Restoring an E. Wilke N.Y.C.  Diamond Shank Apple


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I have chosen is a smooth, Diamond Shank Apple that was incredibly dirty. The grime on the finish pretty much obscured the grain around the bowl sides. There was a large amount of sand pits on the left side of the bowl. The grain around the bowl stands out clearly. Jeff and I picked this one up in the lot of 125+ Bertram pipes that bought from a fellow on the    East Coast. It was stamped on the left side of the shank. The stamping was readable. It read E. Wilke [over] NYC. There was no other stamping around the bowl and shank. It was in worn condition when he brought it to the table. The finish was dirty with grime ground into the briar sides and rim. There was a thick cake in the bowl and an overflow of lava on the rim top and heavier on the backside. The stem was oxidized, calcified and had heavy tooth marks and chatter on the top and underside near the button. Jeff took photos of the pipe before his cleanup work. They tell the story and give a glimpse of the promise that we see in this pipe.  Jeff took photos of the rim top to show the interior the bowl and the beveled inner edge. It is heavily caked with a thick lava overflow (particularly on the back of the rim top). The stem is oxidized, calcified and has tooth marks on the top and underside near the button. Jeff took some photos of the bowl sides and heel to show grain that was around this bowl. It looks like it will be a nice looking pipe under the grime. There are a lot of flaws on the left side of the bowl. He took a photo of the left side of the shank to show the stamping. The stamping is readable in the photos below and is as noted above. I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Wilke) and checked out the listing for E. Wilke N.Y.C. I quote the article as a whole.

Edwin Wilke founded Wilke Tobacco in 1872. As the story goes, according to a 1937 New York World-Telegram article, he had no sons, and so he taught his two daughters, Anna and Louisa Wilke, how to make pipes and blend tobacco, and by his death in 1930 they were well versed in both trades, and adamant about only using quality briar. In 1950, when they were the focus of an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, they were the only women pipe makers in the United States, and had sold pipes to Herbert Hoover, Lord Halifax, John Steinbeck and others. The sisters also blended pipe tobacco and repaired pipes. They did not, however, smoke pipes.

Wilke prided itself on “unpainted pipes”, and promised that only Macedonian briar was used, without paint, varnish, plug, or putty of any kind. As of 1950, some of their pipes were selling for up to $100.00, or just under $1,000.00 dollars today. By the release of a 1970 New York Magazine highlight of the shop, that claim had risen to $500.00, or over $3,000.00 today.

The Wilke Pipe Shop was located for decades on Madison Avenue in New York City, and in the 1970s opened a satellite store in the famed Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia, selling Wilke pipes made by Steven Johnson. In 1983, the brand was purchased by pipe maker Elliott Nachwalter and his wife, Carole Burns. They continued to operate the Madison Avenue store until the early 1990’s, at which point the couple moved to Vermont and Pipeworks & Wilke was born as a mail-order business.

Even after the marriage of Burns and Nachwalter, the business continued, with Nachwalter selling pipes in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Burns blending tobacco in Montpelier, Vermont. Burns continues to keep the 125 year old brand alive at http://www.vtpipes.com/.

As of July 1 2017 Wilke Tobacco was passed on to John Brandt of Fall River Ma. Where the Wilke blends will continue to be blended by hand to discerning customers all over the world http://www.wilkepipetobacco.com

I knew that I was dealing with a E. Wilke pipe made before 1990s when the shop in NYC closed and the company became an online business known as Pipeworks & Wilke. I also knew that the briar was Macedonian and that the flaws were leave as is without putty and the finish was natural. Now it was time to work on the pipe.

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. The stamping on the side of the stem was very light and the white that had remained was gone. I took some close up photos of the rim top and also of the stem surface. I wanted to show how well it had cleaned up. The rim top and edges look good over all. I also took close up photos of the stem to show the light tooth marks on both sides near the button.      I took photos of the stamping on the left and right side of the shank. You can see that it is stamped as noted above. It is clear and readable. I took the pipe apart and took a photo of the pipe. It is a good looking pipe and has some great grain around the bowl and shank.I decided to begin my work on the pipe be dealing with the flaws in the briar on the left side of the bowl. The first photo shows the flaws before I started working the area. The remaining photos in this section show the repair work and the result. I filled flaws in with briar dust and super glue. Once they cured I sanded the repaired area with 220 grit sandpaper to blend it into the surrounding briar. I finished by wet sanding with a 1500 grit micromesh pad to smooth out the area. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. After each pad I wiped the briar down with a damp cloth. It removed the remnant spots of varnish that were still on the shank end and back of the bowl. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. With that done the bowl was finished other than the final buffing. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine.   I am excited to finish this E. Wilke NYC Diamond Shank Apple. I put the pipe back together and buffed it with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I hand buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the grain popping through on the bowls sides and rim top. Added to that the polished black vulcanite stem was beautiful. This mixed grain on the smooth finish of the Diamond Shank Apple is nice looking and the pipe feels great in my hand. It is light and well balanced. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. It is a beautiful pipe and one that will be on the rebornpipes store soon. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog. Remember we are not pipe owners; we are pipemen and women who hold our pipes in trust until they pass on into the trust of the next pipeman or woman. 

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