A Long-time Friend Commissions a Blasted French GBD Sablée Standard Bent Billiard

Blog by Dal Stanton

I’ve known Steve for 40 or so years – I’m not counting!  In our earlier years we shared the same pursuit of going to seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, where we shared many things in common.  We studied dusty but fascinating theological books, wrote papers for hopeful professors, studied Greek and Hebrew and we would do the occasional obligatory trips to fish for bass and hunt ducks when they were in season.  We were both relatively new in the business of being husbands and against all odds, we also became fathers during this time of stretching our minds and hearts to be better men before our God and to do what we could to make a difference in this world.  After seminary, Steve and his family and I and my family followed different paths yet, over the years we’ve been able to cross those paths here and there and generally stay in touch – at least every few decades or so.  Steve is a wood worker going way back – the serious kind that gets paid for it.  When he came across my avocation of restoring pipes by seeing my posts on Facebook, he reached out to me a few years back and kept threatening to commission a pipe or two.  Steve isn’t a big pipe smoker, but his last email to me to confirm the two pipes he commissioned, wrote these words his pipe collection:

“I bought a very cheap one in a kit and these will probably be all the ones I get. But knowing that it came from the work of your hands will be special to me and help out the ministry to boot.”

Friendship is a valuable thing, and I appreciate Steve’s desire to help the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Steve commissioned a very nicely grained, honest to goodness American made iconic pipe, a Carey Magic Inch Straight Apple.  He also commissioned a continental pipe – a beautifully blasted GBD Sablée Standard long shank Bent Billiard.  Here are Steve’s commissioned pipes pictured when I first acquired them:The Carey Magic Inch came to me from another good friend, Dave Shane. I worked with Dave when he was a younger man in Ukraine, a pipe man and restorer himself (see: https://www.thepipery.com).  When I was in the US a few years ago I visited Dave and he gifted me a box of pipes that he hoped would benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria.  The Carey Magic Inch was in this offering.  The first pipe on my worktable is the GBD Sablée Standard which I acquired in what I have affectionately called, the Lot of 66, which I acquired on the eBay auction block a few years back.  This Lot of 66 has yielded many very nice collectable pipes and I’m honestly surprised that this Blasted GBD has remained this long waiting for someone to come along – a very nice pipe for Steve’s small, select collection. Here are more original pictures of the GBD: The nomenclature is found on the lower shank panel with a ‘GBD’ ensconced in the oval.  To the right is ‘Sablée’ [over] STANDARD.  To the right of this is the COM, ‘FRANCE’ perpendicular to the rest of the nomenclature.  The fancy lettering of ‘Sablée’ is classy.  I did a quick search of the French, ‘Sablée’ using Google Translate and discovered the meaning to be, “sandblasted” – a very nice blasted finish to be sure.I like Jerry Hannah’s VERY ‘Brief History of GBD’ from Pipedia: GBD Model Information:

The company was founded in Paris France in the 19th century by Ganeval, Boundier and Donninger who were no longer associated with the company by the turn of the century. By the time they left the GBD name was well established and thus retained. In 1903 an additional factory was built in England and ran by Oppenheimer. The Paris factory moved to Saint-Claude in 1952. Since 1981 the majority of GBD pipes come from the English factory. At about that same time GBD merged with Comoys, since then all production for both GBD and Comoy comes from a single factory. ( I wasn’t kidding when I said it was brief! )

Pipedia’s main article on GBD is extensive in detailing the history and all the corporate iterations of English/French interests going back to the 1800s.

The opportunities that I’ve had to restore GBD pipes, has led me to reach out to the resident expert on GBDs, rebornpipes contributor, Al Jones.  Al has always been very helpful with questions about GBD pipes and some questions emerged as I look at the FRANCE COM of this ‘Sablée’ Standard.  The standard practice in dating GBD pipes is based upon the brass rondel.  Generally, GBDs with brass rondels come from the pre-Cadogan era – that is, when GBD, owned by the Oppenheimer conglomerate, merged with Cadogan, maker of Comoy’s.  This happened in 1980/81.  This gives a dating parameter for GBD made pipes.  With this guideline, then the Sablée STANDARD on my worktable would be dated after 1981.  It’s possible that it’s listed in some GBD catalogue which would give the specific period the line came into production.  The question floating through my mind now has to do with the French origin of this GBD.  There’s much information about the English side of the Channel regarding GBD production, but I could find almost nothing about the French side. Do the openings and closings of French factories referred to above, have any bearing on the dating of this French GBD? Is the absence of the GBD rondel have the same force of marking the date of a French made GBD?  These essentially were the questions I shot off to Al with some pictures of the pipe and nomenclature.

