Daily Archives: September 7, 2018

Refreshing an Italian Gasparini M.G.M. Rock Briar 1912 with an Unexpected Encounter

Blog by Dal Stanton

Idian lives in Indonesia and sent me an email after trolling through The Pipe Steward electronic “Help me!” basket which I call, “For ‘Pipe Dreamers’ Only!” He inquired about commissioning two pipes, a Peterson and the Italian, Gasparini M.G.M. Rock Briar 1912.  He settled on the Gasparini and assured me that he was a patient man as I put his commissioned pipe in the queue behind quite a few other commissioned pipes.  I found this pipe along with 65 others in a Lot of 66 which has provided several pipes for my work table which have benefited our work with the Daughters of Bulgaria, helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  This M.G.M. Rock Briar stood out to Idian and it also stood out to me not only because it’s a unique Freehand shape but also because the shank is chocked full of nomenclature information that I’ve looked forward to researching.  Here are the pictures that Idian saw. The heel of the shank is stamped with ITALY [over] BRIAR 1912 [over] M.G.M. [over] Rock in cursive script.  Below this is a stamp – a pipe partially ensconced in a circle with M.G.M. repeated under the circle. To the right of this, hugging the briar’s edge transitioning to the vulcanite ferrule is the number 25, which I’m assuming is a shape number.  The pictures above show the rondel with the pressed M for Mario, the patriarch of the Gasparini family. Much of Pipedia’s article about the Gasparini name came from the current Gasparini website, http://www.mgasparini.it/en/.  When reading the information, one gets the impression of the enterprise having deep family roots which continue today.  From the Pipedia article:

In 1938 Mario Gasparini, with his wife Ida, took his first steps into the world of the pipe. Today his daughter, Marisa Gasparini, sits at his desk; since 1977 Marisa and her husband, and now her daughter, carry on the tradition of her family. At the beginning of 1950’s, the building, that still today hosts the production department, was enlarged. In 1971 the offices and the warehouse were moved from Milan (where they were situated for marketing purposes) to Luvinate.

During those years the skilled workers and our direct partners have always followed the history of the Gasparini factory, becoming very fond of it and devoting themselves, with care and love, to the making of each pipe, with the personal fantasy and skills of the artist. We would like to take this opportunity to thank those artisans who, with their creativity, gave, and continue to give, life to the Gasparini Pipe factory.

The article also describes the Gasparini series, M.G.M. coming on-line in 1965 as a classical line with the initials standing for the founder’s name – Mario Gasparini Milano.  Pressing the research, the Pipephil.eu site offered more information.Of interest in the Pipephil information was the reference connecting the M.G.M. “Collectionist” series (marked by the circle/pipe stamp) with a comparison to ‘wax-drip pipes’.  I looked at that link and got a clue of what might be the considered shape of the M.G.M. Rock on my work desk: stummels fashioned to look like the ends of used candles.  Here is a clipping of three ‘high-end’ examples of this interesting shape:With these examples before me, I take another look at the M.G.M. Rock Collector on the table and it I believe that its possible it was fashioned in the ‘wax-drip’ manner with the ripples of melted wax shaped on the rim flowing down.Pipedia’s article included an older Gasparini brochure (courtesy of Doug Valitchka) – unfortunately no dating was given for the brochure, showing three pipes in the ‘Collector’ series.  The middle example is obviously the same shape style and stem as the pipe on my work table but with a squatter bowl – very much reminiscent of a ‘wax drip’ shape.  My guess is that the brochure is from the 60’s because it’s black and white and I would imagine that the stated pricing at that time would not be for a corner drug store pipe!  Unfortunately, this was the only page shown – I would love to have read the description for the ‘b.’ pipe!One more question dogged me in my research of the M.G.M. Rock – ‘Briar 1912’.  Briar 1912 was stamped on several examples I saw of Gasparini pipes on Pipedia and Pipephil.eu.  What did it refer to?  As I’ve done before with much success, I decide to go to the front door of the Gasparini house and knock and introduce myself.  On the ‘Contact’ page of the Gasparini website I find contact information and send an email with the 1912 question as well as a few other questions to confirm the shape number and dating.  We’ll see if they respond!  The description in the brochure gives a clue that I didn’t recognize until later – it states that the briar had been aged over 50 years!  If one does the math, if 1912 is when the aging process began – plus 50 years, lands us in the year 1962 – the decade the M.G.M. series was introduced and perhaps the ‘Collector’ series as well. It was only after discovering an August 2013 thread in Pipes Magazine Forum (LINK) concerning Gasparini pipes that I tied the 1912 with the aging of the briar – I know, I’m slow!  This clip from Doc Watson speaks very positively of the Gasparini named pipes:

I have a few Gasparini pipes. They are real sleepers IMO and are seldom talked about by collectors but believe me there are some magnificent Gasparini pipes out there. Here’s a photo of one that came from the late Jack Ehrmantrout (owner of Pipe Collectors International PCI) collection. It was one of his favorites that he never smoked. Some are stamped 1912 briar, which is indeed some old root. As most pipe companies/makers they make different lines, some higher grades than others but IMO if you find one you like, go for it. (Note from me: IMO = in my opinion)I love ‘Sherlocking’ the provenance of pipes not only to learn about the names of historic lines, but to more fully appreciate the value of what I’m handling and seeking to restore.  The picture above, along with several examples in the Pipedia article courtesy of Doug Valitchka, give me a good idea of the natural briar hue Gasparini used and I will shoot for this with the M.G.M. Rock on my table.
Well, my cup runs over!  I received a reply from M. Gasparini Pipes in Luvinate, Italy, but not from a desk employee.  Marissa Gasparini (picture from previously cited Pipedia article) responded to my questions, the daughter of Mario Gasparini, the founder of the Gasparini Pipe house in 1948.  She assumed control of the Gasparini Pipe interests in 1977 and I assume she continues in that role today.  I was honored that she wrote to me.  Here is her letter, switching to my native tongue and responding to my questions:

Dear Dal,
1) the 1912 is the year in which was born the briar that we used for making that serie of pipes so particular.
2) The circle with pipe in it was used only for some special  fancy serie like the Rock.
3) We begin to produce thise serie in the 1960 and finish in the 1965, and now we have left only few pieces, and you are lucky to have one.
4) The number 25 is the number of the shape and the pipe was waxed.
We hope  that our informations are o.k. for you and we thank you  and remain at your complete disposal,
with best regards,
Marisa Gasparini

Wow!  I love restoring pipes!  With Marisa’s letter as confirmation, the briar root aging process used for this M.G.M. Rock began in 1912, 106 years ago.  The Collector stamp was only used for special, fancy lines, which applies to this Rock.  This M.G.M. Rock was produced between 1960 and 1965 – which gives it an age ranging from 58 to 53 years.  The shape number perhaps points to the wax candle shape that I was guessing might be the case or the shape may simply be a freehand Rock.  She also said that I was ‘lucky’ to have one of these special collector series in my possession – I would call it blessed.  I responded to her gracious letter and ventured another question – to ask about the significance of the third letter, ‘M’ in M.G.M. moniker?  The first two letters are clear – the initials of her father.  The third letter, ‘M’ stands for Milano.  I asked her the significance of ‘Milano’?

A few hours later her reply arrived.  The M.G.M. – Milano was where the Gasparini family lived and produced their pipes 45 years ago – a special place in their memories.

This is a nice-looking pipe and I’m happy to call this a “Refresh” on the title of the blog. With a very quick cursory look at the chamber, stummel and stem I see no challenging issues.  There is a light cake in the chamber, the rim has minor discoloration from grime and oils, and the stummel surface appears to be in good shape.  The surface of the stummel has darkened and has become tired and needs some cleaning and spiffing up a bit.  The Military stem shows no perceptible oxidation and only minor scratches – no tooth chatter.  Maybe an easy restoration!

