Blog by Steve Laug
This is another pipe from the Idaho Falls antique mall. The funny thing is I went back another day to show my daughters some of the antique jewelry and did not think much of looking for more pipes as I had already cleaned out the ones I had an interest in. One of my daughters called me over to a display case where there was a pipe rest with a golden Cocker Spaniel on it. She thought it would be a great memory piece for me. I looked in the case and there on the bottom shelf was a pipe that I had not seen on the previous day. It was a nice straight Bulldog pipe. The bowl looked like it was a mess but the briar and stem looked to be in pretty good shape. I had the clerk pull it out and was surprised by the stamping on it. It read Hilson over Made in Belgium on the upper left side of the shank and Imported Briar in an arch over Block Meerschaum on the upper right side of the shank. There were some other letters underneath the arch that ran in a straight line but I could not read them without a lens. Of course I had to have the old pipe. I knew that it at least was made before Gubbels Pipe Factory in Holland bought out the Hilson brand in 1980 because of the Belgium stamping.
When I got home I looked at the shank under a bright light using a lens and could see more clearly some of the marks under the arch. The arch appeared to be over stamped and underneath on the left of arch it read S and the other letters faded out. On the right side of the arch it read TYLE. I am wondering if it originally read S60 (which is the shape number that has been more recently stamped on the underside of the right side of the shank) BLOCK STYLE in a straight line over MEERSCHAUM (the center and bottom words in and under the arch). If so then when it left Belgium and headed to the USA it must have been over stamped with the arched IMPORTED BRIAR which is stamped with a slightly smaller font. I also examined the stem and found that on the underside of the right side it had a small stamped M and what looked like part of an E. All of that will remain a bit of a mystery but it makes this old pipe interesting.
The briar portion of the pipe was in pretty decent shape. I was not sure about the briar on the rim as it was pretty covered with an overflow of tars that had come up out of the bowl and over the rim. The meerschaum bowl was invisible at this point in the process. It was somewhere inside the mess but how far down I was not sure. I had no idea of the thickness of the Hilson bowls in comparison with others. The other Hilson Meerlined pipe I had did not have the lining and the briar was very thin so I was thinking that this one would be like that. The finish was dirty on the rest of the bowl but did not have any damage. The briar looked pretty decent other than a few small fills on the underside of the shank. The stem was dirty and lightly oxidized. The pipe and the stem smelled awful! The bowl smelled like old cigarettes left in an ashtray in the rain. The stem smelled like old tires with a hint of sulfur. It would take a bit of work to clean up this one without damaging the meerlined bowl.
From a bit of research on the web I found that the company was originally started in 1846 by a German named Jean Knödgen who produced clay pipes in Belgium. According to a note on the Pipephil website it seems that in the late 19th century Jean Hillen married into the Knödgen family and later took over the company. He changed the company from a clay pipe producer to a factory able to manufacture briar pipes. Jean Hillen had 2 sons: Jos Hillen was responsible for sales and Albert Hillen was responsible for the production. After WWII his son Albert founded the HILSON brand which was a combination of Hillen and Son and exported his pipes all over the world. The brand did very well in the 1960s and 1970s and the brand was sold throughout Germany and Europe. In 1980 the company ran into financial difficulties and was bought by the Royal Dutch Pipe Factory owned and operated by Gubbels who still makes the Big Ben pipe.
Hilson meerschaum-lined briar pipes were manufactured in Belgium at the original Hilson factory in the 1970’s and used Block Meerschaum to make the inserts for their pipes. This was much better quality than most meerschaum lined pipes. Usually the lining was made of pressed meerschaum which was made from ground up meerschaum. Block Meerschaum is carved from the meerschaum as it is mined. High quality meerschaum pipes are always made from block meerschaum.
I took the next three close-up shots to give an idea of the state of the bowl when I started. There is a hint that it is a meerschaum lined bowl when you see the line on the edge of the bowl just inside of the briar. The thick coat of carbon built up on the rim and down into the bowl made it hard to see. I was glad that this was a block meerschaum insert rather than a compressed one because there was some hope that the bottom of the bowl had not begun to disintegrate of break up. The second and third photos below give an idea of the stamping on the shank of the pipe.
The next photo shows the stinger apparatus in the tenon of the pipe. Most of the other Hilson pipes that I have worked on have an inner tube extension rather than a tenon so this was a new one to me. It is also unique among the stingers that I have seen. I decided to top the bowl to remove all of the carbon build-up and see what was happening with the top of the meerschaum insert and the briar rim. I knew that the cake in this one was out of control but I wanted to see if I could see the original inner line before I dealt with the cake. The next photo shows the topped bowl. Once I had it topped I folded a piece of sandpaper and worked at the inner edge to remove the cake. I wrapped the sandpaper around my finger after the initial sanding and went as deeply into the bowl as I could reach. There was some staining around the back and right side of the meerschaum lining where it came in contact with the briar. I think some of the tars and oils wicked into the meerlining and stained it. The surface of the rim was scratched from the 220 grit sandpaper so I used a medium and a fit grit sanding block and cleaned up the rim. The next two photos show the rim and the bowl after reaming. I reamed what I could not reach with a sharp pen knife and removed all of the cake in the bowl.
I removed the stinger from the tenon. I always twist the tenon rather than just pull it in case it is threaded. In this case it came out easily enough. I was going to use the retort to clean this pipe but thought better of it as I did not want to soften or damage the meer liner with the alcohol. So, I resorted to the old tried and true method of cotton swabs and alcohol to clean out the shank and wipe down the inside of the bowl. It took a lot of swabs to get the shank clean. The mortise ran the length of the shank to accommodate the long stinger. The stem took a lot less work. After just a few pipe cleaners and alcohol the pipe cleaners came out clear. I scrubbed the stinger with alcohol and 0000 steel wool to remove the tars that had stained the aluminum. I wiped down the bowl with alcohol on cotton pads and then took the following picture to show the state of the pipe thus far. It is going to be a beautiful pipe. I wiped the bowl and shank down with a light coat of olive oil to enliven the briar and bring out the grain. The birdseye grain on the sides of the bowl were stunning. It is hard to see with the freshly oiled bowl but in later photos it will stand out.
The stem was cleaned and ready to polish. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 micromesh sanding pads and then gave it a coat of Obsidian Oil. Before the oil dried I dry sanded it with 3200-4000 grit pads and gave it another coat of oil and then sanded it with 6000-12000 grit pads to finish the shine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and let it dry. Once dry I buffed it with White Diamond on the wheel.
I buffed the finished pipe with Blue Diamond Polish on the wheel and then gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean flannel buff and then again by hand with a microfibre cloth to bring depth to the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. Other than the stain around the back and right side edge s of the meerschaum lining the pipe looks like new. It should offer many more years of service.