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'''The following are reviews written of THE CUSTOM-BILT PIPE STORY:'' The reviews provide an excellent history of Custom-Bilt, but we highly recommend Bill Unger's excellent book'''
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[[File:CustomBiltBox06.jpg|thumb|400px|Courtesy Doug Valitchka]]
 
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''Thes reviews originally appeared in The Pipe Collector, the official newsletter of the American Pipe Collectors Society [http://naspc.org (NASPC)] and used by permission. It's a great organization--consider joining.''
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== A REVIEW BY RICHARD ESSERMAN ==
 
== A REVIEW BY RICHARD ESSERMAN ==
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=== The Book ===
 
=== The Book ===
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I was surprised at the length of the book-over 250 pages. This book is not your typical pipe book-it is not an "easy" read but more of a scholarly work. The focus is on substance not style; completeness is the focus. Even after all the research, many questions remain.
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[[File:Custombilt Shapes.jpg|thumb|Courtesy Doug Valitchka]]I was surprised at the length of the book-over 250 pages. This book is not your typical pipe book-it is not an "easy" read but more of a scholarly work. The focus is on substance not style; completeness is the focus. Even after all the research, many questions remain.
    
Being the erudite, educated person that I am, the first thing I did was look at the illustrations/pictures. I did this to get a feel for what the pipe was all about. There are tons of illustrations, including actual pipes, catalogues and schematics. By looking at the pictures, I was able to discover (much to my surprise) that a much wider variety of shapes, styles and finishes existed than I previously thought. (Interestingly, although not mentioned in the book, the Custom-Bilt Company reminds me to some degree of the Marxman Pipe Company.)
 
Being the erudite, educated person that I am, the first thing I did was look at the illustrations/pictures. I did this to get a feel for what the pipe was all about. There are tons of illustrations, including actual pipes, catalogues and schematics. By looking at the pictures, I was able to discover (much to my surprise) that a much wider variety of shapes, styles and finishes existed than I previously thought. (Interestingly, although not mentioned in the book, the Custom-Bilt Company reminds me to some degree of the Marxman Pipe Company.)
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=== Custom-Bilt History ===
 
=== Custom-Bilt History ===
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The book opens up with an intriguing statement that unfortunately is never fully followed up:
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[[File:Custombilt01b.jpg|thumb|Courtesy Doug Valitchka]][[File:CustombiltItaly01.jpg|thumb|Courtesy Doug Valitchka]][[File:CustombiltStd01.jpg|thumb|Courtesy Doug Valitchka]]The book opens up with an intriguing statement that unfortunately is never fully followed up:
    
Before beginning this history, I need to emphasize an important fact and to ask the reader to keep it firmly. Spelling-Custom-Bilt, Custombilt, and other variations-is extremely important to the various aspects of the following discussions. It was not, however, important to many people in the company’s early days. [Emphasis mine] {Page 9}.
 
Before beginning this history, I need to emphasize an important fact and to ask the reader to keep it firmly. Spelling-Custom-Bilt, Custombilt, and other variations-is extremely important to the various aspects of the following discussions. It was not, however, important to many people in the company’s early days. [Emphasis mine] {Page 9}.
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In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.
 
In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.
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<gallery widths=250px captions="Several pages from Bill's book relevant to the Wally Frank era of Custom-Bilt">
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File:CustomBilt Stamp1.jpg|Stamp #1
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File:Custombilt Stamp3.jpg|Stmp #3
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</gallery>
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<gallery widths=250px heights=400px>
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File:Custombilt Stamp5.jpg|Stamp#5
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File:Custombilt Shapes2.jpg|Shapes
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</gallery>
    
Bill also spends a little time debunking Rick Hacker’s version of the Custombilt line. According to Steve Frank, it appears that Carl Weber, the original owner of the Weber factory, never owned the Custombilt name as suggested by Hacker.
 
Bill also spends a little time debunking Rick Hacker’s version of the Custombilt line. According to Steve Frank, it appears that Carl Weber, the original owner of the Weber factory, never owned the Custombilt name as suggested by Hacker.
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<gallery widths=250 heights=250 caption="A 'Stamp #5 example, thought to be the rarest Custom-Bilt, along with box and paperwork, courtesy Brian Robertson collection.">
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Custom-Bilt-5-1.jpg
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Custom-Bilt-5-1-4.jpg
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Custom-Bilt-5-3.jpg
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Custom-Bilt-5-4.jpg
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</gallery>
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==== The Alternative History ====
 
==== The Alternative History ====
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Claude Stuart purchased the Tracy Mincer Pipe Company and began making pipes using the Tracy Mincer stamp. Stuart finished nearly all the pipes produced, mostly carved and textured bowls and the occasional straight grain. Claude made the Tracy Mincer Pipe Company a moderate success. Stuart became ill and in 1990 The Tracey Mincer Pipe Company went out of business. Currently, Jim Tedesco owns the Tracy Mincer name.
 
