MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Fabbrica Pipe di Carlo Ceresa & C.

The establishment of the business

Pipe manufacturing was among the various crafts activities that were carried out in Gallarate around the middle of the nineteenth century.
The availability of the animal horns used to make the mouthpieces also provided for an ample production of umbrella handles and combs.
By the early decades of the twentieth century, other materials, such as ebony, would eventually replace horn; at this early stage, however, the link with cattle breeding became a localization factor in the pipe manufacturing industry. Briarwood, on the other hand, was imported from the regions of southern Italy and the islands.
During the last decade of the nineteenth century, Gerolamo Ceresa established a business in the pipe manufacturing sector as a subcontractor for Manifattura Rossi di Barasso. At that time, the processing operations were carried out in Cassano Magnano, while the polishing of the horn mouthpieces took place in Cavaria.
Gerolamo's children, Pietro, Enrico and Luigi, eventually joined the company, although nearly all of the family was involved to some extent, including the women. This is what kept the business alive during the First World War, when Pietro and Enrico were called to arms.
In 1919, the company purchased the land next to the castle of Cassano, where the building still used by the company stands to this day.
In order to improve his knowledge of the industry, in 1923 Enrico went to work as a labourer in a pipe factory in Saint-Claude, France, for three years. While in France, he maintained extensive correspondence with his father, providing him with information regarding processing techniques, as well as machine designs and models.
Particular attention was paid to the foreign markets, since pipes were much more commonly used in northern Europe and in the Anglo-Saxon countries (North America, South Africa, etc.) than in Italy.
This resulted in a company performance that exceeded the limits of craft production and could be attributed to good international trade conditions, as well as the presence of a network of representatives overseas.


From 1926 to World War II

Enrico returned to Italy in 1926 and rejoined his father's company which, the year before, had been registered at the Chamber of Commerce with 20 declared employees.
The international economic crisis of 1929 had an adverse effect the on the company's progress and led to its closure. Pietro decided to emigrate to Brazil in hopes of expanding the company's market and making direct contact with the horn producers.
Francesco Oliva, the director of Montecatini who had met Enrico in Cassano, where he spent his holidays, intervened at this juncture.
Oliva revived the business, establishing a limited company called the Cassano Magnano pipe factory, which succeeded the sole proprietorship of Gerolamo Ceresa and left the company's technical administration to the family. In other words, Oliva financed the business with his own money and actively collaborated in its success by introducing innovative criteria for monitoring production and export quotas.
For his part, Enrico took charge of production by applying the knowledge he had gained in France.
Within a few years, the company had revived a strong presence on the foreign markets and had succeeded in creating a network of international business relationships. The exports did not always involve the finished product: foreign customers often requested the bowls, or rather the processed and polished briarwood block, excluding only the perforation for the mouthpiece.
The pieces were then stained, perforated and marked in their country of arrival, as if they were to have been produced locally.
In this manner the items were exported as semi-finished products, which facilitated customs procedures.


From World War II to the Seventies

In 1940, the Ceresa family paid off Oliva's loan and, with the help of new partners, took charge of the company once again. The procedure utilized was that of establishing a new company with headquarters in Milan, provided by Oliva's company, which was undergoing liquidation.
After having been reconstituted, the company immediately had to address the crisis of the Second World War, and Enrico was called to arms once again. Despite difficulties in obtaining the raw materials, pipe production went ahead.
The lack of horn forced the company to inventively make use of production scraps; ebonite was introduced, which nevertheless soon became unavailable due to its content in rubber, a material which was required for wartime production purposes; the company resorted to the use of galalith, which was produced using whey, and another material similar to ebonite. Most importantly, after 1943, exports had to be carried out ??through a German military agency.
The international economic recovery offered excellent potential for development. The company gained access to the English market, which was considered to be perhaps the most important market from a quality standpoint. It rebuilt its network of foreign representatives.
The diffusion of the Terry report at the beginning of the 1960s highlighted the potential damage caused by cigarette smoke and resulted in increased pipe use. This, in turn, led to the expansion of the company, which eventually employed up to 36 workers.


From 1965 to the present

From 1965 onwards, there has been a gradual decrease in company's business that continues to this day. In the long run, the anti-smoking campaigns had a serious impact and even reduced the number of pipe smokers. Peoples' ways of life have changed as well: the hectic pace of modern society makes it difficult to smoke a pipe, a pleasure that requires time and care.

This tendency has resulted in a significant downsizing of the largest manufacturers in the Varese area, a factor that was able to mitigate the crisis for some time. Later, starting in the 1980s, the crisis became increasingly evident: by 1986, provincial production figures were down by nearly 70%. Today, the number of employees has dropped to only 12, with nobody being laid off. Rather, the company has opted not to replace any employees who went into retirement. Moreover, the sector is faced with the difficulty of recruiting young people with manual skills: the training of skilled workers requires an investment that can only begin to bear fruit following numerous years of application. Furthermore, technological improvements to the machinery are difficult to implement because the size of the market discourages investments in research and design.
For these reasons, pipe manufacturing remains largely a craftsman's task, due to both the skills required for processing the finest pieces of briarwood, as well as to that which is required for restoring pieces of lesser value, which require filling as well as numerous other interventions in order to avoid debasing the pieces.
Paradoxically, in this sector, the pieces of lesser value are those which ultimately require higher production costs than the more prized pieces. The company now also manufactures pipes under its own brand name (Pipe Cassano), although most of the production is still carried out for third parties.