Restoring a Meerschaum Bent Billiard from Bob Kerr’s Estate


 Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I have chosen to work on from Bob Kerr’s estate is one of his unique meerschaum pipes. The family notes identified this as Peterson Meerschaum and the crater finish on the meer certainly is very similar to some of the Peterson’s Meers that I have worked on. However, there is no stamping or marking on the meerschaum and no nickel ferrule on the shank end. The shank is lined with a vulcanite or acrylic tube that strengthens the shank and that is not something I have seen on Petersons. The vulcanite stem is a fishtail rather than a Peterson’s  P-lip stem. There is an identifying stamp on the left side of the saddle. It is a logo stamp that looks like a walking pipe with a wisp of smoke curling out of the top of the bowl. The top of the bowl has a flumed black rim top that extends down the side of the bowl for about a ¼ inch. It is part of the estate that I am cleaning up for the family and moving them out into the hands of pipemen and women who will carry on the trust that began with their father, Bob. In the collection there were 19 Peterson’s pipes along with a bevy of Dunhills, some Comoy’s and Barlings as well as a lot of other pipes – 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 really am enjoying working on the Peterson’s in the estate. This meerschaum was interesting to me in that it is a bit of a mystery and has some patina and wear that tell a story. Even if it is not a Peterson, it is a nice meerschaum bent billiard. When I took it out of the box of cleaned up pipes that Jeff sent back I could see that it had of the typical crater finishes that some Peterson’s Meers had in the past.. It has some patina developing around the bowl and shank under the thick grime, chips and tarry spots. The shank is quite thick and the finish is dirty. 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 top and edges of the rim are dirty. The stem was oxidized and calcified toward the button end. Surprisingly it did not have the deep tooth marks that I have come to expect from Bob’s pipes and even the button edges were in decent condition. 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 thick, hard cake in the bowl and the lava build up on the top of the rim and the edges of the bowl. There were some nicks on the outer edge of the bowl but it was hard to tell if there was any damage to the inner edge of the rim as it had a thick cake lining it. Hopefully it protected it.Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the finish. You can see the scratches and pitting in the meerschaum finish in the craters and on the smooth surfaces of the bowl underneath the dirt and debris of the years. Jeff took photos of the shank showing the chips on the top edge and the stamping on the left side of the stem. The chips are around vulcanite or acrylic insert in the shank. The stamping on the stem was readable as you can see from the photos. 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 am pretty sure the pipe was made by the Laxey Pipe Ltd. on the Isle of Man for either another export company or for Peterson’s in Ireland (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Laxey_Pipes_Ltd). I quote from the Pipedia article in full:

Laxey Pipe Ltd. resided in a historical 19th century four-storey Man stone building at The Quay, Old Laxey, Isle of Man, which thankfully has been preserved. The company specialised in the production of Meerschaum Pipes using the Meerschaum mined by the Tanganyika Meerschaum Corporation in the Amboseli basin in Tanganyika (since 1964 part of the United Republic of Tanzania). Please note: you may often find names like “Manx Pipes Ltd.”, “Man Pipe Co.” and others more, but there is no indication of another Isle of Man pipe producer other than Laxey Pipe Ltd. at any time!

Laxey Pipe Ltd. marketed own brands like “Manxpipe”, “Manxman”, “Manxland” e.c. Names like “John Bull”, “White Knight” (unwaxed), “Domino” (black, or lined) indicated some shapes / colours of Laxey’s own series. The stems either showed the astronomical sign for “male” or “man” (circle + arrow), or the crest of the Isle of Man, the 3-legged X in a circle. Manxpipes and Laxey’s other brands were available through pipe retailers in general, but also were sold (mainly) to tourists through their own shop in Laxey.

Furthermore Laxey Pipe Ltd. manufactured the meer bowls for Peterson, Barling, Nørding and others from the later 1960’s until 2001. Man Pipe e.g. was a brand distributed by Comoy’s. The bowls usually showed no nomenclature indicating the orderer. “Genuine Block Meerschaum” was engraved frequently. Often, just the stems were different, while bowls were the same.

