What a Mess – a BB&S Challenger 5279 Pot


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the worktable is a uniquely finished rusticated pot. It has a mixed finish – strange rustication with large spaces of smooth finish on the bowl and shank. There is something about the finish that is quite beautiful even through the grime. It was purchased on 05/25/22 from an antique mall in Portland, Oregon, USA. The shape of the pipe is a classic flat bottom Pot. It was stamped on the underside of the shank on a smooth panel. It reads Challenger [over] London England. That is followed by BB&S over the shape number 5279 next to the shank/stem junction. The finish was dirty with dust and grime ground into the nooks and crannies of the rustication. There was a thick cake in the bowl with tobacco debris on the bowl walls. There was a lava overflow on the inwardly beveled rim top. The inner edge of the rim was covered so thickly in lava it was hard to know what was underneath. The vulcanite saddle stem was calcified, oxidized and had tooth marks and chatter ahead of the button on both sides. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he started to work on cleaning it up for us. Jeff took photos of the rim top and the stem to show the condition of the pipe when we received it. You can see the thick cake in the bowl and the heavy coat of lava on the inwardly beveled rim top. The stem is calcified and oxidized with light tooth chatter and marks on both sides near the button. He took photos of the sides of the bowl and the heel to give an idea of the shape and the condition of the briar around the bowl. It really is a great looking Pot with a very unique rustication finish on the bowl and shank. The next photo Jeff took shows the stamping on the underside of the  shank. It is clear and readable as noted above.  I remembered that Dal had written about a BB&S Challenger he had restored on the Pipesteward blog so I looked it up to see what he had learned about the  brand when he had worked on it and written his blog. Here is the link (https://thepipesteward.com/2022/07/13/renewing-a-barling-bbs-challenger-london-england-5589-billiard/). Here is a photo of the BB&S Challenger that he worked on finished and looking good. I am using his research on the brand and the stamping and have included it below. Thank you Dal for your work and the time it save me in redoing it! He wrote:

BB&S is noted in Pipedia with this brief entry (https://pipedia.org/wiki/BB%26S).

BB&S, which stood for Bill Barling & Sons, was a transition era Barling sub-brand. Among their lines were the Challenger, Rallye and Londoner. For more information see Barling.

He then turned to the section on Barling:

The history of the Barling name goes back to the 1700s when the Barling name was associated with silversmiths in England.  Benjamin Barling, according to the Pipedia Barling article, applied the silversmith trade to “outfitting meerschaum bowls with exquisite silver mountings.”  The founding of the B. Barling and Sons followed in 1812.  The Barling history is full as it developed and grew through the 1800s and into the 1900s.  The family-owned business continued until October 3, 1960, when the business was sold to the largest client of the Barlings, Finley.  The Pipedia article drills in more detail describing and defining the ‘eras’ of the Barling name.  Here is what is said about the eras, but the author makes the disclaimer that it’s not as straightforward as it appears:

Pre-Transition: 1812 (or 1815) thru October 3rd, 1960.
On that date, the Barling family sold their business to Finlay, their largest client.

Transition: Late 1960 thru February 1963.
Finlay was 40% owned by Imperial Tobacco. Imperial Tobacco had an option to purchase the remaining shares of Finlay, which it did in February of 1963. When Finlay was absorbed, Barling came under direct control of Imperial Tobacco.

Post-Transition Era: Early 1963 and later.
Imperial ran the business; some say into the ground. They closed the Barling factories in 1970 and outsourced the production of pipes, first to several English makers, and then later to Nording, etc. In 1980 Bucktrout purchases the rights to the Barling name and Barlings have shown up as relatively cheap pipes made by Peterson.

Though we now have Eras whose duration is linked to the *public record, it’s still not simple and here’s why.

The author of the Pipedia Barling article goes on to describe how when the Barlings sold the business to Finlay in 1960 ushering in the beginning of the ‘Transition Era’, the Barlings continued to operate the business for Finlay.  During this period of 20 months, pipes continued to be produced with no changes to the nomenclature.  The result of this was having no way of determining which pipes were produced under the Barling ownership before the transition period and those pipes produced during the transition, under new ownership.

For this reason, the Pipedia author proposes an alternative method of dating Barling pipes:

  • Family Era 1912 – 1962: Pipes made by the Barling family while it either owned or managed B. Barling & Sons.
  • Corporate Era 1962 – the Present: Pipes made after the family left off managing the company, beginning with the revised product grades and revised nomenclature that were introduced in the 1962 Dealers’ Catalog.

It is interesting also to note that the Pipephil.eu Barling entry identifies the transition period from the Barling family era to the later corporate era as dated from 1961 to 1967. There are differences in era dating from different sources, but with the B.B&S Challenger on the table now, which is not a Barling stamped pipe but a second brand line most likely put out by Barling during the early transition period dating this pipe somewhere from 1960 to 1962. In the Pipedia entry quoted above for BB&S, there are 3 lines put out during this time: Challenger, Rallye, and Londoner.

