Blog by Steve Laug
I received an email from a reader of rebornpipes asking about a pipe that he had picked up. He had an older bulldog with no external stamping on the briar. He sent the photos below so I could see the pipe and hallmarks on the band. He was wondering if the hallmarks could help date the pipe. The marks were an anchor, lion and a star. Normally, British hallmarks will have the anchor to designate Birmingham and the lion to designate that the band was assayed as Sterling silver. The star throws me though as I have never seen that on British pipes with Sterling bands. It seems to appear on pipes made in the USA and is a faux hallmark, thus meaning nothing. This pipe also has an XRA stamped in a rectangle above the hallmarks and Sterling in a rectangle below the hallmarks. The next two photos show the full pipe and the silver band. The briar and stem were clean on the outside. The silver band was oxidized.I wrote him back and told him what I thought about the stamping on the silver band being faux hallmarks and that they did not help date the pipe. I also asked him if he was interested in selling me the pipe. I liked what I saw and was curious to see if I could figure out what the inner tube lining of the bowl was made of. He said he would sell it to me if I wanted. We made the deal and I paid for the pipe. It was soon on its way to Vancouver. While I waited for its arrival I studied the photos that he had sent along with the two above. The next one shows the large size of the bowl in relation to the rest of the pipe. I was curious to see what it looked like in person.It was the top view of the pipe that intrigued me. The bulldog cap unscrewed from the base and there appeared to be a bowl insert in the base that had a perforated metal plate at the bottom. From this photo I could not tell what the insert was made of but further photos showed the pipe taken apart.With the cap unscrewed from the bowl the insert was a tube that looked porous and dark grey/black in colour. The wooden threads on the cap and in the base seemed to be in excellent condition. I always wonder when I am dealing with briar threads being screwed and unscrewed how much damage there will be once I have it in hand. The second photo below shows the metal plate supported by a ridge around the inside of the base and another ridge above that which provided a ridge for the liner cylinder to sit on. The cap on the bulldog would hold the liner in place against the top and the ridge at the bottom. This keeps the liner in place and does not allow much play when the pipe is smoked. The third photo shows the parts side by side. I was very curious now what I had purchased and what the material was that made up the liner.Surprisingly it did not take too long for the pipe to arrive. I was looking forward to working on it and trying to figure out what material formed the bowl liner. I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of what the pipe looked like. I took the pipe apart and took a series of photos to show you what I saw on my work table. The next series of photos show all of the pieces of the pipe from different angles. Can you figure out from the photos what was going through my mind about that bowl liner? Did you figure out what was going through my mind yet? Well, before I went any further with the refurbishing of this pipe I wanted to know what material composed the bowl liner. I did not want to work on the base or the cap or any other part of the bowl until I was pretty sure what the liner was. My first thoughts were asbestos! If it was asbestos I did not want to work on it at all. I would probably just put it in the pipe cupboard and leave it alone as a piece of tobacco history. I put it back together and set it aside on the work table. I wanted to think about it and do a bit of research to see what I could find before proceeding.
Well, the pipe sat for quite a while just looking at me. I would pick it up now and then and turn it over in my hands and set it back down. I needed some uninterrupted time to deal with. Today I had that time. I get a long weekend do to the Victoria Day holiday here in Vancouver. It was quiet as the ladies in my life had gone out for the afternoon. I took the pipe apart and examined the bowl liner with a magnifying glass and bright light. I was glad to see that there were no fibers in the material. It looked the colour of pencil lead through the lens under the bright light. I was pretty certain that I was not dealing with asbestos. But what the material was still remained a mystery to me.
I wrote my brother Jeff a private message and included some photos of the bowl liner. He is a chemist and I wanted to get his opinion regarding the material. The photos showed a sparkling grey black material that was compressed together. He replied that he thought it might be graphite. He said that it looked like the graphite electrodes and cuvettes that he used to work with at the lab. Since was used in the bowl lining he thought that it seemed like a good application for graphite due to its characteristics in terms of heat resistance. Sounded reasonable to me, as I know next to nothing about graphite, the only thing I know is that I use it to lubricate hinges around the house and on the vehicle.
I asked him whether the age of the pipe matched the introduction of Graphite. He sent me the following link on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphite. The article said that graphite was archaically referred to as plumbago and is a crystalline allotrope of carbon, a semimetal and a native element mineral. Graphite is the most stable form of carbon under standard conditions. Therefore, it is used in thermochemistry as the standard state for defining the heat of formation of carbon compounds.
I went on to read more of the article and particularly with regard to the invention of a process to produce synthetic graphite. I quote that portion of the article in full.
In 1893 Charles Street of Le Carbone discovered a process for making artificial graphite. Another process to make synthetic graphite was invented accidentally by Edward Goodrich Acheson (1856–1931). In the mid-1890s, Acheson discovered that overheating carborundum produced almost pure graphite. While studying the effects of high temperature on carborundum, he had found that silicon vaporizes at about 4,150 °C (7,500 °F), leaving the carbon behind in graphitic carbon. This graphite was another major discovery for him, and it became extremely valuable and helpful as a lubricant.
In 1896 Acheson received a patent for his method of synthesizing graphite, and in 1897 started commercial production. The Acheson Graphite Co. was formed in 1899.
From that information I learned that graphite was discovered and worked with at about the same time as the date I proposed for the making of this pipe. It also was a material that worked well in terms of heat insulation. I was getting closer to my determination regarding the material of the lining.
I looked further on the web and found an interesting page on pyrolytic graphite pipes called The Pipe. Here is the link to that site: http://www.thepipe.info/history/index.html. There was a great section on the history of the material and its use in tobacco pipes. While it primarily refers to the manufacture of the smoking pipe called The Pipe there is much information that is applicable. The article is quite long and I quote from the relevant parts of it below. I have marked the sections in bold font and underlined that are particularly applicable to the material of the bowl lining.
