Tag Archives: pipe related topics

Putting the finishing touches on my book…

A Short Story by Steve Laug

One of the challenges that I give myself when I have the time for it is to build a story from an old photo. I have written stories about tobacco shops, pipe men, relationships and buildings and rooms by looking at old photos and weaving a story. The photo I have chosen for this story is the one below. In it is a pipe smoker sitting at his desk with an array of photos around him and working diligently writing. His pipe is in his mouth. Sometime if you want a challenge give this a whirl – craft a story from a photo. Here is the photo and the story follows.Outside, the sun was shining and the rain had stopped. Inside, the old house was very quiet. My wife was visiting her mother for the day so I called the office and let them know that I would not be in today but would be taking a day off to get some personal work completed. I went to my study and got ready to work. I had a plan and it was pretty simple. Today would be a day to do complete the work on my book. I had already written twelve chapters and the prologue but I needed to put some final touches on it and write a concluding chapter. Before I sat down at the desk I adjusted the shade on the window to my left to block the bright light that hit my desk top. I put a fresh pad of paper and the file of completed chapters on the desk top. I sat down and looked out the window in front of me while I loaded up a pipe with some of my favourite tobacco. I tamped it down with my finger and lit it with the matches on my desk. I dropped the burned matches in the ash tray on the desk and sat back to enjoy the initial puffs on the pipe. Once it was going I would start to write.

To give you a bit of an idea how my mind works I want to describe the room I am working in. I have photos and pictures on the walls around the room that give me inspiration but those are not the important ones for the book I am currently writing. Rather, for each book I write I have a practice that has served me well. On the fireplace screen behind me I pin up photos that I use to get the ideas for my stories flowing. I have found that a good photo can add depth and dimension to my writing. Photos seem to give me ideas and concepts that otherwise may not have surfaced during my work. In this case the old family photos, office and building and the central photo of a contraption that looks like a gun all fed ideas that already graced the chapters of my book. I moved them around the board often and also added to them regularly as I moved through the writing process. It always amazed me when I looked at the finished book and then turned around and looked at my pin board. I could see the flow of the story in the photos I chose.

The rest of the room is suited to my tastes. The cupboards on either side of the window hold my writing supplies – paper, notebooks, and file folders. I placed my desk at an angle between the windows to maximize the natural light in the room and also to give me some much needed air circulation on hot days. The desk is kind of my kingdom. I have my frequently used reference books on one corner so that I can quickly look things up without losing my train of thought as I write. I have an inkwell and fountain pen there for writing. I have a stack of paper that I can quickly access. But most importantly of all to my left is my pipe rack with a selection of some of my favourite pipes and a humidor filled with tobacco. I also have a small container to hold the matches I use to light my pipe and an ashtray for the dottle.

I puffed slowly on my pipe as I made the necessary edits to the completed chapters. This was my fifth or sixth time going through the chapters to make sure everything flowed and the content did no contradict itself as it unfolded. It is so easy to mix up names of characters and moments in a story if you don’t consciously check for that as you work. I had caught most of the errors but I am such a perfectionist that I wanted to make sure one final time. I found that it also prepared my mind to write the concluding chapter and wrap things up. I got lost in the writing, almost oblivious to the world around me. I added a few touches to the earlier chapters that the later ones brought to light. I crossed out things were too obscure and rewrote those sections. Before I knew it the morning was gone and the sun had moved to the front window. I stood and stretched out the kinks. I dumped out the dottle in my pipe which had long since gone out. I refilled it and lit it again and stood working through the flow of the book in my mind. It was working well.

I sat back down and wrote out the first draft of the closing chapter. It really did not take too long because of the all the work I done all morning. The pieces came together nicely and when the bowl went out on my pipe the chapter was finished. Not too bad. I once more dumped out the ash and refilled my pipe. I lit it and sat for a moment just resting. I turned and looked at the photos on the fire-place screen to make sure I had not missed anything important in any of them. Things looked good. I quietly puffed on my pipe while I sat. It was good to just be silent.

