Blog by Steve Laug
When I decided to clean up the third of the four pipes I picked up on a recent trip to Sofia, Bulgaria I was surprised by what I ended up finding. From the moment I saw it on the marker seller’s table it was a bit of a mystery to me. I picked it up and checked it out quickly under the scrutiny of the seller who did not know what to do with this English speaking Canadian. I paid him for it thinking that it was an alternative wood. But even then I was not certain about it. I was drawn to the colour of the bowl and the simple elegance of the pipe. When I examined it in the market I opened the lid of wind cap and saw appeared to be white spots on the bottom third of the bowl. I was not sure what it was. I was almost convinced it was mold or something like that which I would need to remove. The silver wind cap was in great shape with a little wear but still aligned to the silver rim cap. It was probably nickel though I am not certain. The stem was bent correctly but it just did not look right. When I removed the stem from the shank the inside of the shank was also lighter in colour.
When I got home from Sofia and brought the pipe to the work table I examined it much more closely. I looked at it with a lens to see if the white was mold or something like that but it did not appear to be that. I rubbed the bowl with my finger to try to remove it and nothing happened. It did not come off on my finger. The upper portion of the bowl was darkened and had a light cake. The bottom of the bowl itself was white. There was no mold or powder on the surface. The more I looked at it the more I am convinced that what I had found was a meerschaum pipe rather than a wooden one. That was a surprise because when I picked it up I was pretty certain on cursory examination that it was a hard wood bowl. It was very lightweight and it did not seem to have any grain. The golden colour of the material also made me think of other older meerschaum pipes that I have restored. At this point I was pretty convinced that I was dealing with an older meerschaum pipe. What a surprise for a pipe I purchased for about $5 CNDN.
I continued to examine the pipe once I had decided it was meerschaum. The metal wind cap was tarnished and undamaged on the outside but the inside of the cap was oxidized and rough. The cap on the rim was also tarnished and rough with tars. There were two nail heads that held the cap on the rim. The meerschaum itself was in excellent shape. There were no dents or gouges in the bowl or shank. There was a slight indentation or ring around the end of the shank that told me that a metal band that had originally been present. The left side of the shank was stamped PRIMUS over 2. The stem was obviously one that seller had taken out of his bag of bowls and stems and put together. It fit in terms of tenon diameter which was good because most of the pipes on his table had cracked shanks from his matching game. The stem diameter was close but I noticed that the mortise was not centered in the shank. Due to that the bottom of the stem sat below the bottom of the shank while the top of the stem was slightly lower than the shank. The stem was lightly oxidized and had some tooth chatter.
The next four photos show the pipe as it was when I brought it to the table. I reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Pipe Knife so that I could carefully cut back the cake to check on the material the bowl was made of. I did not want to damage it so I went slowly and carefully.I wiped down the exterior of the bowl with a damp cloth and removed the stickiness and dirt on the surface. I also pressed a WDC band on the shank. It had a small split that I repaired with super glue but it was the only one I had that fit the shank and did not cover up the stamping. It will have to do. I used some silver polish to scrub the rim and the windcap. I cleaned out the mortise and airway on the shank and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol until they were clean. To adjust the diameter of the stem to match the rolled over end cap I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted the diameter of the stem to show equally from the end view so that the same amount of silver showed on each side.I wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh pads and gave the stem a coat of Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded it with 3200-4000 grit pads and gave it another coat of oil. I sanded it with the final three grits of micromesh pads – 6000-12000 and gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil. I set it aside to dry. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond and gave them both several coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean buffing pad to give it a shine and then hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. If I come across another band someday I will swap them out but this works for now. Thanks for looking.