Daily Archives: June 8, 2019

A Crowned Thick Shank Billiard 40 from the Bertram Lot

Blog by Steve Laug

Once again rather than repeat myself about the background, please refer to the previous blog posts on the collection of Bertrams and other brands that Jeff and I purchased. I can’t adequately describe how overwhelmed I am 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 a thick shank Billiard Bertram 40 with a crowned rim top. The grain was a mix of cross grain and birdseye. It was a Billiard 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. There was a chip in the front, inner edge of the bowl and what appeared to be a burn mark on back inner edge. The 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. The stem had some oxidation and tooth chatter near the button on both sides. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he began his cleanup work on it. Jeff took a close-up photo of the bowl and rim to capture the condition of the pipe when it arrived. The rim top had a coat of lava and the bowl had a thick cake. There is also an obvious nick on the front inner edge of the bowl that will need to be dealt with.Jeff took pictures of the 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 a photo to capture the stamping on the left side of the shank. It shows the stamping which read Bertram over Washington, D.C. The stamping on this pipe is a faint on the right side of the impression. The second photo shows the number stamp 40 which shows the quality of the pipe. The number stamp is on the underside at the stem/shank junction.The next two photos show the stem surface. They show the oxidation and the chatter on both sides near the button. There is also some wear on the button edge.Once again, 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 Thick Shank Crowned Billiard is different from the other Bertram shapes I have worked. With a grade 40 stamp it is a more of lower mid-range pipe, though I am not sure why as the briar is very clean and the grain very interesting.

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. The damaged area on the front inner edge and a burned area that has damaged the rear inner edge are visible. 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. I used a drop of clear super glue to fill in the chip in the inner edge and rim top on the front of the bowl. Once the repair cured, I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the repair and to cleanup the burn damage to the rear inner edge of the rim.I polished the bowl and rim top with micromesh sanding pads – wetsanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth after each pad to remove the sanding debris. The grain began to stand out. After the final sanding pad I hand buffed it with a cotton cloth to raise a shine. I touched up the rim top with a Maple Stain pen to blend the repairs to the rim top and edge into the rest of the surrounding briar. It did not take much to get a good match. I will need to buff it in the final steps to get the proper look but I am liking it.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. The stem was in pretty decent condition. I polished out the light tooth chatter 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 Thick Shank Crowned Billiard shape with tapered stem. The finish 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 popped with polishing. The black vulcanite stem had a rich glow. The finished pipe is a beautiful grained Billiard. 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 3/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/2 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.


Mystical Magical Latakia: A Journey Back to the Old World

Blog by Norman Skiba

Norman is a new contributor to rebornpipes and I welcome him to the blog. He is a member of the Meerschaum group on Smokers Forum UK and trying to add fresh life to it since the death of Fred Bass. I have enjoyed our emails back and forth over the past week and when he sent this second piece I really appreciated his thoughtful reflection on his favourite blend of tobacco. I invite others of you to write your own and add to the sense of community we have.  Thanks Norman. – Steve

If it were not for Latakia, I never would have stayed with the pipe.  I never liked cigarettes, even the Indonesian Djarum’s and Kretek clove cigarettes.  The Bidi’s of India are just plain nasty!  The Turkish were still not even close.  But there was and still is something about Latakia and the heavy English and even Balkan blends that intrigue me to this very day.  To me, the aroma is just wondrous!

When I first started smoking a pipe it was in my mid-teens.  I tried the (Palladin’s?) Cherry Blend, Borkum Riff, Sail, and two sips of Sir Walter Raleigh – yech!  Then one day I walked into this tiny smokeshop and pipe maker – Smokestacks it was called – which I had been to before and bought a nice natural finish prince he made that was a very nice pipe and my first decent pipe, and I  fell in love with what I smelled.  I asked him what it was that he was smoking, and he said a new Turkish blend he had blended, and it was Latakia that I was smelling.  I knew right there and then THAT was for me.  And to this day it has ever been, although in various manifestations.  Looking back I can say that maybe the first phase of what used to be called drugstore pipe tobaccos lasted a month or two.  I then found Latakia.  So I feel I was fortunate in that case.  I bought an ounce of this stuff to smoke and went through that rather quickly and then bought a 1/4 lb. of it.  I then saw this tin of the White Label Balkan Sobranie and bought that and loved it even more. Within a couple of weeks or so I found the tins of Balkan Sobranie Black Label No. 759 and that was history.

I started to buy really nice pipes that were made by the late Milt Kalnitz using 100 yr. old Grecian briar that he made for me and also some pipes from his personal collection.  I also had gotten a nice meerschaum or two from him.  All this time I was smoking the 759 Mixture and he had the larger round cans of it and not just the thin round tins.  The smoke shop was called Bellezia Tobacco.  They also had Bengal Slices which I also smoked as an adjunct to the 759.  That was all I ever smoked until one day I stopped for reasons I no longer recall.  Then 759 was no longer available.  It still isn’t. This blend was so funky – in a good way – to me – but people around you would wonder if you were smoking your underwear or your socks.

A funny ‘true’ story: In 1972 I used to have to fly a bit for school and also as a professional musician. I had to put up with all that cigarette smoke in the cabins or even next to you – which at that time you could smoke on planes. Well I was smoking Balkan Sobranie Black Label #759 then, I had this huge free-form Danish Preben Holm – I mean a huge bowl. So I lit it up and smoked the whole bowl – people looked at me rather strangely and some thought I was smoking my socks – but no one said a word. But later I thought they must have thought I was nuts and also could not wait for the plane to land!  I still have to laugh!

