Last updated 8 Feb 2018
As both a Canadian and a pipe lover, it is perhaps inevitable that I hold a special place in my heart for Canadian-made pipes, especially those produced by Brigham Pipes, one of the country’s oldest pipe-makers, and one that has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, countless lesser economic upheavals, and the more recent and radical cultural shift away from tobacco use.
I have dozens of vintage Brigham pipes in my personal collection, and over time I have developed some fluency for identifying and dating the various examples of briarwork, both pedestrian and remarkable, with which I have been fortunate to become acquainted. My goal here is to present, as clearly as possible, a concise guide to decoding the stamps, markings and other features of Brigham pipes over seven distinct periods of production.
Data for this project has been gleaned from many sources, including, but not limited to, the “official” (if scant and sometimes confusing) Brigham history published on the company’s website, other online resources such as pipe logo and markings site Pipephil.eu , forum posts by other Brigham enthusiasts, and, where available, vintage catalogs and firsthand examination. If there are flaws or faults in the information presented below, I assume all responsibility and would be thrilled to receive expert correction from confirmed and documented sources.
EDIT: In April of 2017, I received an email from Daniel More, President of Brigham Enterprises Inc, with his input on this paper, which I have incorporated into the information presented below.
Brigham Production Eras
Founded in 1906 by Roy Brigham in Toronto, Canada, Brigham pipes has enjoyed the patronage of customers across Canada and abroad for 110 years. Its long and successful history can be divided into seven distinct historical periods or Eras:
- Pre-Patent Era: 1906 – 1937
- Patent Era: 1938 – 1955
- Post-Patent Era 1956 – 1969*
- Canadian Era 1970 – 1980*
- Late Canadian Era 1980 – 2000
- Transition Era 2001 – 2006
- European Era 2007- Present *dates approximate
The Pre-Patent Era (1906 -1937) covers the early decades between the company’s start and the invention of the now-famous Brigham Rock Maple filter system. There is almost no literature available from this period and stampings or other identifying features are unknown, though presumably the Brigham name was stamped on the pipes somehow. If you have an old, non-system Brigham pipe in your collection, it may well hail from this time period, though a few non-filtered Brigham pipes were produced over the years, up until the late 1990s.
The Patent Era (1938-1955) is the best documented period of the company’s history, and some would say its heyday. Pipes from this period are stamped with “CAN PAT 372982” (the Canadian Patent number for the Rock maple filter system), the Brigham thin-script logo and a 3-digit shape number.
The patent on the Brigham filter system expired in 1955, ushering in the Post-Patent Era (1956 – roughly 1969). The “CAN PAT” stamp was replaced by a “Made in Canada” stamp in block letters. The 1960s saw the introduction of new product lines, including the Norsemen and Valhalla series of rusticated and smooth (respectively) freehand-style pipes created to capitalize on the growing demand for Danish pipe shapes.
Around the late 1960s or early 1970s, at the beginning of what I’ve called the Canadian Era (roughly 1970 – 1980), the stampings changed again as Brigham moved to modernize its logo. Pipes are stamped with the 3-digit shape number and “Brigham” over “Made in Canada”. Note these two variants of this stamping.
I have dubbed the decades between 1980 and 2000 the Late Canadian Era, a period that saw several changes at Brigham that are of note to the collector. First, the traditional 8-grade pinning system (the famous Brigham “Dots” which denoted the quality of the pipe) was changed to a 7-grade system to simplify pinning (more on this below), and the Norsemen and Valhalla series were merged to form the President Series, which represented the very finest pipes coming out of the Toronto factory. Early pipes from this era (left, below) are stamped with a shape number and “Brigham” over “Canada”; later pipes (late 1980s+, on right below) are stamped simply with a shape number and the Brigham logo.
The Transition Era (2001 – 2006). The biggest change to hit Brigham since the advent of the Rock Maple filter occurred in 2001 when Brigham moved production from Toronto to Italy. The product lineup was, not surprisingly, heavily impacted, with the most obvious change a sharp decrease in the number of pipe shapes available.
Daniel More, President of Brigham Enterprises Inc. explains the move to the EU:
“Admittedly the hardest decision we ever needed to make. With an aging skilled work force we were losing the skills required at an alarming rate. We made attempts to bring in new people but we were not effective in staving off the atrophy. We were fortunate though to be able to move by increments allowing us control and comfort throughout the process. For example, instead of turning our own bowls we began to purchase turned bowls; then we had stems added with sanding at 100-grit ; then sanding to finer degrees; then staining and so on. The last bit of control was grading.
I still visit the manufacturing facility in the EU at least once a year to discuss QC and pick shapes and designs. The shift [to the EU] resulted in fewer shapes. However, one of the biggest benefits was access to a wider variety of finishes. We had never been able to offer a sandblasted pipe and the access to accessories like rings and different colours, I think, allowed us to make the line more interesting.”
