Restoring 16th Pipe from the Mumbai Bonanza Lot; an Amphora X-tra # 726

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

The next pipe that I had selected to work on was dictated by my desire to work on something that would be a simple and an easy project. I went through the lot that Abha, my wife, had sent me duly cleaned and selected one that came to us in a lot which I prefer to call as my Mumbai Bonanza!!

I was fortunate enough to have heeded the advice of my dear friend and mentor, Steve, and struck a deal with a junk collector from Mumbai. He did not know what he was selling and I did not know what I was buying as we reside in different cities!! The argument that Mr. Steve presented was that if not anything, I shall at least have some spares and this was logical. I struck a deal and here are pictures of the pipes that I received in this lot. This lot contains some very nice collectible pipes, a few well known brands and some mediocre brands. Overall, with seven Dunhill pipes, a Preben Holm #1 FH, a couple of “Made in England” Pete System pipes, a couple of  Charatan’s Belvedere, Custom-Bilt, Stanwell and other assorted pipes, I would say that I had struck a decent haul!! This is indeed my “Mumbai Bonanza”.

This 16th pipe that I decided to work on from this find is a medium sized straight billiards and is indicated in yellow color arrow. It has a very solid feel in the hand with top quality briar. The pipe in fact oozes of very high quality of craftsmanship with perfect proportions and classic design!! It is stamped on the left of the shank as “AMPHORA” in block capital letters over “X-tra – 726” in sentence form. The right side of the shank is stamped as “GENUINE BRIAR” over COM stamp “AMPHORA – Holland”. All the stampings are crisp and easily readable. The logo seen on this stem is letter ‘A’ embossed in a circle.Since this is the first Amphora pipe that I am working on, I was keen to know more about this brand and if possible, dating this pipe. I first turned to for information and the little information that I gained is reproduced below:-

Amphora pipes are made in Holland by the Jos. Gubbels organization, the same company which makes the very well known and loved Amphora Pipe Tobaccos. The pipes are produced in relatively small numbers to a high standard and not commonly found. They were used primarily in promotions and incentives for Amphora tobacco.

The Royal Dutch Pipe Factory Elbert Gubbels & Sons B.V. is the only manufacturer of briarroot tobacco pipes in the Benelux countries where pipes of high quality are made under the brands Big Ben, Hilson, Royal Dutch and Amphora. They also supply numerous smokers’ accessories of high quality.

I came across this shape chart posted on this site courtesy Doug Valitchka, which shows the shape # 726 as being a medium billiard and similar to the one on my table.Next I turned to and the only additional information I learned was that its mother company, The Royal Dutch Pipe Factory went bankrupt in 2012.

Still not satisfied with the information gained so far, I turned to and sure enough, I came across this addendum by Robert M. Boughton which points to a connection of Amphora pipes to Dr. Grabow!! This does make for a very interesting read and is highly recommended. Here is the link to the write up:-

The pipe came to us in a very well smoked state and a thick layer of cake build up is observed in the chamber. The rim top surface is covered in the thick overflow of lava and several dents and dings to the inner and outer rim edges can be seen, probably caused due to tapping it must have received at the hands of the previous owner to remove the dottle. This will need to be addressed.The smooth stummel surface has beautiful grain patterns with a mix of Bird’s eye, cross grains and nice swirls. The stummel surface has dulled a bit and appears lifeless due to accumulation of dust and dirt. The mortise and the draught hole are clogged with accumulation of oils and tars making the draw laborious.The straight vulcanite saddle stem has a slight flair out towards the slot end and is deeply oxidized with bite marks and tooth chatter on either surface in the bite zone, more so on the upper surface of the stem. The insides of the slot and tenon have heavy accumulation of oils and tars. The stem has calcification deposits towards the button end. The button edges also have bite marks; in fact, they are worn out at places. The embossed logo of ‘A’ has faded a bit.INITIAL CLEANING BY ABHA…
The initial cleaning on this pipe was done by Abha, my wife (she has cleaned up around 40-50 pipes and these have now reached me for further restoration). She reamed out the complete cake and further smoothed out the chamber walls with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. She further cleaned out the internals of the shank with pipe cleaners and alcohol and cotton buds. She followed the internal cleaning of the shank with external cleaning of the stummel using Murphy’s Oil soap and hard bristled tooth brush and dried it with paper napkins and cotton cloth.

Next she cleaned out the internals of the stem air way and immersed it in “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution along with the stem of other pipes in line for restoration. Once the stem had soaked overnight, she cleaned the stem under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using Scotch Brite pad. She further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stem with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little olive oil to rehydrate the stem.

The cleaned up pipes presents a very clear picture of what needs to be done to restore this pipe to a pristine and smokable condition. I really cannot thank Abha, my wife, enough for all the help and support that she extends me in my pursuance of this hobby. I proceed to carry out my appreciation of the work that needs to be done on this pipe to restore it.

