Ben Wade is one of the great names in English pipe making. As Richard Carleton Hacker noticed correctly Ben Wade, like many British pipe companies, has had a checkered history. Very checkered in this case.
The company was founded by Benjamin Wade in 1860 in Leeds, Yorkshire, where it was located for over a century. Ben Wade started as a pipe trader, but yet in the 1860's he established a workshop to produce briar pipes. The pipes were made in very standard shapes - always extensively classic and "very British". Many models tended to be of smaller dimensions. Ben Wade offered a very high execution quality without any fills. Thus the pipes were considered high grade and a major competitor to other famous English brands. The often heard comparison to Charatan seems to be a little bit inadequate because those days' Charatans were entirely handmade.
In the II. World War the factory was destroyed by German air raids on Leeds. But the Ben Wade family decided to re-build it immediately after the war and pipe production was re-started soon and successfully linked to the fame from the pre-war years. Even though the owner family decided to leave pipe business and sell off the firm. The family went into negotiations with Herman G. Lane, president of Lane Ltd. in New York at about the same time as the Charatan family. Lane Ltd. bought both firms in 1962.
Herman G. Lane had been Charatan's US distributor since 1955 and Charatan always remained his pet child. But Ben Wade was treated in another way by it's new owner. The fabrication of pipes was reduced and the factory in Leeds was closed in 1965 finally.
So this was the end of Ben Wade pipes stamped "Made in Leeds, England".
Lane brought the pipe making machines from Leeds to London and used the well esteemed name Ben Wade to start the fabrication of entirely machine-made pipes at Charatan's Prescott Street factory. (Some sources say "not earlier than 1973".) Alas the "new" Ben Wades were quite usual series pipes, copies of well known standard shapes. The pipes showed fillings and were processed quite coarsely with hardly polished pre-moulded Ebonite stems. Therewith Ben Wade degenerated definitively to a second brand. The stamping now read "Made in London England" or just "London". Nothing was left from the quality of the pipes once made in Leeds!
Quotation of an American pipe dabster: "It's a shame to see how a famous old family name can be dragged into the mud by people who want to capitalize on a good reputation earned by men who are long dead. This sad little story was not one of Charatan's or Lane's proudest moments!"
In 1998 it was resurrected and taken over by Duncan Briars, another great British pipe family. They have been making pipes since 1899. John Duncan, the grandson of the founder John Louis Duncan, turned over the company to his brother-in-law Peter Wilson, and so it remains , very much a family business.
The drilling and finishing of these hand made pipes would put many far more expensive pipes to shame. The bowls are carved at the world famous 32 St. Andrews Road, Walthamstowe pipe factory, in London, England. The same factory where Dunhills are made.
Every pipe is drilled spot on and exhibits a good blast and all have high quality German Vulcanite mouthpieces. Every pipe is stamped "Ben Wade, Made in London, England". "The craftsmanship and smokability have always been superb".
Pipes obtainable from pipes2smoke.com