Tag Archives: Mountain Laurel pipes

Bullets, Sawdust, and Rhododendrons: The Story of the D&P Spartan

Blog by Anthony Cook

I love old pipes with stories to tell and I recently acquired a couple of very unique, American-made pipes that appear to fit that bill nicely. For those of you unfamiliar with the brand and the pipes (and I’m betting that’s the most of you), let me make the introduction. Meet the D&P Spartan… Spartan1 Spartans were made from 1942 until at least 1945. The majority of them were produced for distribution to U.S. troops overseas during WWII, but some were available domestically as well. The pipe pictured above is one that I acquired and it was probably made in mid-to-late ’43. The stem is made from maple, and although the bowl is stamped “GENUINE BRIAR”, that’s not really true. It’s most likely mountain laurel and possibly even rhododendron (they made do with what they had on hand when briar was tough to get during the war). The stamped patent number (2089519) on the side of the bowl refers to a method of curing wood with boric acid for better heat resistance.

The shape of the Spartans evolved during the course of production. The earliest were simply a wood block with a hole drilled for the tobacco chamber and another on the backside that the stem fit into. It’s very similar to the design of a cob pipe. Those were made from 1942 to mid-1943. I don’t have one of this design on hand, but Tim (oldredbeard) from the Dr. Grabow Collector’s Forum, graciously sent me a couple of photos of one that is in his collection.Spartan2

Spartan3 Notice that Tim’s pipe has the same patent stamp on the bowl as the one pictured above it. The patent was issued in March of 1943. So, this pipe is probably from one of the last production runs for this design.

Sometime around mid-1943 the design of the Spartan was changed. The new version was slightly less utilitarian and added a few aesthetic curves to the back of the bowl. It also grew a nub of a shank and utilized a patented (1888462) pressure fit for the stem. My mid-to-late ’43 Spartan is an example of this design.Spartan4


Spartan6 The design was again changed near the end of the war. I suppose the idea was to give it more appeal as D&P began to rely more on the domestic market. The new look was more traditional, but still rather roughly shaped. The paneled bowl received a few more angles, the shank was further extended, and the maple stem was replaced with one of vulcanite. The second Spartan that I picked up is an example of this design. It would have probably been made somewhere around late-’44 to ’45. I’m not aware of any further changes to the design, and in fact, I don’t believe that D&P continued to produce Spartans for very long after the end of the war.Spartan7



Spartan10 D&P was created in 1942 by David and Paul Lavietes. They were, respectively, the brother and father of Henry Lavietes who was part owner of the better known HLT located in Ozone Park, New York (Henry was the “H”). David Lavietes was also the inventor of the “Ajustomatic” stem fitting.

From the December, 1945 issue of Popular Mechanics

From the December, 1945 issue of Popular Mechanics

Originally, D&P was a sawmill and basically a supplier for HLT. They were located in Boone, North Carolina and purchased mountain laurel locally, which they then cut into blocks to be shipped to Ozone Park to be made into HLT pipes. I’m not sure, but I don’t believe that the D&P stamped pipes were ever sent to HLT. I think that they were carved in North Carolina. In 1944, D&P relocated the sawmill to Sparta, North Carolina and HLT relocated there soon after. In the early ‘50s, D&P became known as the Briarshop. They continued to carve blocks for HLT, although they were located in a different building and still regarded as a separate company. I’ve found no evidence that they ever again marketed pipes under the either the D&P or Briarshop names.

In 1953, HLT acquired the name and assets of the Dr. Grabow Pipe Company. The Briarshop ceased to be a separate company somewhere within the same timeframe and was rolled into HLT. The operation still produced stummels, but now they were doing it for both the HLT and Dr. Grabow brands. HLT has since ceased to exist, but Dr. Grabow pipes are still being made to this day in Sparta, North Carolina.

So, there you go. A couple of old pipes with stories worth telling. To me it doesn’t get much better than that.

I’d like to give special thanks to Dave Whitney and Tom Douglas for helping me put all of these pieces together. Sometimes, things get a little muddy out there in Sparta. Also, thanks to Tim for providing me with photos of a 1st-gen Spartan. You know where to reach me when you’re ready to let it go, Tim.

Late Breaking News Update!

