Category Archives: Pipe and Tobacco Historical Documents

Papers Included in a Hayim Pinhas Meerschaum


Blog by Steve Laug

My brother picked up an unsmoked Hayim Pinhas Turkish carved meerschaum pipe somewhere along his pipe hunting travels. In the boxed and bagged meerschaum there were some interesting papers that Hayim included in all of his pipes. The first is an introduction to the pipe and a guide to its history and its manufacture. It is also has a simple guide for breaking it in for the new owner. I scanned a copy of it and included it below. I also typed it out so that it easier to read. I thought many of you might be interested in seeing this interesting document and reading it. Thanks for looking.

 

 

 

Hayim Pinhas
P.O. Box 500
Istanbul – Turkey

THIS PIPE IS MADE FROM PURE BLOCK MEERSCHAUM:
Meerschaum is a stone or block mostly found and mined in Asia Minor. It is embedded in red clay and usually found 240 to 250 feet under the surface of the ground. Meerschaum is not a clay or mineral but is organic in origin, being the fossilized remains of minute sea animals like coral. These little animals died many millions of years ago, and the remains of their shells were compressed by earthquakes, washed over repeatedly by the ocean and floods which deposited earth and rocks on top of them, and were moved and shifted by floods and successive glacial movements.

Today, the meerschaum is found only in Asia Minor, in sufficient quantity and of quality suitable for commercial use. Meerschaum is very light in weight and is one of the most porous substances found in nature. Consequently it absorbs nicotine and tobacco which are thus filtered in the meerschaum pipe. During the millions of years, the outside part of the meerschaum stones or blocks has deteriorated so far that only the kernel of sound meerschaum is left in the middle. The decomposed outer parts are 10-20 times the size of the kernel which is used for pipes.

HAND CARVED:
Each pipe is deftly cut by hand and has its own character. It colors gradually as it is smoked, taking on a rich brown color with the years. The meerschaum is impregnated with wax which helps to give it the beautiful velvety finish for which meerschaum pipes are famous. Each pipe has its own individual character given to it by the artisan who made it. All mouthpieces pipes are fitted with bone mountings.

HOW TO BREAK IN YOUR PIPE:
A meerschaum pipe should be broken in much in the same manner as a briar pipe. For the first few smokes, the pipe should be filled only half way and the tobacco not packed too tightly. This way the outside of the bowl will color gradually from the bottom up, taking on an even, rich brown tone for years of smoking pleasure. The smoker is cautioned not to touch the warm bowl with his fingers as the moisture left there will affect the eventual coloring.

— Hayim Pinhas

Hayim also included a card that was read The Meerschaum Pipes Chain of Good Luck. It was a way of publicizing the pipe making company and encouraging others to join in the pleasure of a good meerschaum pipe. I have included a scan of that card and also a typed copy of the wording on the card below.

 

The

 

 

Meerschaum Pipes Chain of Good Luck.
Gratitude is man’s noblest sentiment. If you are satisfied with this Pipe, do not interrupt this Chain of Good Luck, pass on our address to five of your acquaintances. It will bring also Good Luck to them. Thank you.
Hayim Pinhas
P.O.B. 500
Istanbul – Turkey

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1965 – 27th Anniversary Kirsten Pipe Company Pipe Catalogue


This afternoon I received a message from Sam Vior on Facebook that he had a copy of the 27th Anniversary Catalogue from Kirsten pipes. The date on it read 1965. I asked him if he would be willing to scan a copy of the catalogue for us to put here on rebornpipes. He wrote that he would gladly do it. I have attached the scans below. For me going through these old catalogues is a bit of a blast from the past – the descriptions and ad copy are interesting for me to read. If you are like me and like working through these old documents then enjoy the read. — Steve

1937 Pipe Lore Annual – Wally Frank Catalogue


Blog by Steve Laug

I purchased a group of pipes from a fellow in Texas and it included this Pipe Lore Annual Wally Frank Catalogue from 1937. It is an interesting read. For me these old catalogues are great reading and the descriptions of pipes and tobaccos fascinate me. I thought I would scan it and share it here with all of you. Give it a read. Enjoy.

Chasing the Grain and the Danish Freehand, Part 1


Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited
For
Ed Anderson (August 10, 1945-March 28, 2017)
and
Ed James (July 11, 1950-June 4, 2017)
Chasers of the grain whatever pipes they smoked
 
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 
—  The Bible, KJV, 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Old artists never die.  They just find a new genre.
RMB

CHASING THE GRAIN

The term chasing the grain has been used to describe activities including farming, micro-brewing, woodworking in general such as furniture and, of course, the noble pursuit of transforming blocks of wood into vibrant, striking tobacco pipes.  After extensive searching, I have found varied references to that phrase as well as “the chase” and still others, and each seems to reflect the same basic idea – with twists as various as the personalities of those who create, study, sell and savor tobacco pipes of all kinds, not just freehands.

