Blog by Paresh Deshpande
I had recently worked on one large, humongous sized pipe which definitely did not qualify as beautiful but surely can be termed as ruggedly handsome, from an estate lot of 40 pipes that I had acquired about six months ago. Here is the link to that write up which will provide a background to this lot and the condition of the pipes that I had received (https://rebornpipes.com/2020/03/08/refurbishing-a-real-cherry-foreign-pipe-from-estate-lot-of-40/).
The second pipe from this lot currently on my work table, is again a very long pipe that is both ruggedly beautiful and delicate at the same time. It’s a Corn Cob (ruggedly beautiful aspect) with a 15 inch long thin bone stem (the delicate aspect). This pipe is marked with a green arrow in the picture below and readers will also get a general idea about the size and delicate beauty of this pipe.Holding this pipe in hand really makes me wonder as to how anyone could let go off such an exquisite pipe. Well, someone’s loss is my gain!! I have never come across anything like this pipe till date. It’s a Corn Cob in Acorn shape with a long (15 inches) thin single piece bone stem. The cob is covered in a tightly crocheted jute bag which extends from the bottom and up to two third height of the stummel. The bone stem is attached to the stummel and cannot be removed. There is no stamping visible over the entire pipe. Here is how the pipe looks as it sits on my work table. I absolutely had no clue or thread to follow to know the vintage or maker of such pipes as the pipe is devoid of any stampings. To know more about the provenance of this pipe, I posted pictures of this pipe on one of the active pipe restorers group on Face Book. However, apart from a few likes, there was no information that was forthcoming from the viewers. I reached out to my friend, mentor and guru, Steve Laug. He suggested that this pipe is “most probably a homemade job what with the crocheted cap, the whole thing”. As regards the stem, he thought that it could be reed stem. When I confirmed it to be a bone stem and my appreciation that given the lightness, length and size, it could be an Albatross wing bone, he concurred that “odds definitely are very good for it to be an Albatross wing bone as they have that kind of wing span”.
He further suggested the pipe to be from the period 1920s to 1930s. According to him, with the crochet cap and the delicate nature of this pipe, it could well be a woman’s’ pipe and shared pictures of old grannies smoking such pipes.Well, I would go with the input provided with Steve and given the historical documented proof that Albatross feather hunting was banned in 1922, this homemade corn cob ladies pipe could be broadly dated to have been made in the 1920s.
Any clarification/confirmed input on this pipe are requested from all the learned readers of this write up!!
Initial Visual Inspection
The chamber has a decent and uneven layer of dry and hard cake. It seems that the chamber walls themselves are uneven, the condition of which can be ascertained only after the cake has been removed to expose the walls. The rim top surface is highly uneven with the indentations of the chaff being clearly visible and intermingled with chipped surface areas. However, there are no signs of charring to the rim edges. I shall decide if I would top the rim to try and make it perfectly even. The stummel is partially covered in thick brown paper under a crocheted cap made out of jute. This is covered in dust and grime. The brown paper has either torn away from the top half or possibly was meant to cover the bottom half of the stummel. The rustic and unrefined finish that presents itself makes commenting on it with any degree of certainty, well neigh a difficult task. The old cob has aged well and feels rugged in its patchy and scaly texture of the chaff and dark color. The stummel has no shank and the long, delicate and slender Albatross wing bone stem is permanently attached to the stummel itself. The Albatross wing bone is covered in dust and dirt from the outside while the insides show few dark areas signifying accumulated old oils and tars in the air way. However, the bone has colored well with age, I say. It will be a challenge to clean the stem internals as I do not have such long pipe cleaners and with the stem fixed in to the stummel, makes cleaning impossible from the other end. The stem end is uneven but I didn’t feel any jagged edges, so I think I shall let it be just to maintain that rustic homemade look and feel of this pipe.The Process
