Blog by Steve Laug
It was not too long ago that I received a Message on Facebook from a friend asking me if I would consider restoring three Ehrlich cased meerschaums that he had. He spoke about them before he sent photos as he knew I was not presently taking on any new work due to my heavy schedule. He described the first cased set – which contained a Bulldog and a Billiard with great patina and cloudy acrylic stems. It sounded amazing. He then described the second cased single – a Poker with the same kind of stem. At least one of the stem had a bite through on it. All were heavily smoked and dirty. All were purchases that he had made. From his reckoning the pipes came from at least two different time periods in D. P. Ehrlich of Boston’s long life. I thanked him for thinking of me and gently said I would not be able to do the work.
He understood but wanted me to have a look at them anyway. He sent these photos of the pipes in their cases on Messenger. They were indeed beautiful pipes. They were also very tempting. I really like these cased older style, smooth, classic shaped meerschaums. I did not reply to him for a bit and thought it over. I looked over my schedule and calendar for the next two months and it was very heavy. But… I was hooked. I finally answered him and basically said if he was not in a hurry I would be willing to take them on. He replied that he was in no hurry. You have to understand when I have pipes to work on here I squeeze them in somehow but I wanted freedom.Once I gave my answer he sent along a few photos of each of the pipes so that I could have a look at what was coming my way. Then he sent the tracking number of the pipes as well. I decided that would tackle the Poker first. I believe it is a bit newer than the others and the stem material is slightly different. Here are some photos of the pipe that he sent me. You can see the thick cake in the bowl and the overflow of lava on the rim top. The finish is quite scratched but nothing deep so those present were part of the story of the pipe. The exterior and the interior of the pipe was really dirty with use and also from sitting and not being used.He took some photos of the bowl, rim top and stem so I could assess the condition they were in. I have included them below. You can see that the outer edge of the bowl has some nicks in the meerschaum on the front side. The lava and cake are quite thick and I am hoping they have protected the inner edge and top from damage. The stem had deep tooth marks on both the top and underside near the button but the profile looked promising. This stem material can be problematic in that the yellow colour often is on the top surface and once there are repairs done or sanding they are visible and significantly different in colour from the rest of the stem. Once I had it in hand and checked it out I would know more.While I have worked on a significant number of Ehrlich briar pipes over the years I have not tackled a meerschaum let alone three older ones. I have worked on a lot of meers but not Ehrlich meers. I actually knew very little about them. They looked like European made meers that come out of Austria but I was unclear of where Ehrlich got these pipes. I was time to due some work on this. I checked first on Pipephil and found only information on the briar pipes. 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 and from meerschaum, a beautiful white fossilized substance, mined from the earth in Turkish Asia Minor. Meerschaum lends itself to carving, and in the nineteenth century there developed in Austria a fashion for carving pipes from it with formidably intricate decoration.
The Ehrlichs have long had meerschaum carvers, who ply their craft in the shop window to the delight of passersby. For years the bearded Gustave Fischer was a familiar figure in the window at 33 Court Street. A succession of craftsmen have continued the tradition. and still make and repair pipes in the window of the new Tremont Street shop. They still turn their meerschaum pipes by hand on a foot operated wooden lathe made in Austria about 1871. Although briars are today turned on power lathes, meerschaum can only be turned on a foot-operated lathe.