In its most basic sense, for a pipe maker to chase grain is to choose the block and carve it, following wherever the wood leads to achieve the desired result.  The concept, therefore, commences with the skill of the carver to find the best available wood block and not to dismiss out-of-hand any natural and useful quality that may be uncovered later.  The turn of the chase in the direction, closeness and evenness of the grain in the burl, or the tuberous growth harvested from beneath the soil and between the shrub and the roots, is paramount.  To interpret the flow of the burl’s grain could be called secondary only to the highest management of whatever other advantages lie within the block and its ultimate embodiment.  Other than those factors, as if they were not enough, the individual and competitive chases are “won,” or better yet advanced as an artform, by a combination of imagination and intuition: having the right stuff to take even the “heart” of a burl, with no grain at all, and make something of beauty from it.

Most shocking of all to old-schoolers, when the practice gained speed in the 1960s into the following decade and began its steady march from the capitol of Denmark across the globe, were the rough, hardened bark left intact, and the “crazy designs” to achieve the result that is incongruous in the most glorious, exalted sense of the word.  Maybe as a Codger I would have reacted with the same trepidation, but I was a toddler at the time and have grown to adulthood with far stranger spectacles – Flower Children and their VW Peace Vans, Hasbro’s Twister, the Slinky (which in fact was introduced in 1945), and certain soiled clothing saved by a female White House intern, for example.

Alternative woods such as the golden walnut used for the pipe the restoration of which will be shown in the second part of this tribute come from trees.  The idea that briar is from the same source, or even bushes, is incorrect and ought to be banished.

Plateaux and ebauchon blocks courtesy The Wood Database

Plateaux (fine grain, and with the bark left on the burl) and ebauchon blocks (often birds-eye or no grain, and without the bark) are harvested from the briar shrub, a small, woody plant with one to several branches sticking out of the ground and notable on sight for the little white and blue flowers. Mostcarvers prefer the plateaux blocks to the ebauchon due to the bark that is almost a trademark of the Danish freehand, the striking straight grain and increased density.  But a real chaser of the grain, again, can take almost any block and produce a masterpiece from it by following its trail: with or without bark and having straight, flame, cross, bird’s-eye, mixed and/or no grain.

Many words are used to describe this amazing plant.  I reached the designation shrub – based on the obvious properties of treeless branches, a burl that, by definition, is buried, and roots – from the minority of sources, available pictures and my own ability to think.  The botanical name for the briar shrub is Erica arborea, of the Heath family, which grows to a general maximum height (again debated but taking the middle ground) between eight and 12 feet.  The plant must be at least 40 years old before it is viable to sell because of its size corresponding to age.  An older, bigger burl being necessary to make a larger pipe, but also able to be cut in halves or still smaller fractions for multiple lesser sizes, sets the standard.   Burls as old as a century, uncommon within my lifetime of 55 years, are now all but impossible to find; within the lives of my parents and grandparents, briar burls dating back two and a half centuries were still around, though already scarce.

Now, a few words regarding the standard for age and size of briar burl harvesting.  The only block I have bought with the intent to try fashioning a pipe was the most gorgeous hunk of rich, brown walnut with the tightest, straightest grain I’ve ever seen in that type of wood.  And by hunk, I mean it was an easy 12″ x 12″ x 4″.  To give an idea of what that means, the perfect specimen of walnut I bought at a local exotic wood shop for around $8 was about four times larger than a briar block for a bent pipe that the great American carver Mark Tinsky offers.  That’s the block for more experienced pipe makers, by the way, not the beginner’s pipe making kit.  After an unfortunate series of misadventures, I no longer have the walnut block or the photo of it I snapped as a sort of proof of life, but there are witnesses including two pipe maker friends who dissuaded me from making a first attempt with the beautiful piece, the hardness of which they agreed would create difficulties better avoided.  One of them did offer to buy it from me, but I was still determined to go for it.  In that respect, the loss of the walnut block was good luck, as it made the decision for me.

Some notes about briar as opposed to other woods used in pipe making, including golden walnut.  Many reasons briar is the ideal wood for pipes include but are not limited to the following.

  1. Perfect density. On the Janka Rating System, the industry standard, briar’s density is 2,090 lbs./ft. – although very dense, not too hard and not too soft, but just right. The more detailed descriptions I found to describe how the scale works – one being that it “measures the force required to drive a .444-inch steel ball into the wood until half the diameter of the ball is embedded in the wood,” from 0-4000 lbs./ft. – may be second tongue to engineers and construction contractors and the like.  But for most of us, these brief technical explanations are complex and, worse, incomplete, as if the little details such as how the force is delivered and determined go without saying.  It’s like trying to follow the lecture of a college algebra professor who speaks impeccable Pidgin English with an unintelligible accent.  And so, I searched Google for the latest Janka Scale for Idiots, a level in this esoteric field of knowledge to which I have no timidity owning.  I found a site (below in Sources) that in its turn oversimplifies the process as dropping a small metal ball onto a piece of wood until the wood dents.  But for me, counting as givens the weight and velocity of the ball, which is more accurately shot with something akin to a nail gun rather than dropped by a klutz, works.
  2. High threshold for igniting. Remember, briar is wood, even though it doesn’t come from a tree, and wood has two primary attributes, being good for making things and burning. So-called common sense would, therefore, make the mere idea of crafting any kind of wood into an implement with a hollow bowl at one end to fill with deliberately combustible leaves, and then a connecting piece to place in the mouth and light, laughable.  Of course, this is not as preposterous a proposition as, say, doing the same with “the elongated woody core in which the grains of an ear of corn are embedded” (see corncob, dictionary.com).  On the latter subject, have you ever seen a homemade corncob, or a cheap Chinese pipe made of some mystery, balsa-light, maybe ersatz and toxic wood burst into flames while someone is smoking it?  I have.  It’s not a pretty sight.  But returning to the point and keeping in mind that paper is perhaps the best comparison for the temperature at which it ignites, at 233° Celsius, or Fahrenheit 451, another reason briar is preferred for pipes is its amazing heat resistance (withstanding more than 700° C, or 1,292° F, in tests after the full processing of burls into blocks).
  3. Relative porousness. Despite its high density and threshold for bursting into flame, briar has a certain contradictory porousness, giving this unique wood an ability to breathe and expand that makes it more viable for tobacco pipes than any alternative wood.
  4. Lack of toxicity. Last, but not least, while every wood has dreadful toxic consequences if the dust is inhaled, briar by itself is without doubt safe when a pipe made from it is placed in the mouth and heated. Walnut is also safe in this regard.  That is as far as I dare go at this point on that subject, for well-founded fear of kindling a debate that might just turn into a conflagration.

