Blog by Steve Laug
I am continuing to work through Bob Kerr’s estate. The next pipe on the table is a GBD Historic Billiard, sandblasted bowl and shank and a smooth panel on the underside of the shank with the stamping. It is a Prehistoric with a black vulcanite stem. I am continuing to cleanup Bob’s estate for his family and moving them out into the hands of pipemen and women who will carry on the trust that began with Bob and in some pipes was carried on by Bob. In the collection there were a total of 125 pipes along with a box of parts. This is the largest estate that I have had the opportunity to work on. I put together a spread sheet of the pipes and stampings to create an invoice. I was taking on what would take me a fair amount of time to clean up. I could not pass up the opportunity to work on these pipes though. They were just too tempting.
I have been collecting and restoring GBD pipes for as long as I have worked on pipes. This one also has a beautiful mix of grain under the grime on the sandblast finish. It is quite beautiful! The pipe is stamped GBD in an oval over Historic on the underside of the shank. That is followed by stamping London, England and the shape number 115. It had a rich mix of black and dark brown stain that does not look too bad. There was a thick cake in the bowl with remnants of tobacco stuck on the walls. There was a lava overflow on the rim. The inner edge of the rim and top are dirty and had a thick lava coat. The edges appear to have a bit of burn damage on the front inner edge and the front outer edge has a bit of wear damage. It was a beautiful pipe that was dirty and tired looking. The stem was oxidized and calcified toward the end. Again, surprisingly did not have the tooth marks that I have come to expect from Bob’s pipes. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work on it. Jeff took photos of the bowl and rim top to show the cake in the bowl and the lava build up on the edges of the bowl. It was thick and hard but hopefully it had protected the rim and edges from damage. There appears to be a little damage on the left front inner and outer edges of the bowl. Otherwise it looks pretty good. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the finish. You can see the beautiful grain through the sandblast – both birdseye and cross grain. The finish was very dirty. Jeff took photos of the stamping on the smooth panel on the underside of the shank. The stamping was readable as you can see from the photos. On the underside it read GBD in an oval over Historic. That was followed by London, England over the shape number 115. On the left side of the saddle stem was an inlaid GBD rondel.Jeff took photos of the top and underside of the stem showing the tooth chatter, scratching and oxidation on the stem surface and wear on the edges of the button. I turned to Pipedia’s article on GBD to see if I could find any information on the Historic line. I have heard of Prehistoric pipes but I have never seen one stamped Historic. It is another one that is a mystery in terms of the line. The article gives a lot in terms of the history of the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/GBD). There is nothing specific on the Historic line.
I also turned to the reference page on the site for GBD shapes and numbers and found the one for the 115 shape but it called it a Prince of Wales and said that the saddle stem had a 1/8 bend. To me a Prince of Wales is a Prince shape pipe and the one that I was working on is definitely a billiard (https://pipedia.org/wiki/GBD_Shapes/Numbers). The vagaries of clearly pinning down GBD Shapes is evident in this seeming contradiction. I also did a screen capture of the section and from the various Model information. That also was an interesting conundrum in that the pipe in my hand was not smooth but had a sandblast finish like the Prehistoric with a smooth beveled rim top. I combined the screen captures in one picture below (https://pipedia.org/wiki/GBD_Model_Information). All of my research did not really help pin anything down. The shape number was a dead end contradiction as was the line description. I was dealing with a bit of anomaly – a Sandblast Billiard stamped Historic not Prehistoric with a straight thin bit stem. In terms of dating the pipe I can only guess that it fits in with the late 50s to late 60s of Bob’s other pipes but I cannot know for sure. Now it was time to work on the pipe.
With over 125 pipes to clean from Bob’s estate I took a batch of them to the states with me on a recent visit and left them with Jeff so he could help me out. Jeff cleaned the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness that I really appreciate. This one was a real mess and I did not know what to expect when I unwrapped it from his box. He reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the internals with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until the pipe was clean. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime and grit on the briar and the lava on the rim top. The finish looks very good with good looking grain around the bowl and shank. Jeff soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation on the rubber. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver for the second stop of its restoration tour it looked good. The stem still sported some deep oxidation but otherwise it was clean. I took photos before I started my part of the work. I took some close up photos of the rim top and also of the stem surface. I wanted to show what an amazing job Jeff did in the cleanup of the rim top. The rim top looks pretty good. There is some darkening on the top edge and a burn mark on the inner edge at the front. There is also some damage on the outer rim on the rim. The photos show a few small dents on the surface of the stem. You can also see the remaining oxidation on the stem surface. I am going to keep posting the next paragraph because of the importance of protecting the stamping/nomenclature.
