New Life for a Mystery BBB Custom Made Zulu

Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on my table is actually a strange one and a bit of a mystery to me. It is a nicely shaped and grained Zulu. The mystery does not come in the shape but in the composition of the pipe and the stamping on the shank. The stem is threaded onto an inset metal tenon that is a part of the spacer on the shank end. The tenon is unmovable and the stem screws onto it. I have never seen that on a British made BBB pipe. Then the stamping, other than the BBB Diamond on the topside of the shank looks like every other American made pipe of that time period. The stamping reads on the topside of the shank as follows: a BBB Diamond over Custom Made in a Germanic script and underneath that is R in a circle (there are pictures of the stamping below). On the underside of the shank it is stamped with the shape number 47 on the flat heel of the bowl followed by Aged Imported Briar in the same Germanic Script. The Imported Briar has always been a sign of an American Made pipe to me so therein laid the mystery. Is it really a BBB from England or is it another BBB brand that is American? I am hoping to demystify it a bit in the process of this restoration

It is a dirty pipe but has some great grain that the carver built the shape around. The finish is in good shape under the dirt and even the rim top looks good. The inner edge of the rim is darkened the bowl is out of round. There was burn damage to the inner edge. There is a thick cake in the bowl and a thick lava coat on the rim top. The rim top also appeared to have some pitting and nicks in the surface. The stem is pitted and oxidized. It has light tooth marks and chatter on both sides ahead of the button. Jeff took these photos before he cleaned the pipe.Jeff unscrewed the stem from the shank so that I could see the tenon set up and it is pretty clear that it was set in the shank.Jeff took photos of the rim top from various angles to give a clear picture of the condition of the bowl and rim. It is dirty but there is no lava coat on the top and the rim edges look very good. The grain around the sides and heel of the bowl is quite interesting. It is a combination of cross grain, swirled and birdseye grain. The stamping on both sides of the shank is very readable as can be seen in the next three photos.The stem shows pitting and oxidation on the surface as well as light tooth marks and chatter on both sides. There is some wear on the edge of the button as well. The stem shows a great profile.I looked through all of my resources for BBB pipes and could find nothing even remotely like this pipe. I looked on both Pipephil and Pipedia for other brands with similar stamping and again found nothing. Even with the lack of information it was time to get working on the pipe itself and see what I had to do with it. It had come back amazingly clean. Jeff had done his normal thorough clean up – reaming, scrubbing, soaking and the result was evident in the pipe when I unpacked it. I took photos of the pipe before I started my work on it. I took some photos of the rim top to show the condition of the edges and the bowl. It looked very good. The stem actually looked much better than I expected and the tooth chatter seemed to have disappeared. There were some light tooth marks just next to the button edge on both sides.I am including photos of the stamping to show how Jeff preserved it during the cleanup and it did not fade or show damage.I decided to address the damage to the rim top and inner edge first. I topped the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper on a hard topping board I use. I followed up by working over the inner edge of the rim with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to give the edge a light bevel and minimize as much of the damage as I could. With the inner edge and top cleaned up the bowl looked significantly better. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the dust.     I blended three stain pens together to get a match to the colour of the bowl – Walnut, Cherry and Black. The colour combination worked very well to make it look original. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar with my fingertips. I let the balm sit on the briar for 10 minutes the buffed it off with a soft cloth. The balm enlivens, enriches and protects the briar while giving it a deep glow. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth marks and the remnants of oxidation especially in the saddle area. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I polished the stem with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish. It is a gritty red paste (similar in grit to red Tripoli) that I rub on with my finger tips and work it into the surface of the stem and button and buff it off with a cotton pad. It gives me a bit of a head start on the polishing work.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 Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I buffed the stem with a soft cloth to raise the shine. I wiped the stem down with Briarville’s No Oxy Oil to preserve and protect the stem surface. Once again I am at my favourite part of a restoration – finishing up a pipe! This BBB Custom Made Zulu came out really well considering the condition it was in when I started. I put the pipe back together and buffed it with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I polished it with multiple coats of carnauba wax on both the bowl and stem. I buffed it with a clean buffing pad and with a hand buff with a microfibre cloth. The mix of colours and the buffing made the grain really pop once it was waxed. The cross grain, swirled and birdseye grain are quite stunning. The silver coloured spacer and the polished black vulcanite saddle stem stands out in great contrast to the briar. It is really a beautiful pipe. Have a look at the photos below of the finished pipe. Its dimensions are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside Diameter of the Bowl: 1¼ inches, Diameter of the Chamber: ¾ of an inch. The Mystery brand pipe is comfortable handful and feels great in the hand. This one will be going on the rebornpipes store later today. You can add it to your collection and carry on the trust. Let me know if you are interested in adding it. Thanks for your time.

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