Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author
“The people like to be humbugged.”
“Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.”
“Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”
“The noblest art is that of making others happy”
― Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891), U.S. showman, businessman, politician, celebrated hoaxer and founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus
P.T. Barnum was a man of contradictions, as the quotes above suggest, making him an obvious two-time Republican candidate for state legislator in the Connecticut General Assembly, both of which races (at different periods of his eventful life) were successful. Business, however, was always his first love, and by the age of 12, in Bethel, Connecticut, he earned enough money selling snacks and homemade cherry rum to buy his own livestock. By 21, he owned a general store and a newspaper called “The Herald of Freedom,” and ran a small lottery.
The Greatest Showman on Earth, who insisted his customers were willing participants in his obvious pranks and hoaxes, never said the line most attributed to him: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Hence the first quote above. Barnum’s fame began with the 1835 purchase of a blind slave named Joice Heth, whom he advertised, in one of his greatest hoaxes, as being 161 years old and the one-time nurse of George Washington. During her tour of New York City and New England, throngs of gawkers paid to hear the old woman spin tale of “dear little George.” To heighten the already wild frenzy around Heth, Barnum later spread the rumor that she was, in fact, an automaton manipulated by ventriloquists. At Heth’s autopsy in 1837 – to which Barnum sold tickets – medical examiners determined that she was probably 80 at the oldest.
Despite his purchase of a slave, to whom he no doubt gave far better treatment than her former owners, as a legislator in later years Barnum was a strong advocate of equal rights for African-Americans. And likewise, giving up all liquor, including the cherry rum that started his long run in business, Barnum became a devout supporter of the Temperance Movement and remained committed to it until he died.
Other than Heth, three of Barnum’s best-known “exhibits” were a child dwarf he called General Tom Thumb, who was even granted a royal audience by England’s Queen Victoria; the Fejee Mermaid [see “The X Files,” S2, E20, “Humbug”], or the top half of a dead monkey sewn to the lower part of a fish, and his giant, six-ton African elephant named Jumbo, which was bought under wide protest from the London Zoölogical Society and led to the adjective jumbo, or large.
There are far too many more titillating examples of Barnum’s contradictory exploits and far too little space to go into any of them here, but you get the point. At least I hope you do. In a market-driven economy, advertising, publicity and flair are everything, and they form the unabashed purpose of this blog: to celebrate the grand re-opening of my online pipe restoration and sales business with the latest addition to its stock.
The selection has diminished in size during the past few months that the webstore was down, due both to continuing sales the old-fashioned way – hand-to-hand – and a plethora of personal issues, including moving again and several pressing legal matters in which I am prevailing through appeals despite being up against real attorneys, that have until recently eaten away at the time I prefer to devote to pipe work.
As the Steve Miller Band might have sung had they been writing of my better spent daily life:
This here’s a story about Bobby Mike and his stew,
One young lover with nothin’ better to do
Than sit around the house, smoke his pipes, and watch the tube
And here is what happened when he decided to cut loose….
With no further ado, I am pleased to call out in a booming voice, though it be in written words, “La-dies and gen-tle-men, who are children of all ages, welcome to the greatest, most amazing, daring, thrilling and spectacular show on Earth! The circus known round the world as pipe restoration! And now…in the Center Ring…turn your eyes toward the wonderful and awe-inspiring silver-banded bulldog ! All the way from England, measuring an astonishing six inches in length and a 6/8” x 5-1/4” chamber diameter, and called the Atwood Hall of Fame Natural #5, of the world-renowned Comoy’s family!”
Sixty-three years after it was made and, my intuition tells me, loved by a single owner, there are numerous signs of wear and tear. Still, scratches on almost every inch of the stummel and bit, not to mention a few outright dings, are the pith of the blemishes, not counting the almost inevitable loose sterling silver band. These flaws are negligible considering the venerable pipe’s age and obvious regularity of use. Even the band – which, given the thinness of the inherently fragile material itself, invites heavy tarnish, bending and total obliteration of any hallmarks or stampings – was almost pristine, and is once more, still showing showing the single word of its substance, STERLING, and by more careful examination three hallmarks – something I can’t make out following by a T and a 5. Here is the first page of the original (and apparently only) Atwood U.S. Patent, showing the same design of the Hall of Fame 1953 Brandy.