I begin the restoration by placing the stem in a soak of Before & After Deoxidizer along with other stems of pipes in queue for restoration.  Even though I see no oxidation, I’ll give it a soak to make sure.  Before putting the stem in the soak, I run a pipe cleaner dipped in isopropyl 95% through the airway to clean it first.  After soaking for several hours, I fish the stem out, drain it and wipe it down with a cotton pad wetted with mineral oil (light paraffin oil here in Bulgaria).  As I thought, very little oxidation was raised during the soak.Looking now to the M.G.M. Rock stummel, I begin by reaming the chamber to remove the moderate collection of carbon cake to provide a fresh start for the 106 year aged briar.  After putting down paper towel for easier clean-up, from smaller to larger, I use 3 of the 4 blade heads available to me in the Pipnet Reaming Kit.  After this, I employ the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Tool to fine tune the reaming by reaching the more difficult angles at the floor of the chamber and by scraping the walls.  Finally, I wrap a piece of 240 grit paper around a Sharpie Pen and sand the chamber walls.  I then wipe the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to clean the carbon dust left behind.  An inspection reveals a healthy chamber with no cracks or heat fissures.   The pictures show the process. Now, turning to the external surface cleaning, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with cotton pads and a bristled tooth brush to reach into the rolls of the briar shaping.  I also use a brass wire brush on the small plateau to loosen the scorching around parts of the internal lip.  Following this, I gently scrape the scorching with a Winchester pocket knife edge to remove more of the damaged briar.  The cleaning and brushing made good progress. Preferring to work on a cleaned pipe, I now switch to the internals of the stummel by cleaning the mortise and airway with pipe cleaners and cotton buds dipped in isopropyl 95%. I also utilize different sized dental spatulas and scoops to excavate tars and oils by scraping the mortise walls and digging around the draft hole drilling deeper in the mortise.  I have learned over time that it shortens the clean up by excavating what you can and following with the cotton buds.  Last time I was in the US, I went to the US 1 Flea Market in Stuart, Florida, looking for pipes, of course.  I found a shop in the Flea Market that had absolutely everything and found an assortment pack of about 8 different dental tool accessories – sharp, flat and scooped.  These tools are very helpful in different phases of the pipe restoration process.  A good investment!  After excavating and swabbing, the internals are clean.  I move on!Back to the Military stem – it is in good shape with respect to the oxidation, but it has scratches and roughness around the bit that one expects to find through normal use.  The button also has compression marks to address. I first wet sand using 600 grade paper to find out if a mid-range grit is invasive enough to address the issues I see.  It does well, but it uncovers small tooth dents that I didn’t see before as well as the button being a bit compressed. I backtrack and use a flat needle file to give the button refreshed definition.  I then use 240 grit paper only in the bit area to remove the tooth dent and work on the button.To erase the 240 grit scratches, I again sand using 600 grit paper followed by sand/buffing the entire stem with 0000 grade steel wool.  I think the Military stem is looking pretty good.Pressing forward with the stem sanding, I wet sand using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 followed by dry sanding with pad 3200 to 4000 then pads 6000 to 12000.  After each set of 3 pads, I apply a rich coat of Obsidian Oil which rejuvenates the vulcanite.  The stem’s looking great – I love the pop! I’ve been thinking as I’ve been working how I should approach the sanding/finishing of the ‘Wax Drip’ Rock shape?  As the tired finish is now, the pipe to me is one dimensional.  The darkened finish is uniformly non-expressive.  I look at it and I see the beautiful, unique shape, but I don’t see the beauty of 106-year-old briar grain standing on center stage of this presentation.  The great thing about micromesh pads is that they are flexible and hug the surface which I believe will aid me in adding some depth and contrast of shades in the briar’s presentation.  While sanding with the micromesh pads, there will be natural and unavoidable changes in the pressure and impact of the pads because of the contouring of the Wax Drip Rock shaped briar.  High points will naturally be lighter and lower points will be darker, providing (at least theoretically at this point!) contrast and shading through the briar landscape.  Ok, that’s the theory and the plan.  Time to march!  Using pads 1500 to 2400, I wet sand the stummel and vulcanite ferrule.  Following this, I dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 then 6000 to 12000.  The pictures show the progress and I like what I see – theory becoming reality. Next, I mount the Dremel with a cotton cloth buffing wheel set at 40% full power and I apply Tripoli compound to the briar surface.  I’m able to reach more directly into the carved areas of the briar with this more abrasive compound.  After the Tripoli compound, I change to another cotton cloth buffing wheel, maintain the same speed and apply Blue Diamond compound to both stummel and military stem.  To remove compound dust from the pipe, I buff the pipe with a felt cloth. Before applying carnauba wax to the stummel, I apply Before & After Restoration Balm. I like using the Restoration Balm because it deepens and enriches the natural briar hues.  After squeezing some Balm on my finger, I apply it to the briar with my fingers working the Balm into the surface – making sure I work it into the carved areas.  As I work the Balm into the briar, it begins with a light oil consistency but thickens during the application to a wax-like ointment – the picture below shows this stage.  After letting the Balm settle for about 10 minutes, I wipe/buff off the Balm with a clean cloth. The final stage is to apply carnauba wax to the stem and stummel.  I mount another cotton cloth wheel to the Dremel, maintain the same 40% of full power, and apply a few coats of carnauba wax.  When I complete the waxing cycles, I give the pipe a rigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine even more.

Restoring this Gasparini M.G.M. Rock exceeded my expectations in important ways. The pipe was beautiful before I started.  Now, it’s a show stopper as the 106-year aged briar has retaken center stage and the Freehand shape with the dips, curves and swirls are a stellar supporting cast.  I can easily see the Wax Drip shape, but it could also be petals on a flower.  The Military style stem looks classy but unassuming as it joins the vulcanite ferrule with a contrasting ring of briar between ferrule and stem.  Another exceeded expectation was to understand better the Gasparini name and the value of family. My appreciation brimmed for Marisa Gasparini as she took the time to answer my questions – this was an honor.  This simple act revealed her pride in the Mario Gasparini heritage and her willingness to answer questions shows her concern for each pipe bearing the Gasparini name.

