After a 1 month and 9-day road trip covering 1400 miles I’m finally back at the worktable. My wife and I visited several churches, family and friends in our trek that went east from Colorado. We pulled our Forest River R-pod and camped along the way. In addition to our visits, we were able to stop at various antique stores to allow me to look for pipe picking treasures. The highpoint in the pipe related activities during our trip was stopping off in Jackson, Mississippi, to visit my good friend and colleague from Ukraine, Dr. Clay Quarterman. While in Jackson, Clay and I did a ‘pilgrimage’ to the local tobacconist icon, The Country Squire, where we were able to share some time with master John David Cole, owner and tobacconist at the Squire. I also was able to stock up on some of my favorite Squire blends.I remember well the day I landed the Brebbia Portofino now on the worktable. It was December 27, 2019, and we were still living in Sofia, Bulgaria. Our son and his fiancé (front) and our daughter and her husband (behind) were visiting us over the Christmas holidays from the US. We were touring the downtown center area where there are museums and ancient churches to visit. Nevski Cathedral towers in the picture below and acts as a beacon to me because of the outdoor market that is perpetually open for business in the shadow of the cathedral.Nevski Pazzar’s (bazaar) tables have offered nice pipe finds in the past and I was looking forward to exploring on this day. I was not disappointed. There’s something about the search for vintage pipes in the ‘wild’ that is as exhilarating as finding them. The picture below shows the picking fields on one particular vendor’s table which is difficult to improve upon. The beautifully nested congregation of pipes was surrounded by vintage keys, cuff links, pens, lighters, jewelry, and candelabras – all treasures for different kinds of seekers.The dish of pipes held some interesting pipes which I hadn’t seen before on earlier visits. The two that caught my eye immediately was a sculpted Meerschaum and a ‘Sea Rock’ rusticated pipe. One was a Kiko Genuine Block Meerschaum 6 Tanganyika and the other a Brebbia Portofino.After carefully examining each pipe in the plate, these three were separated from the rest, the Kiko Meerschaum, Brebbia and a bent rusticated black briar which looked like a good candidate for repurposing the bowl to fashion a Churchwarden. After negotiating with the vendor, I felt that his bottom line was a bit more than I was ready to do. I walked away saying that I needed to think about it, which is easier to write about now than it was for me to do that day!After touring through other nearby churches with our kids, I hopefully meandered back to the table that held some treasures. I was surprised to discover that another Kiko Black Meerschaum had materialized on the table (See: Reviving a Kiko Countryman Genuine Block Meerschaum 7 Billiard of TANGANYIKA)! This encounter with two very interesting Kiko Meerschaums and a uniquely sea rock finished Brebbia seemed beyond serendipitous to me and felt almost predestined. After the negotiations rekindled and a mutually beneficial agreement had been struck, the three pipes were added to the online, ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY!’ collection to be commissioned by pipe men and women that hear the ‘pipe whisper’ benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. Here is a picture of the 3 after getting home that day.The Brebbia Portofino has a stylish Pear shape and a very tightly carved ‘rock’ finish – it reminds me of shale deposits the way the horizontal ‘flagstones’ are stacked. After an email to Steve to get his thoughts on the rustication, he said that it looked like a Costello variation of a ‘Sea Rock’ finish. The medium size of the Brebbia gives it a nice tactile feel in the hand with these dimensions: Length: 5 1/16 inches, Height: 1 5/8 inches, Rim width: 1 1/8 inches, Chamber width: 3/4 inches Chamber depth: 1 7/16 inches.
Pipe man Gary, from North Carolina, has commissioned several pipes and when he saw this one in the online ‘Help Me!’ baskets, he reach out to add the Brebbia to his list of commissioned pipes. Here are pictures of the Brebbia Portofino 830 that got Gary’s attention. The nomenclature is found on the smooth briar panel on the heel of the pipe. Stamped is BREBBIA [over] PORTOFINO. To the left of the stampings is the shape number – 830. I could find no Brebbia shape charts to corroborate the 830 to a Pear shape in my research nor could I find a logo on the stem.Always interested to know more about the pipes that come to my worktable, I searched for information about the Brebbia name, and found Pipephil.eu’s short description of the origins of the Italian Brebbia brand to be a helpful start (LINK):
The Brebbia brand is named after the locality of Bosco Grosso di Brebbia (Prov. Varese, Reg. Lombardia). A first corporate was founded by Enea Buzzi and Achille Savinelli in 1947. They split in 1953. Buzzi kept the factory and created the MPB brand (Maniffatura Pipe Brebbia). After 1968 the brand was shortly called “Brebbia”.