Coincidental with shifting production to the EU was the move from the original aluminum tenon/filter holder to one made of a composite material. Daniel More provides insight into the switch:
“Principally there were two catalysts for the change. We were using a very specific OD for our Aluminum Tenons. In fact, we were one of only two companies in North America using this OD, the other being an aircraft manufacturer in California. When this aircraft company shifted to an alternative, it left us and us alone purchasing this specific size. To stay with Aluminum, our only alternative was to purchase an oversized OD and tool this down to our requirements results in significant expense due to the wasted material costs.
We had, for many years, experimented with a number of composite materials for both the tenons and Distillator Tips. The issue was always heat resistance. Technology having advanced as it did by the 1990’s presented us with a selection of alternatives. We tested 10 different compositions before landing on the formula we still use today.
Cost saving aside, the Composite Tenon virtually eliminated the breaking of shanks. That is, when a pipe shank would break due to leverage (think, in the pocket and sitting down), we could not repair this. The Composite Tenon would now break away rather than the shank allowing for an inexpensive repair versus having to throw out “an old friend”. Without a doubt, there were many cries about the inferior Composite Tenon breaking but with our offer to provide no cost tenon repairs we assuaged this concern. We still offer to this day no charge repairs for broken Composite Tenons – no questions asked.”
During the Transition Era, the 100 – 300 series pipes looked very similar to Canadian-made
pipes and continued to be recognized by their traditional brass pin patterns. These lower series pipes were offered in 9 shapes.The 400 series disappeared temporarily, while the 500 to 700 series pipes, available in only 8 shapes, lost their brass pins and were identified only by their 3-digit shape numbers.
500 series pipes were fully or partially rusticated, the 600 series featured a larger proportion of smooth finish, and the 700 series were fully smooth, made from near-flawless briar without fills or rustication. 500-700 series pipes from this period were fitted with a silver (nickel?) band with the Brigham leaf logo and a choice of acrylic stem in either black or green marble.
The European Era is the most recent period in Brigham’s long history of pipe making, beginning with the debut of the 2007 Brigham Pipe Series. Each of the 7 grades of pipes in the series is assigned a specific finish and name
honouring Canadian history and heritage. Pipes in this latest series feature a factory bowl coating and are available in 12 shapes.
Brian Levine, former National Sales Manager, Brigham USA, confirmed for me that “only the lower 3 grades [of the 2007 Series] are Italian made. All other pipes are made in France except for the rare pipe of the year or special edition but, then those are made at a different factory in Italy.”
The Original Brigham Dot System 1938 – 1980
Brigham pipes are reknown in the pipe world for their famous “Brigham Dots”, a system of brass pins inset in the stem to denote the grade of each pipe. The original 8-grade pinning system, used for 42 years between 1938 and 1978 (spanning the Patent, Post-Patent and Canadian Eras) looked like this:
You’ll notice the multiple 3 Dot pinning configurations, a source of much confusion in the estate pipe community, mainly due to the odd decision to assign both the horizontal and vertical 3 Dot pipes 600 series shape numbers. This led to a situation in which a 623 Bent Billiard could be pinned with three possible patterns – vertical 3 Dot, horizontal 3 Dot or 6 Dot, and one that gave rise to the inevitable questions: “Is a Vertical 3 Dot 600 series pipe the equivalent of a 6 Dot pipe?” “Is a Horizontal 3 Dot pipe really a “4 Dot Plus”?”
The answer can be found in Brigham catalogs of the period, like this one, circa 1960s, posted on RebornPipes.com. The vertical and horizontal 3 Dot pipes sold at considerably lower prices than the 600 series, 6 Dot pipes, and should therefore be considered unique quality levels despite the 6xx shape numbers attributed to them.
Other Pinning Patterns to 1980
In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, Brigham was working on revising its grading system to simplify pin configurations and reduce consumer confusion around the multiple 3-Dot configurations. During this transitional time, the product line was reduced, dropping several of the original grades.
The progression, found below in the 1975 Brigham catalog, shows 1 through 4-Dot grades, followed by Special Grain (stamped with the old VIP Horizontal 3-Dot pins) and Select Grain (pinned as a 5-Dot).
Norseman and Valhalla Series
In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Brigham Norsemen and Valhalla series of larger, Scandinavian-inspired pipe shapes carried their own configuration of Dots. These two series shared the same 6 shapes.
The Norsemen were fully rusticated and pinned with the old Brigham VIP 3 Dot horizontally aligned pattern, with the middle Dot larger than the other two. They were stamped with “9Wx”, where “x” indicated the shape number (2 through 7).
