Daily Archives: May 20, 2022

A Chunky and Squat Custom-Bilt Pot


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I chose to work on is one that has been here in my box to work on since around 2016. It is a well made, interesting looking Custom-Bilt chunky Pot. The more I looked at it the more I thought that it had not gone through Jeff’s cleaning before it came here. I actually have no idea where it was from and when it came us. The bowl had moderate cake and the inner edge had damage and the rim top was darkened. The pipe is a classic Custom-Bilt piece – a rusticated Chubby shank Pot shaped pipe with some deep carving around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the heel of the bowl and reads Imported Briar [over] Custom-Bilt. On the right side of the shank it bears a carved circle near the stem/shank junction. Looking at the pipe you can see signs that the bowl had been heavily caked with an overflow of lava on the rim top and the inner edge. The bowl and shank smelled dirty and seemed to be oily. The stem looked good and had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button. There were no markings or a logo on the taper stem. It looked pretty good when I brought it to the worktable. I took photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the appearance of the rim top and edges of the bowl. There was some darkening on the rustication on the top and some lava in the grooves. There was also some damage to the inner edge of the bowl. I took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the chatter and tooth marks. The stamping on the heel of the bowl is faint but still readable and read as noted above. I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. It is a stubby pipe.I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html) to get a quick view of the brand once again. I knew that I was working with one of the older pipes and probably made by Tracy Mincer himself. He stopped making the Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The screen capture I included below shows a brief history of the brand. It also has a comment on the symbols stamped on the shank near the stem including the square that is stamped on this one.I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:CustomBilt_Stamp1.jpg) for a quick read. The majority of the information there included two book reviews of the “Custom-Bilt Story” by Bill Unger.

The one line I culled was the following: “Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934”.

I did a screen capture of the stamping that matched the stamping on the pipe that I am working on. What I learned from that is that the stamp was used by Tracy Mincer in Indianapolis in the US from 1938-1946 and possibly in Chicago before 1938 as well. So now I had a possible date for this pipe. It was an old timer and it was well worth working on.Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe itself. I started my work on the pipe by cleaning up the reaming in the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer. I used a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to remove the remainder and then sanded the bowl walls with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel. The bowl walls looked very good. I scrubbed the externals with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. I worked over the rim top and the rest of the bowl and rinsed it off with warm water. I dried off the briar with a cotton towel.   I turned next to the remaining darkening on the rim top and used a brass bristle brush and worked it over to remove the grime and debris that was still present there. It looked better when I finished.  I cleaned up the damage to the inner edge of the rim. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to reshape the edge. The finished rim top and edge looks better. I wiped the rim top down with alcohol to remove the sanding dust. Once I had dried it off I rubbed it down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 10-15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine.  While I was buffing it I found that I had forgotten to clean the insides of the shank and stem. I cleaned it with isopropyl alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. It smelled much better.    I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. I “painted” the stem with the flames of a lighter to lift them as much as possible. I filled in the remaining tooth marks with black super glue.     Once the repair cured I flattened the repair on the topside and shaped the button edge on both sides with a small flat file. I sanded the button edges and the repairs on the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the vulcanite. I started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. It is starting to look very good.    I polished the vulcanite stem 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 Custom-Bilt Pot is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is highlighted by the stain application and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite stem. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Custom-Bilt is another pipe that fits nicely in the hand and feels great. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 42 grams/1.48 ounces. I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store in the American Pipemakers Section shortly. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!

Cleaning up an Ehrlich Special Panel Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I chose to work on is one that has been here in my box to work on since around 2016. It is a well made, beautifully grained Panel Billiard with a square shank and taper stem. It had gone through Jeff’s cleaning before it came here so it was quite clean. The bowl had been reamed and the rim top scrubbed. The stem was still oxidized so I would guess that we picked it up before we started using Mark Hoover’s Before & After Stem Deoxidizer. The finish looked very good with amazing cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and birdseye on the bowl sides. It was very beautiful under the dull finish at this point. It was stamped on the left side of the shank and read Ehrlich in block caps. On the right side it was stamped Imported Briar [over] Special. It has a vulcanite square taper stem that is oxidized and is very tight in the shank. The stem bears Ehrlich “E” logo on the left side. I took photos of the pipe when I brought it to the work table.  I took photos of the bowl and rim top and the stem surfaces to show the condition of both. The bowl, rim top and edges look very good. There was some darkening on the op and inner and outer edges look very good. The stem is also in great condition other than the oxidation and speckles of grime stuck to the surface of the stem.I took photos of the stamping on the sides of the shank. It is clear and readable as noted above. The Ehrlich logo of E is on the left side of the stem is also in good condition. I took the stem off the shank to show the overall look of this interesting panel pipe. It really is a beautiful piece of briar.I set the pipe aside to do a bit of reading on the history of the brand before I worked on it. I have worked on quite a few Ehrlich pipes in the past and wanted to refresh my memory of the back story of the brand. I checked first on Pipephil (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-e1.html) and found photos of various pipes. The picture of the second pipe is stamped similarly to the one I am working on. The EHRLICH is stamped the same way and the E logo is the same. There are no photos of the SPECIAL. I am including a screen capture of the pertinent information. There was no other information in the sidebars.Then I turned to Pipedia and was more successful (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Ehrlich%27s). I quote a portion of that article below that gives a bit of history and more importantly cleared up where the pipes came from for me.

