If you get to thinking you’re a person of some importance, try ordering someone else’s dog around.
— William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers (1879-1935), U.S. stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, cowboy, newspaper columnist and social humorist
I came to understand the humorous comment above before push even came to shove with this Falcon International bent bulldog. When I stumbled upon it on eBay, the metal system pipe’s most endearing aspect – that’s sarcasm, by the way – was its color, or rather, apparent lack of any. Although I’m sure they exist, I had never seen one dressed all in black, or so I thought. If for no other reason, as if I needed one, I had to have this thing, maybe to see if I could restore the rather ugly example of a type of pipe known for the more common sleek, shiny aluminum stems (which include the bit, shank and system filter dish) to the original condition. But, of course, the threaded bowl coated with a thick black varnish did create a temptation, whether subconscious or not, to discover what lay beneath, and perhaps improve upon the condition, to my own way of thinking.
Understand, I have nothing against dress pipes, also called dinner or ebony, and have owned some remarkable representatives, from a Nat Sherman #862 billiard to a Peterson Kilarney #150 bulldog. The International I purchased just seemed a bit wrong in that company. I suppose my growing codger inclinations might be making me a tad old-fashioned, but in my humble opinion, the only proper place for a dress pipe is among fashionable all wood varieties. I’ve always been against discrimination, but if that’s what this is, so be it!
Created in 1936 by an American engineer named Kenley Bugg, the Falcon idea was to use a novel system design that provided for the tobacco smoke and resulting moisture to pass from an interchangeable wooden bowl that screwed onto the dish. The Humidome., as the small aluminum area was known, trapped the dottle that would have ended up in the unfortunate smoker’s mouth, or worse yet, all the way to his stomach. The revolutionary arrangement of the parts presented other benefits such as ease of cleaning and maintaining, not to mention that if an owner were so crass as to burn out, crack or otherwise lay waste to the bowl, instead of tossing the entire pipe, all that was needed was a less expensive replacement bowl. Truly this must have been the dawn of the disposable age! However, the greatest achievement of the Falcon is the potential lack of any need to give the pipes a resting period – again because of the interchangeability of the bowls. One frame had the potential to facilitate countless pipes.
At first an oddity that some pipers embraced as such or owing to P.A.D., which must have afflicted some though likely fewer connoisseurs then as now, after World War II the situation that could have been called a fad began to turn into serious business. More than six million of the increasing Falcon models sold during the brief nine years from 1958 to 1963 in the U.S. alone. Current worldwide sales figures are hard to come by, but from 1958-1974, Falcon sold more than 14 million pipes outside the U.S.
In a blog I wrote in January 2016 about the restorations of two different brands of similar pipes, one a Kaywoodie and the other a Delta, I concluded that Frederick Kirsten was the original inventor of the metal system pipe. This may be true, but the fact remains that both Kirsten and Bugg came up with independent designs the same year: 1936. Kirsten, however, filed for his U.S. Patent № 112,701 in 1937, while Bugg’s U.S. Patent № 2,561,169 wasn’t filed until 1947. And so, who is the father of the metal system pipe? We may never know. Here are the problems I saw to some extent in the eBay photos, but (surprise, surprise) with much more clarity using my own eyes and, better yet, taking pics, which always seems to reveal more.
- The briar bowl was coarse from whatever inappropriate black substance was used to “stain” it – much like the type of result one sees when the covered surface is not smooth enough.
- The right side of the base where the bowl screws in appeared to have a wicked scrape at best or a crack at worst.
- The rim was charred and dinged, and the coating was gone.
- The indented circular groove of the bulldog shape had a reddish tinge I suspected was the result of wear.
- The chamber had been cleaned but was crude, as if it had never been smoothed and sanded.
- The inside of the Humidome was dirty, but not very.
- The round, hard rubbery seal on the bottom of the bowl was grimy, and its hole was caked with sticky old tobacco by-products.
- The shape I saw on the lower top side of the bit looked more like a gash than a deliberate mark, and the tenon had an unnatural, uniform rawness.
- The overall appearance of the pipe was that it was all metal.
A good friend once told me I’m attracted to wounded people and things, and the International had all the earmarks of a nice challenge.
Now, I really do try not to resort to alcohol stripping and/or sanding when less invasive measures will do. Nevertheless, this called for more than the ideal. Also, I had decided I needed to uncover the briar beneath the unholy glaze covering if only to see how bad it could be. I soaked the bowl except for the rubbery seal in isopropyl alcohol for 10 hours, but confidence was high there would be minimal if any effect. The last pic shows some of the crud I scraped out from around the hole. Next, I used the 150-grit side of a sanding pad followed by 220-grit paper with somewhat better results. The near absence of any grain at all explained why the folks at Falcon chose to obliterate it, although the use of varnish or some other glaze is never justified. Note the sparkling bits within the toxic coal black substance, which prevented the wood from expanding, or breathing to use the more apt word, when tobacco was lit. The coal black almost debris covered the pad that has a normal maroon color. The bowl needed another couple of hours in alcohol. I have to say I was surprised by the improvement in the general look and color a full micro mesh progression made. Sanding the chamber with 150-, 320- and 600-grit paper worked well to render it smooth.Cleaning the Humidome with a cotton pad soaked with alcohol and a small piece of superfine 0000 steel wool was simple.I think this was the first time I worked on a pipe when the bit was dirtier than the shank.At last, my favorite part arrived – staining and flaming the wood. Only the 8000 and 12000 micro mesh was needed to clear away the soot and improve the color.The last part was micro meshing the stem to remove scratches. In the process, the apparent gash or crack turned out to be just a bigger scratch that almost disappeared. I gave the whole thing three coats of carnauba only. CONCLUSION
I chose to leave good enough alone concerning the remaining minor scratches on the stem. I’ve tried to stain metal before, and it’s a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing. My friend Don Gilmore, who makes beautiful pipes and accessories, is knowledgeable about Falcons in general. He had never seen one with the rounded shank and told me at last months pipe club meting he thought it might be a Chinese knock-off. He suggested I check Smoking Metal, and when I showed him the following pic from that site he was relieved. So was I.
This is one unusual example of the company’s products I wanted to add to my own collection. But I decided to offer it for sale at my online store, https://www.facebook.com/rebornpipes/ (click on Store in the left column). I hope it finds a good home.