Blog by Steve Laug
I bought three unsmoked pipe bowls from the same seller on EBay. One of them was a GFB calabash. With the first of this brand I bought a while back I did some digging on the web and found very little information. So this time I did a bit more searching and I was able to get some information on the brand. Many of the links I found through Google took me to others who were looking for information on the brand. I came across one that gave the information that the GFB brand was an older French Trademark and that it came from Saint Claude, France. With that information I did a more focused search for GFB French Briar Pipes and came across a post that said GFB stood for Great French Briar – that seemed a little farfetched to me so I continued to look and finally came across the following advertisement from a Sears Catalogue. It shows a full page of GFB pipes and the header says GENUINE FRENCH BRIAR. That made much more sense to me and the pipes in the catalogue matched the ones that I have in my collection and the ones that I have seen. For me that gives a better picture into the meaning of the brand letters.
Armed with this new information I went to work on the GFB Calabash pipe bowl that I purchased. The bowl itself was in astonishingly great shape for being over 100 years old. The pipe was unsmoked – new condition. The bowl was dusty but raw briar. The shank was clean and also pristine. This was an unsmoked – new old stock pipe bowl. The silver band was very tarnished and loose. There was no stem to be found. I wrote to the seller and asked what had happened to the stems for this old timer and two others I purchased from them. I did not receive an answer. The first four photos below are the seller’s photos as the pipe appeared on EBay. The first two are out of focus but give an idea of the bowl shape. The last two give close up photos of the stamping and the clean bowl. It was pretty hard to know the size of the pipe from their information. But it looked to be of similar age as an older 1912 BBB Calabash I have so I put in a bid and won.
The right side of the shank is stamped America and the left side is stamped Premier. The band has three stars *** over the GFB in an oval and under that is the Sterling stamp. The stamping led me to assume incorrectly that this was an older American made pipe. I was wrong. The stamping America obviously is the name of the pipe.
I looked through my box of old stems to find one that would be not just a proper fit but of an age that was appropriate to this old pipe. I found one that did not have a tenon, it had either broken or fallen out somewhere along its journey. I have a bag of Delrin threaded tenons that I use regularly for replacing broken tenons. I chose the smallest one as it would fit the mortise with a little bit of work. The stem was oxidized but in good shape with no tooth marks or dents. The button was a slight slot and the stem was quite narrow at the button end. It would look perfect on the pipe once I had the tenon replaced.
I drilled out the stem so that the threaded tenon would fit into it. I used a tap to thread the stem. The first photo below shows the drilled and tapped stem ready to receive the new tenon. I coated the threads with some black super glue and threaded it into the stem (second photo). The third and fourth photos below shows the tenon screwed into place. The tenon is now repaired. I needed to remove some of the Delrin to reduce the diameter of the tenon to get a good fit on the shank. I used my Pimo Tenon turner to do this. It was a little tricky in that the stem was bent but I proceeded slowly to turn it down until it was close. I finished reducing it by hand until it fit snugly in the mortise.
Once the stem fit snugly in the shank I needed to reduce the diameter of the stem in order to get a good match with the band on the shank. I sanded it with medium grit emery paper to bring it down to size. The next two photos show the stem in place. At this point the band had not been glued into place. It was still loose, so I removed the stem and used Weldbond white carpenters glue (which is non-toxic) to glue the band in place. I cleaned up the old glue lines on the shank with micromesh sanding pads.
The next four photos show the silver band after it had been glued in place and cleaned and polished with some Hagerty Tarnish Preventive Silver Polish. I have used this bottle for years and it works extremely well. I purchased it at a jewelry shop along with a polishing cloth that I used on the band as well. Once the band was polished the hallmarks were very visible. I have described the stamping on the band above. After shining they stood out clearly. I am not able to ascertain a date from the stamping as there are no date stamps. I also polished the bowl with a quick buff of White Diamond on the buffer and then I gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax.
With the bowl and band finished it was time to work on the stem. I sanded it with 220 and 340 grit sandpaper followed by sanding with a medium grit sanding sponge and then a fine grit sanding sponge. This series of sandpapers and sanding sponges has worked well for me in removing the scratches left by the emery paper as well as the remaining oxidation on the stem. I then sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit to bring out the sheen on the stem and polish it. Between the 4000 and the 6000 grit I polished the stem with Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0 plastic polish. I finished with the last grits of micromesh sanding pads. The next series of six photos show the progressive shine on the stem with the various grits of micromesh.
I buffed the stem and bowl with White Diamond and then gave the pipe several coats of carnauba wax. The finished pipe is pictured below in the last series of four photos. It is amazing that this old pipe has existed this long since it was made and has not been smoked. That will change soon!