Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited
I didn’t do it. Oh, wait, THAT. Yes, I did do THAT.
— An appropriate example of cheekiness
Last November, in a rare, impulsive act of sheer gullibility, or maybe wishful thinking gone wild is a better way to put it, I made one of the oldest mistakes other people – but not I – can do: I snatched up a collection of odds and ends on eBay labeled “Lot 3 Vintage Tobacco Pipes-Tobacco Tins-& Bags-1 Box,” somehow rationalizing that they were all connected, or at least, maybe, the pipes and some of the bags and box (the three pipes matching the combined number of two sleeves and one box, although it still didn’t occur to me that one sleeve matched the box). To compound the shame of this serious folly, I jumped on the great deal, at only $21.51 plus S&H, based on the following single blurry photo provided by the seller.
I mean, consider the clues my crazed mind somehow overlooked! You can do it without my help, which I can’t bring myself to give anyway. I won’t even claim I don’t know what I was thinking because it’s clear I wasn’t at all, in any sense of the word. Okay, so the package came in the mail. Well, indeed, there were three vintage pipes, a Grabow, a Yello-Bole and the poker I couldn’t then, in my bleary-eyed horror, identify; two sleeves, a Karl Erik and a Butz-Choquin; the one Karl Erik box, and the two olde-timey Revelation Smoking Mixture tins. And so, I struggled to reason, I got exactly what I asked for! God knows, and so do I, that I deserved it. Still, in my defense, however lame it may be, the seller was more than a little disingenuous with his hazy portrayal of the goods and failure to point out that the Yello-Bole has a fatal crack extending a third of the way down the front of its 1.5” bowl.
[The Revelation tins, for those who haven’t heard the story, once contained a blend of red Virginia, cube cut Burley, Latakia and Perique made at the time by Philip Morris & Co. Ltd. Inc. and said to be Albert Einstein’s go-to. The stuff looked like mulched, ancient twigs, tree and bush leaves, bark and other components one might find as groundcover in a forest as far from civilization as is still possible. But Revelation switched from tins to soft packaging in 1957, so I attempted to console myself with the thought that the latest addition to my small tobacciana collection is at least 61 years old. Then I realized that’s only five years older than I am. Does that mean I’m vintage? Needless to say, my attempt was a failure.]
Disheartened by my abject flop, I considered the options. I could return the whole lot, pan the seller in my feedback or bite the bullet and get on with my life. Not caring for any of these, I tossed all of it in disgust under my living room table with my stash of junk mail and old newspapers. In the intervening months, the pile grew and hid all of the discarded items I had banished from my mind anyway, until one day about a week ago when gravity made the pile shift, and I spied the red Butz-Choquin sleeve. So deep down had I stuffed the memory of the debacle that I didn’t recognize it, no joke. Approaching the sleeve on hands and knees, like an archeologist digging for treasure, I liberated the sleeve from the heap and began removing layer after layer of the paper trash.
In this fashion revealing the pipes, sleeves, box and tins, and bagging the paper mountain to throw in the trash, I could not help laughing. The poker caught my attention, and I remembered I had not established its maker but only assumed it was of the others’ ilk. I wiped away some crud on the smooth bottom of the rustic pipe and used my magnifying glasses trying to decipher the nomenclature but was unable to do so. Turning to the stem for a mark that might provide a clue, I saw what appeared to be three faded dots in a line from top to bottom, the middle one of them smaller than the others. From Pipephil, I discovered the pipe was a Brigham of the 600 series, and to my surprise, from Canada.
My face flushed and misted over with sweat from a rush of blood as my mind’s eye teleported me backward in time a few years. I’m sure Steve has forgotten all about this, having better things to store in his mind vault, but I’m cursed – or blessed – with total recall of every tasteless, fatuous or otherwise inappropriate thing I’ve ever said, for the most part well after the fact and only when something triggers a free association with the earlier mistake.
In this case, learning that Brigham is an old and respected Canadian pipe maker reminded me of an occasion several years back when I broke my usual habit of engaging my brain before my tongue, as my dear dad taught me. Something prompted me to blurt to Steve, “Are there any Canadian pipe makers?” I say blurt because such an ill-conceived question could not have been made in an email or else I would have researched it myself, but rather must have flown out of my mouth in a flash of cheeky, stupid impertinence during a telephone conversation. I also remember Steve’s pause before he replied with tact, “Yes, there are a few.”