Okay, not so late breaking, since the news is more than 70 years old, but here it is anyway…

Tom contacted me shortly after the write up was posted and told me that Appalachian State University has a yearbook titled, aptly enough, “The Rhododendron.” The 1942 and 1945 editions have D&P advertisements in them. Both of the yearbooks are available for viewing online here: http://bit.ly/asuyearbooks . I’ve cropped out the D&P ads and you can see them here:

1942: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-VqKwuNNXRjo/VZ7dMvMyeVI/AAAAAAAABic/386oDL1_swE/s800-Ic42/asuyb1942-p133.jpg

1945: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-7PyicjIL6nQ/VZ7dMzP2UqI/AAAAAAAABig/bM3Xw9a0poM/s800-Ic42/asuyb1945-p101.jpg

You’ll notice that the ’42 and ’45 ads refer to both Boone and Sparta. This leads me to believe that the Sparta location was part of the D&P operation from the beginning. When D&P relocated in ’44 it must have been a headquarters move only. The Boone location appears to have remained in operation after the move, but I have no idea for how long. I’m going to do some more digging around Boone and see what turns up.

Eavesdropping on a Conversation on Manzanita and Mountain Laurel Pipes – Robert Perkins & Mike Leverette

Over the years I have kept this interchange between Robert Perkins and Mike Leverette on my hard drive on the computer. I found it enjoyable and educational at the same time. I wrote Robert and asked for permission to pass this interchange on to readers of this blog. Robert Perkins is a pipe maker http://www.RMPerkins.com and Mike Leverette was a friend and mentor to me with regard to the pipe and its history. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of Mike and wish I could give him a call.

Here is the interchange between them:

Robert Perkins

You see, when imported briar started getting scarce during WWII, US pipemakers started looking for alternatives, and they were basically split into two camps: those who started using manzanita and those who started using mountain laurel.

Ever hear of a pipemaker called Breezewood? Well, Breezewood was one of the companies using mountain laurel as a substitute for Mediterranean briar, just like Monterey Pipes was one of the companies using manzanita, or “Mission Briar”.


Breezewood quietly closed its doors after the war because, as it turns out, all parts of the mountain laurel (Important: Not Manzanita) are “dangerously poisonous“.

Mountain laurel contains a powerful neurotoxin that, when ingested, causes convulsions, paralysis, and death within a matter of about six hours.

And somewhere along the way — I’m guessing way too late in the game for some — folks using mountain laurel as a substitute for Mediterranean briar figured this out.

I’m just gonna bet money that people started getting sick, maybe even dying: people growing and harvesting mountain laurel, people in pipe factories breathing all that mountain laurel dust, and possibly even folks who smoked those mountain laurel pipes, later on down the line.

People caught on. Maybe there were even some items in the news. And suddenly US pipemakers couldn’t put enough distance between themselves and mountain laurel pipe production fast enough.

The phrase “Imported Briar” became all the rage, and never again did US pipemakers attempt to grow or harvest briar — any kind of briar — ever again.

Just for the sake of reference, though, I should point out that nearly every single product on the market, right up until the 70s contained lead, asbestos, and so on. Heck, doctors used to put mercury thermometers in our mouths and not think a thing about it. A lot of this stuff, we just didn’t know any better.

But anyway, manzanita got caught up in all of this mess. It’s not poisonous, and it makes a fine smoking pipe, but who would want to take the risk, after that mountain laurel fiasco, huh?

You see, it’s kinda like mushrooms and toadstools. Nobody wants to pick mushrooms when there’s the significant risk that you might pick a few toadstools by mistake.

Why not just make soup and let other people worry about which one is a mushroom and which one is a toadstool?

Something like that, anyway.

So, just to recap, here:
* mountain laurel is poisonous;
* manzanita is NOT poisonous (somehow I feel like I am not emphasizing that enough)
* and after the war, the use of manzanita briar ended and the phrase “Imported Briar” became popular because US pipemakers had to disassociate themselves from the wartime practice of using mountain laurel as a substitute for Mediterranean briar.

So what do you think? Does that sound plausible?

And where is my deerstalker hat and my calabash pipe? I think I deserve a smoke.

Mike Leverette replied

Robert, my take on this subject is:

When briar was first used for pipes, everyone heralded it as the ultimate pipe wood and actually went wild over briar. In less than ten years from the first English maker to use briar, there were over a dozen briar pipe makers in London alone and all exclaiming the virtues of briar. Even the great salesman, Alfred Dunhill, exclaimed over the properties briar. So I believe everyone has, more or less, become brainwashed that briar is the only wood worth using for pipes. Surely, it is a great wood for pipes which I cannot say anything against but there are other great woods out there as well. We have been told many times over the past decade or so that briar is best for pipe making because it is A) ‘fire resistant,’ it is B) ‘very hard wood,’ it has C) ‘extremely tight grain,’ etc.

