Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe on my work table is a little 4 ¾ inch Lovat with a rusticated finish and a two tone stain. The rustication looks like craters and swirls. Even the top of the bowl is rusticated. The stem looked to be oxidized but once I worked on it I was in for a surprise. The band was stamped Sterling Silver arched over the LHS in a Diamond logo and under that was stamped Rhodium. The underside of the shank was flat and smooth and was stamped with the LHS in a Diamond logo with the word Sterncrest arched under the diamond. Toward the stem end of the shank it was stamped Imported Briar.
As I looked at the stem more closely I could see swirls of red running through it and the material was a reddish brown colour. It had a similar appearance to Cumberland but was harder and heavier. The patterns in the swirls was not uniform at all and made me think of other things that I have around made of a similar looking material. This would become more clear when I cleaned up the stem.
Once I got this far in the process I wanted to know a bit more of the history of the brand. I was trying to find out when the pipe potentially was made. The stem had me fascinated. The extension tube in the tenon was different from any other LHS Sterncrest pipe that I had seen. All of the patent information I could find from the early 1900s through 1936 showed a more typical ball and point stinger apparatus. There was nothing to date this in the patent information. That combined with the unique stem material seen clearly in the photo above made me very curious about the pipe.
I looked on the PipePhil site which is a go to site for me when digging out information and I found some helpful material. Here is the link – http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-lhs.html. The first item below is a copy of the photo from his site which gives some simple information. The Strencrest stem that I had did not have the inset silver diamond in the side on the top of the saddle. The stamping on the pipe was different as well. Mine was stamped LHS in a Diamond (like the one on the briar inset below) but STERNCREST was underneath the Diamond. Imported Briar was on the opposite end of the shank. The inset of the band is identical in terms of what is shown. The band on mine has one additional feature below the LHS diamond and that is the word RHODIUM. I followed the links on the site and found the following grading guide from 1944 there as well. It lists the Sterncrest Sterling as the third highest grade of pipe. The issue for me is whether the pipe I have is a Sterling. It only bears the Sterncrest stamp and that does not appear on the chart below. I read some more on the site and found that the L&H Stern Inc. was established by Ludwig Stern (1877-1942) in 1911. His brother Hugo (1872-?) acted as vice-president & secretary. The firm moved to 56 Pearl St. Brooklyn in 1920. It closed down in the 1960s. LHS was one of the main pipe suppliers for US soldiers during WWII. That was the short version of the information. With that I knew that my pipe was made between 1911 when the company opened and before the 1960’s when it closed.
I googled for more information to see if I could find company advertising that showed the pipe I was working on and gave more definitive information on the brand. I found the following quote that helped to fit the Sterncrest into the scheme of things. “LHS is L & H Stern Pipe Making Co. that was based out of Brooklyn N.Y. Their most common lines seem to have been their Sterncrest pipe models. The company made pipes from 1900-the 1950’s.”
I also found some advertising which I have posted copies of here. Three of the magazine advertisements are shown below. All three show a similar pipe to the one that I have in hand. The rustication on mine is more crater like than tree bark like but the patterns are similar. I have also included a page from a Sterncrest Catalogue from 1946 that shows the line and the second pipe from the right, the lovat is identical in shape to the one that I have. The rustication pattern in the picture is similar but also more tree bark like and the stamping is on the side of the shank rather than the underside. Now I knew that the pipe I was working on came from a more narrow time period – 1910 to sometime in the 1940s. That was all the information I could readily find on the pipe. I was still left with a bit of a mystery that would become somewhat clearer as I cleaned up the pipe and stem.
The pipe was lightly smoked and I was able to wipe out the dust and debris from the bowl quickly. The shank was dirty but what came out of the shank was not tobacco debris or tars but rather a red stain. The inside of the shank had some stain left in it. The bowl must have been dip stained when in the factory and the pipe had not been smoked enough to burn off the stain that was there. Obviously the previous owner never ran a pipe cleaner into the shank to find what I found in my clean up with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I also cleaned out the airway in the stem and tenon extension. I was careful as I did not want to chip or damage the extension. The more I worked with the stem the more I was beginning to get an idea of what the stem material was. I worked on the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit pads and then rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil. I was uncertain whether the oil would be absorbed or not but either way it would give some teeth to the micromesh pads as I worked with them. I took photos of both sides of the stem to show the pattern that started to show up as I polished it.
