Blog by Steve Laug
Not too long ago a fellow in Eastern Canada was selling a foursome of Brigham rusticated pipes on Facebook. Jeff contacted him and we became the new owners of the pipes. He sent us some photos of the pipes that I have included below. It did not take long for them to arrive here in Vancouver. When they did I was amazed at how good they looked. Two of them were relatively clean and two were used. The top two pipes in the photo were clean and the bottom two were still dirty with cake and debris in the bowls. I decided I would work on them next. I turned to the final pipe of the lot a Bent Volcano shape – the second from the bottom in the photos below as marked by the red box outlining it. It is stamped on the underside with the shape number 184 on the shank followed further down the shank by Brigham. It was by far the most used of the four pipes. It had the thickest cake in the bowl, lava on the rim top and some damage to the end of the metal tenon/keeper for the Brigham Rock Maple Distillator. It was also probably the newest of the lot of four but I would figure that out as I worked on it. I took photos of the pipe when it arrived. There was some damage on the inner edge with the bowl being out of round. There was a moderate cake in the bowl in the bowl with lava overflowing into the rustication of the rim top. The shank and airways seem to be dirty with tars and oil. It did not have the Hard Rock Maple filter in the shank but the interior smelled strongly of tobacco. The stem was very clean and shiny without any tooth damage to the top or underside of the stem. The button was clean with no damage. Overall the pipe looked good even though it was a dirty one. I took photos of the rim top and the bowl to show the condition. The rim top was rusticated and covered in lava heavily at the back of the bowl. You can see the damage on the inner edge of the bowl making it out of round and the thick cake that is present. I also took photos of both sides of the stem to show the lack of tooth marks and chatter. Over all the pipe was in okay condition.I took a photo of the stamping on the underside of the shank. It is faint but it reads as noted above.I took a photo of the pipe with the stem removed to give an overall picture of the pipe. It really is quite beautiful.I took a photo of the rim top to show how out of round the bowl was and of the damage on the end of the aluminum Distillator holder/tenon. I have included them below. The red arrow shows one of the spots where the damage is visible.For historical background for those unfamiliar with the brand I am including the information from Pipedia on Brigham pipes. It is a great read in terms of the history and background on the pipes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Brigham_Pipes). Charles Lemon (Dadspipes) is currently working on a book on the history of the brand. Until that is complete this article is a good summary. I have included it below.
Roy Brigham, after serving an apprenticeship under an Austrian pipesmith, started his own pipe repair shop in Toronto, in 1906. By 1918 the business had grown to include five other craftsmen and had developed a reputation across Canada for the high quality of workmanship. After repairing many different brands of pipes over the years, Roy noted certain recurring complaints by pipe smokers, the most common referred to as “tongue bite”. Tongue bite is a burning sensation on the smoker’s tongue, previously thought to be due to the heat of the smoke (i.e. a “hot smoking pipe”).
He soon began manufacturing his own pipes, which were lightweight, yet featured a more rugged construction, strengthening the weak points observed in other pipes. The problem of tongue bite intrigued him, and he decided to make overcoming it a future goal.
About 1938, Roy’s son Herb joined him to assist in the business. The business barely survived the great depression because pipes were considered to be a luxury, not a necessity, and selling pipes was difficult indeed. In approximately 1937 , after some experimentation, Roy and Herb discovered that tongue bite was in fact a form of mild chemical burn to the tongue, caused by tars and acids in the smoke. They found that by filtering the smoke, it was possible to retain the flavour of the tobacco and yet remove these impurities and thereby stop the tongue bite.
Just as Thomas Edison had searched far and wide for the perfect material from which to make the first electric light bulb filaments, Roy & Herb began experimenting with many materials, both common and exotic, in the quest for the perfect pipe filter. Results varied wildly. Most of the materials didn’t work at all and some actually imparted their own flavour into the smoke. They eventually found just two materials that were satisfactory in pipes: bamboo and rock maple. As bamboo was obviously not as readily available, rock maple then became the logical choice.