The David P. Ehrlich story – Pipemakers and Tobacconists for a Hundred Years, 1868-1968.

The David P. Ehrlich Company has remained solely in the hands of one family during its century of business, yet it has had several firm names and locations. David P. Ehrlich went to work in 1881 at the age of twenty for Ferdinand Abraham, who dealt in cigars and tobacco and who had begun business in 1868 at 1188 Washington Street in the South End, but in 1880 moved to the center of the city, where the firm has been ever since. David Ehrlich married the boss’s daughter. In 1916 the name became the David P. Ehrlich Company and Mr. Ehrlich devoted the rest of his life to this business. Since David’s death in 1912 it has been owned by – his nieces and nephews including Richard A. and William Ehrlich.

Ehrlich shop has since 1880 had a predilection for historic sites. 25 Court Street was close to the spot where from 1721-1726 James Franklin had, with the assistance of his brother Benjamin, published The New-England Courant. In 1908 the firm moved a few doors up Court Street to number 37, on the opposite corner of the alley that is grandiloquently named Franklin Avenue. This new location was on the site of the one-time printing office of Edes and Gill, publishers of the Boston Gazette, in whose back room some of the “Indians” of the Boston Tea Party assumed their disguises. Soon after the end of World War II at which time the store was located at 33 Court Street a move around the corner to 207 Washington Street brought the shop diagonally across from the Old State House and onto the site occupied from 1610-1808 by the First Church of Boston. The demolition of 207 Washington Street in 1967 caused still another move to 32 Tremont Street, adjoining King’s Chapel burying Ground, which is the oldest cemetery in Boston.

The David P. Ehrlich Co. has not just occupied sites intimately associated with Boston history and institutions; it has in the past century become a Boston institution in its own right. It has specialized in fine cigars, pipes, and pipe tobacco. In addition to the retail business, the firm has long specialized in the manufacture of pipes, both from Algerian briar root…

That gave the history of the brand and was written in a way that fascinated me. I included a lot of because of that. I knew that the pipe I was working on was stamped Imported Briar which generally points to a pipe made elsewhere for Ehrlich and brought to the US.

There were some deep scratches on the underside of the shank that I decided to steam out. I used a flat table knife, a damp cloth and the flame from my gas range to heat and create steam to raise the scratches. It worked quite well and removed some and minimized the others.  I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I was able to remove the varnish coat on the bowl and shank with the pads. I wiped the briar down with a damp cloth between each sanding pad. The briar took on a rich shine and there was some nice grain around the bowl and shank sides. I rubbed some Before & After Restoration Balm into the finish of the pipe. I worked it into the briar because the product cleans, enlivens and protects the briar. I let the pipe sit with the Balm for 10 minutes then buffed it off with a soft towel. The Balm did its magic and the pipe looked really good. I turned my attention to the stem. It was oxidized but did not have any tooth marks or chatter on either side. I scrubbed it with cotton pads and Soft Scrub all purpose cleanser. I worked on it until the stem surface was clean and ready polish.I touched up the E stamp on the side of the stem with white acrylic nail polish. I worked it into the E stamp with a tooth pick to get it into the grooves of the stamp. It was deep enough that it looked very good.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with a cloth impregnated with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine then gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. This Ehrlich Special Imported Briar Panel Billiard with a Taper Vulcanite stem looks really good. The grain around the bowl and shank stands out with the contrasting brown stains. I put the pipe back together and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the wheel (being careful of the stamping on the stem so as not to damage it). I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax and 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 dimensions of this pipe are – Length: 5 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 1.34 ounces/38 grams. It is a great looking pipe and one that will be going on the rebornpipes store in the American Pipe Makers section. If you want to add it to your collection let me know via email to slaug@uniserve.com or by message. Thanks for walking through the cleanup with me.