Truth and Conjecture about a Vintage Kaywoodie Meerschaum
Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Photos © the Author
“Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
—From “The Tiger,” by William Blake, 18th and 19th century English poet
As soon as I saw the beautiful little meerschaum pot (1-1/2” x 4-7/8”) in a locked glass case at the local antique store that has now become a prime source of excellent pipes for restoration, I knew I wanted it, whatever the brand or lack thereof. But when I held it in my hands and noticed the familiar logo, I could not mentally place the mark with the maker but knew it meant I was about to score a steal for $17.50.
First thing when I returned to my humble abode, I browsed on my laptop to http://www.pipephil.eu/ and spotted the logo on the opening page, which of course jogged my aging memory (I’ll be 52 on the 20th) of the famous Kaywoodie clover, spade or heart symbol. Needless to say, I was very satisfied indeed with my fine new acquisition, which in fact appeared to be quite old.
I then attempted to put a date to this petite, elegant meerschaum and was surprised to find several methods available at the same site: the apparent Synchro-Stem stinger, minus the screw-in bulb at the end, which was patented in 1932, and the black-in-white clover that was first used in 1937 and continued into the late 1940s on top-end pipes made by the U.S. crafter. And so I settled on the general era of World War II.
But maybe the most interesting tidbit of intelligence I gathered in that initial search into the identity of my new meerschaum was from “The Collector’s Guide to Kaywoodie Pipes 3.3,” (http://chriskeene.com/kwg-8.htm) which showed the retail price for the 1947 line of block meerschaums set between $17.50 and $60, based on size. This would mean that whatever the precise year of manufacture of my new addition, I paid the exact appropriate price for what I got at a 67-year rollback. The coincidence suggested to me something along the lines of kismet.
This is the pipe as I discovered it, from the regular angles:
As these pictures hopefully show, considerable dirt, oil, stains and other crud had accreted on the bowl and stem; the rim was seriously scorched and dinged;the stem had teeth and other marks but only mild discoloration, and based on the grime I saw on the stinger and even hanging out of it, my guess was that the pipe’s original owner had loved but never cleaned the gem.
And so, although the task would require careful, patient attention to detail, cleaning methods I had not yet tried and a minimum of sanding and micro-meshing, I was heartened by the dream of returning the diminutive old pipe to its once perfect form and symmetry. But I have to admit I was concerned that with all of my good intentions, I might still somehow screw the pooch with slight overuse of the micromesh that would forever destroy the delicate, graceful and even yellow to gold patina. Restoring that aspect of this meerschaum’s glorious potential was my true goal.
I began my quest with a gentle hand washing of the outer bowl and shank with several applications of dabs of purified water on small pieces of soft gun cleaning cloth. This worked well and made the numerous scratches (some very small), gouges and stains all the more glaring. But since the badly blackened and pocked rim, which was unchanged by the initial cleaning, presented the most conspicuous next step, I chose 400-grit paper to remove the majority of the charring and all of the roughness caused by the apparent bad habit of tamping out the bowl on an ashtray. When I could see a dark golden color emerge beneath the soot, I switched to 1000-grit micromesh and easily finished the rim to a wonderful golden evenness, which I was able to make shine with a quick rub of 3200-grit paper.
Eventually, of course, I had to deal with the small and large cuts, the few stains and the several gouges on the bowl and shank. For these I tore off a tiny piece of 400-grit paper and only used it with the greatest respect for its potential to undo my plans, but as it turned out the work of removing all of the blemishes completely in this fashion went fast and smoothly. Once more I turned to micromesh, this time 1000-grit again, and returned a surprisingly effective sheen to the random spots that were left somewhat duller by the sanding.
Adjusting the Dollar Store magnifier eyeglasses I used for the above detail work squarely on the bridge of my nose, I conducted a minute inspection of my results, expecting to find a need for more finishing touches. After all, I thought, aren’t meerschaums from time to time supposed to need special buffing with some sort of wax I knew I did not possess? However, no matter how closely I looked, I could find no part of the bowl and shank that did not positively shine! I have a firm belief in leaving that which is not broken alone and concluded the main work was complete.
This fine meerschaum, as I indicated in the Introduction, appeared never to have been cleaned. Therefore, that was in fact the most difficult part of the restoration process. I spent considerable time and about 10 bristly cleaners (alternating one soaked in alcohol with one dry) ridding the stem alone of what I suspect was built up grunge from about a quarter of a century ago. When I was finished with the stem, it was clean and sanitized.
Knowing that Castleford Pipe Freshener is best for cleaning Acrylic and Lucite stems, which was not an issue with this pipe, and is generally only recommended overfull alcohol with serious warnings to take care when cleaning the insides of meerschaum pipe bowls, I nevertheless saw no choice for sanitizing the shank and bowl and shank. In the end, the slight remaining chemical taste evaporated before the third bowl of tobacco I later enjoyed.
The stem with its bite marks and discoloration was easy to fix with a few minutes of soft use of 400-grit paper followed by buffing with white Tripoli and then red.
If pipes could talk, they would all have amazing stories to tell. I love and take proper care of every one in my ever-increasing, P.A.D.-fueled collection. Whether it is mere fancy or insight, I find it impossible to believe that the person who saw this delicate and alluring beauty when it was new in a case in New York, say, not only chose it from among the entire selection but paid good money for it. Understand, even if the person, likely a young man, bought this Kaywoodie meerschaum in 1940 for $10, that is about $166 in today’s money at 3.87% annual inflation or 1564.64% total inflation. Then I try to picture the young man voluntarily letting the little pipe go after smoking it avidly for a relatively short time, given the level of coloration. Instead, I imagine something separating the happy owner from the no-doubt prized acquisition; something along the lines of a war – a World War – that the young man felt compelled to enter. With the passions of war overwhelming him, maybe he forgot to take the pipe with him, or did not want to risk harm coming to it, or simply had no time to go home and get his constant companion.
And maybe the young man’s fate prevented him from returning to his home and pipe and enjoying both for many more years.