ON PIPES AND PERSONIFICATION

“Okay, this is a good time to talk about limits,” Janeane Garafolo as Dr. Abby Barnes tells her radio audience in the 1996 romantic comedy The Truth About Cats & Dogs.  “You can love your pets.  Just don’t love your pets.”  While the implication is a little more disturbing in the movie, so close are we humans to our pipes that we sometimes personify them.  While coming to love our pipes and even think of them as dear friends, perhaps naming and referring to them as he or she is a touch – well, touched.  Then again, if it works, don’t fix it.

In Pipes & Tobacco Magazine [Fall 2002], the authority R.D. Field goes so far, in an essay titled “Curing: Another in a series of infrequent articles on the briar pipe,” as to write how “the shrub needs to sort of undergo torture, to struggle.”  In a jovial, downhome tone, he describes the process in horrific detail, starting with the shrub’s early life as if profiling an un-sub.  Really, it’s like TV’s “Criminal Minds,” or The Police song about a serial killer, “Murder by Numbers,” with a line I’ll never forget, “First you make a stone of your heart.”  To become what it is, the plant needs a horrible living environment, bad soil and a hot, very arid climate, to stunt its growth so that it doesn’t mature fast and becomes hardened inside.  Then the burl must be tracked down and captured uninjured, intact, in its violent removal from the soil using pick-axes and shovels and whatnot, with the final parting of its roots made with a chainsaw, so that it can be taken alive straight to the sawmill.  From there on, it is kept wet (read water-boarded) on a constant basis until the “processing,” or rehabilitation, begins.  Here is a direct extended quote from Field’s detailed description of the entire lurid process in his style that is a cross between Hemingway and King, from a man who clearly knows his subject.

“Now at this point the wood is still alive, and the sawmill folks have to kill it, but nicely, so it can be made into pipe bowls.  So they put the burls into trenches, cover ’em with empty gunny sacks, and let ’em sit until they die – about three months’ time.  Man, you ought to smell the aroma of that wood in the trenches; there’s a real tang in the air, a good clean tang that makes you feel good to be alive and to be in the countryside.  Anyway, the wood takes a time to die.  And if you take away some sacking to look at the burls you’ll see bright green shoots growing out of the wood.  That wood is a fighter; it doesn’t give up but tries to find new earth to bury itself in.  After the wood is dead is the time for cutting.” 

 Ya think?  I, for one, thank God for that last tidbit in the passage!  Wow.  But wait!  There’s more!  After the 90-day holding period is up, the burls, dead but still wet and, of course, were they in fact persons, grateful for the release from their earthly bonds, are taken to the cutters.  Everyone should read Field’s full, concise account of the old salts described so well in his article, if only for its Victorian/Goth side.  These singular, peculiar and frankly scary men begin their work with back country surgical first cuts into each burl, calculated by on-the-job knowledge, to split the plant and reveal an inner cavity which is, in an à propos way, referred to in certain circles as its heart.  There is even a reddish fluid present.  This key area, however, is by proper convention referred to as the center, perhaps representative of the suppressed sensibilities of those concerned, where the wood is redder and without grain at all.  From there, the burl is cut into various numbers of blocks and sizes that are segregated into plateaux and ebauchon, again by size.  Not to beat a dead burl, but the plateaux blocks, with their much better grain, tend to be preferred, whether for “traditional” or Danish freehand pipes.

The blocks are then boiled, even if in water rather than oil, as in the bygone days of the Inquisition, to remove most of the sap and all other impurities such as bacteria, and to hydrate the wood.  This is the step that heightens briar’s heat resistance.  Then they are re-graded based on the inspections of experts who pass judgment according to outward appearances that lead them to render their professional guesses, in effect, of what is inside.  The experts search for tell-tale signs – perhaps blips in the grain like spikes or dips on an electrocardiogram monitor? – of small inner pockets with stones and dirt and other illicit substances that later create pits.  Before shipping to re-sellers, the blocks are dried by air for as long as a year or by faster means, such as a kiln, depending on demand.  This is the best laid plan men have today, but it can still go askew.  [My thanks and apologies to Robert Burns.]

