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Tommaso Spanu

In 1963 Tommaso Spanu decided to leave his home in Sardinia and wandered to Northern Italy to become a pipemaker. His uncle was able to find him an apprenticeship in Gavirate, Varese - which is known to have many different pipe manufacturers. Tommaso's natural talent shone through and soon attracted the attention of Alberto Paronelli.

Alberto Paronelli was known as the grand seigneur of Italian pipe business, he had arranged for the best pipe craftsmen to teach the basics of pipe manufacturing and personally taught Tommaso in pipe design and styles. Soon he reached a remarkable level of skills and began to work on the Clairmont pipes, a high-grade brand produced for and distributed by Paronelli. Tommaso’s work was so exceptional that they even allowed him to stamp the pipes he made with his own name.

In total Tommaso spent 16 years in Northern Italy where he worked with many other famous pipemakers like Guiseppe Ascorti and Luige Radice. By 1979 he decided it was time to make a name for himself, so he returned to Sardinia where he opened his own workshop with the help of his brothers. A firm was founded to market the pipes, the Novarte S.N.C di Spanu Tommaso. He purchased a licence from the government and became the only pipemaker worldwide who grows, harvests, mills and conditions his own briar.

Around 1997 Mercedes-Benz approached Tommaso and asked him to design a briar-burl dashboard for their most luxurious sedans, he replied with “maybe tomorrow”. Mercedes were in shock that they were rejected so easily, Tommaso explained that while the project was an honour and fun, his first love was pipes, and once he was not making as many pipes he would consider it. It is believed that Mercedes waited a long time for Tommaso to become available and unfortunately he never did.

Beside the briar pipes, Tommaso loved to work with a wide variety of other woods, ranging from olivewood to beech, oak, boxwood and juniper. He also enjoyed producing hybrid pipes composed of different woods.

It is believed that Tommaso was the only pipemaker who occasionally made pipes out of lemonwood. Apart from the beautiful colour of the wood (usually white to light yellowish like a smoked meerschaum, with grain), these pipes are known to be brilliant smokers, almost as good as briar in smoking quality. Unlike other types of wood, they are quite resistant to heat, porous and don’t compromise the taste in any way. These pipes are additionally stamped “LIMONE” which is Lemon in Italian.

However if there is a signature Tommaso Spanu pipe it is the Sughero. These pipes are mainly made out of briar and covered with the bark of the Cork Oak. They are lightweight and great for anyone who likes a texture on their pipe. This range is also a tribute to the local craftspeople of Sardinia who work with cork a lot.

Today his brother and two sons carry on the family tradition, making more than a thousand pipes a year. They make more classic models for Italy but also a good amount of stylish designs for the foreign markets. Just like when Tommaso started carving pipes, the tradition is continued with only hand tools used!

Click here to view the range of Tomasso Spanu pipes

Written by Oliver Partington