Blog by Steve Laug
Not too long ago my wife and I had dinner with some good friends here in Vancouver – first time since COVID-19 so it was good to see them. At the beginning of the meal he handed me a box that he said was for me. In it were some pipes that he was giving to me and a bunch of cigars. The pipes included a very nice, lightly smoked Big Ben Canadian that I have included photos of below. It came in a black vinyl bag with the Big-Ben logo and name embossed on it. I took the pipe out and it was a well carved hefty Canadian with a smooth finish. It is stamped on the underside and reads Big-Ben [over] Presidential [over] Imperial. On the end of the underside of shank next to the stem it read 188 [over] Made in Holland. There was an inlaid cursive “B” on the top of the acrylic stem and there was light chatter on both sides near the button. The stem was quite shiny and included a silver spacer. It was going to be a beauty once cleaned up. I took photos of the pipe when I took it to the work table. There was a light cake in the bowl and the rim top had some dirty spots. The edges of the bowl – internal and external were in excellent condition. The shank and airways were lightly dirty with tars and oils. The finish was clean with a light dust on the surface. The stem was shiny with some light tooth chatter on the top and the underside near the button. The button itself was undamaged. Overall the pipe looked good even in its lightly used condition. It really was a stocky looking pipe with its thick oval Canadian shank and taper acrylic stem. I took photos of the rim top and the bowl to show the condition. The rim top was smooth and other than some grime and debris it was in great shape. It is hard to see the light cake in the bowl but it is present (some is visible on the back side of the bowl in the photo below). I also took photos of both sides of the stem to show the light tooth chatter. Over all the pipe was in great condition. I took photos of the stamping on the underside of the shank. It is clear and it reads as noted above.I took a photo of the pipe with the stem removed to give an overall picture of the pipe. It really is quite beautiful.For historical background for those unfamiliar with the brand I turned to Pipephil’s site (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-bigben.html). There were not any pictures of the series but the introductory information was helpful so I am including that.
Big-Ben is a brand of the Elbert Gubbels & Sons – Royal Dutch Pipe Factory. The company has gone bankrupt on March 2012. Production (2009): 250000 pipes/year See also: Amphora, Humbry, IRC, Roermond, Royal Dutch, Thompson and Porsche Design
I then turned to Pipedia for more information (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Big_Ben). I quote below:
The brand name Big Ben was originally owned by a small trade company in Amsterdam which was already well established in several countries selling pipes among other goods. The firm was bought by Elbert Gubbels & Zonen B.V. – see Gubbels – who were in search for a suitable brand name to further expansion on international markets. Big Ben became Gubbels’ mainstay brand with it’s own website
There was a further link to the Gubbels listing on Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Gubbels).
With the help of his family the father of Elbert Gubbels Sr. started a retail shop for tobacco pipes and other smoker’s equipment in 1870.
In 1924 Elbert Gubbels Sr., now father/grandfather of the present owners, transformed it into a wholesale trade business. The company grew steadily and imported pipes from various countries as there were no factories producing briar pipes in the Netherlands. The most important suppliers came from France and England.
When German troops occupied the Netherlands in May of 1940, a period of almost five years began in which the Gubbels family could hardly operate their business at all. During this years of forced rest Elbert Gubbels had a notion to become independent of foreign suppliers and he drew up plans to start his own production of tobacco pipes after World War II.
Immediately succeeding the war it was very difficult to obtain good pipes for the import of foreign pipes was limited and so the time was right to go for something new. In 1946 he launched pipe production at Godsweerdersingel No. 20 in Roermond with a couple of new machines and some workers, a couple of them being foreign specialists and considered himself to commence. Yet the cramped accomodations and the needy equipment of the workshop showed the limits all too soon. It was obvious that the workshop was inadequate and Mr. Gubbels invested in another building covering an area of 900m² that also offered a sufficient warehouse. Now the production could be increased going hand in hand with developing new models and improving the quality of the pipes being produced.
The production grew steadily but it showed now that an “international” brand name was required for further expansion on international markets – obviously no one cared too much for pipes made in the Netherlands. Feeling that the time involved to get a new brand established was too lengthy, Mr. Gubbels bought a small trade company in Amsterdam which owned all the rights to the brand Big Ben and was already well established in other countries selling pipes among other goods. A real happenstance – Gubbels products could be marketed now in all European countries, the USA, Canada and many other countries, and nowadays they can be found in almost every country world-wide.
In December 1972 the company opened new and very modern factory in Roermond at Keulsebaan 505. With the official opening by the Governor of the Province of Limburg, the Gubbels company was, on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, granted the title “Royal” so that the official name became: Elbert Gubbels & Zonen – Koninklijke Fabriek van Tabakspijpen (Elbert Gubbels & Sons – Royal Dutch Pipe Factory).
Armed with that history and having a sense of the brand it was now time to do a bit of spiffing with the pipe itself.
I reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer to remove the light cake from the bowl walls. It was uneven and needed to be removed so I took it back to bare briar. I cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and then sanded the bowl with a dowel wrapped with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the walls. I cleaned out the internals with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners to remove the debris and the oils from the shank and tenon as well as the airway into the stem and bowl.I scrubbed the rim top with a damp cotton pad to remove the debris and lava. It worked very well. With the top cleaned off I rubbed the bowl down with some Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the briar with my fingertips and a horse hair shoe brush. The product works to clean, renew and protect briar. I let it do its work for 15 minutes then buffed it off with a soft cloth. The pipe is really quite a beauty. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I polished the surface of the acrylic stem on both sides using micromesh sanding pads. I dry sanded the stem with the 1500-12000 grit pads, then wiped it down with a cloth impregnated with Obsidian Oil. I finished polishing it with Before & After stem polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I am excited to finish this Big-Ben Presidential Imperial 188 Canadian. I put the pipe back together and buffed it lightly with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. 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 and hand buffed it with microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the polished black acrylic stem with the silver spacer. It really was a beautiful pipe. The grain shining through the rich red stain on this Big-Ben Canadian is nice looking and the pipe feels great in my hand. It is light and well balanced. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 1.83 ounces/52 grams. It is a beautiful pipe and one that will be on the rebornpipes store in the Pipes From Various Makers Section soon. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know. Thanks for walking through the cleanup with me as I worked over this pipe. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog. Remember we are not pipe owners; we are pipemen and women who hold our pipes in trust until they pass on into the trust of those who follow us.