One of the things I appreciate about Jeff’s cleanup is that he works to protect and preserve the nomenclature on the shank of the pipes that he works on. The stamping on this one was very faint to start with so I was worried that it would disappear altogether with the cleanup. He was not only able to preserve it but it is clearer than shown in the earlier photos. I took some photos to show the clarity of the stamping. I have noticed that many restorers are not careful to protect the stamping in their cleaning process and often by the end of the restoration the nomenclature is almost destroyed. I would like to encourage all of us to be careful in our work to preserve this as it is a critical piece of pipe restoration! Since this is another pipe Bob’s estate I am sure that some of you have read at least some of the other restoration work that has been done on the previous pipes. You have also read what I have included about Bob Kerr, the pipeman who held these pipes in trust before I came to work on them (see photo to the left). Also, if you have followed the blog for long you will already know that I like to include background information on the pipeman whose pipes I am restoring. For me, when I am working on an estate I really like to have a sense of the person who held the pipes in trust before I worked on them. It gives me another dimension of the restoration work. I asked Brian if he or his wife would like to write a brief biographical tribute to her father, Bob. His daughter worked on it and I received the following short write up on him and some pictures to go along with the words including one of Bob’s carvings. Once again I thank you Brian and tell your wife thank you as well.
I am delighted to pass on these beloved pipes of my father’s. I hope each user gets many hours of contemplative pleasure as he did. I remember the aroma of tobacco in the rec room, as he put up his feet on his lazy boy. He’d be first at the paper then, no one could touch it before him. Maybe there would be a movie on with an actor smoking a pipe. He would have very definite opinions on whether the performer was a ‘real’ smoker or not, a distinction which I could never see but it would be very clear to him. He worked by day as a sales manager of a paper products company, a job he hated. What he longed for was the life of an artist, so on the weekends and sometimes mid-week evenings he would journey to his workshop and come out with wood sculptures, all of which he declared as crap but every one of them treasured by my sister and myself. Enjoy the pipes, and maybe a little of his creative spirit will enter you!
Now, on to the rest of the restoration on this GBD Historic 115 Billiard. Since Jeff had done such an amazing clean up job on the bowl it was going to be a very easy job for me. There was some darkening and damage on the inner edge of the rim that needed to be addressed. I sanded it with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to remove and minimize the damage to the edge. I continued by starting to polish it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I wiped the rim edge down with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust on the briar. The finished rim top looked much better than when I started. I was able to minimize the damage on the front inner edge of the rim. It is still damaged but it looks considerably better. Once I clean it and stain it the rim edge will look better. I stained the rim top and edges with a Walnut and Black stain pen. I blended the colours to match the rest of the bowl colour. I also stained the shank end with the two pens to blend them into the flow of the colour on the shank and bowl. I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the briar with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth and shoe brush to raise the shine. Mark Hoover’s Balm is a product that I have come to appreciate and one I use on every pipe I have been working on. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to break up the oxidation. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to remove the scratching. It is starting to look good. I have one more tin of Denicare Mouthpiece Polish left from a few that I have picked up over the years. It is a coarse red pasted that serves to help remove oxidation. I polished the stem with that to further smooth out the surface of the vulcanite (and to be honest – to use it up). I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. Once I had finished the polishing I gave it final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I can’t tell you how great it feels to be moving through these 125 pipes – about 35 done so far! It seemed like an overwhelming task that can only be achieved one pipe at a time. So each time I finish one of the pipes from Bob Kerr’s Estate I look forward to what it will look like when it is put back together, polished and waxed. I put the bowl and stem back together. I polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the scratches in the briar and the vulcanite. I gave the bowl and 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 rich dark brown and black sandblast finish really popped with buffing showing the contrast colours of stain on the pipe. The polished thin black vulcanite stem went really well with the colours of the bowl. The sandblast rim top, though slightly damaged looked very good. This old GBD Historic Sandblast 115 Billiard was another fun pipe to work on thanks to Jeff’s cleanup work. It really has the classic GBD Billiard shape that is very recognizable. The combination of various stains really makes the pipe look attractive. It is another comfortable pipe to hold in the hand. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. If you are interested in carrying on Bob’s legacy with this pipe send me a message or an email. I have a lot more to work on of various brands. Perhaps one of those will catch your attention. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. This is an interesting estate to bring back to life.