The Savinelli Collection

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We often tend to go abroad to see things that interest us, without thinking about all the things that could be seen at home. Every time I come back from travelling abroad, I enjoy my country more. I believe this is also true for the "world of pipes". During the last few years, I have been able- and not really by chance, these were planned trips- to visit antique and old pipe collections, as well as smoking accoutrements on show in various European cities (Vienna, Salzburg, Dublin, London, Paris). This year I finally decided to do what I had not done in years, see what I knew was here in Italy: the Savinelli Collection of antique pipes, especially meerschaums, and Alberto Paronelli's first Italian pipe museum. Maybe I should be ashamed to say this, but the mere fact that they were right there, not too far away, combined with a certain laziness had always made me put a visit to them off to next week...
photo 2After this necessary confession, let me tell you about what I actually saw.
I had often heard about the Savinelli Collection through various collectors' magazines that often reproduced photographs of the most famous objects. The collection was started in the thirties by Carlo Savinelli and has been continued by his heirs. It comprises about three hundred and fifty pieces which are very well displayed on large and well-lit book cases. One immediately notices the large number of meerschaum pipes, many of which are quite big, and cigar-holders both with perfect coulottages, as well as pristine ones. It was very exciting to see these works of art that until then I had always only seen through photographs. The collection also includes porcelain, white clay (Gouda) and boxwood pipes adorned with classical silver decorations, as well as other motifs and materials. It is very hard to describe the objects these beautiful objects that I admired so I have included some photographs that may help you picture them better. If you are a lover of such objects my best advice is ... use your own eyes. The first Italian pipe museum stands on the banks of the lake of Varese- more or less the heartland of the Italian pipe production- in the pleasant town that goes by the name of Gavirate. We must thank Alberto Paronelli for its existence. Although I know that he has been involved in this field for years and years, it is nonetheless amazing to see how many pipes and smoking accoutrements of every possible type that he has been able to amass. Every aspect of pipe smoking is covered: ornamental, ethnographic or aristocratic. The collection is housed in the old family house and has been excellently displayed on two floors. Paronelli himself, together with his grandson Antoine and his daughter Astrid, guides visitors around what he likes to call the International Pipe Academy rather than museum.
After having fulfilled such rites as signing the guest book in the large hall on the ground floor dominated by a large ancient lathe, we climbed the stairs to the first floor where a spacious room houses all kinds of machinery used to work briar. This room is dedicated to St. Claude, the pipe capital, which Paronelli regularly visits in search of new material for his museum. All the machinery is perfectly working, and if one had the whim could be used immediately. Among work benches, tools, briar blocks and sections, the visitor's eye is drawn to an immense statue of Christ that seems to dominate and protect the entire area. It was made by Paronelli out of Olive-tree wood from Sardinia, a land which he is very fond of. From here we move onto the Rossi room, entirely dedicated to the industrial Italian pipe maker. Here, one can admire nearly 6000 pipes made by the factory that carried his name as well as the diplomas and certificates awarded to the firm by national and international fairs from the end and beginning of the century. The walls of the next room are covered by hand painted plates (again by Paronelli) whose themes range from freedom and civilizations to "pipe art". The following room is the seat of the International Pipe Academy: draped in solemnity everything seems to be ready for an imminent meeting. The room is furnished with book cases teeming with pipes, pipe-cabinets, pipe racks, smoker's cabinets and artistic objects related to smoking.
Right beside this council room- how else could it have been- is Paronelli's studio. Here, he creates new pipe models and treasures his absolutely, original pipes. I am sure that the splendid view of the lake fires his creativity. Continuing through other rooms, one can admire thousands of pipes from various continents made of all types of materials other than briar: meerschaum, porcelain, white and red clay, precious and non-precious metals and boxwood. I would like to point out that all the pipes are undefiled, none have been smoked. Our friend proudly ends the tour by showing us some of the pipes he made in his youth, earthen pipes that faithfully reproduce those found in the Americas when the civilization of tobacco was discovered. As Pierre Schiltz says, however, this is not an attempt at imitation but rather the rediscovery of a lost art, the understanding of a ritual, the comprehension of those civilizations for which tobacco was both a mystery and a therapy. Last but not least, a beautiful library packed with books, publications, specialized magazines, old and rare pipe catalogues and historical documents relating to the history, culture and diffusion of pipe smoking completes the beautiful museum. photo 3