Blog by Dal Stanton
I acquired this very stately looking Aristocrat trolling through offerings on eBay. I liked it immediately because of its large rusticated bowl and the nice half bent Billiard presence. It needed some work which was good for me – a broken off button and deep oxidation – factors that would discourage many from taking a second look. When the auction ended, the price was a good one and I had the highest bid. Another great pipe to restore to benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria – our work here in Bulgaria helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. I was in the US when I landed this hefty rusticated Billiard and it was in the suitcase in the Lufthansa cargo hold on its way back to Bulgaria with me.As with all the pipes available in the For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection, I take additional pictures for stewards looking to commission a pipe. When Andrew reached out to me, he indicated interest in the Aristocrat but also in the Bearded Sailor Carved pipe I had then. He had served in the Navy for 17 years and the old sailor caught his attention. Unfortunately, the Carved Bearded Sailor was already commissioned for another pipe man. I appreciate the service that Andrew has given in serving his country, and I mentioned to him that my son had also served as a submariner in the Navy, on the USS Boise. I appreciated his reply when I asked him for patience waiting for the Aristocrat to reach the work table. Here’s what he wrote:
As the Grandson of a hobbyist wildlife painter I fully understand the time required to do something like this. I would love this pipe and would like to commission too this pipe. Thank you for keeping me in mind about the bearded sailor and thank your son for his service.
Here are some of the pictures Andrew saw of the Aristocrat London Made that I used from the original seller: The pipe has a large presence and I take out my ruler and take the measurements: Length: 5 15/16 inches, Height: 2 inches, Rim width: 1 1/4 inches, Chamber width: 3/4 inches, Chamber depth: 1 13/16 inches. The nomenclature stamped on the lower shank smooth panel is thin. I take additional pictures of this from my worktable. What is stamped is cursive ‘Aristocrat’ [over] LONDON MADE [over] MADE IN ENGLAND. To the left of the nomenclature is a shape number: 1077 which undoubtedly points to the half-bent Billiard designation.The stem stamping is an ‘A’ set in a diamond frame.In search of the origins of the Aristocrat, I first look in my autographed copy of Herb Wilczak & Tom Colwell’s, “Who Made That Pipe?” dated 3/3/97. Tom Colwell’s gifting of this book to “Bruce” is in April of 2001, concluding with his signature. There were several listings for ‘Aristocrat’ but only two fell within the correct UK parameters:
John Redman/Kapp & Peterson – ENGL
Comoy’s / Harmon Bros. LTD – ENGL
Pipedia’s information narrowed the field by isolating the plain ‘A’ logo:
Pipedia’s entry for the John Redman Co. does not include much information. I researched this company before as being the probable English manufacturer of pipes stamped with Boston’s Tobacconist Shop, L.J. Peretti name (see: A Christmas Gift in need of a stem splice – L J Peretti Squared Shank Billiard). This restoration started a fun hobby of collecting L.J. Peretti pipes and selling many too! Here is the information.
John Redman Ltd. and British Empire Pipe Co.
Other lines include Aristocrat, Buckingham, Buckingham Palace, Canberra, Captain Fortune, Dr John, Golden Square, Redonian, Richmond (not Sasieni), Twin Bore.
Former factory located at 3-11 Westland Place, Hackney, London N1 7LP
Pipephil’s entry solidified the John Redman Ltd. And British Empire Pipe Co., with the Aristocrat and the ‘A’ stem stamping.The dating of the Aristocrat on my table is difficult to determine, but it has an older feel to it and is set in a very traditional dark English style hue. Looking at the pipe itself, there is a moderate amount of carbon cake buildup in the chamber which I will remove to examine the condition of the chamber walls. The rusticated stummel is very attractive – the deep, distinct etching is nice, but there is grime and build up on the rim as well as in the stummel’s nooks and crannies. The smooth briar panel holding the nomenclature on the shank’s underside is worn and the nomenclature is thin. There is a large scratch scarring the panel. The panel’s scratches and nicks will be a challenge to clean without further eroding the stampings. The stem has deep oxidation and the lower button has cracked off. This will need to be rebuilt. These pictures show some of these specific issues.I begin the restoration of this John Redman Aristocrat London Made, half-bent Billiard by cleaning the airway of the stem with a pipe cleaner wetting with isopropyl 95%. I add the deeply oxidized stem to a soak of Before & After Deoxidizer along with other stems and pipes in the queue. After soaking for several hours, I fish out the Aristocrat’s stem and again clean the airway with a pipe cleaner wetted with isopropyl 95% to clean the excess Deoxidizer. I use a cotton pad to wipe off the raised oxidation and the Deoxidizer has done a good job, but I still detect oxidation in the vulcanite.To begin revitalizing the stem, I apply paraffin oil, a mineral oil, and put it aside to dry.Next, I begin the process of cleaning the stummel. I start with reaming the chamber using the smallest blade head of the Pipnet Reaming Kit and moving to the larger blades. I put paper towel down to expedite the cleanup. I use 2 of the 4 blades available then transition to scraping the chamber further using the Savinelli Fitsall tool and follow with sanding the chamber using 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen for reach and leverage. After cleaning the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol, I examine the chamber and it looks great. I see no evidences of burning damage with fissures or cracking. Next, using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap on a cotton pad I start the cleaning of the external rusticated surface. I also employ a bristled tooth brush to work into the ridges of the rustication. A brass wire brush which