Barney Suzuki

Barney Suzuki; international pipe: smoker, collector, organization leader and author.
By Rex Poggenpohl, February, 2023

Barney Suzuki of Kawasaki, Japan is one of the few pipe people of international renown; as a pipe collector, pipe historian and pipe organization leader. Since 1965, he has been traveling the world in the electronics business; visiting pipe shops, and collecting pipes, and writing about pipe history. He has written many articles and essays about pipe or tobacco history and authored or co-authored 5 books on such.

Barney Suzuki
From the Barney Suzuki Collection
From the Barney Suzuki Collection
From the Barney Suzuki Collection
From the Barney Suzuki Collection

Barnabas “Barney” T. Suzuki was born in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan in 1938. He was a grandson of a Japanese Missionary for the Church of England, thus the Christian name and his strong command of the English language.

Barney graduated from Sophia University in Tokyo (started by Jesuit monks from Germany) with a degree in International Relations and Foreign Studies, then went to work for the first Japanese manufacturer of semiconductors, where he organized the international division for exports and imports, requiring his traveling to Europe and the U.S. on a regular basis. Barney left that semiconductor company in 1975 to form his own company for exporting Japanese semiconductors and electric components, first to Sweden, followed by North America.

At a 1965 business meeting in Sweden, he was impressed with a Swedish chief engineer’s thoughtful deliberations while the engineer was smoking a pipe. So after the meetings he bought tobacco and several Stanwell pipes at the Copenhagen airport, smoking a pipe for the fist time on the flight home. In 1967 Barney married Tamiko (Tammy) and her first gift to him was a Savinelli Oom Paul. Now regularly enjoying pipe smoking in his Tokyo office, he joined the Japan Pipe Smokers Club in the Ginza district.

From the mid 1960’s, Barney has been traveling internationally and often buying a pipe at a local pipe store during these trips. In Copenhagen he discovered the famous Pipe-Dan shop, their English language catalog, and pipes by accomplished Scandinavian makers. He especially liked the pipes of their chief designer and pipemaker at the time, Gert Holbek. I have personally seen Barney’s large and very impressive pipe and ephemera collection, including his many Holbek pipes, which is likely to be the largest and best such collection in the world!

In 1973, the Japan Club sent a team of members to the 2nd World Pipe Smoking Championships in St. Claude, France. They returned with Japan being appointed the host for the 3rd World Championship in 1976 in Tokyo, where Barney was subsequently appointed an organizing committee member.

In 1980, Barney was elected Vice President of the prestigious Comité International des Pipe Clubs (CIPC, founded in Paris). In 1990: he was made a lifetime member of the exclusive L’ Académie International de la Pipe (Paris), and he was invited to be a member of Confrérie des Maitres de Pipiers de Saint-Claude (France). Later he was also invited to be a member of Confrérie des Compagnons de Jean Nicot (France). During the 1990’s Barney spent considerable time researching pipe and tobacco matters and publishing several books and numerous articles on such.

In 2001, pipe historian and author, Ben Rapaport convinced Barney to attend the Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacco Show, where he was a regular fixture through 2008, helping customers and dealers meet the top Japanese carvers and their impressive pipes in the later years.

Barney was elected President of The Pipe Club of Japan (a National Federation of 30 pipe smokers clubs of Japan) in 2004. Around this time, young Sykes Wilford of SmokingPipes.com, corresponded with Barney about Japanese carvers to represent. So Barney interviewed a number of them and finally recommended several to Sykes, who then visited Barney and interviewed them at Barney’s office with Barney as the interpreter. Sykes first selected the carver Tokutomi and Barney volunteered to assist in accepting orders from Sykes and arrange shipping from Japan because of the language difficulty. Later Barney introduced Smio Satou, Kei Gotoh, and I think Takeo Arita as well, to Sykes, and eventually the carvers were able to work directly with Sykes’ team without Barney’s help. Between Barney and Sykes, the subsequent success of the top Japanese carvers brought collectors as myself to the annual “All Japan” smoking contests and associated pipe shows, where Barney would regularly help the local carvers talk to foreign customers and pipe makers.

In 2006, when I accompanied my wife on her 2 year Visiting Chair Professorship in Design to Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Barney, with his pipe contacts, arranged for me to attend, and then join, the exclusive Pipe Club of Hong Kong, where I made presentations on Danish pipes and pipe restoration.

In 2018, Barney was granted a PhD in history from his alma mater. His 575 page doctoral thesis was titled A Historical Study of the Global Propagation of Smoking. In 2019 he was elected honorary chairman of L’ Académie Internationale de la Pipe, England.

Years ago, Barney had turned over much of running his export company to his daughter and more recently they are looking to sell the company. Additionally, he has shed most of his official leadership duties in his several important international pipe organizations. However, at his advanced age Barney still continues to have fun working on pipe and tobacco history research and publications. His latest book, “Smoking Propagation Round the World 250 years via Japan” will be finished in 2023. We in the pipe hobby are extremely fortunate to have Barney contribute so much of significance to our hobby across the globe.