The more I polished the stem the more clear it became what the material I was working with was. I dry sanded with the final three grits of micromesh and then buffed the stem with Blue Diamond polish before giving it a final coat of oil. Once the oil dried I buffed it with some carnauba wax and then with a clean flannel buff before giving it a final hand buff with a microfibre cloth. Once I finished polishing the stem I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the stem was made of Bakelite. It was exactly like several of the Bakelite tobacciana items that I have collected. The mottled brown and red look of the polished stem proved it to me.
I decided to do a bit of research on Bakelite to both make certain I was working with that and to see if I could narrow the date for this pipe down even further. I am including some of the information that I found in my search.
From the New World Encyclopedia online I got some basic information on the material. Here is the link if you want to see the original source. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Bakelite
I found that Bakelite is a material based on a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin developed in 1907–1909, by the Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland. It was the first plastic made from synthetic components. It was used for its electrically nonconductive and heat-resistant properties in radio and telephone casings and electrical insulators, and was also used in such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, and children’s toys…
Bakelite is a phenol formaldehyde resin with the chemical name polyoxybenzyl methylene glycol anhydride. It was formed by the reaction under heat and pressure of phenol, a toxic, colorless crystalline solid, and formaldehyde, a simple organic compound, generally with wood flour filler. The combination of the mixture with the wood flour makes the material hard and dense.
The company, The Bakelite Corporations was formed, in 1922, from the consolidation of three companies: the General Bakelite Co., the Condensite Corp. and the Redmanol Chemical Products Company, an early plastics manufacturer formed in 1913, by chemist L.H. Baekeland. The American Catalin Corporation acquired the Bakelite formulas, in 1927, and currently manufactures Bakelite cast resins.
Bakelite Limited was formed, in 1926, from the amalgamation of three suppliers of phenol formaldehyde materials: The Damard Lacquer Company Limited of Birmingham, Mouldensite Limited of Darley Dale, and Redmanol Chemical Products Company of London. Around 1928, a new factory opened in Tyseley, Birmingham, England. (The building was demolished in 1998.) The company was acquired by the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation in 1939.
From the Wikipedia I found out more information. Here is the link for the source should you want to read more. I have included a few clips from that source. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakelite
Bakelite is not extensively used for general consumer products any more, due to the cost and complexity of production and its brittle nature. However, it was used in the past in myriad applications, such as saxophone mouthpieces, cameras, solid-body electric guitars, rotary-dial telephones, early machine guns, and appliance casings. It was at one point considered for the manufacture of coins, due to a shortage of traditional manufacturing material.
An exception to the overall decline is the use in small, precision-shaped components where their specific properties are required, such as molded disc brake cylinders, saucepan handles, electrical plugs and switches, and electrical iron parts. Today, Bakelite-type materials are manufactured and produced in the form of sheets, rods and tubes for many industrial applications in the electronics, power generation, and aerospace industries, and under a variety of commercial brand names.
Many companies stopped using Bakelite in the early 1940s as the need for World War II related products took hold. By the end of the War, new technologies in the world of plastics had made Bakelite obsolete.
A final source of information I found was on jewelry specifically but the dates coincide with the information above and help narrow the dates for my pipe stem.
The source is as follows: http://www.teeda.com/history-of-bakelite-jewelry.html
The height of Bakelite jewelry was the late 1930s, up until the end of the Art Deco period. The designs were quite popular in mass merchandise stores such as Sears and Roebuck. However there were also some famous names working with the material and creating Bakelite jewelry including Chanel and Van Cleef and Arpel. Oddly enough Bakeland allowed the patent to expire and the Catalin Corporation bought it. They began creating their own Bakelite jewelry marketed as Bakelite-Catalin. The pieces were sold in both expensive stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and smaller stores such as Woolworth’s.
Bakelite jewelry was available in a variety of colors, but brown, green, red, and white were the most popular color choices. Over time though, exposure to the light and particles in the air have caused many of these colors to change. A good example is a bracelet that was once white, but now looks pale brown in color.
Given the information on Bakelite I think I can safely narrow down the date on the stem to between 1930-1949 when the war ended. That may be as close as I can get to pinning down a date on the pipe unless someone who knows a bit more of the history of LH Stern can be more specific regarding the apparatus at the end of the tenon.
I returned to finishing up my work on the pipe. With the stem completed, I polished the stem with a silver polishing cloth and was able to remove all of the oxidation and give the silver band a sheen that looked like new. I rubbed down the bowl and shank with Halcyon II wax and then buffed it with a shoe brush and then with the microfibre cloth to raise the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is ready to load up and smoke a bowl. It will probably be the first bowl that has been run through the pipe since the end of the war. I am looking forward to reintroducing the pipe to a nice bowl of Virginia or Virginia Perique. It is so light weight that it should be a great smoking pipe.