is gentle on the briar, also helps with the rim cleaning. Finally, I take the stummel to the sink and rinse it with cool tap water. The cleaning did a good job. I take some pictures to show the surface and the question begins in my mind regarding the base color of the stummel. Bare briar is peeking through, but the base looks black to me. Wanting to get a head start on my thinking for later stages, I pull out 3 very dark or black dyes to compare. I have two Italian brands that are labeled ‘Dark Night’ and ‘Wenghe’ – both of which are so dark brown that they appear black to me. The third dye is Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye – it is black. I test each of these to see what they do and which may be the dye I use later to freshen the stummel if I indeed do decide to stain it. Thinking….Moving to the internal stummel cleaning, I use pipe cleaners and cotton buds dipped in isopropyl 95%. I quickly transition to scraping the mortise walls with a narrow dental spatula to excavate what tars and oils would come out manually. I also use different sizes of shank brushes wetted with isopropyl 95% to clean. As the picture below shows, this was not a short-lived encounter. I also use a drill bit to hand turn down the airway to draw out more tar build-up. After some time, the buds begin to lighten but not enough to declare the job done. To continue cleaning the internals passively, I use a kosher salt and alcohol soak. I do this to further clean as well as to freshen the internal briar for the new steward. I first pull and twist a cotton ball to form a wick which I stuff down the mortise and airway with the aid of a stiff wire. This will act to draw out the tars and oils as the isopropyl 95% does its thing. After putting the stummel in an egg crate to stabilize things, I fill the bowl with kosher salt. Unlike iodized salt, kosher salt doesn’t leave an aftertaste. Next, I fill the bowl with isopropyl 95% until it surfaces over the salt. As the alcohol absorbs into the chamber and mortise, the level of alcohol goes down. After a few minutes I top off the isopropyl 95% and put the stummel aside to soak. Turning now to the stem, I take some pictures and take a closer look. The Before & After Oxidizer did well, but there are still build up places on the surface showing where the oxidation was. The button on the topside is worn down and underneath the button has broken off. Before starting on the rebuild of the button, I use 240 grade sanding paper and sand the stem. I want to first address the overall condition of the stem surface then the button. While sanding, I’m careful to protect the diamond A stamp of the Aristocrat as well as to avoid shouldering the shank facing. To rebuild the button, I begin by cutting a folded over triangle from index card stock which is a bit stiffer. I leave the end of the triangle open and create a sleeve. I put smooth scotch tape over the end of the triangle sleeve to hold the sleeve together and to keep the wedge from sticking to the CA glue and activated charcoal mixture. After the triangle wedge is fashioned, I insert it into the slot airway as far as it will go to fill the gap and then I push other triangle pieces of index card into the sleeve to fill it out and to hold it in place firmer.I then mix the charcoal putty. I use extra thick CA glue and mix it with activated charcoal by gradually pulling charcoal into a small puddle of CA glue and mixing with a toothpick. I add charcoal until it reaches the viscosity of molasses and then apply it to the button.The first application is a little too runny, so I add a bit more charcoal to the mixture and apply more.I have a good coverage over the entire area which will allow me to file and shape the new button. After the charcoal putty sets, I work the wedge loose and it comes out easily. I put the stem aside to allow the putty to cure thoroughly.Well, after a few days longer than planned because of dealing with an unforeseen flu bug hitting many here in Sofia, the kosher salt and alcohol soak has done some major work. The salt and wick are soiled in a big way indicating that the tars and oils were drawn more from the internals. I toss the salt in the waste and clean the chamber with paper towel as well as blowing through the mortise to rid the stummel of salt crystals.I follow again with more cotton buds and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95% to clean up the left-over residue. The salt soak made a dent. After some more effort, I declare the internals clean and move on.The stem button rebuild is next. The charcoal putty is fully cured after the days of the flu bug and I start working on it using a flat needle file. I start working on the end filing toward the slot to form the end of the stem. After the button face is flush, I then file downwardly to form the depth of the button lip.When I arrive at about the right depth for the button lip, I then file from the stem side to sharpen and shape the new button.I also use the round pointed needle file to smooth the slot – forgot to picture that file!I also freshen the topside button lip with the flat needle file.The filing process is complete. The bottom rebuild looks great – it shaped up well. The next pictures show the completion of the filing on the upper bit and button face. As is often the case, air pockets are trapped in the charcoal putty and are revealed during the sanding process. To remedy this, using a toothpick, I run a small drop of regular CA glue on the toothpick and use it to paint the entire lip with the glue. I also run a line to seal the edges of the button – both the stem side and on the button face. Taking a picture of black with a light background doesn’t show a lot of detail often!I use an accelerator to quicken the curing process and follow by lightly sanding the button with 240 grade paper. The CA glue filled the pits well.I take the stem to the sink and wet sand the entire stem with 600 grade paper. I’m careful to avoid sanding the Aristocrat ‘A’ stem stamp. After using 600 paper, I then apply 0000 grade steel wool to the entire stem.I move directly to applying the full regimen of 9 micromesh pads to the Aristocrat stem. I start by wet sanding using pads 1500 to 