The Vintage Notoriety of Tom Howard and his Jumbo Squat Rustified Tomato

Blog by Dal Stanton

I’ve never restored a pipe where the person who made it had more notoriety than the pipe name itself.  The Tom Howard Jumbo Squat Rustified Tomato came to me along with several others from a good friend I worked with in Ukraine several years ago.  Dave Shain is also a fellow pipe man and restores pipes and has a great website,  In 2017, Dave won the Master of Pipes award from the Chicago Pipe Collectors Club for his work and charitable activities through The Free Pipe Project where Dave spearheads a program to send quality restored pipes to servicemen serving their country.  I visited Dave where he lives near Atlanta, Georgia, and we had a great time renewing our relationship.  He showed me his workshop, pipe and tobacco collections, and of course, we settled down in the ‘Barn’ flanked by a vintage Ford pickup – his Man Cave, to share a bowl or two.  It was a fun reunion!  I left with a tin of his aged Escudo and several pipes he wanted me to restore for the Daughters of Bulgaria, which I was more than happy to do.  Thanks Dave!The Tom Howard is now on my worktable because another pipe man, Paresh, saw it on The Pipe Steward site in my section, For ‘Pipe Dreamers’ Only!  This is where I post pipes that are in my electronic ‘Help Me!’ basket that others can commission to add to their collections.  Like me, through rebornpipes’ Steve Laug’s encouragement and tutelage, Paresh started restoring some of his own pipes in India, where he lives, and publishing his write ups on rebornpipes.  This LINK will take you to his restorations published on rebornpipes – he does a great job!   After seeing some of my restorations online, Paresh visited The Pipe Steward and saw some pipes that chose him – like Harry Potter and the wizard’s wands!  One thing I’ve learned in my growing relationship with Paresh as we’ve communicated back and forth between Bulgaria and India, is that he doesn’t like large pipes – he LOVES large pipes!  And this Tom Howard Jumbo Squat Rustified Tomato got his attention – here are the pictures he saw in For ‘Pipe Dreamers’ Only!The pipe is marked on the left shank with ‘Tom Howard’ in cursive script and ‘Imported Briar’ on the right shank side in the same script.  For a Squat Tomato, I’ve labeled it a ‘Jumbo’ because it has a definite stout presence in the palm.  The dimensions of the bowl give you an understanding of Tom Howard’s presence: Length: 5 5/16 inches, Height: 1 1/2 inches, Bowl width: 2 1/8 inches, Rim width: 1 1/2 inches, Chamber width: 7/8 inches, Chamber depth: 1 1/4 inches.I had never heard of a Tom Howard stamp on a pipe and after I put the name in search tool on Pipedia I was surprised to find what I found.  Tom Howard was a vintage celebrity in America during the 1940s and 50s.  Here’s the Pipedia said about Tom Howard the man:

Tom Howard was a popular comedian and personality in the 1940s/50s, known for vaudeville stage and radio work. But he also was a skilled pipe maker. In a Popular Mechanic article from 1947 he is written up as the “Hobbyist of the Month, Tom Howard.” He made pipes in his workshop outside his home in Red Bank, NJ. starting about 1939 and looks like into the late 1940’s or later. He purchased briar blocks by the bag as well as stem blanks, and in his well-equipped shop he handcrafted his pipes, in about three hours on average. He was a true craftsman, also specializing is intricate model boats, trains and brass canons, all built to scale.

I was intrigued – this vaudeville and stage comedian made pipes and this pipe came from his workshop made by his hands.  How cool is that?  Desiring to find out more about Tom Howard the man, I searched Wikipedia and found a fun and informative article about his professional life and how he hosted a I was intrigued – this vaudeville and stage comedian made pipes and this pipe came from his workshop made by his hands.  How cool is that?  Desiring to find out more about Tom Howard the man, I searched Wikipedia and found a fun and informative article about his professional life and how he hosted a zany Q&A game show that was spoofing the ‘serious’ Q&A game shows.  It was called “It Pays to Be Ignorant”.   Here is what the Wikipedia article said:

It Pays to Be Ignorant was a radio comedy show which maintained its popularity during a nine-year run on three networks for such sponsors as Philip MorrisChrysler, and  DeSoto. The series was a spoof on the authoritative, academic discourse evident on such authoritative panel series as Quiz Kids and Information Please, while the beginning of the program parodied the popular quiz show, Doctor I.Q. With announcers Ken Roberts and Dick Stark, the program was broadcast on Mutual from June 25, 1942 to February 28, 1944, on CBS from February 25, 1944 to September 27, 1950 and finally on NBC from July 4, 1951 to September 26, 1951. The series typically aired as a summer replacement.