I got up and went to the fire-place mantle and filled a cup with a little bit of scotch. I took it back to the desk and sipped it as I read the book from front to back yet again. I wanted make sure that the closing chapter pulled together all the loose pieces and did not start new unresolved ones. I read through the pages while sipping and puffing. I was so focused on the read that I did not notice that the pipe was empty until I sucked in some ash. Just as that happened I heard the door open. I checked the clock and saw that the afternoon was gone. I had been so involved in the writing process that I had forgotten to stop and eat. It seems like that happens a lot when I am in this mode. I feel a bit hungry now; perhaps my wife would like to go to the local pub for an early supper. I finish the last page of the book and put it in the folder. I empty the pipe and set it in the rack. I take a deep breath and walk out to the parlour to make a plan with my wife.





Learned a bit of American Pipe History – Mastercraft Executive Choice Pot Restored

Blog by Steve Laug

Another pipe I picked up along with the two pairs I have written about lately is a nice little Mastercraft Pot. I am generally not taken by the pot shaped bowl but this one has a nice bevel to the rim that shows off the grain on the rim. It has some nice grain on the sides, back and front. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Mastercraft in a shield. mastercraft4bUnderneath it is stamped Executive Choice. On the right side it is stamped Imported Briar over Italy. The stem bears the MC silver oval inserted in the side of the stem on the left side.mastercraft1aThe bowl was heavily caked and the beveled rim was covered with tars and buildup. The finish was in good shape. There were no deep scratches or dents. There were several fills but they were dark and did not stand out. The bowl was shiny but worn in some places. The stem was not too badly oxidized but it was dirty and seemed to have has a rubber bit guard on it at sometime in its life as it had left a line behind on the stem. There were no tooth marks or chatter on the stem.IMG_6900IMG_6901IMG_6902IMG_6903I have cleaned up quite a few Mastercraft pipes over the years but did not really know anything about their history. I assumed that they were American made. I had heard somewhere that Bing Crosby owned stock in the company and smoked their pipes but I was not even sure of that. So I went to work digging into the background on the internet. The first thing I found was this old advertisement for the pipes with the old crooner himself.
6mh04k9nm8qo8q I continued through the Google list for Mastercraft and one of the next listing was in Pipedia. http://pipedia.org/wiki/Mastercraft

In the article the author wrote the following: “Bing Crosby smoked Mastercraft pipes and can be seen in their magazine ads from the fifties. That isn’t a lot of info so I went looking and found a thread with posting by “Ted” — the former Exec VP of Grabow/Mastercraft http://drgrabows.myfreeforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=155&start=0

It doesn’t appear it was ever a manufacturer and bought pipes from multiple factories — mostly French and English. It survived briefly the post war recovery and then was acquired by Grabow.

The following is quoted from the thread: First a confession. From 1974 till 1984 I had several positions with Mastercraft including Executive Vice President. I also worked for Grabow from 66 till 74 and from 84 till I retired in 91. In 91, with retirement, I was President and COO for the corporation that was called “Sparta Industries”. I have seen both sides of the “fence”, and even though I never left the “employ” of Grabow, my loyalties for 10 years were with M/C.

United States Tobacco(UST)(Skoal and Copenhagen) bought Grabow in 69′ from the Lavietes family. In 74′ they bought M/C from Bernard Hochstein and moved it into the EXACT facility Grabow occupied. I was named “operations manager” and we were in the basement of a 4 story building in Sparta, NC.

