A History Of Comoy's and A Guide Toward Dating the Pipes
A HISTORY OF COMOY’S AND A GUIDE TOWARD DATING THE PIPES, By Derek Green This article was published in the June 2006 issue of The Pipe Collector. The official newsletter of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors (NASPC), and is used here by permission. It's a great organization--consider joining.
I have for some time been collecting pipes made by Comoy’s and have found them all beautifully made and excellent smokers. I quickly realised that there was very little information on the make generally, and often the information published was inaccurate.
Although a lot more research is needed, this will no doubt surface as more Comoy’s are added to the collection or are viewed. I now have over 100 examples of pipes made by Comoy’s in my collection, of which 19 have hallmarked silver bands. These, together with other dated examples I have seen and original catalogues have enabled me to considerably flesh out some of the previously published facts.
I have also been fortunate to have had several long discussions with Jacques Cole who was at St. Claude from 1948 to 1957 and was factory manager at Comoy’s from 1958 until 1963. Jacques is now retired but is still active in the pipe world, being Grand Chancellor of the “Academie International de la Pipe.” I am most grateful to Jacques for allowing me to quote from an article he wrote about Comoy’s, which was part of a series on The Pipe Makers (1850-1994). I am also fortunate to have a history of the company written by Louis Comoy in the 1950s and believe that the history given as an introduction is as definitive as possible.
Francois Comoy and his brothers started making pipes (probably clays, boxwood and beech) in 1825 in the small monastic town of Saint-Claude in eastern France. Claude and his son Louis discovered that briar had vastly superior qualities and, from 1848, made pipes only in this wood. In 1879, Francois’ son, Henri, who was born in 1850, moved to London with a small bag of tools but a great deal of experience. Henri set up a small factory in Seven Dials, which is today known as Cambridge Circus. He was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the briar pipe trade in London and is credited with being the author of the appellation “London Made.” He was helped at first by some of his brothers and, around 1891, was joined by his two nephews, Louis and Charles Chapuis. Louis took the name of his adoptive parents. By 1895, the business had outgrown the Seven Sisters site, and a new factory was built in Newcastle Place, Clerkenwell. By 1905, markets were being sought in America, and the extra business required a new factory to be built in 1913 at 72 Rosebury Avenue. In 1914, the partners Henri Comoy and his nephews Louis and Charles incorporated the business as H. Comoy & Co. Ltd. Before the 1914/18 war, Henri was also joined by his sons, Adrien and Paul, who were born after his nephews arrived in London. In 1921, Sam Zinberg was appointed Director of Sales for the USA, and the House of Comoy was established. Henri Comoy died in 1924 at the age of 74, leaving the company in the hands of Louis and Charles.
In 1929, the company was invited to join Cadogan Investments Ltd. This was known as “The Merger,” which consisted of the Civic Company and Oppenheimer Pipes with their associated companies. This merger was formed in order to create co-operation between the various companies. In 1937, a new, model and splendidly equipped factory was opened in Pentonville Road to accommodate additional staff of several hundred. The next generation had joined the firm by the time the Second World War broke out. Louis Chapuis Senior joined in 1938 and Pierre Comoy in 1947 after service in the Royal Armoured Corps.
The Second World War was a difficult period for the company because the whole of industry in Great Britain was turned over to the production of armaments and the war effort. Consequently, the manufacture of pipes ceased except for a small workshop. After the war ended in 1945, it was an uphill struggle for all British companies to once again get established, and it was not until 1950 and the opening of a new purpose-built factory in Aldershot that production nearly met demand.
The main manufacturing companies in the merger known as Cadogan Investments Ltd. were Civic, Comoy’s and Marechal Ruchon & Co Ltd., and, in the early 1960s, manufacture came under one management, but the marketing departments continued working independently for a number of years. My 1965 catalogue makes the following statement: “And now, we the Comoys of the fourth generation, together with those of the fifth, Pierre Comoy and Louis Chapuis, continue to follow the course set by our forefathers, who would be gratified to see our latest ultra modern plant in Aldershot Hampshire.” Comoy’s remained a family-owned company until it was finally taken over by Cadogan Investments during the early 1980s. Cadogan have continued to manufacture Comoy pipes to the present day, and, under Michael Adler, the Comoy brand is their flagship, and efforts are being made to once more re-instate the well-known quality of the brand.
