Redemption for an Old Pipe – a Briar Basket Holding a Meerschaum Egg Bowl

Blog by Steve Laug

One of my favourite finds from Jeff and my recent trip to Alberta was this old timer. It is in its original case with a broken amber stem and a brass filigreed band. The thing that made me buy this pipe was not the age or even the case. What made it stand out to me was the uniquely carved entangled vines and stump forming a basket for the egg shaped meerschaum bowl that sat inside of it. We found it in a little shop in in Innisfail, Alberta that had some interesting antiques but only this one pipe. The case is in decent condition though the hinges and clasp are shaken and will need to be repaired. There is no stamping on the shank that is readily visible and there is no logo that I can see on the faded lining of the case. I will need to inspect it more closely to be sure. The pipe was dirty and caked when we picked it up. The rim top had a thick buildup of lava flowing over from the thick cake in the bowl. It was hard and dense. The exterior of the bowl and shank are very dirty with grime and oils from prolonged use. The grooves of the intertwining vines of the briar were filled with dust and were dull and lifeless.  The meerschaum bowl insert had some patina to it but was also scratched and nicked in the spots where it showed through the vine. The stem that was with the pipe was amber and broken. The shape of the stem made me wonder about it as it was oval rather than round like the shank. The band was conical and held the stem end against the shank end. There was no tenon in the shank or stem piece. I took photos of the pipe before I started the cleanup. I took some close up photos of the briar exterior bowl to show the details in the carving. It is wrapped by vines and leaves and on the front of the bowl is ram’s head with a cluster of grapes between the horns. The shank is the thick vine from which the vines around the bowl flow. The briar and the meerschaum are dirty and dust is deep in the grooves of the briar and in the spaces around the connection to the bowl.I carefully removed the band from the shank and could see that there was no tenon in the shank. The shank itself was clogged up with tars and oils. The stem was fit into the filigreed band with wraps of paper that had locked into the band. I carefully wiggled the broken amber stem out of the band and was surprised by the mess that came out with it. The wraps of paper lined the band and needed to be scraped out and the stem itself was oval! This was definitely not the correct stem for this pipe. The band and the shank were both round and a oval stem without a tenon did not work with the original design of the pipe. With the band removed from the shank and the bowl freed of the stem it was time to work on the cake in the bowl. Because of the delicate nature of this inserted bowl I decided to scrape out the cake with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife. I took the cake back to bare walls on the meer bowl. I sanded out the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel. I scraped the rim top with the knife and then sanded off the lava build up with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted to remove the grime without removing the patina that was underneath. I scraped out the inside of the shank with a pen knife to clean out the build up of tars and oils on the inside. There was a lot of buildup in the shank that needed to be removed. Once it was scraped clean I cleaned it out with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the remainder of buildup and open the airway in the shank. Once I was finished, the pipe not only smelled clean but was very clean. The airflow in the shank was clear and draw was perfect.I went through my can of stems to see if I could find one that could possibly work. I knew that I did not have an amber one but I probably had an acrylic one that I could shape. It was not long before I found one that would work for this pipe. I would need to reduce the diameter of the tenon to get a good fit and to shape the diameter of the stem at the tenon make it fit with the filigreed shank band.Once I had the tenon reduced I put the band on the shank and inserted the stem to get an idea of what I needed to do to adjust and adapt the stem. I took photos of the pipe and stem from various angles to see what needed to be done. You can see the bulging around the band that I will need to take down. My brother Jeff called it a belly!I used a rasp to remove the excess material on the “hips” of the stem. I sanded it smooth and put it in the shank to see the progress. The photos below show the progress! I used a Dremel and sanding drum to take off more material and to smooth out the marks left behind by the rasp. I sanded the stem with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it out further and inserted the stem in the shank to check the progress. I further sanded the “hips” until I was happy with the overall look of the stem at this point. I polished the sanding marks on the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I wanted to remove as much of the scratching as I could before using micromesh sanding pads.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with a damp cloth. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and buffed it with a cotton pad. I heated water in a cup in the microwave to bend the stem. Once the water was boiling I put the Lucite stem in the water and let it sit until the stem was pliable. I carefully bent it to match angle of the case.I wet sanded the stem once again with the full range of micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12000 grit and wiped it down after each pad with a damp cloth. The stem was finished after this regimen.I set the stem aside and turned my attention to cleaning up the externals of the bowl. I scrubbed the briar and meerschaum with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to get in to all the nooks and crannies of the twisted vine and ram’s heard. I rinsed it in warm water and dried it off with a soft cotton cloth. I worked Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar with my fingertips and a horse hair shoe brush. I made sure to get it into all the nooks and crannies of the briar. I buffed it with a soft cotton cloth to raise a shine. This newly restemmed old timer looks really good to me. The new Lucite stem approximates the look of amber without the fragility. It fits the pipe well and has a great look and feel. The shape is very tactile with the vines and leaves wrapped around the meerschaum bole. It feels great in the hand and should be very nice as it warms up with a bowl of tobacco inside. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a soft cotton cloth to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The grain on the vines and leaves entwining the bowl came alive with the buffing. The rich contrasting browns and patina on the meerschaum works well with the polished acrylic stem. 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 ½ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/8 inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over the next of the finds of Jeff and my Alberta pipe hunt. It is an old timer that is unlike anything that I have ever seen before. The combination of briar and meerschaum is catching and unique. Give the blog a read and if any of you have seen one like this let me know in the comments below. Any help will be appreciated.

4 thoughts on “Redemption for an Old Pipe – a Briar Basket Holding a Meerschaum Egg Bowl

  1. Dave

    Fantastic find, and well done Steve, with the restoration and re-stem. I have never seen anything like it. The workmanship of the briar-meerschaum-brass-amber is very well done. A pipe to be treasured.


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