New Life for a Mystery Pipe – an Imported Sterling Briar Author


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe in the queue is a ¼ Bent Author that Jeff picked up from an auction he follows in Michigan. It is a great looking pipe with some beautiful grain – swirls of birdseye, straight and flame grain around the bowl and shank. 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 Sterling with Imported arched over the Sterling name and Briar arched underneath. The pipe was filthy with a thick cake in the bowl and overflowing lava on the back of the beveled rim top. There was some burn damage and darkening on the back inner edge of the rim but it was hard to know how badly damaged it was until it was cleaned up. There were some nicks in the outer edge of the bowl as well. Even though it was dirty there was some nice grain peeking out from under the grime. The exterior of the briar was dirty and dull looking – lifeless after sitting unused for years. The bent tapered stem is vulcanite and has no marking or stamping. It is good quality vulcanite but is pitted all over both sides. There are some tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. There was a tarnished Sterling Silver band on the shank with the following Hallmarks – a rampant lion (.925 silver stamp), an anchor (the Birmingham assay office) and an upper case letter “T” which will give me some idea of the date on at least the band. The photos below tell the story and give a glimpse of the pipe before clean up. I took photos of the bowl and rim to capture the condition of the pipe before Jeff did his cleanup work. There was significant darkening on the rim top and a cake in the bowl flowing over as lava on the back top edge. The inner edge showed some burn damage to the back side and rim top. The outer edges of the bowl had some nicking from the pipe being knocked out against something hard.Jeff took some photos of the side and underside of the bowl to show some of the issues with the old finish. It was more scratched than nicked but it was very worn looking on the underside of the bowl. You can also see the tarnish on the silver band in the photos.He took a photo of the stamping on the left side of the shank. It reads as noted above. The stamping is well done and readable. The photo of the silver band shows the hallmarks as noted above.The stem had some oxidation but was good quality vulcanite. There was some wear on the button edges and some tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the stem. The surface was also pitted and worn looking.I remembered working on a similar brand but was not sure how the Imported Briar stamped (which is usually used on USA made pipes) with the Hallmarks identifying the Sterling Silver band as Birmingham made and bearing a “T” date stamp. The conflicting information had several possible resolutions. One was that the pipe could be an American made pipe and the band added as bling later in its life time. Another would be that the pipe was made in England for export into the USA and the band was original. At this point I was not sure what to think about the situation. More work was necessary to see if I could gain some insight.

I turned first to the Pipephil website (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-s12.html). There was some information on a brand that was stamped Sterling Hall that was made by Briarcraft in New York City. The stamping was very different from the one in my hands. The stamping on Pipephil was Germanic script and had the Shield B logo of Briarcraft. The one that had in hand had neither one of those. The Aged Imported Briar stamp was also longer and different from the arched Imported Briar in block letters around the uppercase block STERLING. So at this point I was not sure there was a link to Sterling Hall. I have included a screen capture of the stamping for you to compare with the one above on this pipe.I turned to my other go to site for information – Pipedia. I looked in the British makers list for Sterling pipes but there was nothing listed. I turned to the same in the USA makers list and again it was not listed. I decided to have a look at the listing for Briarcraft and see if I could possibly find some pertinent information (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Briarcraft). I quote:

Richard Kliethermes Sr. was the founder of Briarcraft. First located on Pipetown Hill Rd, Spring Valley, NY., it moved later to 66 Central Ave., Spring Valley, NY. After the death of RK Sr., business was run by Richard Kliethermes Jr. († 1943) and was quite prosperous between 1920 and 1940. The company closed in 1950.

Briarcraft Pipe Company was very prosperous between 1920 and 1940 and usually feature a diamond shield logo. They also produced a line of seconds under the following names: Airo, Arcadian, Briarmeer, Smokemaster, Cavalcade, Hallmark, Sterling Hall, and Wimbledon. They closed their doors in 1950.

