More than 40 years ago, there was a revolution going on within the pipe world. At the time, pipe enjoyment was still a popular option for tobacco connoisseurs. Almost all of the tobacconists in the United States were primarily pipe shops with small cigar selections—if they carried cigars at all. Pipe factories based in the U.S. and in Europe pumped out tens of thousands of pipes each year, and many of these pieces quickly sold. In one of Europe’s smallest countries, Denmark, there was a plethora of factories of various sizes feeding the worldwide pipe community. The most famous was Stanwell, but other factories produced well-known brands such as Bari, Nording, Karl Erik, Kriswell and W.O. Larsen. These factories and many others in Denmark gained acclaim and customers around the world for creating beautiful pipes that not only smoked well but also provided variants of classic shapes and unique freehand specimens that sparked a mini pipe boom, especially in the U.S. in the 1970s. At the time, a talented craftsperson could have a career working in a pipe factory, and that’s exactly what a young Peder Jeppesen set out to do in 1977, when he was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school.
“The U.S. was booming in the 1970s for Danish pipes,” Jeppesen recalls. “It was getting more popular to make pipes in Denmark then. The factories were hiring, and it was a job. My sister’s boyfriend was working at Karl Erik, and he got me a job there.”
Carving Out a Career
Jeppesen may have been looking for a job, but he found a career. Forty-three years after taking a job at the Karl Erik pipe factory, Jeppesen continues to make pipes, but instead of working for someone else, he owns his own company, Neerup Pipes, which he has been making since 2001. Neerup Pipes have gained a reputation for being excellent smoking instruments that sell for prices that represent an extremely good value for pipe smokers at all budget levels.
Making modestly priced pipes is a philosophy that Jeppesen carries on from his first pipemaking job all those years ago at the Karl Erik factory owned by Karl Erik Ottendahl, a former lithographer who started making pipes on his own shortly after returning to Denmark from Kenya in 1962. Ottendahl specialized in making pipes that were more accessible for more people, and his business quickly grew to include several brands, including Jobey, which was a popular line sold at Tinder Box stores in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s.
By the time Jeppesen joined the factory, Ottendahl employed nearly 20 people. Jeppesen’s first job was to sweep the wood shavings from the factory floor, and as time allowed, Ottendahl permitted Jeppesen to learn about making pipes. Jeppesen had enjoyed working with wood in school, and he was a quick learner. Within a few months, Ottendahl promoted Jeppesen to pipemaker. Jeppesen began with the rudimentary steps of sanding the hundreds of pipes that came out of the factory every week. The sanding gave him an idea of what design elements worked in carving pipes. After a few months of only doing sanding work, Ottendahl encouraged Jeppesen to try shaping his own pipes by following what each briar block’s grain presented to him.
“When I started working at Karl Erik, I didn’t know anything about making pipes at all,” Jeppesen explains. “It was very popular to make the fancy pipes—what you call freehand pipes today. You could sell anything that contained tobacco to smoke. It was very easy to learn how to make pipes then because you just start filling up a laundry basket with blocks, and at the end of the day you had made some pipes, and you started all over again the next day. We did a lot of those fancy pipes. And I learned a lot of the first steps of developing a pipe from Karl Erik. It was a full-time job for me. I was good with making things with my hands, so it felt natural for me to carve pipes. We made a lot of handmade mouthpieces at the time too. Karl Erik treated us very nice, and it was a nice place to work. We had a lot of fun and created our own pipes, and Karl Erik sold them.”
Jeppesen worked at the Karl Erik factory from 1977 to 1984, having taken a year off in 1980 to serve his compulsory military commitment. Financial difficulties at Karl Erik forced Jeppesen to leave the company in 1984 for a job at Erik Nording’s factory. Nording was trained as an engineer and blacksmith, but he gravitated toward making pipes and had established his own pipe factory in much the same way that Ottendahl had done. Nording proved to be a better businessman than Ottendahl, however, and he had developed business contacts throughout the U.S. and Europe and was making considerably more pipes. Like Ottendahl, Nording sought to make inexpensive pipes, and he was constantly inventing machinery and methods to cut production costs and pass the savings on to his customers. It was with Nording that Jeppesen says his pipemaking abilities really developed. “Erik builds his own machines for almost everything, and he taught me how to do that too,” Jeppesen explains. “I learned how to really carve pipes there and how to adorn them. We made a lot more classical-shaped pipes at Nording, and a lot of them were made by carving a model and then allowing a machine to replicate the model into a series of pipes. Erik allowed me more creativity to develop new shapes, and he relied on me to train new pipemakers. I learned more about the technical aspects of pipemaking—engineering and shaping—at Nording Pipes. It was a lot of fun working at Nording too. Erik and his wife, Rita, made sure that we always felt like we were part of the family, and there were great Christmas parties every year. We worked hard, but we had fun doing it.”
Establishing Neerup Pipes
While working at Nording was fun and fulfilling, Jeppesen wondered if maybe it was time to try another career. He had young children in his family by the late 1990s, and traveling an hour to work in the mornings and another hour home in the evenings began to wear on him. He wanted to spend more time with his wife, Bettina, son, Christian, and daughter, Ida. When a friend started a house-building company, Jeppesen took a job as a mason. He thought that perhaps he had left pipemaking behind, but leaving Nording actually led Jeppesen deeper into making pipes.
Once away from making pipes every day, Jeppesen realized how much he missed it—more importantly, he discovered how much other people appreciated his skills. He began making a few pipes for himself in one of the outbuildings on his farm located near the old Viking town of Roskilde during some evenings after work. A little while later, a few friends asked him to make some pipes for sale in Germany. Niels Larsen, from W.O. Larsen, bought the Per Jensen Co. and gave Jeppesen some more work.
“Friends in the pipe world recognized and enjoyed my work enough to bring me back into it full time,” Jeppesen explains.