M/C was STRICTLY an importer of pipes and pipe related merchandise. In 74′ when M/C moved from NYC to NC the inventory of finished goods was stored in a facility in Winston Salem, NC. Lentz Moving and Storage. Stacked 10 feet high the inventory covered 180,000 square feet….FINISHED. In my time at Grabow I had never seen that much finished stock, and the shapes, manufacturers, finishes. Heaven for a pipe smoker…..Damn right. You would have had to slap me really hard to get the grin off my face.
I’ll just list a few Manufacturers/names of the inventory. England ….Parker/Hardcastle(Dunhill) …Orlick…France…Jeantet…Jima…Cherrywoods…Italy…GIGI pipe…Radica…Rossi…Federico Rovera…Emilio Rovera…Santambrogio.Brebbia..Meerschaums from Austria…. Strambach… Lighters from Japan…Pouches and accessories from Hong Kong…and the Israeli pipes from Mr. Hochstein’s sons. Trust me…this is only a small sample of the things M/C had, and bought into inventory.
Now the connection. Since M/C and Grabow shared a building, and I was an employee of Grabow we compared notes. Grabow copied a BUNCH of M/C items fully with my help and some skills I had developed.
First was Omega…A copy of a well pipe made by Federico Rovera (FERO.com)….Freehand by the Alpha/Shalom factory…Meerschaum Lined from M. Gasparini, and later GIGI PIPE. These were originally imported by M/C for Grabow and stamped Grabow, but also stamped ITALY. Later models…better finish were made in the USA. Bucko…copied from M. Gasparini… (Gasparini, to my knowledge is the only maker of leather covered pipes in the world). If you buy a leather covered pipe it was, most assuredly covered by M/G. And you thought the wood in the Grabow COLOR was bad…..oughta unwrap one of these scrappers. There is a lot more. Questions will be answered following the presentation.

Now the other way. Grabow to Mastercraft. M/C never really had a source of continuing supply. The foreign manufacturers would make a line for a while and then quit. Never do it again, no matter how well it sold, no matter the demands we put on em’. Grabow gave M/C a source of stability and a nice profit for both companies. A lot of these you will not have heard of, but maybe….Seville, for M/C all smooth, for Grabow all rustic Hillcrest…. Freehand, For M/C Andersen and (a few Mastersen), for Grabow, Freehand with a DRB tampon. New finishes… New shapes, New bits…..Mastercraft showed Grabow how to use LUCITE for stems… Royalton…Again, these are just examples.

Ted also said: Several years before UST bought Mastercraft, M/C had acquired Marxman Pipes. A wonderful kind man, Bob Marx was still working as a salesman in NYC, and I was fortunate to make a few sales calls with him. You all remember Charles Atlas? Bob Marx was about 76 and had just been awarded the (I think) Atlas Award for being the finest specimen of manhood over 70 years old in NYC, or maybe the state.

M/C had some inventory of Marxman stuff, but not a lot. I know very little about Marxman. Did they make, import, or both?

M/C was included in all the major Christmas catalogues…Sears… Spiegel… Penney… Ward… Aldens. This was from about 70′ till 80′. We usually would have a 2 pc. Massa (pressed) Meerschaum sets from Robert Strambach, A water pipe from Brebbia, a huge Well pipe (saw one on e-bay a few days ago), and various odds and ends to fill about 6 – 8 spaces.

Let me also say one more thing about the 180,000 sq. ft. That wasn’t all pipes. It included display cases for our sets, which were made in England, and took up lots of space. Regular boxes, bags, and display material were a part, and pouches and accessories took up quite a bit.

In about 78′ UST put together a “premium products” sales force. They sold, mostly to pipe shops, products that UST owned. Tobacco from a plant in Richmond, Don Tomas cigars from Honduras, House of Windsor cigars from Red Lion PA., and M/C pipes. I think the force was 11 or 12 men and this was the heyday for M/C. What we had what EVERYONE in the pipe business wanted.

After the sales force was disbanded, M/C struggled some. This is about the time that Grabow and M/C realized what an asset we were to each other. Sales stayed pretty good for a while because of the relationships Judy Weinberger (NYC sales office and VP Mastercraft) and I had developed with the pipe shop owners.

Most of the Mastercraft pipes I have seen/bought at the bid place have an Algerian Briar stamping which makes them an attractive buy in this era. They are very reasonable and everyone has been well made with a nice draw and fine centering.”

I continued to look through various links on the web and followed this link to Pipesmokers Forum. http://pipesmokersforum.com/community/threads/mastercraft-pipes.3773/
This post from the same Ted as above appeared there. In it he confirmed some of the same information as he did in the extended post on Pipedia. He wrote: “To most pipe smokers Mastercraft Pipes are small cheap pipes, signified by the oval aluminum “MC” on the shank. Absolutely nothing special.

