Blog by Steve Laug
I decided to change things up a bit and work on another of Jennifer’s Dad’s pipes. For the next pipe from the estate of George Rex Leghorn I have chosen a nicely shaped Maro Special long shank billiard. You may not have read about this estate before, so I will retell the story. I received an email from Jennifer who is a little older than my 64+ years about whether I would be interested in her Dad’s pipes. My brother Jeff and I have been picking up a few estates here and there, so I was interested. Here is the catch – she did not want to sell them to me but to give them to me to clean up, restore and resell. The only requirement she had was that we give a portion of the sales of the pipes to a charity serving women and children. We talked about the organization I work for that deals with trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and their children and she decided that would be a great way to carry on the charitable aspect of her Dad’s character. With some great conversation back and forth she sent the pipes to Jeff and he started the cleanup process on them. Once he had finished cleaning them all he sent them to me to do my work on them.
The Crosby style pipe with the Sterling silver band is stamped on the left side of the shank Maro Special in script. This was different than Jennifer had marked on the bag containing the pipe. There were no other markings on the briar. The silver band was stamped Sterling and had three hallmarks – an anchor, a letter “T” in a diamond shaped cartouche and a rampant lion. These will enable me to date the pipe as I restore it. The bowl had birdseye grain on the sides and cross grain on the front and back. The shank matched the grain pattern. The sterling band was oxidized and loose on the shank and had turned over. The finish is very dirty. There was a thick cake in the bowl and it had overflowed with lava onto the inward beveled rim top. It was a dirty and tired looking old pipe. The stem was badly oxidized and there were George’s usual tooth marks and chatter on both sides just ahead of the button. The button was in good shape. It had been sitting in boxes for a lot of years and it was time to move ahead with the restoration. Jennifer took photos of the pipes she was sending. I have included the three photos of this pipe below.When the box arrived from Jennifer, Jeff opened it and took photos of each pipe before he started his cleanup work on them. There were two long shank Crosby style billiards in the lot. The first was this smooth Maro and the second one a sandblast that has worn stamping. Both are the same shape and size and both have the thin pencil shank and long stem that I have come to associate with the Crosby shape. There is something about these long billiards that I like. I enjoy working on them. The shape on the Maro seems to really capture the flow of the grain on the briar. The briar appeared to be in good condition underneath the grime. The finish looked intact under the grime. The bowl had a thick cake that had hardened with time. The lava overflow on the rim top was very thick but it could very well have protected the rim from damage. We won’t know what is under it until Jeff had cleaned it off. The stem was oxidized and also had some calcification on the surface. There were tooth marks on both side just ahead of the button. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started working on it. I include those below. Jeff took photos of the bowl and rim top to show the cake in the bowl and the lava build up on the rim top. It was thick and hard but hopefully it had protected the rim and edges from damage. The lava coat looks horrible but it points to a well-used, favourite smoking pipe. George must have enjoyed this old timer a lot and turned to this old, light weight long billiard for a cool smoke.Jeff took a photo of the side 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 it has a stunning birdeye grain around the bowl sides and cross grain on the front and back. Jeff took a photo of the stamping on the left side of the shank. It is very clear and readable. It reads Maro Special. There is no other stamping on the pipe. You can also see the characters on the Sterling silver band in the second photo below. Jeff took photos of the top and underside of the stem showing the scratching, oxidation and tooth marks on the stem surface. The tooth marks are quite deep on both sides of the stem.I turned to Pipedia to see what I could learn about the brand. I looked under the English pipe brands section first to see if I could find anything that would tie it to the Sterling Silver band on the shank. There were no makers from Great Britain with that name. On a hunch I checked the American maker section (https://pipedia.org/wiki/American_Pipe_Brands_%26_Makers_L_-_M) and sure enough under MARO found that the brand was made or at least attributed to the distributor Hollco International. I turned to the page on that brand to see if there was any more information (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Hollco_International). I quote in full from that site:
Hollco International of Chatsworth, California, formerly known as Hollco-Rohr, purchased the Wally Frank company in 1969 and at the same time became the US importer for Castello, Comoy, and the producer of Pioneer and other pipes. For more information see Wally Frank.