Snooping a bit more, I found an online site that had the July 5, 1951 episode of ‘It pays to Be Ignorant’ available for viewing.  I watched it and it was like I was in a time machine!  The video also included period advertising for cars and tobacco and Tom Howard in form, dawning a professorial gown and a gravelly 1950s vaudeville tin can voice.  It’s great! I clipped a picture of the episode.  If you want to see it yourself, here’s the link:  The Internet Archive.

The Pipedia article I included above, referenced one more source to learn a bit more about Tom Howard.  In a 1947 Popular Mechanics edition he was named ‘Hobbyist of the Month’ – but it didn’t say which month!  With a little bit of help from Google, I found that housed old editions of many periodicals including Popular Mechanics.  I started in January and started searching – thankfully they had a search tool I utilized for each month.  Finally, I found the article in the Popular Mechanic 1947 June’s edition.   For the absolute nostalgia of it, and for the interesting information it adds about Tom Howard and especially his pipe production, I’m including the pages here for you to read – including the cover page!  I couldn’t pass it up!   With a greater appreciation for the pipe man, Tom Howard, I take another look at the Jumbo Squat Rustified Tomato before me and based upon the articles above the dating of this pipe could range from the late 1930s to the early 50s as Tom Howard died in 1955 at the age of 70 according to Wikipedia.  The chamber has very little cake buildup.  The rim is worn and the rustification on the rim is filled or simply worn down – I’ll need to clean this to see.  The inner lip of the rim is darkened by scorching.  The rustified stummel is attractive – it has scratches and blemishes from use.  The smooth briar around the rustification is nice looking – I think it will look very nice after cleaned and spruced up some.  The stem has some oxidation and the bit shows minor tooth chatter.  I notice too, that Tom Howard but a subtle bend on the saddle stem to give the stem a definite orientation – nice touch and it looks good too.I begin the restoration by cleaning the internal airway of the stem using a pipe cleaner dipped in isopropyl 95% and then adding it to a soak of Before & After Deoxidizer along with other stems of pipes in queue to be restored.  After a few hours I remove the stem from the bath and wipe it down with a cotton pad wetted with light paraffin oil (mineral oil) removing the light oxidation that was raised from the vulcanite.Turning now to the stummel, to remove the light cake in the chamber I use the Pipnet Reaming Kit.  Even though the cake is light, I want to give the chamber a fresh start.  I jump right to the 3rd largest blade head and finish using the largest.  I follow the reaming blades by using the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Tool to scrape the chamber wall further, then finish by sanding the chamber with 240 grit paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen.  To clean the carbon dust, I wipe the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95%.  I inspect the chamber wall and it looks good – no cracks or heat fissures.  The pictures show the process. To clean the external surface of the stummel, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and cotton pads.  I also utilize a bristled tooth brush to clean the rustification as well as a brass bristled brush to work on the rim and the dark scorching on the inner lip. Turning to the internals, I use cotton buds and pipe cleaners with isopropyl 95% to clean. I also employ dental spatulas to scrape the mortise walls as well as a drill bit to clean the airway.  I sized a bit just large enough to fit the airway and hand-turn the bit to clean the tars off the walls.  After some time, the cotton buds and pipe cleaners start coming out cleaner.  Later, I will continue the internal cleaning by giving the internals a kosher salt and alcohol soak.Turning to the stem, I use 240 grit paper to sand out the roughness and tooth dent in the bit area – upper and lower.  I follow this by wet sanding the entire stem with 600 grit paper.  I then use 0000 grade steel wool to sand/buff the stem.  The pictures show the progress. While I was sanding, I notice that the draft hole in the button is not shaped well – a bite compression or something.  I use a sharp needle file to even the opening and I repeat the sanding process for the button end – 240, 600 and 0000 steel wool.With my day ending, I continue the cleaning of the stummel internals by utilizing a kosher salt and alcohol soak.  I create a ‘wick’ by pulling and twisting a cotton ball.  I then insert it and stuff it down the mortise into the airway as much as it will allow.  I then fill the chamber with kosher salt – why kosher?  It will not leave a residue taste as iodized salt.  I place the stummel in an egg cart to keep it steady and fill the bowl with alcohol using a large eye dropper until it surfaces over the salt.  After a few minutes I top it off once more – and turn off the lights. The next morning, the kosher salt/alcohol soak had done its job.  The salt and wick are soiled by drawing out more tars and oils.  I throw the used salt in the waste and wipe the bowl with paper towel and blow through the mortise to dislodge any remaining salt.  I then use a few more cotton buds and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95% to make sure.  All is good – clean – and I move on! Looking at the stummel, I see several scratches on the smooth briar surrounding the rustification.  The rim isn’t even and it is worn.  