Blog by Steve Laug
As I continue to work through the pipes in Bob Kerr’s Estate I am enjoying choosing different brands that he had to focus on for a bit. He had six different pipes from Brigham in his collection so I decided to work my way through that sub collection of the estate. Out of the 6 pipes, #5 has a ruined bowl with a crack all the way around it as well as a cut off aluminum tenon. #6 went to Paresh Deshpande in India for his collection. That left behind four pipes for me to restore – #1, #2, #3 and #4. Here is the list of what I saw when I examined the 6 pipes.
- Brigham 503T Can. Pat. 372982 5 Dot Stack. Stem is oxidized, tooth marks and chatter near the button, some calcification with damage to the button. Finish is dirty, thick cake and lava overflow on the rim top. Rim top has is worn and damage on the back edge.
- Brigham Made In Canada 691 3 Dot Canadian. Stem is oxidized, tooth marks and chatter near the button, some calcification with damage to the button. Finish is dirty, thick cake and lava overflow on the rim top. Rim top is worn and damaged.
- Brigham Made In Canada 601 2 Dot Lovat. Stem is oxidized, tooth marks and chatter near the button, some calcification with damage to the button. Finish is dirty and worn. Stamping is worn. There is a thick cake and lava overflow on the rim top. Rim top is worn and damaged.
- Brigham Made In Canada 1 Dot Bing Crosby Style Pipe. Stem is oxidized, tooth marks and chatter near the button, some calcification with damage to the button. Finish is dirty, thick cake and lava overflow on the rim top. Rim top is worn and damage on the back edge.
- Brigham Made In Canada 6 Dot Bent Billiard. Stem is oxidized, tooth marks and chatter near the button, some calcification with damage to the button. The aluminum tenon has been cut off. Finish is dirty and worn with paint on the bowl. There is a thick cake and lava overflow on the rim top. Rim top has a crack on the right side.
- Brigham Made In Canada 4 Dot Canadian. Stem is oxidized, tooth marks and chatter near the button, some calcification with damage to the button. Finish is dirty and stamping is worn. There is a thick cake and lava overflow on the rim top. Rim top is worn and edges are damaged.
I chose to work on these in the order above. The first pipe I tackled was #1 which was a beautifully grained Brigham 503T Stack. It was stamped on the left side of the shank with clear stamping Brigham over Can. Pat. 372982. On the right side of the shank it was stamped with the shape number 503T. There was a thick cake in the bowl with remnants of tobacco stuck on the walls. There was a lava overflow on the rim. The top and edges of the rim appear to have some damage all the way around the bowl. The grain on the shank and bowl was a combination of flame and straight grain. There was a dent mid bowl on the left side of the bowl. I think that there was a beautiful pipe underneath all of the buildup of years of use. The stem was oxidized and calcified toward the end with some tooth chatter. There were also some tooth marks on both sides of the stem ahead of the button. There was a pattern of five brass dots on the left side of the tapered stem. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work on it. Jeff took photos of the bowl and rim top to show the thick, hard cake in the bowl with remnants of tobacco stuck on the walls of the bowl. There was a lava build up on the top of the rim and the edges of the bowl. The rim top looked pretty good but it was hard to know for sure but it appeared that there was damage all around the inner edge. The outer edges of the rim had some damage on the back side where it appeared to have been hit against a hard surface and left behind a rough edge. Jeff took a photo of the side and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the finish. You can see the beautiful grain around the side of the bowl and shank. Even under the dirt and debris of the years it looked very good. Jeff took photos of the stamping on the left side of the bowl and shank. It read Brigham over Can. Pat 372982. The stamp on the right side of the shank read 503T which was the shape number. The last photo shows the five brass dots on the left side of the tapered stem. Jeff took photos of the top and underside of the stem showing the tooth chatter, scratching and oxidation on the stem surface and wear on the edges of the button. I am also including the information from Pipedia’s article on Brigham pipes. It is a great read in terms of the history of the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Brigham_Pipes). Charles Lemon (Dadspipes) is currently working on a book on the history of the brand. Until that is complete this article is a good summary. I have included it below.
Roy Brigham, after serving an apprenticeship under an Austrian pipesmith, started his own pipe repair shop in Toronto, in 1906. By 1918 the business had grown to include five other craftsmen and had developed a reputation across Canada for the high quality of workmanship. After repairing many different brands of pipes over the years, Roy noted certain recurring complaints by pipe smokers, the most common referred to as “tongue bite”. Tongue bite is a burning sensation on the smoker’s tongue, previously thought to be due to the heat of the smoke (i.e. a “hot smoking pipe”).