But Mastercraft was much more. As an importer of finished pipes M/C worked with many of the world’s foremost pipe makers and had in inventory finished product from the likes of… England, Hardcastle and Orlik. France, Ropp, Jeantet, Jean LaCroix. Italy, Lorenzo, Gasparini, Federico Rovera, Emilio Rovera, GIGI Pipe, Brebbia, Santambrogio, Fratelli Rossi. Israel, Shalom and Alpha. Plus all the tools, pouches and lighters from Hong Kong and Japan. The list of suppliers is enormous, but these are the ones I can remember after 30 years, and very few of these great pipes were ever stamped Mastercraft (some from Rossi).

Please don’t discount the importance of Mastercraft in this wonderful hobby we enjoy. Mastercraft, like Grabow, made many of our fathers pipe smokers. We all carry on the tradition…Thanks…Ted”

I also found some older RTDA Almanac pages on Chris’ Pipe Pages site. http://pipepages.com/index.html The first of these shows the address of the Mastercraft Pipe Company in New York before the move and purchase that Ted mentions above. It is a listing of different brands sold by the pipe company. I clipped this image from the 1949 RTDA Almanac. It is an early catalogue listing since the brand was created in 1941.
mc The next two photos were clipped from the 1969 RTDA Almanac. I included these as they show a list of various MC pipe lines. Note the inclusion in this list of the Executive line. It is the fifth pipe in the list below and sold for $4.95. I am assuming that the Executive Choice could be a subset of this line. The one I have is Italian made and imported to the US. The time frame fits the pipe that I refurbished so it may well be a 1969 pipe. The Italian pipes were made for Mastercraft by such Italian pipe makers as: Lorenzo, Gasparini, Federico Rovera, Emilio Rovera, GIGI Pipe, Brebbia, Santambrogio, Fratelli Rossi.

mc2 mc3
Now that I had found out some of the history of the Mastercraft brand I was intrigued. I went to work on the pipe with a new interest. I find that often a bit of history of the brand fuels my clean up and restoration work. The photo below shows the cake and the tars buildup on the rim. The rim itself was beveled inward and appeared to be unharmed under the tars. The grain was quite nice on the bevel.

IMG_6904I reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer. For this bowl I used three of the reaming heads to take the cake back to bare briar so that I can build up a hard and even cake.
I scrubbed the tar on the rim with Murphy’s Oil Soap to soften and remove it. It took a lot of scrubbing to break through the tar and hard carbon buildup. I put the oil soap on cotton pads and worked them against the bevel of the rim. After much scrubbing the rim was finally clean. The photo below shows the finished rim. I scrubbed down the rest of the bowl to remove the grime on the surface.
I cleaned out the shank and the bowl with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. I scrubbed out the stem at the same time. Once the pipe was clean inside and out I found that the finish was covered with a thick varnish coat in a rather surprising way.
I decided to do a bit of touching up the rim edges and bevel with a dark brown aniline stain. It went on spotty and when I flamed and hand buffed it things did not feel or look right with the rim. I wasn’t sure what the issue was, the bowl had been quite shiny when I started but with the oil soap it had dulled slightly.
I found that the finish was covered with a thick varnish coat. I did not figure that out until I did a touch up stain on the rim and took it to the buffer to polish the rim. I gave the entire bowl a buff with red Tripoli. As I buffed it the finish began to bubble and peel. I have to tell you this was very frustrating and irritating at the same time. The photo below shows the bubbling of the finish on the back side of the bowl. It appears almost white in the photo.
I took the pipe back to the work table to remove the varnish coat. I wiped the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads to remove the finish. Thankfully it was a varnish and not a urethane based finish. It came off quite easily with a little scrubbing of the bowl, rim and shank. The next series of four photos show the bowl after the finish was removed. I decided I liked the colour of the bowl at this point so I did not restain it once it was clean. The rim and the bowl matched so it became unnecessary.



I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper, medium and fine grit sanding sponges to remove the buildup on the stem. I then went on to sand it with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded it with the 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded with the 3200-12,000 grit pads.


