Blog by Steve Laug
The photo below shows a group of five pipes that Jeff and I picked up at an antique mall near Calgary. There were five different pipes and all were nice, but the best of the lot was a nice looking Ben Wade Spiral Freehand. It had a spiral shank and the fancy turned stem also had a spiral saddle. When we took it out of the display case we already knew it was a Preben Holm made pipe. We had no doubt, as Preben Holm’s pipes are always very recognizable. This one had a great sandblast around the bowl and shank with a smooth portion on the front, right and rear about 1/3 of the way down the bowl from the rim edge. It had a plateau rim and shank end. We examined it and sure enough it was a Ben Wade pipe by Holm. It is stamped on a smooth twist on the underside of the shank and reads Ben Wade over Spiral Sandblast over Hand Made in Denmark. There was a crown with BW inside on the topside of the stem. It was in decent condition and the price was right. The finish on the bowl was dirty and dull. The plateau rim top and shank end were dirty. The plateau rim top had some lava overflow and darkening and there was a thick cake in the bowl. It was a dirty pipe but should clean up well. The stem was acrylic and dirty and had light tooth chatter on both sides. When got back to where we were staying I took photos of the group of pipes to highlight the find. They were some nice looking pipes.We were very excited about the finds from the trip and the last day Jeff and Sherry were with me we divided them up. Jeff would take the ones that needed to have his magic worked on them before I restored them and I would take the ones that were in decent condition. This was probably the first mistake we made. But the gravity of not sending them in Jeff’s car would become evident once I returned home.
Ben Wade Ad in a Tinder Box catalog, courtesy Doug Valitchka
I wrapped all the pipes in packing tissue and rolled them in some of my clothes before packing them in my hard shell carry-on bag. I carefully put it in the overhead bin in the plane and then rolled it out once I was back in Vancouver. I put the bag aside and in the morning opened the suitcase and unpacked the pipes. Each pipe I took out and unwrapped was in excellent condition. No damage at all. I had purposely saved the Ben Wade for last and when I unwrapped it I almost cried. The tenon had snapped and the stem and pipe were apart. I have no idea how it happened but now I had a damaged pipe from the trip and it was truly one of the nicer finds! Here is a photo of what I found.I put the pipe in a baggie and set it aside until I had dealt with the feelings of stupidity for not having sent it with Jeff or at least packing it better. I cleaned up several other pipes before I even looked at this one. Then last evening I finally felt like dealing with it. I took it out of the bag and took photos of the pipe before I started working on it. (You have to agree it truly has a great sandblast!) I decided the first order of business was to pull the broken tenon. I used a pair of needle nose pliers and clamped down on the broken end of the tenon and wiggled it free. Fortunately the snapped tenon was not stuck in the shank and it came out quite easily as you can see from the photo below. Now I needed to drill out the stem and fit it with a replacement tenon.The first step in the process of fitting a replacement tenon is cleaning up the damage on the stem. I smoothed out the broken tenon with my Dremel and a sanding drum. I knocked off the sharp remnants of the broken edges and smooth it out. If you are paying attention you can see that the airway in the stem is not centered. This would make opening the airway and centering a new tenon a challenge to say the least. It could be done but I would need to pay attention and there would be some extra steps that would have to be done to fit it properly.I used a pen knife to chamfer the airway and bring it to a centered position so that when I drilled it I could follow it in and keep it centered. I started with a drill bit that was slightly larger than the airway in the stem. I drilled it as deep as the length of the threaded portion of the replacement tenon. I worked my way up to a drill bit as large in diameter as the tenon end.I used a tap to thread the inside of the stem to receive the new tenon. I twisted it into the stem until it was the depth of the threaded tenon end. I also used the Dremel to take the hip off the replacement stem so that it would fit flush against the stem. Once the stem was threaded I gave the threads on the tenon a light coat of epoxy and twisted it into the opening in the stem with a pair of pliers. I took photos of the stem with the tenon in place and set it aside for the glue to cure. I took close up photos of the bowl and rim top as well as the stem surface. You can see the condition of the rim top and bowl in the first photo. There was some lava overflow on the rim top on the left and rear of the bowl. There was also some darkening around the inner edge of the bowl and some on the rim top. The cake in the bowl was quite thick. The stem showed some tooth chatter on both sides near and on the button surface.I remembered a bit of history on the brand that thought that the Preben Holm pipes were marketed under the Ben Wade label in the US and imported through Lane Ltd. I turned to Pipedia and read the listing on the brand to refresh my memory and flesh out the knowledge of the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Wade). I have included a photo from that site that was taken from a Tinderbox advertisement.
