A Pipe’s Journey – Big Ben Select Bent Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

I personally enjoy knowing the history or journey of a pipe before it arrives in my trust. So when I am gifted a pipe I record where it came from and if I keep it I have an idea of the path it took to come to me. If I gift it forward I pass on that information to the next owner if they are interested in knowing. I don’t know what it is about the story of a pipe that intrigues me but I have some idea that it is because of the connection it gives with pipe men behind me and those who will live beyond me. I know that a briar pipe will live long after I am gone. Because I buy estate pipes I know that it has had a long history before it came to me. When I know that history it adds a dimension to my enjoyment of the pipe. When I don’t know the history I can learn a lot about it from the previous pipe man who smoked it before me.

This pipe came to me in a gift box of six pipes that were in need for refurbishment from a friend in California on Smokers Forums. I believe he picked them up from Ebay in a lot of pipes he purchased. As many do, he bought the lot for one of the pipes and then set aside the others to either work on or to pass on to others. This particular pipe was a sandblasted Big Ben Bent Billiard. Underneath the wear and tear I could see that a gem still resided. It had a silver band and a nice looking blast. I could see from the use and condition of the pipe that it was obviously someone’s favourite pipe. I must have been a great smoking pipe because it was smoked into the condition it arrived at my work table.

The finish was rough but shape was classic. The feel of the pipe in my hand was perfect. It fit in the cup of my hand and was light weight and comfortable. The thin stem would clean up nicely and feel great in the mouth. There was some work to do before it would be ready to be smoked by me or by someone I gifted it to that was for sure. The bowl was dirty and thickly caked. The shank and stem were filled with tars and grime. The bowl was stamped on the underside of the shank – Big Ben Select under a B in a circle. The rim edges were worn and rough but as it was a blast this would not be a problem to clean up. Over the stain coat was also a shiny varnish or lacquer coat that I always find to be a pain to remove and deal with in a pipe that is worn like this one. The outside of the stem was oxidized but the circle B logo was still deeply stamped. There was also a slight tooth mark on the underside of the stem near the button. The button was very tight and small – so much so that a thin pipe cleaner was work to get through the slot. I described the process of refurbishing this old timer in a previous blog that can be found at the link below. https://rebornpipes.com/2013/01/20/new-life-for-a-big-ben-select-bent-billiard/

I don’t know anything about the original owner of the pipe as the gifter had no information on where it had come from. However, that being said I could tell a lot about the pipe man who had smoked it to this point in its life. From the condition of the pipe I knew that it had belonged to an old timer who smoked his pipes until they were worn out, threw them away and picked up another one. In terms of that scenario this pipe had a lot of life left in it. I could see that the pipe had never met a pipe cleaner in its long existence. I could tell that it was smoked almost continuously without a break to let it rest. I think it could easily fit into the category of rode hard and put away wet that accompanies many an old horse. All that being said it must have been a great smoking pipe to have been so “loved” that it never left the hand of the pipe man. The wear on the finish around the bowl where his hands rested showed how he held it. The small tooth mark on the underside of the stem near the button showed the way he clenched it in his mouth. As for the tobacco he smoked – well it was pretty oily and dark smelling so there is part of me that thinks that it was something like Erinmore. The cake was hard and dense.

Here are some photos of the pipe when I finished restoring it. I knew that one day I would find the right person to pass this one on to.Ben1



Ben4 Not too long ago now I was talking to a good friend of mine, Dal who lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. He had recently taken up the pipe again. He had a few pipes that already had stories attached to them so we spoke of cleaning up and restoring his pipes. We talked about methods and tools used to clean them so that he could bring them back to a bit of their former glory. That got me thinking that I would like to pass a pipe from my collection on to him. Looking through my rack my eyes fell on the Big Ben Select bent billiard and I knew this was the one that I would gift to him. It had an interesting history and the idea of sending this Dutch pipe back to Europe just fit for me. I also knew that the thin stem, the tactile sandblast and the bend of the pipe would appeal to his liking.

The timing was perfect as one of his colleagues was here in Vancouver for training at our office so I could send it back to Bulgaria with her. It would be hand delivered in a timely way and much more likely to arrive in one piece than if I shipped it to him through the post from Canada. I took it from the rack and gave it a quick cleaning to remove any dust that had collected. I gave the pipe a light buff with carnauba wax and then with a clean buff to bring up a shine. I took it apart and wrapped the stem and the bowl separately in paper towels. I put a small bag of Stokkebye’s Balkan Supreme with the wrapped pipe and put the gift into a ziplock bag for easy delivery.

This past weekend she gave him the pipe. I was curious to find out what he thought of it so I fired him an email and asked him. Sometimes my curiosity cannot wait to just let things happen at their own pace I want to know sooner. I wanted to be able to finish my chapter of the life this pipe. I had after all delivered the trust to another pipe man and I wanted to discharge the trust for this old pipe to him. He wrote the following email in response:

Hey Steve,
Well, I named it ‘Vancouver’. It only seemed right. I really like it – the look, feel…very nice. Today I smoked my first bowl, recorded it for posterity with the photo attached. I’m not too practiced at doing selfies…. Very light weight and smoked well. I love the stem design too. Thanks. The tobacco was good too – starts with a sweet aroma and finishes with something really full – can’t quite put my finger on it. I look forward to hearing the back story on it.
Ben5 So my trust has been discharged. With one journey across the Atlantic under its belt and travel to the West Coast of the US from somewhere in the Eastern or Central US it now crossed the Atlantic once again. It had a stopover in Amsterdam and Budapest before it came to Sofia, Bulgaria. Its story can now continue in the rack of another pipe man a continent away from the original purchaser of the pipe. His first bowl was a Balkan Supreme on the balcony of his apartment in Sofia. I am sure that he will add his own unique elements to the story and will grow and expand over the years he enjoys this pipe. One day when he passes it on as a trust to another pipe man he can also pass on its history with his part of the tale added to the story.


5 thoughts on “A Pipe’s Journey – Big Ben Select Bent Billiard

  1. Dal Stanton

    Well, I am the benefactor of the Big Ben Select Bent Billard, aka, ‘Vancouver’. Steve, I really appreciated the gift and now, more of the backstory of this beautiful pipe adds to the enjoyment I have when it’s in my hand and I’m reflecting on life and knowing that I’m adding to the history of this traveler. What’s interesting, after reading your blog and how you put together a profile of the former pipe man through the forensics you examined, it struck me that in some ways the pipe takes on some of the identity of the man who held it. I’m currently reading through a series of novels by author, Robin Hobb. The name of the set I’m currently on is called, ‘The Liveship Traders Trilogy’. Liveships were made from a special ‘wizard wood’ that actually absorbed the lives/identities of the owners over generations and then, in time, come to life – with their own ‘live ship’ identities. Yes, fantasy, but it reminded me of the life of a pipe and the wood that makes each unique, passed from generation to generation, man to man. Now, ‘Vancouver’ has made it back to the continent and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have it here in Bulgaria for a time, until I pass it on someday.

  2. Al

    Steve, what a wonderful gesture. You consistently show us your generosity, and remind us that a pipe is not just a pipe…it has, and is, history.


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