Blog by Steve Laug
Once again rather than repeat myself and give readers grief with the repetition please refer to the previous blog posts on the collection of Bertrams and a smattering of other brands that Jeff and I purchased. I can’t adequately describe the sense of being overwhelmed that I have when I look at the 200+ pipes that need to be restored but there is only one way to move ahead – 1 pipe at a time. I am glad Jeff is helping with the clean up on the lot as that would be more than I could handle by myself in moving through this many pipes. From his cleaned pipes I chose an interesting Zulu with cross grain on the sides of the bowl and some birdseye around the front and back to be the next pipe that I would work on. It was a1/8 bent Zulu with a tapered stem. The bowl had cake in the chamber that was no problem. The rim top had some darkening and lava overflow on the back side. The inner and outer edge of the bowl appeared to be in good condition but we would know more once the bowl had been reamed and cleaned. The exterior of the briar looked lifeless and was dusty with the grime of years of storage. I am still trying to figure out Bertrams numbering system as some of the higher number pipes seems to have more fills than the 30s. This is one of those pipes that look really good. The stem had some oxidation and tooth marks near the button on both sides. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he began his cleanup work on it. I have included them below and they tell the story and give a glimpse of the pipe before clean up. Jeff took close-up photos of the bowl and rim to capture the condition of the pipe when it arrived. The rim top had a thick coat of lava and the bowl had a thick cake.Jeff took pictures of he bowl sides and the heel to show the great looking grain around the sides of the bowl. It really is quite stunning and very dirty!Jeff took 2 photos to capture the stamping on the top and left side of the shank. The first photo shows stamping on the topside which read Bertram over Washington, D.C. The stamping on this pipe is clear and readable. The second photo shows the grade number stamping on the left side toward the shank/bowl junction. It read number 30 which shows the quality of the pipe. The next two photos show the stem surface. They show the oxidation and the chatter on both sides near the button. The tooth marks are visible on the underside next to the button. There is also some wear on the underside button edge. If you have read the previous Bertram blogs I have posted about the pipes that I have cleaned up so far you can skip the next bit. But if you have not, then I include the link to Bertram history and information. I would recommend that if you don’t know much about them do some 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 1970s. This Bertram Zulu with a darker finish is one of the more usual shapes in terms of the Bertram pipes I have worked on. With a grade 30 stamp it is a lower mid-range pipe.
By now if you have been a reader for long you have Jeff’s cleaning regimen pretty well memorized. If you know it you can skip right to the pictures. If not I will include them once more. 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 lava build up on the rim top and you could see the great condition of the bowl top and edges of the rim. There was still some darkening to the rim top toward the back of the bowl. 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 the condition of the bowl and rim after Jeff had cleaned up the grime and lava but the rim top had some light damage, some pits and darkening on the backside of the inner edge of the rim. The stem photos show that the oxidation is gone. The light tooth chatter is hard to see but I should be able to sand it out quite easily. Every one of the pipes that I have worked on from this Bertram Collection has had tooth marks on the underside of the stem and some on the topside as well. The tooth marks on the underside will take a little more work to remove.I also took a photo of the stamping on the left side of the shank showing how the stamping was laid out. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to cleanup the light damage to the inner edge of the rim. I would address the darkening when I polished it with micromesh sanding pads.I polished the bowl and rim top with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding it with 1500-12000 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 know I have mentioned it before but I really like the balm that Mark Hoover created. It really does wonders on a dry piece of briar. 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 Restoration Balm really makes the grain stands out beautifully. I set the bowl aside to work on the stem. I used a folded piece of 240 grit sandpaper to blend 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 Obsidian Oil. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wetsanding it with 1500-12000 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 am having fun doing these pipes from the Bertram Collection. Each one presents different challenges but all are well laid out classic shapes. This is no exception. 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. This Bertram is a classic Zulu or Yachtsman shape with a darker finish that really highlights some amazing grain on a proportionally well carved pipe. Once I buffed the pipe the briar came alive and the mixture of grain – cross grain and birdseye – popped with polishing. The black vulcanite stem had a rich glow. The finished pipe is a beautiful grained Zulu. Like the other Bertrams I have worked on this one fits well in the hand and sits right in the mouth. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 5 1/2 inches, Height: 1 7/8 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 3/8 inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This one will soon be on the rebornpipes store. If you are interested let me know. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as it was a pleasure to work on.