Briarcraft was started by Richard Kliethermes Sr. and located on Pipetown Hill Rd, Spring Valley, NY. It received its power from a dam on Hyenga Lake, later it moved to 66 Central Ave., Spring Valley, NY. At first it was housed in a 2 story frame building and later a 2 story stone building was added. Upon the death of RK Sr., business was run by Richard Jr, between 1920 and 1940 it was second in size to Frank Medico pipes. All the briar root was imported from Africa, with the start of WWII, imports stopped and a briar like root was imported from S. Carolina. Richard Kliethermes Jr. was the inventor of a pipe known as Smokemaster, which used a doubled up pipe cleaner in the bit to absorb tobacco juice. With the decline in business during WWII and the following 5 years it closed its doors 1950.

I have highlighted in red text the name Sterling Hall. There is no other help with the brand and there was nothing to link it to the Sterling I was working on. The other interesting thing of note in the above information is that the pipes were usually stamped with a Diamond Shield logo. The word “usually” could apply to this one not having a stamped logo.

I also checked in my copy of Who Made that Pipe (WMTP) by Herb Wilczak and Tom Cowell, copyright 1997. There I found a bit more help. There were several listings for the Sterling pipe and also variations on the name. I did a screen capture of the section showing the brands.In the above chart you can see that Arlington Briars in the US and Comoy’s, Delacour Bros and Orlik made them in England. You can also see that Kapp & Peterson made them in Ireland and Stanwell also had a Sterling brand made in Denmark. There was also a Sterling Band brand listed under Wally Frank in the US. It was pretty easy to say that the pipe in hand was not a Stanwell or Peterson made pipe so that left others that interested me.

I turned to the section on Arlington Briars to see if there were any ties there to help me get a better picture (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Arlington). I quote a part of that article and highlight the section that may give some insight. Again there is nothing certain in the article tying the brand to this company.

According to José Manuel Lopes, “North American brand that belonged to Arlington Briar Pipes Corp., Brooklyn, New York, founded in 1919. In the 1940s, Ludwig Rosenberger gave the company new life, and it continued until the 70s. His son, Mel Rosenberger, has recently launched the DiMonte brand. Jack Uhle was also linked to Arlington.” Arlington, as far as known, mainly operated as a sub-contractor for other brands. The Jobey pipes are said to be made by Arlington at an unknown point of time. Arlington’s own pipes are seldom seen.

I checked out the article on Pipedia on Delacour Bros. to see if there was a tie. But it did not have enough information to be truly helpful (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Delacour_Brothers).

I also checked the section on the Comoy’s and the Orlik article that pertained to seconds lines and there was no tie to the Sterling in either of them.

I then turned to the last noted make from the above WMTP chart – Wally Frank. I thought maybe that was a possibility as they had many companies make pipes for them. Here is the link on Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Wally_Frank). I quote a portion of the article here for my purposes and have highlighted the portion that is interesting to this discussion:

Their numerous private-label pipes were made by many makers, including Charatan, Sasieni, Weber, and many others. Wally Frank, Ltd. also owned the Pioneer brand of meerschaum pipes, made from both Turkish and African meerschaum. In addition to importing pipes, he had many pipes made in his own name and also employed pipemakers like Peter Stokkebye, Svend Bang, and Ed Burak (who later became the owner of Connoisseur). As a result, each Wally Frank pipe must be individually evaluated on its own merit.

I have run into a dead end on the research of this pipe. I do not know where else to turn with looking for the brand. What I do know is that the most that can be said about this pipe is that it is certainly a USA Import Pipe. How it came to have a British Hallmarked Silver band on the shank is shrouded in mystery and I will probably never figure out the connection. Perhaps one of you readers can shed some light on the brand. If so let us know. Onto working on the pipe itself!

