Blog by Dal Stanton
In my last post restoring the Jeantet Fleuron (Link), I mentioned my recent pipe hunting expeditions during our R&R travels in Bulgaria with our daughter and son-in-law visiting from Denver, Colorado. Jordan, my son-in-law, is a blooming pipe man and was my eager accomplice as we dipped in and out of antique shops we found. One of those ‘dips’ unfolded in one of the longest inhabited cities in Europe and the world (since 5000BC!) – Plovdiv, Bulgaria, which enabled me to land the Denicotea Deluxe Curling before me now. Since my field shape identification skills are still in development, when I first saw the pipe in the display case, I thought it was from the Canadian family – the longish shank and the long saddle stem got my attention. Since the antique shop was situated in Old Towne, Plovdiv, in the shadow of the historic Thracian settlement (to the Romans, they were the ‘Barbarians’) the lady with whom I negotiated was pretty tough – I assume because her overhead expenses were more due to her classic location! So the deal we struck was not as good as I was hoping, but with new pipe in hand, I took these initial pictures outside the antique shop with ancient cobblestone as a backdrop. After just finishing the Jeantet Fleuron and my research zeroing in on French pipe making mecca, Saint Claude, I was anxious to start my work on this Denicotea Deluxe Curling, a name also ‘claimed’ by Saint Claude, according to one of my sources in that research. Here’s where the confusion began. The source, a pipe shop of Saint Claude, La Pipe Rit, stated on their home page:
On our website, you will find pipes from Saint Claude made by the most famous brands, such as Eole, Chacom, Bayard, Butz-Choquin, Denicotea, Jeantet and Ropp. The works of Saint Claude’s craftsmen are also present, for example, the unique handmade pipes created by Pierre Morel. You will also discover pipes from all over the world through Vauen, Big Ben, Dunhill, L’anatra, Peterson, Porsche, Savinelli, Stanwell, Viprati and meerschaum pipes as well. (La Pipe Rit)
This blurb led me to the assumption that the name Denicotea was claimed by Saint Claude, but when I started my digging on the Denicotea Curling on Pipedia I found, what many of you already know, Denicotea is a German enterprise. Pipedia says of Denicotea,
Brand founded in 1932 in Cologne, Germany, by Willy Heineberg. Denicotea is actually the name of a silica gel filter, cigarette holders and care products for pipes and cigarette holders. They also introduced the brands Aldo Morelli, Adsorba, Wessex. (Link)
Pipephil confirms this information and adds that pipes were also manufactured by an English third party and marketed under the Denicotea brand. (Link).
So, at this point in my research I’m wondering what the French connection is – assuming that both sources were correct? I dug a lot (learned a lot too!) looking at Pipedia and other sources seeking to confirm another ‘sighting’ of the name Denicotea in Saint Claude but found none. The most plausible hypothesis that I was cultivating was that perhaps Willy Heineberg, who was born actually in Metz, France, had connections with Saint Claude before moving across the Rhine River into Germany (Metz and Cologne are relatively close) to establish the Denicotea operation. I discovered that Willy Heineberg was born a Frenchman (though his surname appears to be of a German-Jewish lineage – see: Link) when I unearthed an interesting letter he wrote on July 31, 1951, to the director of the CIA, General Walter Bedell Smith, seeking help for the rebuilding of a French village raised by the Nazis during WWII – Saint-Die’. Heineberg references in this letter that he was born in Metz, France, nearby Saint-Die’ and therefore wanted to help his compatriots. At the time of writing, his letterhead placed him in NYC on 41 Park Avenue – the tobacco business must have been going well! (See the letter here: Link – in the letter he references at least one other tobacco mogul of RJ Reynolds along with other ‘who’s who’ of his day)
My research on Denicotea pipes was not terribly fruitful – one mostly finds information about their filter and accessory lines of production. Notwithstanding, I’m looking at this Denicotea, not from Saint-Claude, yet very handsome and I’m attracted to the long saddle stem of this classic billiard – my revised shape identification. On the left side of the shank is an arched Denicotea over De Luxe. The right side is Curling over Bruyere Extra. A shape number is pressed on the bottom of the shank which I believe is 118 or possibly 119 – not sure. The saddle stem has a very faint, warn stamped D ensconced in a circle. I hope to bring this fading stamp back from the edge of oblivion with some acrylic paint applied – we’ll see if there’s enough imprint to hold the paint. The bowl is in good