Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
http://www.roadrunnerpipesnm.biz (Coming Soon)
Photos © the Author
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
― Kong Qui (Confucius), 551-479 BC, Chinese philosopher, teacher and political figure
This Brewster Billiard arrived in one of the many pipe lots I bought online the year before last, at which time I apparently dismissed it as a common Dr. Grabow that could be put off until I had nothing better to clean or restore. Nevertheless, despite the oppressive grime and weariness that lay upon the wretched pipe like a veil of black magic – or maybe because of this gloomy aspect, as a good friend once remarked with acerbic nonchalance that I seem to be attracted to wounded things (his exact words, all the more angering because I knew he was right) – my eyes returned to it many times since it came in the mail. On every occasion except the last, a week or so ago, I made the mental Dr. G. connection and passed it by.
I’m not saying all Dr. G. pipes are worthless; I just seem to be happier when they’re not cluttering up my own collection. But the two I do own are excellent and exceptional, not counting three unusual beauties that were given to me by my friend and mentor, Chuck Richards and which I expect to sell.
There is a good reason for all of this talk about Dr. G. pipes, which might seem to some as nothing more than pointless rambling. As I already noted, all but the last time I considered this pipe, I was so certain it was a Dr. G. that I didn’t even bother with more than a glance. Then, not more than 10 days ago, for some reason I will never understand, I picked it up and squinted at the left side of the shank to check the brand. The pipe was so filthy and sticky (remember that last word) that it might have fallen out of a pig farmer’s bib overalls and smack into the trough. It was so bad, at any rate, that I had to take it into the living room where I keep my jeweler’s magnifier headset to begin to decipher the name, which I could see began with a B. Even then some hard rubbing with a thumb was necessary to break on through to the other side.
When I at last made out the word Brewster, all that came to mind was a great old movie, “Brewster’s Millions,” from 1945. Go figure! And so, of course, I took a seat on the couch and consulted my laptop, clicking the speed dial to pipephil.eu. There, sure enough, was Brewster. Made in Italy. Unknown maker. What kind of hogwash was this? I Googled “brewster tobacco pipes” and found only a few identical references. Well, I said to myself, I’m not about to let any lack of preliminary intel stop me from making this wounded or perhaps birth defected little thing better.
Only when I was gearing up for the restoration, and happened to visit my local tobacconist, did I chance to notice a new estate pipe put out by Chuck. You guessed it: a Brewster, made in Italy. What were the odds, I wondered, laughing so loudly that the young lady behind the counter, Candice, looked at me in surprise. I explained myself.
But the real shock came a few days later, when I was nearly done with the restoration and started wondering (worrying is more like it) how I was going to write a blog about a pipe with a clear name on it of which several experts in the pipe community had heard but still had no clue who made it. Being a somewhat persistent little bugger, however, I returned to Google, this time expanding my search to “brewster tobacco smoking pipes.” I will never cease to be amazed how sometimes the computer knows exactly where I’m going with a search and even comes up with the right suggestion, and others it’s a swing and a miss. This time it was out of the ballpark.
The very first link, at the top of the page, was to – where else? BREWSTER PIPES/ REBORN PIPES, https://rebornpipes.com/tag/brewster-pipes/. To say I was beside myself is an idiom that doesn’t begin to describe my sense of amazement. As I wrote to Steve in an email, the Brewster triangle was complete. And there, in the most vindicating black and white letters I have ever read, were the words, “The thread pattern and the look of the metal fitment looked exactly like a Dr. Grabow set up.”
Anyway, the bizarre connection between Brewster and Dr. G. is so thoroughly Italian (read “Machiavellian”) that I haven’t quite processed all of it yet. But it’s all there in Steve’s blog, blow by brutal blow, and as far as I can tell, it’s a Reborn Pipes exclusive. I’m sure those who are interested in the grizzly details will follow the link above. I am not about to try to paraphrase Steve’s incredibly detailed research. All I can say is that congratulations on an investigative job worthy of Woodward and Bernstein are in order. For once I will exercise the better part of valor in not going into details that already took up pages of Steve’s blog.
I will comment that Steve’s history of the Brewster includes one hilarious section on a blunder involving a large shipment of pipes to Mastercraft which were stained but not cured with a drying agent. Hence they remained sticky to the touch for years before they were eventually “fixed.”
The first order of business, if only so that I could handle the clinging pieces of wood and Vulcanite, was to clean the outside. I did this with a couple of white cotton gun cleaner cloths and purified water, and while I was at it applied 1800 and 2400 micromesh. Wetting the micromesh pads, I was able to remove all of the char on the rim. The stummel had so many scratches and dings that I doubted the micromesh would be enough, but the immediate difference was striking.
Next I chose a fixed, 21mm reamer, 320-grit and 500-grit paper for the chamber, and seeing I was correct about the scratches on the stummel, I tried super fine steel wool, the same sandpaper and steel wool again to work away more of the blemishes. This was an ongoing process.
An OxiClean bath, for the first time in my experience, was enough to work out all of the mess inside the bit air hole, which, judging from the used, sudsy, murky water, had been somewhat bad. I used 320 paper followed by the full gamut of micromesh on the bit, and thought I was done. Now, I didn’t actually notice the problem at this stage, but for the sake of uniformity I’ll add it here. In fact, only after I had completed the remainder of the restoration did I notice the turn of the bit was off. Examining the tenon end of the bit, which should have been flat, I saw it had a chip that I hoped – notice I don’t say thought – I could remedy with a little sanding. Luckily I stopped that madness before it was too late. Yes, I’ve utterly destroyed a few bits in my short experience with the treacherous objects, and I’ve learned my lesson! Turning to Black Super Glue, I dabbed a little over the weak spot and let it sit overnight. Staining the stummel with Lincoln medium brown boot stain (which is really pretty dark), I flamed it, set it aside to cool, and buffed lightly with 4000 and 6000 micromesh.
The next day, with the stummel already buffed on the wheels, I had to re-do the entire bit to remove scratches left from my aborted attempt to sand down the lip, and to even out the Black Super Glue. I also heated the tenon, threw a cotton rag over it and clamped it with my grip pliers and turned. It was close, but no cigar, so I repeated the process with less force, and the bit was flush with the shank.
Well, now I looked the two pieces over and was happy with the bit, but there were still fine lines on the wood that I didn’t care for at all. And so, not liking the idea, I used 1800 micromesh to smooth it out, then had to re-buff with white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba, and the clean wheel between each. That did the trick.
The most difficult part of this task, surprisingly, was the bit, from which, after bringing it to a high shine the first time, I didn’t expect any further problems. It’s taken some time, but I’m finally getting the hang of bits. The easy part of the restore was making the sweet little billiard look better than I expect it ever did out of the factory in Italy, with everyone involved in its creation doing his best to hide the fact!