Blog by Steve Laug
I have finished the current batch of donated pipes that were gifted in support of the SA Foundation. Jeff and I purchased a group of 42 pipes from a pipeman who can no longer smoke because serious illness. It is a pleasure to be able to support this Brother of the Briar in this very hard season of his life. He had some beautiful pipes in his collection and with some work we will get them cleaned up and into the hands of other pipemen and women who can carry on the legacy of the briar.
The first of the pipes that I am working on is a Ser Jacopo. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Ser Jacopo in script over Fatta A Mano over In Italia. On the right side of the shank it is stamped Per Aspera over Ad Astra which is a popular Latin phrase meaning “through hardships to the stars”. On the underside of the shank it is stamped Picta 06. It is a stunning piece of briar with a carved silver band on the shank end. The band is decorated with looks like a bird flying around the sides and text on the underside that reads Ser Jacopo over Picta Magritte. The pattern around band is really well done. The stem is black acrylic and has a silver J inlaid in the top of the taper. When it arrived at Jeff’s house and he opened the box he could see it was a beautifully grained piece of briar and an interestingly carved pipe. The pipe was dirty but there was no significant damage to the bowl or stem. The rim top had darkening and tars on it but no burn or char. There was a thick cake in the bowl and some dottle left from the last smoke that had been enjoyed in the pipe. The silver band had grime and dirt but was in good condition. The acrylic stem was in great condition – just a little dirty and tooth chatter on both sides of the stem near the button. Overall the pipe was a beautiful and a dirty pipe that must have been a favourite smoker. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the finish – the grime and grit all over the sides and flat bottom of the bowl. It is a dirty pipe. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his clean up work. Jeff took photos of the bowl and the rim top to show the condition of the bowl and rim. You can see the tars and oils darkening the rim top but also that it is unburned. The inner and outer edges of the bowl look very good. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the finish – the grime and grit all over the sides and bottom of the bowl. It is a dirty pipe but the grain is absolutely stunning. He took photos of the stamping on the shank and band. It is both artfully and tastefully done. The stamping was very readable. It is a beauty! He took some photos of the stem surfaces to show their condition. There were not any tooth marks just some light chatter ahead of the button on both sides.I turned then to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Ser_Jacopo) to learn about the brand. I have worked on very few Ser Jacopo pipes over the years so I wanted to be familiar with the brand as I worked on the pipe. I find that having a clear background on the history adds real colour to my work on the pipe and keeps my interest. I quote in part what I found:
Ser Jacopo, better to say Ser Jacopo dalla Gemma, was started by Giancarlo Guidi in 1982 upon leaving Mastro de Paja. Giancarlo Guidi and Bruto Sordini broke away from Mastro de Paja in 1981 in pursuit of their own company. Ser Jacopo was named after an Italian nobleman. Guidi and Sordini, having taken part in creating the now infamous Pesaro “school” of pipe making, wanted to expand further. To accomplish this, Ser Jacopo focused their efforts on the pairing of the briar with a seemingly endless variety of mounts. Through the use of precious metals and stones, horn, and exotic woods Ser Jacopo pipes are given unique characters that many collectors find quite aesthetically pleasing. Although Ser Jacopo pipes borrow heavily from classical shapes, they are indeed quite unique in style.
In addition to creative mountings, Ser Jacopo is also well known for making themed pipes, and the most famous of these themes is perhaps the Picta Series, where pipes are modeled after pipes seen in pictures by and of famous artists, such as Vincent Van Gough.
Ser Jacopo makes multiple grades of pipes, with the “entry” level being the Geppetto brand, and the highest grade being the “Gem” series…
…The standard nomenclature found on Ser Jacopo pipes is as follows:
Ser Jacopo Fatta A Mano In Italia Per Aspera Ad Astra
Fatta A Mano translates to “Made By Hand”. Per Aspera Ad Astra is a Latin phrase found on Ser Jacopo pipes and is the Ser Jacopo motto. It translates to “To the Stars Through Travails”, meaning that success comes through hard work. In the Summer 1997 Pipes and Tobaccos article Giancarlo Guidi translated this as “through a difficult way until the stars are reached”.