Idian commissioned this pipe with the understanding that the final valuing of the pipe would be after I researched and restored the pipe and published the write-up.  Then, as is the understanding for all the pipes that are commissioned, the commissioner of the pipe has the first opportunity to acquire the pipe in The Pipe Steward Store with the value determined.  If the price is not agreeable, he may pass, and I leave the pipe in the store for another steward to eventually add to his collection.  However, for this restoration, for this Gasparini M.G.M. Rock, the value for me is ‘priceless’.  I’ve invited him to join my collection and start pulling his own weight in the rotation – my first Gasparini, we’re happy.  I’m thankful to Idian for his understanding after letting him know – he was a bit disappointed but happy that the M.G.M. Rock was restored and continued in good hands.  Thanks for joining me!


Renewing a Prince of Wales Hand Made Oom Paul

Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the table is the second of a pair of Oom Paul pipes that my brother Jeff picked up in from a guy in Texas. I wrote a blog about the cleanup of that one already. It is the pipe shown on the left side in the photo below. It was a Siena Artistica Oom Paul. The link to the previous blog is: (https://rebornpipes.com/2018/09/04/finally-a-simple-restoration-a-siena-artistica-oom-paul/). The second pipe is shown on the right side of the photo above. It is also a full bent Oom Paul but it has a smooth finish. The finish was in rough condition and was a Cordovan colour. There were a lot of nicks and damaged fills on the sides of the pipe. It has some great grain that shows through the grime on the bowl sides. Once it is cleaned and repaired that grain should show through nicely. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank Prince of Wales over Hand Made. There is no other stamping on the shank or bowl. The rim top was dirty and there were nicks and dents in the crowned surface. Fortunately there was no damage on the inner and outer edges of the bowl. The bowl had a light cake in it that would be easy to deal with. The stem was acrylic and variegated red. It had some tooth chatter and scratching on both sides near the button. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup up work. He took a closeup photo of the rim top showing that it was quite clean. The crowned surface was nicked and scratched. The edges of the bowl look very good. There is a light cake in the bowl. The stem was in good condition. There was some tooth chatter and scratches on the top and underside near the button.He took several photos of the finish to show the largest damaged fill on the right side of the bowl. The first photo gives an overview of the right side of the bowl and shank. You can see the wear and tear on the finish and the nicks and scratches. There is also a damaged fill mid bowl. The second photo shows the damaged fill clearly.The next photo shows the stamping on the shank and on the Scottish flag logo on the left side of the stem.I turned to the two websites that I regularly check for background on pipe brands. The first was Pipedia. I found the brand listed and the short description on the wiki that linked the brand to GBD pipes. It stated that it is a GBD sub-brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Of_Wales). It also included a link to the second site that I check, Pipephil. There it said that the brand was made in England. It bears the Scottish flag (X-shaped cross representing the cross of the Christian martyr Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland) as logo. I did a screen capture of the stamping on the shank and stem that was included on the site. I include that below (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-p5.html). The stamping on shank read Prince of Wales over Hand Made like the screen capture above. It is very readable and clean. Jeff had scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil soap and removed the dust and grime that had accumulated there. The finish was damaged but was worn and needed some repairs once it had been scrubbed. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet Pipe reamer and cleaned up the remnants of cake with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He cleaned the interior of the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. The pipe came to me clean and ready to do the restoration. I took some photos of the pipe to show the condition at this point in the process. I took a photo of the rim top and to show the condition of the surface of the rim. There is some darkening on the inner edge of the bowl and a lot of nicks and surface damage. I also took close up photos of the stem to show its condition. There is some light tooth chatter and tooth marks on both sides near the button but otherwise it is in good condition.I took some photos of the bowl sides to show the dents, nicks and faulty fills that would need to be addressed in the restoration. I repaired the damaged areas on the bowl sides with clear super glue to smooth out the damage. Once they cured I would sand them smooth to blend them into the bowl. Because there were so many damaged areas it would require restaining the bowl.It did not take too long for the repairs to cure. I sanded the repaired areas smooth with 220 grit sandpaper. I took photos of the bowl after the sanding to show the spotted, leprous look of the bowl after sanding. To further blend the repairs into the bowl surface I would need to stain it again. In preparation for restaining I wiped the bowl down with isopropyl alcohol to remove much of the previous stain. I restained the pipe with my Fiebing’s Tan stain – remember it is mislabeled and is actually a cordovan stain. I applied it and flamed it with a lighter to set it in the briar. I repeated the stain/flame process until the coverage around the bowl was even.I let the stain set over night and in the morning wiped the bowl down with isopropyl on cotton pads to unveil the newly stained pipe. The pipe looked better. The fills were visible if you looked for them but they looked far better than when I had started. I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the briar bowl and the rim top as well as the briar shank. I also have found that it really helps to blend a restain on briar. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers, working it into the exterior of the pipe. After it had been sitting for a little while, I buffed it with a soft cloth to polish it. The pipe really began to have a rich shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to sand out the tooth chatter and marks on both sides of the stem just ahead of the button. They were not deep so it did not take too much to remove them.I polished 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 after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust on the vulcanite. When I finished polishing and wiping it down I set it aside to dry. I polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I 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. The dark undercoat and the cordovan combine to give the briar depth and a rich look. The polished variegated red and burgundy acrylic stem work together with the stained briar to give the pipe a rich look. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This is a beautiful smooth finish Oom Paul made by GBD. The pipe has already found a new home. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 3/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 3/4 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 inches. This one will join the rusticated Oom Paul and soon be on its way to the southern US. Its new trustee is looking forward to firing up both of these pipes. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this unique Oom Paul. 

