Blog by Steve Laug
It is a rainy fall day in Vancouver and one that just invites me to stay home and cozy. It is a great day to work on pipes. This next pipe on the table came to us in a group of pipes that we purchased at the end of 2019 from a fellow in Los Angeles, California, USA. It is a Castello Sea Rock Briar and it is a Billiard shape to – both pluses in my book. It is stamped on the smooth heel of the bowl and the shank bottom and reads Castello [over] Sea Rock Briar followed by SC 16. That is followed by Reg. No. 66171 No. Next to that is stamped 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 tapered stem letting me know this was a pipe made for US import. On the underside of the stem it is stamped Hand Made [over] Castello [over] 3. It was pretty dirty with dust and grime when we 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 a 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 and 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 3 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 Sea Rock finish. The rusticated rim top looked very good under the thick lava coat. The inside of the bowl itself looked great. 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 also looks very good. I took a photo of the stamping on the underside of the shank and the stem. It is clear and readable as noted above. I also have included a photo of the “diamond” inset on the left side of the saddle stem. 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.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 VIRGIN,
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 Sea Rock briar I was working on did not have the K stamping. It definitely was made for the American Market with the Rhinestone in the stem. It had the dark brown finish. The shape number still needed to be determined.
Pipedia also gave a link to Mike’s Briar Blues site for help in dating and determining shapes (http://www.briarblues.com/castello.htm). I quote a piece on the Reg. No. that I found helpful.
1947 – Carlo Scotti begins the company. In the beginning (1947 – 1949, maybe 1950) the pipes were stamped Mi Reserva (my reserve ). Later the Reg No was added. This Reg No has nothing to do with shape numbers, but is merely the Castello company trademark…
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…
Pre K grading. Late 1950’s to mid-1960’s the pipe carried stamps which indicated sizes. These were as follows; SA, SB, SC, and SS. SA being the smallest and SS the largest.
Now I had more information to work with. The Castello Sea Rock in my hands was pre K graded. That told me that it came out in the late 1950s to mid-1960s. The SC stamp makes it a mid-sized pipe from that time period. The number 16 makes it a straight shank billiard.
I started the minimal work I had on the bowl by using a black Sharpie Pen to darken the light spots on the rim top. My purpose was to blend the rim top into the rest of the stain on the bowl and shank. It worked very well.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 and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the wood. 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. 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. It was in great shape so I polished 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 Sea Rock Briar 16SC 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 blacks and dark browns of the briar with the polished black acrylic/Lucite is quite stunning. The dark and 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 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The pipe weighs 39grams/1.38oz.Thanks for walking through the restoration with me. I always enjoy working on Castello pipes. Cheers.