Ser Jacopo Pipes are generally found in one of three finishes (rusticated, sandblast, smooth)
I turned then to the Ser Jacopo website to learn more about this particular Picta Series – the Magritte (http://www.serjacopo.com). I quote from the site:
These innovative pipes share a silver micro fusion band into which Magritte’s trademark flying dove has been engraved.
This new (Summer 2001) Picta Collection joins the Van Gogh Picta series which has been produced for several years.
There are twenty (20) shapes in the “Magritte Picta” collection. To view the available finishes, click here.
Each Picta Magritte is meticulously handmade, with the attention to detail which has made Ser Jacopo renown throughout the world.
I did a screen capture of the shape chart that the site included for the Magritte Picta Pipes. The one I am working on is an 06 in a Walnut finish.On the site the reader was instructed that clicking on the thumbnails in the chart would take them to a larger picture of the “Picta Magritte” pipes with their associated Magritte painting was shown (http://www.serjacopo.com/MagrittePicta/MagPic_06.html).From the site I determined that the finish on the pipe on my table was the rich Walnut finish used on Ser Jacopo pipes to bring out the depth and quantity of grain. The site states that the depth and quantity of grain are “the hallmarks of the Extra Quality Plateaux briar, which they use exclusively. Giancarlo and Paolo travel to the briar mills in Italy several times a year to hand pick the blocks which will bear their company’s name. Pipes of this quality are often in short supply” (http://www.serjacopo.com/Jacopo/SJ_FWaln.html).
Now I had the information I wanted to know on the brand it was time to begin to work with it and clean it up. It really is a beautiful pipe.
I am getting more and more used to Jeff cleaning up the pipes before I work on them. So much so that when I have to clean them it is a real chore! This pipe was a real mess just like the other ones in the collection. 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 looked really good once it was clean. There was no damage and the grain just popped around the bowl. The rim top was bursting with birdseye grain and was beautiful. He cleaned the stem internals and scrubbed the exterior and the result looked very good. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver for the second stop of its restoration tour it was impressive. 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. It was a real beauty. The layout of the pipe absolutely captured the birdseye grain on the pipe. I also took close up photos of the stem to show condition it was in. It would not take a lot of work – just sanding out the light tooth chatter and polishing with micromesh sanding pads.I took photos of the stamping on the left, right and underside of the shank. Note how beautiful the silver looks on the band. The stamping reads as noted above. I polished the bowl and rim with worn micromesh sanding pads. I sanded it with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiped it down between pads with a soft cotton cloth. You can see the progress in the shine as you go through the photos. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the finish of the bowl, the rim top and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I find that the balm really makes the briar come alive again. The contrasts in the layers of stain really made the grain stand out. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The pipe really looks good at this point. I am very happy with the way the pipe is looking at this point in the process. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded the tooth chatter on both sides of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the marks. I followed that by sanding the same with a folded piece of 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to begin the polishing. I rubbed the sanded areas of the stem down with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish and a cotton pad to further blend in the sanding. The product is a gritty red paste that I have found works quite well as a step before the micromesh sanding pads. The stem was showing some promise at this point in the process.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine. The stem was made out of acrylic and that is where the polishing stopped for now. I would put the stem back on the bowl shortly and buff the entire pipe. This was a fun pipe to work on since Jeff had done the heavy work in cleaning it. I put the stem back on the bowl and polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl 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 grain just pops and is almost multidimensional it is so deep. The pipe polished up really well. The polished black acrylic bit seemed to truly come alive with the buffing. I polished the silver band with a jewelers cloth to protect it from oxidation and give it a shine. The silver band is a great transitional contrast between the dark walnut stain of the briar and the polished black acrylic stem. The pipe feels great in my hand and I am sure that it will feel even better radiating the heat of a good smoke. It must have been a fine smoking pipe judging from the condition it was when we received it from the pipeman who we bought it from. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This is one beauty that catches my eye. I am still deciding what to do with it. This is the problem with working on so many beautiful pipes. Which do I hold onto and which do I let go of? Ah well definitely not a horrible problem but one that will take a bit of time to solve with this pipe. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog. Remember we are not pipe owners; we are pipemen and women who hold our pipes in trust until they pass on into the trust of the next pipeman or woman.