He soon began manufacturing his own pipes, which were lightweight, yet featured a more rugged construction, strengthening the weak points observed in other pipes. The problem of tongue bite intrigued him, and he decided to make overcoming it a future goal.
About 1938, Roy’s son Herb joined him to assist in the business. The business barely survived the great depression because pipes were considered to be a luxury, not a necessity, and selling pipes was difficult indeed. In approximately 1937 , after some experimentation, Roy and Herb discovered that tongue bite was in fact a form of mild chemical burn to the tongue, caused by tars and acids in the smoke. They found that by filtering the smoke, it was possible to retain the flavour of the tobacco and yet remove these impurities and thereby stop the tongue bite.
Just as Thomas Edison had searched far and wide for the perfect material from which to make the first electric light bulb filaments, Roy & Herb began experimenting with many materials, both common and exotic, in the quest for the perfect pipe filter. Results varied wildly. Most of the materials didn’t work at all and some actually imparted their own flavour into the smoke. They eventually found just two materials that were satisfactory in pipes: bamboo and rock maple. As bamboo was obviously not as readily available, rock maple then became the logical choice.
They were able to manufacture a replaceable hollow wooden tube made from rock maple dowelling, which when inserted into a specially made pipe, caused absolutely no restriction to the draw of the pipe, yet extracted many of the impurities which had caused tongue bite. The result was indeed a truly better smoking pipe.
As a result, sales of Brigham pipes climbed briskly afterwards, and by the 1960’s there were well over 40 full time production staff. For over four decades now, the company has been the leading Canadian pipe manufacturer, producing more than three quarters of all the pipes made in Canada.
In 1978, Roy’s grandson Mike joined the firm and together with Herb (now in his 80s) they still produce pipes and wooden filters according to long established techniques, resulting in consistently high quality products. Several pipe makers who learned the craft of pipe making here at Brigham went on to make a name for themselves in Canada and internationally including Philip Trypis and Julius Vesz.
I wrote to Charles Lemon (Dadspipes) and asked him about the stamping on the pipe. He responded with information on all of the foursome. I am including the information on this particular pipe.
Hey Steve! Good to hear from you.
The ‘T’ suffix to the Brigham 3-digit shape number indicates a Tall bowl (ie taller than the standard shape). Thus your Patent Era 503T is a Brigham Special Grain Shape 03 (Medium Billiard) with a Tall bowl, made between 1938 and 1955…
…As these are all Patent pipes, it’s more accurate to refer to their grade by name (the post 1980 grading scheme refers to Dots). Here is the original scheme:With the information from Charles’ message and the chart above that he included I knew what I was dealing with in terms of the stamping and the age of this pipe. I learned that the ‘T’ suffix to the Brigham 3-digit shape number indicated a Tall bowl (i.e. taller than the standard shape). This Patent Era 503T is a Brigham Special Grain Shape 03 (Medium Billiard) with a Tall bowl, made between 1938 and 1955. Most of Bob’s pipes were purchased in the 50s and 60s so my guess is that this is fits that time frame well. Now it was time to work on the pipe.
I am really happy to have Jeff’s help on cleaning up the pipes from Bob’s estate as the 125+ pipes were taking me a long time to do alone. He cleaned this filthy pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness that I really appreciate. This one was a real mess and I did not know what to expect when I unwrapped it from his box. He reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the internals with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until the pipe was clean. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime and grit on the briar and the lava on the rim top. The finish looks very good with great looking grain around the bowl and shank. Jeff soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation on the rubber. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver for the second stop of its restoration tour I was amazed it looked so good. I took some close up photos of the rim top and also of the stem surface. I wanted to show what an amazing job Jeff did in the cleanup of the rim top. The rim top was darkened with nicks and notches around the top and inner edge. The inner edge was very rough and looked like the bowl had been reamed with a knife at some time in its life. I also took close up photos of the stem to show the lack of tooth marks and chatter on the stem surface. It was very clean.I took the stem off the shank to show the aluminum tenon/tube that was used to hold the Brigham Rock Maple Distillator. The original Distillator (filter) had been filthy so after Jeff had cleaned the pipe up he threw it away. I will replace it once I have finished with the restoration.One of the things I appreciate about Jeff’s cleanup is that he works to protect and preserve the nomenclature on the shank of the pipes that he works on. The stamping on this one was very faint to start with so I was worried that it would disappear altogether with the cleanup. He was not only able to preserve it but it is clearer than shown in the earlier photos. I took some photos to show the clarity of the stamping. I have noticed that many restorers are not careful to protect the stamping in their cleaning process and often by the end of the restoration the nomenclature is almost destroyed. I would like to encourage all of us to be careful in our work to preserve this as it is a critical piece of pipe restoration! Since this is another pipe Bob’s estate I am sure that some of you have read at least some of the other restoration work that has been done on the previous pipes. You have also read what I have included about Bob Kerr, the pipeman who held these pipes in trust before I came to work on them (see photo to the left). Also, if you have followed the blog for long you will already know that I like to include background information on the pipeman whose pipes I am restoring. For me, when I am working on an estate I really like to have a sense of the person who held the pipes in trust before I worked on them. It gives me another dimension of the restoration work. Bob’s daughter wrote a short tribute to her father. I thank you Brian and tell your wife thank you as well.