Atwood pipes came with “a permanent aluminum cup at the base of the chamber, with a bore hole.” [http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-a9.html] The cup and bore hole, after cleaning, indeed are intact.
Although, by virtue of Atwood being a Comoy’s second, I was not over-concerned with the possibility of finding fills in the wood if I were forced to strip the original polish and stain, but I nevertheless took every measure I could conceive to avoid that step. At worst, I was convinced, the reason for the oppressive stain was to hide unfortunate grain. As will be shown, this proved to be the case.
I began by removing almost all of the rim burn with concerted rubbing using 2400 and 3200 micromesh freshly cleaned by a long soak in purified water. An unsuccessful but still incomplete attempt to fix the remaining rim burn and scratching led me to an acceptance at that point of the fact that, though I might otherwise rid the rim of the remaining char, the remaining scratches, not just on the rim but everywhere else on the stummel, were sufficient to necessitate a low enough grit of sandpaper to take it down to bare wood. Having learned that sandpapering the entire wooden surface of a pipe can and often does lead to more problems, I chose the more efficient and reparable measure of an Everclear bath.
The Everclear was a complete success in revealing that there were, indeed, no fills, but even finer scratches than even my minute examination of the briar beforehand, using a jeweler’s magnifier headset, had caused me to suspect could exist. And so I tried the superfine 0000 steel wool first, which at least took off the rest of the old artificial color and some of the less pernicious scratches. But 200-grit paper was unavoidable, in careful spot sanding, to banish the rest of the marks and pocks, followed by another soft buffing with the steel wool.
The retort required two test tubes full of Everclear, but only because of the way the first tube-full always seems to remain in the pipe’s inner bowels after a few boils. At any rate, immediately following the retort, I ran a bristly cleaner through the bit’s air hole, which came out remarkably light, and used both ends of a fluffy pipe cleaner on the inner shank to soak up the wet residue of various accretions still in the shank. I removed the cotton ball from the chamber and swabbed it thoroughly with small white cotton gun cleaning cloths. Then I finished the chamber with a final wipe using 500 paper and more thin cotton swabs soaked in Everclear. The chamber was silky smooth.
“This pipe is clean!” I said to myself, out loud in fact, thinking of the tiny lady of “Poltergeist” fame, who sought out and did her best to dispel dead but still malicious souls. At last, I turned my attention to the bit. It was in pretty good shape, but notice the bad scratch in the second photo below. Every micromesh pad I have, still damp after the soaking from which I removed them some time earlier, was employed to make the bit shine again.
The distinctive A for Atwood was perfectly ingrained and intact. I had made the rounded top of the bulldog bowl lighter than the rest of the stummel on purpose, and as the time for re-staining had come, I chose Fiebing’s Brown leather stain for the top and Lincoln Medium Brown (darker) for the rest. Applying the Fiebing’s with care to the top, I flamed it with my Bic, then did the same to the rest of the stummel with the Lincoln. After a short sit to cool off (both the wood and me), I gently buffed the whole surface with 3000 and 6000 micromesh.
The final step before buffing was re-attaching the band to the shank, mindful of placing the STERLING/SILVER stamp in small letters on the upper left side, where it had been. Oh, glorious moment! The time was nigh to retire to my office, wherein rests my electric buffers. Observing the clock on the wall, which told me it was already 2 a.m., I considered the neighbors opposite that side of the apartment and, understanding the way my building is laid out, realized they would hear nothing from their bedroom. I used the customary red and White Tripoli on the bit, with the clean buffer between each, and white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba on the stummel, again separating each with the clean buffer. For the band, I used a very fast turn on the clean buffer.