Family Relic: My Great Grandfather’s Meer Pipe


Blog by Kumayl Rashid

Kumayl tells the story of how I met him and my invitation to him to write a blog on the pipe that he wanted to restore as a part of his heritage. I do not need to repeat any of that for the readers as he does a great job introducing the pipe and himself. I am glad to welcome him to the rebornpipes family with this first blog that he has written for us. Give it a read and you will get a sense of the man and his work. Welcome Kumayl. It is a pleasure to have you here. – SteveDifferent views of the pipe (post-restoration).

June 27, 2019:

Some background and an apology – It was July 2017 that I met Steve. He was kind enough to carve some time out of his day to educate me (in person!) on pipes and the art of restoration. I had recently come into the possession of my great grandfather’s pipe – a beautifully rusticated, black meerschaum. Steve kindly requested that I write a short piece about the pipe’s history and I gladly accepted. I did some research and put together a few paragraphs before work and school dominated my life. Well, two years have passed by way too quickly and needless to say, I didn’t submit that article. An apology to Steve for taking so long, but hopefully you appreciate this little bit of family and pipe history. As I already wrote a good chunk of the article two years ago, I kept any time references relative to July 2017. Note, this isn’t too much of a restoration article as it is a history lesson. Enjoy!

July 2017:

I only recently got into pipe smoking, collecting, and minor restoration and it didn’t take long before I learned that my great grandfather (paternal grandmother’s father or, father’s mother’s father) was also a pipe smoker. It came up in a conversation with my parents where my father was reminiscing memories of his grandfather. The whereabouts of any of his pipes, if they still existed, were unknown. The only logical step was to visit my great uncle – family historian, storyteller, and keeper of relics.

I went over to my great uncle’s place to inquire about the existence of any of my great grandfather’s pipes. Almost immediately upon asking, my great uncle lead me through his humble rancher to a bedside table. A small black pipe, in all its glory, lay there among assorted knick-knacks; set aside, but seemingly never completely forgotten. I held the pipe in my hands, lost for words. Knowing my great grandfather had held and smoked this very pipe was astounding to me. I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting him but was always reminded of his mannerisms and life story. My great grandfather was Hassanali Nasser Virji – son of a merchant prince, heir to a business empire, businessman, first Mayor of Mwanza, pioneer, and an immigrant. Born in Bagamoyo (the then capital of German East Africa) on November 3, 1905, he spent the greatest portion of his life in Mwanza, later becoming the first mayor of the town in 1957. He immigrated to Vancouver, BC with his family in 1977. He passed away just three years later on December 29, 1980.(Left) My great grandfather wearing the mayoral collar, circa 1957. (Right) A headshot from later in life, date unknown.

Once my running mind had returned to the present, I continued to marvel at the pipe – its in-hand feel and rustication. As habit now has it, I inspected it for any possible markings or indication of manufacturer and origin. On the bottom of the shank was inscribed “GENUINE block meerschaum 14”. There was a faded inscribed logo on the side of the stem, which I gathered could represent an elephant. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the several-decade-old pipe was its condition. Apart from some oxidation of the stem, it was perfect. The exterior of the meerschaum bowl still held a shine with no chips or cracks to be seen. The inside of the bowl was clearly used, but still smooth and free from any debris. It was clear that my great grandfather cared for this pipe meticulously. From a very particular man who often preached to his children things like “a place for everything and everything in its place”, this was no surprise.(Top) Inscription on the bottom of the shank. (Bottom) The pipe bowl in pristine condition.

The feeling of holding this family relic, that was seemingly frozen in time, was absolutely indescribable. After showing so much interest in the pipe, my great uncle passed the trust on to me. To this day, my great grandfather’s pipe is one of my most prized possessions.

After I was made the next steward of the pipe, I had to find out more about it. As soon as I got to a computer, I searched through some of the trusty reference sites that Steve had provided me – pipedia.org and pipephil.eu. A few clicks and I was able to postulate that the pipe was most likely a Kiko Countryman – this, based on some similarities of posted pictures, descriptions, and most notably the elephant logo. Kiko was a brand of Amboseli Pipes from the Tanganyika Meerschaum Corporation.