Luciano Buzzi son of Enea manages the company since the 1990s.
The first thing I discover with this information is that, unlike most names of pipe houses, the brand, ‘Brebbia’ is a locality in Italy and not the name of a founder. Also of interest is that Brebbia and Savinelli shared a common corporate origin for 7 years but went in separate ways in 1953. The Pipephil entry also provided several examples of Brebbia line productions, none of which matched the Portofino on the table.
Pipedia’s article for Brebbia added some additional helpful information after Enea’s son, Luciano Buzzi, took over management of the Brebbia production in the 1990s. The article said that for the last few decades, many of Brebbia’s pipes had been made by a number of small, otherwise independent pipe manufacturers, being marketed under the trade name Brebbia. Pipedia also had several examples of Brebbia pipes pictured, but no reference to a Portofino line.
Looking for additional information about the Portofino line, I found Brebbia’s current website (LINK) which provides a more in-depth essay on the history of the Brebbia name and production over the years which I found to be very informative. I encourage anyone interested in not only learning more about the Brebbia name but also the history and development of pipe manufacturing in Italy to have a look. The following paragraphs from the Brebbia history page on their website, I found especially interesting. It describes the historical milieu of Italian pipe manufacturing in general and how the Brebbia and Savinelli names emerged focusing from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s:
From the mid-nineteenth century the province of Varese was home to small and large pipe factories. The first was established in Molina di Barasso by the Piotti family, producing pipe bowls in boxwood, pear, apple, and cherry wood turned with treadle-powered lathes, and mouthpieces in ox horn. In 1886 Ferdinando Rossi, a leading Milanese retailer for all smoking accessories, chose briarwood for his pipes and opened a modern factory in Molina di Barasso that would become a highly successful industrial concern within just a few decades. Other smaller businesses were established in villages nearby, as well as independent artisan enterprises. The industry flourished until the first half of the twentieth century, but at the end of WWII cigarettes took hold and the pipe industry felt the first signs of a crisis. Enea Buzzi was no stranger to this world and knew almost everyone through his family, especially the Rossi family and their pipes.
Towards the end of WWII, when he happened to be at a station in Varese smoking a Rossi pipe, Enea began to wonder how a pipe could be smoked in the rain. At least, that is how the story goes, but it is a fact that he was fascinated by this problem: what was needed was a lid and a few vent holes in the upper part of the bowl, and a further development could be hand-carved bowls featuring the face of a famous person, the vent holes corresponding to the nostrils – in this way the smoke would be blown out of the nose! It was the Rossi company who crafted these pipes, which were highly appreciated by the American troops who were stationed in the area. The next step was to order machinery from a specialist workshop in order to set up their own production. Unfortunately, the machines were never ready, and there was no money to start, either. This called for Uncle Bernardo’s help.
Bernardo Papa, as the uncle was called, thought highly of his nephew. The idea for the pipes wasn’t bad at all, and meanwhile the machinery had arrived, and the family power plant would supply electricity for free, and they would also provide the premises. Bernardo also had a niece who was the wife of Achille Savinelli, who was slightly older than Enea and worked with his parents in the shop in Milan that had been established in 1876. Indeed, the Savinelli family also aspired to produce pipes. Under the auspices of the uncle who also funded them, Enea Buzzi and Achille Savinelli began working together in 1947 with three expert artisans, full of enthusiasm and good ideas. The problem was that the ideas of one did not exactly match the ideas of the other, concerning product type and how to market it. They realized this almost immediately and so, while Enea went to London to seek out his first foreign clients, Achille established his own factory in Molina di Barasso.
A critical juncture in the history and development of Brebbia pipes was when Enea Buzzi’s son, Luciano, completed his university studies and became a more pivotal part of the company in the 1970s. The article continues:
Also, in 1977 one of Enea’s children, Luciano Buzzi, graduated in Architecture. He had already helped out in the company for a few years, but now having finished his studies he could make a more significant contribution.
