Restoring a Rusticated House of Robertson Rhodesian

Blog by Steve Laug

My brother Jeff found an assortment of House of Robertson pipes at an auction in Wilder, Idaho which is an area in the greater Boise, Idaho area. He picked them up for us to restore. I had forgotten that I had mentioned the brand in passing in a blog on Leonard’s Pipe Shop in Portland, Oregon. Here is the link to that blog where I mention it as one of the brands that Leonard’s sold: It is a fascinating brand that really I had never had the privilege of seeing first hand. He cleaned them all up and on a recent trip to Idaho, I picked them up and brought them back to Canada. I took pictures of the lot of them to show the wide variety of pipes that they made in terms of both size and style. The craftsmanship is very good with the fit of the stem and shank well done and the finish both rusticated and smooth exemplary. Jeff picked up three more of the brand in Pocatello, Idaho so I will be working on more of these pipes in the future. They all have the name House of Robertson roughly hand etched on the side or underside of the shank with an engraving tool. I did a bit of hunting for information about the brand and found a link on Pipedia that gave me the only information I could find on the brand. I include that in total as it is interesting to read.

“House of Robertson” was in business for many years, but alas, closed their doors in 1999. They were located in Boise, Idaho. They are noted for making rather large and interesting pipes. Thayne Robertson was a Master Mason, AF & AM, and started the shop about 1947 and his son Jon started working there in 1970 when he finished college, along with Thayne’s daughter. Thayne and his son started making the big pipes at that time, and made them together until 1987 when Thayne passed away. Jon kept the store and his sister moved on to other things. The House of Robertson appears to have closed around 1999.

The second of the six pipes I chose to work on was rusticated Rhodesian/Bulldog shaped pipe. It is engraved with the House of Robertson signature on a smooth panel on the left side of the shank. The rusticated finish on the pipe was in good shape – just dusty and dirty. The deep grooves in the rustication were very dirty. The smooth rim cap was separated from the rusticated bowl by twin bands. It had two rusticated patches on it that match the rustication on the bowl and give the rim top an interesting look. I have circled the pipe in red in the above group photos. It is an interesting pipe. The bowl had a thin cake but it did not go all the way to the bottom of the bowl. The pipe is about a Group 5 size but it is very light weight. The stem was oxidized but did not have tooth marks or chatter on the surface. The fit of the stem to the shank was good. The vulcanite appeared to have been a pre-formed stem that was shaped to fit this pipe. The internals of the shank and stem had some tars and oils. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started the cleanup. The next close-up photos show the finish on the top and the underside of the bowl. The first photo shows that the bowl had a thin cake and some slight rim darkening and lava on the rear edge of the rim top where the previous owner had repeatedly lit the pipe. The inner and outer edge of the rim looks really good. You can also see the two rusticated patches on the rim top. The finish on the rim top was in great condition. The two photos that follow the rim view show the underside of the pipe. The next photo shows the etched name on the left side of shank on a smooth panel of briar. It reads House of Robertson.The round saddle stem was oxidized and pitted from the oxidation. There were no tooth marks on the stem top or underside.Jeff out did himself on the cleanup of this pipe. He reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the thin cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. When he had finished, the bowl looks almost new on the inside (Once again I don’t think it has ever been smoked to the bottom of the bowl as it is raw briar in the bottom quarter). He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim and shank with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the bowl, rim and shank. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. The light lava mess on the rim and the dust deep in the rustication was thoroughly removed without harming the finish underneath it. Once the grime was removed the finish actually looked to be in excellent condition I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it. I took a photo of the rim top to show the great condition it was in after the cleanup. Jeff was able to remove all of the darkening and tar on the right side of the rim top and the back edge of the rim. The stem was clean but pitted and oxidized.I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the nooks and crannies of the rusticated finish, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers, worked it into the rings with a cotton swab and buffed it with a horsehair shoe brush. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl on the wheel with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. It really began to have a deep shine in the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation on both sides and in the angles of the saddle stem.I polished out the sanding scratches and marks in the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-4000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I brought it back to the table and sanded it with the final three 6000-12000 grit pads. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Polish –using both the Fine and Extra Fine Polishes. I gave it a rubdown with Obsidian Oil one last time and set it aside to dry. I put the stem back on the bowl and worked the pipe over on the buffing wheel using Blue Diamond to lightly polish the stem. I buffed the bowl with a light touch so as not to get any of the buffing compounds in the grooves of the rustication. I buffed the stem to raise the gloss on the vulcanite. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The medium brown stains on the rusticated Rhodesian shaped bowl with a smooth cap works well with the rich black of the vulcanite stem. The polish and the reworking of the stem material left this a beautiful and well-made pipe. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 6 1/2 inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside Diameter: 2 inches, Diameter of the chamber: 7/8 inch. This one sold before I finished it. It will soon be on its way to pipeman in Utah who has a growing collection of House of Robertson Pipes. Thanks for looking.

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