I am delighted to pass on these beloved pipes of my father’s. I hope each user gets many hours of contemplative pleasure as he did. I remember the aroma of tobacco in the rec room, as he put up his feet on his lazy boy. He’d be first at the paper then, no one could touch it before him. Maybe there would be a movie on with an actor smoking a pipe. He would have very definite opinions on whether the performer was a ‘real’ smoker or not, a distinction which I could never see but it would be very clear to him. He worked by day as a sales manager of a paper products company, a job he hated. What he longed for was the life of an artist, so on the weekends and sometimes mid-week evenings he would journey to his workshop and come out with wood sculptures, all of which he declared as crap but every one of them treasured by my sister and myself. Enjoy the pipes, and maybe a little of his creative spirit will enter you!
Now with all of the background on the line and the background on Bob Kerr it was time to get on with the restoration of this beautiful straight grained Brigham Special Grain Tall Billiard. I am really coming to appreciate the hard cleanup work that Jeff did on these pipes. They were a real mess when I sent them to Jeff and I have to tell you it was great that I did not need to clean this pipe. I decided to start the process by dealing with the damage to the rim top and edges of the bowl. I topped it on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper. I worked on the inner edge with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper and gave it a very slight bevel so that it took care of the damage on the inner edge. The photos show the progress. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and I wiped the bowl down after each sanding pad with a damp cloth. There were some scratches in the bowl on both sides and there appeared to be a dent in the left side mid-bowl. I interrupted the polishing of the briar to deal with the dent in the bowl side. I heated a knife and used it and a wet cloth to steam the dent out of the surface of the briar. The first photo shows the process while the second shows the bowl after the steaming. The dent is gone. With the dent removed I went back to polishing the briar with the remaining micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads and I wiped the bowl down after each sanding pad with a damp cloth. I rubbed the bowl and rim down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. I really like watching the Balm do its magic and bring the briar alive. The stem was in great condition so I did not need to sand out tooth marks or chatter. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. Once I had finished the polishing I gave it a coat of a new product I am experimenting with from Briarville Pipe Repair. It is called “No Oxy Oil” and it is made to protect the stem from oxidizing. I set it aside to dry. With the pipe cleaned and ready to polish I put a new Brigham Distillator filter in the stem. The photos show the Distillator out of the tenon and in place in the tenon. It is a Maplewood tube that collects the moisture from the smoke and delivering a dry, cool smoke sans tongue bite. Once again at this point in the restoration process I am excited to be on the homestretch. This is the first Brigham from the four that are in Bob’s estate so I look forward to the final look when it is put back together, polished and waxed. I put the bowl and stem back together. I polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the scratches in the briar and the vulcanite. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The grain is quite stunning and really pops with the wax and polish. The shiny black vulcanite stem with the five brass pins is a beautiful contrast to the browns of the bowl and shank. This was another fun pipe to work on thanks to Jeff’s cleanup work. It really is a quite stunning piece of straight and flame grained briar whose shape follows the flow of the briar. The Brigham 503T Patent Era Special Grain Stack is a comfortable pipe to hold in the hand. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ¾ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. I am a bit undecided on this pipe. I am thinking of holding onto it for a while but I am still not sure. If I decide to let it go this beautiful pipe will be going on the rebornpipes store. I have a lot more of Bob’s estate to work on of various brands. Perhaps one of those will catch your attention. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. This is an interesting estate to bring back to life.