I’m not clear on if the pipe has the rondel or not?
You are right, there is almost nothing written about GBD’s made in France.
If it has the rondel, I’d say you can assume it was a pre-Cadogan pipe.
I don’t know what happened to French made COM’s after the merger (perhaps there weren’t any).
So, unfortunately, you can’t be any more definitive.
I don’t think they posted French made GBD’s in the older catalogs, at least not that I’m aware.

After responding to Al’s question about the presence of the rondel in the negative, his last response was definitive:

Yep, another GBD story lost to time, that adds to the charm!

With the mystery of the provenance of this French GBD solidly established with Al’s help, I take a closer look at the pipe’s generally good condition. The medium cake buildup in the chamber needs to be removed to give the underlying briar a fresh start and to check for heating damage.  The rim has normal darkening along with a very nice blasted stummel surface that appears in need only of cleaning of normal grime buildup.  The shank appears to be longer than a normal half bent Billiard and gives more of a sweeping presentation transitioning to the saddle stem – which has some oxidation and tooth chatter damage on the upper and lower bit.  What stands out to me about the stem is its sharp, distinct cut shaping.  The edges are not rounded but have distinctive edge transitions – nice.

I start the restoration by adding the French GBD’s stem to the queue along with other pipes to soak in Before & After Deoxidizer.  First, using pipe cleaners and bristled shank brushes dipped in isopropyl 95%, the stem’s airway is cleaned.Following this, the stem is placed in the B&A Deoxidizer for several hours.After soaking in the Deoxidizer, I fish out the stem allowing it to drain the fluid back into the vat and run another pipe cleaner wetted with isopropyl 95% through the airway to clean it of Deoxidizer.  I then wipe off the raised oxidation with cotton pads wetted with isopropyl 95%.  The Deoxidizer seems to have done a good job.To help in revitalizing the vulcanite rubber, paraffin oil is applied with a cotton pad and worked into the surface.  I set the stem aside to absorb the oil.Turning to the stummel, I take closer look at the condition of the chamber.  I take a close-up of the cake buildup to mark the start.  After putting paper towel down to minimize on the cleanup, I use the Pipnet Reaming Kit to begin cleaning the chamber. I use two smaller of the 4 blade heads available in the Kit.  The cake is soft and is removed very easily.  I follow reaming by fine tuning using the Savinelli Fitsall Tool which does a great job of scraping the walls removing additional carbon cake as well as reaching down to the floor of the chamber and addressing the hard to get to angles and curves.  I finish by sanding the chamber using 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen and then wiping out the residual carbon dust with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol. I forgot to take a picture of the cleaned chamber inspection which looks good.  No heating damages. Moving from the chamber clean up, after taking a few pictures to mark the start, I focus on the external briar using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a cotton pad to scrub the sandblasted finish.  I also employ a brass wire brush to address the residue on the rim.  A brass brush does not harm the briar as it works. From the worktable I take the GBD stummel to the sink to continue the cleaning by using warm water with anti-oil dish soap and using bristled shank brushes, I scrub the internals of the pipe in the mortise and airway.  I also use the brass wire brush to do some additional scrubbing on the rim.  Finally, after rinsing the stummel thoroughly, I return to the worktable focusing on the internal cleaning using pipe cleaners and cotton buds wetted with isopropyl 95%. The internals are surprisingly clean, but still in need of cleaning.  I also use the small dental spoon to remove some tars and oils that have collected at the ridges created by the mortise drilling.  Without great effort, cotton buds are emerging lighter, and I call it done for now.  Later, I’ll give the stummel a kosher salt and alcohol soak to continue the internal cleaning process.Looking at the stummel and the condition of the blasted surface, the cleaning, as expected lightened the surface.  The briar seemed to call out to me for an application of Before and After Restoration Balm to hydrate and condition the dry stummel. I happily comply!  After applying some of Mark Hoover’s Before & After Restoration Balm (www.iberen.com) to my fingers, I work the balm into the blasted briar surface – thoroughly working it into the rough surface and rim.  I take a picture of the stummel after application, set to the side for 20 minutes or so.After about 20 minutes, using a cloth, I wipe the excess Balm off and then using a microfiber cloth, continue wiping and buffing up the briar surface.  Wow!  