Claude Stuart purchased the Tracy Mincer Pipe Company and began making pipes using the Tracy Mincer stamp. Stuart finished nearly all the pipes produced, mostly carved and textured bowls and the occasional straight grain. Claude made the Tracy Mincer Pipe Company a moderate success. Stuart became ill and in 1990 The Tracey Mincer Pipe Company went out of business. Currently, Jim Tedesco owns the Tracy Mincer name.
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<gallery widths=300 heights=200 caption="A pair of unsmoked circa 1940s Custom-Bilt Courtleys, courtesy Brian Robertson collection">
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Custom-Bilt-Courtleys.jpg
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Custom-Bilt-Courtleys2.jpg
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Custom-Bilt-Courtleys3.jpg
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Custom-Bilt-Courtleys4.jpg
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</gallery>
    
=== The Pipes ===
 
=== The Pipes ===
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Most Custom-Bilt pipes that you see at a pipe show have somewhat big, chunky bowls with rough carving or gouges. It is very rare to see a completely smooth piece. In today’s market, the pipes are still considered to be on the large side but are not true giants. It should be noted that in the early days when the Custom-Bilt pipes were first being produced, these bowl sizes were considered very large and massive. The size of the average pipe was a group 3 or 4 sized Dunhill.
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[[File:CustomBilt01.jpg|thumb|Courtesy Doug Valitchka]][[File:CustomBiltBox01.jpg|thumb|Filter Box, courtesy Doug Valitchka]]Most Custom-Bilt pipes that you see at a pipe show have somewhat big, chunky bowls with rough carving or gouges. It is very rare to see a completely smooth piece. In today’s market, the pipes are still considered to be on the large side but are not true giants. It should be noted that in the early days when the Custom-Bilt pipes were first being produced, these bowl sizes were considered very large and massive. The size of the average pipe was a group 3 or 4 sized Dunhill.
    
The first thing that Bill addresses in his chapter on pipes is the quality of the bowls in the early years. Rick Hacker, in his Rare Pipes book, suggests that Mincer bought blemished bowls from other companies and used the wood-working router to get rid of the blemishes. According to an important employee, Hetzer Hartsock, "Tracy used a very choice Algerian briar, and they were bigger blocks than what the other companies were using."
 
The first thing that Bill addresses in his chapter on pipes is the quality of the bowls in the early years. Rick Hacker, in his Rare Pipes book, suggests that Mincer bought blemished bowls from other companies and used the wood-working router to get rid of the blemishes. According to an important employee, Hetzer Hartsock, "Tracy used a very choice Algerian briar, and they were bigger blocks than what the other companies were using."
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A most interesting discussion in this chapter is the discussion of Hetzer Hartsock’s carved pipes, which included a special ‘Stalin/Roosevelt’ pipe. Hartsock also did carved heads and other figures. Carved head and other such pipes were very popular at the time. One 5 pipe set of Hartsock special carvings was "valued" at $5,000. Also during the Rich era, Custombilt had a carved animal line which were relatively inexpensive at $7.50 as compared to the regular line. There were also special orders available that cost up to $500.00. One wonders what difference could have caused such a radical change in price.
 
A most interesting discussion in this chapter is the discussion of Hetzer Hartsock’s carved pipes, which included a special ‘Stalin/Roosevelt’ pipe. Hartsock also did carved heads and other figures. Carved head and other such pipes were very popular at the time. One 5 pipe set of Hartsock special carvings was "valued" at $5,000. Also during the Rich era, Custombilt had a carved animal line which were relatively inexpensive at $7.50 as compared to the regular line. There were also special orders available that cost up to $500.00. One wonders what difference could have caused such a radical change in price.
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<gallery widths=300px heights=225px caption="Carved Ramshead Custombilt, courtesy Doug Valitchka">
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File:CBRam01.jpg
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File:CBRam09.jpg
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File:CBRam11.jpg
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</gallery>
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<gallery widths=400px heights=300 caption="Carved Custombilts, courtesy Racine & Laramie Tobacconist">
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File:Custombilt Bass.jpg|Bass carving
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File:Custombilt Horse.jpg|Horse Carving
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</gallery>
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<gallery widths=250 heights=185 caption="Examples and details, courtesy Doug Valitchka">
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File:CustBilt01.jpg
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File:CustBilt07.jpg
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File:CustBilt08.jpg|Geometric Markings such as these likely have to do with pricing, but there is no clear concensious on a system
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File:CustomBilt09.jpg|Another geometric marking example
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File:CustomBilt01-1.jpg
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</gallery>
    
American companies such as Marxman were doing similar things. One Marxman carved head actually was valued at $7,500! It seems to me that Mincer was trying to show that the Custom-Bilt company was a complete outfit capable of making the same things as some of the "big boys" of the day.
 
