I have had this article by Jacques Cole saved on my hard drive for a long time now. I have read it many times but last evening I read it again and thought it would be good to put on the blog. It gives a concise history of the brand and the mergers that went on to bring the brand to what it is today.It is a quick read for the GBD pipe collector and lover. This is the kind of information I am always on the lookout for because of the historical connection it gives to the pipes I smoke, collect and refurbish. It was printed in TOBACCO July 1982, pp.16-17. I formatted it to fit in a Word document, added some photos of old advertisements and done minor editing in terms of punctuation. – Editor
A number of pipe brands owe their introduction and continuation to craftsmen who gave the family name to their product and were followed for several generations by their descendants.
GBD however was not quite the same. The founders did give their names, but the ‘family’ was a partnership of men of similar skills and equal purpose of mind. They created a brand which became strong enough to gather its own momentum. The creators were no doubt wise to choose initials rather than one of their names.
Who were these creators? Ganneval, Bondier and Donninger were three ‘Master Pipemakers’ who got together in Paris in 1850 to manufacture meerschaum pipes. It was a bold decision as these were troubled times in France. Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte has returned after the 1848 revolution and become President of the Republic. Following a coup d’etat in 1851, he made himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852. He was incidentally a keen pipesmoker and may well have owned one or more early GBDs.
Ganneval is a known, if not common name in the Saint-Claude district of France and he seems to have been a native of these parts, where he learnt his craft. The name Bondier is still found in Saint-Claude, but may originally have come from Paris. One Bondier is known to have fled from Paris during the 1789 Revolution and settled in Geneva. Some of his descendants returned home eventually via Saint-Claude where our Bondier worked in the local industry learning the skills of the wood-turners and making stems for the clay and porcelain pipe industries. Donninger was probably of Swiss or Austrian origin, having gained experience in Vienna, the home of meerschaum pipes.
Of the three founders, Bondier was to survive 30 years longer than the others, but new partners took their places. The official name of the firm also changed, showing a succession of partners: Bondier Ulnch & Cie, then Bine Marechal & Cie and finally A Marechal Ruchon & Cie. Auguste Marechal and Ferdinand Ruchon saw the firm into the 20th century, their name being used as a company for well over 50 years. The intention of the creators of GBD was to make meerschaum pipes. Details of their early production is scarce, but they made carved heads,‘simpler’ models which included a fair proportion of bents of traditional meerschaum style, and similar shapes to the then familiar clay pipes, which we would recognise as Dublins or Belges, with a sprinkling of early Bulldogs.
The founders had early registered their mark and were able to fight off any infringement. A proof of the rapid growth and importance of the brand is shown by the findings of the Court of Chancery in London in 1874 in favour of GBD against someone using the name illegally. Many other ‘cases’ were won by GBD in various countries.
GBD understood at once the advantage of briar when this was discovered in the 1850s to be an ideal material for pipe making. The close contacts already established with the industry in Saint-Claude helped to provide the raw material. While briar helped the simplification of pipe shapes, meerschaum production went hand in hand with briar and we can see in surviving carved briar pipes the influence of Vienna that came with Donninger. Briar soon became the main material.
Business and reputation developed quickly and there is no better indication of this than the record of 15 medal awards gained at international exhibitions in nine cities all over the world during the first 40 years of GBD.
The partners must have been busy: they show the brand establishing itself in Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia. South Africa was to come later.
At the start of the ‘briar age’, GBD used only the best quality although after a time a second slightly lower quality became necessary to meet rapidly growing demand.
The need for a wider price range was solved by the variety of fittings. Amber, horn, ivory and even quill were used for mouthpieces, followed by vulcanite towards the end of the 1870s. Various types of silver and gold bands were greatly in demand and so were pipes in fitted cases, plain or carved.
GBD was offering towards the end of the century 1500 ‘models’, bearing in mind that a shape offered with three different mouthpieces was listed as three different models. This made a really fine collection. A shape chart of 1886 shows a basic 125 shapes (the actual total was 1600 which included 12 Billiards, 36 Bents and 46 Dublins/Belges) many with heels. These formed the core of the collection shown in Amsterdam in 1888. One of the principal features of GBDs was the slimness of their stems.Some 20 years later, the balance had somewhat changed: still 36 Bents;
Billiards gaining in popularity (36); 32 Dublins/Zulus, a few still with heels; but the Belge, cousin to the clay pipe, down to two small models.
On the other hand Bulldogs had risen to 15 shapes. In the first ten years of this century, amber and amberoid were still used, but vulcanite and horn mouthpieces were the most popular mouthpieces. Another ‘trend’ was the inclusion of some 30 models in various shapes fitted with
‘Army Mounts’. The range had by now taken on a more British aspect,and for good reasons: GBD had become British.