His first task was to revive sales abroad. For a few years from 1978 he traveled above all throughout Europe establishing contacts with different markets, and meeting important people in the sector, as it was indispensable to be more attuned to the complex reality consisting of trends, tastes and demands. This was just the first step, however. All those divergent incentives then had to be filtered through the producer’s discernment. Soon Luciano Buzzi mastered the craft, the first thing being the accounting, fiscal and creative aspects, then those concerning production. His training as an architect was fundamental for the last two aspects, but above all his idea of design as a function that becomes form. In other words, the pipe was first and foremost a pipe, a device that should be smokable. However, at the same time it should satisfy the smoker’s wish to own it as a precious accessory that can say something about him/her.
The entire history was a good read on the Brebbia website. One other thing that caught my attention was the creation of a pipe museum:
In 1992 Enea Buzzi decided to find a fitting place to house his collection of various models acquired over the years to study competition, and vintage models purchased from around the world. Thus, a former large warehouse in Bosco Grande was turned into the Pipe Museum, a destination for numerous enthusiasts. But the most frequent vistor is Luciano Buzzi himself. The sight of so many vintage models inspires him, as there is always a way to reinterpret them in a modern style. However, for someone as creative as he is, sources of inspiration can be found everywhere, as he confesses: “I end up seeing everything in the shape of a pipe!”.
As interesting as it was to learn about the Brebbia story, I still have found no additional information specific to the Brebbia Portofino line. On a hunch, I decide to do what I’ve done several times before with amazing results: write the pipe manufacturer directly with my questions. The Brebbia website had a generic contact form which I filled out and sent this note:
Greetings! I restore vintage pipes and publish my restoration write ups on my website, www.ThePipeSteward.com. I am currently restoring a Brebbia Portofino with a shape number of 830. It has a distinctive ‘rock’ briar rusticated finish which is very attractive. Could you please provide some information about this pipe? First, do you have record of when the Portofino line went into production and when it ended? I could find no Brebbia pipe shape charts that showed a shape number of 830. The pipe shape I would call a Pear shape. Do you have any information on the shape number?? I appreciate your help very much. I am located near Denver, Colorado, in the USA. Thanks for your help in advance. Dal Stanton
The following day I received a response from the heir and head of Brebbia Pipes, Luciano Buzzi, son of Enea Buzzi. Of course, I was stoked. Here’s the informative note he wrote in response to my questions:
First of all let me say that i really appreciated your web-pages. They look very interesting.
The series Venice, Portofino and Florence were the early series produced with the MPB logo after the partnership separation of my father Enea Buzzi from his cousin Achille Savinelli in the 1953. As you probably know the Savinelli & C. pipe factory production was born in the 1947 “& C” was my father partnership. They decided to use the well-known shop brand name in Milan (our commercial capital city) to promote sales. Achille was the seller and my father was the maker. After 7 years of cooperation, they separated the original agreement, and my father started the distribution of the new brand MPB under his direction with the series I named before.
The final divorce came 3 years later when Achille finished to build up his new factory with his own machinery and they finally shared the staff too. You can get more infoes on our blog.
Luciano Buzzi, Pipe brebbia Srlvia Piave 2121020 Brebbia Italy
To receive this information from Luciano Buzzi himself was a total surprise, but so appreciated. Luciano described three lines produced initially after the separation from Savinelli – Venice, Portofino, and Florence. Choosing these three cities was probably Enea Buzzi’s way of setting the course of the new chapter of the Brebbia line of pipes. Venice and Florence are very well known, but Portofino, perhaps not as much. A quick look at Wikipedia rendered this picture and blurb:Portofino (Italian pronunciation: [ˌpɔrtoˈfiːno]; Ligurian: Portofin [ˌpɔɾtuˈfiŋ]) is a comune located in the Metropolitan City of Genoa on the Italian Riviera. The town is clustered around its small harbour, and is known for the colourfully painted buildings that line the shore. Since the late 19th century Portofino has attracted tourism of the European aristocracy and it is now a resort for the world’s jet set.
