Michael Butera's pipes are very hard to find these days because of minimal current production and high collector appeal. His pipes are still Butera's first love, but the responsibilities of owning a large tobacco distribution company kept him out of the workshop more than he would like during his active tobacco and cigar years. Twenty years ago, at his peak pipe production, he was making 150 to 200 pipes a year and traveling to Italy regularly to select premium briar. Now, even though he has sold his pipe tobacco business and his cigar distribution, he makes only a few pipes for several repeat customers and for a couple of pipe Shows each year in his extensive garage workshop at his Houston home. You can continue to see him at the Chicago Show where he exhibits his latest pipes and some of his vast collection and where he leads the Pipemaking Seminar with Lee Von Erck before the Show. Along with Lee he is considered the Dean of American Pipemakers. Butera had a great deal to do with the training of Michael Frey, Steve Weiner, Larry Roush and Premal Chheda.
Butera collectors and experts, please dive in! This page is just a stub and needs extensive work and photos of Mike's beautiful work.
Often referred to as America's greatest pipemaker, Butera won awards for his pipes on a regular basis. At the first pipe show he ever attended as a pipemaker, in 1985, he won the Best Standard Shape award. He won awards every year he actively presented pipes at Pipe Collectors International shows - nine straight years. His pipes have achieved legendary status, coveted by collectors and commanding impressive prices. He attained this level of respect through a simple philosophy: “I will not market anything that doesn't represent the best, to my own taste, in its category.”
In an article, called Go West, which originally appeared in the French Pipe Mag, Erwin Van Hove has this to say about the dramatic influence Mike Butera has had on the American Pipe making scene:
"At the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, a comet blazed across the heavens of the American pipe universe. Mike Butera, an American insurance broker and passionate pipe smoker, an admirer of the technical perfection and of the aesthetics of the famous Italian and Danish pipe makers, made a pilgrimage to the Mecca of pipe design. He traveled throughout Europe, visiting among others one of the most prestigious carvers of that time, Baldo Baldi. During those travels he became friends with Carlo Scotti, the owner of the most famous Italian brand, Castello. He studied their techniques as well as the refined aesthetics of their creations."
"Mike Butera had found his vocation. After returning to the United States not only did he enter the cigar and tobacco trade, he also started to carve pipes. He did so meticulously, with the soul of a perfectionist. Straight away he won a competition for pipe makers, amazing colleagues and connoisseurs alike by the quality of his work. This had never been seen before! An American was able to produce pipes that could rival European high grades, pipes that were beautiful and presented an execution and finish that were beyond reproach. The era of the ugly and monstrous freehands was over. The genuine American high grade had been born. From then on, the American pipe makers had a role model, a point of reference. More than just an admired carver, Mike Butera became a living legend. All passionate pipe lovers knew his name and his reputation, but those who had the privilege of smoking a Butera were few. Being an overworked businessman, he produced only a few pipes a year. His creations are therefore, even to this day, prized collectable pieces that sell for exorbitant prices."
Hopefully we can get more information and photos in this article soon. Meanwhile, check out the excellent article in the Winter 2005 issue of Pipes and Tobacco. You can read the first couple of pages on-line: Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine on Mike Butera
- You may also enjoy listening to Brian Levine's interview of Mike on the PipesMagizine Radio Show