…In 1896, Thomas Edison, an American inventor, discovered a process for hardening carbon which caused the molecules to align in such a way that heat was dissipated along the vertical axis of the material while the horizontal axis remained relatively cool. He called the material pyrolytic graphite. When shaped into a bowl or cup, pyrolytic graphite also creates a venturi effect. It has wide applications today in space rocket nose cones and nozzles, nuclear power plant plumbing, brake linings for such behemoths as the Concorde Supersonic Transport, and numerous other situations where intense heat must be quickly and uniformly dissipated in a controlled manner…
In the 1950’s, defense contractors began experimenting with pyrolytic graphite for use as heat-shield coatings for space rockets which were planned for reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. In the late 1950’s, Super-Temp Corporation was founded to manufacture pyrolytic graphite and other specialty metals. In 1962, Ducommun purchased Super-Temp and promptly built a new manufacturing facility for it. Dr. William H. Smith, a widely regarded expert in the production of specialty metals, was then hired away from General Electric Company to become the President of Super-Temp.
In 1963, George Long, a venture capitalist who had made a fortune with Ampex Corporation (the creator of the technology that allowed instant replays of televised sporting events), was looking for another business opportunity. Robert Dailey had recently retired from an advertising agency and had heard of a new product called Tar Gard Cigarette Filters. Long and Dailey bought all 55 Tar Gard Patents and began selling the product from their offices at 2 Pine Street, San Francisco, California. They did not manufacture the filters or any of their other products; manufacture was always contracted from outside suppliers…
In 1963, one of the workers at Super-Temp was machining pyrolytic graphite sleeves and cups for nuclear power plant plumbing. An avid pipe smoker, he noticed that the cups he was working on were about the same size as his pipe bowl. On a whim, he drilled a hole near the bottom of one of the cups and stuck it in his pipe. It smoked quite well and he shared his discovery with management. Dr. Smith was taken with the notion of a pipe lined with pyrolytic graphite and encouraged further experimentation. They discovered that the pipe bowl liners’ venturi effect significantly reduced the tars and nicotine passing through the pipe to the smoker. An application for patent of a “Smoking Element” was submitted by Edgar C. Buckingham, Super-Temp’s Marketing Manager, in August, 1963. The patent was granted in 1965.
When he learned of his subsidiary’s new pipe bowl liner, Charles Ducommun introduced Dr. Smith to a social acquaintance, George Long. When Smith presented the new pipe concept to Tar Gard, Dailey, also an avid pipe smoker, and Long enthusiastically adopted it as an extension of their product line. Tar Gard applied at once for a trademark for the pipe. The first several applications were rejected but, when the initial “p” of “pipe” was made a small logo of a pipe, the trademark was granted.
The above article extends long after the manufacture of the pipe I had in my hand but it certainly added information regarding the concept of a graphite bowl liner. It was used in quite a few pipesmoking applications from 1963 on but I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that it was used before in similar applications. The one I have in hand was not an obvious success as it bears no copyright information or stamping to identify the manufacturer but the concept is very similar to the pipe described as The Pipe above.
Pretty convinced that I was dealing with a Graphite bowl lining I took the pipe apart to clean it. I was careful in the work so that I did not inhale the dust that was generated from the work. I started by reaming the various briar parts of the bowl with the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Reaming Knife. It worked really well on the various platforms on the side of the bowl. I scrubbed out the interior after the reaming using alcohol and cotton swabs to remove the tars and oils on the walls of the various briar parts of the pipe.I scrubbed out the mortise at the same time with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until the interior of the pipe was absolutely clean.I scrubbed the metal perforated screen that sat on the shelf in the bottom of the base. The graphite bowl liner sat on top of this. I scrubbed it with alcohol and cotton swabs and pads and then sanded it with sandpaper, micromesh sanding pads and wiped it clean.I ran a pipe cleaner and alcohol through the airway in the stem to clean out any remaining debris that may have been hidden there. The pipe cleaner came out very clean with no tars of oils. When I held it up to the light the airway was spotless.I cleaned out the grooves in the stamping on the silver with cotton swabs and alcohol. I polished the band with a jeweler’s cloth to remove all of the oxidation. I buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel to give it a shine. I gave the bowl and silver band several coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I would give it more wax once I finished with the stem. I took the pipe apart again and took pictures of the polished briar parts. The bulldog cap and the base of the bowl both are clean the briar has a patina.I put the perforated metal disc/screen in the base of the pipe. It sat on the lower shelf in the base. I would be held in place on the liner was put in the bowl. I scraped the bowl liner with the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to remove the light cake on the walls. I put the liner on the second shelf in the base and screwed the cap in place on the base. The next photos tell the story of putting the pipe back together. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-4000 grit pads. I rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I buffed the stem with red Tripoli to remove the last remnants of oxidation. I buffed it with Blue Diamond to polish out the minute scratches and sanded it with the last three micromesh sanding pads, 6000-12000 grit pads. I gave it a final coat of oil after the 12000 grit pad and set it aside to dry. I put the stem in the shank and buffed the pipe a final time with Blue Diamond on the wheel. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax to protect it and give it a shine. I buffed it with a clean buffing wheel to raise that shine. I hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is a beautiful piece of briar that has an unusual pattern of grain around the bowl and cap. The bowl and cap seem to have been made from one piece of briar as the grain matches on both parts. The vulcanite stem is high quality and as such it was hardly oxidized. The internals of the pipe are also clean now. The pipe looks and smells very clean. It is one that will remain in my pipe collection for a long time. It is one more attempt to find the perpetual desire of all pipemen – that perfect smoke. Thanks for looking.