Blog by Steve Laug
I found this pipe on a recent pipe hunt in the US. It was sitting in a locked cabinet in an antique mall just waiting to be found. It has a long round shank with a saddle stem so it fits the description of a Lovat. It is a large pipe however – approximately 6 inches long. The combination of rustication and smooth is attractive. It has the standard Custombilt rustication but for some reason on this old pipe it looks more refined and less clunky (good scientific term, LOL!) than the other Custombilts and CustomBilts that have passed through my hands. I have several Custom Bilt or Custom-Bilt pipes stamped with a separation or a capital B on bilt. I remembered reading Bill Unger’s book on CustomBilt pipes and knew that the change of stamping reflected a change in the company. I turned to one of my reference sources – Pipedia, to see what they said. Here is the link to the full article by Rich Essermann http://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt I quote from that article below:
“In 1946, the name was changed to Custombilt after Mincer began an association with Eugene J. Rich, Inc. There were some big changes in advertising and distribution. The slogan “AS INDIVIDUAL AS A THUMBPRINT” began at this time as well.”
“In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.”
From the above information it seems that the pipe I have could have been made between 1946 and 1953 if it is one made by Tracy Mincer. Otherwise it could have been made during the 1970’s. In my opinion the more refined less classic Mince CB look of the pipe, the variations on the rustication pattern from the bowl to the shank, the type and look of the stem all lead me to put it in the later era – the 1970s and attribute its manufacture to Wally Frank and Company. I may be wrong but that is my read on this particular Custombilt Lovat.
The pipe I found was in very good shape. The stem was slightly oxidized and had some roughness like it had never been finished well. There was no bite or tooth marks or tooth chatter on the stem. The interior of the stem and shank were also clean. The briar in the shank was unstained and looked new. The bowl had a very light cake. The finish was virgin/natural and originally had probably been oiled or just waxed. There was no stain coat or lacquer/varnish coat. Whew! The stamping on the pipe is simple. On the left side of the shank it is stamped Custombilt over Imported Briar. On the underside of the shank it is stamped with the shape number 12 running horizontally next to the stem/shank union.
The closeup photo below shows the top of the rim with its unique rustication and the state of the bowl. The rim is in great shape and the bowl is fairly clean. I cleaned out the shank and the stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol to remove the light oils and tars. It took very little effort to clean this pipe. I gave it a light reaming with the PipNet reamer and took it back to bare wood so that whoever ends up with this pipe can break in and build an even cake of their own. I scrubbed the rusticated areas on the bowl and shank with a tooth-brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap. The grooves and crevices had a buildup of dust in them that dulled the finish. After scrubbing I rinsed the pipe under running water to remove the soap. I put my thumb over the bowl to keep the interior dry. The next series of four photos show the bowl after the rinse and dry. The grooves are clean and the pipe is ready for the next step in its cleanup.
I use a plastic washer that I made out of a bread tab between the shank and the stem to allow me to sand up against the shank without damaging the finish and without rounding the shoulders of the stem or shank. It works like a charm and I have several of these that I have punched with a variety of holes to fit different tenon sizes. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the roughness and followed that with a medium and fine grit sanding sponge. Once I had smoothed out the roughness of the stem I moved on to sanding with micromesh sanding pads. I followed my usual method of wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil between each set of three pads.
I rubbed the bowl down with a paper towel and a dab of olive oil to bring the natural finish of the bowl back to life before I buffed it. I rubbed it down and let the oil dry overnight. In the morning I buffed the pipe and stem with White Diamond and gave the bowl a light buff of carnauba and then rubbed it down with some Halcyon II Wax. I gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. The finished pipe is shown below.
The final three photos give a close up view of the bowl and stem from various angles. There is something quite attractive about this particular Custombilt. It has a dignity that draws me to it.