I began the process of refurbishing this pipe first by working on the stummel. The crocheted jute cap initially had some give to it and very carefully and delicately, I separated the cap from the stummel. The thick brown paper that covered the bottom half of the cob was intact. It’s my guess that the purpose of this paper was to provide some insulation for the hands from the heat of the burning tobacco. I washed the crocheted jute cap using a detergent and toothbrush to clean the surface of all the dirt, dust and grime of yesteryears. I set it out to dry naturally without wringing it as I feared that the weave may unravel. I reamed the chamber with a Castleford reamer tool, using the size four head of the tool. Using my fabricated knife; I further took the cake down to the bare wood. With a 150 grit sand paper, the walls of the chamber were rid of all the remnants of the cake, revealing solid chamber walls. I further wiped the chamber with a cotton swab wetted with isopropyl alcohol to completely remove the sanding dust. The uneven chamber wall appears to be natural and akin to the slots where the cob kernels are attached (chaff). The rim surface was too uneven. Again the rim top appears uneven due to the chaff slots and this brings me to the question whether I should attempt to top it and get the rim surface as even as possible or let it remain as is…natural look! I discussed it with Abha, my wife, and it was decided that the rim should be topped just sufficient to make it even but not too much that the natural chaff slots are all but lost. Truth be told, I did not understand what exactly was needed other than the fact that topping was essential. I topped it on a 180 grit sand paper, frequently showing it to Abha and continued till she liked the looks of the rim top. That I too liked it goes without saying!! Here is how the rim appears at this stage. Next, I cleaned up the stem air way with liquid detergent, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. The stem internals cleaned up nicely with a smooth and full draw. I followed up the internal cleaning with cleaning the external surface of the albatross wing bone stem. I cleaned the wing bone surface with dish washing detergent and Scotch Brite and followed it up with a piece of 0000 grade steel wool. The Albatross wing bone stem is now nice and clean. With the cleaning of the wing bone stem complete, I polished the stem with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 through 12000 grit pads. The off white residue that was seen during the polishing further confirmed the stem material to be bone. The length of the stem, diameter of the hole and lightness has left no doubts in my mind that this has to be an Albatross wing bone.I applied “Briar Cleaner”, a product that has been developed by my friend Mark Hoover, to the external surface of the bowl. It works similar to Murphy’s oil soap and needs to be applied to the stummel surface and set aside for 5-10 minutes. The product pulls out all the dirt and grime to the surface making further cleaning easy. I am quite happy with this product. I used a hard bristled tooth brush to scrub the stummel with the solution, wiped it clean with a moist cloth and dried it using paper towels and soft cotton cloth. I deliberately cleaned the rim and set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. Staying with the stummel restoration, I polished the rim top surface with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 pads. I wiped the surface with a soft cloth at the end of the micromesh cycle. The rim top surface looks nice with a deep shine. I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the cob stummel to enliven and protect it. I rubbed this balm deep in to the patchy/ scaly surfaces of the stummel and smooth rim top with my fingers and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the cob now has a nice vibrant appearance. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. At this stage in restoration, I reattached the crocheted jute cap with the stummel. To complete the refurbishing, I gave a vigorous hand buff to the cob stummel with a microfibre cloth to deepen the dark colouration and shine on the cob. Needless to say, I was careful with the jute cap least I unravel the stitches. This rustic finish, unrefined and most likely home made pipe has a charm that can only be felt while holding it and will definitely find a place of pride in my modest collection. Whether or not I shall smoke it, I cannot say at this point in time, but in case the pipe calls out to me and shares its life story, I shall love to smoke it while listening to it. Here are some pictures of the refurbished pipe. P.S. This is in no way a beautiful well crafted pipe, but a rustic and delicate looking one with such solid construction that it feels capable of lasting for ages!! The pictures of the old ladies sitting around with their grandchildren in many ways remind me of my grand old man!! Thanks for sharing these pictures, Steve!
I should also mention here that this pipe has, by far, been the most difficult pipe to capture on camera for its length, beauty and appeal. Appreciate your patience in reading thus far and looking forward to input on the write up and any information/additional snippets/ clarifications on this pipe. Cheers…
Praying for the safety and well being of all the readers and their loved ones in these troubled times…