Anyway, when I got back into my pipes I knew another famous musician from California that I played a concert with and he had some wild Danish free-forms too and I smelled a wonderful sweeter Latakia English blend and he said it was a Dunhill custom blended My Mixture – No. A7859 – soaked in Jamaican rum.  I had Dunhill in New York City auto ship me a pound every month.  It was actually a very nice blend and unlike 759, but Latakia.  Life moves on and I took a hiatus again. When I started again briefly it was impossible to get any of my former favorites so I stopped.  I did try the McClelland’s Oriental Mixture #14, but that was just Ok and had changed from the earlier ones I tried years before. But it never wowed me like 759.  I later found Greg Pease’s Abingdon and found that to be the best at the time and still believe it is a great tobacco, and if I had to – I would smoke it.  However, The Dark Lord came up with Gaslight!  And that was it after all of these years of searching. The Holy Grail! (To me and my likes.) Yes I have tried some others; even a half pound of Penzance was acquired but never finished it because it just didn’t do it.  Gaslight was the Magical Mystical Wondrous blend that is so superb in my Mind that I see no reason to smoke anything else. It IS Special; yet I see no need to have a bowl on a special day and the rest of the time smoke other things.  Every day and every bowl is special so why not smoke it every chance you can in a nice pipe.  I think of it as analogous to a nice bottle of pinot noir which I love – some people say I am going to put this away for a special day.  I have no problem laying stuff down to age and save; however, what I say is that you take a nice bottle of wine and open it and enjoy it and it can take an average day and make it extra special and magical. The day does not make the wine – the wine makes the day Special! That is what Latakia and Gaslight do for me.  Now to sit back and have a bowl in my floral meer.

Addendum – I like Greg and he is a master tobacconist/blender/creator; however, it is not my intention to use this little text piece as a means of offering free or hidden advertisement for his blends. They are mentioned in context to the actual relevant info in this short piece.


Why Do We…?

Blog by Norman Skiba

Norman is a new contributor to rebornpipes and I welcome him to the blog. He is a member of the Meerschaum group on Smokers Forum UK and trying to add fresh life to it since the death of Fred Bass. I have enjoyed our emails back and forth over the past week and when he sent this I thought it would be a great intro to him and a thought provoking piece of writing. Thanks Norman. – Steve

I have smoked a pipe for about 50 years now and have had a few hiatuses over this lengthy period. In addition, I have been fortunate to have had a rather extensive pipe collection over these years and various periods of my life. The collection transformed and morphed into a new set of pieces turning into a somewhat different collection over these many years, and which has morphed again. Basically – zero – to a small nice little handful of a collection, mostly meerschaum. I have always had and smoked meers and I find them fascinating and beautiful to see the exquisite carvings transform over time in their coloring and the actual smoking Quality – chronotransduction – change over time. I have spent a small fortune for briars and very fine briars and commissions. I am a huge old Danish fan, especially Preben Holm. Many of the pipes were gorgeous; however, a lot of them smoked great. Some smoked OK. Some were terrible – even the high end pipes and commissions. No offense to the fine pipe makers that made them; but some were a waste of money. I always kept that to myself and never hurt anyone’s feelings or reputation. I also bought a number of so-called ‘Estate’ pipes that were by major makers mostly Danish, that had issues with the smoke – could not get a pipe cleaner through it, and tons of gurgle. I realized ‘late’ that in most cases instead of someone chalking the pipe up to experience and maybe just trashing it or trying to get it properly fixed, they passed on the problem to someone else – me the sucker. I am not a neophyte, but these are chances one takes. Aesthetically, they were beautiful and unique in my eyes. The maker was reputable. But the pipe was what it was – sometimes wonderful and sometimes sour/bitter, and just plain funky.

I have spent decent money on meers too in the past and most were from reputable carvers. a few unknown, yet nice – carving and block and smoke. I was fortunate early on to have one briar master pipe maker and his son who had some nice meers at a reasonable price. Then, for me, it became harder to find. Most meers were bad block quality and the carvings nothing to write home about. Even after years – not knowing about certain carvers or especially the sellers – left me in a quandary about purchasing a nice pipe. I know people who deal on eBay and craigslist with stories about scams locally and within the U.S., let alone, other countries, and in this case Turkey. I also saw some of the prices that were more than I was used to paying for some nice meers long ago, and the combination of dynamics – price, seller, country, etc. made me wary about taking the chance. As I grew older I learned more and acquired more meers. I never could drop a huge sum on a nice meer that was high, high end; however I did try to find amazing carvings that spoke to me and that were more than I could afford. But recently I started asking myself – why do we spend so much on a briar pipe ,and some people I know spend 5x the amount for 1 pipe almost weekly, than I could on 1 pipe? Why did I not go the same route for meers and just know at the end of my life finally ‘Get It!’ The answers are varied, and factual/real, and also speculative. The answers themselves seem a bit amorphous even. I still have more questions than answers. I do find that few briar people do not want to try or never liked smoking a meerschaum because they too – did not get it. They never had a good pipe, or they never gave it a chance to achieve the warmth that a nice one offers after it is smoked for a bit. Initially the meer can seem cold and sterile and that initial dynamic makes people run to their briars. But once the White Goddess speaks to the Soul and the Being and the Spirit within- then one Gets It! But, Why Do We…?