Blog by Steve Laug
I just finished restoring and restemming an older Yello-Bole billiard. The bowl was stamped with the KBB (no ampersand) on the left side of the shank and next to it is stamped Yello-Bole in capital letters. Underneath is stamped Honey Cured Briar. On the right side of the shank it is stamped 2068B.
The bowl was in decent shape. The finish had a heavy coat of varnish over the stain but the briar appeared to be quite nice. I could not find any visible fills in the bowl. There was some good grain under the varnish. The rim had been topped and was rounded and crowned. It still had some scratch marks in the wood and also it was stained in a much lighter colour than the rest of the bowl. The stem was missing. It originally had a push tenon stem as the mortise was not threaded. Fitting a new stem would not be difficult but getting proper look to the stem required that I had some idea of the era of the pipe. That pushed me to do a bit of research. Since Yello-Bole pipes are one of my favorite older US brands doing the research would be enjoyable. As with other early brands made in the states I have found that older is better. A KBB in a cloverleaf stamp will date them back to the ’30’s. I have found through my reading that the 4 digit shape numbers are older than 2 digit ones. The pipes with the logo on top of the stem are older than ones that have them on the side. That is just some of the information that I found with a cursory read through the forums and a variety of websites.
I found that Kaywoodie would sort shipments of briar and send the culls to be used for Yello-Boles, meaning they got some quality briar. One fellow on the web believes that is why Yello-Bole pipes tend to be smaller over all, working around flaws. He also said that he thinks calling them Kaywoodie seconds is a bit of a misnomer, being that Kaywoodie was one of the largest briar purchasers in the world at the time (’20’s-50’s) and got some fantastic wood.
I came across the SM Frank website http://www.smfrankcoinc.com/home/?page_id=2 and found a wealth of historical information on Kaywoodies, Yello-Boles and the merger between KBB and SM Frank and later Demuth. It was a great read and I would encourage others to give the website a read. The information in the next paragraph was condensed from that site. I found confirmation for the statement above that the Yello-Bole line was an outlet for lower grade briar not used in Kaywoodie production. Yello-Bole’s were introduced in 1932 and manufactured by Penacook, New Hampshire subsidiary, The New England Briar Pipe Company. Advertising from the 1940′s, pictures the Yello-Bole “Honey Girl” and urges the pipe smoker to smoke the pipe with “a little honey in every bowl.” Honey was an ingredient of the material used to line the inside of the bowl. It was said to provide a faster, sweeter break-in of the pipe.
I went hunting further to see if I could find information on establishing dates for Yello-Bole pipes and found that there was not a lot of information other than what I had found above. Then I came across this link to the Kaywoodie Forum: http://kaywoodie.myfreeforum.org/archive/dating-yello-bole-pipes__o_t__t_86.html I quote the information I found there as it gives the only information that I found in my hunt to this point.
“OK so there isn’t a lot of dating information for Yello-Bole pipes but here is what I have learned so far.
– If it has the KBB stamped in the clover leaf it was made 1955 or earlier as they stopped the stamping after being acquired by S.M. Frank.
– From 1933-1936 they were stamped Honey Cured Briar.
– Pipes stems stamped with the propeller logo they were made in the 30s or 40s no propellers were used after the 40s.
– Yello-Bole also used a 4 digit code stamped on the pipe in the 30s.
– If the pipe had the Yello-Bole circle stamped on the shank it was made in the 30s this stopped after 1939.
– If the pipe was stamped BRUYERE rather than briar it was made in the 30s.
That is all I have in my notes right now I don’t have anything on the multitude of stem stampings or any other age indicators. If anyone has more definitive information or other methods of determining date please feel free to post it and I will edit this as I go. I currently have 2 from the 30s and 6 from pre 55 and 2 fairly modern ones.”
One further item was also found on that site. It was just a passing comment in the midst of some information on Kaywoodie pipes. I quote: “The pre-Kaywoodie KB&B pipes were marked on the shank with a cloverleaf around KB&B. Some early Kaywoodies had this same marking on the shank, but the practice was dropped sometime prior to 1936. Yello-Boles also had KBB in the leaf on the shanks, but did not have the ampersand found on Kaywoodies.” (Highlighting is mine)
Given the above information I discovered that the pipe I was working on was made sometime between 1933-1936. It was stamped with the Honey Cured Briar stamping on the shank and had a four digit code. Thus it was an early Yello-Bole from the 1930s. With that information I had a fairly clear idea of what kind of stem I needed to fit to the shank. I looked for photos of the pipe online and found none from that era. So I looked at KW stems to get some sense of what the shape of the stem and the slope of the taper would have been like. I found one the shape I was looking for in my can of stems. It had the right taper and look and after turning the tenon I was able to fit it to the shank. The diameter of the stem was slightly larger than the shank on the top and would need to be sanded until the transition was smooth between the shank and stem. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the excess material on the top side. I sanded the shank to make the transition smooth. I planned on removing the varnish and touching up the stain on the rim anyway so to touch up the shank would not be a problem. I sanded carefully so as not to damage the stamping. There were some slight ripples in the taper of the stem so I sanded it with a sanding block to smooth out the high points on the taper and even out the line. I wiped down the bowl with acetone and cotton pads to remove the varnish and some of the stain coat. I always do that when I am going to do a restain on the rim and shank as I find that it makes the new coat of stain much simpler. I wanted to remove the crown and rounding of the rim and flatten it out. The original bowls did not have a crowned rim but a flat one so I wanted to repair that and bring it back to its original look. I set up a topping board and 220 grit sandpaper and pressed the rim into the sandpaper and sanded the top flat. I sanded the rim with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge and also with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads to prepare it for staining. I stained the bowl, rim and shank with oxblood aniline based stain, flamed and repeated until the coverage was even. I then buffed the pipe with White Diamond. I sanded the stem with medium and fine grit sanding pads once again and then sanded it with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and 3200-12,000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and when it had dried took the pipe to the buffer. I buffed the pipe with White Diamond and then gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax, buffing with a flannel buff between the coats. The finished 1930’s era pipe is shown below ready to be loaded and enjoyed for another 80 years. The stain does a great job highlighting the grain on this little pipe. It came out looking like new. The stamping stands out and is still sharp. The stem tapers just right to my liking. It is finished and waiting. Now the only decision left is what tobacco to use to break it in once again.