Restoring a NOS Unsmoked C.P.F. Black Well Gutta-percha P-lip

Blog by Steve Laug

As mentioned in several recent blogs, one of the great packages I brought back from my trip to Idaho was a small bag of C.P.F. pipes smoked and unsmoked. Jeff is pretty sure they came from an antique shop in Montana where we have picked up some nice C.P.F. pipes in the past. Some of these have horn stems while others have Gutta-percha bases. Some have briar or hardwood bowls while some have meerschaum bowls. I went through the bag and chose the next pipe I wanted to work on. It was an unsmoked C.P.F. Gutta-percha base with a briar bowl that is stamped Black Well on the left side of the shank over the C.P.F. in an oval logo. The base and stem is a single unit and the button is a classic Peterson P-lip style with the airway coming out on the top of the button aiming the smoke onto the palate. The bowl was dirty but unsmoked and had a thin coat of varnish or possibly shellac over it so it had a spotty shiny look to it. Other than being dirty the base and stem were in good condition. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition at the start of the process. I took a close up photo of the rim top and bowl to show the condition of the unsmoked briar. It was clean but dusty and grimy. The rim top showed some wear in the shellac coat that was on the rest of the bowl. The photos of the Gutta-percha base and stem show its general condition. It was dull but unused so it should clean up well. There was some oxidation on the bend in the top of the shank. The button is a classic Peterson style P-lip with the airway coming out on top of the stem.The next photo shows the stamping on the shank and the band. It is clear and readable. The stamping reads as noted above. There is a faint gold leaf in the stamping.I took the bowl off the base to give a picture of how the pipe came apart. You can see the threads on the bottom of the bowl that screw into the base.Before I start working on a pipe I like to review the history or background on the brand. I have done that on all the C.P.F. pipes I have restored. So as always I include some of the material I have written on the brand to remind myself and you readers about the history of this great brand of American made smoking pipes. If you remember this you can skip ahead to the restoration, The link to the blog follows ( I quote a pertinent part of the blog below:

From my reading and research it seems to me that C.P.F. brand was discontinued sometime in the 1910-1920 range. Again, turning to Bill Feuerbach I found that he notes the following, which pins down the time frame of the discontinuation of the brand more specifically, “I have a C.P.F. Chesterfield in our office display that has a nametag from way before my time that says 1900 C.P.F. Chesterfield. It looks like most other Chesterfields you’ve seen, including the military type push stem, except this stem is horn and not vulcanite. As far as I have gathered the C.P.F. brand was phased out sometime around 1915.” Interestingly, he noted that the Chesterfield name and style was later introduced in the KB&B, Kaywoodie and Yello-Bole lines. He says that the 1924 KB&B catalog shows KB&B Chesterfields…

… From my research I believe that we can definitively assert that the C.P.F. logo stands for Colossus Pipe Factory. The brand was purchased by KB&B sometime between 1884 and 1898 and that it continued until 1915. That time frame gives help in dating some of the older C.P.F. pipes you or I might find. It can be said that prior to the dual stamping it is fairly certain that the pipe is pre-1884 to 1898. After the dual stamping it can be placed post 1898 until the closure of the brand line in 1915. C.P.F. made beautiful pipes.

I also am including some background material on Gutta-percha and the variety of cast products that were sold. Here is the link to the blog I wrote on the material if you are interested in reading about the material and seeing some of the pipes ( I quote a pertinent part of the blog below:

That led me to do some research on the web to see what I could find out about the material. (Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without Google. I don’t know how I survived college and graduate school without it.) The first link I found and turned to was on Wikipedia ( I quote large portions of that article below to set the base for understanding the material’s composition and origin.

Scientifically classified in 1843, it was found to be a useful natural thermoplastic. In 1851, 30,000 long cwt (1,500,000 kg) of gutta-percha was imported into Britain. During the second half of the 19th century, gutta-percha was used for myriad domestic and industrial purposes, and it became a household word. In particular, it was needed as insulation for underwater telegraph cables, which, according to author John Tully, led to unsustainable harvesting and a collapse of the supply.

According to Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd’s Endodontology: “Even long before Gutta-percha was introduced into the western world, it was used in a less processed form by the natives of the Malaysian archipelago for making knife handles, walking sticks and other purposes. The first European to discover this material was John Tradescant, who collected it in the Far East in 1656. He named this material “Mazer wood”. Dr. William Montgomerie, a medical officer in Indian service, introduced gutta-percha into practical use in the West. He was the first to appreciate the potential of this material in medicine, and he was awarded the gold medal by the Royal Society of Arts, London in 1843.”

