In the box of pipe bowls that I received was a complete sitter with a silver shank band and windcap. Upon looking at the side of the bowl I could see that it was stamped Swiss Made and on the side of the shank it was stamped BBK. The finish was sandblasted and well done. The stain was either a dark brown or a black. The cap was in good shape. Under the cap the silver rim trim was also blackened and tarry. The end cap/band on the shank was also silver and quite nice. Inside the cap was blackened and the bowl was caked with a crumbly aromatic smelling cake. The inside of the shank was black with tars and oils and the stem was very tight in the shank. The stem was clean of tooth marks and dents but was badly oxidized. On the front of the bowl was a carved/pressed stag climbing the bowl. There were nails holding the top rim cap and the stag emblem on the briar. On the back of the rim cap was a small silver ring where a chain had obviously been sometime along the way. It was missing as was the place on the stem where it attached to the stem. I have seen these before on German-made pipes as a means of keeping the stem and bowl together.
I have cleaned up several BBK pipes over the years. The last one was a square shank panel billiard that I have written about previously on the blog https://rebornpipes.com/2012/09/21/refurb-on-a-bbk-panel-billiard-swiss-made/. I had never done much research on the maker or the meaning of the BBK initials. I knew that it was a Swiss made brand as the shanks of all the pipes I had cleaned up and restored were stamped with that moniker. I did not however have any idea of the history of the brand. This time I decided to do a bit of digging and see what I could find out about the pipemaker. I checked one of my usual sources of information, Pipedia and found that there was actually quite a bit of helpful information to be found there. http://pipedia.org/index.php?title=Bru-Bu. I have copied, edited and summarized that material below. I find the information quite fascinating to read and gives me more appreciation for the pipes themselves.
“Josef Brunner, oldest son of the farmer Konstantin Brunner from the hamlet Nieder-Huggerwald, belonging to the community of Kleinlützel (Canton Solothurn), was sent in 1871 to a pipe turner in Winkel/Alsace for his apprenticeship. As was usual at that time, Brunner wandered as a journeyman after ending the apprenticeship. Eventually, he went to Saint-Claude, France which was then the world’s stronghold of briar pipe manufacturing. There, Brunner was able to increase and deepen his knowledge in the field of industrial pipe making. When he returned home in 1878, he installed a small turner’s workshop in the house of his father. With the energetic support of his two younger brothers, he began to produce tobacco pipes of his own calculation, taking them to the markets in the surrounding area. In 1893, Bernhard Brunner’s wife inherited the mill in Kleinlützel. At this point, the pipe fabrication was transferred to an annex belonging to the mill. Now it was possible to drive the machines by water power – an important relief to the workers and a considerable innovation compared to the previous pedal-driven system.
On the Pipedia site they also had some photos of a catalogue from BBK that was interesting. They note that it was an early catalog and came to them courtesy of Guido Brunner, Josef Brunner’s grandson.”
Also on the Pipedia site was a photo of a pipe that was very similar to the one I have but obviously older. The stem on mine is not horn but is rather a hand cut vulcanite that makes it much newer in age than the one below. However the shank cap, the rim cap, the Double Deckel wind cap (pictured on the last page of the above catalogue are the same. The one I have is also missing the chain from the cap to the stem but the finish and everything else about the pipe below is parallel to the one I worked on. It was interesting to see how they attached the chain to the stem. That gave me an idea on how to attach a new chain to the one that I have. The stem on this one however made me question whether the one that I had was an original or some newer replacement stem. More digging would be required to know whether my stem was original or not. A bit more digging revealed one for sale on EBay that had the exact same stem as the one I have. It also was missing the chain and the shape and top cap was slightly different but the stem was identical. Now I knew that the one I had was at least original. Further information was found on the Pipedia site that spoke of the growth of the company. “The production was boosted, and business developed pleasantly. A new factory building was realized by 1896. Corresponding to another demand, a department producing walking sticks was added in 1900. The pipes from Kleinlützel were well appreciated and received many awards, e.g., a gold medal for outstanding craftsmanship at the National Swiss Fair in Bern in 1914.