The collector of Comoy pipes is really only interested in those pipes made before Comoy was finally taken over by Cadogan in the early 1980s, and I have therefore concentrated on that period. I have also, for the purpose of this article, only briefly mentioned some of the other brands made by Comoy’s, such as Cecil, Every Man, Town Hall, Guildhall, etc, when they can contribute some evidence to help in dating.
The Names or Grades
Some indication of the period in which a pipe was made can be learnt from the name or grade stamped on the pipe. However, the names are not reliable guides to dating unless associated with other factors. It is obvious that Comoy’s often reintroduced the same name at various dates, presumably as a marketing exercise or at the request of their wholesalers.
There is insufficient knowledge at the moment to be sure exactly which of the names used in the 20s and 30s were intended as “Grades” as apposed to just names for a slightly different finish or market. I have a beautiful cased pair of small dark plum-pudding-coloured pipes with the name “Par Excellence” from the early 1920s. The name is stamped below the arched Comoy’s. The name is shown in the same way in the cartouche in the lid of the case. Both the pipes and the case are also stamped “Altson of Melbourne & Perth.” It may be that the name “Par Excellence” was reserved for the Australian market or indeed just for Altson. An interesting feature of these pipes is that the three-piece inlaid “C” is on top of the stem rather than the side. I have not seen this on any other pipe.
The 1909 catalogue states that “we are the manufacturers of the following well known brands:--Comoy’s Prima London Made, Comoy’s London Made, H.C. London Made, Yomac London Made, Standard London Made.”
Prima was the top grade introduced in the early 1900s. Jaques Cole kindly let me copy his beautifully illustrated catalogue, dated 1909, which is almost certainly the first one produced by Comoy. It illustrates 96 pipes, all with silver bands dated 1909. Apparently pipes were seldom graded during the 1914/18 war because the production effort was quantity rather than quality for the troops at the front.
Old Bruyere. I have two Old Bruyeres dated 1921 and a 1931 sales leaflet that states, “Out of every gross of Bruyere pipe bowls made, only 4 are good enough to be called Comoy’s Old Bruyere.” At this time, therefore, it was definitely a high grade. By 1943, it had been downgraded, as it was listed at $7.50, the same price as the Grand Slam and Tradition. At this time, the Blue Riband was $15, as was the Meerschaum lined. The Royal was $12 and the Virgin Briar $10. The Old Bruyere was no longer listed in 1965
Virgin Briar. I have a Virgin Briar dated 1925. On the evidence of the pipes in my collection, these were definitely very fine quality. However, in the 1931 sales leaflet, the “Virgin Briar” was obviously the main grade below the “Old Bruyere,” which was obviously a higher grade. In a 1936 advertisement, the “Virgin” was priced at $6. I also have a “Virgin Briar Supreme” but do not know whether this was a grade in its own right. The Virgin Briar was no longer listed in 1965.
Tradition. This grade was introduced in 1925 to mark 100 years of pipe making and continued in production until the 1970s. In 1965, it was priced at $20
Grand Slam. Introduced in 1933 with the patented (Patent Number 2001612) metal filter system and still in production until the 1970s. The “Grand Slam” was priced at $5 in 1936 and $20 in 1965
Deluxe. I have one cased pipe stamped with this grade, which has the arched Comoy’s, and therefore dates to the 1930s. It was made for “John’s Pipe Shop of Los Angeles.” I also have a 1930’s Deluxe, which is stamped “Straight Grain.” Another in my collection is stamped “Supreme Patent.” The same grade is also featured in the 1965 catalogue as a walnut model for $22.50 and as a sandblasted model at $20 with silver military mounts.
Royal. The Royal has always been a high-grade Comoy, and, pre-WW II, it was the highest standard grade after the Prima was dropped. Priced at $7.50 in 1936
Straight Grain. Priced at $12 to $25 in 1936. Was this the precursor of the Specimen Straight Grain, I wonder?
