Breathing Life into a Ben Wade Danish Made Ambassador Deluxe

Blog by Steve Laug

There is some almost electric about handling and working on a pipe designed and carved by Preben Holm. I can’t describe adequately the feeling I have when I turn the bowl and stem over in my hands even before I start working on the pipe. There is an energy that flows through the way he carved and shaped the pipes of his making. This pipe was no exception. When Jeff showed me the photos of several of the Ben Wade pipes by Preben Holm that he had picked up I was excited to be able to work on them. This one has grain that runs diagonally across both sides of the bowl culminating at a point at the heel of the bowl. The rim top combines smooth and plateau and the shank end explodes from the grain running into it with a tight plateau finish. The pipe was well loved as you can see from the thick cake in the bowl and the lava on the rim top. The inner edge of the bowl is burned, blackened and worn. The outside of the bowl and plateau portions are dirty and dusty but the grain pops through. There was a deep nick on the left side toward the bottom that would need to be dealt with in the restoration. The acrylic stem was dirty and dusty with deep tooth marks on the button surface and lighter ones on the blade just ahead of the button on both sides. Jeff took these photos before he started his part of the restoration. He took close up photos of the bowl and rim top from different angles to show the condition of both the smooth and plateau finish. You can see the lava and build up on the rim top and the lava flowing over the inner edge of the bowl. It is hard to know if there is damage or if the lava protected it. The bowl has a thick cake that lining the walls and overflowing into lava. The plateau surface is duty and also has some lava overflow in the valleys and crannies of the surface. He took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the diagonal lay of the grain around the pipe. It is a beautiful piece of briar.Jeff took two photos of the deep gouge toward the bottom of the bowl on the left side. You can see the rough edges of the gouge in the photos. Steaming it would not raise the grain around that deep nick. It would need to be filled in and repaired. Jeff took several photos of the stamping on the underside of the shank to capture all of the stamping. It was clear and read Ben Wade in script at the top. Under that it read Ambassador Deluxe. Under that was stamped Hand Made in Denmark.The next two photos show the surface of the top and underside of the acrylic stem. You can see the tooth marks and damage both on the button surface and on the blade itself. The third photo shows the fancy turnings on the rest of the stem and give a sense of its flow.I remembered a bit of history on the brand that included the thought that the Preben Holm pipes were marketed under the Ben Wade label in the US and imported through Lane Ltd. I turned to Pipedia and read the listing on the brand to refresh my memory and flesh out the knowledge of the brand ( I have included a photo from that site that was taken from a Tinderbox advertisement.

Ben Wade Ad in a Tinder Box catalog, courtesy Doug Valitchka 

I quote the portion of the article that summarizes the history of the brand.

Young Copenhagen master pipemaker Preben Holm had made a meteoric career heading a pipe manufacture employing 45 people at the age of 22! But around the turn of 1970/71 he was in major financial difficulties. His US distributor, Snug Harbour Ltd. in New York City, left him in the lurch. Holm had three unpaid invoices on his desk and another large shipment was ready for the USA, when Snug Harbour’s manager told him on the phone that there was no money at all on the account to pay him.

So the Dane went to New York for an almost desperate search for a new distribution partner. He made contacts with Lane Ltd. and met Herman G. Lane in February 1971. Lane Ltd. had no interest in Holm’s serial pipes produced at that time but so much the more in the hand-carved freehands because the hype for Danish freehands and fancies in the States was still on its way to the climax then. The meeting resulted in an agreement to start a cooperation. Lane insisted to improve the quality considerably and in return he assured to be able to sell essentially larger quantities.

Holm went back home to work on new samples with all-new designs and altered finishes for Lane. Both, Lane and Holm, agreed that it would be unwise to sell the pipes under Preben Holm’s name as long as Snug Harbour had a considerable stock of Preben Holm pipes and might sell them pipes at very low prices just to bring in some money.

So on Mr. Lane’s proposal it was determined to use the name Ben Wade belonging to Lane Ltd. Lane spent considerable amounts of money for advertising the new brand in the big magazines– the centerpiece being whole-page ads showing a very exclusive Seven Day’s Set.

The cooperation with Lane Ltd. proved to be an eminent business success for both partners. Within a very short time Ben Wade Handmade Denmark sold in much larger quantities and at higher prices than they had ever dreamed of. And the hype these freehands and fancy pipes caused went on unbroken long after Herman G. Lane deceased. Preben Holm – obviously much more brilliant in pipe making than in pipe business – was in major troubles again in 1986 and had to sack most of his staff. The Ben Wade production was significantly lowered but continued until his untimely death in June of 1989.

Up to now Preben Holm made Ben Wade pipes are cult and highly sought for on the estate markets.

With that information my initial thoughts were confirmed. This pipe was a Preben Holm made Freehand distributed in the US by Lane Ltd under the name Ben Wade. The freehand rage occurred in the late 70s and the pipes were made until Preben’s death in 1989. My guess would be that this pipe was made sometime during that time period and potentially in the late 70s.

Armed with that information I moved forward to work 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 and stem to show the condition of them both when it arrived. It looked good. There is some darkening and damage to the inner edge of the bowl. The stem had some deep tooth marks ahead of the button and on the button surface on both sides.To begin my part of the restoration work I decided to repair the large chip/nick in the lower left side of the bowl. It was clean so I wiped it lightly and filled it in with briar dust and super glue.Once the repair cured I sanded it smooth with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to blend it into the surrounding briar. I used a black Sharpie pen to stain the repaired area. I blended it into the surface of the surrounding briar with a Walnut stain pen. The photo shows the repair blended into the briar. I polished the bowl with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the briar down after each pad with a damp cloth. The bowl is starting to look very good. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips and into the plateau rim top and shank end with a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. The stem was very clean so I filled in the tooth marks with clear super glue and set it aside to cure. Once it had cured I flattened out the repairs and sharpened the edge of the button with a needle file. I sanded out the tooth chatter with 220 grit sandpaper and started to polish it with a folded piece of 400 wet dry sandpaper. Once it was finished it began to shine.I used some Denicare Mouthpiece Polish that I have in my kit to start polishing out some of the scratches and remaining oxidation on the stem. I rubbed it in with a cotton pad and my finger tip and buffed it off with a cotton pad.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 some Obsidian Oil. I finished polishing it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and buffed it off with a cotton cloth. This is a beautiful Preben Holm made Ben Wade Ambassador Deluxe with a fancy, turned, black acrylic/Lucite stem. It has a great look and feel. The shape fits well in the hand with the curve of the bowl and shank junction a perfect fit for the thumb around the bowl when held. I polished stem and the bowl with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the plateau on the rim top and shank ende multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax. 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 pipe polished up pretty nicely. The rich combination of browns and black in the smooth finishes took on life with the buffing. The rich colour of the briar works well with the polished acrylic stem. I like the grain and finished look of this Preben Holm Ben Wade Ambassador Deluxe pipe. Have a look at it with the photos below. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 6 ¼ inches, Height: 2 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ wide x 2 ¼ inches long, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. This Danish Freehand is a real beauty. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another beautiful pipe. This one will be going on the rebornpipes store shortly if you would like to add it to your collection. Thanks for your time.

1 thought on “Breathing Life into a Ben Wade Danish Made Ambassador Deluxe

  1. plasticmask

    You and my Father have similar tastes in pipes. That one looks like a hoof of some livestock animal if turned upside down. As always it’s fun watching you work, I’ll never understand when you decide to just file something out or fill it in… I hope that the more I read the more I will start to “get” that aspect of what you do.


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