BRIGHAM PIPES

 

Brigham Pipes

Brigham is the oldest pipe maker in Canada (from 1906). Until recently they were pretty much limited to sales in Canada. This was by their choice. Today, Brigham pipes are distributed in the US and they have a list of retailers on their corporate site.


A few years ago they had a pretty good pipe history page on their corporate site http://www.brighampipes.com/ , but it has vanished. So I'll reproduce the text from that history in this post and provide a few other comments & references. I have a scanned brochure from the mid 70's and I'll provide bits of that too.


Their briar pipes were entirely made in Toronto until at least the late 80's. They were always a very popular pipe in Canada and they also trained some of Canada's artisan pipe makers eg Vesz, Trypis. They had a number of interesting virtues, including: an effective rock maple filter system, a very neutral clay bowl coating, and a huge range of classical shapes, as well as an interesting series of hand made pipes.


They're known as good smokers. I think that their smoking quality is mostly an incidental byproduct of their open draw that arises out of their filter system. They adopted a hollow hardwood Rock maple tube as a filter and it's quite large. It works quite well (Note: I'm not alone in thinking so, in addition to a whole pile of Canadians, William Serad has recently commented positively on the Brigham filter system in the Spring 2009 P&T Magazine). But the size of the filter necessitated a very large airway channel. While many other better known pipe brands suffered from constrained asthmatic airways (esp in stems) Brigham had a small cannon bore to accommodate the filters. They simply breathe well with a very open draw (with or without filter) and this made them unusual. And they will take a pipe cleaner with filter in place, though it's rarely necessary to use a pipe cleaner because the filter absorbs any free moisture.


The other curious thing is their choice of stem materials. Most of the assembled visible stem is vulcanite. However, the filter also required a rather large and extended tenon. They decided to make this out of aluminum in pipes that pre-date 2001. On American owned Brigham's the tenon has often been shortened, because in the past filters were harder to obtain in the US, so that they will not take filters (but this is very rare on Canadian owned Brigham's). The tenon is a bit odd looking, because of its length, and I sometimes suspect that some of Canada's aeronautical engineers designed it. You'll never snap a Brigham tenon by dropping the pipe. You'd have to throw it against a cement wall to shatter the bowl or crack the vulcanite parts of the stem. The tenon simply will not break. They're very resilient pipes.


A shrinking market in Canada and no export market meant that they had to downsize and then outsource. Today Brigham is a distributor rather than a manufacturer. They are a significant importer and distributor for a variety of pipe brands and many tobacco brands. As such today's Brigham has very little in common with the Brigham of the past. They outsourced all of their pipe making ops to Lorenzetti pipes in Italy starting in the 90's. It happened gradually over a few years but by the early 2000's all pipe making, finishing, and repair ops were gone. So there has been a significant break in their tradition.


It's probably a rare Canadian household that doesn't have a Brigham or two (or even a dozen!) so on eBay you're very likely to find classical Brigham pipes from the 50's through to contemporary. 

Like many other old makers Brigham had a significant line of pipes with their own numbered shapes, sizes, and models. Unlike Dunhill they either didn't appreciate their own traditions, and the richness of the stampings, or outsourcing forced them to abandon it. It's hard to tell which is the case. By the early 80's there was a lot of churn in their pipe model lines and it seemed to be a time of uncertainty for them. Whatever the cause they became only a shadow of the former Brigham.


The following is Brigham's text with some of my comments and corrections in italics. 
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Brigham pipes have been manufactured in Canada for nearly 100 years and there have been a number of variations in terms of nomenclature. For the most part, the traditional marking system has been the 3 digit code. Pipes range (in the standard series) from the 100 series to the 700 series (ie100,200,300,400,500,600,700). This grading is an ascending scale - 100 being an entry-level pipe, the 700 series being the highest quality of briar and workmanship.


On the bottom of the pipe's bowl or side of the shank, each has a 3-digit code stamped into it. The first number denotes the series (1 to 7) and the next 2 indicate the shape number. For instance, a "456" would indicate a 400 series pipes in shape #56. A letter may follow (on older pipes) indicating bowl size (S = small, M = medium, ML = medium/large, L = large). 

Traditionally, Brigham pipes have utilized a pinning system to denote the pipe series. Brass pins in the pipe's stem are a hallmark of the classic Brigham pipe. They were originally used to secure the special Brigham tenon into the shank of the pipe, and were subsequently used to denote the quality of each pipe. This also accounts for the use of the term "dot" instead of "series" amongst most Brigham pipe smokers (ie., you may hear a pipe referred to as a "4 dot"). 

The dot system originally consisted of 8 separate grades as follows (from lowest to highest grade): 

1 DOT - "Brigham Standard" 
2 DOT - "Brigham Select" 
3 DOT (star pattern) - "Brigham Exclusive" 
3 DOT (vertically aligned) - "Brigham Executive" 
4 DOT - "Brigham Director" 
3 DOT (horizontally aligned) - "Brigham VIP" 
5 DOT - "Brigham Special Grain" 
6 DOT - "Brigham Straight Grain"


(R: the above grades or pinning is typical of older estate Brigham's found on eBay. This was the longest lived grading system that Brigham abandoned in favour of the simpler 7-dot system of 1980 which lasted into the 2000's. There were far more pipes produced under this system than the later 7-dot system. The stamped shape numbers consisted of 3 digit number, the first digit corresponded to the number of pins and the remaining two digits to the shape number.) 