There is so much more but so little space, and nothing in my stomach after so much exposure to the facts of the matter.  The unusual number of Sources at the end provides at least fuller details.  But it seems to me that the two friends in my local pipe club, whom I mentioned earlier regarding the one walnut block I bought, agree upon the simplest way to spot a good block of any suitable wood, although they both push briar as the best and easiest for beginners.  The friends and well-known pipe makers, Victor Rimkus and Don Gilmore (who makes his pipes under the name Don Warren, or DW), advise wiping the dust and dirt from a block with a wet cloth or paper towel to see the quality of grain, which would seem to require some experience to obtain the skill to spot signs of inner pits.  Free advice doesn’t get much easier than that, and coming from successful artisans, it ought to be a suggestion worth heeding – and one the original chasers of the grain must have used, carried on today by their followers in different countries, of particular note Denmark, Italy, Russia and its former satellites, and the U.S., to name too few.

P-P-P-P.A.D. TO THE BONE

Thus might George Thorogood have sung one of his greatest songs had he been into tobacco pipes, I imagine.  I pined for a freehand since the first time I walked into my local tobacconist, still new enough not to have seen one, and scoped out the glass display cases.  Selling is the bottom line in capitalism, but the wonderful owner, Jennifer, is one of those rare souls who never lets her considerable business drive prevent customer service from coming first.  She’s the kind of entrepreneur who is always happy, in the most genuine way, to unlock a case and place any pipe someone might want to examine on an ornate felt-cushioned stand, to be picked up by the potential buyer without the inherent possibility of fumbling in a hand-off.

And Jennifer, although she doesn’t smoke pipes, is an expert on the signs of P.A.D., thereby knowing that once the seed is planted, in time it may grow into a mature briar burl.  That is how it started for me, and although I ogled a few Nordings and Karl Eriks and others that day, all were beyond my means.  Not long later, at the height of my disorder, when the roots had encircled me, I was the little shop’s best pipe customer, spending hundreds of dollars there each month not counting the acquisitions I made at antique stores, garage sales and online.

Then one fine day, from the last person I would have imagined, came my chance to own a real Danish freehand – for free!  You see, we had not exactly gotten on well before then.  You could say he is the definition of a codger.  But in the years since, our friendship has bloomed like an old briar shrub.

In the years since, I’ve acquired eight more, although one, however dear to me, is of dubious origin.  Here they are, and I expect the one will be obvious.

My first BW by Preben Holm, a stunner

Another Golden Walnut BW by Preben Holm

I dubbed this Italian no-name “The Beak” after I completed its forming, as it clearly was unfinished.

Karl Erik Chimney

Karl Erik beauty

Søren Refbjerg Rasmussen 4-Panel Rustic

Mastersen Israeli

Bjarne

CONCLUSION

The potential end of each chase is limitless, turning only upon a few integral factors: the grain of the wood; the shape and/or design of the pipe (classic, striking in originality or a merger of the two), and sometimes mind-blowing manipulations of the multiple possible grains imposed by the characteristics of a block.  Imagination is the one asset needed to attempt the pursuit at all.  [See Field again, in his straight-forward description of the grains with some fascinating challenges to accepted wisdom, as well as being devoid of gruesomeness, in the Sources.]  The results of the practice can be dazzling, or less so, hence the attraction and excitement of the chase.

SOURCES

https://pipedia.org/docs/CharacteristicsOfBriar.pdf
http://www.naspc.org/archives/odyssey_3.html
http://www.amsmoke.com/briar_folder/BriarStory.html
http://www.wood-database.com/briar/
http://tinytimbers.com/janka.htm
http://www.ralphshardwood.com/blog/when-does-the-hardness-matter
http://www.rdfield.com/Articles/curing.htm
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/police/murderbynumbers.html
http://rimkuspipes.com/index.html
http://www.dwpipes.com/
http://www.rdfield.com/Articles/Grain.htm
http://archives.nypl.org/rbk/22970

Wally Frank Pipe Pump Kit – Vintage Pipe Cleaning Kit, Wally Frank, NYC


Blog by Steve Laug

My brother Jeff is really good at finding tobacciana items that are intriguing and this is certainly one of them. He sent me a link to this item on eBay to see what I thought. Of course I was hooked and said let’s go for it. He contacted the seller and made an offer and today he informed me that we now own the item. The seller described the item and included the photos that follow in his ad. “Here we have a nice vintage Wally Frank pump pipe cleaner. Still in nice condition, though the box is in distressed condition.  Please check out the photos. The little cup that the dirty water goes into is missing but almost any kind of cup or the sink would work and there is no cleaner liquid in bottle. The empty bottle of pipe elixir and the cover of the box are cool in and of themselves.  Would be a nice one to add to your collection.  This kit was originally sold through Wally Frank Ltd’s mail order department or in either of its two New York City stores.”

