I’m switching things up this week. Instead of a pipe restoration, I thought you might enjoy a sneak peek at some content from the Brigham pipes book. In this blog, we’re going to take a closer look at Brigham Patent Era pipes, those made between 1938 and 1955.
1938 was a big year for Brigham pipes. Roy Brigham received the Canadian Patent for his new Brigham System and his eldest child, Herb, joined the firm, prompting a name change to “R. Brigham & Son” to mark the occasion.
Pipes from this period can be identified by the presence of the “CAN PAT 372982” stamp, along with a horizontal script “Brigham” logo featuring a long tail on the “m” that wraps back under the name. Rounding out the markings is a 3-digit shape number. This pic of a Select grade Shape 32 “Billiard Saddle” shows all the relevant details.
Pipes were available in four finishes – Burl (rusticated), Partial Burl (a mix of smooth and rusticated), Royal (smooth in a red/brown stain) and Natural (smooth with a light finish) and four quality levels – Standard, Select, Special Grains and Straight Grains.
These quality levels were denoted by the number of brass pins, or Brigham Dots as they came to be known, inset on the left flank of the stem. The first pin on a Patent pipe anchors the aluminum tenon/filter holder in the stem, while subsequent pins are merely cosmetic rather than structural.
Pinning patterns for this period are poorly documented but can be deduced from an examination of surviving printed material and the pipes themselves. At the beginning of the Patent Era, pipes were pinned with one through four brass Dots as shown below.
When the product line expanded to five grades in about 1953, the Exclusive grade was inserted between the Select and Special Grains grades and assumed the triangular three-Dot pinning pattern. The Special Grains grade was given a new pinning consisting of three Dots in a vertical line. The middle Dot is 1/16” in diameter (the same size used for previous pinning patterns), while the top and bottom Dots are slightly smaller at 3/32”.
Also note that the shape code for this grade begins with a “6”. This was the beginning of what would eventually become three separate pipe grades coded as “6XX” and differentiated by their pinning patterns (and grain patterns, where visible).
This pic shows the Brigham lineup at the end of the Patent Era. This scheme was in use from at least 1953 until the late 1950s when the lineup was expanded again.
Any doubts about the ordering of grades should be laid to rest by this pic showing examples of all five grades of Patent Era Brigham pipes from my personal collection. Click the image for a larger version – it is immediately obvious that the pipe at the bottom of the image is of “Straight Grains” quality.
The key to understanding Brigham pipe grades, especially from a collector’s perspective, is coming to grips with the fact that the grading schemes were constantly evolving, with very few systems lasting more than a decade. Also important to note is that the introduction of new quality levels effectively subdivided the original four grades into smaller and smaller segments, inadvertently resulting in what I call the “visual downgrading” of Brigham’s top-tier pipes.
For example, the Straight Grains pipe pictured above was the best that Brigham produced during the Patent Era, but pipes of the same quality made in later decades carry five, six or even seven Dots instead of four. Those with older Brigham pipes in their racks might wish to reevaluate their opinions of those “middle of the road” 4-Dot pipes!
Before leaving the Patent Era, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that Brigham marketed “Non-Patent” (unfiltered) pipes right alongside the new Patent pipes until about 1954/55. From at least 1949 both lines were fitted with aluminum tenons, the Non-Patent version being without filter holder or brass Dots. A few examples of these unfiltered Brigham pipes have been spotted on the estate market from time to time, though many are misidentified as Patent pipes fitted with non-Patent replacement stems.
I’ll sign off here for this week. I hope this post has whetted your appetite for more Brigham history and collector’s notes to be found inside the pages of the book. There is no firm publication date as of yet, but I will keep you posted!
Until next time, Happy Piping!