A) “Fire Resistant” – briar is wood and wood burns; there is no ‘fire resistance’ to it!
B) “Very hard wood” – yes it is hard, yet there are many woods out there which are harder per any hardness scale one wishes to use.
C) “Extremely tight grain” – again I agree. Briar has some tight grain, interesting grain and even beautiful grain. Yet there are woods out there with just as beautiful grain as briar.

The two alternative woods mentioned in this topic, manzanita and mountain laurel have been used for centuries, first by the American Indian and then the pioneers. Mountain Laurel was a favorite pipe making wood of soldiers on both sides during the War of Northern Aggression. Yes, before you ask, there were more wood pipes smoked in that war than clay pipes. Actually, the soldiers would make pipes from any wood handy but preferred mountain laurel. I am sure that the local population were using briar long before the fabled pilgrimage to Napoleon’s place of captivity, or was it his birth place? A very interesting article on pipes of other woods is Ben Rapaport’s article “Un-Briars: The Antecedents of Erica Arborea,” Spring 2001 issue of “Pipes and Tobaccos” in which Ben lists 29 different woods used for pipe making through the centuries.

Anyway, to stop preaching and return to the topic, brainwashed is too harsh a word for here but we have been treated to literature, word-of-mouth, etc about briar being the best and only wood for pipes to the point that immediately after WWII, everyone hasten to get briar pipes back on the market; hence forgetting about the two war-time substitutes.

Then again – – –
I wrote the above two days ago while waiting to be activated. During this time I have heard another pipe smoker state that he thought the pipes made from the two alternative woods, manzanita and mountain laurel, were placed into production so fast (because of the sudden stoppage in briar supply) that they were not cured properly which led to pipe smokers having problems with the pipes made from these woods. Therefore, the pipe smoking community of that day wished only for the imported briar after the war. This also makes a lot of sense!

Happy Puffing

Two Alternative Pipe Woods – Robert M. Leverette

Blog by Robert Mike Leverette

A dear friend of mine penned this article on alternative pipe woods before he died. I know it has been posed elsewhere but I wanted to pass on what he has written as I have found it informative and helpful as I navigate alternative woods. In honour of Mike’s memory I post this article that he wrote 21 Dec. 2006.

Throughout tobacco history, there has been a bewildering number of materials used for making pipes.  Among these materials are; stone, clay, porcelain, glass, various metals and of course woods, such as briar; the burl of the Erica Arborea or White Heath.  Woods of different species have been used for centuries from reeds used by the American Indian, as well as, young boys for their first smoking experiences, (such as my first reed pipe I made and smoked when only 13 years old in 1952) to many different hard woods.  Some of the well known woods used as alternatives to briar are wild olive and black thorn by Johann Slabert, bog oak by Peterson and Morta by Trever Talbert, Rosewood by the Exotic Pipe Company and now peach root pipes by modern Russian makers.

Several alternative woods are discussed in “Pipes In Other Woods” by T. C. Fuller (Fuller 2005) with pipes of some of these woods found on his web site www.tcfullerpipes.com.  Mr. Fuller lists the following woods along with some of his observations:  Cherry; Apple; Olive; Hawthorn root; Maple burl; Black Palm; Myrtle; Walnut; Curly Ash; Ebony; and Pawlonia.  Mr. Fuller states that his olive wood pipes sweated tobacco juices by quoting a friend of his;
“He has smoked the pipe extensively and had this to say about it: “This particular olive has very thin walls.  During the pipe’s breaking in, I noticed that residue was seeping through its walls, (…).”

I have not had an olive wood pipe to sweat, maybe because I like my tobaccos on the dry side.  Mr. Fuller and I have had the same experience with Black Walnut; it gives a pleasing nutty flavor to your smoke.
Another excellent article on alternative woods is Ben Rapaport’s “Un-Briars” (Rapaport 2001) in which he lists 29 woods, from Acacia to Walnut, used primarily by early European pipe makers and peoples who, by my thoughts, are probably still using these woods for personal pipes.

Then too, there is the article by Chuck Stanion “From Beechwood to Briar” (Stanion 2001) in which, by giving the history of Stanwell pipes, he writes of Poul Nielsen making pipes of Beechwood in 1942 due to the war shortage of briar.  These Beechwood pipes were under the name of Kyringe pipes.

Why haven’t these woods, or at least a few of these woods, gained as much popularity as has briar?  The general consensus is that they are not as durable as briar.  Well, what is it about briar that gives its durability?  Again the general consensus is briar owes its durability to its hardness but we all know there are woods mentioned above that are harder than briar by the Janka and other scales.