The cover of the box shows an illustration of the pump with a pipe in place in the pump mechanism. It says that the pump kit cleans, sweetens and deodorizes the pipe. The box says Wally Frank Pipe Pump Kit is for real pipe hygiene. It puts the OK in Pipe SmOKing. Along with that description is the address for the Mail Order Department along with the stores in New York City. The box is a little frayed and worn around the edges and missing one end on the box top.The inside of the lid reads: DIRECTIONS For Real Pipe Hygiene. It gives the directions on how to use the Pipe Pump.

  1. Remove all tobacco from the bowl of the pipe.
  2. Place bowl of pipe directly over pump intake and using the thumb screw tighten down until bowl is firm and airtight.
  3. Pour enough cleaning fluid into glass container to cover the tip of the pipe stem.
  4. Placing stem of pipe in fluid, pump until you feel sure that the pipe is sufficiently cleansed. (If the fluid should become very dirty, repeat operations 3 and 4.)
  5. Then remove pipe from glass container and continue pumping air for a few second to dry out the bowl and stem of the pipe. THE PIPE NOW WILL BE SWEET AND ODORLESS ENABLING YOU TO ENJOY PIPE SMOKING AT ITS BEST.
  6. Pump can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the hexagon nut at the end of the plunger.

Reorder Wally Frank Pipe Elixir when present supply is exhausted from Wally Frank, Ltd., 150 Nassau St. New York 7, N.Y. 4oz. Bottle 49 cents Postpaid. Use only the Wally Frank Pipe Elixir for Best Results. Do Not Use Elixir on Meerschaum Pipes.The seller included pictures of the inside of the box. It included the pump unit and the Elixir bottle. It was missing the glass jar that the stem sat inHe also included pictures of the pump unit and also the empty bottle of pipe Elixir. The bottle reads: Wally Frank Pipe Elixir for cleaning and sweetening briar pipes. The only fluid that gives perfect results with the Wally Frank Pipe Pump. For use in briar pipes only. The address follows.I did a bit of hunting on Google and found pictures of another Pipe Pump Kit. It was complete so I had an idea of what the missing bottle looked like in my boxed set. I am looking forward to getting the Pipe Pump package from my brother so I can try it out. The concept looks like it would work. I am wondering if I could pump isopropyl alcohol through the stem, shank and bowl and clean it out. It almost seems like it could do a similar job to a retort. When I get it I will work over a few pipes with it and see what I can find out about it. Thanks for looking. When I find stuff like this I love sharing it with folks who might possibly be interested in it as well. Thanks for reading.

What is the unique material that forms a Gutta Percha Pipe


Blog by Steve Laug

A friend on Facebook contacted me about an older Cavalier pipe I worked on recently with a suggestion that it might be made out of Gutta Percha rather than Bakelite as I suggested in the restoration blog. It was a pipe with a stem and base unit made out of a dark hard material and a pressure fit wooden bowl. The stem and end cap were all a single unit. Nothing, other than the bowl was removable. When I first picked it up to work on it, I assumed it was vulcanite and soaked it in a deoxidizer bath. The colour was constant. I took it out, dried it off and tried sanding what I thought was oxidation from the base. Nothing happened other than adding many scratches to the material. The more I worked with the material the more I realized that it was not vulcanite but was something else. From my experience cleaning up many older pipes, I assumed that it was Bakelite. But even then I was not sure about my assessment. When I received the message about it potentially being Gutta Percha I had to go and look at what that was. I had no memory of that material (or so I thought). After reading as much about the material as I could find, I think he is correct – Gutta Percha it is. Here is a link to the blog on the restoration of the pipe. https://rebornpipes.com/2017/11/13/restoring-an-interesting-old-bakelite-cavalier/. I am including some of the material I read for your reference. Certainly, I am not the only person who knows next to nothing about Gutta Percha. My friends suggestion left me flummoxed as to what that was. I went through the old memory bank to see if I could recall anything about the material. Surprisingly one memory came back. The only Gutta Percha I recall was the hard core in older golf balls. As a kid, I remember taking balls apart getting to the hard core but I cannot recall what the material looked like. I do remember it being hard and that it bounced. I remember my Dad (or someone) saying that it was Gutta Percha. That was the extent of my memory. But I don’t recall ever hearing about the material being used on pipes and I still really had no idea what it was.

That led me to do some research on the web to see what I could find out about the material. (Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without Google. I don’t know how I survived college and graduate school without it.) The first link I found and turned to was on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutta-percha). I quote large portions of that article below to set the base for understanding the material’s composition and origin.

Scientifically classified in 1843, it was found to be a useful natural thermoplastic. In 1851, 30,000 long cwt (1,500,000 kg) of gutta-percha was imported into Britain.

During the second half of the 19th century, gutta-percha was used for myriad domestic and industrial purposes, and it became a household word (emphasis mine). In particular, it was needed as insulation for underwater telegraph cables, which, according to author John Tully, led to unsustainable harvesting and a collapse of the supply.

According to Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd’s Endodontology: “Even long before Gutta-percha was introduced into the western world, it was used in a less processed form by the natives of the Malaysian archipelago for making knife handles, walking sticks and other purposes. The first European to discover this material was John Tradescant, who collected it in the Far East in 1656. He named this material “Mazer wood”. Dr. William Montgomerie, a medical officer in Indian service, introduced gutta-percha into practical use in the West. He was the first to appreciate the potential of this material in medicine, and he was awarded the gold medal by the Royal Society of Arts, London in 1843.”