shape with some minor nicks and scrapes on the bottom. There is some crusty cake build up in the fire chamber and the rim has some nicks and lava flow on it but it appears minor and in good shape. The stem has significant oxidation but very little tooth chatter to worry about. I take some additional pictures on my work table after returning home to Sofia. I remove the stem and deliver it to the Oxi-clean bath to begin raising the oxidation from the vulcanite stem. When I remove the stem and examine the mortise, I’m not sure what I see. Has the tenon become dislodged from the stem and now unceremoniously implanted in the mortise or does this pipe by design have a vulcanite filter extension coming out of the mortise? I also see what appears to be an old used filter jammed pretty snuggly in the mortise and I cannot remove it with my fingernails. I also try to remove it with tweezers and after scraping at it a bit, I discover that what I thought was an old used filter is metal – I haven’t seen anything like this before. It appears to have an airway slot on the lower portion of the metal ‘insert’. After trying unsuccessfully to pull the metal object out with my fingernails and gently trying to coax it out with my Buck knife, I decide to dip the mortise end in alcohol hopefully to loosen things up. After some careful prying so as to not damage the vulcanite ‘tenon’ in the mortise, what emerged was not anything I was expecting. I have no idea what kind of internal stinger contraption I’m looking at. After I clean it up the only thing I can think of is some clever internal stinger system that Denicotea came up with seeking that ever elusive cooler, dryer smoking experience. I’m still not sure if the tenon has dislodged from the stem and is stuck in the mortise or if what I’m looking at is by design. Taking my questions back to the internet, it didn’t take long to figure things out. Pipephil’s entry for Denicotea (Link) has a picture showing a shape almost identical to the Curling and the mortise has the same vulcanite insert. When I Googled for images, I saw other Curling styles with the same design. With one particular entry from eBay, the metal insert I dislodged looks very familiar to the object in the Denicotea advertisement pictured below – it appears to be part of a filtration system which wedges up against an elongated filter of sorts that fits in the broad/long stem. The very next thought that came to mind was that I hadn’t thought to look into the stem for a filter before dropping it into the Oxy-clean bath! I’m not sure what I will do with the insert, but it does appear to serve as an air restrictor that would be helpful for use without a filter. Any feedback on this would be appreciated! With the object removed, I take my new Savinelli pipe knife to ream the bowl on my 10th floor balcony ‘Man Cave’. This is where I’m able to smoke my pipes (door sealed) with my wife’s blessings. With it being a beautiful fall day in Bulgaria, I’m happy to work there. I can see why Steve enjoys using his Savinelli pipe knife – it takes the cake off very well and allows for a more delicate and selective approach when needed. After reaming, I use 240 grit paper and clean and smooth the chamber walls further. I like to work on clean pipes so I take pipe cleaners and Q-tips dipped in isopropyl 95% and go to work on the internals of the stummel. After several Q-tips the mortise was not coming clean. With Q-tips I detect an internal ridge inside the mortise created by the vulcanite inserted to the mortise. I’m thinking that this design is a natural gunk collector which makes cleaning more of an on-going challenge. I decide to hold off on more Q-tips and try the salt and alcohol technique I’ve read in other blogs (See at DadsPipes). I use ‘all natural’ non-iodized Himalayan salt that I can find on the store shelves in Bulgaria. Why non-iodized? I asked Charles Lemon at DadsPipes, why he used kosher salt? His reply was that it was not ionized – that the ionization could leave an iodine taste when smoking the pipe. I twist an unraveled cotton ball into the mortise to plug up that end. I stabilize the stummel on the pipe stand and fill the bowl with salt. Then I carefully add alcohol 95% to the bowl until I see it emerge at the top layer of salt. It’s getting late so I let it soak overnight. While the salt and alcohol does its thing, I fish the saddle stem out of the Oxy-clean bath. My first instinct is to look down the throat of the stem to see if a long Denicotea stem filter is lying in wait. To my chagrin, it is. I take pictures to commemorate my discovery and then begin to wet sand the stem’s oxidation with 60 grit paper then with 000 steel wool. I’m careful to avoid the stamped ‘D’ area of the stem, but when I look at the area of the D stamp my concern grows because it looks like the