Sasieni London Fine Briar Pipes Booklet

Blog by Steve Laug

This is another of the old pipe booklets that was posted on the Pipe Club of Brasil Group on Facebook. Victor C. Naddeo, the Administrator of that group and seems to post this kind of pipe memorabilia quite often. I am not sure where he finds them all but all of them have been interesting. He posted this Sasieni London Fine Briar Pipes Booklet a while ago. I love the older Sasieni pipes and enjoy smoking them. I don’t have many but the ones I have are great pipes. So, when I saw this old booklet, it was something I wanted to preserve in the Historical documents section of rebornpipes. Click on the pictures and they will enlarge. Read the pipe descriptions and prices as well as the tobacco descriptions and let them take you back in time. Thank you Victor for posting these on the Pipe Club Brasil Group. If you would like to check out the group on Facebook here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1001391469961131/

Dressing up a Dinner Pipe 1/4: The Trident Experiment

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

“Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool.” 
— Daisy to Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (1925), Ch. 7, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The whole unlikely adventure started when one of my two housemates, Mike, who rents a room from the owner as I do, somehow got it in his head that he wanted me to make the perfectly nice Trident full bent billiard I sold him for next to nothing into a dress pipe.  As Mike is a complete novice when it comes to pipes, I didn’t even want to guess how he heard of the term many far more experienced smokers don’t know.  The Trident is fashioned in the classic style of a Peterson system pipe.

Trident original before

Trident original after

Gaboon ebony *

Dress pipes have also been called by other appropriate adjectives including dinner, evening and cocktail, and now are more often referred to as ebony.  That may be the worst name for this style, which renders the pipe with a jet black and shiny finish, as it refers to one of the rarest and most expensive (and now almost extinct) hardwoods from the tree of the same name.  Ebony heartwood tends toward dark black, but the extreme density – 3,080 lbf compared to 2,090 for briar on the Janka Scale – eats up cutting equipment like hors-d’oeuvres at a redneck bachelor party.  For that and other reasons, it is a poor choice for pipes.  But one thing is certain: a black dress pipe does look so cool.

Assuring Mike that I would look into the process and necessary supplies, soon afterward I told him I had a tentative list, and it wouldn’t be expensive. That’s when he dropped the indefensible bombshell on me about how he had thrown the Trident away because “it didn’t work out” and bought a corncob. Then he said he didn’t think I was serious about dressing up the Trident. Is that not the perfect example of waffling or am I missing something? By an amazing stroke of luck, the trash collectors had not come, and at my rather frantic suggestion Mike retrieved the pipe from the garbage. Here’s what it looked like after maybe a month of use by him.The velocity of the Trident’s trip from being restored to like-new condition to worse than when I first received it has to be some kind of record.  Needless to say, given the garbage incident and the horrendous wear and tear in such a short time, I was reluctant to turn it into a high maintenance item.  When Mike said I could have it, that ended that dilemma.  He later regretted the decision – but there’s the only preview of Part 2 of this series I’ll give here.

Dating a pipe, even to an approximation as close as a decade, can be impossible.  Determining the origins of names for some shapes, such as the Oom Paul, might be easier but is still murky.  [Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, president of the South African Republic, the Transvaal, and a fierce military leader against the British in the Second Boer War (1899-1902), is said to have chain-smoked a pipe of an uncommon shape.  His nickname among the Afrikaans inhabitants was Oom, for uncle, Paul – hence, the Oom Paul, although the name is debated, as is most everything pipe-related.]  Of course, coming up with a theory for the beginning of a special style of pipe, such as the dress as a finishing method, is by the nature of the guesswork involved much easier.