…In the mid-19th century, gutta-percha was also used to make furniture, notably by the Gutta-Percha Company (established in 1847). Several of these ornate, revival-style pieces were shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London. When hot it could be moulded into furniture, decorations or utensils (emphasis mine).

It was also used to make “mourning” jewelry, because it was dark in color and could be easily molded into beads or other shapes (emphasis mine). Pistol hand grips and rifle shoulder pads were also made from gutta-percha, since it was hard and durable, though it fell into disuse when plastics such as Bakelite became available (emphasis mine). Gutta-percha found use in canes and walking sticks, as well.

The material was adopted for other applications. The “guttie” golf ball (which had a solid gutta-percha core) revolutionized the game. Gutta-percha remained an industrial staple well into the 20th Century, when it was gradually replaced with superior (generally synthetic) materials, though a similar and cheaper natural material called balatá is often used in gutta-percha’s place. The two materials are almost identical, and balatá is often called gutta-balatá.

It seems that I have unwittingly worked on several pipes made of this material over the years and had no clue what they were made of. I figured that they were all made of some form of Bakelite, which is actually a far newer product than Gutta Percha. One of those pipes that stands out to me was a tiny salesman’s pipe that was a carved figural pipe. Even though it was very small, the features and hair on the head were well defined. The close up photos below show the stamping on the pipe. The first photo shows the stamp on the left side of the shank reading Bob’er. The second photo shows the stamping on the left side of the neck and chin of the figure reading Reg. US.Pat.Off. The final photo shows the stamping on the right side neck and chin reading Des.Pat. 71062. When I researched the number online, I was unable to find any pertinent information on the patent. Following the close up photos, I have included photos of the pipe from a variety of angles. Perhaps some of you who are reading this can give me some information.I decided to search for other examples of pipes made of Gutta Percha. I found a surprising number of shapes and sizes that were available during that time. I have included some of them below to give a general idea of what they were like and the wide variety of shapes manufactured. I am sure that many of you can add other examples to this blog.

The first of these is a photo of revolver pipes – a Gutta Percha base and stem unit with a wooden/briar bowl. The examples in this photo show the variety of even this pipe shape.The second photo shows another figural. It is far more detailed and refined than the Bob’er that I included above. The bowl is wooden/briar cup insert. It is taken from an auction site.The third is a decorative Eagle claw with a wooden/briar bowl. The hatch marks on it are very similar to that on the Bob’er.The fourth is a risqué, decorative woman’s leg pipe. The bowl is briar/wood that fits into the Gutta Percha leg. The top of the base is a garter that holds the stocking on the leg that is below. The base ends with a shoe that forms the mouthpiece for the pipe.The final two examples are also from an auction house. I am including them here because of their uniqueness and the details of each pipe. The first is a detailed rifle stamped Defender with a wooden/briar bowl. The second is a footballer (American style) grabbing onto a ball as he slides on the ground.The fact that Gutta Percha could be molded and cast easily, made many variations possible for pipe makers. You can see from the photos I picked from the net, that the detail and shaping can be very meticulous. The only limitations seem to be the talent of the mold or pattern maker. I am amazed at the variations that artisans came up with for the pipe bases in the mid-19th century. The variety of the pipes also extends to the size of the pipe. I have held miniature cast face pipes and I have seen larger pipes similar to the Cavalier pictured at the beginning of this blog. I raise my pipe to the pipemen and makers who put these pipes on the market. I enjoy both the process of smoking them and looking at them again and again. Thanks for humoring this pipeman in reading this blog. Cheers.

