This is a old E.Wilke poker I picked up off Ebay , I have been looking for one for a while to add to my American poker collection.I saw a straight stem one on Ebay a couple of month’s ago but passed on it as it had a horizontal crack almost all the way around it about a quarter way from the top of the rim.
Other than being dirty and a little banged up the only issue i found was the stem was really loose (fall out loose) and just did not fit just right. I suspect this is not the original stem but will have to work with it as I do not have a spare one that even comes close to fitting this pipe.
Other than knowing Wilke was a very good pipe maker from New York City I knew little about them. The last couple of days i have read and researched quite a bit on Wilke.
Here is what is listed on pipedia
Edwin Wilke founded Wilke Tobacco in 1872. As the story goes, according to a 1937 New York World-Telegram article, he had no sons, and so he taught his two daughters, Anna and Louisa Wilke, how to make pipes and blend tobacco, and by his death in 1930 they were well versed in both trades, and adamant about only using quality briar. In 1950, when they were the focus of an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, they were the only women pipe makers in the United States, and had sold pipes to Herbert hoover, Lord Halifax, John Steinbeck and others. The sisters also blended pipe tobacco and repaired pipes. They did not, however, smoke pipes.
Wilke prided itself on “unpainted pipes”, and promised that only Macedonian briar was used, without paint, varnish, plug, or putty of any kind. As of 1950, some of their pipes were selling for up to $100.00, or just under $1,000.00 dollars today. By the release of a 1970 New York Magazine highlight of the shop, that claim had risen to $500.00, or over $3,000.00 today.
The Wilke Pipe Shop was located for decades on Madison Avenue in New York City, and in the 1970s opened a satellite store in the famed Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia, selling Wilke pipes made by Steven Johnson. In 1983, the brand was purchased by pipe maker Elliott Nachwalter and his wife, Carole Burns. They continued to operate the Madison Avenue store until the early 1990’s, at which point the couple moved to Vermont and Pipeworks & Wilke was born as a mail-order business.
Even after the marriage of Burns and Nachwalter, the business continued, with Nachwalter selling pipes in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Burns blending tobacco in Montpelier, Vermont. Burns continues to keep the 125 year old brand alive at http://www.vtpipes.com/.
The people who run the business now does not make pipes.
I found this neat 1950 newspaper write up about the Wilke sister’s.
After reading on the web what a previous employee and customer’s who shopped at the New York shop said that not only did the Wilke pipes come without stain or finish but were void of any wax.They most likely just got rubbed with oil and that’s it. One thing i noticed about the pipe when i got it was the lack of any finish or wax. I was thinking it had just rubbed off from years of handling and use. It seems it never had any to begin with.
There was a few pipe makers that carved pipes for the Wilke sister’s. Most of them from the NYC/NJ/CT area such as Barclay-Rex, Connoisseur etc..
The most prized pipes were carved by Stephen Johnson and Italian pipe maker Joe Cortegani.
After the sisters sold the business sometime in the 1980’s the pipes were mass produced by Weber and GBD , they were never the same quality.
I also found out that Wilke pipes made before the 1950’s had E.Wilke NYC in one line on the shank, 1950’s and after they were stamped E.Wilke over NYC making mine a 1950’s or newer pipe.
On to the refurb
I gave the pipe a basic cleaning of the shank and the old cake came out easily.
I gave the rim a and bowl a good cleaning as described in my previous post about cleaning heavy rim cake.
As i was working on this pipe I was thinking that mine was a later 1980’s Weber , but something was not right about that. All the Weber pokers I’ve seen and held have a heel at the shank and bottom of bowl. This was a flat bottom poker. The bowl on this poker also is taller than any Weber poker i have seen or own. I know its not a GBD as their pokers have a higher heel and a different bowl shape.
Then it hit me that I think I might know who made this pipe. I went digging through my pokers and found my Ben Rodgers pipe that I picked up from Dave Whitney. They look really similar.
The heigt of the bowl and the shape of the heel matches just about perfect. Little is know about Ben Rodgers other than he was a pipe maker from NYC. So it fits that he is likely the maker.
Back to the pipe .
The rim was kinda beat as seen after the cleaning.The previous owner must have been left handed because the inner rim has some briar loss from the smoker holding a lighter on the same spot on the left side of the briar.
So I topped the pipe with some 500 grit and mineral oil . I then sanded the rim from 600 grit to 1200 the same way.
After topping the rim it was lighter than the rest of the pipe . The pipe had taken on a dark patina from years of smoking and a lack of finish. So i cleaned the rim with 91% alcohol to remove the oil and stained it a few times with a q-tip and black coffee. Allowing it to dry between coats.
After drying i gave the rest of the pipe a sanding with 1200 grit and mineral oil to remove some slight dings and rough edges.
After a soak and scrub in alcohol i soaked the stem in Oxy Clean , then removed it scrubbed it with alcohol again. I then gave it a good sanding with 600 on up to 2500 grit.
After the sanding was done i tackled the loose fitting of the stem . I did the old loose stem fix for a cob on it. I heated the tenon then stuck in a tapered pair of small needle nose pliar’s to expand the end of the tenon. Next it got a coat of bee’s wax.
The stem fits pretty snug now, * After the pipe was finished it did loosen back up some so i wiped a thin coat of CA glue over the tenon and gave it another coat of bee’s wax. That seemed to fix it better and has not become loose again. *
I then gave the stem a good buff and wax , being careful to stay off the briar.
Staying with how the Wilkes pipes were sold with no finish i gave the pipe one last going over with 000 steel wool and one last coat of mineral oil.
I though about applying wax to it but decided to try it original. I can always add wax later. I may end up getting a new stem for it as well.
Finished (well sort of) pipe. You can certainly add coats of wax on the Wilke you restore, I just personally decided to leave mine more natural.
After finishing the pipe i smoked a couple of bowls of Carter Hall in it. Its a very cool smoking pipe .The bowl barely got warm. It must be a combination of very good briar and lack of any wax or finish.The draw is perfect. I then loaded it up with some Bold Kentucky . I can see why Wilke pipes are coveted by people who own them because they are fine smoking pipes.