Jeff did his usual thorough cleaning of the pipe. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet Pipe reamer to take the cake back to bare briar. He cleaned up the reaming with the Savinell Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the exterior of the pipe with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. He rinsed the bowl off with warm tap water to remove the grime. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol until they were clean. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer and when it had done its magic, rinsed it off the exterior and in the airway with warm water. He dried it and buffed it with a soft clot to remove the oxidation. I took the following photos of the pipe before I did my part in the restoration. I took a photo of the bowl and rim top to show its condition after Jeff had scrubbed it. You can see the darkening and the damage on the back inner edge of the bowl. You can also see the nicking on the outer edge of the bowl. The stem looked very good other than the few tooth marks on the surface of both sides ahead of the button. There was also some damage to the sharp edge of the button that would need to be dealt with. The silver band looked good.I took a close up photo of the stamping on the shank. The reflection of the flash makes it hard to capture the stamping on the band but it has the following Hallmarks – a rampant lion (.925 silver stamp), an anchor (the Birmingham assay office) and an upper case letter “T” which will give me some idea of the date on at least the band.I decided to figure out the potential date on at least the silver band. I found another helpful website on British silver hallmarks that covered hallmarks dating from 1743 to 2024 (https://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Dates/Birmingham.html).I know that the graphic is small but check the link. When you are on the site you can click on the date letter you are looking for and it will give you every listing on the chart with that letter. I clicked on the “T” link which I have included below and it took me to a listing of the T dates (https://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Dates/Birmingham/Date%20Letters%20T.html).

The date that corresponded to the hallmarks on the band were those listed for 1943. When I clicked on the date I was taken to a larger view of the stamp. I have included that here as well.

So at least I could be certain that the band for the pipe was Sterling Silver that bore the Birmingham hallmark Anchor and the date stamp of a capital T which identified it as having been stamped in 1943.

The trouble was I could not link it to the manufacturer of the briar… ah well. There always remains a bit of mystery in these restorations.

I decided to address the issues with the rim edges of the bowl first. I filled in the deep nicks and gouges on the outer edges of the bowl with clear super glue. Once the repairs had cured I sanded them smooth with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I also worked on the inner edge of the rim to remove the damage to the back side of the bowl. Once I beveled the inner edge of the rim to bring it back to round, I decided to continue my ongoing experiment with a new product from Mark Hoover of Before & After Products. This one is a product he labels briar cleaner and it has the capacity of absorbing grime and dirt from the surface of briar. I rubbed the bowl down with some of his Briar Cleaner to see how it would work in this setting. In speaking to Mark he noted that the product is completely safe to use. The main product is even FDA approved edible. I rubbed it onto the bowl and rim top with my finger tips and worked it into the grime and grit on the bowl. I let it sit on the pipe for about 5 minutes before I rubbed it off with a microfibre cloth. I rinsed it under warm running water to remove the residue. I was pleasantly surprised by how clean the surface on the bowl looked when I was finished. I polished the bowl and rim with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad to remove the sanding debris. My goal was to further remove the darkening on the both the rim top and the outer edges of the bowl. 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. Mark Hoover’s Balm is a product that I have come to appreciate and one I use on every pipe I have been working on. While there is still a bit of darkening on the rim it is still quite a stunning pipe. Have a look at the bowl now. With the bowl finished I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. I wiped the surface down with some Obsidian Oil and dried it off. I filled in the deep tooth marks on both sides and repaired the edge of the button with clear super glue.Once the repairs had hardened I used a needle file to redefine the sharp edge of the button and to flatten the repaired areas. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface of the repairs and blend them into the stem. 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 1500-12000 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 put the pipe back together again and 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 rich finish and the interesting grain on this briar came alive with the buffing. The finish on the briar works well with the polished black vulcanite stem. The finished pipe is a well-proportioned, nicely grained shape that I would call an Author. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. This beautiful mystery pipe is bound to be a great smoker. Was it made in England or the USA? Were the band English and the pipe American? I am not sure we will ever know for certain. But it was an interesting mystery to research and restore. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me.

 

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