There are two woods that I think can compete with the durability of briar, or at least, very close, and they are Manzanita and Mountain Laurel.  A briar pipe may last several life times while pipes of these two woods may last half a life time shorter, but only if  they are taken care of as lovingly as briar pipes.  Both of these woods were used in the United States during World War II when briar was impossible to obtain.  Pipes of these two woods that I have come across are excellent smokers and are in excellent condition considering that over sixty years have elapsed since they were made. I expect they will last for many more years.  These two alternative woods are more thoroughly reviewed below.

Manzanita or Mission Briar

Though Manzanita was used for pipes during World War II and for a couple of years after that conflict; Wikipedia does not list smoking pipes as one of its usages.  Wikipedia gives the following description for the wood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manzanita):
“The Manzanitas are a subgenus of the genus Arctostaphylos. They are evergreen present in the chaparral biome of western North America, where they occur from southern British Columbia in Canada, Washington to California and New Mexico in the United States, and throughout much of northern and central Mexico. They are characterized by smooth, orange or red bark and stiff, twisting branches. There are about 60 species of manzanita, ranging from ground-hugging coastal and mountain species to small trees up to 6m tall. Manzanitas bloom in the winter to early spring and carry berries in spring and summer. The berries and flowers of most species are edible, though not particularly tasty.”

Bill Feuerbach in his excellent article on the history of “S. M. Frank & Co., Inc.” (Feuerbach 1977) had this to say about Manzanita:
“During World War II, getting briar imported into this country was not easy. Italian and French briar couldn’t be had until very late in the war. Kaywoodie was able to import 1400 5-gross bags of briar (about 1,000,000 blocks) out of North Africa in 1943 after the German army was defeated there. Early in 1941, Kaywoodie embarked on a project of domestically grown briar wood, called Mission Briar. This wood is botanically the same as Mediterranean briar. The Pacific Briarwood Company, a KBB subsidiary, began harvesting the burl type wood growing on the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. However, the smoking characteristics were not quite as good and the project was abandoned after the war.”

We do know that there were at least three brands of pipes using Mission Briar, a marketing ploy for manzanita to capitalize on the name briar.  They were; Kaywoodie, Monterey and Reiss Premium pipes.  Though Mr. Feuerbach does not actually say that Kaywoodie pipes were made from Mission Briar during those years, it is implied in his history.  Monterey Pipes were also owned and made by Kaywoodie.  Within my collection, I have two Monterey Specimen Grain Mission Briar pipes; a bulldog and a billiard; both great smokers though I am not a fan of metal condensers; thus leaving me at a loss to understand his comment, “However, the smoking characteristics were not quite as good (…).”  Maybe it is just my old abused pallette coming into play!

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel was also used for pipes during the war and for a couple of years after that conflict; and again, Wikipedia does not list smoking pipes as one of its usages.  Wikipedia gives the following description for the wood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Laurel):

“Kalmia latifolia (Mountain-laurel) is a flowering plant in the family Ericaceae, native to the eastern United States, from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. It is an evergreen shrub growing to 3-9 m tall. The leaves are 3-12 cm long and 1-4 cm wide. Its flowers are star-shaped, ranging from red to pink to white, and occurring in clusters. It blooms between May and June. All parts of the plant are poisonous.  The plant is naturally found on rocky slopes and mountainous forest areas. The plant often grows in large thickets, covering large areas of forest floor.  It is also known as Ivybush, Calico Bush, Spoonwood (because native Americans used to make their spoons out of it), Sheep Laurel, Lambkill and Clamoun.”

Though Wikipedia states that “All parts of the plant are poisonous,” other botanical sources state that only the leaves are poisonous, and here poisonous would be in reference to cattle and sheep eating the leaves with fatalities depending on the quantity consumed.  The milk from cows will also be toxic, though not necessarily fatal, to humans drinking said beverage.

There were at least three pipe brands made from the Mountain Laurel; Trapwell, Breezewood and Custombilt.  Trapwell pipes were made by D & P Pipe Works beginning on or before 1943.  D & P Pipe Works, owned by D. P. Levitas (Ross 2005), began making pipes in 1938 (Wilczak and Colwell 1997) probably in New York City but relocated to Sparta, Alleghany County, North Carolina in 1943 (Sparta/Alleghany CoC 2006), in order to be closer to the huge population of Mountain Laurel in the area.  Later, this company changed their name to Sparta Pipe Works and still later to Sparta Industries.  I have one Trapwell World’s Best Briar  pipe in my collection, a small billiard, and here again, it is a great little smoker.  World’s Best Briar was their marketing ploy for Mountain Laurel.  Trapwell’s ‘trap’ is a highly complicated condensing system when compared to most regular metal condensers.  After the war, Trapwell pipes were made from regular briar wood, or “imported briar” until their demise.

