House of Robertson Pipes – Boise Pipe Carver Thayne Robertson


Blog by Bob Hartman

I have restored quite a few pipes by Thayne Robertson (https://rebornpipes.com/tag/house-of-robertson-pipes/), Jeff and I were drawn to them as we grew up in Idaho and spent time in Boise for school and family fun. I have been looking for information on the carver, Thayne Robertson since I started restoring his pipes and was surprised to see this article show up on a FaceBook Group on Boise History that I follow. It was written in December 29, 2019 by Bob Hartman who is an Admin for the group. Here is a link to the article and the comments on it. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/114625865783301/permalink/549658705613346/?comment_id=549887142257169)

I wrote Bob a message and he responded. I have included that interchange below as it is quite interesting.

Hi Bob. I have a pipe refurbishing blog called rebornpipes. I have restored quite a few of Thayne Robertson’s pipes. I came across the article on the Boise History Page and would love to post it on the rebornpipes blog. Is that allowable?

Bob replied

Feel Free.

I wrote him and asked if he wrote it as it was very good. Here is what he sent me.

Yes, I did. I grew up always seeing Thayne’s pipe shop downtown Boise, and like many I remember the wonderful smell. A couple of years ago I aquired a photo of him and one of his large carvings, and it intrigued me enough too take a closer look at Mr. Robertson. His son Jon who also worked in the shop is still living in Boise, but I have not been able to contact him.

Without further ado I invite you to read about Thayne Robertson, a Boise, Idaho pipe maker. Thanks Bob for permission to repost this on rebornpipes. Enjoy.

The pipes Thayne Roberson started carving as a hobby in college became so popular that in 1940-41 he opened the Ye Olde Pipe Shop in the Egyptian Theater building. A year later he moved his shop to 203 N. 9th. By 1948 he needed more room and moved his shop next door to 205 N. 9th, and renamed his business House Of Robertson. In 1951 he moved the shop once again. This time to 105 S. 9th, on the other side of Main Street from his old shop. He stayed there until 1956.

In April of 1956 Thayne announced that he was closing shop and leaving Boise, but it appears that there was a change in plans. In November of the same year he reopened the business out of his home shop on Clark Street, then in 1964 Thayne announced that he was once again opening a new pipe store downtown, at 216 N. 9th. This would be his final location. The store most of us probably remember.

Robertson pipes were, in fact, world renown. Pipes being produced at the time were holdovers from the previous century. Thayne’s new free form designs turned the pipe world on its ear. Few crafts have been infuenced more by one artist than pipe making was by Thayne. Other makers scrambled to get his latest catalog to copy his work. Thayne mastered mail order sales early on, and had by 1948 mailed pipes to sixteen foreign countries and all 48 states. When Britian’s Ambassador Lord Invechapel came through Boise he stopped and picked up a couple of pipes from Thayne. One Mr. E. Housinkveld from the Netherland’s ordered a Calabash, a style unavailable in Holland. Thayne also carried a patent on a model he called the “Stoker”, which operated on the same principle as an old coal stoker, the bowl being fed through an auger system. . . . but wait a sec.

Actually Thayne’s pipes are not what I meant to talk about. We need to back up to 1934. Back when Thayne made his living as a journeyman pressman for The Capital News, and carved as a hobby. It was in 1934 that Thayne heard that a wooden Indian was needed for a Hollywood movie, and decided to give it a shot. After dragging home a tree that he had cut down in the Boise mountains, he spent around 100 hours chopping out a figure of Sacajawea, complete with papoose. Hollywood wasn’t interested, but he found a private collector who was.
Encouraged by the sale, Thayne continued carving wooden Indians, but was discouraged in the amount people were willing to pay for them. As he figured that he was pulling in about 25 cents an hour carving, he kept his day job.

Around 1944 several night clubs had opened in the area and several of them wanted a wooden Indian as advertising. They commissioned Thayne to produce the life size figures, which he sold for $400 each. It wasn’t long before Thayne could quit his day job, and moved his Indian carving into his shop on 9th street.

By 1954 Thayne was producing as many as 25 Indians in a good year, and a career total of about 70. He carved them for many different types of businesses, except for one. He never sold a wooden Indian to a cigar store. The only tobacco store to receive a wooden Indian was when he carved one for his own. One time a Midwestern tourist trap commissioned him to carve life size figures of Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, Sitting Bull, Belle Star, Johnny Ringo, Bill Dalton, and Chief Big Foot, which was over 7 feet tall. Now that is a tall order! (Sorry about that)

He appeared on two national television shows, “What’s My Line” in 1953, and “To Tell the Truth” in 1966, as a carver of wooden Indians.

Thayne’s obituary states that he “invented literally thousands of original pipe designs, and is regarded by knowledgeable pipe experts as America’s pre-eminent 20th century pipe craftsman and designer.” As a carver of pipes and Indians “He may very well have been the most prominent folk artist in the history of Idaho, and it is hoped that someday he may be accorded the recognition that he deserved.”

Thayne Robertson died January 24, 1987 at 72 years old.

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