Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe in the queue is another one from the batch of pipes I am cleaning up for Alex – this one is a beautiful Bertram of Washington, D.C. billiard with beautiful grain around the bowl and shank. The entire pipe has some beautiful straight and flame grain around the bowl and birdseye grain on the rim top and heel of the bowl. The pipe has not been stained but sports the usual oil cured look. The carver did a great job utilizing the block of briar to maximize the grain. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank. It reads Bertram over Washington, D.C. On the underside of the shank it is stamped with what appears to be the number 120 (the first number is very clear, the second less so and the last one very faint). The tapered stem is vulcanite and has no marking or stamping. This is another nice looking piece much like many of the pipes Alex is picking up. There was cake in the bowl and some darkening on the rim top. The exterior of the briar was dusty with grime on the shank and bowl. The stem was in excellent condition with light tooth chatter on both sides of the stem at the button edge and some wear on the button edge itself. The photos below tell the story and give a glimpse of the pipe before clean up. I took a photo of the bowl and rim to capture the condition of the pipe before I started my cleanup work. Other than the darkening at the front of the rim top the rim was in good condition. The was a light cake in the bowl. The inner and outer edges of the bowl appeared to be in excellent condition. The stem was in great condition. There was some oxidation on the top side of the stem and light tooth chatter on both sides of the stem but otherwise it looked great.I also took a photo of both the left and underside of the shank to show the stamping on them. The stamping is readable in the photos below.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#
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 120 thus it was on the high end of the spectrum. (I am also including this photo of the shop in Washington D.C. and a post card of the shop.) This is the first higher grade Bertrams I have had the pleasure to work on. Typically the pipes I have worked on were no higher than 60 and possibly 80. This is definitely a beautiful pipe and I can see why it had the higher grade stamp. I started the restoration by reaming the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer followed by a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the remnants of the cake on the walls in the heel. I sanded the inside of the walls with a dowel wrapped with 220 grit sandpaper. I worked on darkening on the front of the rim top by sanding it with a 1500 grit micromesh sanding pad. I was able to remove the majority of the damage and was certain that it would blend in well when I polished the bowl.I scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I was fortunate that the pipe was definitely cleaner than a lot of the ones I have worked on for Alex.I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface 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 following photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. The bowl and the rim top look very good with rich grain patterns. With the bowl finished I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded the stem surface with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation and smooth out the tooth marks on the surface of the button. I am happy with the stem surface once that was done. I started the polishing of the surface with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with a damp cloth after each pad. I further polished it with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I wiped it down with a coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. With both parts of the pipe finished, I polished the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The oil cured finish and the grain came alive with the buffing. The rich finish on the briar works well with the polished black vulcanite stem. The finished pipe is a beautifully laid out billiard that is proportionally well made. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 1 3/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/4 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 of an inch. This one will be going back to Alex to add to his rack of American Made pipes that are in his collection. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me on another of Alex’s Collection – a rare Bertram 120.