Blue Riband. This name was a very clever marketing ploy by Comoy’s, and it was given to celebrate the record crossing of the Atlantic by the great ocean liners of the Cunard Line. It is my belief that the name was first used by Comoy’s in 1936 to celebrate the crossing by the Queen Mary in 4 days 27 minutes. It was priced at $35 in 1943 and the same price in 1965. Certainly it was a rare pipe, and Jacques Cole tells me that they always had great difficulty in meeting the demand for this brand. A catalogue from just after the war states, “Of every thousand pipe bowls that are made in the Comoy’s workshops, forty or perhaps fifty will be picked out worthy to bear the Comoy name.” It goes on to say that, of these, only three or four will be given the name “Blue Riband,”
London Pride. This was introduced as the second grade to the Blue Riband around the same time to meet the American demand for a lighter finish. It was priced in 1943 at $25 and in 1965 at $25, then in 1979 at $95.
Specimen Straight Grain. I am not sure when this grade was first produced, but it probably appeared just before the Second World War. This certainly was the top grade from its introduction. It is described in my 1965 catalogue as “The rarest and finest of all Comoy pipes. It is so unusual to find a completely perfect straight grain that shapes and quantities are strictly limited.” It was priced at $50 in 1943 and 1965. Jacques Cole recalls that, in the 1950s, there was a very large bent that was reckoned to be about the “perfect” Straight Grain. It was not for sale but used as an exhibition piece and valued then at £500.
Selected Straight Grain. These were in effect a “Specimen Straight Grain” second that exhibited some small flaw or sand pit. They were listed in the 1965 catalogue at $15 or $17.50 in Extraordinaire size.
Extraordinaire. This designation was given to any pipe that was out of the ordinary in size or grain. The E/O was introduced in the 1930s, and “Extraordinaires” can be found with no other designation or also stamped, for instance, “Blue Riband” or “London Pride.” The 1936 advertisement lists the “Extraordinaire” at $13 to $23, and the 1965 catalogue also lists a “Specimen Straight Grain Extraordinaire” at $60, though I cannot imagine many of these were made! There seem to be two distinct-sized pipes that were called “Extraordinaire.” The very large or Magnum-sized variety are unique and were given shape numbers in the 800 series. My 1939 panel example is 803 and is 9 inches long, with a bowl 2 3/8” high and 1 ¾” wide. I understand that BBB, Comoy and Dunhill made these Magnum-sized pipes in the 1920s and 30s and that Dunhill purchased the bowls for their Magnums from BBB when they started producing them in 1921. Other Extraordinaires are somewhat larger than a Dunhill LBS, for instance 6 ½” long with a bowl height of 2” and 1 ½” wide. These are given normal shape numbers and are illustrated in the 1965 catalogue.
The Extraordinaire was reintroduced in 1979 as the “Extraordinaire 1,” which was priced at $100 in the 1979 catalogue in a light natural finish, and the “Extraordinaire 11,” a light two-tone walnut finish. Neither of these was as large as the 800 series.
Magnum. As mentioned above, the 800 series are “Magnum” sized, but I also have one pipe that is stamped “Magnum,” with the shape number 802 and is the same shape and size as my Extraordinaire 802. It dates from the 1960s, and Comoy’s may have used this name as a marketing exercise to supersede the 800 series. The name Magnum was re-introduced by Cadogan in the 1990s, but these were not really magnum sized.
Sandblast. I am not sure when Comoy’s first produced the sandblast finish but have one dating from the late 1920s. I also have an Extraordinaire 802, which is rusticated as apposed to sandblasted, but I believe this to be a very rare finish.
Meerschaum Lined. Meerschaum lined pipes were produced from the 1930s onwards. I have a large ODA-sized Virgin Briar from the 1930s. My 1959 example has a hallmarked 22ct gold band and straighter grain than any “Specimen Straight Grain.” They were priced at $10 in 1936 and $15 in 1943, which was the same price as a Blue Riband.
Other named shapes. There were several other names given to Comoy’s pipes during the pre-Cadogan era. Horace (Ory) Jameson, the famous carver who did most of his work for GBD, also produced pipes for Comoy’s in the early 1960s, and I have one of his hand-carved pipes, which is stamped “Exceptional.” I also have a large freehand sandblast that is stamped “Olympic,” which was probably made to coincide with the London Olympics of 1948.