Restoring a J. Rettke Patent Pipe from Washington, Missouri


Blog by Steve Laug

This strange looking pipe came from Josh (misterzippo), a reader of the blog earlier this year. He sent me an email and photos some pipes that he thought I might want. As usual when you have incurable PAD there is always something that catches my eye. We fired some emails back and forth about the pipes and it did not take long to make a deal. I bought a Malaga Bulldog, a pair of Wally Frank Sandblast Filter pipes, a little Jost’s and this bizarre looking Rettke. There were a couple of things about the Rettke that fascinated me in terms of the history. The stamping of Washington, MO. made me think of Missouri Meerschaum Corn cob pipes which are also from there. I wondered about a connection. The stem is identical to a Medico/Grabow style stem and was made for a Medico paper filter. That also made me wonder if there was a connection to Medico. I will need to do a bit of research to see if I can unearth the connections. I have an unstamped Rettke and find it a fascinating piece of pipe history so I decided to pick up on from Josh. He sent along a photo of the underside of the bowl and shank to show the stamping on the pipe so I would know it was a true Rettke unlike my other pipe. I asked him for photos of the pipes that he had in hand so I could make a decision on which one that I was interested in. He sent along the photo below showing the four pipes that he had available for sale. I wanted something different from the unmarked one that I have which is rusticated. It is a lot like the third pipe in the photo below so I wanted a smooth Rettke. I looked over the pipes and asked him to choose one of the top two smooth pipes in the photo below and include with the other pipes I purchased from him. He chose well and when it got here I was thrilled with his chose. The one he sent was the first pipe in the photo. It has some really nice grain on it.From the photos I could see that the pipe was dirty but that is never really a problem. The tape measure in the photo shows that the Rettke is about 5 inches long with a taper stem. When the pipe arrived in Idaho, my brother took photos of it so that we would know the condition of the pipe before he started working on it. The finish on the briar looked good underneath the grime of the years. There was a cake in the bowl and a buildup of lava on the top of the rim. It was not possible to see what it looked like under the cake so after cleaning we would know if there was rim damage. The stem was made out of nylon and it had a lot of tooth marks and scratches in the surface and they were deep. It was going to take some work to fill them in and sand them out. Polishing the nylon stem is not a pleasant exercise. It takes a lot of work to get it smoothed out and blended together. The metal spacer was an integral part of the stem. It was rough was in good shape with light oxidation and some tooth marks on both sides near the button.Jeff took a close up photo of the rim and bowl and you can see the general condition of the pipe from that photo. This must have been someone’s favorite pipe and it must have smoked very well to have this kind of cake and tar build up. I was looking forward to seeing what was underneath all of that debris on the rim and in the bowl.The next two photos show the stamping on the bottom of the bowl. They are fascinating in that they not only identify the maker but they tell about his method of stamping the pipe. The second photo shows the date stamp and you can see that the patent date is on a bar and the bar was pressed into the briar leaving a faint imprint behind the date stamp. The stamping reads J. Rettke over Washington, MO. and next to that it reads Pat. June 12, 1962.There is some pretty grain on the piece of briar underneath the detritus of time. I was looking forward to making that shine.The next photos show the pipe from various close-up angles so that you can see the damage to the stem and the junction to the shank and stem. Jeff removed the stem from the shank and unscrewed the knurled silver coloured cap below the stem and took photos. It looked to me that the pipe was missing a stinger apparatus that attached to the knurled cap. The last two photos that Jeff included show the top and underside of the stem at the button. There were quite a few tooth marks and lots of chatter on both sides of the stem. When I saw that it was a bit of a pain because cleaning up these nylon style stems is difficult and time consuming.Jeff did his usual thorough cleanup of the pipe. I am coming to expect nothing less when he sends me pipes that have gone through his cleaning process. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer, scraped the bowl and the rim top with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to clear off the lava build up. He cleaned out the internals in the airway in the shank and the condensation chamber with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He cleaned out the metal tenon and the airway in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the briar and the stem with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove all of the grime on the briar and the stem. He rinsed the parts under running water and dried it with a soft cloth. He soaked the stem in OxyClean to clean off the grime on the surface. When the pipe arrived in Vancouver it looked different than it did in the above photos. The rim top and bowl looked really good. The damage was minimal and very visible. The condition of the stem was much as I had expected. Before I started my restoration work on the pipe I decided to do a little research on the brand. I first turned to Pipedia where I found a short entry. I include that here as it confirmed that I was missing the 2 3/8 inch corkscrew device. I quote it in full with the link to Pipedia.

J. Rettke, Washington MO, PAT. June 12 1962. The silver colored thumbscrew below the stem unscrews and is a 2⅜” corkscrew like device. The company is now gone having been purchased by Missouri Meerschaum. This odd looking pipe is made of briar and has a lower chamber with a metal condenser and an upper chamber that contains a filter. The smoke leaves the bowl thru the lower chamber then into the upper and out the stem. It smokes dry and cool. It has a large bowl. https://pipedia.org/wiki/Rettke

The pipe was not included in my other usual sources so I dug a bit further to see if I could find more information on the brand and the maker. I wanted to know the links to Missouri Meerschaum or Dr. Grabow/Medico. I found an article in the Washington Citizen Newspaper from Washington, Missouri dated December 13, 1964. Here is the link. I included a photo of the news clipping below as well as a transcript of the article that I did using a magnifying glass. I also copied the photos for ease of reference. I have included them in the article transcript with the captions  http://digital.shsmo.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/WashCitz/id/21937/rec/1.

Julius Rettke Makes and Sells 3,000 Briar Pipes in Two Years

Julius Rettke spent 43 years making pipes. Two years ago he retired. What happened?

“I just couldn’t sit still. I had to do something.”

He went back to making pipes. He calls it a hobby and that’s what it is for him. He could sell his patent and there is no doubt that it could be made into a lucrative business. But Julius is interested in it only as a hobby. He is 74 years old.

He doesn’t advertise his pipes but has made and sold about 3,000 of them in the past two years. Each sells for $4.00. He has been told he could sell them for $8 to $12.

“I would rather sell them for $4. You know there are a lot of people that can’t pay more than that for a pipe.”

Hasn’t Promoted Pipes

His advertising has been only by word of mouth. He does burn his name and Washington, Mo., on the pipes. Most of his pipes have been sold in this immediate area, but he has had orders from all over the country. Many people give them as gifts. Several companies with chain retail outlets would like to handle his pipes.

Julius made his first pipe about nine years ago. It was made of pecan wood. He gave it to James L. Miller of The Missourian-Citizen to try out. The newspaper publisher at that time was a steady pipe smoker. He liked the pipe.

