Who Made Brewster Imported Briar Pipes or Who is the Unknown Italian Maker

Blog by Steve Laug

Robert M. Boughton in his recent blog on Brewster pipes quoted part of my earlier blog on the brand. Here is the link to Robert’s blog: https://rebornpipes.com/2016/01/13/another-brewster-that-looks-better-now-than-when-it-was-made/. In a personal email he suggested that I post the history of the brand in a separate blog to make access to the information accessible to those searching for information on the brand. So I have copied the pertinent material and edited it to read more clearly in the blog below. Thanks for reading.

brewster1bIn February, 2014 I cleaned and restemmed a bowl that was stamped with the stamping on the shank shown in the photo above. If you want to read the details of the restoration you can do so at the following link: https://rebornpipes.com/2014/02/14/giving-a-brewster-round-top-billiard-a-face-lift/ In the course of working on the pipe I did some research to see if I could find out information on the maker. To me everything about it seemed to point to some kind of Dr. Grabow connection. The metal mortise was threaded and Grabow stems fit perfectly. The mortise tenon system was identical. I had a hunch that there was some kind of connection but I wanted to verify what I was thinking.

I looked first in the books I had available here. In “Who Made that Pipe” all I learned that the brand was Italian made followed by the words unknown maker. That was not overly helpful. I suppose some of the pipes were stamped made in Italy. But unknown maker left too much out to me. There had to be more information. I turned to my online sources. I looked on Pipedia and there found much the same information – Italian made followed by question marks as to the maker. The pipephil website (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-b7.html) called “Pipes: Logos and Stampings” had the same information but said that it was an export brand of an unknown Italian company. So far I was coming up empty handed but I was not going to give up on this one. I spent time searching the web with Google and other search engines and came up with no added insight.

Not to be daunted I decided to take a different tack. I found the Dr. Grabow Company website online and wrote an email to their information centre seeking information on the brand. I never received a reply from them. I wanted to follow-up on my hunch from the stamping and the metal insert in the shank that somehow this pipe was related to Dr. Grabow pipes. I had no clue how it was related but it certainly looked like it to meso I went to the Dr. Grabow forum on-line and posted my questions http://drgrabows.myfreeforum.org/index.php. While I waited for a response to my question I read some of the forum of back posts and found a series of posts regarding the brand. I read the following and immediately had more questions. The Grabow connection was not clear but I had found that the pipe may have been a promotional item during the course of one year – 1964. Here is the quote that gave me the information:

“A couple months back, I scored a Brewster off eBay for five bucks. Research on this forum and the wild, untamed internet tells me the Brewster pipes were all made in one batch in 1964 as a promotional item for Sir Walter Raleigh.”

Now I knew that the pipe came from that time period and had been a promo item for a pipe tobacco company.

Later that evening while relaxing, my iPhone vibrated notifying me of a new email. I picked up the phone and saw that I had a response to the questions that I had posted on the forum. Dave Whitney, author of the book on refurbishing called “Old Briar”, had responded to my request for information. What he sent me was extremely helpful and a true goldmine of information. His answer confirmed the Dr. Grabow connection and gave critical information that I had not been able to find anywhere. I have grouped the comments on the brand under three bullets that show three different individual’s comments on Brewster. It is interesting to note that all agree.

Dave Whitney: Here’s what I have from my accumulated notes on Brewster – much of it looks like it came off this forum, ted/td being one of the early ones to help build this forum and a former Sparta CEO.

• All the Brewsters were “made” in about 64’… Brewster… is probably from Fratelli Rossi from 64’… Ted, an older pipe smoker than me, suggested the Brewster pipes are comparable to the Willard pipes, and that Brewsters were often sold either with tobacco, or in a coupon offer. For example Brewster was sold as a redemption offer with Brown and Williamson for Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco.

• Further information came from Dr. B… I think (in my feeble state of mind, after today) that Brewster was sold as a redemption offer with Brown and Williamson for Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco. But, Mastercraft in 74 had a LOAD of them left. We (Mastercraft) sold them as closeouts along with several pipes in baskets of 4 dozen at $3.98. We also included a bunch of Mastercraft from F. Rossi at the same price……..Rossi pipes are another story……Remind me of the “sticky lacquer” and I’ll tell it…….ted
Mastercraft was founded by Bernard Hochstein, an Orthodox Jew. Old, White Haired, Santa Claus looking (still alive at 96, last time I knew), and he was REKNOWNED for his ability to “strong arm” the European pipe suppliers into selling pipes to M/C at a bargain. Probably the best (never say nothing) negotiator that I’ve ever met. He sold a business (Mastercraft) to UST for 6 million in STOCK. He’s probably worth 60 million today. Mr. Hochstein could negotiate a peace in the Middle East in a very few days, and talk all parties outta’ their pants in the process.

OK, so Mr H “rapes” the Italian suppliers even up till 1964 when the Surgeon General’s (SG) report comes out. As it turns out, “rape” worked both ways. A supplier, Fratelli Rossi, (still in business) took an order in 1963 for over 1 million pipes at 1/2 dollar (US) per pipe. When the SG’s report comes out, Rossi has filled a small part of the order for Hochstein, and had orders for a great many more pipes than Hochstein ordered. Rossi decided to experiment with his lacquer …Whose pipes did he experiment on? Hochsteins.

