Daily Archives: May 9, 2020

A Norm Thompson Catalogue Store English Made 15 Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the table came to us from one of Jeff’s pipe hunts and turns out to be a catalogue pipe from Norm Thompson in Portland, Oregon. It is a Norm Thompson Billiard that is in decent condition. It is stamped with a Ram’s Head logo over Norm Thompson on the top left side of the shank. On the right side it is stamped Made in England. That is followed by the shape number 15. The stamping is clear and readable. The pipe has a medium brown finish and overall some nice grain that the shape follows well. The finish had a shellac or varnish coat and it was very dirty with grime ground into the shiny finish of the bowl. The bowl had a thick but even cake in the bowl and some light lava overflow on the beveled inner edge of the top. There was darkening on the briar around the inner beveled edge and the top of the rim. The stem was in surprisingly good condition. There was not a tooth mark and there was no chatter to be found on the stem. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he cleaned it up. Jeff took photos of the rim top to show the thick cake in the bowl and the lava overflow on the beveled inner edge of the rim. The photos show the dark spots on the rim top.Jeff took some photos of the bowl sides and heel to show the nice grain that was on this bowl. It is a nice looking pipe. The stamping on each side of the shank is shown in the photos below. They look very good and readable.   The stem was a very good fit to the shank. It was oxidized, calcified and had debris stuck to the surface of the vulcanite. It was otherwise free of damage.   I found a discussion on Pipesmagazine.com about the brand and one of the responders gave some helpful information on the brand (https://pipesmagazine.com/forums/threads/thompson-pipes.72989/). I quote the section:

A USA Norm Tompson was started in Portland, Oregon. Here’s a brief history:

The company was founded by namesake Norman Anchor Thompson, Sr. in 1949 as a way to sell his homemade flies for fly-fishing.[6][7] An immigrant from Britain, he had settled in Salt Lake City before fighting for Canada in World War I.[7] After the war he lived briefly in Los Angeles before settling in Portland where he owned seven pipe shops and later two nightclubs during World War II.[7] Thompson retired after the war as owner of the nightclubs and tobacco shops.[6]

He started the new business as a mail order only business by placing an advertisement in Field & Stream,[8] and around 1951 handed it over to Peter Alport, his son-in-law.[6][7] Alport was in advertising in New York City where he owned Parma Advertising.[6] He worked to expand the company’s product offerings beyond fly-fishing items and into clothing and other outdoor merchandise, plus he developed the company’s slogan of Escape from the ordinary.[6] During his tenure, Norm Thompson opened its first retail store in 1959, located in Northwest Portland.[6] Namesake Norm Thompson died in 1968 from complications related to his exposure to mustard gas during his World War I military service in Europe.[7]

A unique pipe with lots of history!

From there I turned to search the company on the net and found a long article on the brand on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_Thompson_Outfitters). I quote a part of the article below.

Norm Thompson Outfitters is a privately owned catalog and internet retailer based in Middleton, Massachusetts [3] that was previously based in Hillsboro, Oregon, United States until September 2016.[4] The Norm Thompson offices were closed and consolidated due to Bluestem’s acquisition of their parent company, Orchard Brands, in July 2015.[5] Founded in 1949 by Norman A. (Norm) Thompson as a mail order business, it grew to annual sales of $200 million before it was sold to Golden Gate Capital Partners in 2006. The company sells clothing, gadgets, furniture, kitchen items, and gift items from its namesake catalog as well as from its Solutions and Sahalie brands. John Difrancesco serves as president and chief executive of the 500 employee company.

I followed another link to an article on the brand that identified the company with seven pipe shops in the Portland area (https://alchetron.com/Norm-Thompson-Outfitters). I quote:

The company was founded by namesake Norman Anchor Thompson, Sr. in 1949 as a way to sell his homemade flies for fly-fishing. An immigrant from Britain, he had settled in Salt Lake City before fighting for Canada in World War I. After the war he lived briefly in Los Angeles before settling in Portland where he owned seven pipe shops and later two nightclubs during World War II. Thompson retired after the war as owner of the nightclubs and tobacco shops.