“That made me feel like others would be interested,” he said. But he was too busy with his job as a machinist at Missouri Meerschaum, where he spent 43 years helping to make corn cob pipes. After he retired he made several pipes out of cherry wood. But he soon found most pipe smokers preferred a briar pipe. Carl Otto, his former-boss, supplied him with briar roots and he made his first briar pipe.

“I took the first pipes to the Bryan boys (Harvey and Tom) and they like them. Before long people asked me to make pipes for them. That’s how I got started.

Does Work in His Basement

The work is done in Mr. Rettke’s basement of his home at Third and Market streets. He doesn’t work at it every day only when he feels like it. He likes to fish and that comes before his pipes in the summer.

What is the reason for the rather wide acceptance of his pipe?

“They claim it is a dry smoking pipe with no nicotine. It has protection against nicotine,”

Mr. Rettke received his patent on his pipe in 1962. What makes his pipe different from others on the market is the path the smoke takes from the bowl, and the passage of smoke through a twisted piece of aluminum, or a “whirler.” The smoke also travels through a standard filter in a standard hard-rubber stem. The “whirler” has a rubber tip that shows on the outside of the pipe under the stem. The “whirler” also can be used as a pipe cleaning tool. It pulls out easily for cleaning purposes.

Mr. Rettke: makes only one style of pipe. He buys his briar roots from a New York importing company. The briar roots are grown chiefly in Mediterranean countries. Most of the briar now conies from Greece and is several hundred years old. The briar itself is a shrub-like plant. The briar burl is cut into specific sizes and shapes and it is in an almost square form when Mr. Rettke receives it.

The manufacturing process in Mr. Rettke’s basement is illustrated in the accompanying photos.

No Production Schedule!

When he works at it, he can make about 10 or 12 pipes a day, he has no production schedule to meet! Things tend to get a little hurried around Christmas time since many people buy pipes for gifts.

When he received his patent, Mr. Rettke gave one of it to John Fowler, who is a career man in the Air Force, and to Wilson Schroeder of Washington, his two sons-in-law. Mr. Rettke’s son, Arthur Rettke lives in Clover Station. He is a carpenter and does some farming.

Mr. Rettke was born and raised in Warren County near Martinsville. He spent some time as a carpenter before going to work for Missouri Meerschaum.

Mr. Rettke was never a heavy smoker and never did smoke a pipe. He did smoke cigars for a period, but he gave that up long ago.

“It’s just a hobby with me. I never expected it to be anything else, but somebody should take it over after I’m gone,” he confided.

To me this is a fascinating article. It answered at least some of my questions. Julius Rettke had indeed worked for Missouri Meerschaum as a bowl turner in their factory. On his retirement he started making the pipes. He only made one style of pipe and never varied from the basic shape. He purchased briar from a company in New York. I wonder if he did not purchase it from S.M. Frank along with the premade Medico style stems and filters. I suppose I won’t ever know but it does fit the general information above.

Now better armed with information I turned my attention to the restoration of the pipe. I took it apart and took a photo. I was missing the “twirler” as Julius called the spiral condenser that sat in the condensation chamber below the bowl. Everything else looked good. He had chosen a beautiful piece of briar and laid out the pipe to fit the grain pattern really well. This would be a pretty looking pipe once it was polished.The nicks and scratches on the rim top and edges were deep enough that a light topping was warranted. I topped it on a piece of 220 grit sandpaper on the topping board. I did not have to top it too much as continuous checking showed me when the surface of the rim was smooth.The stem was a mess so I decided to clean it and do some repairs to all the damaged spots with black super glue. It would take time for the glue to harden, so I applied it and gave it a quick shot of accelerator. The accelerator dried and turned to a white powder on the rest of the stem as seen in the photos below. I set the stem aside to dry and called it a night. I have to tell you; my strong dislike of nylon pipe stems is even more confirmed. They are hard to repair as dents are virtually permanent. Patching with black or clear super glue works but leaves shiny spots that are hard to blend into the rest of the material. Polishing to get a shine needs to be done by hand as a buffer, even with a light touch, melts the material and sends you back to the beginning. They are a pain. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and rubbing it down with Obsidian Oil after each pad – not so much to give shine as to give more bite to the micromesh. I dry sanded the stem with 3200-12000 grit pads and repeated the oil after each pad. The stem is slowly but surely getting a shine. (The shiny spots in the photos are not dents but super glue repairs.) I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down with a wet cloth to wipe off the sanding dust after each pad. The further I went with the micromesh the deeper the shine became. This is really a pretty piece of briar. I dry sanded with 3200-12000 and once more wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth. I took apart the other unstamped Rettke style pipe and removed the “whirler” from that one. I inserted it in the knurled cap that sat under the stem and took the following photo.I worked on the stem for several hours. I was able to smooth out the damaged areas but they show up in the pictures. They look like black dents or dips in the stem surface but they are actually the super glue repairs. The nylon is very hard to polish for me. Buffing on the machine is next to impossible without melting it. I polished it with polishing compound by hand and I gave the stem multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to give it some life. Once that was finished I called it done. I buffed the bowl with multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed the bowl with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I put the stem back on the bowl and gave it a final hand buff. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is a beautifully grained piece of briar and is lightweight and interesting to look at. Thanks for journeying with me through the history and the restoration.