Blog by Steve Laug
Summer is pretty much over in Vancouver and today was another rainy, cold fall day. It is a day off so I had time to work on a few pipes. My wife and kids are convinced it is an illness but at least it keeps me out of their way! This next pipe on the table is one that I may have a hard time letting go of when I am finished. It is a Castello Natural Vergin and it is a saddle stem billiard two pluses in my book. My brother Jeff picked this pipe up from an antique mall in Utah, USA. It is stamped on the smooth heel of the bowl and the shank bottom and reads Castello [over] Natural Vergin. Next to that is stamped KKK 16. That is followed by Made in Cantu [over] Italy followed by an oval containing the name Carlo Scotti next to the stem shank union. The Castello “diamond” inset is on the left side of the saddle stem. On the underside of the stem it is stamped Hand Made [over] Castello [over] 5 It was in pretty filthy looking condition with oils ground into the briar around the bowl side leaving dark patches when he got it but still showed promise. He took the following photos of the pipe before he worked his magic on them. The pipe must have been another terrific smoker because the bowl was heavily caked with lava flowing over the rim top. In its condition it was going to take some work to clean out that bowl and be able to see what the rim looked like underneath the layer of lava. The acrylic/Lucite stem was in good condition. It was dirty and had light tooth chatter a deep tooth marks in the top and underside of the stem just ahead of the button. The rest of the bowl looked dirty but the photos give an idea of what Jeff saw before his cleanup revealed the condition of the pipe. The next photos try to capture the stamping on the flat panel on the underside of the shank. It read as I have noted above. The stem also bears a Hand Made Castello 5 stamp on the underside. Jeff cleaned the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness – reaming the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaning up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the internals of the bowl, shank and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean off the dust and grime on the rusticated Natural Vergin finish. The rusticated rim top looked very good under the thick lava coat. The inside of the bowl itself looked great. The finish had darkened with the cleaning but the dark oily spots on the bowl sides were gone. The stem was in great shape other than the tooth marks on both sides. I took photos of the pipe when it arrived here. I took some close up photos of the rim top, bowl and stem to show what they looked like after Jeff’s cleanup. It is a startling difference. The rim top looks very good. The stem will take a bit of work to remove the deep tooth marks on both sides and give it a deep shine. The stamping on the shank looked very good. It is clear and readable as noted above. I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the pipe to show the proportions of the bowl/shank and the stem length.As usual I cannot seem to retain the details on Castello pipes in my head for long for some reason. The stamping on them – Castello and the Reg. No. and the Carlo Scotti stamp left me with some questions that I need to answer before I began to work on the pipe. I turned first to the Pipephil site (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-castello.html) because of the general quick summary of information I get there. I quote:
Castello PIPA CASTELLO di Carlo Scotti & C. was founded in 1947 by Carlo Scotti († 1988). Franco Coppo (AKA “Kino”) who married Carlo Scotti’s daughter Savina, manages (2012) the corporate since 1985.
The site also gave a good summary of the grading and sizes of the pipes. I quote that in full.
1K to 4K, G (Giant) and GG (Extra large)
Rusticated grading: SEA ROCK, OLD SEA ROCK, NATURAL VERGIN,
Sandblasted grading: ANTIQUARI, OLD ANTIQUARI
Smooth grading (ascending): TRADEMARK, CASTELLO, COLLECTION
Other stampings: Great Line (Non-standard or freestyle) Fiammata (Straight grain)
Production (2012): ~4000 pipes / year
I also found a note on the page that the Rhinestone logo was originally on pipes for the US market. It is occasionally used now.
I turned then to Pipedia for more information on the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Castello). The majority of the information was what was already quoted above in abbreviated form. However there was a link to an article by Bob Hamlin that gave some interesting bits of information that I found helpful (http://www.pipes.org/BURST/FORMATTED/196.016.html). I quote in part from that article.
SEA ROCK [Carved Black or dark brown]: This is the lowest grade of the Castello line and is the most common in the USA. Sea Rocks are produced by taking a smooth bowl that has not been “final finished” and surface carving the finish with tools. This “carved” finish is then evened out using a steel wire brush, stained and then waxed. The Natural Vergin carved finish is left unstained and unwaxed as a rule, although we have seen waxed and partially waxed “Vergins”.
All carved Castello pipes are graded by the number of K’s that are stamped on each piece and are K-graded by SIZE. 1K is the smallest and fairly rare, 2K is small to medium, with 3K or 4K being the most common and ranges from medium to medium large. Large pieces are stamped “G” for giant and extra-large pieces are stamped “GG” for double giant. In addition to the number of K’s on a carved Sea Rock piece the shape number is almost always added. As a rule a Sea Rock Castello is stained Black, although recently there have been quite a few coming in stained deep brown and still stamped “Sea Rock”. American Logo’d Sea Rocks are all priced the same to the consumer, although most are 2 or 3 K’ed models. G/GG models are charged at a higher price on American pieces and are basically the same as their European counterparts.
The Castello Natural Vergin KKK 16 I was working on was definitely made for the American Market with the Rhinestone in the stem. It had the natural finish that darkened with cleaning.
Pipedia also gave a link to Mike’s Briar Blues site for help in dating and determining shapes (http://www.briarblues.com/castello.htm).
Shape numbers. Shape numbers are all 2 digits. A 2 in front indicates a “fancy” interpretation, a 3 in front means that the carving is somehow unique. I don’t know when the change was made, but currently, a π symbol is used instead of the 3xx. I’ve only seen this on Sea Rocks, but that doesn’t mean anything…
Now I had more information to work with. The Castello Natural Vergin in my hands was 3K graded. That told me that it is a mid-sized pipe. The number 16 makes it a straight billiard.
The bowl was in such good condition that I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the rusticated Sea Rock finish on the bowl and the rim top. I worked it into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the wood. I used a horse hair shoe brush to work it into the crevices and keep from building up in the valleys and crevices of the finish. Once the bowl was covered with the balm I let it sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth and the shoe brush. I polished it with a microfiber cloth. It is definitely darker than the dirty raw briar look but it is pretty close to the oil finish that was sometimes used. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process to show what the bowl looked like at this point. I set the bowl aside and worked on the stem. I filled in the tooth marks with black super glue and set it aside to cure. Once it cured I flattened the repairs with a file and sanded them with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface. I started polishing the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I continued to polish the stem with 1500-12000 grit pads. I dry sanded it with the pads and wiped it down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. I finished polishing the stem with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine polishes. I wiped the stem down with a damp cotton pad afterwards and buffed it with a soft microfiber cloth. I put the bowl and stem back together on this beautiful Castello Natural Vergin KKK 16 Saddle Billiard. I polished the stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the scratches in the Lucite. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax 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 contrast of the oil treated briar with the polished black acrylic/Lucite is quite stunning. The coral like rustication around the bowl and shank is quite remarkable and gives the pipe an incredible tactile presence that only improve as it heated from a smoke. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 3/8 inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This Natural Vergin Billiard will soon be on the rebornpipes store if you are interested in adding it to your collection. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me. I always enjoy working on Castello pipes. Cheers.