Oxi-clean bath itself caused some further deterioration. I now realize that I should have covered the area with Vaseline to protect it…. learning one mistake at a time…. The oxidation on the stem has been minimized and I take pictures to show the progress. Turning to the lodged stem filter, I use a dental probe to pull up on the filter while pushing from the button end with a pipe cleaner. The surgery is successful and what looks like a charcoal filter emerges from the long saddle stem. An economic theory starts forming in my mind about Denicotea pipes – could they be designed, produced and exist primarily for the filters Denicotea produces? It makes economic sense. A pipe is sold once and its profit is finite. While filters made for that pipe are a continuous revenue stream. Could my theory hold water? With stem free of old filters, I clean the airway up with Q-tips and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95%. After using a few Q-tips I simply rolled large cotton ball pieces to clean the inside of the large stem using tweezers. It did not take long. The next day I dump the salt out of the bowl and wipe out the bowl with a paper towel to remove any left-over salt residue. I returned to the Q-tip therapy to find out if the salt/alcohol soak had an impact on the gunk in the shank. I discover residue so I expend several more Q-tips but finally get to the bottom of the gunk build-up in the shank and turn to the external bowl clean up. To clean up the lava flow on the rim and the bowl surface I use Murphy Oil Soap undiluted with a cotton pad. After the Murphy Oil Soap scrub I rinse the stummel with cool tap water careful not to allow water into the mortise or bowl. The rim and bowl cleaned up nicely allowing me to see more clearly the wood and problem areas. The rim has a burn mark just over the shank junction. It looks like the previous owner drew the flame over the back side of the rim when lighting the tobacco. I used a brass brush, which will not scratch the briar, with alcohol on that spot to see if it would remove the burn but it did not. As I work on the burn, I see that it has burned ‘into’ the rim as well and because of this the inner bowl rim is slightly out of round – I need to correct this. The stummel is showing attractive fire grain and some birds eye – I like the potential. With a close inspection of the finish, I detect some blotches and what I call ‘candy apple shine’ spots. The finish is worn. I decide to remove it to get down to the bare briar. I use cotton pads with acetone to do the job. After removing the finish, I cut a slight bevel on the inner rim to regain round and remove the burn damage. I use 120 grit paper rolled up tightly for the initial bevel followed by 240 then 600 to smooth it. I take pictures to show the progress, and yes, the picture below is ‘Acetone’ in Cyrillic! To remove the light nicks and cuts on the stummel I use a medium grade sanding sponge and follow with a fine grade sanding sponge. I then take a cotton pad with alcohol and wipe down the stummel to clean it from the sponge sanding residue. I do this to take a closer look at the surface for fills or blemishes that need attention before I move on to the micro-mesh sanding. I do find some pitting on the surface that I address with sanding sponges directly. I rejoin stummel and stem to assess the progress. After taking a close up look at the stem after purging the oxidation with an Oxi-clean bath and sanding, I see no teeth chatter that needs to be addressed. I also take another look at the Denicotea circle-D stamp on the stem to see if it can be salvaged. Unfortunately, only the right portion of the circle is barely viable along with a very faint D. Applying acrylic paint would only highlight the fact that it’s not all there, so I decide to finish the stem trying to salvage the remnant stamp as is. Using micro-mesh pads 1500-2400, I wet sand the stem attached to the stummel and follow by applying Obsidian Oil. With pads 3200 to 4000, then 6000 to 12000, I dry sand the stem and apply Obsidian Oil after each set of 3. I never tire watching the shine make an appearance during the micromesh process! I take pictures to show the progress and set the stem aside to dry. Turning to the bowl, I begin preparing the surface finish by wet sanding using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 followed by dry sanding with micromesh pads 3200-4000 and 6000-12000. I’m liking very much the briar’s grain movement on this bowl. I document the progress at each step. I started this restoration with the idea of experimenting with a staining technique I read in one of Steve’s restores – I’m not sure which one as I’ve read so many! He used a black dye followed by a rub down with alcohol. The purpose was to set the dark hue in the veins of the grain and then lighten the