The following submission is courtesy of Racine & Laramie Tobacconist
Maison Gambier, House of Gambier between 1850 and 1926 is estimated to have made two billion clay pipes. If they were not the world’s first in output of pipes then they were high on the list. At one point Gambier was producing over 300,000 pipes per day!
Jean Gambier, a native of Dieppe,France moved to Givet in 1780. His business was making copies of traditional Dutch clay pipes. He settled in Givet partially because it had good access to derle, a kind of manga argilacea, a perfect pipe clay from Andenne Belgium or Germany. The derle was a gray, greasy plastic clay with a porosity to absorb the combustion residue from burning tobacco. It could even be colored like meerschaum pipes. After being fired in a kiln, this clay turned white. The pipe maker tested his clay before it went into the kiln by chewing a sample. Jean’s son Joseph took over the clay pipe manufactory in 1817. In addition to the Dutch style clays, he began making clay pipes with smooth Dutch style heads but short shanks into which were inserted replaceable bits. It was about that time that Joseph Gambier invented and began producing character clay pipe heads, a brilliant marketing move.
Minervin Hasslauer bought the business from Joseph in 1835. He expanded this business by acquiring the land and larger building of another piper, Givet de Behr in 1836. The first known catalog of Gambier in 1840 was published by Hasslauer & L. Fiolet Successeurs. According to this catalog there were 287 different pipes which are divided into 11 sets of straight stemmed Dutch style pipes and 6 sets of shorter pipes with a socket, cuff for the bit. The basic pipes with figurative decorations were about 25cm long. They were not yet the shorter, character heads that would later dominate the line and propel Gambier’s fantastic success. In the 1868 catalog the "fancy" pipes are shorter (about 12cm) and have a button lip. The 1868 catalog shows a group of red clay Turkish style chibouque pipe heads, but these were dropped from subsequent catalogs.
In 1846 Minervin opened a Parisian sales offices. In the Paris National Exhibition of 1849 Maison Gambier won a gold medal for their showpiece pipe, commonly known as La Cinquantenaire (illustrated here). About 1850 a two-story brick and stone building was constructed on their property. Gambier opened a sales office in London in 1860, and Minervin died about this time. An adjoining factory of a competitor Givetois Blanc Garin, was bought in 1867, allowing for a second expansion of production. In 1868, 600 people were working in the Gambier workshops at Givet. They hand made 2,200 gross (316,400 pipes) per day. (1) By this time Gambier pipes were the most widespread in France and very popular with the French Military. The clay pipes sold for about 10 cents in old Francs.
The procedure for making a pipe was to first prepare the clay. The clay was soaked for a fortnight and then allowed to dry in a pile for another fortnight. It was then mixed to homogenize the derle. A draft hole for the Dutch style pipe was then introduced. For the pipe heads without long stems a draft hole was made for the bowl. For the Dutch style pipes before their molding, this draft hole was perforated along its length by an oiled punch. The pipe was then clamped into a mold to give it the desired shape and the inside of the bowl was hollowed out. The burrs were then removed and the mold lines on the bowl smoothed. The pipes were then allowed to dry for a few days before a low firing at 200 - 300 degrees C from four in the morning to nine in the evening. If color was to be added they were painted with a mixture of gum tragacanth, pigment and water. They were then enamelled at 1000 ° C for about twenty minutes. Sometimes, a specific treatment pre-caked the pipe. With the pipes completed there was nothing left but to pack, invoice, and ship them out.
The Franco-German war of 1870 caused a temporary halt in production. During the Third Republic sales dropped from competition of imitation Gambier’s pipes, the growing popularity of briar pipes, and cigarettes & little cigars. The number of employees decreased in 1875 to 550, in 1880 to 410, and 216 in 1900. In 1890 Maison Gambier bought a pipe factory in Lyon. After the death of the widow Hasslauer, the company was dissolved on March 4, 1908 and reorganized as a corporation. But, the volume of business continued to shrink, and in 1909 they were down to 102 persons.
Production was stopped during the First World War when the Ardennes was occupied by Germany and the workshops were turned into field hospitals. In the early 1920s production resumed. Gambier had 40 workers in 1923. The company did not survive the Great Depression. Maison Gambier ended production and liquidated the company in 1928. There were 1,250 molds in the 1928 liquidation inventory.
The sculptural quality of their molds was a distinguishing characteristic of the Gambier pipe. The molds were internally engraved and carved of bronze for the most expensive models of pipes, cast iron or aluminum for ordinary models. The Gambier catalogs are a historic record of nineteenth and twentieth century society and popular art. Mold designers have drawn their inspiration from a wide variety of themes. It is estimated that the Gambier house had more than 1,600 models. The artistic or political personalities had their place, constituting a miniature Tussaud's museum: Diane de Poitiers, Rembrandt, Rubens, Voltaire, Mirabeau, Maximilian Robespierre (who was entitled to several variants), Alexander II of Russia, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, President of the Republic, who later became the Emperor Napoleon III., General Boulanger, Queen Victoria, Léon Gambetta, Jules Grévy, Niccolò Paganini, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone, Leopold II of Belgium, the Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, but also, for example, William Taft, Victor Capoul or Cecile Ritter, opera singers, Christ, etc. The catalog included a virtual zoo, with horses, wild boars, monkeys, roosters, owls, claws, etc. Gambier also borrowed from myths and legends, with Midas, Bacchus and his Bacchantes, Cupid, his witches, and his monsters. The themes explored other areas such as flora, the army, or the human body. More unexpected are the inclusion of news events such as the cow at Gambon, the Eiffel Tower, the completion of the Suez channel, or scenes of everyday life.
Gambier’s most popular model, Jacob was introduced in 1834 and eventually had 11 different molds. It was popular because the beard acted as a handle for holding the hot pipe bowl. Imitations of Jacob were widespread which prompted Gambier to write "I am the real Jacob" on his Jacob pipes. There was a legal dispute over the name Gambier on clays. A clay pipe competitor licensed to use the name “Gambier” on his clays from a person whose name was Gambier. Maison Gambier sued to prevent this unfair trade practice. The Court agreed and wrote the legal precedent for such cases.
The vast majority of creators of these molds remained anonymous. But at least one recognize sculptor, Dantan the Younger did not resist the pleasure of creating some models of Gambier pipes. In addition to his self-portrait, he brought his talent as a caricaturist to sketch his colleague François-Gabriel Lépaulle, but also some men of letters such as Victor Hugo, and Frédéric Soulié.ord count
On March 20, 2017 browsing French eBay there were over 130 Gambier pipe auctions in a variety of conditions at prices from 9.99€ to 160€. Thirty of them were Jacob pipe auctions.
- (1) Production estimates by Nivoit, "Notions élémentaires sur l'Industrie dans le département des Ardennes", Jolly, 1869
From Pipes, Artisans and Trademarks, by Jose Manuel Lopés'
Jean Gambier was an artist made famous by his clay pipes. Based in Givet, in the Ardenas, the Gambier factory and was founded in 1780. In 1867 it had 660 workers, and at one stage was producing 100,000 pipes per day.
The company began by reproducing long Dutch pipes, but came to fame when in 1817, under the direction of the son's founded, Joseph Gambier, it became the first factory to make bowls depicting personalities of the time. Examples include Victory Hugo, Napoleon, and Gambetta. Its 1894 catalog included over 1600 models, with Jacob being the most popular, endlessly reproduced as the Great Jacob, or the Good Jacob.
Production fell into decline after 1870, and closure followed in 1926. They were succeeded by the Vve. Hasslauer factory.
One of Gamblier's most famous publicists was the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, who smoked the cheapest pipes on the market.