I did a search on Google to see if I could find further documentation on the Ehrlich Meerschaum pipes. I came across a PDF of a 1960s Ehrlich Catalogue that had some helpful sections on the pipes(https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B0xEzQgGtOv8LXNhLUNJQUJrU1U/edit?resourcekey=0-I8eh7aQxyrEcmVW7-SKjFw). I did a screen capture of two of those sections. The first is a great descriptive paragraph on the pipe regarding both the meerschaum and what they call a handmade cloudy yellow stem. The prices are astonishingly low even for those days.The second screen capture is about how the pipes were made on a wooden lathe made in Austria and operated by Ehrlich craftsmen in the window of the Boston shop. It is also a great read.Now it was time to bring out the pipes that arrived today. I took out the cased Poker from the well packed box it came in and had a look. I took a photo of the pipe in the case to show the setting of the pipe. You can see the D.P. Ehrlich Co. Boston label in the cover of the hand made case. The lining is soft and made to fit the pipe perfectly. The pipe shows some developing patina.I took the pipe out of the case and took some photos of it to chronicle the condition it was in when I received it. It is a large Dunhill Group4 or more sized pipe. I spent some time going over it carefully. The bowl indeed had a thick cake and the lava coat on the edge and rim was thick as well. There were nicks around the front outer edge of the bowl. There were light surface scratches in the meerschaum all around the bowl sides. The shank had the deepest scars that seemed to run horizontally along all sides of the shank. The meerschaum ha a nicely developing patina on the shank and heel of the bowl. The stem had tooth marks on the top and underside that were not as deep as I had originally thought from the photos. I removed the stem from the shank and had a look at the parts. The threaded metal tenon was inset permanently in the shank of the pipe. It was dirty and the pipe had a musty/old tobacco smell. The shank was filthy as was the airway in the stem. The good news for me was that the stem material was solid yellow all the way through. Repairing it would be easier though the stem had its own darkening patina at the button end. The slot in the stem was filled in partially with debris. Overall it was a great looking pipe that would clean up well. Here is what I saw. I took a close up photo of the bowl and rim top to capture the condition of both. You can see the thick cake in the bowl and the lava on the inner edge and thick on the back side of the rim. You can also see the nicks on the outer edge of the bowl at the front. I took photos of the shank and stem as well. You can see the scratches in the shank that run horizontally along it. You can also see the tooth damage on both sides ahead of the button.I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the proportions of the pipe. You can see that it is a large bowl with a relatively shorter stem. I like the looks of it however.I started my clean up work on the pipe by reaming the bowl. I wanted to remove the cake completely from the walls of the bowl and clean it thoroughly. I began the reaming with a PipNet pipe reaming set. The bowl is quite large so I used the second and third cutting head. I took it back to the walls. I cleaned it up further with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe knife. I finished by sanding the interior of the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. I used micromesh sanding pads to work on the light scratching around the bowl and to remove the thick lava coat on the rim top. I removed the sharpness of the nicks on the front of the bowl at the same time. I polished the meerschaum with 1500-12000 grit pads wiping it down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the debris and dust. The bowl and shank began to really take on a shine as I worked on it. (The owner and I spoke on the phone and the decision was made to leave the light scratching as part of the story of the pipe.) With the exterior clean I worked on the inside of the shank and stem. I used isopropyl alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs to remove the debris and oils. I cleaned out the end of the stem where the tenon screwed in with cotton swabs and alcohol. Once finished the pipe smelled clean.I still need to wax the bowl but I set it aside for now and turned my attention to the stem. I cleaned off the surface of the acrylic with alcohol to remove and debris from the tooth dents. Once it was clean I carefully filled in the indentations with a drop of clear CA glue. Once the repair had cured I blended it in with micromesh sanding pads. I worked it smooth with a 1500 grit pad first the polished it with the remaining pads 1800-12000 grit. I wiped it down with a bit of Obsidian Oil to remove the debris after each pad. I was quite pleased with the look of the repaired stem. With the stem finished and the bowl completed to this point it was time recoat the bowl with beeswax. I melted a chunk of beeswax in the microwave and brushed the melted wax onto the bowl and shank. I took photos of the thick wax coat around the bowl sides and top. I look forward to seeing what happens when I melt it off! I used my heat gun on the low setting to melt the excess wax and heat the meerschaum to absorb the wax. I put a thick layer of paper towels below the heat gun to catch the dripping of the wax. I used a cork in the bowl as a handle to turn the pipe over the heat. As the heat and wax did the work the bowl began darken. I took some photos of the bowl when I had finished. It is a beauty. This D.P. Ehrlich Co, Boston Made Meerschaum Poker turned out really well and it is a great looking pipe with a great shape to it. The deepening patina around the bowl and shank has been highlighted by the wax and will only deepen with use. The smoky yellow coloured acrylic stem looks very good with the darkening bowl and shank. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Ehrlich Meerschaum Poker is comfortable to hold and is quite distinguished looking. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: 1 inch. The weight of the pipe is 58 grams/2.01 ounces. Once finish his other two D.P. Ehrlich Co Meerschaums I will be packing them carefully and sadly saying farewell to some beautiful pieces. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. Keep an eye out for the next two.