The other very important bit of information from Luciano helps to date the Portofino on the worktable now. Luciano described the separation of his father Enea Buzzi from his cousin Achille Savinelli in the 1953. Since the Brebbia pipe production was already up and running the inaugural Italian city lines would have commenced immediately. The production of the Portofino line would have begun in 1953 giving the pipe on the table a potential age of 70 years. I’m not sure how long the Portofino line was produced, but a good guess might be through the remainder of the 50s.
With a better understanding of the Brebbia name and a deep appreciation to Luciano Buzzi for adding critical information for the research, I take a closer look at the Pear shaped, ‘Sea Rock’ Brebbia on the worktable. The sea rock briar bowl looks to be in good shape. There is a thin cake buildup in the chamber. The rusticated briar rim has darkened because of lighting practices and some lava flow. The bowl surface itself should clean up nicely. The stem has some bite compressions on the bit and oxidation mainly on the upper stem – indicating that this pipe was exposed to the sunshine predominantly on one side.To begin the restoration of this Brebbia Portofino, the stem is cleaned with a pipe cleaner and isopropyl 99% and then placed in Briarville.com’s, Stem Oxidation Remover for several hours.While the stem is soaking, a starting picture is taken showing the light cake in the chamber to mark the progress.The chamber is first reamed with the Pipnet Reaming Kit. This is followed by scraping the chamber with the Savinelli Fitsall Tool. To remove the final carbon cake buildup, the chamber walls are sanded with 220 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen for leverage.A quick inspection of the chamber shows no heating problems.Next, the cleaning of the external sea rock briar surface commences after a few starting pictures to show the current state of the rough landscape.The cleaning starts by using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a toothbrush to scrub the deep crevasses of the rusticated surface. A brass wire brush is also utilized to address the discoloration on the rim. Brass wire is not as invasive as other mediums – not damage the briar but adding some muscle to the cleaning.The bowl is then transferred to the sink using hottish water and shank brushes with anti-oil liquid dishwashing soap to scrub the internals. After a thorough rinsing the stummel returns to the worktable.The cleaning did a great job, and the rim looks good.It doesn’t happen often, but after the sink cleaning of the internals with the shank brushes, the internals are practically clean. The cleaning follows with 2 buds and a pipe cleaner and isopropyl 99% alcohol, the internals are looking good.I decide to follow the cleaning by giving the internals an alcohol and kosher salt soak. This passive cleaning helps to refresh and sweeten the briar and to remove any ghosting. First, a cotton ball is pulled and twisted to form a ‘wick’ that is guided down the mortise to the draught hole with the help of a stiff wire. The wick acts to draw tars and oils out of the internal briar.Next, Kosher salt fills the bowl and then the stummel is positioned in an egg crate to give stability and to angle the rim and end of the shank so that they are parallel. Kosher salt is used because it doesn’t leave any after taste as common iodized salt. The chamber is next filled with isopropyl 99% alcohol until it surfaces over the salt.After a few minutes the alcohol is absorbed into the salt and cotton wick and a bit more isopropyl 99% is used to top off the soak. The pipe will soak overnight.Switching now to the stem, it has been soaking in Briarville’s Stem Oxidation Remover for some hours. After the stem is fished out, you can see the raised oxidation in the next picture. I use a cotton cloth to first briskly rub the stem surface to remove the oxidation.This is then followed by using 0000 steel wool. The stem looks good. Not shown is using a pipe cleaner moistened with isopropyl 99% to clear the airway of Briarville fluid.Looking now at the condition of the bit, there is a compression on the upper button and two significant compressions on the lower side.After cleaning the area with alcohol, Medium-Thick Black CA glue is used to fill the compressions and the stem is set aside to allow the patches to cure.A flat needle file is used to remove the cured patches – upper and lower.After filing the patches flush with the stem surface, the entire stem is sanded with 220 grade paper using a plastic disk as a shoulder guard for the stem facing.Sanding continues to further smooth and erase the patches and tooth damage with 470 grade paper.Next, the stem is wet sanded with 600 grade paper, and this is followed by applying 0000 grade steel wool.The stem is looking good. The next step in sanding/polishing is applying micromesh pads to the stem by starting with wet sanding