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Barling is a great name in pipes among smokers and collectors alike. The original Barlings were silversmiths in England during the latter part of the 1700's and their slver mountings first appeared on pipes in 1812. A very famous old English classic, making mostly traditional English shapes. The company entered a "modern" phase in 1851 when they began carving pipes out of briar. Over the next 109 years the company gained an enviable reputation for the unique shapes and smokability of their pipes. The company was sold by the Barling family in 1960 to the Imperial Tobacco Company, and after a brief transition period, the quality and identity of went down hill rapidly.
Barling has gone through three distinct periods, which dramatically effect collectability of the pipes. These are referred to as the Pre-transition, Transition, and Post Transition periods. The "pre-transition" pipes are highly sought after by collectors and have excellent smoking and aesthetic qualities. These pipes are famous for the "old wood" they are made from. Many of the "transition" pipes were made from pre-transition bowls, and by the same craftsman. While possessing most of the same excellent qualities of the pre-transition pipes, they are not easily identified from later inferior materials and production, and are not nearly as collectible. The "post transition" pipes have had a rocky road, and while some are not without merit, they are generally considered completely sub-standard, and share only the name, and a scant remnant of their former glory in an occasionally re-issued shape.
The literature is inconclusive on the exact dates of these periods. But the following is an attempt at reconciling the data:
The Pre-Transition period is anything crafted up to 1960. It is certain the Barling family controlled production up till that point. Quality was excellent, at least until 1950. Some sources indicate that the transition started as early as 1952. Others indicate a marked difference in quality starting in 1950, even while under the families ownership.
Pre-transition nomenclature includes BARLINGS MAKE in block lettering, and three digit shape numbers, and sizes were noted with M, L, EL, EXEL, EXEXEL, and G. [this needs to be expanded with other relevant markings-- Pipedia SYSOP]
The early transitional Phase
The early transitional Phase is 1960-1962 (some sources say it is 1952-1962).
- 'The late Transitional Phase is 1962-1967, with very few if any pipes made from older wood after 1964.
Depending on the source, this is the tail end of the family owned company, and when the company was first sold to the Imperial Tboacco Company, or what is now referred to as the "transition" company. Initially, the transition company used the remaining stock of bowls that were turned by the original family run company, and then proceeded to turn more bowls with old wood remaining in inventory, and at least initially this work was performed by many of the same craftsman.
At this point, many feel the only changes were to the nomenclature. However, The changes in nomenclature are difficult to follow.
Early Transition Nomenclature
Right after the sale a new numbering system was put in place using four digits instead of the previous three digits. The first digit indicates size, and the next three are shape number. So for example 3374, 4374, and 5374 were all the same shape, just three different sizes. Sizes started at "2" and went up to "6" followed by King. This loosely followed the old M, L, EL, EXEL, EXEXEL, G sizing system.
You will occasionally find a pipe that has two shape numbers, an obvious pre-transition number (and corresponding pre-transition nomenclature, such as block lettering) as well as a post-trans 4-digit shape number. These are true pre-transition pieces that were completed and in the inventory of Barling when the company was sold to the transition company, and restamped by the new company.
For a little while, the transition company used a very small BARLING'S MAKE stamp (from before the war), along with their new four digit shape numbers. So one might mistake this for a pre-transition piece, and they were likely made from the same old stock of briar. It's difficult to know if a pipe marked this way was made by the pre-transition company and finished by the transition company, or if they are transition pipes.
In addition to the four digit shape numbers, the transition company switched over to a "Barlings" in script for the shank nomenclature (instead of the block "BARLING'S arched over "MAKE".) These pipes are all either transition, or post transition pipes.
To further complicate matters, Barling used to sell their pipes to various shops, and would stamp the shop's name on the pipe. These were older pieces, from the 1950's or earlier, and there was one shop in particular which is believed to have stamped their own shape numbers on the pipe. That shop was JJ Fox.
Other changes in nomenclature made by the transition company include dropping the "EXEL" size indication (as this was redundant now), and the period in "MADE IN ENGLAND." was also dropped. "YE OLDE WOOD" was also removed (at least for a time).
A complicating factor is that over the next few years, nomenclature changed back and forth. TVF was removed and put back as well as YE OLDE WOOD. At some point with either the transition company or the post-transition company, the EXEL, EL, etc size stamp also returned, even with the new numbering system.
Conclusion: The early transition pipes are considered good pipes. Most were made from old-stock briar. They are also good values on the estate market, although the early transitions, marked with the small "BARLING'S MAKE", are starting to get more expensive. The difficulty is determining in which part of the transition period when any given pipe was made.
Some sources indicate the Post Transition is from 1967 onward, but as far as collectability is concerned, the transition period was complete in 1962 as most if not all of the older wood was used up by this time. Post-transition pipes are not considered to be of near the quality of the transition pipes, let alone the pre-transition pipes.
Post Transition Nomenclature
How can you identify a transition piece from a so-called "Post-transition" piece?
Most transition pieces will have "Barlings" in script, and the 4 digit shape number. However, so will most post-transition pieces. In light of this, most collectors work from a process of elimination. Here are some factors to be considered:
- Anything that is a "line", such as "Regency", "Vintage", "Londoner", etc... are post transition.
- Molded stems are usually post-transition.
- Handcut stems are transition.
- Poor grain and fills are post trans.
- Made In Denmark stamps are post transition.
- Small "BARLING'S MAKE" in block lettering that is arched, with a 4 digit number is likely transition, or possibly a pre-transition if other factors are in place.
- The "Barling"-style saddle stem and button are transition.
- Pipes stampled MADE IN ENGLAND are transition.
If a non-pre-transition Barling has the Barlings in a script, a 4-digit shape number, good grain with some pitting and good workmanship, and a typically-styled handcut Barling saddle bit, you can be reasonably certain is a transition pipe.