American companies such as Marxman were doing similar things. One Marxman carved head actually was valued at $7,500! It seems to me that Mincer was trying to show that the Custom-Bilt company was a complete outfit capable of making the same things as some of the "big boys" of the day.
    
There were other variations, such as the Covertible (removable bowl), the Saddle, Military Bit stems, and others.
 
There were other variations, such as the Covertible (removable bowl), the Saddle, Military Bit stems, and others.
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[[File:Custombilt Convertibole.jpg|thumb|center|600px|Convertable Flyer, courtesy Doug Valitchka]]
    
I think that many people know the Custombilt pipe made by Wally Frank at the Weber factory. These pipes were based upon the original Custom-Bilt finishes using Greek briar.
 
I think that many people know the Custombilt pipe made by Wally Frank at the Weber factory. These pipes were based upon the original Custom-Bilt finishes using Greek briar.
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Bill ends the book by writing, "It would be interesting to know how much the various pipe carvers at the various American pipe companies were aware of each other or communicated with each other (in the 1940s and 1950s) when pipe making was a booming industry in the United States." I suspect there was a lot of communication and a lot of sharing (buying) of bowls among the factories. If you look closely at certain stamps on some of the major brands of that day, they are identical.
 
Bill ends the book by writing, "It would be interesting to know how much the various pipe carvers at the various American pipe companies were aware of each other or communicated with each other (in the 1940s and 1950s) when pipe making was a booming industry in the United States." I suspect there was a lot of communication and a lot of sharing (buying) of bowls among the factories. If you look closely at certain stamps on some of the major brands of that day, they are identical.
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<center><gallery widths=200>
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File:Custombilt07.jpg
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File:CustomBilt07a.jpg
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File:Custombilt07b.jpg
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File:CustombiltOriginal07.jpg
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</gallery></center>
    
=== My Own Sense of the Custom-Bilt Pipe ===
 
=== My Own Sense of the Custom-Bilt Pipe ===
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I do not think that with the release of this book the Custom-Bilt will become a super collectible pipe. (And I do not think that this was in anyway the point of the book.) The various production values of this pipe are different than those collectable pipes made today. With the Custom-Bilt, it seems to me you are looking for the rare pieces (carvings or smooths) or early pipes that have an older stamp. Here you can get a good-smoking, high-quality piece of Algerian briar for a reasonable price. You can use this book to identify those earlier or rare pieces.
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[[File:Custombilt Yale.jpg|thumb|Geaorge Yale Letter and Custombilt Add in catolog, courtesy Doug Valitchka]][[File:Custom-Bilt.jpg|thumb|Courtesy Doug Valitchka]]I do not think that with the release of this book the Custom-Bilt will become a super collectible pipe. (And I do not think that this was in anyway the point of the book.) The various production values of this pipe are different than those collectable pipes made today. With the Custom-Bilt, it seems to me you are looking for the rare pieces (carvings or smooths) or early pipes that have an older stamp. Here you can get a good-smoking, high-quality piece of Algerian briar for a reasonable price. You can use this book to identify those earlier or rare pieces.
    
Unfortunately, for me, I know I can stop looking for a Magnum-sized early Custom-Bilt. All the pipes were made from the same sized blocks, which were not of Magnum size.
 
Unfortunately, for me, I know I can stop looking for a Magnum-sized early Custom-Bilt. All the pipes were made from the same sized blocks, which were not of Magnum size.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Bill did a great job and I highly recommend it. It is a must for the serious pipe collector.
 
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Bill did a great job and I highly recommend it. It is a must for the serious pipe collector.
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== Custom-Bilt ORIGINAL ==
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[[File:Custombilt13.jpg|thumb|Custombilt ORIGINAL Ad]]Ad copy from the Custombilt period of pipes marked ORIGINAL: ''"The year 1940 gave birth to a new and unique idea in pipemaking and pipe designing... The Custom-Bilt pipes. Rare large briar blocks were carefully selected for lightness and turned into big, bold shapes of exceptional balance.''
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''Skilled hand craftsmen then carved the unique Custombilt design on those bowls deemed fully grained and distinctive. The steps of sanding and polishing followed to create a finish unmatcdhed for its feel, appearance, or luster.''
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''HOLLCO proudly re-introduces the Custombilt Original with justifiable pride. The Custombilt Original of today is turned from rare blocks of Grecian briar and each exacting detail of yesteryear has been duplicated by our master pipe makers. No two Custombilt Original pipes are carved alike, they are "as individual as a thumbprint." All Custombilt shapes are oversized."''
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<gallery widths=250 heights=185 caption="Custom-bilt ORIGINAL example and detail, courtesy Doug Valitchka">
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File:Custombilt01.jpg
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File:Custombilt-0-07.jpg
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File:Custombilt08.jpg
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</gallery>
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'''The following are reviews written of THE CUSTOM-BILT PIPE STORY:'' The reviews provide an excellent history of Custom-Bilt, but we highly recommend Bill Unger's excellent book' (see the end of the page)''
 +
 +
''These reviews originally appeared in The Pipe Collector, the official newsletter of the American Pipe Collectors Society [http://naspc.org (NASPC)] and used by permission. It's a great organization--consider joining.''
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<gallery widths=250 heights=185 caption="The following Burly Briar, courtesy of Doug Valitchka, appears to be a Custom-Bilt brand or sub-brand">
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BurlyBriar01.jpg
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BurlyBriar07.jpg
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BurlyBriar08.jpg
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BurlyBriar13.jpg
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</gallery>
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'''Note:''' If you have additional information about Burly Briar, please add it here or send it to sethile.pipes@gmail.com and we will add it for you. [https://pipesrevival.com/tag/custombilt-burly-briar/]
    