Dunhill 61032 Dress 1983 courtesy Paronelli Pipe

The basic premise of a dress pipe (or in the alternative again, evening, cocktail or ebony) is something that stands out and dazzles from across a room, and further, one that should only be used on special occasions because of its appearance and greater susceptibility to damage.  Andrew Wike wrote a thoughtful 2014 essay, in the Pipe Line section of Smokingpipes.com, titled “Dressed for the Occasion.”  In a space that could have amounted to no more than a single page from a word processor, Mr. Wike employs elegant concision pondering the important question of which one of his pipes he should take to a friend’s wedding – and he even provides illustrations, descriptions and the basic qualities of a handful he recommends for such formal situations.

Starting his personal debate process with a smooth, jet-black Dunhill billiard derived from the collection Mr. Wike writes started the term “dress pipe” (and similar to the one shown here), he notes the classic elegance of Dunhill’s line, including the traditional sterling silver band, and compares the beautiful work to a tuxedo.

Mr. Wike moves on to Castello’s wonderful Perla Nera line and observes that these pipes vary from having no band or various ferules, as well as this Perla Nera Horn with a silver bamboo band below.Then Mr. Wike asks the perfect question, one that had been nagging me: “Who says your dress pipes have to be smooth finished?”  One excellent illustration is an unusual sandblasted Peterson Cara that SmokingPipes.com calls a bell style Dublin/Calabash hybrid.Skipping to the end of Mr. Wike’s list, I have to include his stunning example of a Tsuge dress pipe gone wild, the Urushi Sakura with its hand-painted floral design on the otherwise shimmering lacquer-coated black bowl, a black bamboo extension and brass fittings.Here’s my theory.  While the actual date of introduction of the black dress pipe is elusive, the likelihood of that flashy style of finish being conceived at all before the 20th century, much less as fashionable, is hard to imagine.

What better period of time and place for such a style than the Roaring ’20s in the U.S.?  Although I have not yet found an example from quite that far back, I can’t help the mental image that pops to mind of some of the wealthy revelers of that era, as recorded in The Great Gatsby and summed up with the simple quote opening this blog, trailing wisps of smoke from just such elegant, shiny black pipes with the ballroom lights in West Egg glinting off them.

Dunhill made its formal introduction of the Evening Dress Pipe in 1973, as shown below.

Dunhill Evening Dress Pipe courtesy Pipedia

Nomenclature left side

Nomenclature right side

However, several examples of Dunhill pipes associated with the word cocktail trace to the 1930s.  As well as the traditional black model shown below, green and red versions of Dunhill’s Lady’s Cocktail Pipe were made in 1934.

Dunhill Lady’s Cocktail Pipe, courtesy Pipephil

The following magazine ad from March of the same year is a hoot.  I couldn’t help letting out a healthy guffaw that startled one of my other housemates, the owner, when I took in the cloying sexism of a bygone era – in particular the idea of protecting the fingers of our precious little homemakers from being yellowed.

Courtesy Pipephil, from Modern Mechanix

If I didn’t know of too many occasions when Dunhill took credit for methods of making pipes that had already been used by different brands, I might have no doubt this was the first dress pipe.  But 1934 is too close to the 1920s for my comfort.  For now, it remains the earliest I can trace.

Go ahead and chalk it up to coincidence, if you like, but at the very next monthly meeting of my pipe club after I set my mind to dressing up my abused but still savable Trident, I tuned into an interesting conversation next to me.  Don Gillmore, a respected artisan whose business is known as Don Warren Pipes (dwpipes) in Albuquerque, was talking to another restorer about the use of shellac on many of his pipes.  I was shocked for several reasons, chief of which was that I’ve seen quite a few examples of Don’s masterful creations over the years and never had a clue that shellac might have been involved.  I also knew that shellac, like varnish and certain other finishes, can, in excess at any rate, affect a pipe’s ability to breathe and lead to damages.  Until that moment, I had only associated it with awful, cheap Chinese pipe abominations, with the one exception being dress pipes for which I deemed the substance a necessary evil.  Unable to join the conversation, I resolved to email Don for more information on the subject, in particular how I might go about dressing a pipe in black.

Flake shellac courtesy Wikipedia

First, I looked up shellac online.  I was surprised to learn that it is natural and converts to flake form from a resin secreted by the female lac bug on trees in India and Thailand.   Really, I’m not a bad raconteur, but I don’t have the gift of gab needed to spin that good of a yarn!  The finish has been in use for millennia and in various forms with artwork and wood finishing in general and furniture in particular for centuries, but not until the 1800s did it become preferred to oils and waxes for woods.

