Cleaning up a Bit of a Frankenstein English Gourd Calabash

Blog by Steve Laug

This old Gourd Calabash had been reconditioned and brought back into service somewhere along the way in its long life. This lovely Calabash is a combination of things old and things new. It has been reconstructed from parts like Frankenstein. The Gourd is old and bears the stamp “LONDON over ENGLAND” on the left side of the shank at the bottom of the curve. The old silver band appears to bear hallmarks under the tarnish but I will know more once I clean it up. Those are the only two old parts that remain of the original pipe. The rest of the pipe is relatively new. The meerschaum bowl is a new replacement bowl. The shank end of the gourd has been fitted with a round wooden plug that has been drill to hold the tenon. The stem is also new and has been tapered at the shank end with a bevel and fits perfectly in the wooden plug. The next four photos show what the pipe looked like when I brought it to the worktable. I took the pipe apart to check out the interior of the gourd. The meerschaum bowl was new and had the size on the underside. It was marked the same way as other bowls I have purchased from Tim West at JH Lowe. This one is marked 24.5. The fit of the bowl in the gourd is snug with no play. The wood plug on the shank end was stained and had been inserted into the gourd. The oxidized silver band held the plug in place against the shank of the gourd. The stem was high quality vulcanite with minimal oxidation and no tooth marks. It appeared to unsmoked like the new meer bowl.There is a new cork gasket that is glued in place on the inside of the top edge of the gourd. It is a replacement cork and was in perfect shape. It was dry and would need to be lubricated with some Vaseline to enliven it again. The inside of the gourd was clean in the top half and there were some concretized tars half way down the interior.I used a dental pick with a flattened blade to scrape at the hardened material on the inside of the gourd. I knew that I would not be able to remove all of it but I could at least smooth it out slightly. I scraped and dumped the carbon on a piece of paper for an easy disposal. I ran some pipe cleaners through the shank of the gourd to remove the dust that I had generated. After a few cleaners the gourd was clean. I blew it out to remove any dust that had remained. I rubbed the cork gasket down with some Vaseline to soften the cork and enliven it. I have found that this works really well to give back some elasticity to the cork and softens it. I wiped it down and let the cork absorb the Vaseline before putting the bowl back in place.I wiped down the gourd with a damp cloth and then gave it several coats of Conservator’s Wax and buffed it by hand. The gourd was stamped on the left side “LONDON” over “ENGLAND” as shown in the photo below.The silver band was tarnished, pitted and dented. I could see letters on it but with the tarnish they were illegible. I polished the silver with a jeweler’s cloth and took the following photo to capture the stamping on the silver.After polishing I could make out some of the stamping on the silver band through a lens. It is stamped STERLING about the middle of the band. Above that is the makers mark – kind of a banner with some unreadable letters and then the letters JD in boxes. Next to that mark are three cartouches with an Anchor, a Lion and a lower case “l” that dates the silver to 1910. (I have included the Birmingham Hallmark chart below). Whoever had fashioned the wooden end plug had done a great job. It fit down into the shank of the gourd and then up through the band and provided a mortise for the replacement stem. The draught from the plug into the shank and up the gourd was wide open.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. As is my usual practice I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each set of three pads and gave it a final coat after using the last pad. I set the stem aside to dry. I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel to remove any remaining scratches and gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise a shine on it. I put it back in place on the gourd and gave the gourd a final coat of Conservator’s Wax and hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth. I hand buffed the silver until is shone. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is the first of five gourd calabashes that my brother and I picked up when I was down on a recent trip to Idaho. Keep an eye open for the rest of them in the days ahead. I plan on finishing them all and posting them here and then for sale in the store. Thanks for looking.


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