Blog by Steve Laug
My brother Jeff is truly the king of estate sale, junque store and antique store pipe finds. He seems to have not only developed an eye for a good pipe but seems to have an uncanny ability to find them. A few months back now he messaged me from an estate sale he had gone to near Boise, Idaho. He had driven to the town the evening before so he was first in line for the sale. He found some great pipes in that sale and on that trip. I wrote about the finds he came home with on that trip in a previous blog (https://rebornpipes.com/2016/10/31/sometimes-you-just-get-lucky-an-amazing-pipe-hunt/). This little Castello Sea Rock 54P Bulldog came home with him on that trip. From his description and the photos that he sent along the pipe showed lots of promise. The Sea Rock Finish was dirty and the crevices had dust in them. The rim was tarred with overflow of cake from the heavily smoked bowl. The pipe seemed to sport an after factory band as there were no Castello marks on the silver. The stem was in good shape though it had tooth marks on the top and bottom sides next to the button. It had the diamond logo on the side of the saddle stem which I knew meant it was made for the United States market.My brother took some close up photos of the rim top and the cake in the bowl to show what it looked like when he found it. You can see how thick the cake is and how much of the rim rustication has filled in with the overflow.Other than being dirty, the finish was in very good shape. There were no chips of dings in the surface of the rim or on the bowl or the shank.The silver band was tarnished and seemed to have some flaking on the surface. I am not sure if the silver plate is peeling or if it is just left over remnants of the sticky tag that had been there with the price. The stamping was very clear on a smooth patch on the left underside of the diamond shank and read Castello over SC Sea Rock Briar. Underneath that and to the left it read 54P (which is the shape number) and Made in Cantu over Italy. The underside of the left side of the Lucite stem also had stamping that read Hand Made over Castello and the number 5. The stamping of Hand is faint though it can be seen with a magnifying glass.The fit of the stem against the shank was off – it looked as if the mortise was filled with oils and had pushed the stem out. It did not fit snugly against the shank. The faux diamond circle on the saddle portion of the stem is also visible in the photo below. The second photo below shows the debris on the silver band and the grime in the rustication of the shank.The last two photos that my brother sent show the condition of the stem. It is hard to see the tooth marks near the button on both sides of the stem but you can see the chatter on the underside and the “gunk” (technical term) that had built up in the corners of the slot in the button.Before I worked on the pipe I wanted to do a bit of research to see if I could shed some more light on the pipe I had in hand. I learned from the pipephil website that the rhinestone logo was originally on pipes for the US market. There was no hint as to why that was done only that it was and that it is occasionally still used http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-castello.html
I have an older article called PCCA’s Castello Grade & Style Guide. It was written by Robert C. Hamlin (c) 1988, 1992, 1994. Robert gathered some remarkable information on the Castello lines and I have often used his guide in the past to give me pertinent data. There I found more information regarding the shiny logo on the side of the stem.
“American logo’d Castello pipes use a small round “Diamond” (referred to and looking like, but it is NOT actually a diamond) inlaid into the mouthpiece. This was originally done so that the standard Castello white bar logo did not conflict with another brand and logo that was sold by Wally Frank called the “White Bar Pipe” (in the 1950’s).”
The above quote and the remainder of those following come from the same article by Robert Hamlin. You can read the full article at the following link: http://www.pipes.org/BURST/FORMATTED/196.016.html
I read further in the article to help me understand the stamping on the underside of the shank. My knowledge of Castello pipes is pretty limited so when I get one to restore I resort to this article and others to try to make heads or tails of the stamping. First of all I had no idea what the SC stamped ahead of the Sea Rock Briar stamping meant. I had seen Castello’s with the signature of Carlo Scotti on them but not this stamping. Robert gave me the information I needed.
“Older Castello pipes will usually include the “REG No.” and have the letters “SC” stamped as a part of the nomenclature. The SC stamp was for Scotti, Carlo (in Italy all names are listed last, first). Today the full name of Carlo Scotti, contained in a small oval, has replaced the SC stamp.”
I learned that the Sea Rock Briar stamp also signified something and told me more about the pipe. Robert pointed out:
“SEA ROCK [Carved Black or dark brown]: This is the lowest grade of the Castello line and is the most common in the USA. Sea Rocks are produced by taking a smooth bowl that has not been “final finished” and surface carving the finish with tools. This “carved” finish is then evened out using a steel wire brush, stained and then waxed. The Natural Vergin carved finish is left unstained and unwaxed as a rule, although we have seen waxed and partially waxed “Vergins”.”