Pipephil has a helpful entry on BB&S with the panel.The ‘Challenger London England’ pictured on the top of the panel, matches the Challenger on the table.  The nomenclature on the panel is crisp showing what cannot be seen clearly on the Challenger on the table.

The author of the Pipedia Barling article makes one additional observation that helps to corroborate the sense that the BB&S Challenger on the table was indeed in the transition period, but more likely in the earlier part of the transition era – under the Finlay ownership commencing in 1960:

Initially, Finlay’s management used the remaining stock of bowls that were turned by the original family run company, and then proceeded to turn more bowls with old wood remaining in inventory, and at least initially, this work was performed by many of the same craftsman. Under Finlay’s management the factory continued to turn out a quality product. Production was expanded to produce a greater number of own name brands for Finlay and Bewlay, as well as the production of pipes for other pipe firms such as Colibri, Falcon, and Ronson. Also, several lines of “seconds” were developed, amongst them Portland, BB & S, Cragmoor, and London Brand.

Here, the ‘seconds’ are described during the Finlay ownership included ‘BB&S’. It would seem, therefore, that ‘Challenger’ is a line of the second, BB&S.

One last additional piece of information that is of interest. The Barling 4-digit numbering system was introduced in the June 1962, publication of the 150th Year Anniversary Catalogue which was still under Barling management, but owned by Finlay.

Here the number system is explained:

It is in the 150th Anniversary catalog that the new numbering system first appears. The new numbering system was introduced while the Barling family managed the business. The price list explains that the new number designates size.

The BB&S Challenger ‘shape number’ reflects this new Barling system. The first digit represents the size followed by a shape designation. The ‘Barling Pipe Reference Number Chart’ (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:1962_Barling_Retailers%27_Cat_size_chart.jpg) below was taken from the ‘Retailers Catalogue’ which was also published in 1962, but later in the year. Note in the chart below, going horizontally, the sizes are from 1 to 6 representing an increasing size designation (‘1’ was introduced in this later catalogue)…The BB&S pipe I am working on is a 5279 which is not listed in the chart above. It lists a 6279 which is a SIZE 6/KING SIZE pipe. The description “Pot Bevel” Flat stem works and the 5 preceding the 279 number tells me the pipe is a SIZE 5 Pot Bevel. Thanks Dal for the help on this! Now it was time to work on the pipe!

Jeff had cleaned up the pipe following his normal cleaning process. In short, he reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife.  He scrubbed the smooth bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a tooth brush. He worked over the lava and debris on the rim top and was able to remove it. He rinsed it under running warm water to remove the soap and grime. He cleaned out the inside of the shank and the airway in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the stem with Soft Scrub and cotton pads to remove the debris and oils on the stem. He soaked it in a bath of Briarville’s Pipe Stem Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation. He rinsed it with warm water and dried it off. I took photos of the pipe once I received it. It really looked good. I took close up photos of the stem and the rim top to show both how clean they were and what needed to be addressed with both. The rim top and bowl edges look better but the inner and outer edge was damaged on the front of the bowl. The stem looked better and the tooth marks and chatter was very light.  I took a photo of the stamping on the underside of the shank. You can see from the photo that it is clear and readable. I removed the stem from the bowl and took a photo of the parts to give a sense of the uniqueness of the finish on the pipe.I started my work on the pipe by addressing the darkening on the back inner edge of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I worked on the inward bevel to clean up the top. It looked significantly better. I polished the smooth high spots on the bowl sides and the inner edge of the bowl with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each pad to remove the debris. The rustication took on a rich glow.   I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar with my finger tips and into the rustication with a shoe brush. The product works to clean, revive and protect the briar. I let it sit on the pipe for 10 minutes then buffed it off with a soft cloth.  I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the tooth marks and chatter on the surface of the vulcanite with the flame of a Bic lighter to lift them. I was able to raise the majority of them with the heat. I sanded out those that remained with 220 grit sandpaper. I started polishing the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.   I polished out the sanding marks on the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding it 1500-12000 pads. I wiped it down with some Obsidian Oil each pad to remove the dust and polishing debris. I polished it with Before After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry.  This is another pipe that I am really happy about the look of the finished restoration. This reborn BB&S Challenger 5279 Pot turned out really well. I think that it really is a great looking pipe with a great shape and grain. The unique wide rustication pattern and the vulcanite saddle stem goes well together. The polished black of the stem works well with the briar. The briar really came alive with the buffing. The rich brown stains of the finish make the grain really pop with the polishing and waxing. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished BB&S Rusticated Challenger Pot really feels great in the hand and it looks very good. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 39 grams/1.38 oz. The pipe will be going on the rebornpipes store soon. It will be in the British Pipe Makers Section if you would like to add it to your collection. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. It was a fun one to work on!

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