2400 followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. Between each set of 3 pads, I apply a coat of Obsidian Oil to condition the stem. I like that newly polished pop that comes from the vulcanite after the micromesh process! With the stem waiting in the wings, I take a close look at the stummel. The rustication is deep and expressive and the stummel itself is large. The briar block this stummel is hewn from must have been dense, because the stummel itself has some weight to it. I like the dark hue of the rustication and my head debate is whether to freshen the entire bowl by staining it or to keep what is present and touch it up, primarily on the rim? I’m drawn to the flecked bare briar that is present in the current condition – it gives the stummel and classic rustic look – not too polished, but a pipe that has seen some life. The rim has raw briar showing and needs touching up. The other question has to do with the smooth briar underplate holding the nomenclature. The stamping is already ghosting and thin – I don’t want to contribute to this loss of his history! There is a scratch to the right of the lettering that I can sand without trouble. But as I look at the smooth briar plate, the dark stain that is now covering the smooth briar does not look good.With the decision made to go with the current hue and touch up, I start on the smooth briar nomenclature plate first on the underside of the shank. I want to create a more distinct and classy looking nomenclature plate by removing the finish from the smooth briar. This will create a classy looking contrast between the dark rusticated surface and the smooth briar. I first use a cotton pad wetted with alcohol which had little effect. I then switch to using acetone. I wetted several cotton pads and scrubbed the smooth briar. This had some effect, but still nothing spectacular showing a loosening of the dark finish on this area.The breakthrough came when I thought of trying Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. To my great surprise, it works. The finish was removed in large measure leaving behind and interesting patch of smooth briar. Yet, as I look closely at the nomenclature, I’m afraid it appears as though the Magic Eraser sponge exerted more abrasiveness than I thought would be the case. The lettering has deteriorated further – the profanity that flashed through my mind did not surface! Ugh – we make plans, but often they are not what happens. I allow the briar to dry before doing more on the underside panel.Next, to touch up the rim, I use a Dark Walnut dye stick, which I chose after testing several colors on a cotton pad. I apply the dye stick over the rim and in the crevices. It looks great, blending well with the rest of the stummel. To roughen the rim up a bit, to blend it more with the weathered, rustic stummel, I use a 1500 grade micromesh pad and lightly sand the ridges of the rusticated rim. This lightens the tips and helps blending.To get a bird’s eye view of the project, I rejoin the Aristocrat London Made stem and stummel. It’s looking good.With a closer look at the junction there is a gap between the shank and the stem facings. I examine the mortise and there is no ridge that would be creating the obstruction. With no obvious obstruction, I use 240 grade sanding paper simply to taper the end of the tenon more guessing that the mortise narrows, and this will afford a little more room for the tenon. After sanding, I try again, and it seats well now. I now mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel, set the speed at about 40% full power and apply Blue Diamond compound to the stem and stummel. With my wife’s help, she takes a picture of the process in motion. When completed, I give the pipe a good wipe down with a felt cloth to clean it of compound dust. Before applying wax to the stem and stummel, two mini-projects are first needed. I could have done this earlier, but now is ok too! Using Before & After Restoration Balm, I apply some to my fingers and then rub it into the smooth briar area on the underside of the shank. I also apply the Balm to the shank alone. Later, after it absorbs for a few minutes, I wipe off the excess and buff up the smooth briar and the shank. I like the results so well, even on the rusticated shank surface, I decide to then apply B&A Restoration Balm to the entire stummel. After about 15 minutes, I again wipe off the excess then buff the surface up, making sure all the Balm has been absorbed into the briar surface. While the Balm is absorbing, I refresh the diamond encased ‘A’ Aristocrat stem stamp. Using white acrylic paint, I apply some paint over the stamp and then blot it with a cotton pad to draw off the excess paint. After it dries, I gently scrape the excess paint leaving the paint filling the stamping lines. I like it! I reunite the stem and stummel and mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel onto the Dremel. Because I’m applying wax to a rougher rusticated surface, I increase the speed of the Dremel to about 60% full power to increase the RPMs and therefore the heat helping to dissolve the wax. I apply a few coats of carnauba wax to the stummel. Moving to the stem, I decrease the speed to 40% of full power and apply carnauba. After finishing with the wax, I use and microfiber cloth and give the pipe a rigorous hand buffing to raise the shine.
I am very pleased how this hefty pipe turned out. The deep, distinct rusticated surface looks great on this nice looking, classic half bent Billiard. The half bend works very well with the overall feel of the bowl resting in the palm. My only disappointment is the further eroding of the nomenclature in order to reveal the grain of the smooth briar panel. Even so, the pipe is a keeper. The major technical hurdle of rebuilding the button came out beautifully and reveals no evidence of its former state. Andrew could see how nice this Aristocrat London Made could be and he commissioned him from the For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection and will have the first opportunity to acquire it from The Pipe Steward Store. The restoration of this pipe benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. Thanks for joining me!