The remaining mystery for me was the meaning of the stamping on the stem. I of course understood the Hand Made and the Castello stamping but the number 5 was a mystery to me. I was not sure what it referred to. So once again Robert’s article gave me the information I needed to understand that last piece of the mystery.
“#2: All Castello standard shaped pipes have a number (3, 4, 5 or 6) stamped on the mouthpiece or sometimes on the lucite ferrule. What does this number mean? Not much really, it is the number of the size for the proper straw tube or reed that fits the shank and stem of the pipe. These straw tubes are rarely used in the United States. The Castello reed is considered superfluous and useless to most, but with this number you will always know which one fits (the different numbers have to do with length, not diameter).”
When the pipe arrived in Vancouver it was inside of a Castello suede bag missing only the drawstrings at the top. It bore the classic Castello Castle logo and reading Pipa Castello di Carl Scotti Cantu (Italy) stamped on the front in brown paint/ink. I tipped the pipe out of the bag to see what my brother had done with it. He had written and warned me that he had done a minimal clean up on the pipe as he did not want to damage it. I was not sure what I would see when I removed it from the bag. The four photos below show the state of the pipe when it arrived. Examining the pipe closely I could see that he had reamed the bowl and cleaned up the rim to remove the tars and oils that had overflowed onto the top of the rim. He had also cleaned the finish on the pipe quite nicely. The internals were cleaner but would need some more work but the pipe looked pretty good.I took some photos of the stem to show the tooth marks on the top and underside near the button. In the first photo of the top, you can see the tooth mark neat the button and the one on the top edge of the button. In the second photo you can see the damage to the underside of the stem near the button and on the top of the button there as well.I used a brass bristle tire brush to clean up the small particles that still remained in the grooves on the rim of the bowl. It did not take too much to remove what was left and leave the rim clean.I wiped off the sticky spots on the silver band with a little alcohol on a cotton pad. I could see that the band had been stamping diagonally in several places with letters from the word silver but that none of them spelled it out completely. I was pretty certain from Robert’s article above that the silver band was after market and may be part of a repair to a cracked shank. Cleaning the pipe further would either confirm or deny that assumption on my part. I polished the band with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12000 grit pads. The polished band is shown in the photo below.I sanded the tooth marks out on both sides of the stem at the button using 220 grit sandpaper and also sanded the damage to the button surface itself. There was also slight damage to the slot itself on the end of the button. I sanded the slot and cleaned up the damaged areas there. I used micromesh sanding pads to polish the newly sanded areas on the Lucite stem surface. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and wiped the stem down with a damp cotton pad. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads and wiped it down with the damp pad several times throughout the process. In doing so I was able to remove all signs of the damage to stem in those spots along the edge and top of the button. With stem exterior finished other than buffing I ran a pipe cleaner with alcohol through to remove any sanding debris from my clean up and sanding of the surface and the slot. It was remarkably clean.I cleaned out the shank with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs to remove the tars and oils that kept the stem from properly seating against the end of the tenon. It was pretty thickly tarred and took some scrubbing to remove the grime. While I was cleaning the interior of the grime I found what I had surmised was under the band. The end and inside of the mortise revealed a small crack underneath the grime. It looked like it had been repaired somewhere along its life. The end of the crack on the shank end was the worst part of the damage. The hairline crack on the exterior of the shank – almost an underline of the word Cantu showed signs of having been glued and clamped until it sealed. That settled my question regarding the purpose of the aftermarket silver band on the shank. With the internals cleaned and the crack examined with a lens and deemed solid I polished the silver band with a jeweler’s cloth to further remove any remnants of tarnish and give it a deeper shine and protection. I hand waxed the bowl with some Conservator’s Wax and buffed it with a shoe brush to raise the initial shine on the briar. The photos below show the bowl after the waxing and polishing. I put the stem in place in the shank. The fit was perfect and it sat snuggly against the end of the mortise as it did when it left Cantu. I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel avoiding the silver band and the briar. I waxed the stem with carnauba wax on the wheel and buffed the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is truly a beautiful little bulldog. The shape and the rustication make it a pleasure to hold in the hand. It fits snuggly with my thumb curled around the back of the bowl and the rest of the fingers holding the bowl. The finish is extremely tactile and should be interesting in hand as the bowl heats up during smoking. For me there is absolutely nothing lacking in the design and form of this old Sea Rock Briar and I think it will be one I hang onto. Thanks for walking with me through the restoration process.