The following is a condensed version of the ensuing email exchange between Don and me.  Rather than the usual lacquer that seems to be the most common final coat used by the big pipe brands, Don repeated that he uses a thin coat of orange flake shellac on some of his pipes.  I asked if black shellac might be as good or better, and his answer was a firm but polite no.  He assured me the orange shellac would be clear by the time I reached that point.

To reveal how clueless I was at the outset of my decision to try dressing up a pipe, I read numerous online references to the need for black aniline dye and even consulted the definition of aniline, which in every standard English dictionary published omits the most pertinent aspect.  Only after at least an hour of obsessive searching did I find a mind-numbing technical treatise on the subject that mentioned, somewhere in the blur of multiple-digit chemistry terms, the simple word alcohol.  Realizing my default leather stain was in fact an aniline dye, I was both relieved by the discovery and angered by the waste of time to which I was subjected.  Even when I posted a thread on an online smokers’ forum asking for help, everyone replied that black aniline dye was what I wanted!  But a few deep breaths later, I was back to my usual self again.

Don provided links to the site where he buys his orange flake shellac, a chart that shows the various mixtures of the flakes (aka buttons) with, ideally, 190-proof denatured alcohol dependent upon the desired thickness, and even detailed instructions for applying the shellac once it is rendered to pure liquid form.  All of this information can be found at obvious links in my sources, but you know I’ll describe the whole process soon enough.

The Pound Cut Chart says it all – in fact, maybe more than you need to know for use with pipes – but the order is a bit whacked.  The main issue I have with it is how simple the process is compared to the way it’s described.  I had to consult Don for more than a few clarifications, which he was happy and gracious to supply.  That’s why I’m going to lay it out in this EZ synopsis.

To be sure, the official instructions are spot-on about three points: 190-proof denatured alcohol as the ideal agent for liquefication, the need to crush the flakes to as fine a degree as possible and the mix of alcohol and ground flake for the thickness and amount desired as shown in the chart.  Whatever size mix is made should last three months (its effective shelf life), and Behlen Behkol Solvent is specifically mentioned, although I used Everclear.  For my first batch of liquid shellac, I did not crush the flakes quite as small as they should have been.  It worked out but took longer to dissolve.  Here’s how to do it.

    1. From the Pound Cut Chart, decide how much liquid shellac you want and the thickness. Unless you’re going to use it all the time, a little goes a long way. Don recommended one cup of shellac at the one-pound cut (minimum thickness).  His reasoning was that it’s easier to apply a second coat if needed than to remove one.  Note: I ended up needing to do two coats, so I later made more at the two-pound cut.
    2. Crush the flakes, again, as fine as possible. I suspect a mortar and pestle would be perfect, but this is Albuquerque where such things other than very small types proved impossible to locate except online. Instead, I improvised with a chopping block and the flat bottom of a ceramic plate.  Getting the hang of that method wasn’t easy because the ornery flakes liked to shoot all over the place until I used mind over matter to develop my own style.  I highly recommend investing in a mortar and pestle!  If you’re thinking you might try grinding the flakes in a blender, remember they’re derived from resin and think again.
    3. Use a glass or plastic – not metal – container larger than the liquid amount you want.  For purposes of this first installment for which I used the one-pound cut, I poured one ounce (eight fluid ounces) of Everclear into a large glass baking pan and then slowly stirred in one ounce of flake with a rubber batter mixer.  The official instructions suggest a little every 15-30 minutes and stirring or shaking, as the container allows, as well as “occasional agitation.”  I added more flakes at 15-minute intervals but found frequent scraping of the flakes was vital to fight the constant sticking to the bottom of the glass pan.
    4. The photo above shows the mix about an hour and a half after I finished stirring in the last of the flakes and continued frequent scraping and stirring.  As you might notice, my flakes weren’t as fine as they should have been, and some bits are still at the bottom.  Then again, maybe that’s just what happens.
    5. Strain the shellac into a glass or plastic container that has a lid in order to remove any sediment or organic particles.  The official instructions give various methods and even combinations, but for the love of all that’s holy, it isn’t rocket science!  True, cheesecloth, a thin white cotton cloth or a paint strainer would have been just grand if I had any of them on-hand and going whole hog by “straining through a paint strainer first then through T-shirt or multiple layers of cheese-cloth” might have left me ecstatic.  But I used a few pieces of paper towels, and despite losing a little of the finished shellac to soaking all the way into the paper, I was overjoyed with the nice clear result.  I still have way more of it left than I can possibly use before it expires.

I’ll state for the record that the most egregious sign of the Trident’s abuse is the ghostly remnant of the name on the left shank shown up-close above.  Due to the necessary smoothing of the entire stummel, even the least abrasive measure obliterated it.

