Wilke established in old New York in 1872
Edwin Wilke founded Wilke Tobacco in 1872. As the story goes, according to a 1937 New York World-Telegram article, he had no sons, and so he taught his two daughters, Anna and Louisa Wilke, how to make pipes and blend tobacco, and by his death in 1930 they were well versed in both trades, and adamant about only using quality briar. In 1950, when they were the focus of an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, they were the only women pipe makers in the United States, and had sold pipes to Herbert hoover, Lord Halifax, John Steinbeck and others. The sisters also blended pipe tobacco and repaired pipes. They did not, however, smoke pipes.
Illustration of the John Wanamaker building above is from the Daily Graphic, circa 1878, courtesy Doug Valitchka
Wilke prided itself on "unpainted pipes", and promised that only Macedonian briar was used, without paint, varnish, plug, or putty of any kind. As of 1950, some of their pipes were selling for up to $100.00, or just under $1,000.00 dollars today. By the release of a 1970 New York Magazine highlight of the shop, that claim had risen to $500.00, or over $3,000.00 today. The Wilke Pipe Shop was located for decades on Madison Avenue in New York City, and in the 1970s opened a satellite store in the famed Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia, selling Wilke pipes made by Steven Johnson. In 1983, the brand was purchased by pipe maker Elliott Nachwalter and his wife, Carole Burns. They continued to operate the Madison Avenue store until the early 1990's, at which point the couple moved to Vermont and Pipeworks & Wilke was born as a mail-order business.
Carole Burns continued blending tobacco in Montpelier, Vermont till July 2017. Now John Brandt looks to continue blending Wilke's traditional blends and bringing back some of the older blends from the early days to keep the 145 year old brand alive and growing.