A Summary to Help Date a Comoy’s Pipe
Unlike Dunhill, who stamped a different number for each year of manufacture on all their pipes, we are not so fortunate with Comoy. Dating the Comoy pipe therefore is far more difficult. However, there are certain changes of nomenclature that occurred over the long history that assist in arriving at approximate time scales. These changes include (1) The way that the Comoy name was stamped on the left side of the pipe; (2) The way that the “Country of origin” stamps appeared. (3) The introduction of and different ways that the inlaid C was formed on the stem; (4) The name of the pipe and when these names were introduced and or discontinued. It should also be remembered that, as the stamps used for stamping pipes got worn, new ones would have been ordered and used alongside the old ones and there could therefore be overlapping of different style.
In England, from the end of the 13th Century, it was required by law to mark silver with an assay mark or “Touch.” In 1478, the date letter was introduced, which leads to the three marks we see today. First, a lion passant to indicate that it is silver, followed by a mark to show which assay area (for instance a leopard’s head for London), and finally a letter for the year. I have in my collection nineteen pipes with hallmarked silver bands that provide a reasonably accurate date for that particular pipe and therefore an accurate year for when other nomenclature was used. I use the words “reasonably accurate” because there is always the possibility that the silver bands may have been ordered in by the factory in batches and therefore could have been used up over several months and be a year out of date by the time they were applied to the pipe.
Jacques Cole kindly let me copy his beautifully illustrated catalogue dated 1909, which is almost certainly the first one produced by Comoy. It illustrates 96 different styles of pipes, all with silver bands dated 1909. All except two are Prima’s and have the long tail on the “Comoy’s” stamp. The other two do not have a tail and are just stamped “London Made.” I will list below just some of the dated pipes in my collection to illustrate the different nomenclature to be found.
- 1902 hallmarked and with HC without a cartouche. The only other stamp is “London Made.”
- 1904 hallmarked, and now the HC is set within a cartouche, which was the style from then on. Stamped on the side “J.R.” in an oval and “London Made.” Comoy’s supplied many shops that had their name stamped on the side of the pipe. J.R. was obviously one. There is no C on the mouthpiece.
- 1913/14 hallmarked. I have a cased set of three pipes that have silver bands dating them to 1913/1914. These have the name “Comoy’s” on the left side in rather florid script, and there is a tail running backwards from the end of the “s,” finishing under the “o.” This is similar to the tail found on early Sasieni pipes. Under the “Comoy’s” stamp is “London Made” in block capitals all the same size, sans serif. There is no embossed C on the stem, nor any name or shape number. On the lid of the leather case, there is an oval cartouche with the same “Comoy’s.” There are no Cs on the mouthpieces.
- 1917/18 “Prima,” and, on this pipe, the “Comoy’s” is in the same script as above, but, instead of the tail running backwards under the name, the “y” has a long drop down and then sweeps forward to end under the “s.” “Prima” is directly below “Comoy’s” in capitals all the same size and without serifs. On the other side of the pipe is “London Made” in the same stamp as 1 to 3 above. There is no C inlaid on the stem. Just to illustrate how different stamps can be used at the same time, I have another Prima dated 1917 where the Comoy’s is Arched, which just goes to show that more than one type of stamp was used consequently. There is no C on the mouthpiece.
- 1921 Old Bruyere with hallmarked gold band. “Comoy’s” arched with “in” below and “Bruyere” arched the other way. On the other side, “Made” arched, “in” below, and “London” arched the other way. These stamps are an oval rugby-ball shape rather than a round football. There is no C on the mouthpiece
- 1959/1960 hallmarked 22 carat gold band. This pipe has a meerschaum-lined bowl and wonderful straight grain, certainly as good as any “Specimen Straight Grain” I have seen. It has “Comoy’s” stamped in upper case serif type with apostrophe. On the reverse, it has the “Made in London” football with “England” underneath. The stem has the three-piece C.