I knew that I was dealing with a Norm Thompson 15 Billiard that was specially made for the Outfitters by a pipemaker in England. It is not clear who made the pipes for them. I turned to work on the pipe itself. Jeff had done a great job cleaning up the pipe as usual. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet reamer and cut back the cake back to the bare briar. He cleaned up the walls with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the interior of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the tars and oils. He scrubbed the exterior of the pipe with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime from the finish. He worked on the rim top lava and darkening with the soap and tooth brush. He was able to remove the varnish or shellac coat in his clean up of the bowl. He scrubbed the inside of the stem with alcohol and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Soft Scrub and then soaked it in Before & After Deoxidizer. He washed it off with warm water to remove the deoxidizer. The pipe looked far better. I took photos of the pipe when I received it before I started working on it. I took photos of the bowl and rim top as well as the stem to show how clean they were. You can see the darkening on the inner edge of the rim and the top on both sides.  The stem looks clean of oxidation and the tooth marks and chatter are very clear in the photos.I took photos of the stamping on the sides of the shank. The stamping is clear and readable as noted above.   I took a photo of the pipe with the stem removed to show the overall look of stem, tenon and profile of the pipe.I decided to start my work on the pipe by addressing the darkening on the rim top and beveled inner edge. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to work on the finish to remove the darkening on both. It took a bit of work but I was able to remove the majority of it and the end product looked much better.   I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiping the bowl down with a damp cloth after each pad. I rubbed the briar down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the briar with my fingertips. The product works to clean, enliven and preserve the briar. I let it sit for 10 minutes while I worked on the stem. After the time passed I buffed it with a cotton cloth to deepen the shine. The briar really comes alive with the balm.    I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I polished the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem.     This Norm Thompson 15 English Made Billiard is a nice looking pipe. The Medium Brown stain highlights some mixed grain around the bowl sides and the heel. The finish on the pipe is in excellent condition and the contrasting stains work well to highlight the grain on the pipe. The polished black vulcanite taper stem adds to the mix. With the grime and debris gone from the finish and the bowl it is eye-catching. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing it with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Norm Thompson 15 Billiard is quite nice and feels great in the hand. It is also a sitter with a flat bottom. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ¾ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another beautiful pipe. This pipe will be added to the British Pipe Makers section of the rebornpipes store soon. If you want to add it to your collection send me an email or a message! Thanks for your time.

Breathing Life into a 1957 (or is it a 1967) Dunhill Root Briar 251 EX606 Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the table came to us from one of Jeff’s pipe hunts on the Oregon Coast. It is a Dunhill Root Briar Billiard that is in decent condition. It is stamped EX606 over 251 which is the shape number followed by Dunhill over Root Briar on the left side of the shank. On the right side it is stamped with the 3R (which is the Group size and the R for Root Briar) and to the left is reads Made in England with what looks like a 7 superscript to me and 0 which gives the date the pipe was made. The stamping is clear and readable. The pipe has a medium brown finish and some amazing grain that the shape follows well. The finish was very dirty with grime ground into the grain around bowl sides. The bowl had a thick cake in the bowl and a heavy lava overflow on the top and the inner edge of the top. There was a burn mark on the left outer edge of the bowl. It was hard to know the overall condition of the rim top and edges because of the grime. The stem was dirty, oxidized and had some calcification around the button. There was light tooth chatter and marks on the stem near the button on both sides. The stem has the Dunhill White Spot logo on the top of the taper stem. Jeff took photos of the pipe to show what it looked like before he cleaned it up. Jeff took photos of the rim top to show the thick cake in the bowl and the lava overflow on the top and damage to the outer edge of the rim. The photos show the rim top and bowl from various angles.Jeff took some photos of the bowl sides and heel to show the nice grain that was on this bowl. It is a quite beautifully grained pipe. The stamping on each side of the shank is shown in the photos below. They look very good and readable. Here is where the question comes in on the date – is the 7 after the D in England on the third photo below a superscript or is it the same as the D. To me it is a superscript. You can also see the White Spot on the top of the taper stem in the last of the four photos below. The stem was a very good fit to the shank. It was oxidized, calcified and had debris stuck to the surface of the vulcanite. There was tooth chatter and marks on both sides of the stem and on the button surface.    I turned to Pipedia’s section on Dunhill Root Briar to get a bit of background on this particular Duhill finish (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill#Root_Briar). I quote:

Introduced in 1931 and highly prized because the grain is more pronounced in this finish (usually made using Corsican briar). The Root Briar finish requires a perfectly clean bowl with excellent graining. Therefore, it is the most expensive of the Dunhill pipes. Corsican briar was most often used for the Root finish since it was generally more finely grained. This is a rare finish, due to the scarcity of briar suitable to achieve it. These pipes are normally only available at Company stores, or at Principle Pipe Dealers. Straight grained pipes were formerly graded A through H, but are now only “Dr’s” and graded with one to six stars, with the letters G and H still used for the very finest pieces.

The article also cited a section from John Loring confirming the above information and giving a bit more colour to the information.

“Dunhill introduced its third major finish, the Root finish, in 1931. Corsican mountain briar is characteristically beautifully grained and the Root was made exclusively from that briar into the 1960s. The pipe was finished with a light natural stain to allow the beauty of the graining to show through. Although always available with a traditional black vulcanite bit, the Root was introduced in either 1930 or more likely 1931 and fitted with a marble brown dark and light grained vulcanite bit that has since become known as the ‘bowling ball’ bit because of the similarity in appearance between the bit’s finish and that of some bowling balls of the time. With the war, however, the bowling ball bit was dropped from production. Through 1954 (and after) the Root pipe nomenclature (including shape numbers) was identical to that of the Bruyere except that instead of the “A” of the Bruyere, the Root was stamped with an “R”. In 1952 when the finish rather than LONDON was placed under DUNHILL, ROOT BRIAR rather than BRUYERE was used for the Root.” Loring, J. C., The Dunhill Briar Pipe, The Patent Years and After (self-published, Chicago, 1998).

I have also included a chart from the site from Dunhill spelling out the Standard Pipe Finishes and giving short information and a timeline.

I also wanted to understand the additional stamps on the shank. There were two I wanted to clarify. One the left side there was the EX606 over the shape number. On the right side there was the superscript Date code and a second number – an underlined 0. I continued to search the connected pages on Dunhill. There was a specific page or section on the Dunhill Additional Stamps that helped some (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill_Additional_Stamps).

“The reason for dating a pipe was due to a one-year-guarantee offered by Dunhill, that they would replace a pipe if it had any issues in its first year. Sometimes, a pipe would be made and stamped, yet wouldn’t leave the factory until the next year or even later, when it would then receive a current extra date-code. Due to this, there are several examples of pipes with double, triple, or even quadruple date-codes stamped onto them.” Steven Snyder.

These additional codes were added by the retail stores – that’s why they were not uniform. For example, situations that the pipes were not sold in the same year of production, it was a way to establish a new warranty period. In cases where the customer requested a F/T stem (for example) or some minor cosmetic issue was found, the pipe returned to the factory and, in some cases, received a new coverage date. In these situations the extra date-code is uniform.

“It might have been added by the point-of-sales (shop, when the pipe was actually sold, so the guarantee period was easier to identify.” Hener, K. S., Product Line Director – The White Spot Smoker’s Accessory Division and Walthamstow site.

There is a bit of question as to the date on this pipe. I have had people on the various groups on Facebook say it is a 1957 sold in 1960 pipe and others say it is a 1967 sold in 1970 pipe.  All of the dating is dependent on how you see the 7 after the D in England. I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/dunhill/cledat-en1a.html) to see what I could find out. Here is the chart I used and I have drawn a red box around the portion I used.I also captured the stamping on two separate pipes to show my conclusion. The first one shows the stamp on a 1967 pipe with the 7 being essentially the same size as the D in England. The second one is a 1958 pipe with a smaller superscript that is in the same placement as the 7 on the pipe that I have in hand. So I am pretty confident that the double date stamp was the year the pipe was made and the year that it sold. In this case it was a 1957 pipe that sold in 1960.

