Mastro de Paja
The genesis of Mastro de Paja is one of the most peculiar ones in pipe history. Mastro de Paja was brought into being by a "consortium" of passionate pipesmokers, who had rallied around Terenzio Cecchini. They felt bitterly unhappy observing the general decline of the Italian and the rapid ascent of the Danish pipe in the 1960s and to beard this they set their mind on creating an "all-new and great" Italian pipe brand for high-value pipes. After all, a very patriotic and honorably intention. All these gentlemen were successful, well, wealthy to rich businessmen, but none of them possessed any knowledge abouz pipemaking or was experienced in pipe business. Finally this circle of amici elected Cecchini to be the CEO and left it to him to find a suitable pipe expert and get the pipe fabrication started. Cecchini began to search and in 1970 he bumped into Giancarlo Guidi.
At that point of time Guidi was a real Mr. Nobody. He had begun to make his own pipes as a pure autodidact when he was a student of fine arts and design. Afterwards he couldn't find an employment in his profession and so he had decided to live on his talent as a pipe maker. Equipped with a band saw, a sanding disk and a belt sander, all age-worn and no longer very dependably, he succeeded to do so after a fashion. Guidi yielded to persuasion and joined the adventurous project. The foundation of the company was concluded and the amici provided some money. Cecchini was responsible for the management and Guidi, entering as a partner and not only as an employee, was appointed director of production. One more year passed, but in 1972 a workshop was finally furnished in Pesaro, almost exactly in the middle between Rome and Venice on the Adriatic sea. The pipe production could begin!
In spite of this kinda crazy origin Mastro de Paja became the nucleus of the pipe center Pesaro and what today is called the Pesaro school, boasting so many famous brands such as Il Ceppo, Ser Jacopo, Don Carlos, Rinaldo, Le Nuvole or L'Anatra. And Giancarlo Guidi became the foster-father of all these pipe makers - certainly not his least merit!
Guidi put himself to work with ardor. Yet he was far from being an experienced and seasoned, even less a famous pipemaker. He worked eagerly on his own pipes and their permanent improvement. Beside that Guidi was much underway in order to find and to win young, promising talents. He should prove to be a golden boy in this metier. His first big haul was Bruto Sordini (today Don Carlos) in 1974. Sordini remained at Mastro de Paja until 1979. Likewise in 1974 Guidi hired two 16 and 14 years old fellows coming from Sicily. The brothers Elio and Guido Rinaldo quickly proved high talent and especially a fine sense for good design. They left in 1987 in order to work independently.
In the exertion to find an international distributor for the yet young brand, Guidi went to the most influential distributor Alberto Paronelli in Gavirate. But Paronelli turned him down right away. So Guidi approached Ital Impacs in 1975. This company had been founded just shortly before by Wojciech Lubinski and his son Mario after Lubinski sen. had split from Paronelli. Mario Lubinski later remembered Guidi brought with him 12 system pipes he had personally designed and carved. “They were horrible pipes, very wet smoking pipes!” The Lubinskis at first said “No!”, too. Even though Mario Lubinski had perceived Guidi’s talent and potential. Merely one year later Wojciech Lubinski had retired and Ital Impacs had been transformed to Lubinski Limited with Mario in charge as CEO. Giancarlo Guidi had changed to more normal engineering and so Lubinski Ltd. gave him a chance and started distributing Mastro de Paja pipes in 1976.
The pipes keeping improving and growing in popularity, Mastro de Paja became an important access in Lubinki’s portfolio. However, that business relationship lasted only four years, as a sales rep of Lubinski got together with Giancarlo Guidi and they went their own way. (Was Giannino Spadoni – see below!)
Also in 1976 Giorgio Imperatori came to Mastro de Paja. He was an architect by profession, enthralled for pipes to the core and hell-bent to become a pipemaker. But in the workshop of Mastro de Paja he was allowed to work on mouth pieces only. For sure, being a pipe-parts-maker was not enough to satisfy his ambitions. Therefore he flunked out by the end of 1977 and started his own brand Il Ceppo in 1978 with a lot of support from Mario Lubinski.
In 1977 Guidi looked for a skilled metal worker and after examining some candidates he hired Massimo Palazzi (today L'Anatra), who was educated as a goldsmith. The outstanding quality of Palazzi’s metal work gave new impulses to the pipes. Palazzi specialised also in design work and his courage to create fresh, yet harmoniously easy shapes stirred up a noticeably growing demand for Mastro de Paja pipes furthermore.
Maurizio Tombari (today Le Nuvole) arrived in 1978; he should also follow Guidi to Ser Jacopo afterwards. Around 1980 Guidi succeeded to engage some more seasoned crafters namely Mario Pascucci and Vittorio del Vecchio, both bedrocks of Mastro de Paja today.
Beyond any doubt the brand had taken a quite pleasant development all in all that led slowly, however steadily upwards. Mastro de Paja also found increasing international notice and recognition. Unfortunately all this didn’t happen quick enough for some of the amici in the background. From ca. 1980 on Cecchini and Guidi found themselves involved in numerous rooster fights about the future course of the business. Also among the pipemakers things were brewing. Jealousies and dissensions ruled the day. They were aware that the success and the first fame acquired based on their hard work but they didn’t benefit from the profit. The financiers behind Cecchini did not show the slightest inclination to change something for the better, because they felt disappointed concerning their profit expectations. There wasn’t much left of the foundation’s idea and it’s noble spirit! Cecchini acted kinda helpless and awkwardly he trimmed the firm unilaterally on increased output. What vice versa was not beneficial to the pipes’ quality and so Mastro de Paja headed into a serious crisis in the early 1980s. To make things worse, pipe sales in Italy were dropping generally in those years.