I decide to freshen the rim by topping the stummel but only lightly – I don’t want to erase the rustification that Tom Howard placed there many years ago!  Using 240 grade paper on a chopping board, I invert the stummel and give it a few rotations and look.  I do this a few times and decide I’ve taken off enough.  It looks good and the rustification remains intact.  I then switch to 600 grade paper on the topping board and give the stummel a few more rotations.  This erases the rougher 240 scratches and smooths the rim surface.  The pictures show the topping process from the start to finish. Darkened briar remains on the inner ring of the rim from scorching (picture above).  To address this, I introduce a gentle internal bevel using 120 grade paper, followed by 240, then 600.  With each paper grade, I roll the piece of sanding paper into a tight roll and rotate it around the circumference of the internal lip by pinching the paper with my thumb.  This allows a uniform beveling to emerge.  The pictures show the progression. Now to the briar surface.  The smooth briar has a lot of small scratches and rough places throughout.  The first picture below also shows an example of Tom Howard’s rustification processes not contained to the rustification areas. I will spot sand these areas. First, I sand out the overrun rustification marks with 240 and 600 paper.  And then, to address the smooth briar of the entire stummel, I use a rough grade sanding sponge to remove the scratches and blemishes.  I then follow with a medium grade sponge then a light grade sponge.  Taking the stummel to the next step, I wet sand it with micromesh pads 1500 to 2400, then dry sand with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  All I can say is, ‘Wow!’  I love watching the grain emerge through the micromesh pad regimen.  Each pad teases out the grain a bit more.  The pictures show the progression. I put the stummel aside and pick up the Tom Howard stem and using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400, I wet sand.  Then I dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Between each set of three pads, I apply a generous coating of Obsidian Oil that revitalizes the vulcanite stem.  The result is the glossy pop we all expect! Looking again at the stummel, there are some pinhead fills on the left shank side that need to be addressed as well as the worn rustification cuts that have fill material visible and generally, is lighter than desired.  I take some pictures of the different things I see.In the Pipedia article of Tom Howard, there were several pictures of his pipes that were provided courtesy of Doug Valitchka, which give an idea of the original motif used when Tom Howard rustified his pipes.  The picture below shows a dark shaded rustification, though it appears that Mr. Howard put a dye on this stummel to give it a more reddish hue.  Using this picture as a guide, I use a walnut dye stick to color and blend the pinhead fills and to redefine the rustification, yet I prefer the natural briar hue of this Tom Howard Squat Tomato and will not stain the stummel. Now, to ‘rough up’ the rustification, I mount the Dremel with a more abrasive felt buffing wheel set at 40% full power and apply Tripoli compound to the rustification.  The effect is that this softens the hue – blends it more so that it doesn’t look painted.  I think it does the job and I like the blending!I buff the stummel with a felt cloth to remove leftover compound and I apply Before & After Restoration Balm to the stummel.  This Balm works well to bring out the deep hues of the natural briar.  I squeeze some Balm on my finger and I work it into the stummel and rustification.  The Balm begins as a light oil texture then thickens as it’s works into the briar.  I let is set for several minutes then I wipe/buff the Balm residue off with a microfiber cloth. I then reunite stem and stummel and mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the stummel, maintain a 40% full power speed, and apply Blue Diamond compound to both stem and stummel.  As before, using a felt cloth, I buff the pipe to remove compound dust left behind before waxing.  I then mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel onto the Dremel, maintain the same speed, and apply carnauba wax to the entire pipe.  I finish by giving the pipe a good hand-buffing with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine of the briar even more.

I’m pleased with the results of the Tom Howard Jumbo Rustified Squat Tomato.  I’m pleased with the textured blending of the rustification with the backdrop of beautiful smooth briar.  The contrast between the two is attractive.  I’m thankful to Dave Shain for giving me this Tom Howard to restore for the Daughters.  I’m also thankful for having discovered through the research the story of an interesting man.  Tom Howard was an accomplished comedian and stage person during his time.  But most interesting to me was his pursuits at home – in his workshop making quality pipes – not on a factory production line, but one pipe at a time with his own hands.  His love of pipes and placing them in other’s hands reminds me somewhat of my own worktable – the love of restoration and passing pipes on to others.  Paresh commissioned this Tom Howard and he will have the first opportunity to acquire him in The Pipe Steward Store.  This pipe will also benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria – our work helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

2 thoughts on “The Vintage Notoriety of Tom Howard and his Jumbo Squat Rustified Tomato

  1. Pingback: Restoring a Chunky, Rusticated Tom Howard Panel Billiard | rebornpipes

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