A Simple Restoration of a 1910 Gourd Calabash

Blog by Steve Laug

I received a call from a fellow who lives nearby my house about working on some pipes for him. He happened to be packing them up to send to the US for repairs when he stumbled on rebornpipes. He wanted to know if I could work on them for him. Two were pretty straight forward – 1910 Calabash and a freehand that was his dad’s that he wanted to clean up and send back to him. The freehand was simple – buffing, touching up stain, cleaning the bowl and shank and removing tooth chatter and oxidation from the stem. I finished that one first and then moved on to this calabash. The rest will warrant a blog on each of them to explain the process.

This Gourd Calabash was interesting. When I first saw it I thought it had an amber stem but as I worked on it, it became clear that it was a Bakelite stem or some kind of early acrylic. The way the material acted told me that. The stem had tooth chatter and nicks in the surface of the stem. The bowl was dirty and had a pretty thick cake build up on the inside walls. I carefully scraped it back leaving a thin cake on the walls. I think that the inner bowl is clay. The bowl is held in place by a pressure fit Sterling Silver rim cap that is unmovable without damaging the gourd. The silver was tarnished and had scratches and some dents in the surface. The clay inner bowl was plugged at the bottom so that there was minimal airflow or draw on the pipe. The gourd itself was in really good shape with some kind of varnish coat on the surface. The end of the shank was bound with a tarnished Sterling Silver band that had hallmarks and maker marks on the left side. The tenon appeared to be bone and was in great condition with a slight nipple on the end that had a small chip in it. It fit in the shank perfectly and everything aligned well. This would be a fun one to clean up and restore. I took some photos of the rim top to show the scratches and dents in the silver as well as the tarnish on the silver. The dark cake on the wall of the bowl is visible as well. The photos of the stem show the tooth chatter on both sides near the button and some small nicks on both sides.I took a photo of the hallmarks and makers mark on the Sterling Silver band. The hallmarks are clear in the photo below. There is an anchor, a lion, and the lower case letter “l”. The anchor identifies the city of the manufacture of the silver to be Birmingham, England. The lion is the mark for .925 Sterling Silver and the letter “l” is the date stamp. I have included a hallmark chart for dating the pipe. I put a red rectangle around the letter for 1910. It is the same style of “l” and the cartouche that holds the letter stamp matches the photo as well. The maker stamp shows the letters and ampersand as follows: J&H in a long rectangular cartouche. I was unable to identify the silversmith from these marks. I sanded out the tooth chatter and nicks with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper and smooth out the areas that were damaged to blend into the surface of the early Bakelite stem.I polished both sides of the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad to clean away the debris from sanding. When I finished I buffed it with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine in the stem. I cleaned out the airway in the stem and the mortise, shank and inside of the calabash with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. The idea on cleaning these gourds is to not let the inside ever get too wet with the alcohol. I worked over the airway in the bottom of the bowl with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs as well after reaming it back with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife.I worked on the scratches and nicks in the Sterling Silver rim cap with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500- 2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I finished cleaning the rim top and the band on the shank with a jeweler’s treated silver polishing cloth to give the silver a rich shine and protect it from tarnishing for a while. I polished the gourd with Before & After Restoration Balm and rubbed it into the surface of the gourd. It really brought more life and depth to the finish on the gourd. I buffed it with a soft cloth and removed the excess. I gave the bowl and stem several coats of Conservator’s Wax and buffed it with a soft cloth to raise the shine. It came out really well. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The next two that I have on the table from him are an interesting blowfish that has a very short shank and a stem that just does not work well with the shape and the other is a small, meerschaum cigarillo holder with a broken tenon between the stem and the holder. Thanks for looking.

2 thoughts on “A Simple Restoration of a 1910 Gourd Calabash

  1. Pingback: Adding some length to a Chimara Blowfish | rebornpipes

  2. Harry

    …very nice gourd………..I had one just like it………..unfortunately, it was stolen when we lived in naples, Italy………..


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