Ben Wade Ad in a Tinder Box catalog, courtesy Doug Valitchka
I quote the portion of the article that summarizes the Danish period of the history of the brand:
Young Copenhagen master pipemaker Preben Holm had made a meteoric career heading a pipe manufacture employing 45 people at the age of 22! But around the turn of 1970/71 he was in major financial difficulties. His US distributor, Snug Harbour Ltd. in New York City, left him in the lurch. Holm had three unpaid invoices on his desk and another large shipment was ready for the USA, when Snug Harbour’s manager told him on the phone that there was no money at all on the account to pay him.
So the Dane went to New York for an almost desperate search for a new distribution partner. He made contacts with Lane Ltd. and met Herman G. Lane in February 1971. Lane Ltd. had no interest in Holm’s serial pipes produced at that time but so much the more in the hand-carved freehands because the hype for Danish freehands and fancies in the States was still on its way to the climax then. The meeting resulted in an agreement to start a cooperation. Lane insisted to improve the quality considerably and in return he assured to be able to sell essentially larger quantities.
Holm went back home to work on new samples with all-new designs and altered finishes for Lane. Both, Lane and Holm, agreed that it would be unwise to sell the pipes under Preben Holm’s name as long as Snug Harbour had a considerable stock of Preben Holm pipes and might sell them pipes at very low prices just to bring in some money.
So on Mr. Lane’s proposal it was determined to use the name Ben Wade belonging to Lane Ltd. Lane spent considerable amounts of money for advertising the new brand in the big magazines– the centerpiece being whole-page ads showing a very exclusive Seven Day’s Set.
The cooperation with Lane Ltd. proved to be an eminent business success for both partners. Within a very short time Ben Wade Handmade Denmark sold in much larger quantities and at higher prices than they had ever dreamed of. And the hype these freehands and fancy pipes caused went on unbroken long after Herman G. Lane deceased. Preben Holm – obviously much more brilliant in pipe making than in pipe business – was in major troubles again in 1986 and had to sack most of his staff. The Ben Wade production was significantly lowered but continued until his untimely death in June of 1989.
Up to now Preben Holm made Ben Wade pipes are cult and highly sought for on the estate markets.
With that information my initial thoughts were confirmed. This pipe was a Preben Holm made Freehand distributed in the US by Lane Ltd under the name Ben Wade. The freehand rage occurred in the late 70s and the pipes were made until Preben’s death in 1989. My guess would be that this pipe was made sometime during that time period and potentially in the late 70s.
Armed with that information I followed the regular regimen that Jeff and I use for cleaning estates. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer using the largest cutting head as this pipe has a particularly large bowl. I followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the remaining cake and smooth out the walls. I finished the bowl cleanup by sanding the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel to smooth out the inside walls of the bowl. I also scrubbed the rim top plateau with a wire brush to knock of the lava that was built up there. I scrubbed the briar with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. I worked to remove the remaining lava and minimize the darkening. I rinsed it under warm running water. The photos show the rim top after scrubbing. It looked much better at this point. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips and into the plateau rim top and shank end with 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 to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. With the outside cleaned and shining I moved on to clean up the inside airways and mortise in the shank and the stem. I scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I set the cleaned bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded out the tooth chatter with 220 grit sandpaper and started to polish it with a folded piece of 400 wet dry sandpaper. Once it was finished it began to shine.I used some Denicare Mouthpiece Polish that I have in my kit to start polishing out some of the scratches and remaining oxidation on the stem. I rubbed it in with a cotton pad and my finger tip and buffed it off with a cotton pad.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with some Obsidian Oil. I finished polishing it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and buffed it off with a cotton cloth. When I finished I gave it another coat of Obsidian Oil. This is a beautiful Preben Holm made Ben Wade Spiral Freehand with a fancy, twisted, black acrylic/Lucite stem. It has a great look and feel. The shape fits well in the hand with the sandblast giving a nice tactile sense when held. I polished stem and the bowl with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. 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 rich combination of sandblast and smooth finishes took on life with the buffing. The rich colour of the briar works well with the polished stem. I like the grain and finished look of this Preben Holm Ben Wade Spiral pipe. 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: 6 ¾ inches, Height: 2 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 1 inch. This Danish Freehand is a real beauty. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another beautiful pipe.