The Caminetto Story: Ascorti, Radice and their more business-like partner…

When passion guides your hands, you are bound to create something incredible. Such is the story of Caminetto/Ascorti.

If you have followed these posts of late, you will know already that Italy is one of the most famous countries for pipe making. This is further proof. Get ready; we are going back to the Sixties.

Just before the decade began, Giuseppe Ascorti started his path to pipe-maker supreme in 1959 when he joined Castello. At the time, Carlo Scotti was the owner. Perseverance and talent immediately meant Ascorti stood out as an impressive, prospective pipe maker. A year later, Giuseppe’s wife acquired the family-owned business, which allowed him to invest in his own workshop.

Ascorti then met Luigi Radice while working at Castello and they decided to open a business together. It was now 1968. In the early days, one of the first to support “Ascorti & Radice” was Gianni Davoli, owner of a tobacco shop in Milan. Davoli understood the value of the duo’s pipes and decided to send some samples to his connections in the United States. The pipes were a success, and Davoli asked to be the sole international distributor. And so Caminetto was born.

Incidentally, you might wonder about the origins of the name. As always, there is a  mythical story behind it. According to legend, Ascorti, Radice and Davoli were sitting by the fireplace one evening and enjoying their pipes and some wine. During this quality time, Davoli had the idea of associating the pipes with the fireplace’s chimney, the word for which in Italian is “caminetto”.

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(Indeed, there is more to the name than just where the founders rested up. Davoli made a more profound connection. In Italian, the bottom part of the pipe bowl is called “Fornello” or “Focolare”. A “Focolare” is, like caminetto, also a word that Italians use to describe the fireplace. Perhaps Davoli made that connection or maybe he simply compared the bowl of the pipe to a chimney. Whatever the truth, the trio became famous and called themselves “I Tre Camini”, which means “the three chimneys”. The company’s logo is a moustache, and legend maintains that this is a homage to the company founders, as Ascorti and Radice sported a large moustache. In time, naturally enough with the competitive natures involved as you will read ahead, Davoli followed suit).

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To promote the company, Davoli started focussing on his strengths: namely marketing. Castello pipes were extremely popular at that time, but they were difficult to find and expensive because of the production scale. Davoli started to promote Caminetto pipes as an alternative to Castello pipes, offering the same quality and care, and attention to detail, but at around half the price. The primary seller in America was The Tinder Box International (TTBI), which was highly successful at distributing and promoting the Caminetto pipes, which would ultimately become the Ascorti. (They remain listed on the Tinder Box website). Thanks to the excellent work of Ascorti and Radice, and the collaboration between Davoli and TTBI, Caminetto became hugely popular, worldwide.

At the same time as this welcome success, popularity brought high demand. The artisans soon reached what to them were the absolute production limits. The whole family got involved, and, from almost childhood, Roberto Ascorti (the current owner) started to help in the workshop. To maintain the company at the top, Davoli invested a large sum of money in machinery (and on the back of this became a co-owner). In 1973,  Davoli became the major shareholder of the company, and continued success saw demand grow from 3,000 pipes a year to 7,000 with Davoli celebrated as the “Master pipe maker, designer and sole creator of the Caminetto”.

Ultimately, the seventies proved a peak for Caminetto. The increase in production forced the brand to move toward a streamlined manufacturing process, which meant that Radice had to give up his artistic approach to pipe making. As can happen, the increase in output threatened quality standards, and Radice was concerned about this. Ascorti shared his concern, not least as they had based their whole lives on producing high-quality art pieces. Undeterred, Davoli allegedly insisted on focusing on the production volumes.

The end was nigh. After attending art school and his military service, Roberto Ascorti wanted to start his own pipe-making path and his father, Giuseppe, wanted him to join the company. Davoli apparently fought against it because with Roberto in the company he feared losing his grip amid a new Ascorti alliance. By 1979, the rift was irreparable when foreseen quality issues arose in America. Moreover, Castello threatened legal action on the grounds of copyright infringements.

For the artisans, it was the breaking point. Radice was a mere employee in the company, and Ascorti had little power, with Davoli maintaining complete control over Caminetto. The founders departed and, with “I tre Camini” disbanded at the end of the year, Radice was without prospects and Ascorti had a workshop but no company.

We have a happy ending of sorts. Loyalty and good manners paid off in the end as the crew that Ascorti trained through the years followed him to join a new establishment. Giuseppe and Roberto Ascorti founded their own company, “Ascorti.” At the same time, Radice managed to establish himself in 1980 as an independent pipe maker. In the following years, he prospered, and to this day, his pipes can be found worldwide and praised for the quality and care for details.

And Davoli? Not only did he lose the main backbone of the company he also lost the workshop from a fire which reduced the building to ashes. With no artisans, no workshop, and no designs, as well as quality issues, the golden era of Caminetto came to an end, consumed by the flames.

The Ascorti family kept working on their new venture. This included reviving the Caminetto name in 1986. In all, new pipes with improved design but with the same care for details and standards of quality on which his father always insisted.

To this day, Ascorti still follows the founders’ principles; in short, fine briar, incredible detail, and astonishing designs. With a Caminetto/Ascorti pipe, it doesn’t matter where you are in your pipe smoking life. You will immediately appreciate them and enjoy beautiful smokes. Keep an eye on our catalogue because you might join the small group of lucky collectors to own a pipe that is not only a beautifully crafted art piece but also a statement of talent and perseverance.

As the Italians say, and I have also said of late, la prosima volta. Meaning, until next time.

Christian

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