Erik Nørding is not only one of Denmark’s top master pipe-makers, but also one of a handful of the world’s most important pipe carvers. Even among the many talented pipe producers in Denmark, Nørding’s keen business sense has helped him carve more than just pipes, but also a unique market niche that has elevated his brand to top billing among collectors.
“Some Danish master carvers make beautiful custom pipes that sell for $1,000 or more,” explains the 68-year-old Nørding. “By making pipes in numbers, mine are more affordable, which puts them in the hands of many more pipe smokers. So, Nørding Pipes have become far better known.” This strategy has served Nørding well. When asked, most pipe enthusiasts will mention Nørding’s pipes as being at the pinnacle.
In the early 1960s, Nørding was one of the pioneers in the newly-emerging Danish “freehand” school of pipe creations. Inspired by an artistic interpretation of nature’s shapes, colors, and textures, these briars are totally unlike the rigid rendition of traditional pipes. Upon holding a Nørding freehand-style pipe, the fingers cannot seem to stop stroking and exploring the liquid, compound curves and contrasting textures. Startling changes in symmetry challenge the imagination to put a label on such a smokable museum piece.
It is no exaggeration to call these masterworks museum pieces - even the high-volume, popularly-priced Nørding-designed Freehands that his carvers produce. And, when you get into his “top-drawer,” custom-crafted Freehands, there’s no doubt they could stand on their own in revolving, halogen-lit glass museum cases, for even tobacco non-initiates to admire.
The Copenhagen native’s background would never lead one to predict he’d be a pipe carver. His father owned a blade-making factory, but died when Nørding was 16 and just entering training as a machinist/ blacksmith. In addition to working at the family business, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Machine Engineering, Production Specialty (similar to our Industrial Engineering). “I studied it for our family factory, but ended up using it for my pipe-carving company... tools, machinery, and fixtures.” When Nørding was 15 he discovered the art and pleasure of pipe-smoking from his father. Though he never carved a pipe until his university days, Nørding says he had four or five carvers working for him by the time he graduated.
Soon after, a fellow pipe craftsman was so impressed with his design skills that he asked the young engineer to equip a facility for him. But, when he received the equipment, the pipe-maker was unable to pay for it. The young Nørding was sufficiently business-minded to strike an agreement to enter into a pipe-making partnership. The firm’s name was SON, a contraction of the partners’ names. Later, the partner asked to bow out, leaving the business to Nørding, who continued to operate under that name for several years.
With the Danish Freehand movement’s liberation of expression, Nørding hit his artistic stride. In years hence, the master has had many a present-day Danish master as an apprentice, including some of the custom carvers mentioned earlier.