Blog by Steve Laug
Once in a while I get emails through the blog about pipes that someone wants to sell. These can be estates or they can be a collection that an older pipeman has decided to get rid of by passing it on to someone who can work on them and see that they get into the hands of another pipe smoker. In this case I received an email from a fellow who wanted to sell me a collection of Bertram pipes. We met over FaceTime and he showed the pipe collection to both Jeff and me. We discussed their condition and arrived at a price for the pipes. The majority of the pipes in the collection were Bertrams but there were also some other brands that were known to me. We struck a deal on the lot and he shipped them to Jeff. Jeff took some photos of the collection when it arrived in Idaho. He unwrapped each pipe and filled the three boxes that they were mailed in, and then took a photo to show the size of the collection we had purchased. To be honest it was a bit overwhelming to see all of the collection in boxes. We were looking at a lot of work to bring these back to life.Jeff chose a group of pipes from the collection and began his work on them He sent me a box with some of the pipes he had cleaned up. I chose one of the Bertrams from the lot to be the first pipe I would work on. The smooth finish was dirty but the grain shone through showing me that this was a beautiful pipe. It had a thick shank and a bent tapered stem. There was a cake in the bowl and some lava overflowing on to the rim top. The stem showed some wear on the button edge and tooth marks and chatter in the top and underside. The photos below tell the story and give a glimpse of this interesting pipe. Jeff took 2 close up photos of the bowl and rim to capture the condition of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. The rim top had some thick lava overflow and made it hard to know what the inner edge looked like under the grime and lava. He also took photos of the right and left side of the bowl and shank to show the interesting grain on the bowl and the heel. The finish is very dirty but this is another interesting pipe.Jeff took a photo to capture the stamping on the left side of the shank. The photo shows stamping which read Bertram over Washington, DC. The stamping on this pipe is clear and readable. The second photo shows the double stamped number 60 showing the quality of the pipe. The next two photos show the stem surface. They show the tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. There are also some nicks on the outer edge of the button. The stem is lightly oxidized and scratched.If you don’t know much about them I recommend doing a little research on them. I include a link to the write up on Pipedia (http://pipedia.org/wiki/Bertram). Bertram pipes were based out of Washington DC. They were popular among famous politicians and celebrities of the time. They made many products for them from FDR’s cigarette holders to Joseph Stalin’s favorite pipe. They were considered some of the best America had to offer till they finally closed their doors in the 70s. They graded their pipes by 10s, the higher the grade the better. Above 60s are uncommon and 80-90s are quite rare. I’ve never heard of or seen a 100 grade. I have several blogs that I have written on rebornpipes that give some history and background to Bertram pipes. (https://rebornpipes.com/2015/06/16/an-easy-restoration-of-a-bertram-grade-60-217-poker/).
I have included the following link to give a bit of historical information on the pipe company. It is a well written article that gives a glimpse of the heart of the company. http://www.streetsofwashington.com/2012/01/bertrams-pipe-shop-on-14th-street.html#
I am also including this photo of the shop in Washington D.C. and a post card of the shop.
From this information I have learned that the shape and grade Bertram I have in front of me now was made before the closure of the shop in the 70s. I also learned that it was a grade 60 thus it was on the higher end of the spectrum just above mid-grade. Jeff reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. 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, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the rim and the grime on the finish of the bowl. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. He was able to remove the lava build up on the rim top and you could see the great condition of the bowl top and edges of the rim. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation. I took photos of the pipe before I started my work on it. I took a close up photo of the rim top to show its condition. It was in great condition with a little burn damage to the front inner edge of the rim. Otherwise both the inner edge and the outer edge of the rim look really good. The stem photos show the light tooth marks and the damage to the button surface on both sides.I cleaned up the inner edge of the rim to address the burn damage to the front inner edge. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the damage and to bring the bowl back into round.I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wetsanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth after each pad to remove the sanding debris. After the final sanding pad I hand buffed it with a cotton cloth to raise a shine. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into finish of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The pipe really looks good at this point and the grain stands out beautifully. I am very happy with the results. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. There was a deep nick on the top of the stem near the shank end. I filled it with clear super glue and set it aside to dry. Once it had cured I used a folded piece of 240 grit sandpaper to blend the repair, the tooth marks and chatter into the surface of the stem. Once the surface was smooth I sanded out the scratch marks and started the polishing of the stem with a folded piece of 400 grit sandpaper. I wiped the stem down with a damp cloth and took the following photos. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wetsanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and gave it a final coat and set it aside to dry. I put the stem and bowl back together and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I polished the briar and the minute scratches still in the vulcanite of the stem until there was a rich shine. The polished briar came alive with buffing and the straight, swirled and birdseye grain just popped with polishing. The black vulcanite stem had a rich glow. The finished pipe is a thick shank bent billiard that really is a comfortable handful of briar. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 5 1/2 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 3/8 inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. I will be putting this one on the rebornpipes store sometime in the days ahead. If you are looking for a chunky billiard with a bent tapered stem this one might be for you. Let me know if you are interested. Thanks for walking through the restoration of this with me it was a pleasure to work on.