Having now made a quick, easy online inquiry into the subject, I found one good source listing 30 far North American pipe makers, including larger brands and artisans. Brigham seems to be the biggest and best known. Notable among the artisans is Michael Parks of Bowmanville, Ontario, whose work is astounding. No doubt there are many more talented folks carving pipes in the vast Canadian provinces and territories, and to every one of them, I apologize for my ignorant question that now seems so long ago!
Roy Brigham must have been born with pipes in his genes. After serving as an apprentice to an Austrian pipe repair master, Brigham opened his own shop in Toronto in 1906. After 12 years, the venture included five other craftsmen and was already known across Canada for its excellent work. In 1918, Brigham and his team started making the company’s first pipes, and again the reputation for high quality and value began to spread throughout the country’s 3.9 million square miles.
Brigham’s son Herb joined the business in 1935, and the two were known as Brigham & Son. Together, they identified tongue bite, which at the time was thought to be caused by hot smoke from pipes, as the chief complaint of customers. Determined to get to the bottom of the problem, father and son experimented and learned that the symptom was caused not by heat but mild burning from tars and acids in the smoke. Trying various filters, they concluded bamboo and rock maple were the best materials. Bamboo being much more difficult to obtain, they settled on rock maple, and in 1937 invented what they called the Distillator and applied for the Canadian patent, granted the following year. That patent, №. 372,982, was for a metal insert in the mouthpiece which enclosed the non-porous rock maple insert that could be removed and cleaned several times before the effectiveness began to deteriorate. The fourth page is a clarification made sometime after the Patent Act of 1955 cited in its text.CAN. PAT. 372982 is stamped on the smooth bottom of the poker’s shank, below the Brigham mark, but as future changes were gradual and relatively minor and finished in the late 1940s after Herb rejoined the business following service in World War II, they appear not to have been filed but were relied upon based on the protection granted to the one and only Brigham patent for the Distillator. Therefore, a precise dating of the poker is impossible, although it looks to be made in the 1950s. Brigham has a remarkable array of pipes varying from traditional shapes to freehands to some that are just plain unique.
Mike Brigham, Herb’s son, joined the family business in 1978 and began expanding the product list to include tobacco and accessories. This is likely when the company became known as Brigham Pipes Ltd. Until 1995, when the present name of Brigham Enterprises Inc., its incarnation today.
Here is the Brigham rusticated poker as I received it. The first orders of business were to soak the stummel in Everclear and ream the chamber. After the soak, a light touch with super fine “0000” steel wool cleared the rim. I followed that with a double 150- and 180-grit sanding pad all around, the highlights of which are shown below. The second photo was taken after sanding the chamber with 150-, 220-, 320-, 400- and 600-grit papers. Working on the rim with papers from 220-600 grit followed by micro mesh 1500-12000, it shined up pretty well. While I was at it, I micro meshed the rest of the stummel, focusing on the rim, and the first and third photos following show the improvement. The next pics show how filthy an old, oxidized stem can be, and the aftermath of soaking in OxiClean. I don’t know what the loose, plastic film-like stuff is in the last shot below and was worried it would become a problem. Sanding the lips and areas below them with 600-grit paper took off the roughness, and a full wet micro mesh progression followed by dry made the stems shine. Also, the mystery film came off clean. The last photo shows how my initial belief that the stem mark was faded dots that would require filling in was wrong. They’re metal implants. Retorting the pipe was fast and easy since it was well prepped.Then it occurred to me I hadn’t removed the Distillator rock maple insert, which I did then. Brigham’s use chart indicates by the darker brown color of the insert that the pipe was smoked about 20 times since the last filter was added. I’ve ordered an 8-pack replacement box.My favorite part of most restores had arrived, in this case to buff the rustic area of the stummel with Halcyon II wax and the rim with White Diamond and carnauba. I used red and white rouge on the stem for a change since I had used it for several special pipes I’ll be blogging ASAP. CONCLUSION
I learned quite a bit about our neighbor to the north and now have a firm grasp on the fact that Canadians indeed not only make pipes, but beautiful ones. Nuff said about that. But boy, am I happy I jumped on that otherwise misleading eBay lot!