Kathy’s Dad’s Pipes #10 – New Life for an A.J. Sher Freehand


Blog by Steve Laug

With this blog I am stepping back to work on the tenth of the pipes from Kathy’s Dad’s pipes. For a reminder to myself and those of you who are reading this blog I will retell the story of the estate. Last fall I received a contact email on rebornpipes from Kathy asking if I would be interested in purchasing her late Father, George Koch’s estate pipes. He was a lover of “Malaga” pipes as well as others and she wanted to move them out as she cleaned up the estate. We emailed back and forth and I had my brother Jeff follow up with her as he also lives in the US and would make it simpler to carry out this transaction. The long and short of it is that we purchased her Dad’s pipes. There are some beautiful pipes in that lot. The condition of all them varied from having almost pristine to gnawed and damaged stems that will need to be replaced. These were some well used and obviously well-loved pipes. Cleaning and restoring them will be a tribute to this pipeman.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know how much I love getting to know about the pipeman who held the pipes in trust before me. That information always gives another dimension to the restoration work. This is certainly true with this lot of pipes. I can almost imagine George picking out each pipe in his assortment at the Malaga shop in Michigan. I may well be alone in this, but when I know about the person it is almost as if he is with me work on his pipes. In this case Kathy sent us not only information but also a photo of her Dad enjoying his “Malagas”. Once again, I am including that information so you can know a bit about the pipeman who held these pipes in trust before they are passed on to some of you. I include part of Kathy’s correspondence with my brother as well…

Jeff…Here is a little about my dad, George P. Koch…I am sending a picture of him with a pipe also in a separate email.

Dad was born in 1926 and lived almost all his life in Springfield, Illinois. He was the youngest son of German immigrants and started grade school knowing no English. His father was a coal miner who died when Dad was about seven and his sixteen year old brother quit school to go to work to support the family. There was not much money, but that doesn’t ruin a good childhood, and dad had a good one, working many odd jobs, as a newspaper carrier, at a dairy, and at the newspaper printing press among others. He learned to fly even before he got his automobile driver’s license and carried his love of flying with him through life, recertifying his license in retirement and getting his instrumental license in his seventies and flying until he was grounded by the FAA in his early eighties due to their strict health requirements. (He was never happy with them about that.) He was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, trained to be a bomber, but the war ended before he was sent overseas. He ended service with them as a photographer and then earned his engineering degree from University of Illinois. He worked for Allis Chalmers manufacturing in Springfield until the early sixties, when he took a job at Massey Ferguson in Detroit, Michigan. We lived in Livonia, and that’s where his love for Malaga pipes began. After a few years he returned to Allis Chalmers and we moved back to Springfield. I remember that when we went back to Michigan to visit friends, Dad had to go to the Malaga store and acquire a few new pipes. Many a year I wrote to Malaga and they picked out a pipe for me to purchase that I could give Dad for a Christmas or birthday present. He was always pleased. His favorites were the straight stemmed medium sized bowl pipes, but he liked them all.  He had some other pipes, but the Malagas were his favorites. I remember him smoking them sitting in his easy chair after work, with feet up on the ledge by the fire burning in the fireplace.  Growing up it was my job to clean them and he liked the inner bowl and stem coated with Watkins vanilla, leaving a little of that liquid in the bowl to soak in when I put them back on the rack. Dad quit smoking later in life and so they’ve sat on the racks for many years unattended, a part of his area by his easy chair and fireplace. Dad passed when he was 89 years old and it finally is time for the pipes to move on. I’m very happy they are being restored by you and your brother and hope they find homes who enjoy them as much as Dad did. Thank-you for your care and interest. — Kathy, the oldest daughter

Kathy, once again I thank you for providing this beautiful tribute to your Dad. We will appreciate your trust in allowing us to clean and restore these pipes. I am also trusting that those of you who are reading this might carry on the legacy of her Dad’s pipes as they will be added to the rebornpipes store once they are finished.