The Valhalla series of smooth or partially rusticated pipes were available in three grades, A, B and C, with C being the highest grade. A Valhalla pipe in Shape 6 could therefore be stamped “AV6”, “BV6” or “CV6” depending on grade. Dot patterns on the stem ranged from 4 dots (A grade) to 6 Dots (C grade).
Revised Dot System 1980
Brigham changed the Dot system in 1980, adding a 7 Dot at the top of the line, dropping the names of each series and eliminating the confusing vertical and horizontal 3 Dot configurations. The Norsemen and Valhalla series were combined to form the President series of freehand pipes, which adopted a 3 Dot pattern with a larger dot on the right as shown below. The 7- grade pinning system stayed in place from 1980 to 2001.
Other Series Brigham System Pipes (late 1990s to early 2000s) were the first Brigham pipes to be made in Italy. These were entry-level pipes marked first with a yellow star on the stem, which changed after 2001 to a leaf.
Brigham Non-Filter Pipes
As I mentioned earlier, pipes made during Brigham’s Pre-Patent Era (1906-1937) were non-filter pipes. After the introduction of the Rock Maple Distillator, most Brigham pipes were fitted with the Brigham System, but not all:
“Until the mid-70’s Brigham would, from time to time, manufacture non-filtered pipes. That said, this was infrequent and in limited quantities. Principally the motive was to use small bowls with thin shanks that could not accommodate the Brigham System.” – Daniel More, President, Brigham Enterprises
The latest pipes to be offered without a filter belong to Brigham’s Platinum Series, introduced in the 1990’s and distinguished from the System pipes by the use of silver/steel Dots:
“This initiative was in response to our expanding sales into the USA. Being met with resistance against filtered pipes in the USA (even though the Brigham System is not, in fact, a filter) we countered this opposition with non-filtered pipes. Interesting to note that when offered the option, the Brigham System was favoured.” – Daniel More, President, Brigham Enterprises
Modern Brigham Pipes
Except for the lowest three grades, pipes in the current (2007) Brigham series cannot be identified by brass pins or shape availability. All grades are available in 12 standard shapes, but are distinguished by their unique finishes and markings. As noted above, the Voyageur, Algonquin and Mountaineer pipes are made in Italy, while the remaining pipes in this series (Chinook, Heritage, Klondike and Acadian) are produced in France.
Brigham President Series pipes are still available,
though the brass pins are gone, replaced with the now ubiquitous Brigham “B” logo in a circle, set into the top of the acrylic stem. The modern series is based on Scandinavian shapes that Herb Brigham enjoyed the most, in a variety of finishes named after “executive places” – locations you’d expect to find a CEO or company executive, including “Boardroom”, “Muskoka”, “The Country Club”, and “The Helm”.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Brigham has recently introduced a new range of pipes, the Giante Series. As the name implies, these pipes are larger, designed to provide a longer smoke from a single bowl. They are available in three traditional shapes (Bent (Egg), Semi-Bent (Brandy) and Straight (Billiard)) and in either a reddish-brown smooth or black sandblast finish. All of them come with the Brigham Rock Maple filter system.
As you can see by the variations in stamps even within the same general period, it can be tricky to nail down the exact production time-frame for a given pipe.
Daniel More, President of Brigham Enterprises Inc, acknowledges the difficulties facing the Brigham collector:
“You have correctly identified the challenge in pinpointing exactly when we used and stopped using certain stamps and pin configurations. I wouldn’t suggest this was the result of a lack of care or concern but rather the result of a production era approach. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense to keep track of when stamps were initiated and ceased use. It would save some of what I refer to as the antique Brigham road show. Haha.”
Worn or imperfectly struck stamps confuse the game, as can such factory-floor practices as using up old stock during transition periods (For example, I have a Brigham President A Grade freehand sent out with a Valhalla B grade (4 Dot) stem.). Unfortunately, there are very few pipe producers that created and maintained a foolproof method of dating their wares. (Dunhill is the obvious exception here, and their use of a date stamp on every pipe produced accounts at least in part for the collectible nature of vintage Dunhill pipes today.)
Vintage pipe catalogs and other company literature can be of great value in establishing a production timeline for a particular pipe, though this is not always foolproof. I own several old Brigham catalogs, but none of them are dated – another unfortunate custom of the day shared by many makers until the mid to late 1970s.
Incomplete information and undated literature are part and parcel of the pipe collecting hobby, and though it can be frustrating at times, the thrill of discovering a new pipe shape or finish variation more than makes up for any initial inconvenience in identifying that new acquisition. I hope this little treatise on Brigham pipes proves a useful resource for the identification and dating of pipes in your collection, or perhaps those you might wish to consider for a vacant space in your pipe rack.
I’ll now open the floor to you for comments or corrections. I would especially welcome any high-resolution digital copies of Brigham literature that would help verify or expand information in this paper.
Thanks for joining me on this little 110 year trip. Until next time, Happy Piping!