My name is Robert Mattner, and Willi Mattner was my father.
He was born on the Polish/Russian border in 1914. The family endured very hard times in those days thanks to WW1 and later the Great Depression. As a result, my father left home at the age of fourteen to join the German Merchant Navy.
When WW11 broke out, his ship, The Hagen, on which he was first ship's engineer, was in Durban harbor undergoing engine repairs. The ship was impounded because it had been registered in Hamburg, Germany. All the crew went to internment camps around Pretoria, mainly Baviaanspoort and Leeuwkop, where they remained for the entire war.
After the war, Germany had nothing to offer, and my father found work with the ship builders James Brown and Hammer in Durban. It was at a local wedding that he met my mother. After they married, my father moved to Johannesburg and joined my grandfather in the pipe-making industry. The company was called Samek's Pipe Hospital at that stage.
My grandfather was a very talented artist who had learnt his pipe-making skills and carving working for Andreas Bauer Meerschaum Pipes in Austria, his country of birth. Over the years and until his passing, he taught his skills to my father. Later, the name of the company changed to Mattner's Pipe Hospital.
Being of Eastern Prussian extraction, my father would accept only the best Corsican briar for his pipes. The briar was obtained from France. He would make regular visits to the suppliers and spend a great deal of time choosing his materials. The grain of the briar as well as minimal wood cavities were of utmost importance.
As a child, I had to help in the factory finely tweaking the finished products. My father would only accept the best quality workmanship. His favourite saying (admonished in German) was "If you are going to do a job, do it properly or do not do it at all." Thus, all the products he turned out were only of the finest quality. Nothing else was acceptable, and therefore the name Willi Mattner is to this day associated with the finest quality pipes. To own one is a privilege.
Due to sanctions in South Africa, briar became harder to come by, and my father was forced to make a change in material for his pipes. In later years, he turned to using calabash, which he obtained from a supplier in Ladismith in the Great Karoo. All those pipes were in Sherlock Holmes style. Unfortunately the calabash powder ruined his eyesight, and he eventually could do pipe repairs only by working from home.
It was during this time that my father met Ebenhart and passed his skills on to him. Today, Ebenhart has progressed to be a fine pipe maker of exceptional skill.
Willi Mattner passed away peasefully in the Johannesburg German Old Age Home in 2005 at the age of ninety-two.