…In the mid-19th century, gutta-percha was also used to make furniture, notably by the Gutta-Percha Company (established in 1847). Several of these ornate, revival-style pieces were shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London. When hot it could be moulded into furniture, decorations or utensils.

It was also used to make “mourning” jewelry, because it was dark in color and could be easily molded into beads or other shapes. Pistol hand grips and rifle shoulder pads were also made from gutta-percha, since it was hard and durable, though it fell into disuse when plastics such as Bakelite became available. The material was adopted for other applications. The “guttie” golf ball (which had a solid gutta-percha core) revolutionized the game. Gutta-percha remained an industrial staple well into the 20th Century, when it was gradually replaced with superior (generally synthetic) materials, though a similar and cheaper natural material called balatá is often used in gutta-percha’s place. The two materials are almost identical, and balatá is often called gutta-balatá.

From that information I can date the pipe to the period prior to 1884-1898 because of the single C.P.F. stamp on the shank. The Gutta-percha base and stem also place it in a similar time period at the close of the 19th Century. At any rate it is an old pipe to remain unsmoked for this long. The story of its journey to Jeff and me this long after the date it was made is another mystery. This is one of those times that I wish an old pipe could speak and share the story of its journey. The most I can say is that it came from New York to Idaho Falls in journey that began in the 1880s and ended in 2019. Now it is has further traveled by air to Vancouver Canada as far west as it can go and remain on the same continent… What a well-traveled pipe and one that I will never really know the story about the nature of the journey. Armed with that information it was not time to work on the pipe.

I decided to begin with the bowl. I took the bowl off the base to deal with the varnish/shellac coat and some of the dark spots on the rim and bowl sides. I am still experimenting with Mark Hoover’s Briar Cleaner to see what I think of it as a possible replacement for my usual Murphy’s Oil Soap scrub. I rubbed it onto the bowl and worked it into the grain of the briar. I wiped it off with a clean cloth. There was still a coat of grime and grit from the cleaner left behind so I rinsed it with warm water to remove that and dried it with a microfiber cloth. I am really not sure if this is any better than the Murphy’s but I am committed to working with it. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process. One of the nice features of working on a NOS pipe is that the internals are very clean. I ran a pipe cleaner through the airway in the bowl and shank just to remove dust and the internals were finished. I directed my attention to polishing the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the dust. I rubbed the bowl down with a coat of Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the briar. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. The old briar was dry and it drank up the balm. I buffed the bowl with a soft cloth to raise a shine. I like how the pipe looks as this point in the process.  I set the bowl aside and started working on the Gutta-percha base. There some oxidation on the top of the shank portion of the base. There was also some oxidation on the stem. I scrubbed the base with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap and rinsed it with warm water inside and out. I dried it off with a soft microfiber cloth. I polished the base with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I finished the polishing with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. As I have said before, I love these old C.P.F. pipes. There is some information that they were carved by European trained craftsman who were skilled pipemakers. These pipemakers were brought to the US by the C.P.F. Company to make pipes. Many of the shapes, bands and stems have such high quality workmanship involved that I really think there is truth to this story. This one not only had a better carved bowl than the pistol pipe that I just finished but it was a really nice piece of briar. The bowl was carved to take advantage of the grain.

This Gutta-percha Black Well pipe is very well made. There may be one small fill on the bowl just above the decorative bead on the bottom of the bowl. It is hard to see as it is well blended. I put the bowl on the base and polished the pipe with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel carefully avoiding the stamping on the shank. I gave the bowl and the base 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 grain really stood out against the polished Gutta-percha black base. It seemed to take on life with the buffing.The finished pipe has a rich look that is quite catching. Have a look at it with the photos below. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 5 ¼ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/4 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. This one will be joining my collection as it fits in the C.P.F. niche group that I have been building. The shape and feel in the hand is perfect. Now I have yet another hard decision – do I leave it unsmoked or do I load it up with some aged Virginia and break it in. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I restored and reworked this old timer from 1884-1898. It is always a treat for me to work on a piece of pipe history especially when I have learned a bit of the story behind it.

2 thoughts on “Restoring a NOS Unsmoked C.P.F. Black Well Gutta-percha P-lip

  1. Al Moon

    I have the answer for you about whether you should leave it unsmoked or use Virginia in it.
    Leave it unsmoked and sell it to me for my Gutta Percha pipe pile. I will not sully it with Virginia, but a nice gentle Burley from Peter Stokkebey. Their 702 Burley, or Lane 1Q


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