According to a 1942 Life magazine advertisement, Breezewood pipes were made by The Breezewood Pipe Company, located at 630 Fifth Avenue, New York City, though Wilczak and Colwell state the Breezewood pipes were made by Kaufmann Brothers & Bondy (KB&B) beginning in 1941 (Wilczak and Colwell 1997).  The Breezewood Pipe Company may have been a subsidiary of KB&B.  To quote the 1942 Life magazine advertisement;  “There, deep in the Great Smoky Mountains, they found it – found an uncharted virgin forest of burls, great old burls that had been growing there uncounted years.  And from these old burls, pipes of astonishing lightness of weight are made – their name: Breezewood.”

At the present time, this is all I have been able to find on the history of Breezewood pipes.  Here again, the one Breezewood pipe, a small billiard, I have in my collection is a great little smoker.  I am not overly fond of metal condensers and this Breezewood pipe has a simple tube condenser similar to Dunhill’s “innertube.“

It would be pure speculation on my part, for I have found no history of such, but Dr. Grabows could also have been made from the Mountain Laurel burls during the early World War II years.  I can find no exact date but Mary Linkman and Company (MLC) moved their Dr. Grabow operations to Charlotte North Carolina probably sometime in the 1940s.  Later in 1955, MLC sold Dr. Grabow pipes to Sparta Pipe Works which may indicate a past relationship of Dr. Grabow pipes with Mountain Laurel.  {emphasis mine — RJM}

In the Autumn 97 – Winter 1998 issue of “The Pipe Smoker’s Ephemeris is a 1979 letter from Claude L. Stuart, owner of Tracy Mincer pipes, to Mr. Fred C. Janusek in which he writes the following;
“The “convertible” pipe was made during World War II when briar was not available and was made largely from scrap briar. The word “imported briar” was deleted from some of the Custombilt pipes from this period because some of the pipes were made from rhodium found in the southern part of the United States. This was used until briar again became available from the Mediterranean Sea area.”

Though Mountain Laurel is not a rhododendron, some people in the south refer to it by rhododendron and the above ‘rhodium’ is probably a misspelling of the word.

Comparisons – My Personal Observations

In comparing pipes of the two woods (Manzanita and Mountain Laurel), the manzanita pipes appear to be heavier in weight and darker in coloring than the mountain laurel pipes though both manzanita conditions could be from heavier smoking resulting in more tobacco juices absorbed in the wood.  Coloring of course could also depend on the stain used.  I readily admit that all of my pipes of these two woods were purchased on the estate pipe market, so I have no idea as to how much each pipe was smoked before they came into my possession.  They both smoke equally great with my briars in that department.  As to durability; pipes of these woods may not be as durable as briar but I am sure they will last a couple of life times if taken care of properly.

In comparing the grain of the two woods to that of briar, they have as pretty and as interesting grain as briar though the birds-eye is not as tight. Both the Mission Briar and the Mountain Laurel pipes smoke Latakia blends (my favorites), Virginia and Virginia-perique tobaccos as well as my briars and olive woods, but again, this could be due my pallette.  In summary, it is puzzling to me why Manzanita and Mountain Laurel loss so much favor in the pipe making world.  Makers bowing to the demand for briar can be the only answer though I am sure pipes of these woods would still sell to the dyed-in-the-wool pipe smokers and collectors of today.

References Cited:
Feuerbach III, Bill – 1977; http://www.smfrankcoinc.com/history/index.htm
Fuller, T. C.- 2005, April issue; “The Pipe Collector” See also, www.tcfullerpipes.com
Rapaport, Ben – 2001, Spring issue; “Pipes and Tobaccos”
Ross, Stephen A. – 2005, Spring issue; “The Doctor is In,” Pipes and Tobaccos
Sparta NC Chamber of Commerce – 2006; http://sparta-nc.com/chamber/history.htm
Stanion, Chuck – 2001, Summer issue; “Pipes and Tobaccos”
Wilczak, Herb and Tom Colwell – 1997; “Who Made That Pipe?”

I would like to express my appreciation to the following for their help:
Benjamin Rapaort; The Nicotian Network & Nexus (Antiquarian Tobbaciana Publication)
Jim Wagner with the Wyoming County NY Sheriff’s Department
James J. Shive of Legacy Consulting Services; Contract Archaeologist