They were able to manufacture a replaceable hollow wooden tube made from rock maple dowelling, which when inserted into a specially made pipe, caused absolutely no restriction to the draw of the pipe, yet extracted many of the impurities which had caused tongue bite. The result was indeed a truly better smoking pipe…
Charles Lemon has also written a great article on the stampings and marking on the Brigham pipes that fit into a time line that he has drafted. It is well worth a read and is fascinating. (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Brigham_Pipes_%E2%80%93_A_Closer_Look_at_Dots,_Dates_and_Markings). I quote from the pertinent section on the time frame for this pipe.
I have dubbed the decades between 1980 and 2000 the Late Canadian Era, a period that saw several changes at Brigham that are of note to the collector. First, the traditional 8-grade pinning system (the famous Brigham “Dots” which denoted the quality of the pipe) was changed to a 7-grade system to simplify pinning (more on this below), and the Norsemen and Valhalla series were merged to form the President Series, which represented the very finest pipes coming out of the Toronto factory. Early pipes from this era (left, below) are stamped with a shape number and “Brigham” over “Canada”; later pipes (late 1980s+, on right below) are stamped simply with a shape number and the Brigham logo.
This solidly places the pipe I am working on in the period of Brigham production that Charles calls the Late Canadian Era (1980-2000). It is a great looking pipe with an older style rustication pattern than the later Brighams that I have worked on.
Charles also put together a chart that helps the restorer to understand the Brigham dot system. I quote from the same link on Pipedia as noted above.
Revised Dot System 1980
Brigham changed the Dot system in 1980, adding a 7 Dot at the top of the line, dropping the names of each series and eliminating the confusing vertical and horizontal 3 Dot configurations. The Norsemen and Valhalla series were combined to form the President series of freehand pipes, which adopted a 3 Dot pattern with a larger dot on the right as shown below. The 7- grade pinning system stayed in place from 1980 to 2001. I knew that I was dealing with a pipe made between 1980-2000 from the Late Canadian Era. It sports 1 dot making it Brigham Series 100 pipe with a 3 digit shape number 184. Now to do a bit of spiffing with the pipe itself.
I reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer to remove the light cake from the bowl walls. It was uneven and needed to be removed so I took it back to bare briar. I cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and then sanded the bowl with a dowel wrapped with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the walls. I cleaned up the damage to the inner edge of the rim with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper and made the bowl edge both smooth and round.I scrubbed the exterior of the pipe with a brass bristle wire brush and a tooth brush with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap. I scrubbed it to remove the build up on the rim top. I rinsed it with warm water and dried it off with a soft cloth. I touched up the stain on the rim top and edges with a Maple Stain Pen to match the surrounding colour of the briar. Once it is buffed and polished I think it will look good.I cleaned out the internals with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners to remove the debris and the oils from the shank and tenon as well as the airway into the stem and bowl. I rubbed the bowl down with some Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the briar with my fingertips and a horse hair shoe brush. The product works to clean, renew and protect briar. I let it do its work for 15 minutes then buffed it off with a soft cloth. The pipe is really quite a beauty. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I polished out the surface of the stem ahead of the button on both sides using micromesh sanding pads. I also polished out the damaged end of the aluminum tube. I was not perfect but it was smooth and held the filter in place. I dry sanded the stem and tenon with the 1500-12000 grit pads, then wiped it down with a cloth impregnated with Obsidian Oil. I finished polishing it with Before & After stem polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I fit the clean and polished stem with the Brigham Rock Maple Distillator and took photos to show what it looked like. This is in essence a hollow Maple wood tube that serves to filter out the moisture and deliver a clean and flavourful smoke. I am excited to finish this Late Canadian Era Made in Canada Brigham 184 Bent Volcano. I put the pipe back together and buffed it with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine and hand buffed it with microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the rusticated finish. Added to that the polished black vulcanite stem with the shining brass pin was beautiful. This mixed grain on the rusticated Brigham 184 Volcano 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: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 1.55 ounces/44 grams. It is a beautiful pipe and one that will be on the rebornpipes store in the Canadian Pipe Makers Section soon. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know. Thanks for walking through the cleanup 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 those who follow us.