Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe on the table came to us from a group of pipes that Jeff and I purchased from a pipeman in late 2018. It is a Dunhill Shell Briar Billiard that is in decent condition. The stem is a replacement and I need to find an original stem for it but it works. It is stamped on a smooth panel on the underside of the shank. On the heel of the bowl it is stamped with the shape number LB F/T followed by Dunhill [over] Shell Briar followed by Made in England 8. That is followed by 4 in a circle followed by S for shell. Interpreting that stamp it is as follows: The LB is the shape for a larger thick shank billiard and the F/T is the stem shape – a Fish Tail stem. The Dunhill Shell Briar is the finish which is corroborated the S at the end of the stamping. The 8 following the D of England gives the date the pipe was made and identifies it as 1968. The stamping is clear and readable. The pipe has a mix of black, cordovan and brown stains on a sandblast finish and some amazing grain that the shape follows well. The finish was dirty with dust around the nooks and crannies of the sandblast. There was a cake in the bowl and lava on the rim top. There was damage on the front outer edge of the rim from tapping against something hard. The replacement taper stem was oxidized and had tooth marks and chatter ahead of the button. Jeff took photos of the pipe to show what it looked like before he started working on it. He took photos of the bowl and rim top to show how clean they were and of the stem to show the oxidation, calcification and tooth marks and chatter on both sides of the stem. The photos of the sides and heel of the bowl show the deep sandblast grain on the pipe. It is a beauty under the grime and dust. The stamping on the underside of the shank is shown in the photo below. It looks very good and readable. It reads as noted and explained above. Jeff captured the overall look in the first photo followed by some closer photos of sections of the stamp so you can read it. I turned to Pipedia’s section on Dunhill Root Briar to get a bit of background on the Duhill finishes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill#Root_Briar). I quote:
A deep craggy sandblast with a black stain finish (usually made using Algerian briar) – the color of the stain used has varied over the years. Although there is some doubt as to them being the first to sandblast pipes, Dunhill’s Shell pipes, and the sandblasting techniques developed to create them are considered one of Dunhill’s greatest and most lasting contributions to the art of pipe making.
The documented history of Dunhill’s inception of the Shell is largely limited to patent applications — there are no catalog pages or advertisements promoting blasted pipes at the time. The preliminary work on the English patent (No. 1484/17) was submitted on October 13, 1917. The patent submission was completed half a year later, on April 12, 1918, followed by the granting of the English patent on October 14, 1918. This was less than a month before the end of The Great War on November 11th.
In 1986 Dunhill released a line of premium Shell finish pipes – “RING GRAIN”. These are high-quality straight grain pipes which are sandblasted. Initially only Ring Grain, but now in two different finishes. In 1995 the “Shilling” was introduced with Cumberland finish – it is an extremely rare series. These pipes exhibit a deeper blast characteristic of that of the 1930’s – mid-1960’s (and the limited ‘deep blast’ pipes of the early 1980s) and show a fine graining pattern. These are considered the best new Dunhills by many enthusiasts today and are very rare. The finish is sometimes described as tasting like vanilla at first, with the taste becoming more normal or good as the pipe breaks in.
I have also included a chart from the site from Dunhill spelling out the Standard Pipe Finishes and giving short information and a timeline.I turned to work on the pipe itself. Jeff had carried out his usual thorough cleanup of the pipe. He had reamed it with a PipNet reamer to remove the cake and cleaned the reaming up with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the internals of the bowl and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the externals with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and rinsed the bowl off with running water. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer and once it had soaked rinsed it off with warm water to remove the residual solution. He dried it off and rubbed it down to remove any oxidation that was still on the stem. The pipe looked very good when I received it. I took a photo of the rim top to show the condition. You can see the damage on the front outer edge of the bowl in the photo. It is roughened and chipped. The replacement stem came out looking quite good. There are some tooth marks and chatter on both sides with deeper marks on the underside near the button. I took a photo of the underside of the shank to show the stamping. It is clear and readable with some faint spots. I also took a photo of the damage to the front outer edge of the rim top to show the damaged areas. I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the pipe parts to show what I was working with. It is a nice looking pipe.I decided to start the restoration on this one a little differently. In examining the outer edge damage to the bowl it appeared that I could work it over with a burr on my Dremel and minimize the damage by patterning the reworked surface to match the rest of the rim top. Once I worked it over I used a Mahogany and Walnut stain pen to blend the newly carved areas into the rest of the bowl finish. With the repair completed I rubbed the briar down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the briar with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to work it into the nooks and crannies of the sandblast finish. The product works to clean, enliven and preserve the briar. I let it sit for 10 minutes while I worked on the stem. After the time passed I buffed it with a cotton cloth to deepen the shine. The briar really comes alive with the balm. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the tooth marks on the stem to lift them up. I was able to lift them significantly. I filled in the remaining tooth marks with black super glue and set the stem aside to let the repairs cure. Once the repairs cured I used a needle file to recut and redefine the button edges and to smooth them out and blend them into the stem surface. I sanded the repairs smooth and then decided to drill a spot on the top of the stem and put in a white dot. I did not do this to fool anyone just so I could get a feel of the stem looking almost right until I picked up a Dunhill stem. I used a piece of a white acrylic crochet needle to make the dot. I used a Dremel and sanding drum to take the end down to a spot. I then used a triangular shaped file to continue to take the top down to make it small enough to work for a white dot. I made the dot a little larger than normal and off just enough to give clue to the fact that it is a fake! But I am going to enjoy it anyway! I used an awl to start a hole on the top of the stem to serve as a guide for drilling the hole to put the white spot in. I cut off the piece of acrylic and used a file to reduce the diameter a little more with a file while I held it in a pair of vise grips. Once I had the end small enough I put a drop of super glue in the hole and pressed the piece of acrylic in the hole. Once the repair cured I used the Dremel and sanding drum to take the pin back to the surface of the vulcanite. Once it was close to the top of the stem I used 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it out. I sanded the repaired areas and the inserted acrylic white spot with 220 grit sandpaper to further blend them into the stem surface. I started the polishing of the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. This Dunhill Shell Briar LB F/T Chunky Billiard is a beautiful sandblast with the unique Dunhill Sandblast finish made in 1968. It is a great looking pipe that is in almost new condition. The dark finish that is identified as a black stain highlights some great grain around the bowl sides and the heel. It has some great rugged sandblast that Dunhill specialized in making. The finish on the pipe is in excellent condition and the repaired area on the front outer edge of the rim top looks very good. The mix of stains works well to highlight the grain. The polished black vulcanite taper replacement stem adds to the mix. With the dust gone from the finish and the bowl it was a beauty and is eye-catching. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel being careful to not buff the stamping. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing it with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished LB F/T Shell Briar Billiard is quite nice and feels great in the hand. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. I can only tell you that like the other pipes I am working that it is much prettier in person than the photos capture. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ¾ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another beautiful pipe. If any of you have an LB stem for sale or trade let me know. Thanks for your time.