Blog by Steve Laug
One of my pipe finds last weekend was a Dr. Grabow Royal Duke Bent Billiard. It was in pretty decent shape. The rim had a little buildup and darkening but no damage. The bowl itself was lightly smoked but was half full of unsmoked tobacco. The stem had some scratches and small marks on the surface of the top and bottom. There were no tooth marks though and that was a bonus. The aluminum cap on the stem was oxidized. There was a Medico filter in the aluminum shank that was almost black. The finish was in good shape. There were some scratches and small dents in the briar on the bottom of the bowl. Overall the pipe was in pretty decent shape and needed a thorough cleaning. It was an easy refurbish.
Because it was an easy cleanup I decided to see if I could gather any information on the history of the Royal Duke. I posted on the Dr. Grabow Collectors Forum and put pictures of the pipe there to see if I could get some help on the brand. I got some great responses and information from the folks there. The first of them came from Ted D. who was a past CEO of Dr. Grabow in Sparta. Here is what he wrote:
“Royal Duke was the first paper filter pipe made by Grabow. The name and construction were bought from Continental Briar Pipe Co. in the early 50’s. Continental made the “Royal Duke of Dundee” and “Duke of Dundee”. Royal has been made continuously since then, and is still made. It went through several minor changes through the years. With a “before” picture I might get within a 10 year period… maybe closer. Td” Spadefan on the same forum also posted this for me: The Grabow Timeline post:
http://drgrabows.myfreeforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=4834&start=0 shows Royal Duke starting somewhere in the broad timeframe of 1955 – 1964. Royal Duke continues in production today. Here are a few quotes from forum member DRBridges, one of the forum’s “founding fathers” and “Old Timer” TED that place the blue spades on early production Duke series filter pipes until abt. 1993/4. Here are the money quotes:
“HL&T began replacing the older Dr. Grabow model names after 1955 with new models. These included the “Ajustomatic” ELDORADO, REGAL, SAVOY, STARFIRE, VISCOUNT, and the “Duke Filter” DUKE, GRAND DUKE, and ROYAL DUKE. The early “Ajustomatic” pipes displayed a white spade emblem. The early “Duke Filter” pipes diplayed a blue spade. The early push stem [without filter] pipes displayed a yellow spade. Additional models were introduced during the 1960s and 70s, and all later Dr. Grabow pipes displayed a white spade emblem.” DRBridges
“Through the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, DG filter pipes used blue spades, except for the ajusto Dukes. They all went white in the early 1990s. Mortise and tenon DG pipes used yellow spades. Ajustomatics were white.” DRBridges
“We were still using the colors in 1991. I guess they changed about 93/94.” ted
So it looks like blue spades were used exclusively on Duke lines of filter pipes from their introduction sometime 1955-1964 through 1993/4. Anyone have more info on blue spades?I posted photos of the pipe as Ted requested and then received another answer from him that helped date the pipe. He wrote: “I think it’s the old Spruance Southern lacquer. That and a vulcanite bit will put it at 1975 +- 5.. td”
Knowing that information gave me some helpful information on the pipe I had. I liked the idea that it came from the era in which I finished my high school and entered university. It came from the same era as my first pipe purchased in the early 1970’s. The photos below show the state of the rim and the half filled bowl of tobacco. The pipe has some absolutely beautiful grain that swirls around the bowl.
I scraped the tobacco out of the bowl, threw away the paper filter and then cleaned out the shank and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. Because the bowl had an intact coat of lacquer that was not damaged I scrubbed the rim with saliva and cotton pads. I was able to remove all of the buildup on the surface and some of the darkening.
I sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads to remove the scratches and damage to the surface. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 micromesh until the majority of the marks were removed. I dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit pads to further polish the vulcanite.
I gave the stem several coats of Obsidian Oil and then buffed it with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave it several coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean soft pad to raise the shine on the stem. I lightly buffed the bowl so as not to damage the lacquer. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below.
I want to give a shout out to the Dr. Grabow Collectors Forum. They are great folks and always ready to help. If you have not checked them out head on over and have a look at their site. http://drgrabows.myfreeforum.org/index.php Thank you folks for your help on this one and on others that I have worked on. It is greatly appreciated.