I’m loving the results and the hues of this blasted surface.  I take another picture after buffing.  This is a bowl that doesn’t need a lot of help 😊.Turning now to the stem, I observe again the stem’s unique shape.  The stem is not rounded but with flat surfaces on the upper and lower sides.  The edges of the stem connect the flat surfaces with a half diamond right angle.  Very smart – I like it.There is bite and chatter damage on the upper and lower bit. To address this, I first use the heating method to expand the compressions.  Using a Bic lighter, I paint the bit area heating the vulcanite and the physics of expansion take over.  After applying the heat, the indentations are still visible but have lessened so that sanding dispatches the problems easily.  First the before and after of the upper bit followed by the lower bit. I still can detect deep oxidation in the stem.  Therefore, I sand the entire stem with 240 grade paper to address this. Also employing a flat needle file, I file the button to freshen it as well as sand the bit to erase the bite and tooth chatter damage. Following the filing and 240 sanding, using 600 grade sanding paper I wet sand the entire stem followed by applying 000 grade steel wool.  The stem is looking good.Next, I go straight away to applying the full regimen of micromesh pads.  Starting with pads 1500 to 2400, I wet sand.  Following this, I dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  To continue revitalization of the vulcanite, I apply a coat of Obsidian Oil after each set of the micromesh pads. Next, I continue the internal cleaning of the stummel by giving it a soak using kosher salt and alcohol.  I first stretch and twist a cotton ball to act as a ‘wick’ which serves to draw the oils and tars from the internal chamber.  I use a stiff wire to guide the wick down the mortise and airway. After filling the bowl with kosher salt which doesn’t leave an aftertaste as iodized salt does, I settle the stummel in an egg carton for stability. I then fill the bowl with isopropyl 95% with a large eye dropper until it surfaces over the salt.  After a few minutes the alcohol absorbs into the pipe and I top the alcohol off again and set the stummel aside to soak.After several hours, the salt and wick have soiled from absorbing the tars and oils.  I remove the expended salt into the waste basket, wipe the chamber with paper towel and blow through the mortise to dislodge any residual salt crystals.I follow the soak by employing a few more pipe cleaners and cotton buds assuring that all is clean.  I move on!With a freshened bowl for a new steward, and after reuniting the stem and stummel, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel, and after setting the speed at about 40% full power, I give a light application of Blue Diamond compound over the blasted surface of the stummel.  I’m light on applying compound so that it will not cake up in the rougher sandblasted surface.  I apply compound normally over the stem.To clean the pipe of compound dust in preparation for the application of wax, a felt cloth is used to wipe down the pipe.After mounting another cotton cloth buffing wheel onto the Dremel, increasing the speed to about 60% full power, I apply carnauba wax to both stem and stummel.  I increase the speed of the Dremel in order to create more friction heat to aid the wax in liquifying as it works into the blasted briar surface.  I decrease the speed of the Dremel to my normal 40% as I apply wax to the stem.  After applying a few coats of wax and working it in well so that there is no caking, using a micromesh cloth, I give the pipe a rigorous hand buffing to disperse excess wax and to raise the shine.Undoubtedly, there’s some mystery surrounding the provenance of this GBD Sablée Standard.  The French origins of this GBD leave us with questions of its dating – pre- or post- 1981, the merger which marks the eras of the GBD name.  Even though this will be lost to us in history, at least for now, there is no disputing the exquisite quality of this pipe’s sandblasted briar surface.  It is a classic Bent Billiard workhorse with an elongated stem that adds to the sweep of this pipe.  The flat, cut stem design also adds to the uniqueness.  Steve, my long-time friend, commissioned this GBD Sablée Standard and will have the first opportunity to acquire it from ThePipeSteward Store.  This pipe benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

2 thoughts on “A Long-time Friend Commissions a Blasted French GBD Sablée Standard Bent Billiard

  1. ThePipeSteward - Dal in Bulgaria

    An update – Steve shared with me that he had restored a very similar GBD Sabee and its stem held the pre-Cadogan rondel which most likely makes the stem on this one a replacement but also indicating that this was most likely a pre-Cadogan pipe as well. The replacement stem’s style seems to be exact – flat upper and lower and sharp cut lines. I should have done a quick look on Rebornpipes before publishing! Thanks, Steve!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.