with pads 1500, 1800 and 2400. This is followed by dry sanding with pads 3200, 3600, 4000, then pads 6000, 8000, and 12000. To prevent future oxidation and to condition the vulcanite stem, Obsidian Oil is applied after each set of 3 pads. I love to watch the glassy sheen emerge during the micromesh process.The stummel has soaked through the night in an alcohol and kosher salt process that helps to clean the internal briar further. Usually, the cotton wick pulls out in one piece. Unfortunately, this time, it tore in two and a dental probe was necessary to dig out the severed part. The salt is slightly soiled, and the cotton shows a bit. After the expended salt is tossed and the bowl is wiped, one pipe cleaner and cotton bud confirm the internals are as clean as they will get.To get a bird’s eye look at the project, the stummel and stem are reunited. As is the case at times, the thorough cleaning and moisture used causes the tenon and mortise fit to be a bit snug. To rectify this, the tenon is sanded a small amount using 470 grade paper.With the reunion complete, I’m liking what I’m seeing.The next step is to apply the fine abrasive compound, Blue Diamond to the stem alone and only to the nomenclature smooth briar panel on the heel. The sea rock finish will gum up if compound is applied to the rough surface. A cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted on the rotary tool with the speed set at about 40%, the compound is then applied.With the compound applied, the compound dust left over is cleared using the felt cloth.The uniquely rusticated briar is eye catching, but the briar seems a bit dry to me. To give the briar some life and to condition the briar, a very light wiping of Paraffin oil is applied. The briar loves this TLC and seems to drink it up. The light, blonde briar hue has transformed into a rich butterscotch with the mineral oil application. As a general practice, ‘live’ animal or plant oils are not used on pipes. I met a Greek wood artisan some years back on a trip from Sofia, Bulgaria, to the costal city of Parga, Greece. The beauty of this artisan’s work and the processes used on the ancient olive wood he shaped, have stayed with me. With the purchase of one of his pieces, I asked for his advice in keeping the wood alive and vibrant. His advice was to use mineral oils and not live oils because lives oils can turn rancid. Paraffin oil has been my oil of choice for several years.Changing buffing wheels for one dedicated to applying wax, carnauba wax is next applied to the stem and to the smooth briar nomenclature panel on the heel of the stummel. After the application of wax, the stem is given a rigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine and to remove excess wax.This pipe was definitely a diamond in the rough when I came upon it on a vendor’s table in Sofia. The ‘See Rock’ rusticated finish is nothing short of exquisite. The detail of the work not only produces satisfaction for the eyes, but also a nice tactile experience with this bowl nestled in the palm. The added bonus is the information from Brebbia Pipes’ head, Luciano Buzzi, placing the vintage of this Portofino at 1953 as an inaugural line of Brebbia Pipes after separating from Savinelli. Truly, a pipe with historical importance for the Brebbia name. Gary commissioned this Brebbia Portofino and has the first opportunity to claim him from The Pipe Steward Store benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.
I had written follow up questions to Luciano Buzzi regarding the length of the Portofino production to bracket the lifespan of this Brebbia inaugural line. His response came after publication, but confirms the early production of this Portofino. I also asked what the original description was of the rusticated finish. Thanks again Luciano!:
You made a great job with the Portofino.
Portofino in that finish that we named “Rocciata naturale” that means ” rock natural finish” was an expensive pipe with a limited production and is to consider rare.
This because of the top quality of the briar and the hand work of this peculiar rustic.
The production stopped in the early 70ies.
As there are no marks on mouthpiece it should be of the early production.
Thanks for joining me!
6 thoughts on “Discovering a 1950s Brebbia Portofino 830 Rock Natural Pear with the help of Luciano Buzzi of Brebbia Pipes”
Dal, thanks for your typically illuminating analysis with history and so much more! Todd
Thanks, Todd. This one was interesting and total surprise to find its place in the Brebbia history.
Thank you for the story and the history. I look forward to many many smokes with this pipe.
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Gary, it’s not a Meerschaum, but I believe much more😊. Send me a selfie when you put him into service!
I know that I am going to really enjoy this pipe for many many smokes. Will send you a photo of the first smoke with it.
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