Giancarlo Guidi, who had meanwhile acquired a good name for his crafting, was the first to get tired of the permanent quarreling. In 1982 he took his hat and departed going together with Bruto Sordini to start Ser Jacopo dalla Gemma. Guidi’s motto "per aspera ad astra" is surely coined by his late experiences at Mastro de Paja. Also Massimo Palazzi didn’t see a base for any advancing around the turn of 1983/84 and changed to Guidi’s new brand. Therewith the firm had lost it’s best and most important pipe makers.
In this situation Giannino Spadoni, an Italian businessman, who was already commercially connected with Mastro de Paja before, became something like a sheet anchor for the beleaguered brand. From about 1982/83 on he had the highly esteemed design pipe Fiamma di Re manufactured by Mastro de Paja. In addition the Contessa, a favorable bargain pipe, was made for him, too. The Fiamma di Re quietly disappeared in 1989. Since 1990 Spadoni is distributor for Dunhill in Italy.
Until the end of 1983 the last of the amici had withdrawn. Terenzio Cecchini, now exclusive proprietor of Mastro de Paja, needed and sought aid. A friend drew his attention to the young sales talent Alberto Montini. After finishing his studies in 1978, Montini had started a career as an accountant and by now he had already achieved a good position as manager of a prosperous firm for office arrangements. It took long and hesitant negotiations, but finally Montini agreed in 1985 to take over the management of Mastro de Paja. His entrance should prove to be the begin of a new era!
First of all Montini spoke a clear "Basta!" to the yet smoldering quarrels in the workshop. Being completely new to pipemaking he was otherwise smart enough to seek a close collaboration with the seasoned pipemakers Mario Pascucci, who became responsible for the future design work, and Vittorio del Vecchio, who headed the workshop now. Montini reduced the swollen output and implemented closer quality control focusing more closely on quality rather than on quantity. But most important, he introduced a new management style, that gave everybody in the business the feeling to be a member of a big family, whose personal contribution is appreciated and important for the commom prospering. It is certified that Montini himself did hard work and wasn’t about to perform as the general dogsbody in the workshop if worst came to worst. Also the new Signora, Montini’s wife Cinzia, worked on the workshop floor and still today you find her at the sanding or the finishing station.
Montini went on uncounted and endless business trips to refocus the company in Europe and overseas. He visited even very small tobacco shops in remote places and strived to get in contact with pipesmokers to introduce the renewed Mastro de Paja to them. Being sociable and capable to convince and to enthuse people, his innate talent for business and marketing, brought the brand gradually back again on a course to success. Cecchini was wise enough by now to stay in the background and did not interfere in Montini’s commercial decisions. But to appreciate his merits he made him a partner soon. Following a few years of success after Montini’s entrance, Cecchini withdrew and disappeared. No one knew where he was and he never showed up again. (An Italian pipefriend who knew him from pipe wholesale business mentioned Cecchini and two of his friends went aboard his sailing yacht to cruise the Mediterranean Sea for the rest of their days.) After considerable wrangling with his heirs, Alberto Montini finally secured complete ownership of Mastro de Paja in 1995. Today a line of seconds, Montini Pipes, is named for him.
Two more important characters to mention: Franco Rossi (later Giorgio Imperatori’s brother-in-law and today Il Ceppo) learned the art of pipemaking for a while at Mastro de Paja after a serious injury had put an end to his career as a professional soccer player. He went on to Ser Jacopo and Don Carlos afterwards. Andrea Pascucci, Mario’s son, who was born in 1966 in Pesaro, learned the business from 1989 on. He joined Ser Jacopo in 1994 and today he’s Massimo Palazzi’s partner at L' anatra.
Shortly after 2000 there must have been a little trouble again. Especially pipesmokers in Germany complained about pipes showing considerable imperfections of engineering. But this time Mastro was obviously able to solve it’s problems quick and efficiently. Nevertheless Mastro de Paja holds a secured rank in the studded Italian middle class today. The pipes truly exhibit the neoclassical flair of their Pesaro heritage, but tend to err on the more classical side compared to some of the other brands. This might be reason why quite a few pipefriends favour the elder pipes made under the aegis of Guidi.
Regardless, Mastro de Paja manages to produce excellent Italian pipes related to their reasonable prices. The stems are usually made of Acryl and predominantly designed for employing filters. Incidentally are the costly silver trimmings of many models. The higher qualities show up to 3 sun symbols made of silver. In the lower, a smooth disk must suffice. Grading:
- Code 0A - 0C for rusticated,
- Code 1A - 1C for sandblasted,
- Code 2A - 2D for smooth pipes and
- Code 3A - 3C for straight grains.
- Exceptional individual pieces are called Unique or Fiammata.
The most important buyers for appr. 7.000 to 8.000 annually manufactured pipes are the USA, Italy and Germany. Beside pipes Mastro de Paja also offers a range of other objects manufactured from noble woods since the middle of the 1980s.