If ever an alcohol strip were called for, this was it.  I immersed the stummel in Everclear and let it sit for a couple of hours.  One positive result was the complete cleaning of the carbon and gunk buildup.

To clarify one point, the plethora of pits and other blemishes apparent in the above shots were not from fills that came out with the soak.  They were inflicted by Mike.  To remove them, I started with a double 150- and 180-sided sanding pad and 150-grit paper for the pernicious dings.  As a heads-up, it was a mistake.  Of course, that was then, and this is now. I could have saved considerable time and trouble with the subsequent sanding progression, but as I like to say, shoulda-coulda-woulda.  Now, for the beginning of what turned out to be a long, arduous smoothing process, starting with 220-, 320-, 400- and 600-grits followed by super fine “0000” steel wool, that even with the later fine-tuning was never altogether successful. The result so far is no doubt a great improvement from where it started and looks pretty good, but you know what they say about looks.  This project was the beginning of a learning process, after all, if I may be permitted a lame excuse.  Anyway, I followed up with a full micro mesh from 1500-12000.  The shine was beautiful, but there are still some small scratches, and that is not good with any restoration but in particular when dressing a pipe in black. Thanks to someone I had added as a Friend on Facebook’s Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking Society forums just because he knew a couple hundred other people I do, I have a baggie of old bands, ferules and whatnot.  In the mix, I found a cool Peterson-style endcap I decided was more appropriate than the thin band on the pipe.  The third pic below is a tentative view of how it would look when I removed the old-worn-to-copper nickel band.  The biggest benefit of the endcap was that the stem, which was loose at first with the band, was able to stay in place well. The actual task of prying off that old band proved difficult, but as I’ve noted before, I’m tenacious.  I was quite aware of the dangers of damage including cracking the shank and with great and very slow care, I succeeded with a tiny pen knife.  I attacked the band somewhat like removing a flat tire, where my dad taught me to loosen the lug nuts a little at a time but not in order.  In plainer words, I went at one side of the band, then the opposite, and then the other two, before gently working the tip of the blade in between the four corners.  Again, I did this with no rush, and so it took about an hour before the narrow rim popped off.I cleared away the muck where the band had been with 220-, 320- and 600-grit paper, steel wool and all nine micro mesh pads, but the end cap still didn’t fit. A small piece of 150-grit paper and patient work to be sure I didn’t overdo it did the trick.  The open end of the shank was just narrow enough to place the end cap over it and push down slightly with a cotton cloth set on a table to make it snug.  Removing it again, I micro meshed after 320-grit paper. The big moment of staining and flaming the stummel had arrived, and I admit I was nervous.  The wood needs to be, for all intents and purposes, as smooth as a pipe maker would have it at this point of creation, and I am no pipe maker.  Restorations in general do not need to be as exacting.  Don had indicated 1000-grit paper is advisable, but I only had 600 and micro mesh.This was how it looked after hand-buffing without shellac.  As far as I’m concerned, the above results were unacceptable to proceed with the full dressing, but I figured I might as well get the chamber cleaning and smoothing out of the way with 150-, 320- and 400-grit papers.And then, for me, it was like the line from the traditional nursery rhyme: “Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again.”  Back into an Everclear soak went the stummel, but this time only long enough to take the stain off to a point where I could smooth it more with 600-grit paper and micro mesh and try the stain again.  I’m missing the pics of the micro mesh work, but the next photos show the marked improvement. Once again, I stained and flamed it.Even before hand buffing with a special cloth for wood, the single shot above shows it was ready to shellac.  I used the small, soft brush for that part, taking care to move the brush in slow, even strokes from top to bottom around the stummel, including the shank.  I did the rim as closely as possible without overlapping to the sides.  After letting it dry for about six hours, I decided to repeat the shellac process and dry it again.  The shellac step, needless to say, was impossible to photograph

Now, for the stem, which was easy.  All I did was two full micro meshes, first with wet pads and then dry. I also buffed with red and white rouge and carnauba.  The endcap was snug as I mentioned before, but I added a couple dabs of Super Glue for good measure after a little polishing.

One more comment before the finished pipe pics.  Don had told me to “lightly buff” with the machine using white rouge between applications of shellac, but my electric buffer is a one-speed – fast – and I had severe doubts I could pull it off without removing patches of the shellac and stain.  In some of the installments of this series that follow, I gave it a shot, and with practice learned to hold the wood such that it almost didn’t even come in contact with the wheel buffer. CONCLUSION
The flaws can be seen in the photos above but allowing it was my first try at dressing a pipe, I was happy.  Besides, I was keeping the Trident for myself, and I’m glad I did because it’s a great little smoker.

* Gaboon ebony photo courtesy Wood Database below