At this point the contradictions start rolling in. On Smokingpipes.com they listed the pipe as a French Made brand and showed a pipe remarkably similar to the one I am working on now. Here is the link to the pipe that they sold: (https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/estate/france/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=30391).
Smokingpipes.com had a second one listed under French Estates that is stamped the same as the one I am working on: Maro Special Billiard. Here is the link to the pipe and their description: (https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/estate/france/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=219942). I am including the photo as it was posted on the site. Quite a trim and slender take on the Billiard shape, this piece from Maro bears a striking resemblance to those long-stemmed Billiards favored by Bing Crosby. It’s finished in a warm walnut contrast stain with a bright metal band to accent.
I traced down quite a few Maro pipes online and all were attributed to France. So it appears I am dealing with one of several possibilities here. Either 1 – the pipe was made by Maro in France and sold through Hollco International or Wally Frank as the US distributor or 2 – the pipe is legitimately a French made pipe that George Leghorn got a hold of somewhere in his journeys. Personally I am inclined to 1 – the pipe is a Hollco International import. Now I had some idea of the provenance of the pipe I could start with reasonable assurance that I was dealing with a French made briar. But before I get on to cleaning up the pipe I thought I would once again include the tribute that Jennifer wrote to her Dad for the blog. She also sent some photos and an article that her Dad wrote for Jeff and me to be able to get a feel for him. I have included those below. Note in each of them that he is holding a pipe in his left hand. I asked her to also send me an email with a brief tribute to her Dad. Here is her tribute from an email to me.
Steve, I want to thank you again for accepting my dad’s pipes. They were so much a part of my dad’s life that I could not simply discard them. But as his daughter, I was not about to take up smoking them either. *laughing* I think my dad would like knowing that they will bring pleasure to others. I know that I do.
I’m not sure what to say about his pipes. I always remember Daddy smoking pipes and cigars.
First a bit about my dad. Though my father, George Rex Leghorn, was American (growing up in Alaska), he managed to join the Canadian Army at the beginning of WWII, but in doing so lost his American citizenship. He was fortunate to meet a Canadian recruiting officer who told him the alphabet began with “A” and ended with “Zed” not “Zee”, and also told him to say that he was born in a specific town that had all its records destroyed in a fire. When the US joined the war my dad, and thousands of other Americans who had made the same choice*(see the link below for the article), were given the opportunity to transfer to the US military, and regain their citizenship.
After WWII, my dad, earned his degree at the University of California Berkeley and became a metallurgist. There is even a bit about him on the internet.
He loved taking the family out for a drive, and he smoked his cigars on those trips. (As a child, those were troubling times for my stomach.)
I most remember my father relaxing in his favorite chair with a science fiction book in one hand and a pipe in the other… Sir Walter Raleigh being his favorite tobacco… and the pipes themselves remind me of him in that contented way. If I interrupted his repose, he’d look up, with a smile on his face, to answer me.
It seemed he smoked his Briarwood pipes the most, though he had others. At the time, it was only the Briarwood I knew by name because of its distinctive rough shaped bowl. And it was the Anderson Free Hand Burl Briar, made in Israel, which I chose for his birthday one year, because I thought he might like that particular texture in his hand.
At least two of his pipes, he inherited from his son-in-law, Joe Marino, a retired medical laboratory researcher (my sister Lesley’s late husband)… the long stemmed Jarl (made in Denmark), and the large, white-bowled, Sherlock Holmes style pipe. I believe Joe had others that went to my dad, but Lesley was only sure about those two.