Supply of meer from East Africa run out (Kenya / Tanzania exhausted, Somalia inaccessible), and thus the last Laxey meers were supplied to trade in May, 2001. Laxey Pipe Ltd. tried to survive continuing with briar pipes – mainly in the Danish style -, but to no success. It closed down business in July, 2002.

I looked for the stem logo on Pipephil and online and was not able to find any verification for who made the pipe. I suppose that I will never know for sure but it appears that the pipe was made on the Isle of Man for export for another European pipe company. I am guessing that like Bob’s other pipes, this one came from the time period of the late 60s or early 70s. That was as much as I could figure out.

With over 125 pipes to clean from Bob’s estate I am very glad for Jeff’s help cleaning them. He cleaned this filthy 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 great 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 I was amazed it looked so good. 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. I also wanted to show that the damage to the rim top was more extensive than I had originally thought. The rim top was worn and the flumed finish was rubbed off There were some small nicks and scratches around the top and outer edge. I also took close up photos of the stem to show the lack of tooth marks and the light oxidation on the stem surface. You can also see the wear to the button. I took some photos of the shank end to highlight some of the issues with this pipe and to show the stamping on the left side of the saddle stem. Where the vulcanite or acrylic insert was in the shank there were some chipped areas. There was one on the top right and two on the top left side. These chipped areas would need to be repaired. I circled the areas of concern with red on the first photo. The second photo shows the logo of the pipe with smoke curling out of the top on the left side of the stem.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 of this Crater Finished Bent Billiard. It was great that I did not need to clean the pipe. I decided to start the process by addressing the damage area surrounding the insert in the shank. I filled in the areas around the shank insert with clear super glue until they were even with the top of the rounded shank end. I spread the glue around the edges of the shank insert. I let them cure and then refilled them until the surface was even. The photos show the process and the shank end after I had filled in to an acceptable point where the condition of the shank end was good.    I sanded the repair with 220 and 400 grit sandpaper until the end of the shank was smooth and the repairs were blended into the shank surface. I used the sandpaper to clean up the scratching and nicks in the rim top surface. I cleaned the meerschaum bowl with Mark Hoover’s Before & After Briar Cleaner to remove the debris left behind by the sanding of the rim top and to blend the repairs into the briar. I rubbed it into the surface of the briar and let it sit for 10 minutes. I rinsed the bowl off with warm running water to remove the product and the grime. The mottled finish really stood out. Once the bowl dried the finish looked really good. I polished the meerschaum rim top and shank end as well as the smooth high spots on the bowl sides with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded it with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiped it down with a damp cloth after each pad. I touched up the rim top and edges with a Black Stain pen to match the colour of the top and the flume down the sides of the bowl. Once it was polished with the Before & After Balm and buffed with a microfiber cloth the stain would blend perfectly. I rubbed the meerschaum down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the meerschaum with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth 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 decided to touch up the logo stamp on the left side of the shank. I use PaperMate liquid paper for doing this. I worked it into the stamp with a tooth pick. Once the material had hardened I used the tooth pick to scrape off the excess material.     I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to break up the remaining oxidation and smooth out the file marks. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to remove the scratching. It is starting to look good.   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.   As usual at this point in the restoration process I am excited to be on the homestretch. I look forward to the final look 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 meerschaum and the vulcanite. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the 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 meerschaum has a rich glow with the wax and polish. The shiny black vulcanite stem is a beautiful contrast to the rich developing patina of the bowl. This Peterson’s style meerschaum is probably made by the Manx Pipe factory on the Isle of Mann. The crater style finish on this pipe made it another fun pipe to work. The repair on the inserted liner in the shank gives the shank a smooth finish. It really is a quite stunning pipe whose shape and finish make it stand out. The thick/chubby shank makes it a very 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: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This beautiful pipe will be going on the rebornpipes store if you would like to add it to your collection and carry on Bob’s legacy. If not, I have a lot more of Bob’s estate 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.

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