Charles Oppenheimer had started his successful General Merchant business as an import-export house in 1860. He was joined by his brothers David and Adolphe and brother-in-law Louis Adler. Briar pipes were among the earliest lines handled and the connection with GBD Paris started in 1870, being most important customers. A. Oppenheimer & Co were appointed exclusive agents in 1897. Adolphe Oppenheimer took a keen interest in the pipe side of the business, and most important, James Adler, son of Louis, was to take a major part in the ‘change of nationality’. With other interests in Saint-Claude, Oppenheimer acquired A. Marechal Ruchon & Cie, in 1902 and it became A Marechal Ruchon & Co. Ltd., a British company with four directors, two British and two French, namely, Adolphe Oppenheimer and James Adler in London, and Auguste Marechal and Ferdinand Ruchon in Paris, with the latter as the first chairman of the new company.
The Adler family is still very much involved with GBD. The head office was in London with the main, now enlarged factory in the Rue des Balkans. Paris, while a large factory was being built in Saint-Claude. Although perhaps envisaged at that stage, manufacturing in London did not get underway until the 1914/18 War when it is recorded that in 1916, the bowl turning facilities in Saint-Claude shipped some 27,000 dozen bowls to GBD Paris of which 18,000 dozen went to the London Works. After the War, GBD production continued in both London and Paris. London Made went mainly to the then British Empire and the USA, while Paris supplied the French and
European markets. Later the products of both countries were to be seen on occasion side by side, particularly to satisfy special requirements.
The siting of factories has a bearing on our story, so we must jump ahead a little to record that in 1952, the manufacture of French GBDs was transferred from Paris to Saint-Claude, together with all services, to the benefit as it turned out of GBDs on the French market in particular. We have seen that early Briar GBDs were made in only one, later two qualities and the need to mark the difference did not arise. There were few finishes but towards the end of the 19th century demand was changing, for instance the UK had a “penchant” for the darker finishes.
Qualities were therefore sub-divided and we see the introduction of the GBD XTRA (note the spelling). The GBD Speciales were as the name implied, special models, finishes and fittings. GBD XTRAs were the cream, being mostly straight grains. The ‘ordinary’ quality was simply stamped GBD.
Demand after the First World War called for further identification starting with GBD ‘London Made’ which became ‘Standard London Made’, followed by GBD ‘New Era’, top of the range in 1931 at 12/6d! GBD ‘Pedigree’, although first thought of around 1926, was well established in the late 1930s. GBD ‘New Standard’ was created to give a boost to the ‘Standards’ of the 1920s and a newly introduced sandblast was called GBD ‘Prehistoric’, still bearing a small GBD ‘Xtra’ stamp. French made GBDs followed more or less the same ideas; still however using ‘Xtra’ and ‘Speciale’ while in the late ’20s a metal system GBD was introduced under the name GBD ‘Extra Dry’.
The 1920s also saw an important development with the introduction of the metal GBD inlay on mouthpieces which gave the pipes that extra ‘touch of class’. This inlay has been used on GBDs for nearly 60 years.
After the closing of the Paris factory, GBD ‘Standard’ was used on a basic fine range with an appropriate finish to fill the lower price range. Both the London and the St Claude factories continued to supply top quality ‘Straight Grains’ and cased pipes were still in demand up to the
1950s. In the 1960s the Jamieson shapes from London equaled or even headed the best in the very specialised field of handmade pipes.
GBD of course, keeps up with the times, and while the steady ‘Pedigrees’ and ‘Standards’ keep going, the need for innovation has produced a new series: GBD ‘Gold Bark’ fitted with a gold ‘bark’ band, GBD ‘Jetstream’ with a modern mouthpiece design, and GBD ‘Champagne’ with a high quality acrylic mouthpiece.
We cannot leave GBD without mention of an important line just below the GBD quality — often referred to on the French market as the ‘petite’ GBD — the ‘City de Luxe’ range first registered in 1922. The distinctive metal star on the mouthpiece was introduced at the same time as the GBD inlay. ‘Citys’ are made in both London and France. STRONG POSITION
GBD is in a strong position on the world’s markets and is known to all discriminating pipesmokers. The families now involved with its success are the Oppenheimers and the Adlers of London. It was the late Alan Adler who coined the phrase ‘having the Holy Fire’ which sums up the feeling in the GBD organisation, his son John being head of the firm.
Older readers will remember Jack Cole, who left London in 1919 for a’short stay’ in France but went on to remain there up until his death over 50 years later, and for a time had his sons with him. They and the many others who have contributed to the GBD story have a great affection for the brand. Back in 1850, Ganneval, Bondier, and Donninger really started something.