A note on the spelling of my sister’s name…
My dad met my mother, Regina, during WWII and they married in Omagh, Ireland. My mother was English and in the military herself. The English spelling of Lesley is feminine, and Leslie masculine, in the UK… just the opposite of here in the United States. I guess my mom won out when it came to the spelling of the name…
I am getting more and more spoiled on working on pipes that Jeff cleaned up. 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 when I got it. The rim top looked much better but had scratches and nicks in the surface and some darkening on the inner and outer edges. The silver band was oxidized and tarnished. Jeff had cleaned the internals and scrubbed the exterior of the stem and soaked them in Before & After Deoxidizer bath to remove the oxidation. The stem looked very good other than the deep tooth marks in the surface. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver for the second stop of its restoration tour it looked very good. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the restoration. I took close up photos of the rim top and bowl to show the condition of the bowl and the damages to the rim top. You can see the nicks and scratches in the briar that were under the thick lava coat. The stem looks much better but the tooth marks are visible in the vulcanite. The button looks very good.I took a photo of the stamping on the shanks as it is very clear and readable even after Jeff’s cleanup work.I took the stem off the bowl and the Sterling Silver band slid off in my fingers. I took a photo of the pipe taken apart.I polished the silver band with Silver polish to remove the tarnish and polish out the scratches in the metal. The band definitely looks better.
The order of the hallmarks from left to right are an Anchor (identifying the city of the hallmark as Birmingham, England), T (which gives the year code) and the last one is the rampant lion (identifying the silver as Sterling). The letter T is in a diamond shaped cartouche. From what I can find it seems to fit somewhere between 1943 and 1968. None of the stamps is identical but they are close. So now I knew that the band was made in Birmingham, England between 1943 and 1968. Now the issue was clear to me – according to everything I had found the Maro Special was made in France and the band was made in England. It seems the band was added later. All of the photos I have found of the Maro Special showed the pipe with a silver band but none of them had Birmingham hallmarks so it seems that George had the original band replaced with this one. It might also explain why it had been glued on the shank upside down with the hallmarks on the bottom of the shank. There are no cracks in the shank so it is not a repair band.
Knowing that I now knew that I had a mystery in my hands and that I would likely never fully know how the band and the pipe met! Ah well such is the life of working on estate pipes. Now on to the restoration work.
Once the band was polished I put it back on the end of the shank and lined up the hallmarks with the top edge of the shank. I decided to address the damage to the top of the bowl first. I sanded the rim top with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to remove the scratches and pits in the surface of the rim. I polished it further with a piece of 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I wiped the rim down with a damp cloth and took the photo below.I polished the bowl and rim with micromesh sanding pads. I wet 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 and 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 inserted a pipe cleaner in the stem to protect the airway from collapsing when I heated it. I painted the surface of the stem with the flame of a BIC lighter to raise the tooth marks in the surface. I was able to bring the marks up with the heat. I filled them in with super glue and set it aside to dry.Once the repair had cured I used a needle file to smooth out the surface of the stem. I could see that there were still areas that needed a bit more glue to fill them in. I used a thin coat of black super glue to fill in the remaining dents and nicks and set the stem aside overnight to cure. The surface looked much better once the repair had cured. Rather than sanding it down with 220 grit sandpaper I decided to go straight to the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1500-12000 grit pads. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine. I finished by wiping it down with Briarville’s No Oxy Oil and set it aside to dry. I always look forward to this part of the restoration when all the pieces are put back together. I put the pipe back together and buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond 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. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the grain popping, the silver shining and the black vulcanite almost glowing. The long stemmed billiard is beautiful and feels great in my hand. It is one that could be clenched and smoked while doing other things as it is very light weight and well balanced. It must have been a fine smoking pipe judging from the condition it was when we received it from Jennifer. There should be a lot of life left in this French made Maro Special. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 ¾ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This is one that will go on the rebornpipes online store shortly. If you want to carry on the pipe trust of George Rex Leghorn let me know. Thank you Jennifer for trusting us with his pipes. 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.