Wolfgang Becker: Done His Way

I ran into some examples of the pipes of Wolfgang Becker the other day, and tried my best to find more information about him on the web. Outside of his own web site that has lots of pictures of some extraordinary works of his, it’s mostly in German (I presume), and there simply was not a great deal of information there anyway.

However, I loved his work so much, I just had to share it with you all, and am using information mostly taken from the Pipedia page on Mr. Becker, and a more succinct rendering from our friends at Quality Briar, whom by the way, carry Wolfgang Becker Pipes for sale!

Wolfgang Becker was drawn into a career in pipemakeing after reading an article on the Danish master Lars Ivarsson. Captivated by these amazing pieces but not willing to pay the high prices they commanded, Wolfgang decided to enter into the craft himself in 1987. He spent years perfecting his technique before his pipes were commercially available.

“Wolfgang Becker draws design principles from the Ivarsson school but he brings them into an aesthetic realm that is all his own. His pipes posses an original and artistic shaping ideology that does not sacrifice their comfort and smokeability. One needs only to look at his Wasp shape, in all of its subtle variations, as a demonstration of this. 

He personally selects the finest plateau briar and only uses high grade materials such as ivory, bamboo, and horn. Fewer than 100 pieces are made each year. Taken together, it is no wonder that these pipes often end up in some of the very finest collections all over the world. Wolfgang Becker pipes are graded in ascending order from A to G, with the absolute best pieces receiving the “Wolfpaw” stamp.”

Being a very modest and serious man he really took his time approaching the art of pipemaking. Later on Klaus Hahn, an elder pipemaker from Duisburg as well, provided a lot of assistance and support. But no earlier than by the mid 1990’s did he began to sell his pipes as a profession.

Knowing that his annual production is low, Becker only uses the finest plateau briar HE personally selects at the saw mills. The surfaces are either sandblasted or smooth. He strictly refuses any rustication. Smooth pipes usually are given a brown, reddish, orange finish, and often with a golden contrast staining. For accents and extensions, he will use horn on occasion, but also box wood, bamboo or fossil mammoth ivory. Wolfgang is opposed to using silver or any acrylics on his pipes for reasons he did not explain. The mouthpieces are entirely hand cut of German ebonite. 90% of hit pipes display a normal drilling. The few mouthpieces for use with filters are not fitted with a nylon tenon but cut from the full material.

The shapes of Becker’s pipes frequently remind one of his big idol Lars Ivarsson. The most famous for sure is the “wasp” (Wespe). The grading runs in ascending sequence from 1 to 9. Absolute top pieces ranking above “9” are given letters ascending from A to G. He stamps his pipes on the lower surface of the stem with Wolfgang Becker in a circle, the respective degree placed in the center of this circle.

Often time Wolfgang Becker’s pipes will bring a high premium, but you’ll rarely if ever see one priced below $250.00. Some would say that considering the quality of the  pipes, that his product is seriously under-priced. On some people’s lists, Becker is qualified among the five best pipemakers in Germany who enjoys increasing popularity with American and Japanese high grade collectors as well.

Here’s what I see in Becker’s pipes – excellent quality in many ways, and a design features that are unique to himself. His shanks on many models tend to grow in strength from the bowl, and get larger towards the bit or mouth-piece.  His pipes are very symmetrical when called to be, but when looking at models you’d recognize as a standard design, you’ll see that the proportions will be different, larger in areas where others are think. I like it. It tells me that I know what I’m looking it, just that it is a different interpretation of that shape. Slightly different, certainly bold, but never in a way that makes it look out of place, or if the carver has gotten his proportions wrong. It’s genius like Picasso – you just need to know who’s work your looking at to know how special it really is.

Wolfgang Becker – Enjoy.

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