Restoring a NOS Rusticated House of Robertson Hawkbill

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 third of the six pipes I chose to work on was rusticated Hawkbill shaped pipe. It is NOS (new old stock) and is unsmoked. It is engraved with the House of Robertson signature on a smooth panel on the right side of the shank. The rusticated finish on the pipe had a smooth band around the rim and the rim top was smooth. There were also smooth bands on the left, front and right sides of the pipe moving up from a smooth circle on the bottom of the bowl. The pipe was in excellent condition other than being dusty from time. The deep grooves in the rustication were very dusty. I have circled the pipe in red in the above group photos. It is an interesting pipe. The bowl is clean and unsmoked briar. The drilling on the pipe is different to me – it looks like the airway came out below the bottom of the bowl. It is still very smokable but the look is quite unique. The stem was lightly oxidized but clean. 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. 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 two photos show clean bowl and the rim top. The grain on the top of the bowl and the inner and outer edge of the rim looks really good. The finish on the rim top was in great condition. The next two photos show the sides and underside of the pipe. The next photo shows the etched name on the right side of shank on a smooth panel of briar. It reads House of Robertson.The tapered stem was oxidized and pitted from the oxidation. It was otherwise very clean and unsmoked.This unsmoked pipe was an easy cleanup for Jeff. After all of the heavily caked and dirty pipes he has cleaned it was a nice break to clean off the dust and oxidation from a pipe that had been sitting in storage for a long time. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim and shank with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the dust in the rustication on the bowl and shank as well as the smooth portions. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. Once the dust and debris were 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 bowl and rim top to show the NOS condition of the pipe. 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 finish with a horsehair shoe brush. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl 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. The birdseye grain stands out on the two sides bands and the cross grain stands out on the rim top, the smooth base and the front band. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation on both sides of the tapered 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 Hawkbill shaped bowl with a smooth bands and rim works well with the rich black of the vulcanite stem. The polishing and the reworking of the stem material left this a beautiful and interesting looking pipe. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 5 3/4 inches, Height: 1 3/4 inches, Outside Diameter: 1 1/2 inches, Diameter of the chamber: 3/4 inches. This one will be going on the rebornpipes store shortly if you want to add it to your collection. Even with an under drilled airway it should still smoke very well. It will be priced accordingly for seconds pipe. Why not take this opportunity to add a House of Robertson pipe to your rack. Thanks for looking.

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