When I started at Mastercraft we had 1215 cartons of pipes from Rossi… Mastercraft Standard….72 dozen per carton, with lacquer so “tacky” that if you held the pipe as if you were smoking it, you’d have to “shake” it out of your hand. Rossi left out the curing agent. Ever touched wet paint?……..After 10 years they were still STICKY…..after 20 years, they were still STICKY.

We fought these SOB’s for years, when finally Luther Marlow (you’ll see topics about him) concluded that we could re-spray them with the Grabow lacquer and sell em’ (Ed. Note: Here is the Grabow Connection I smelled). We did, and we did. Through a “drive” by the UST salesforce, we sold every one. So if you have a Mastercraft Standard with what looks to be “heavy” lacquer, you are probably right.

• Hussar…..Rossi also made Brewster. Better lacquer job though… Brewster was sold as a redemption offer with Brown and Williamson for Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco. But, Mastercraft in 74 had a LOAD of them left. We (Mastercraft) sold them as closeouts along with several pipes in baskets of 4 dozen at $3.98.

When I started with Mastercraft in the early 70’s we had over 400 cartons of pipes from Hully. Each carton contained 60 to 80 dozen, most of which were stamped Brewster or Stetson and these had a base cost (from the 60’s or earlier) of $2.80 /dz. Some of the smaller pipes, called Southern Assortment were $1.90 / dz. May be partly to blame for them going out of business.

Dave had supplied some very helpful information on the brand. It gave a definitive date and origin to the pipe. The Italian connection and the Dr. Grabow link were clear in Dave’s answer. Now I wanted to know something about maker, Rossi. Fortunately Dave kindly included that information in his answer as well. It is as follows:

From approximately 1946 up to the end, Ferdinando Rossi II, a grandchild of the founder, headed the company. But after World War II the world of the pipe changed dramatically. Especially in Italy, where those big pipe factories mainly turned out pipes for the lower priced segments of the international mass markets. The demand for these pipes shrunk considerably as more and more smokers turned to cigarettes. Rossi got into this vortex as well. Little by little the number of pipes produced sank. This evolution was accelerated by the upcoming fame of pipes from Denmark. As well, new Italian brands established after the war like Castello, Brebbia or little later Savinelli operated cleverer and thus were more successful.

So the decline went on through the 1960’s and 1970’s, even though Rossi offered more than 800 possible shapes in dozens of lines and uncounted finishes. Besides the completely machine made pipes there were also some lines of semi-freehands and even quite considerable freehands were made. But all these efforts could not stop the fall anyway. Due to increasing financial difficulties Rossi closed down in 1985, just one year before the 100th anniversary.

In the years around 1870 and still later the bulk of Italian pipes was made by time taking and laboriously manual work. Mainly based on families who sold their pipes to travelling purchasers handing them on to some wholesaler. Most pipes were still made of box or olive wood.

Ferdinando Rossi from Milan was one of the most important wholesalers for tobacco related goods of northern Italy. When he attended one of his pipe suppliers in Saint-Claude in 1880 he got hooked on the idea to establish this manner of industrialised briar pipe production in Italy as well. Rossi went abroad several times to buy the hardware here and there because the special features of machines for pipemaking were secrets – well kept by the French in those days. Many machines and tools had to be modified on Rossi’s defaults.

[From the Catalogue “La Regina della Pipa” (1896)] He acquired a large area of land in Barasso in the province of Varese and founded the Fabbrica di Pipe di Radica Rossi in 1886. For sure there was no lack of skilled workers and Rossi personally recruited 30 craftsmen of different occupations from the environment to get started. After a few years the enterprise had developed well and entered into export trades. In 1892 e.g. the ledgers registered the first pipes shipped to Brazil.

One reason of success was the ultramodern conception of the factory and its equipment at the given time. To give an example: a system of canals invented by Rossi drove water to turbines propelling downstream generators, which supplied the entire machinery with electricity. Also lighting and heating were already electrically operated.

In the first years after 1900 Rossi grew steadily and became one of the ten biggest pipe manufacturers of the world. Rossi’s rapid ascent produced further foundations of pipemaking firms in the area.

I love hunting down as much of the old company histories I can find concerning the pipes that I refurbish. For me this information gives a colour and flavour to the pipe I hold in my hands and rework. It gives me the back story on the pipe and adds another dimension to the work of refurbishing. I have reposted the details of the history of Brewster Imported Briar here for those who like me enjoy this kind of thing.


One thought on “Who Made Brewster Imported Briar Pipes or Who is the Unknown Italian Maker

  1. Robert M. Boughton

    Steve, that’s a perfect recap, without the added restore blog you did in the original post, and with a title that will now come up at the top of the list in anyone’s search for info on Brewster. Had I not searched as diligently as I did before blogging my Brewster restoration, I never would have found your 2014 blog. So thanks for the dogged Woodward/Bernstein work again!


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