Bertram's Pipe Shop at 920 14th St. NW is closing at the end of this week and you could say an era will go with it.
Bertram's made Franklin Roosevelt's celebrated cigarette holders for him out of goose quills.
Bertram's sold Winston Churchill his huge Havana Romeory Julieta cigars during his visits to this country.
Bertram's supplied Josef Stalin with pipe tobacco - their Capitol blend - via the Soviet embassy.
The last pipes and cans of tobacco are going at half-price this week. The pipe-making machines upstairs already have been sold to a New England firm. The big walk-in humidor stands empty.
Mae Goldman, who has owned the store since her husband, Sidney Bertram Goldman, died in 1960, said the pipemaking energy just ran out. Her son, who lives in California, isn't interested in keeping up a business which started with his great-grandfather in Germany. She has sold the building to Rodman's Discount Liquors, which is expected to expand and remodel.
There has been a Bertrams in Washington since the turn of the century, and before that in Baltimore. It was Sidney who built the present shop for $100,000 in 1946, moving his father's business up the street a few doors. A $4,500 carved glass frieze of a hunting scene adorns the front, though it is barely visible now.
Sidney attracted attention with his policy of hiring 49 disabled veterans from the day the shop opened in 1947. He served in the Marines in World War II and loaned his yacht to the government for the duration.
At any one time there would be 10,000 pipes on hand. People ordered them from all over the world, and the wall behind the counter is plastered with old letters from the famous and the delighted. General MacArthur bought his corncob pipes there. General Patton was a customer, and Edward G. Robinson, and bandleaders Shep Fields and Wayne King. Red Skelton was a regular, even though he didn't smoke a pipe but simply collected them.
There was something about a Bertram pipe. Made from blond Algerian briar, it was never stained or varnished, so that it had a flat, understated look.Over the years it would darken to a rich mahogany color.
They tell of the men who was accosted by a stranger in Hong Kong and asked. "Is that by chance a Bertram's pipe you're smoking?" It was. The same thing has been happening to Washingtonians in airports for decades.
Almost as famous as the pipes were the nine blends of tobacco which ran heavily to pungent Latakia and were shipped to the faithful by the case. These may be taken over by another firm, but nothing is definite yet. The cigar line was dropped in 1964 after Havanas stopped being imported.
"We never bothered much with all those other cigars" said Mrs. Goldman. "It was mostly Havanas or nothing."
As word got around that Bertram's was closing old customers began to write and call in. Some had been regulars for 30 or 40 years. One man wrote from Mexico City ordering a final two cases of his favorite tobacco.
"Dear Friends," another patron wrote." I use that term because I feel I have lost a friend with the news that Bertram's is closing . . ."