I turned to Eric Boehm’s part of the article on the Pipedia section on the Dunhill shapes. I found the listing for the Billiard that I was working on but still no information on the EX 606 number above it (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill_Shapes_List). I quote:

251 Billiard, tapered bit (Relief bit) 3 5¾” 1950 3

That fits this pipe perfectly – a billiard with a tapered stem with a length of 5 ¾ inches. First used in 1950 in a Group 3 size.

I posted a question on the stamping on the Tobacco Pipe Restorers Group on Facebook and got this response from Alfredo Baquerizo:

This is a Root Briar from 1957 shape 251, group 3 and the R is for root. It’s an EX an exchange pipe by warranty Dunhill system. The 606 I think that is the exchange pipe number, I’m not sure.

I also posted on the Vintage Dunhill Pipes Group on Facebook and enjoyed the responses. One of the posters there, Jean-Paul Varon gave this information.

Ex606 = exchange of a pipe under guarantee.

That was the extent of the information that I could find at this point. It seems likely that the EX is the Dunhill Exchange Warranty system and the 606 could well be the Exchange pipe number. Is it possible that the EX606 could also include a date code in it? Possibly being the year 1960 and the sixth pipe of the year that was a replacement?

I turned to work on the pipe itself. Jeff had done a great job cleaning up the pipe as usual. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet reamer and cut back the cake back to the bare briar. He cleaned up the walls with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the interior of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the tars and oils. He scrubbed the exterior of the pipe with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime from the finish. He worked on the rim top lava and darkening with the soap and tooth brush. He scrubbed the inside of the stem with alcohol and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Soft Scrub and then soaked it in Before & After Deoxidizer. He washed it off with warm water to remove the deoxidizer. The pipe looked far better. I took photos of the pipe when I received it before I started working on it. I took photos of the bowl and rim top as well as the stem to show their condition. You can see the damage to the rim topo and inner edge. There a nicks and chip on the edge and top there is a burned area on the rear left outer edge. There is generally some heavy darkening on the top.  The stem on the other hand looks very good in the photos. I took photos of the stamping on the sides of the shank. The stamping is clear and readable as noted above.   I took a photo of the pipe with the stem removed to show the overall look of stem, tenon and profile of the pipe.I decided to start my work on the pipe by addressing the darkening and damage on the rim top and edges of the top. I lightly topped the bowl to remove the damage on the top and the inner edge of the rim. It also helped with the damage to the outer edge as well. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to work on the inner edge a bit more. It took work but I was able to remove the majority of it. There was still one spot of burn damage on the left rear outer edge but it was smaller than when I had started.   I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiping the bowl down with a damp cloth after each pad.   I stained the polished rim top with the lightest coloured stain pen I have – Oak and was able to blend it into the overall colour of the bowl. The rim top looked amazingly better than when I started and has some great grain that is parallel to that on the heel of the bowl.I rubbed the briar down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the briar with my fingertips. The product works to clean, enliven and preserve the briar. I let it sit for 10 minutes while I worked on the stem. After the time passed I buffed it with a cotton cloth to deepen the shine. The briar really comes alive with the balm.  I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. Because it was in such good condition I polished the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem.   I decided to pause and go sit in the yard in the shade and enjoy a bowl of MacBarens HH Old Dark Fired in my Downie Pipe before I polished the Dunhill. Need a bit of a break!This uniquely stamped Dunhill Root Briar 251 Billiard is a piece of Dunhill’s Warranty History – made in 1957 and sold or exchanged in 1960 at least that is my call though others have seen it as made in 1967 and sold in 1970. It is a great looking pipe in spite of the remaining burn mark on the rim. The Light Brown stain highlights some great grain around the bowl sides and the heel. It has some of the most stunning birdseye grain I have seen in a while on the right side of the bowl. The finish on the pipe is in excellent condition and the stain works well to highlight the grain. The polished black vulcanite taper stem adds to the mix. With the grime and debris gone from the finish and the bowl it was a beauty and is eye-catching. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel being careful to not buff the stamping. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing it with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished 251 Billiard is quite nice and feels great in the hand. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. I can only tell you that like the other pipes I am working that it is much prettier in person than the photos capture. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ¾ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another beautiful pipe. This pipe will be added to the British Pipe Makers section of the rebornpipes store soon. If you want to add it to your collection send me an email or a message! Thanks for your time.