backdrop briar – Steve didn’t describe it quite like this but this is what recorded in my memory! He then followed with another die hue to cast the contrast. I would like to try the same by first setting the dark hue with a dark walnut Italian aniline stain I found here. I will follow this with a new arrival with my daughter and son-in-law from the States, Fiebing’s Oxblood Leather Dye. I’m looking for the rich, deep reddish, burgundy hues in the briar that hopefully is subtle – I like this classic look even though it would be a total change in the color scheme of this Denicotea billiard, I hope it will dress it up nicely. I give the stummel a quick wipe down with a cotton pad and alcohol to rid the surface of any possible residue leftover from the micromesh sanding. I mount the inverted corked stummel on the candle stick holder and decide to try another technique I read recently from one of Steve’s postings of warming the briar first before applying the stain. I do this with an air gun then, after putting on throw-away poly vinyl gloves, with a cotton dauber I apply the dark walnut dye generously to the inverted bottom and allow the die to saturate the stummel. I pick up the candle stick and rotate the stummel and make sure I daub die into the inverted rim. After the surface is adequately covered I ‘flame’ the surface by lighting the wet dye with a butane lighter. The alcohol in the die burns off very quickly to set the hue in the briar. I follow by wiping the stummel surface with alcohol and cotton pads to lighten and blend the initial dark walnut stain. I repeat the process with Fiebing’s Oxblood Leather Dye diluted about ¼ with alcohol. I complete the second application by flaming the dye which sets the oxblood over the dark walnut hue in the briar. After taking pictures to show progress, I put the stummel aside allowing the stain to rest overnight. I look forward to seeing how my experiment turns out when I return to the project tomorrow! I really enjoy witnessing the initial revelation of the briar surface after the staining process. This pipe was no exception. I take my compact Dremel tool (a wonderful friend when workshop space in not available!) with a felt wheel and apply Tripoli to the final flamed Oxblood surface I completed the night before. I use the lowest speed and do not apply a great deal of pressure to the felt wheel as I consistently move it over the stummel surface. I allow the speed of the wheel and the compound to do the work. The briar is emerging as I buff with the Tripoli. I love the mosaic of grain design that emerges as I work over the stummel surface. I follow the Tripoli compound with Blue Diamond, also using a felt wheel with the Dremel speed set to the lowest RPM. After completing the Blue Diamond, I attach a cotton cloth wheel to the Dremel and increase the speed by one number and apply several applications of carnauba wax to both stummel and the rejoined saddle stem. Through trial and error, I’ve been able to develop a technique for applying the compounds and carnauba wax that works well for me – in my compact 10th floor work station. Under a bright light, with the sheen of the stummel surface my focus, I am able to see the application of the compound and how it disburses over the briar with the different wheels. I am able to identify compound or wax that hasn’t integrated into the surface – it appears as a thick ripple, and I’m able to revisit it with the wheel rotation to work in more thoroughly what has been ‘left-behind’. This works especially well with the carnauba wax which disburses with the heat of the wheel’s rotation. I can see the wax liquefy and am able to spread it over a portion of the surface. After applying several applications of carnauba wax, I Dremel buff the entire stem and stummel surface with a clean cotton wheel and complete the process with a rigorous hand-buff with a clean microfiber cloth to raise the shine more.
I am thoroughly pleased with the rich, deep hues the stains contributed to the beautiful briar grain of this Denicotea DeLuxe Curling Bruyere Extra. I’m not sure the pictures below capture the depth of grain that I can appreciate with the naked eye. The color and the shape bring to mind what could be a pleasing match for a classic smoking jacket one might see donned by the Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley, as he retires to the smoking room at Downton Abbey. ‘Classic’ is the one word that keeps coming to mind about this pipe! One question that remains for me is what to do with the internals of the filtration system – any thoughts on that would be appreciated. As I shared with my last post, my wife has lovingly put her foot down! This pipe will reluctantly head to eBay or, if you have an interest in adding this classic shape to your collection, let me know. Thanks for joining me!