The business developed so well after the turn of the century that even a lack of workers in Kleinlützel occurred. The problem was solved by founding a subsidiary company in the small nearby town Laufen an der Birs in the Canton of Bern. This plant didn’t exist too long. The disastrous economic crisis in the 1920’s and early 1930’s forced the Brunner family to restrict the fabrication of pipes dramatically. In addition the big French pipe factories in Saint-Claude – although suffering from the same circumstances – flooded the Swiss market with pipes at prices that couldn’t be matched by Swiss producers. By 1931 ca. 150 of 180 Brunner employees had been sacked – the rest remained in Kleinlützel, where the cheap electric energy ensured a meager survival.
In 1932, Mr. Buhofer joined the Brunner family. The company was named Brunner-Buhofer-Kompagnie, and, shortly thereafter, Bru-Bu. Buhofer had made his fortune in the United States but, homesick, returned to Switzerland to search for a new challenge.
Bru-Bu’s fabrication program was expanded with many handcrafted wooden art articles: carved family coats of arms, bread plates, fruit scarves, and – more and more – souvenir articles for the expanding Swiss tourism industry. Pipes remained in the program continuously, but the offerings changed from traditional Swiss pipes to the more standard European shaped pipes. Bru Bu is widely known as BBK.”
One further point of interest to me was found in the last paragraph of the Pipedia article linking BBK pipes to Former Nielsen. I have two of Former’s pipes so this stood out to me.
“At some point in the late 1970’s, Bru-Bu went out of business. Some of the Brunners, as far as known, continued as timber traders. But in 1986 new life filled the old Bru-Bu pipe workshop, when Dr. Horst Wiethüchter and “Former” Nielsen started to produce the high-grade Bentley pipes there.”
I am not sure why it works this way but once I have some background information on a pipe I move into cleaning and restoring it with more gusto. It seems to energize me knowing a little about the company or individual who carved the pipe I am working on at the moment. I took the next two photos show the inside of the lid and the front of the bowl before I started cleaning up the pipe. The tars and oils on the inside of the lid were rock hard did not come off with scrubbing with alcohol or oil soap. Instead it would take more work to remove it. I reamed the pipe with a PipNet reamer (also Swiss Made by the way) to remove the cake buildup around the inside of the rim. Once the bowl was clean and smooth I wiped it out with cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. I scrubbed the briar with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and then wiped it off with a cotton pad. The finish was in great shape under the grime and once polished with a soft cloth and Halcyon II wax it had a rich glow to the sandblast. I wiped down the silver with a silver polishing cloth and the tarnish on the rim cap, the shank cap, wind cap and stag emblem came off very easily and the silver shone. I scrubbed the inside of the windcap and the rim with 0000 steel wool to remove the tars and oils that had hardened on the surface of the caps and the inside of the windcap. It came off easily and then I polished with the silver polishing cloth. I cleaned out the inside of the shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. The tars that came out of the shank were black and thick. It took quite a few swabs before the shank and sump area were clean and the cotton was still white after I ran it through the shank.
The stem had been soaking in Oxy Clean while I worked on the bowl. I removed it from the bath and dried it off. The oxidation had softened significantly and I was able to see the black of the vulcanite show through the brown oxidation. I scrubbed the stem with Meguiar’s Scratch X2.0 and once dry wiped it off to see how much more of the oxidation had been removed. The second photo shows the stem after I had wiped off the polish. There was still a lot of work to do on this stem. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and then with medium and fine grit sanding sponges to remove more of the surface oxidation. It took some careful sanding but the oxidation was finally coming off and the stem was moving toward the place where I would sand it with micromesh sanding pads. I buffed the stem with red Tripoli and White Diamond before sanding with the micromesh pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil between each set of three pads. I buffed the stem with White Diamond and then rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil one last time. I buffed it with carnauba wax and then a soft flannel buffing pad to raise the shine. I gave the silver caps a final polish with the silver polishing cloth, buffed the pipe by hand with a shoe brush and then took the final photos below. The finished pipe is ready to load a bowl and fire up its inaugural smoke. I still have to do a hunt for a piece of chain to connect the cap to the stem and make a strap or connector to hold it to the stem.