The chamber is odorless and the walls are solid without any signs of damage. The smooth rim top surface with nicks and uneven surface is where all the action is on this pipe with an equally damaged inner and outer rim edge. This should be addressed to some extent when I top the rim surface.The stummel surface is without any fills or dents and dings. The only issue that I can figure is the dull and dry appearance of the stummel. This stummel will turn out beautiful and the grains will stand out once I have sanded and polished the surface. The mortise and shank internals are nice and clean.The oxidation on the vulcanite stem has been greatly reduced, thanks to all the efforts put in by Abha, clearly defining the deeper bite marks and the damage to the button edges on both surfaces of the stem. These tooth marks would be required to be filled with a mix of activated charcoal and superglue. A bit of sanding to match the fill and remove the deeper oxidation followed by micromesh polishing cycle should add a nice shine to the stem. The stem logo, unfortunately, appears to have worn out during the initial cleaning. I shall try and highlight it to the extent possible.THE PROCESS
The first issue I addressed was that of the stem repairs as this would take the maximum of my time to clean, repair and subsequently spruce up the stem. I flamed the damaged button edge and the tooth indentations with the flame of a lighter. This helps the vulcanite to rise to the surface as it has an inherent property to regain its original shape when heated. Once the vulcanite had risen to the surface, a few linear pits were observed right at the bottom of the button edge on both sides of the stem surface (marked in red semi circle). It appears as if the stem surface would break and cave in along these linear pits. To address this issue and also to sharpen the button edges, I mixed superglue and activated charcoal powder and diligently applied it over the pits in the bite zone on both upper and lower stem surface and over both the button edges and set it aside to cure.With the stem fill set aside to cure, I started with cleaning of the stummel surface. With a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper, I sand the entire stummel surface. This not only removes the stubborn dirt and grime that remained on the stummel but also evens out the minor dents and dings from the surface. I followed it up with sanding using a piece of 0000 grade steel wool. This helps reduce the sanding marks left behind by the coarser grit sand paper. These sanding marks will be completely eliminated once I am through with micromesh and Blue Diamond polish.Now that I had a fair idea of the extent of topping required to the rim surface, I top the rim on a piece of 220 grit sand paper to even out the rim surface dents and dings. I addressed the uneven inner edge by creating a light bevel to inner edge with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper pinched between my thumb and index finger. To further smooth out the scratches left behind by the abrasive 220 girt sand paper, I top the rim surface on a piece of 400 grit sand paper. I had hoped that further sanding with a 400 grit paper will address the minor dings that remained on the outer edge, but that was not to be. Thus, with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper pinched between my thumb and index finger, I created a light bevel over the outer edge. I am very happy at the way the chamber and rim top surface appears at this point in restoration.I subjected the stummel to a complete cycle of micromesh polish, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I paid greater attention to polish the rim top surface and the bevels created on the inner and outer rim edges. I wiped the stummel with a moist cloth after every grit pad to remove the sanding dust left behind by the pads. This also helps in monitoring the progress being made and provides an opportunity to take early corrective action, if required. I am happy with the progress being made till now. Next, I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the briar with my finger tips and worked it deep in to the surface and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful swirl grain patterns on full display. The contrast of the dark browns of the grain with the light hues of the rest of the stummel adds an interesting dimension to the appearance of the stummel. I further buffed it with a horse hair brush to further deepen the shine. Turning my attention to the stem repairs in my home stretch, using a flat head needle file, I reshaped the button and roughly matched the fills with the rest of the stem surface. I sand the fills with a piece of folded 220 grit sand paper and followed it up by further sanding the stem with 320, 600, 800 grit sand papers and finally with a piece of 0000 grade steel wool to achieve a perfect blending of the fills with the stem surface and a build a crisp button edge on either surface of the stem. The repairs look good and the stem should polish up nicely.I completed the polishing cycle of the stem by wet sanding the surface with 1500 to 12000 girt pads. The stem looks great with the fills nicely matched with the rest of the surface. I gave a final rub with “Before and After Extra Fine” stem polish compound from Mark to remove fine scratches from the stem surface. I rub a little quantity of Extra Virgin Olive oil in to the stem surface and set it aside to be absorbed by the vulcanite. The stem polished up nicely and appears as good as when new. To complete the restoration, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and applied a coat of Blue Diamond to the stummel and the stem to polish out the minor scratches. With a cotton buffing wheel that I use for carnauba wax, I apply a coat of carnauba wax and continue to work on it till the complete coat of wax had been polished out. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe with a natural finish to the briar looks amazingly beautiful and is now ready for a change of guard with a new piper. The pipe feels really light in the hand and has such a perfect balance in the mouth if you like to smoke your pipe clenched. I really appreciate your valuable time spent in walking the distance with me on this restoration.

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