The tenth of the pipes that I chose to work on is a nice looking Freehand with a mix of sandblast and smooth patches on the sides of the bowl. The top of the bowl and the end of the shank have a faux rustication that makes it look like plateau. The Lucite stem had lots of tooth chatter and a few tooth marks on both sides near the button. Some great grain peeks through the grime around the bowl. The warm combination of dark and medium brown stain on the bowl appeared to be good condition under the dust and tars of time.

The mixture of sandblast and smooth on the bowl sides and the faux plateau on the rim top of this pipe was covered with dust and grime. The blast and rustication on the rim top was all but filled in with an overflow of lava from the thick cake in the bowl. It appeared that underneath the rim top was in good condition and the inner and outer edge of the bowl was in good condition. The stamping was on the left side of the shank and was clear and read A.J. Sher on a smooth panel. The pearlized Lucite stem had tooth dents and chatter on the top and the underside of the stem. The interior of the pipe was dirty. I could see that George thoroughly enjoyed this pipe along with the others as is evidenced by the wear that all of them show. Jeff took these photos before he started the cleanup work on the pipe. Jeff took close up photos of the bowl and rim to show the condition of the pipe before he started to work his magic on it. The exterior of the bowl and shank were dirty. You can see the lava on the rim top, the thick cake and remnants of tobacco in the bowl. The second rim top photo shows the thick cake and debris in the bowl. It is dirty but in otherwise good condition. He also took photos of the sides of the bowl and shank from different angles to show the condition of the design of the bowl. The combination of smooth panels and sandblast look good. He took photos of the stamping and the shank end to show what it looked like before cleanup.The next two photos show the stem surface. There are tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. On the second photo below there appears to be a tooth mark/hole deep in the surface of the acrylic. I am hoping that it is not all the way the surface of the stem.Jeff cleaned this one up before he sent it my way. After having cleaned quite a few pipes lately it was nice to work on one he had cleaned for me. He is really good at the cleanup work. He had reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the bowl, rim and shank. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. The lava mess on the rim was thoroughly removed without harming the finish underneath it. Without the grime the finish looked really good. The stem would need to be worked on. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it.   I took close up photos of the bowl and rim top as well as the stem. You can see the condition of the rim top and bowl in the first photo. The top was in excellent condition and Jeff was able to remove all of the lava and oils. He had scrubbed the bowl with a tooth brush and oil soap and it looked really good. The acrylic/Lucite stem had tooth chatter and some bite marks on the top and the underside of the stem just ahead of the button. I was glad to see that there was no bite through on the underside of the stem. What had appeared as a hole in the above photos of the stem seemed to have cleaned off and all that was present was a large tooth mark.The left side of the shank was simply stamped with a signature line that read A.J. Sher. I took a photo of the shank to show the nature of the stamping. I cannot find any information on the brand on any of my usual information sites so I am asking you all to help with that. Any of you know the brand?I rubbed down the briar with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the sandblast finish and smooth portions to clean, enliven and protect the new finish. I worked it into the rim top and the shank end. Both had the appearance of plateau but I think they were carved to look like it. I let the balm sit for a little wall and then buffed it with a horsehair shoe brush. I buffed the bowl with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. There were some tooth marks on the top and underside of the acrylic stem at the button. Since there was not a hole in the stem it was a pretty easy clean up. I sanded them smooth with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the stem. It did not take too much sanding to remove the marks and smooth out the stem surface. When it was sanded it was smooth and the marks were gone.I polished the acrylic stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit sanding pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with a damp cloth. I the polished stem and lightly polished the bowl with Blue Diamond to remove any remaining small scratches and raise the shine. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely, it was a beautiful pipe in terms of shape and finish. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more pipes by A.J. Sher. This is the tenth pipe that I am restoring from Kathy’s Dad’s collection. I am looking forward once again to hearing what Kathy thinks once she sees the finished pipe on the blog. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 1/4 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 7/8 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pretty Freehand. I will be adding it to the rebornpipes store shortly so if you are interested in adding it to your collection and carrying on the trust from her father send me an email or a message on Facebook. Thanks for looking. 

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