I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and when it had dried I took it to the buffer and buffed the bowl and stem with White Diamond. I was careful in the buffing on the shank as I did not want to damage the stamping. When the bowl and stem shone I gave them multiple coats of carnauba wax. I gave it a final buff with a soft flannel buffing pad. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The first photo is a close of the beveled rim. I find that feature of this pipe to be one of its most beautiful features. The final series of four photos show various views of the finished pipe. It turned out to be a beautiful pipe with interesting grain and once the varnish was removed a more natural finish. The pipe is now ready to enter the next phase of its journey in time and be smoked by me until I pass it on to whoever comes next in its life.





A “King’s Imperial” Opera Pipe Reborn

Blog by Steve Laug

Looking over my latest box of pipes that I picked up at an antique mall in Edmonton, I chose to work on one that did not need to be restemmed and had a bit of a mystery attached to it. In the photo below it on the right side just above the batch of stems that were included in the purchase. It was hard to read the stamping while I was in the shop as I had forgotten to bring along a loop to examine it but I could read Made in London England stamped on the underside of the shank near the stem. It was priced at $20 which I figured it was worth in this condition so I added it to the lot.
Pipe finds2
When I got home I looked at it more closely under a magnifier and saw that the stamping read “King’s Imperial” Made in London England. The pipe was rusticated in an identifiable manner that I had seen on several pipes before so it looked promising. The finish was actually far rougher than it appears in the photos below. The stain was gone in many of the high spots and the low spots in the rustication were also pretty raw briar. There were two burn marks on the top back side and front side of the bowl that had darkened, though they were not scorched and rough. There was also a rough place on the left side bottom front of the bowl where it looked as if it had been knocked about. These marks would make it unlikely that I would be able to stain the bowl a natural tan colour. The bowl was oval both inside and outside. The rim had some scorching and darkening. It had been reamed in the centre of the oval but both ends were still caked and needed to be cleaned. The stem was oxidized and had a shallow tooth mark on the topside near the button.



I have a sharp bladed Japanese letter opener that was a gift from my grandfather that worked very well to ream the oval ends of the bowl. I proceeded to slowly scrape away the buildup of carbon and took the cake back to the bare briar.

After reaming the bowl I dropped the bowl into an alcohol bath to soak for an hour and then scrubbed it with a brass bristle tire brush to clean up the surface of the bowl and to scrub the burned areas on the bowl. I also put the stem into an Oxyclean bath to soften the oxidation on the vulcanite so that it would clean up more easily when removed.
After an hour of soaking the alcohol bath I took the bowl out and dried it off with cotton cloths. I scrubbed it with a soft bristle tooth brush to remove any remaining grit in the grooves of the finish and then dried it off again. I wiped the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads to remove stubborn areas of the old finish. I wanted the bowl clean and free of any remnant of the old finish before I was ready to restain the briar. I sanded the rim with a fine grit sanding sponge to clean off the softened tar buildup and wiped it down with the acetone as well. I used a dental pick to pick out grime that was stubbornly remaining in the grooves of the rustication. I finished by cleaning out the inside of the bowl and shank with clean isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs until they came out clean.


I decided to try and stain the pipe with a light brown stain – almost tan coloured to mimic the original appearance of the bowl. I mixed one part dark brown stain with 3 parts isopropyl alcohol to make a light brown wash. I applied it to the rusticated surface with cotton swabs and flamed it once it was done. I restained it and reflamed it a second and third time to give it an even coverage.



Once it was dry I buffed it lightly with White Diamond to see where things stood. When I brought it back to the work table I took the following photos to give me a clearer picture of the look of the pipe. The burn marks were not covered and in fact seem to be highlighted by the light stain. I set the bowl aside for a while to think about what I would do with it.



With the bowl set aside I turned my attention to the stem. I took it out of the Oxyclean bath and dried it off. The next two photos show the top and bottom of the stem. The oxidation is even and soft over the surface of the stem. The Oxy does not remove oxidation on stems but merely serves to soften it. When I dried it off with the cloth that it is pictured on it took a lot of oxidation off the surface.

I decided to use Bar Keepers Friend on this stem. I wet the stem with a wet cotton pad and then sprinkled the surface with the powder. I scrubbed it with the wet pad and a dry pad to scour off the oxidation. The next three photos show how well the Bar Keepers Friend work to remove most of the oxidation. There were some stubborn spots around the shank and the button that would take more work, but it was definitely cleaning up well.