 
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Here is a small selection of Brigham's more common numbered shapes.

These shapes are what one would find in the older Brigham (pre-Italian made) pipes.

 

Valhalla and Norseman Era pipes

Pipes of this era have the Brigham patent number stamped ("CAN PAT 372982") into them beside a cursive "Brigham" logo which was much thinner than the logo of today. (R: This was true of pipes pre-1970).

In transition to the new logo adopted in the late 70s, at least two variations of a cursive "Brigham" was stamped into the pipes including two horizontally type-set fonts. The patent number appears on pipes up to approximately 1980 after which time the new logo (the logo of today minus the maple leaf) was used exclusively.


Other series were made between the 60s and 80s including a selection of hand-mades, the Valhalla and Norseman Series and others. These pipes are typically much larger than the regular series, with freehand bowls in "Scandinavian" shapes. These pipes incorporated the Brigham filter system. The Norseman were fully rusticated and marked with a "9W" followed by a number (indicating its shape) and a horizontally aligned 3-dot pattern with one larger dot in the center. The Valhalla were smooth or partially rusticated in the same shape as the Norseman pipes and with the same pinning configuration.


(R: Correction: The Valhalla's were offered in three grades (so they had three pinning configurations corresponding to grade, rather than one). Valhalla grading ran from a "Brigham VIP" 3-dot (lowest, the same as the Norseman grade) through 6-dot pinning (highest). The shape number stamping on the Valhalla's corresponded to the grades from AWn for the 3-dot (lowest) through CWn for the 6-dot (highest) with n being the specific shape style 2 through 7 inclusive that was common to both Valhalla's and Norseman. 

The Norseman was offered in a single grade with 3-dot "Brigham VIP" pinning and was stamped 9Wn, with the n being the same shape indicator. The Norseman rustication varied from something like the GBD Rockroot style in the 60's and early 70's through to a "chip" rustication that is found on many standard shape Brighams and was more common in the late 70's Norseman. The Norseman also featured an attractive Black over Red (or ruddy Orange) two-toned staining that is similar to both the old Dunhill Shell's and many Upshalls.

 
 

In 1980 (approximately) , the move was made to a 7-grade dot system which simplified the pinning of pipes and made them more easily identified. This is where the 7-dot made its first appearance, and specific names for each grade done away with, as were the vertical and horizontal 3-dot pinning pattern. In higher series, a small number of interesting experimental shapes appeared including those with a carved shank resembling mountains, marked with an "s" beside or near the shape number. No catalogue of these shapes was kept, although we often come across these pipes when they are sent in for cleaning. if you have one of these pipes, it represents an era of experimentation and should be treasured.


The Norseman and Valhalla series were consolidated around this time (1980) and named the "President Series". These were divided into President A, B, C, D and E grades (A being the highest), indicated on the bowl or shank of the pipe. Both filtered and unfiltered pipes were made in this series, and a designation of 3 dots was adopted. To set them apart from the classic 3-dot configuration, one large dot and two small dots were used, with the largest dot place on the right hand side of the star pattern. Historically, the President series has been a designation given to the pipes of highest quality and workmanship, often in a freehand pattern with larger bowls. The designation has always indicated pipes of a higher grade and therefore there is considerable variety in their form. 

A non-filtered pipe appeared during this area which was stamped "OLD PORT". These pipes featured an experimental aluminum tube which was small enough in diameter to regulate air flow.


As the cost of domestic production began to increase and the ability to produce pipes in the lower range became almost impossible, the "Brigham System" pipe was created. These are identified by a gold star imprinted in the pipe's stem. Manufactured in Italy to Brigham's specifications and incorporating its filter system, these entry level pipes were also stamped "Made in Italy" with "Brigham System" in a standard font.


In the late 90s, the Platinum pipe series was introduced as a non-filtered pipe. Platinum pipes were graded and pinned according to the same methods used for the 1-700 filtered series, but a silver coloured pin was used to set them apart. The first batch of these pipes was only made in the 100 and 200 series and featured a convertible system, capable of being used as a 9mm filtered pipe, or unfiltered pipe by means of a removable floc in the tenon.


In 2001, the convertible system in the Platinum series was eliminated and it was made into a unfiltered pipe. The 300 series was introduced at this time. In the same production year, the aluminum tenon also disappeared, being replaced with a composite material which was found to be more durable, lightweight and suited to smoking without a filter (when desired).


The 500-700 series was overhauled in 2002, and the first round of changes brought the first appearance of silver cuffs to the pipes, and in place of the pinning, a maple leaf surrounding the letter B was engraved on each pipe band. This series is easily distinguished from other pipes, and the pipe grade is indicated by the 3 number stamp in the pipe bowl or shank as per Brigham pipes since the earliest days. When the grain of a pipe is found to be of suitable quality, our blond stain is used to offer a very unique, stunning piece.

 
 

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