Tanganyika was the mainland part of modern-day Tanzania and was a colony of German East Africa from 1885-1916. In 1916, during World War 1, the territory was seized by the United Kingdom and placed under British rule. It wasn’t until December 9, 1961, that Tanganyika gained independence from the United Kingdom and was named Tanzania (later merging with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania). It’s in this territory that the Tanganyika Meerschaum Corporation was formed in 1955 after a Kenyan businessman discovered a meerschaum mine close to Mount Kilimanjaro. This meerschaum deposit along with a few others were all in the Amboseli region at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The meerschaum mined from this area is usually brown, black or yellow, is tougher, less porous, and considered to be of a lower quality compared to the Turkish variety. East African meerschaum was exported worldwide for use in the pipe industry. A subsidiary, Amboseli Pipes (also referred to in some sources as the Kilimanjaro Pipe Company Ltd.) produced several brands: Caveman, Countryman, Huntsman, Hillbilly, Kiko, Kilimanjaro, Kudu, Makonde, Merlin, Sportsman, Townsman, and others. Each sub-brand sharing or carrying unique animal logos (elephant, rhinoceros, bird, antelope to name a few).(Top) Faded elephant logo. (Bottom) A profile shot of the pipe used to compare with online sources.

After comparing pipe descriptions, pictures, and the logo found on my great grandfather’s pipe, I settled on the hypothesis that it was a Kiko Countryman (perhaps model #14, from the number found on the shank). Kiko literally means “pipe” in Swahili (Tanzania’s national language). The Tanganyika Meerschaum Corporation was eventually closed after an attempt to keep it running by a Belgium firm. East African meerschaum has been used in pipe manufacturing as recently as 2001 according to Pipedia. For more history and background, I highly recommend checking out Pipedia’s writeup at the following link: https://pipedia.org/wiki/Kiko.Some pictures of the pipe, pre-restoration. Note the slight oxidation (brown tint) on the mouth-end of the stem.

After completing my research, I picked up the pipe once again, now with a greater appreciation of its origins and perhaps rarity (though it remains priceless to me). It was a truly special piece as it was mined, manufactured, and likely purchased in my family’s native Tanzania. At this point, I was torn as to whether I wanted to touch the pipe at all considering its history, meaning, condition and how pristine it looked for its age. However, the stem was showing some age, so that’s where I decided to focus my restoration efforts.The disassembled pipe. This was my first encounter with a threaded tenon system.Close-up details of the buildup and oxidation on the tenon and stem, respectively.

As with previous stem restorations I’d done, I started with sanitization – some bristle pipe cleaners dipped in 91% alcohol did the trick. I ran the soaked pipe cleaners through the stem until one came out near white. I then cleaned the threaded tenon system with a medium bristle toothbrush and some more alcohol just to get rid of any debris and minor buildup. The next step was to clean the outside of the stem with cotton pads and yet more alcohol. This gets rid of any dirt adhered to the surface.The stem, post-sanitization. Oxidation still present.

It was then time to soak the stem in a solution of oxi-clean and warm water to loosen up the oxidation. After a 30-minute soak and one more pass through with a pipe cleaner, the stem was ready for sanding.(Left) The stem after an oxi-clean soak; uniform, matte black finish. (Right) Micro-Mesh sanding pads.

I turned to my trusty Micro-Mesh sanding pads. I worked through from a 1,500 to a 12,000-grit pad, sanding the stem while trying to avoid removing the elephant marking completely. Patiently working through all the pads ensures a deep shine that’ll last. A quick wipe/buff with a dab of oil (I had almond oil on hand) and a microfiber cloth and the stem was nearly finished.

At this point, I attempted to re-ink the elephant logo using some fine implements (toothpick and a sewing needle) and some white acrylic paint. Unfortunately, even though the logo was still visible, it’s far too shallow to re-ink given my very limited experience.The finished and re-assembled stem. The shallow elephant logo can still be made out.

That’s all there was to the restoration aspect of this pipe. I reassembled the pipe and gave it a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth. Finished pipe.

I still have mixed feelings about actually firing it up. Perhaps on my great grandfather’s birthday and/or death anniversary, I will honour his memory with a smoke (likely an English blend as he would’ve enjoyed) through this great little meer pipe. I’m currently looking into getting a display case for the pipe so that I can have it out for my family to view and enjoy. The pipe will stay with me from here on out and will be passed down along with my great grandfather’s autobiography for generations to come. Finished pipe.

Web Sources: pipedia.org, pipephil.eu, wikipedia.org

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