My tendency in cleaning up a pipe is to work on the bowl for a bit, set it aside and work on the stem and cogitate about what I plan to do to address issues on the bowl. In this case while I worked on the stem I was thinking about how to address the darkened marks on the bowl. The light stain was not working and a darker brown would not work either. I set aside the stem and wrote a quick post on two of the forums I am part of and asked about the brand. I had not heard of the “King’s Imperial” brand before and decided to ask about it. A friend on one of them did not have information on the brand but posted a couple of photos of a Hardcastle Sandhewn pipe that he had refurbished to show similarities in the finish of my pipe. When I looked at his pipe I saw the solution to taking care of the burn marks and darkening. Here are a couple of photos of the Sandhewn pipe.

Hardcastle had used a contrast stain on this pipe that made the grooves of the rustication black and the high spots on the briar were brown. There was my solution staring me in the face. I set up my staining cloth and put the bowl on the cloth. I applied the black aniline stain and flamed it to set it in the grooves. Once it was dry I buffed it with Red Tripoli to highlight the high points on the rustication and remove the black stain from those areas. The photos below show the pipe after the staining and the buffing. The contrast stain worked well on the burned and darkened areas of the bowl.



The contrast was still not quite what I wanted as it was too dark for my liking. I wiped the bowl down with isopropyl alcohol on cotton pads to remove more of the black from the high spots on the bowl and shank. I also wiped down the smooth rim area as I wanted it to match the high spots on the bowl.



I took the pipe to the buffer again and buffed the bowl and stem with Tripoli and then with White Diamond to give it a shine. The contrast now was exactly what I was aiming for with the staining so I was pleased with the results.



I set the bowl aside and worked some more on the stem. I sanded it with a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the stubborn spots of oxidation at the button and the shank end. I then used my usual array of micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. Each photo below shows the progressive deepening of the shine and the blackness of the vulcanite.


I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and when it was dry buffed the pipe and the stem with White Diamond. I was careful in my buffing around the stamping on the bottom of the shank as I did not want to further damage the stamping. I applied multiple coats of carnauba wax to the bowl (lightly touching it against the buffing pad so that it would not cake up in the rustication) and the stem. The finished pipe is pictured below.



This morning while I worked on the pipe, I checked on the forums to see if there was anyone that had information on the brand. Bill, on Pipe Smokers Unleashed forum, had come across a photo online that had the same stamping but one additional line – Blakemar Briars. The stamping can be seen in the photo below. The “King’s Imperial” stamping was identical. My pipe was stamped Made in London England while this one said Made in England. The Blakemar Briars was the addition that gave the first clue.
After reading this I sent an email to Mike Billington at Blakemar Briars to ask about the brand. He replied with the following email.

Hi Steve
It is possible that the “King’s Imperial” pipe was made here, it depends on the age to some extent. My Uncle used to make pipes for John Redman Ltd during the 60’s and 70’s and early 80’s and I continued to do so until the early nineties. The King’s Imperial range was one of John Redmans pipe ranges during that time, but Redmans also had them made by other pipe makers; they also did some pipe making “in house”- so while it is possible that the pipe was made here, it is not definite. From around 1992 until 2005 (I think), Redman’s brands were taken over by Gerald Grudgings of Loughborough in Leicestershire and during that time any Kings Imperial produced were definitely made here.

My memories only go back to the early 70’s but if you send a photo, I can tell you if it seems familiar to me


I immediately sent him photos of the pipe as it was when I found it, showing the stamping on the bowl. I am waiting to hear back from him. But I found it interesting to learn that John Redman Ltd had Blakemar Briars make pipes for them during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and into the early 90’s. To find out that King’s Imperial was a range of Redman pipes during that time was also invaluable. Some of the other historical notes of interest in Mike’s email were that Redman’s had others making pipes for them and that they also did pipe making in house. I am hoping that Mike can remember and give a bit of certainty to the dating on this old opera pipe. I will update this post as I gather new information.

