Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe on my worktable is an older GBD Chubby Billiard that Jeff and I picked up in a recent purchase of pipes. I have always loved older GBD pipes and the thick shank ones always have my attention. The pipe had some beautiful grain shining through the dust grime ground into the smooth finish. The finish was dull and lifeless and very dirty from sitting around. There was a thick cake in the bowl with lava flowing out of the bowl and over the beveled rim top. The cake and lava was thick enough that it was hard to know what the inner edge of the rim looked like. The pipe was stamped on both sides of the shank. The left side bore the GBD Oval logo stamp and nothing else. The right side read London England over the shape number 191. The tarnished band on the shank is Sterling Silver and bears the GBD Oval logo with three hallmarks underneath. There is also the MR&Co stamp below the hallmarks on the band. The thick tapered stem bore the GBD Oval Brass Roundel and was heavily oxidized and there was light tooth chatter and tooth marks on both sides near the button. The button surface also had some deep tooth marks that would need to be addressed. Jeff took the following photos before he started his cleanup work on the pipe. He took close-up photos of the bowl and rim top from various angles to capture the absolutely filthy condition of the bowl and rim top edges. It is caked with a thick cake with tobacco debris in the bowl and the rim top is beveled but that can hardly be seen in the debris and overflow that has filled in the top. This was a dirty pipe for sure but it must have been a favourite of the pipeman who had held it in trust before it came to us. The next photos of the sides and heel of the bowl show the beautiful smooth mix of birdseye and cross grain around the bowl. It is quite stunning and you can see the grime and grit that is ground into the finish on the bowl sides. Did I say that this pipe was dirty? Perhaps that was a bit of an understatement. Jeff took photos of the stamping on the shank. The left side has the standard GBD Oval stamped into the briar. There is nothing else on the briar of the left side. The right side reads LONDON ENGLAND over 191 which is the shape number. He also took a photo of the band on the shank with its stamping as well as the GBD Oval Roundel on the left side of the stem. The next photos show a top view of the thick tapered stem as well as the top and underside. The oxidation, calcification and tooth marks and chatter on both sides near and on the button are visible in the photos. When the pipe arrived I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-gbd.html) to see if he could help me with the MR&Co stamp on the shank band. There was some quick information the top of the page so I did a screen capture of the section and have included it below. It gave me the name behind MR&Co which I already knew – Marechal & Ruchon Cie. It simply said that MR&Co first, the CJ Verguet Freres owned GBD from 1903 to 1970 and manufactured the pipes in the St. Claude, France plant. I needed more specific information so I would do some more reading.I turned to Pipedia for more information MR&C – Marechal Ruchon & Cie. There was a specific listing for the company so I turned there https://pipedia.org/wiki/Marechal_Ruchon_%26_Cie.). I quote in full:
Marechal Ruchon & Cie. was a company owned by Auguste Marechal and Ferdinand Ruchon (“& Cie” is the french equivalent of “& Co”) which owned the GBD brand from the end of the 19th century until 1902 when they sold Marechal, Ruchon & Cie. to Oppenheimer Pipe, which in turn changed the name of the company to Marechal, Ruchon & Co., Ltd.. Upon the creation of Cadogan, however, the brand was no more, remembered only in the name of the GBD Marcee pipes made until just after the Second World War. For more information see GBD.
Since the GBD pipe that I was working on bore the MR&Co stamp in a extended rectangle with pointed ends that helped me know that it was made after MR&Cie sold the company in 1902 to Oppenheimer Pipe in 1902 who changed the name to Marechal, Ruchon & Co., Ltd. The stamp from that time forward matches the one on the GBD on my table.
I turned to the article on Pipedia on GBD itself and found some interesting additional information (https://pipedia.org/wiki/GBD). I quote:
…Meanwhile the GBD name was well established and thus retained. August Marechal and Ferdinand Ruchon led the firm into the 20th century. They were in charge of the company for more than 50 years….
This means that MR&Co led the firm from 1902-1970. Now I felt like I was on my way to dating this pipe and I have not even looked at the silver hallmarks yet.
I decided to turn to the hallmarks at this point. I knew that the marks were clear and read as follows from right to left. There was a Leopard’s Head without a Crown, a prancing or rampant Lion and the letter N. Each of them was in a square cartouche.
