To me, Falcon pipes are (to coin a popular phrase) a bit like Marmite. You either love them or you don’t, there’s very little middle ground or sitting on the fence. But there is no getting away from the fact that they are probably the most distinctive brand of pipe on the market, now and in the past, and have been a huge success over the 75 years of their existence. When one considers how dominant briar continues to be in the pipe smoking market, at the expense of almost all other materials, it is incredible that these pipes have successfully bucked the trend and ‘gone it alone’. Many of you may well know how they were developed but as with all things there is a lot of misinformation around, so I thought I’d share with you a formal history written by the Falcon chaps we picked up at the recent Inter-Tabac in Germany.
Since the discovery of the all conquering briar root in the 1850′s – an event which rendered most other pipe materials obsolete overnight – there have been very few revolutionary moments in the history of pipe design. However, in 1936, an American engineer called Kenley Bugg had a flash of inspiration which resulted in a genuinely innovative pipe being born.
Like all brilliant ideas it was essentially very simple. A life long pipe smoker, Bugg was irritated by the tendency of conventional briars to become hot and wet during prolonged use. He was convinced there must be a better way to cool and dry the smoke before it reached the mouth and set about experimenting with new designs in his workshop in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
With his engineer’s knowledge of metallurgy, he eventually settled on an aluminium magnesium alloy as the best material for his new pipe stem thanks to its strength, light weight and, most importantly, its ability to rapidly disperse heat. By incorporating a shallow bowl (or ‘humidome’ as he called it) into the stem just where the hot smoke first hit the cool metal, Bugg was able to exploit the principle of condensation to extract the moisture from the smoke.
Bugg was wise enough to know that some things just can’t be improved upon – like the briar bowl that is the heart of every pipe. His real stroke of genius was not just to retain this vital bowl, but also to give it a novel twist – quite literally. The pipe he finally came up with had an ingenious cast aluminium stem with a moulded-in thread onto which was screwed a detachable briar bowl. With a number of interchangeable bowl, stem and mouthpiece designs to choose from, what Bugg had effectively created was not just one cool dry and clean smoking pipe, but a whole pipe system.
Wisely resisting the urge to name it after himself, Bugg christened his new pipe the ‘Falcon’ and it became an immediate success. Due to restrictions placed on aluminium use during the war, it was some time before production could keep up with the demand. In 1949 the ‘Diversey Machine Company’ of Chicago took over the manufacturing and they were soon selling over a million pipes a year in America alone.
So great was the demand for the pipe in America that ‘Diversey’ made no attempt to market ‘Falcon’ abroad. If it hadn’t been for football-mad pipeman David Morris, managing director of tobacconists’ chain ‘A. Lewis (Westminster) Ltd.’, the pipe might never have come to England at all. Watching the 1956 FA Cup Final between Birmingham and Manchester City at Wembley, Morris was struck by a man in the crowd who was smoking a distinctive aluminium pipe. Pushing his way over to get a closer look, Morris was sufficiently impressed to arrange a meeting with ‘Diversey’ in Chicago. He returned home with 10,000 ‘Falcon’ pipes which he distributed through 350 branches of the ‘A. Lewis’ chain. As in America, success was immediate and Morris had soon negotiated the rights to manufacture the ‘Falcon’ pipe in England. It took almost two years to perfect the intricate machinery required to make the aluminium stems, and to ensure supplies of the large quantity of good briar needed to make the bowls.
By May 1958 the first 30,000 pipes were in the shops and following a modest advertising campaign all were quickly sold – despite a price tag of 25 shillings, double that of the average briar pipe. Overnight, conventional and conservative pipe smokers were seen to accept a change which amounted to something of a smoking revolution. For the first time British pipe smokers could enjoy the luxury of having what was, in effect, a new pipe for the modest price of a new bowl or stem. This was a particular boon for pipemen who enjoyed smoking different types of tobacco, as they could simply switch bowls as they switched tobaccos.
By 1961 ‘Falcon Pipes Ltd’ was turning out around 10,000 Falcons a week, David Morris had given up his other business interests to concentrate on the ‘Falcon’ brand world wide. Over the next 20 years the range of bowl, stem and mouthpiece shapes were constantly revised and updated. Other manufacturers have tried to copy the formula; for one reason or another none have yet succeeded.
In 1994 ‘Falcon’ was merged in to the Merton group (run by our great friend Roger Merton, who is now a product ambassador under the new ownership), manufacturing was moved to north London, and the pipe was marketed by Merton & Falcon Ltd. In 2007 the ‘Falcon’ brand was acquired by Dean Osmond of Baden P. Morris Pty of Australia and the name changed to ‘Falcon Pipes UK’; sales and manufacturing remain in England but are now based in a brand new building in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.
Today the ‘Falcon’ is sold in 92 countries around the world. The current range of interchangeable bowls and stems means there are over 1,000 different permutations possible. The ‘Falcon’ is still the most instantly recognisable pipe on the market and its cool dry smoking properties and sleekly engineered looks have made it the best selling pipe brand of all.
As an addendum to this article we were shown a new ‘Pipe of the Year’ Falcon at the Trade Show which we are looking forward to featuring within our Tobacconist section very soon. In the meantime, if this has whet your appetite for all things Falcon you can view the products in more detail by clicking here.