By Al Jones
This one appeared to be another simple restoration, but it turned out to be quite challenging in one respect, and I almost gave up hope that I could solve the issue. The sellers picture didn’t offer many details about the pipe, and I assumed it was a Donegal Rocky 999. The pipe looked in decent shape and the seller accepted my offer. I also assumed it wouldn’t have a hallmark, typically lacking on Rodgers US import 999’s.
I was surprised to discover that the pipe was not a 999, but a 998, the first on my workbench. And, with a little silver polish, the lower case “n” was revealed for a production year of 1979 – the year I graduated from high school, so that put a smile on my face.
From Mark Irwins blog entry on the John Bull, we know that the 998 shape was introduced in the 1970’s. Below, a picture from a 1977 catalog. Marks blog describes the 998 as:
Around 1977, as seen in the Associated Imports Distributor’s Catalog illustrations above, the John Bull 999 became the XL999, and Peterson introduced shape 998, a stream-lined version of the 999 The two shapes ran alongside one another for several years, which happens when shapes are in transition. The XL999 / 999 Large John Bull was still in the 1987 catalog, but by the 1992 Handmade Brochure it had morphed into the slimmer 998 shape, which number was henceforth deleted from the catalog. I might add it was still called the “John Bull,” and Pete Nuts worthy of the name should educate all comers that while others may call the shape a bent Rhodesian, we know better.
Most 999’s weigh in the mid-50 gram range, while this 998 weighs 40 grams.
Here is the pipe as it was received:
The stem was not inserted fully into the shank, and it was a very tight fit. I assumed there was build-up in the shank and once cleaned, the stem would be able to be inserted fully into the shank. I filled the bowl with sea salt and alcohol and let it soak for several hours. Following the soak, the shank was cleaned with bristle brushes dipped in alcohol and scrunched in paper towels. They all came out very clean. I attempted to insert the stem, but still oddly found it very tight. I put some graphite dust on the tenon and that allowed it be inserted fully, and it didn’t feel too tight.
I started removing the light oxidation on the stem and decided to tape off the silver collar. That is when the trouble started – the stem could not be budged. I put the pipe in the freezer for several hours, which usually expands the wood and loosens the stem. That practice did not work, despite exerting a lot of pressure on the stem. I then started trying everything I could think of to loosen the stem – soaked the bowl with alcohol, put an alcohol soaked cleaner in the stem (which goes nicely into the bowl). I put the pipe back in the freezer several times, with no success. I tried heating the stem and even smoked it (smoked great, but did nothing to loosen the stem!). I let it sit for a day and decided to heat the strummel again with a heat gun. I was afraid of exposing the silver collar to too much heat. But, this time it worked and I was able to remove the stem. I checked inside the shank again and found it just as clean and build-up free as before. I then wet sanded the tenon with 1500 grit paper and that allowed the stem to be inserted fully and only snugly, not over tight.
Now that that problem was solved, I shined the stem with 800, 1,500 and 2,000 wet paper. This was followed by 8,000 and 12,000 micromesh. I used a Magic Eraser sponge around the stamped P stem logo. The stem was then polished with White Diamond and Meguiars Plastic Polish. I hand polished the briar with Halycon wax.
Below is the finished pipe, which I’m happy to add to my collection and my only 1979 hallmarked pipe.