I turned to an internet site on British Silver Hallmarks to unpack the meaning of each of the hallmarks (https://www.925-1000.com/british_marks.html). The first screen capture below picks up the information on the Silver Standard Marks. The Rampant Lion is shown in letter A. It informed the buyer that the silver was Sterling .925.The second screen capture shows the Leopard Heads that were often on silver from London. They are the City Marks and I captured only the London section. The Leopard on this band is the one without the crown. The information on the screen capture is clear that the uncrowned Leopard was on silver from 1822 to the present.Now I knew the first two hallmarks on the band – It was a London Made Silver band made after 1822 and it was .925 Sterling. Now it was time to narrow down the dates on the band. I turned to another webpage that gave me the letter codes so that I could pin down the date on this pipe from that site (https://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Dates/London.html). The large chart on that site covers the time period from 1544-2024. I include a screen capture of the section from 1698 to 1974 as it includes the stamp I am interested in.I have to thank John Fetter on the Facebook Tobacco Pipe Restorers Group for helping me nail this down. I posted the stamping on the shank band on the group with a potential date I was looking at and he posted a more accurate read. He included a photo of a pipe that he was waiting for from 1955 with similar hallmarks other than the “N” stamp that I have inserted below.I also checked the site for the 1948 date that he surmised and found that it matched perfectly to the stamping on the band on my pipe. I have included a screen capture of the section on the chart with the 1948 N stamp.
Now I knew that I was dealing with a GBD pipe made when Oppenheimer owned the company and operated as Marechal, Ruchon & Co. It was made in 1948 and bore the City of London mark in a band of .925 Sterling Silver. This was an old timer – 72 years old, just 7 years older than I am!
Now it was time to look at it up close and personal. I know I have said this before but I have to tell you this again. Jeff does an incredible job when he cleans these pipes. I know for a fact that I could not work on so many pipes without his cleanup work. He saves me an amazing amount of time with what he does. I receive these pipe cleaned and ready to work on with my part. I am very thankful for his help. He is a major part of rebornpipes.
This pipe was nothing short of looking like a completely different pipe! He had a real job in removing all of the cake and the thick lava on the rim top. He had reamed the bowl with a PipNet Pipe Reamer and cleaned up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He took the cake back to bare briar so we could check the walls for damage. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime on the bowl and rim and was able to remove the lava and dirt. He cleaned out the interior of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol until they came out clean. The rim top was clean when you compare it with what it looked like before he started. There was still some darkening on the top and inner edge of the bowl. There was one burned area toward the back of the inner edge and top. He cleaned the stem with Soft Scrub to remove the grime on the exterior and cleaned out the airway with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I took some photos of the pipe as I saw it. To show how clean the rim top and stem really were I took a close-up photo of them both. The bowl was clean and cake free. The rim top is very clean with no residual lava on the surface of the inward beveled rim top. There was some darkening in the finish on the top and the inner edges of the bowl. The black vulcanite tapered stem cleaned up nicely. There were still some deep spots of oxidation around the shank end and in the crease of the button. The surface had some light tooth marks and the button edge had a deeper mark on each side.I took photos of the stamping on both sides of the shank. You can see that it is very readable and clear on both sides.I removed the stem from the bowl and took photos of the parts. The taper vulcanite stem has the older style stepped down tenon end that extended beyond the end of the mortise into the first part of the airway.I started my part of the restoration by addressing the issues that remained on the rim top. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to clean up the inner edges of the bowl and also sand the smooth portion of the inward bevel on the top. I worked it over to minimize the burn mark on the rear inner edge and remove the darkening from the rest of the edge and the rim top. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I am happy with the results thus far. It definitely is an improvement. I would be able to polish it and blend it into the natural finish of the bowl.I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth. The grain really began to stand out and the finish took on a shine by the last sanding pad. The photos tell the story! The bowl looked very good. There were a few war wounds that I decided to leave in the briar as they were part of the story of the pipe. I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the finish on the bowl and shank. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I worked it into the smooth finish on the bowl with my fingertips. I let it sit for 10 minutes to let it do its magic. I buffed it with a soft cloth. The briar really began to have a rich shine and grain began to come alive in the finish. I took photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. The bowl was finished so I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded out the deeper oxidation that still remained in the vulcanite and the tooth marks on both sides of the stem with a folded piece of 220 sandpaper. I also reshaped the button surfaces with the sandpaper at the same time. I started polishing with a folded piece of 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I rubbed the stem down with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish – a red gritty paste a lot like Tripoli to polish it after the 400 grit sandpaper. I rub it on with my fingertips and work it into the vulcanite and buff it off with a cloth. It does a great job before I polish it further with the micromesh pads.I polished the band with some tooth paste – rubbed it on with my fingertips and rubbed it off with a cotton pad. It really shone and gave a bit of pop to the shank and stem.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with a cloth containing 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. I gave it a final rub down with Briarville’s No Oxy Oil to preserve and protect the vulcanite stem. I put the bowl and stem back together again and buffed the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I used a soft touch on the sandblast bowl so as not to fill in the blast with the product. I gave the bowl and the stem several coats of carnauba wax. I carefully buffed the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I finished buffing with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe looks very good. The grain patterns around the bowl are very nice and the chunky shape of the bowl and shank look great. The pipe feels great in the hand. It is comfortable and light weight for a pipe of its size. The finished GBD 191 London England Chunky Billiard is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ¼ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This 1948 GBD Billiard turned out very well. It should be a great pipe. This one will be joining my collection of older GBD pipes. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.