mark identifying them as English made, almost no bowls were actually turned in England. Barling began importing these pre-turned bowls in 1870 when briar pipe making was likely a budding focus in their business. But as we know, Barling would still be listed in census reports for decades to come as craftsmen of various other niches. However, it was in 1906 that Barling started to turn their own bowls, right between the census listing them as pipe makers (1901) and then specifically as briar pipe manufacturers (1911).
The Saint-Claude Strike and Barling’s Adaptation
But why exactly did Barling make the change to in-house? Perhaps a desire for greater agency over quality, the marketing value of having a major facet of their operation that set them apart from competitors, or an economic move uniquely accessible to Barling given their expertise? All of these exclamations could very well factor in, but the direct impetus is almost certainly the Saint-Claude strike in the second half of 1906.
This period saw the pipe making communities of Saint-Claude and nearby localities go on strike for three months, adversely impacting tobacco pipe companies who depended on the import of pre-turned bowls. Even after the strike, the price of pre-turned bowls shot up. One could imagine that even if this move to in-house was conceived as temporary, it only made sense to continue—Barling could avoid the increase in cost, and also have some assurance that their business wouldn’t be impacted by conflicts in other parts of the world (though they would face such a problem in the 1950s when the Algerian Civil War disrupted access to allegedly superior briar).
The Last Generations of Barlings
So, as a proverbial “You Are Here” marker: It is now the early 20th century. Their uncle having died, William’s three sons are now running the show, and the Barlings are now committed, bowl-turning, briar pipe makers.
Now we come to the fourth generation of Barling leadership. Between William Henry and Alfred Montague, the two eldest of William’s sons, we have no suitable heir (Alfred had a daughter). Not to fear, Walter Frederick bounces two baby boys into the world—Walter William, and Montague “Monty” Henry. In 1914, Walter William and Monty became partners, and in 1918, William Henry and Alfred Montague bowed out and left their youngest brother, Walter Frederick, and his two sons to run the company.
Another Heir-y Situation
We find the Barlings approaching the mid-20th century in crisis
Walter William and Monty each had two daughters, offering no heir to the Barling business. To work around this, a son-in-law would have to do. Monty’s eldest daughter, Beryl, married William Alan Williamson in 1944.
Adding the Barling name to his own (or double Barling it, one might say), William Alan Williamson-Barling joined the company. I imagine it was supposed that at least William Alan and Beryl’s offspring, or even a son from one of the other daughters, would inevitably continue the Barling Pipes bloodline in due time, but this never came to fruition. As we’ll see, Monty and William Alan would be the last Barlings to run the company.
End of a Dynasty
Although the transition occurred in the 1960s, the last chapter in the family era of Barling Pipes was really set in motion in 1927, when Imperial Tobacco bought a large portion of the British tobacconist chain, Finlay & Co. At the time, Imperial held just shy of half of Finlay’s common equity and most of their preferred shares. Then in 1960, Finlay purchased B. Barling & Sons Ltd., bringing an end to the Barling family’s absolute control. However, the family wasn't immediately deposed.
In 1963, Imperial acquired the remaining Finlay stock. A year and a half before this however, right between Barling’s acquisition and Imperial's control over Finlay, there was an overhaul of management at Barling. This included William Alan resigning in 1962, his role as managing director being filled by an employee from Finlay. It is in the 1962 catalogue following the departure of the Barling family that we see Barling pipes with revised grades and nomenclature. This is the first change to the pre-Finlay pipes—even after they bought Barling, there was no observable change until this point.
Whether Finlay was unsatisfied with the performance of their recent acquisition or were privy to the impending takeover by Imperial and were making changes in anticipation, this marks the end of the Barling family's role in the company since Benjamin Barling started it in 1812.
Imperial and Beyond
In 1970, Imperial officially closed the Barling factories and moved production of the pipes to independent pipe makers. More lines were added, and Imperial rebranded the company Barling of England. Eventually, manufacturing moved to Denmark where Erik Nording took the reins of production. By this time, Barlings were available in three ranges of varied price and quality, each with a few options for different finishes. Folks may gripe in a supposed quality difference in the Imperial era, but like any large operation, the stratification of standards must be considered, and few would attest that the Barling Presentation Pipe range—Barling’s high-grade handmade selection of the late 1970s—offers anything short of a great pipe.
