Blog by Steve Laug
This past May, 2019 I received an email from John in Iowa City, Iowa inquiring whether I would be interested in purchasing three Upshall pipes that he was selling. He sent photos and we chatted back and forth via email and a deal was struck. I had him ship the pipes to Jeff’s place in Idaho. They were generally well cared for pipes but they were dirty. This is the third and final pipe from that lot that I have chosen to work on. The shape and design caught my eye as I was going through the pipes in the queue. The shape is what I would call a Large Billiard. It is a B Grade smooth, walnut finished pipe. The B grade is the “entry” level for the Upshall Straight Grains and retail new at about $1500. The finish is very dirty with dust and grime. The bowl has a thick cake and the rim top has some darkening, lava and perhaps some damage around the inner edge. The stem is oxidized and has tooth chatter and light tooth marks on both sides near the button. The surface of the button looks very good on both sides. I am including the photos that John sent of the pipe to give and idea of the general condition of the pipe before Jeff started his cleanup work on it. (Normally Jeff has quite a few before photos but about the time this pipe came we lost a large number of photos).Before I started my work on the pipe I looked up the Upshall listing in Pipedia to remind myself of the background on the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/James_Upshall). I read through the article and found the section on Grading & Sizing Information really helpful. I have included that below. I have highlighted the pertinent text in red below.
James Upshall pipes are graded by various finishes, i.e. bark, sandblast, black dress and smooth etc. Then by cross grain, flame grain, straight grain and, last but not least, the perfect high grade, which consists of dense straight grain to the bowl and shank. The latter being extremely rare. In addition, the price varies according to group size, i.e. from 3-4-5-6 cm high approximately Extra Large. We also have the Empire Series which are basically the giant size, individually hand crafted pipes which come in all finishes and categories of grain. All our pipes are individually hand carved from the highest quality, naturally dried Greek briar. In order to simplify our grading system, let me divide our pipes into 4 basic categories.
- It begins with the Tilshead pipe, which smokes every bit as good as the James Upshall but has a slight imperfection in the briar. In the same category price wise you will find the James Upshall Bark and Sandblast finish pipes, which fill and smoke as well as the high grades.
- In this category we have the best “root quality” which means that the grain is either cross, flame or straight, which is very much apparent through the transparent differing color finishes. This group will qualify as the “S”- Mahogany Red, “A” – Chestnut Tan and “P” – Walnut. The latter having the straighter grain.
- Here you have only straight grain, high grade pipes, which run from the “B”, “G”, “E”, “X” and “XX”. The latter will be the supreme high grade. Considering the straightness of the grain the latter category is also the rarest. Usually no more than 1% of the production will qualify.
- Lastly, we have the Empire Series. These are basically Limited Edition gigantic individually hand crafted pieces, which again are extremely rare due to the scarcity of large, superior briar blocks.
There was a link at the bottom of the article that led to a 1984 Catalogue. I have included a page from that catalogue below (https://pipedia.org/images/a/a6/James_Upshall_1984Catalog.pdf). The pipe at the top of the photo marked Medium Billiard is similar in shape to the one I am working on but the one I have I would classify as a Large Billiard.I turned to the James Upshall of England website and looked up the guarantee on their pipes. I have included it below because of the commitment to quality that is spoken of in the description (http://www.upshallusa.com/products.htm).I also copied the section from the website on the B-Grade pipe and the description about the nature of the briar used in that pipe (http://www.upshallusa.com/html/JUB-Grade.htm).Armed with that information I turned my attention to the pipe itself. Jeff had cleaned the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness that I really appreciate. He reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the internals with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until the pipe was clean. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime and grit on the briar and the lava on the rim top. The finish looks very good with good looking grain around the bowl and shank. Jeff soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation on the rubber. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver for the second stop of its restoration tour it looked very good. I took photos before I started my part of the work. I took some close up photos of the rim top and also of the stem surface. The bowl and the rim top look good. The inner edge of the rim had some nicks in the edge. There was some wear in the finish on the rim top. I also took close up photos of the stem to show how clean the stem was. There were very light tooth marks or chatter on both sides of the stem. I took photos of the stamping on the shank. On the left side of the shank it reads B (Grade stamp) at the shank/bowl junction. That is followed by the James Upshall stamp in an oval. There is a JU logo on the left side of the stem. The stamping was very clear. The right side of the shank was stamped Tilshead over England over Made by Hand. The grain on this pipe was highlighted by the shaping of the pipe.I took the stem off the bowl and took a picture of the parts of the pipe to give a sense of the parts of the pipe. It really is a beautiful straight grain pipe.I decided to clean up the inner edge of the bowl and straighten out the damage to the rim edge with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper and polished it with 400 grit sandpaper. It did not take too much to give the edge a light bevel and remove the damage. I sanded the briar with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped the bowl surface down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad to remove the sanding dust. Once I finished the exterior of the briar was clean and the grain really stood out. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for 15 minutes and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. It looks quite nice at this point. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I scrubbed the remaining oxidation on the stem with Soft Scrub all-purpose cleanser. It works well to remove oxidation in the surface of the vulcanite. The pads show the oxidation that came off. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. Once I had finished the polishing I gave it final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I am excited to be on the homestretch with beautiful James Upshall B-Grade pipe. I look forward to the moment when it all comes back together, polished and waxed. I put the bowl and stem back together. I polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the scratches in the briar and the vulcanite. I gave the bowl 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 beautifully grained finish looks really good with the interesting grain patterns standing out on the shape. The grain and the polished black vulcanite went really well together. This James Upshall Large Billiard was another fun pipe to work on thanks to Jeff’s cleanup work. It really has that classic English look that catches the eye. The combination of various brown stains really makes the pipe look attractive. It is another comfortable pipe to hold in the hand. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 ¼ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 51grams/1.76oz. This is an Upshall that catches my eye. This is the last of the three Upshalls that I have here and I am probably going to hand on to this one. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. This was an interesting estate to bring back to life.