Blog by Steve Laug
It seems like just a few weeks ago I was contacted by an older gentleman about purchasing his pipe collection. He sent me the photos and I was amazed at what I saw. He had Dunhill pipes, BBB pipes, Orlik pipes, Barclay Rex Pipes, a couple of Meerschaums and a whole lot of other pipes. All I could say as I looked at the pipes was what a collection it was. We negotiated a deal and I think we both walked away quite happy with the exchange. But I have to tell you there was another pipe caught my interest when I looked at pictures of it. It was a beautiful older BBB Giant Bent Billiard. It was a mess but there was something charming about it. It is shown in the photo to the left. The smaller pipe in the photo is also a BBB and from having worked on it I know that it is a tiny pipe with small measurements – Length: 4 ¼ inches, Height: 1 ½ inches. This Giant Bent Billiard is huge. It almost double the length at 8+ inches and it is double the height at 3 inches. The silver band on the shank is heavily oxidized/tarnished Sterling Silver. I could not wait to get it in hand and figure out the age of the pipe. From the looks of it I could tell it was older. The stem looked like the older hard rubber stems. I was looking forward to checking that out.
I have worked on a lot of BBB pipes over the years and never had the opportunity to work on one like this. It would be a great addition to my collection of older BBB pipes. From the photos the pipe appeared to be in good condition from the photo he sent me. He said that the pipe was stamped on the left side of the silver ferrule and read AF & Co followed by the BBB logo in a diamond over three hallmarks. The hallmarks are as follows: an anchor (Birmingham, England), a rampant lion (the symbol for quality of the silver) and the final one is a lower case “f” (the date stamp). I had him ship it to Jeff for cleanup so it would be a while before I held in hand.
When the package arrived at Jeff’s place in Idaho he waited for me and opened the box with me on Facetime to look at the collection of pipes as he removed them from the box. It is an amazing collection and one that I am going to enjoy working on over the months ahead. Jeff took some photos of the BBB Giant/Extra Large Bent Billiard with a Sterling Silver band for me to look at while he worked his magic in cleaning up the pipe. It is a an interesting pipe with a lot of potential and what appears to be some great grain under the grime and debris of the years. Jeff took photos of the bowl, rim top to show the thickness of the cake in the bowl and the lava on the rim top. I was surprised to see that much cake in a pipe of this size from that time period. I had always thought and had found that the pipes were on the smaller size to accommodate the price of tobacco. That may have been true but this pipe is an exception that was obviously a great smoking pipe and a favourite. I am hoping that the thick lava coat protected things underneath it from damage to the edges and top. Cleaning it would make that clear! He took photos of the top and underside of the stem showing the tooth chatter, scratching and oxidation on the stem surface and wear on the edges of the button. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the briar. You can see the beautiful shape and the grain on the bowl even through the dirt and debris of many years. At this point in the process it certainly looks its age. Jeff took the stem off the shank and took photos of the mortise and tenon. It is a well made pipe and it is incredibly dirty!The stamping on the left side of the shank read BBB in a diamond separating OWN MAKE on each side of the diamond. On the right side it was stamped ENGLAND. On the silver band it is stamped on left side and it has the AF&Co (which is the Adolph Frankau & Company logo) with the BBB diamond logo next to it. After Frankau’s death, the BBB gradually became known as Britain’s Best Briars. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, English trademark in current use and the first pipe ever to have a registered trade mark. Underneath the AF&Co and BBB logo it is stamped with three hallmarks – an anchor, a lion and a lower case “f”. The anchor identifies the city of origin of the silversmith (Birmingham, England), the rampant lion (the symbol for quality of the silver) and the final one is a lower case “f” (the date stamp). The silver is badly oxidized but you can see the hallmarks in the third photo below. The stamping is clear and readable. Since the hallmarks were so clear, I turned to one of the numerous silver hallmark charts on line for the city of Birmingham, England to see what I could find out about the “f” date stamp and pin down and age for the pipe (https://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Dates/Birmingham.html). I clicked on the section that applied to the date stamp on this pipe. The first chart below is the chart from 1773-2024.I am also including screen capture of the enlarged section on the Birmingham dates for the letter F. This chart covers pipes made in 1778-1980. It is accessible by clicking on the F above the chart above on the website and it gives a listing of all silver hallmarks with the letter “F”. I have drawn a red box around the hallmark pattern that matches the one on the BBB Silver band. You can see that it dates the pipe to 1905. That means that this little pipe is roughly 116 years old. The silver work confirms the 1905 date for the pipe.
With the information from the hallmark site I had a clear date for the manufacture of the pipe. It was definitely an old timer and really was another stellar acquisition.
I did some reading in the reproduction of the BBB Catalogue XX that I have here. The catalogue shows a potential match for the pipe on page 28 under the heading FINEST LONDON MADE BRIAR PIPES – Hall-marked silver mounts. There is a special note that the vulcanite mouthpieces in this series are hand-made from the best Para Rubber. That matches what I have come to associate with the kind of stem that is on this pipe.
The pipe looks a lot like one that is described by the catalogue as an EXTRA LARGE 6010 with a vulcanite stem. It is an extra large bent billiard. There is another one on page 32 that is described as Extra Large with a push vulcanite stem. The catalogue number is FP6146.
Now it was time to work on the pipe. Jeff carefully cleaned the pipe from top to stern. He reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer and then cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the internals of the shank, stem and shank extension 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 tarnish and lava on the rim top. The finish looks much better and has a deep richness in the colour that highlights grain of the briar. The rim top looked good with some darkening on the top and outer edge of the bowl. Jeff soaked the stem in bath of Briarville’s Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation on the rubber. He worked it over with Soft Scrub All Purpose Cleaner to remove any remnants of oxidation. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver I was amazed it looked so good. Here are some photos of what I saw. I took some close up photos of the rim top and the stem surface. The inner edge of the rim was darkened and lightly damaged. The silver band was in great condition. I took close up photos of the stem to show the condition of the surface and button. I took a picture of the stamping on the shank. The reflection on the silver did not capture the clarity of the stamping on the band but it was all clear and readable as noted above.I took the pipe apart and took a photo of the pipe with the stem. It is a good looking pipe and very unique.I started my work on the pipe by addressing the darkening on the edges and rim top. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to work over the inner edge to smooth out the damage and to remove the darkening.I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. After each pad I wiped the briar down with a damp cloth. I was able to give a shine to the bowl and remove some of the surface scratches in the process. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the bowl and shank 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. I polished the silver ferrule with a jewelers cloth to remove any residual tarnish and also to protect it from future tarnish (at least for awhile). With that done the bowl was finished other than the final buffing. It is a beautiful pipe! I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I have found that these older hand-made Para Rubber (vulcanite) mouthpieces tend to have flecks of metal and other debris in the rubber. This mouthpiece is no exception and the top and underside has a lot of flecks in the rubber. No amount of polishing removes them. With the bowl and the stem finished I put the pipe back together and buffed it on the wheel using Blue Diamond to give it a shine. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the wheel and then buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. It really is an amazing piece of briar on such a large pipe. The dimensions of this part of the pipe are – Length: 8 inches, Height: 3 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: 1 inch. The weight of this large pipe is 6.35 ounces /180 grams. This unique find – a 1905 BBB Own Make Extra Large Bent Billiard with a silver band is joining the other pipes in my collection of BBB pipes and will hold a place of honour while it is in my trust. This is another pipe that one day soon I will enjoy a special bowl of tobacco in it and be transported to a slower paced time in history where I can enjoy a respite. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me.