However, attempts at rekindling the Barling allure were nonetheless futile, and Imperial discontinued Barling operations in 1980. But Barling general manager Ronald Harden held that the company could be revived to its former glory with an acute embrace of family era methods. Acquiring the naming rights and rebranding as Barling Pipes Ltd., a new line was released within the year.
The brand would keep a presence in the market through the 1990s, and though some Peterson-made Barlings have popped up in the years since, the Barling pipes of old live on in the fascinations of pipe collectors and history buffs.
However, we are about to see a new chapter in this history with the release of new lines of Barling pipes.
The new line of Barling pipes features two styles—Marylebone and Trafalgar—each available in an array of twelve classic shapes and three finishes—Fossil, Ye Olde Wood, and The Very Finest. In many ways, this new collection pays homage to the historic brand.
Since the publishing of this piece, several more lines of Barling pipes have been released. In addition to the Trafalgar and Marylebone lines, we have Benjamin, Nelson, and even a meerschaum-carved Ivory.
New Barling Styles
Each of the new styles sees the Barling revival nodding to its vintage London roots.
Consistent between each style is the Barling stamp. Barling pipes always varied a good deal in their nomenclature—many of their pipes from the early to mid-20th century featured a block-font “Barling’s Make” logo, with “Barling’s” arching over “Make.” However, they also used a cursive script for media, packaging, and occasionally, special pipes were stamped with it.
The new lines feature a stamp reminiscent of the cursive font. The main difference being the spelling. Marylebone and Trafalgar’s stamp reads “Barling” as opposed to “Barling’s” as most lines of old pipes were labeled, save for The Pipelet filtered-pipe line, which similarly omitted the “‘s”.
Additionally, these new Barling pipes don a small, elegant inlay centered at the bottom of the stem where it meets the shank. Look a little closer and you’ll see the visage of a lion head poking out from a silver mane. No doubt this is a stoic salute to Barling’s roots as world class silversmiths.
Assuming that this name isn’t paying respect to the Bee Gees album, it is likely named for Central London’s Trafalgar Square. Perhaps more specifically, this name alludes to the Barling roots in central London. An 1820 census lists Ben Barling as a jeweler at 23 Broad St, Golden Square—but half a mile from Trafalgar.
The Trafalgar style gives a further nod to the silverwork at Barling’s origins with a rustic sterling silver band. An elegant addition that wonderfully compliments the ornamental lion inlay.
Similar to Trafalgar, Marylebone is named for the district where Ben Barling opened up shop.
Aside from the silver band around the Trafalgar, these styles are distinct in the colors accompanying each respective finish.
New Barling Finishes
Fossil - Sandblasted
The Fossil gives us an exquisite sandblast for a natural, rustic look. The dark burnt brown of the Marylebone is accented with the peaking light orange to further enhance the classic texture, while the Trafalgar is stoic and craggy in its black coating. “Fossil” pays homage to an earlier Barling style of the same name.
Ye Olde Wood - (Dark) Brown
The Ye Olde Wood finish also nods to a Barling style of yore. On the Marylebone style, the Ye Olde Wood finish is a deep, polished dark-brown, with lighter accents of the grain imparting a marble like texturing. The Trafalgar substitutes the dark brown for a lighter maple-brown. Poised and dignified, this finish wonderfully evokes the roots of fine English pipemaking.
The Very Finest - Natural
The Very Finest finish is similar to the Ye Olde Wood in its polished and textured look, however the color is instead a milky burnt orange, like a glowing, dense amber.
Barling has all the staples of a storied brand that fuels our fascination. Craftmanship to be admired, tradition to be honored, a legacy to be learned. Such brands breathe life into the hobby, their charm permeates from our smoking rituals to our conversations with those who share our passion. This new line resumes that legacy, saluting the craftsmanship and tradition that keeps the pastime alive.
- Jonathan Guss. "How Many Angels? Another Look at the Barling Transition" (2013)
- Tad Gage. "Mysterious Barlings" Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine, Spring 2000
- Jesse Silver - Pipedia Barling entry contributions