== A REVIEW BY TONY SODERMAN ==
 
== A REVIEW BY TONY SODERMAN ==
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Enjoy the book everyone. I certainly did.
 
Enjoy the book everyone. I certainly did.
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== Ordering the Book ==
 
'''THE CUSTOM-BILT PIPE STORY, by William E. Unger, Jr., Ph.D'''  
 
'''THE CUSTOM-BILT PIPE STORY, by William E. Unger, Jr., Ph.D'''  
Available from the author [http://www.naspc.org/bookform.pdf (order from)]. 263 pages, plastic spiral bound, 87 illustrations: pipe photographs and reproductions of rare ads and catalogs. Chapter One: The Companies; Chapter Two: The People; Chapter Three: The Pipes; A carefully researched history of these increasingly collectible pipes, from their beginning, with Tracy Mincer in 1929, to their last manufacture in 1998. A guide to the names and distinguishing features of the many different variations. Reviews by [http://www.naspc.org/esserman.htm Richard Esserman], and [http://www.naspc.org/soderman.htm Tony Soderman].
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Available from the author [http://naspc.org/books.htm (order from)]. 263 pages, plastic spiral bound, 87 illustrations: pipe photographs and reproductions of rare ads and catalogs. Chapter One: The Companies; Chapter Two: The People; Chapter Three: The Pipes; A carefully researched history of these increasingly collectible pipes, from their beginning, with Tracy Mincer in 1929, to their last manufacture in 1998. A guide to the names and distinguishing features of the many different variations. Reviews by [http://naspc.org/Archives/esserman.htm Richard Esserman], and [http://naspc.org/Archives/soderman.htm Tony Soderman].
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== Gallery of pipes ==
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The following examples and details will eventually be sorted into early and later version of Custom-Bilt pipes as this articles is refined.
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<center><gallery widths=200 caption="Examples and details, courteys Doug Valitchka">
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File:Custombilt 10Pot01.jpg
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File:Custombilt 10 Pot08.jpg
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File:Custombilt 14 01.jpg
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File:Custombilt 14 07.jpg
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File:Custombilt 14 08.jpg
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File:Custombilt 18 01.jpg
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File:Custombilt 18 07.jpg
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File:Custombilt 18 08.jpg
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File:Custombilt 18 Bulldog03.jpg
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File:Custombilt 18 Bulldog08.jpg
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File:Custombilt 19 01.jpg
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File:Custombilt 19 07.jpg
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File:Custombilt 19 09.jpg
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File:Custombilt 348 Standard01.jpg
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File:Custombilt 348 Standard07.jpg
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File:Custombilt 348 Standard08.jpg
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File:Custombilt 395Std01.jpg
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File:Custombilt 395Std07.jpg
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File:Custombilt 395Std09.jpg
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File:Custombilt 396 Standard01.jpg
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File:Custombilt 396 Standard11.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Apple Square01.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Apple Square08.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Apple Square09.jpg
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File:Custombilt Lumber Star01.jpg
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File:Custombilt Lumber Star07.jpg
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File:Custombilt Lumber Star09.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Moon01.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Moon07.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Moon08.jpg
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File:Custombilt Original pot01.jpg
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File:Custombilt Original pot07.jpg
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File:CustomBilt pot Square09.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Square01.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Star01.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Star07.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Star08.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Triangle01.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Triangle07.jpg
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File:CustomBilt Triangle09.jpg
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File:CustombiltAngledBase01.jpg
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File:CustombiltAngledBase06.jpg
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File:CustombiltBent01.jpg
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File:Custombilt-E72 Orig01.jpg
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File:Custombilt-E72 Orig07.jpg
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File:Custombilt-E72 Orig08.jpg
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</gallery></center>
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[[Category: Pipe makers by nationality]]
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[[Category: United States]]

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