Aged 17 Frank Augsburger came down from Illinois in 1976 to apprentice at Jack H. Weinberger's JHW Pipes in West Caldwell, New Jersey. His mother had done the necessary negotiations, procured a flat and a car and everything else. The young man didn’t have any time at all, he was impatient and hasty and had the wildest conceptions about pipes. In a blue hour he once made a thing which his colleagues named "The Monster of Loch Ness" and even made JHW shake his head. Deeply frustrated Augsburger went back home after approximately six months. Nevertheless the time spent at JHW’s wasn’t completely wasted, because he became quite a good pipe maker years later.
Frank Augsburger made pipes from appr. 1978 - 1987, living in Chicago and later in Lombard, Illinois. In the early years of his career he organised some private showings and sales. Two are known: the first was on December 10th, 1978 and the second on April 27th, 1980. Then a serious illness forced him to put down the tools. He passed away untimely in 1995.
Many of his pipes left the workshop without any stampings. The reasons are not really known, but obviously it was not for quality issues. Some pipes he stamped "Augsburger" (in script) + "USA". Others showed a tiny round gold plate on the stem reading "NATURAL WORLD" + "HAND MADE". The same text was stamped on the buttom of the shank where it connects to the stem.
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This article made me really sad. Recently, I passed on 2 of Frank's beautiful pipes to a young musician friend of mine who started smoking pipes. Unfortunately I don't have photos of them. I had been looking for information on Frank for about 20 years. It was only with the advent of the modern computer age and information web sites that I just happened to finally come upon his name again.
I met Frank while attending National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, Illinois from 1976-1980. He wanted someone to take photos of a show he was planning. I readily agreed. We got to talking and he very generously asked if I would like to see his basement workshop. I most definitely said yes. We then went to his house and he showed me his extensive collection of briar blocks from different countries. It was fascinating listening to him explain why one block was better than another, how the block determined the eventual shape of the pipe and how different grain patterns were easily visualized. This reminded me of the story told about Michaelangelo and his David. Where the sculptor commented that the statue was already within the block of marble, and all he had to do was cut around the block to release the figure.
Before the show got started he showed me a pipe he got a real kick out of. It was a pipe that he had made for Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick in the shape of his guitar. If you have any Cheap Trick LP's or CD's, then you have a good idea of what Frank's creation looked like! I took the photos that he wanted and since I was going back to New Jersey, I not only gave him the photos but the negatives as well. I took 2 pipes from the show. One, was from Frank's "A" line. It had the gold plate emblem as described above embedded in the stem. The bowl was a bit on the shallow side but the part between the bowl and the stem was left roughened and elevated like a stand or rest for the pipe. The second was from his "B" line, no less beautiful but made from a different block of briar with a slightly less than perfect grain pattern. It had a much deeper bowl for a longer smoke. This is how I like to remember Frank, pointing out to me about the emblem and how proud he was of all his work. He liked to reserve the emblem for the very best wood that showed off his extensive skills.
It was only after I came across this article that I learned that his pipe making career lasted only until 1987 and even worse that he had passed away in 1995. This was truly depressing that such a talented artisan had his life cut so very short. Lately, I have been more acutely aware of my own mortality and this knowledge only made me feel more vulnerable. However, I am very grateful for the short time that our paths crossed.
“Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”