“Only when you eat a lemon do you appreciate what sugar is.”
― Ukrainian proverb]
The Beatles sang the idea more perfectly, to take the same liberty with the English language as Thomas Jefferson when beginning to pen the U.S. Constitution, and I’m not looking to start a revolution or create an international incident or any other uproar by saying that all Ukrainian pipes are lemons. My personal experiences have both been with the Veresk Company in Kiev, now the capitol city of the Republic of Ukraine. Before the fall of the former Soviet Union, the Veresk Cooperative factory was the only official outlet for tobacco pipes throughout the USSR. On the other hand, the following work of briar art was created by Ukrainian pipe crafter Konstantin Shekita, who made his start at Veresk. The Cooperative made all of its pipes during the Soviet days from fruit woods including cherry, pear, peach and apricot. After the collapse of the entire Soviet empire, brought about as an unforeseen consequence of Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to ease economic hardship for the common Russian with perestroika (rebuilding, reorganization) and to remove the iron-clad clamp on discussion of economic and political realities employing glasnost (openness), Veresk became a company and started to use briar imported from Tuscany, Italy. Although the fruit woods are still sometimes substituted, briar is now the preferred wood. This Golden Gate billiard, which with help from my mentor, Chuck, was determined to be pear wood, was probably made before the end of the Cold War.
On occasion, I find myself having to track down information on a given odd pipe every way I can: Internet engines using multiple query terms, emailing or calling friends, posting threads on various forums – even some Deep Web methods. Having a background as a newspaper reporter, I then try to verify the first source as well as I can. By and large, however, the first place I check is Pipephil, at http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/index-en.html. If that site has nothing on a pipe I have bought and/or restored, then I know I’m in for some real work. The contributions of Pipephil as a database trove of information on pipe brands, history, dating and other useful details is, for the most part, invaluable and irrefutable.
For example, about a week ago I saw a Kaywoodie Super Grain Lovat advertised as pre-1930s. Checking Pipephil, I learned that although that dating was not quite accurate, the placing of the Super Grain stamp above Kaywoodie and a four-digit shape number – in this case 5190 – dated the pipe to between 1931 and 1938. The inclusion of Imported Briar, introduced in 1935, narrowed the pipe’s manufacture to within three years during the latter part of the Great Depression. Lucky that no one else seemed to see these details, I won the very old but pristine Lovat for $32.50 with S&H.
At about the same time, seeing the Golden Gate advertised on eBay as “Wooden Smoking Estate Pipe,” I was able to make my decision to buy it based on the GG I spotted on the bit, which Pipephil, with its amazing logo-finding resources, identified with certainty as a Ukrainian brand with the unlikely name Golden Gate. I was also warned that I was liable to receive a pipe made with very alternative wood, meaning something from a fruit tree. For $10 Buy Now with no S&H, I didn’t care. P.A.D., I embrace thee! There are so many worse things on which to spend one’s money.
However, in its entry on the Golden Gate brand, Pipephil gives the translation of Veresk as briar. I have been unable to determine from which language this assertion is drawn. The Russian word for briar, шиповник, transliterates to shipovnik (ship-ŌV-nee-yik), and the Ukrainian шипшина is shypshnya (SHIP-shnee-uh). The best references to Veresk in regard to Russian I can find are a sub machine gun known to players as the SR 2M Veresk, used in a computer role playing game (RPG) called Alliance of Valiant Arms [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9BFocl97_Y], and a surname most common in Russia [http://forebears.io/surnames/veresk]. Hence I suspect Pipephil has this tidbit wrong, and Veresk is in fact derived from the last name of some Party-loyal old Comrade. I emailed Pipephil the details above and asked if perhaps Veresk is briar in another language or dialect. I’m hoping for a response.
RESTORATION I snapped this first photo to add to my private collection, as I do all of my new and unused pipes that need no restoration, before I realized the peculiar stain probably hid something, such as a fruit wood that Pipephil identified as the most common type used by Veresk, whatever the company’s name means. Here is the Golden Gate after I stripped the old stain with an Everclear soak and then used super fine steel wool to begin the process of smoothing the assaulted pear wood’s skin, so to say.
I tried a couple of fills of favorite tobacco blends before beginning the restoration, and enjoyed them, and after the Everclear soak, I was sure the pipe needed no retort. In hindsight, it occurs to me that I should have taken a close-up of the chamber before soaking the wood in alcohol and then using my reamer and sandpaper to remove the unusual coating that came in it as the billiard arrived in the mail.
Researching that general subtopic of pipe knowledge after my instincts already led me to eradicate the harsh-feeling stuff, I was horrified and reached the conclusion that the somewhat sharp and definitely alien material used to coat the chambers of both Veresk pipes I have purchased was the so-called “waterglass.” This attractive sounding term is a euphemism for sodium metasilicate (Na2O3Si), a highly toxic chemical compound that is “[i}rritating & caustic to skin, mucous membranes. If swallowed causes vomiting & diarrhea.” Then there are the serious consequences of absorbing or ingesting this diabolical method of coating the chamber of a pipe that, when lit, cannot help delivering its sickening and potentially deadly payload directly into the hapless pipe smoker’s body, causing “[u]pper airway irritation, fever/hyperthermia [and] leukocytosis.” [http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Sodium_metasilicate#section=Top. Also see its use in tobacco pipes at http://pipesmagazine.com/blog/out-of-the-ashes/bowl-coatings-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-part-ii/.%5D
Although I liked the grain on most of the Golden Gate and considered buffing without stain, I recognized the need for something darker to lessen the flaws on the front and back of the bowl. I chose Lincoln Brown boot stain and flamed it after I applied a couple of coats. This time I took off the char with 4000-grade micromesh and some extra pressure on the pad instead of going down to 3600 and risking removal of the new color in spots.
You can see in the first photo above that the small metal band came off from the alcohol soak, and so I used a few dabs of Super Glue to reattach it. Seeing the surface of the wood could use some slight further attention to prepare it for buffing, I took a small piece of super fine steel wool and only ran it over the surface of the wood with the gentlest touch, as though wiping dust or hand smears from the wood. With the pear wood ready to buff, I did so with white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba. The stem I left as it was.
Altogether I think I took this sad billiard and, with a little help from a friend, as the Beatles also sang, made it better. At the very least I am now willing to offer it for sale, knowing it won’t send anyone to the hospital or perhaps even kill him.