1900 to about 1919. Normally, the Comoy’s name will be found in a joined flowing script canted forward, with a long tail running backwards from under the “S” to below the “C.” There are, however, 2 pipes in the 1909 catalogue where Comoy’s does not have a tail at all. I also have examples between 1913 to 1919 where the Comoy’s name is still in the same joined flowing script, canted forward but with a short tail running forwards from the bottom of the “Y” to under the “S.”
From about 1917 to the end of the 1930s, the slightly fancy “Comoy’s” can be found stamped in a curve, in upper case script with serifs, apostrophe before the “S,” and the “C” larger than the other letters. The arched Comoy’s with serifs and apostrophe may have been continued for a short time after the war. I have an “Old Bruyere” stamped this way that is just post-war. Pipes can also be found with the name stamped across the top of the stem as apposed to along the side.
During the 1940s, not many pipes were made, but just after WW II, in 1945 or slightly later, the “Comoy’s” stamp was changed from the curve to a straight line.
From the 1950s, the Comoy’s stamp can be found in three variants: (1) A simple block-letter style without serifs but with the C larger than the other letters and the apostrophe before the “s.” (2) A return to the slightly more fancy block letters with serifs and the apostrophe. My 1959/60 gold-banded example falls into this category. (3) A simple block-letter style without serifs and without the apostrophe and with the “C” the same size as the rest of the letters. I don’t think that this stamp was used for very long.
“Made In” Stamp
London Made. Comoy’s were the first London pipe maker to use this phrase. It is the earliest stamp to be used and can be found from 1902 or perhaps earlier and on into the 1930s . At this time, it can appear as “London” over “Made” or in a straight line.
Made in London. I have only seen this stamp on two Old Bruyere pipes dated 1921, and it appears in a straight line under the arched “Comoy’s.”
Made in England. This is stamped in a circle with “Made” at the top, “in” in the middle, and “England” forming the bottom of the circle. I call this the football shape or F/B for short. I have seen this stamp on a Cecil dated as early as 1910 and on an Old Bruyere of 1921 and then only on pipes from the 1930s.
Made in London England. This is again stamped in a circle with “Made” at the top, “In” in the middle, and “London” at the bottom, with “England in a straight line beneath the F/B. I believe this stamp was first used in the export drive in the early 1950s, and I have not seen any pre-WW II Comoy’s stamped in this way.
“C” was first inlaid in the side of the mouthpiece around 1919. This was a complex inlay needing three drillings. First, a round white inlay was inserted, then the centre of the white was drilled out, and a smaller round black inlay was inserted. Finally, another drilling was made to remove the open part of the “C,” and an even smaller black inlay was inserted. This inlaid “C,” known as the “three-piece C,” was continued until the Cadogan era in the 1980s. However, the “C” in the 1920s and early 30s is much thinner and more delicate than the one post-war. Cadogan first changed the “C” to a single drilling with an inlay that had the “C” in the centre, and more recently it became a laser imprint. I have a cased pair of early 1920’ “Par Excellence” where the “C” is on top of the mouthpiece. Finish
There is no doubt that the finish on all Comoy’s pipes was excellent. However, one of the factors that make the Comoy pipe so attractive and collectable is the stained finish that highlights the grain figuring. This was introduced with the Blue Riband so successfully. This accentuation of the grain has more recently been copied by the Danish pipe makers to great effect.
Every Comoy from the pre-Cadogan era was finished to the very highest standard. Jacques Cole confirms that, among other factors contributing to this quality, was that every mouthpiece was hand scraped to achieve the notable slim bit, and that mouthpieces had to be an exact fit no matter which way around they were placed in the bowl. Perhaps this was a dig at Dunhill, who placed a white dot on the top of the mouthpiece to show which way up it should be!
Jacques Cole. The Pipe Makers (1850 – 1994); Richard Hacker, Rare Smoke and The Ultimate Pipebook; Greg Pease, article on the internet; Comoy’s, catalogues various and old letters.
[Photo examples and additional information can be found on Derek Green's Website-- Pipedia SYSOP].
[Greg Pease has a nice collection of Comoys, some examples of which can be seen on his website.-- Pipedia SYSOP].