A Book Review – Tobacco, Pipes and the Pleasures of Pipe Smoking

IMG_5918 This beautifully illustrated little book was produced in Canada to be given as a gift to pipe smokers by the – Turmac Tabakmaatschappij Canada Ltd. In their introductory preface they declare their intent to give it as a gift to be enjoyed as much as they enjoyed collecting all the stories and anecdotes about pipes and pipe smoking. They end their paragraph with the words; “We hope that it will add new pleasure and meaning to your pipe smoking”.

On the inside fly page there are these words: “I keep a friend in my pocket… my pipe. When I sit out on the porch at the cottage and the evening is quiet, I like to take my friend out of my pocket, tamp in bright, golden shreds of tobacco, and light up.

Then, when the bowl glows red in the dusk, when the bit tastes warm, and fragrant wisps of smoke trail in the still air, peace comes to me and my friendly pipe.”

The book is a short 35 page overview of the field of pipes, tobaccos and pipe smoking itself. It is not divided into chapters but rather into sections. Virtually every page is filled with beautiful photos, engravings and pen drawings of pipe history. A wide variety of photos of pipes grace the pages – from ancient clay to modern clay, from briar to meerschaum.

The book begins with a brief history of tobacco and the art of smoking it. It development is traced across the continents on both sides of the Atlantic, or Pacific as the case may be! There is a quick walk through Columbus and the discovery of tobacco and its use among the indigenous population of the Americas. The name tobacco comes from what these people called their smoking tubes – Tobaga. It later morphed into our now well known term tobacco. The text quickly moves to Sir Walter Raleigh’s impact on the use of tobacco in the British Isles. The entire history is brief and well written. It moves through 8 pages and covers a broad scope of history in a way that is a pleasure to read – interspersed with quotations from early journals and drawings and photos from the time periods discussed.

From there the book turns to the history of the pipe itself. In a section entitled “From Coconut to Seafoam”, the authors give a brief introduction of the materials that have been used in making pipes. The section moves through the materials in quick order in a compact and entertainingly written piece. It begins with the coconut used in Nargilehs in the orient to clay, porcelain, iron, steel, bone, stone, silver, copper and bamboo and finally to the meerschaum and then the briar. The section then develops longer treatments on each of the major materials – clay, porcelain, meerschaum and finally briar.

I found it particularly interesting to read the well written discovery of the meerschaum pipe. A Budapest Shoemaker named Carl Kovac was the first man to carve a meer pipe. This section reads like a well written short story.

There is a short section on Pipe Smoking and Fine Art in which the writers quickly summarize the presence of the pipe in fine art. Again it is not the breadth that gives the subject its interest but the choice of what to cover. In a short paragraph the Dutch masters, Rembrandt and Honore Daumier are all mentioned.

The section on the pipe ends with a description of the briar pipe and its development from burl to pipe. In a succinct section the process of pipe making is delineated with enough information to be entertaining and informative.

From the discussion of the pipe the book turns to discussing what we smoke in our pipes. IN very short and descriptive sentences tobacco growth and processing is covered with a brief glimpse of Virginia, Burley and Oriental tobaccos and how they are processed to the leaf we smoke.
The next section is pictured below and is entitled “A Guide to Tobacco Blending”. The descriptions are well written and concise. I don’t think I have ever read this kind of compact and clear writing that is also entertaining and direct.
Once the details on various blends are explored the text turns to the art of choosing a tobacco. I had to laugh when I first opened the book and found the tobacco placard below inserted at this point in the story. It was almost like a bookmark and of course is one of the blends that gifter of the book manufactures.
The section on choosing a pipe was fascinating reading. Again in the style of English that is clear and pointed the authors give the major things to keep in mind when choosing a pipe of a particular shape and finish. They provided the following diagram as a part of the book that is helpful.
The last sections of the book can be summarized as tips for pipe smokers and includes all the information necessary to load and light a pipe as well as what is necessary to take care of it as you use it in the course of your life. There are tips on how to have and maintain a dry smoke, how to care for the cake in your pipe – proper reaming procedures etc are diagrammed to help the pipe smoker visualize how to keep their pipe functional and delivering the best possible smoke that it is able to deliver. It also includes a section on accessories that are necessary for having a great smoke. These include pipe cleaners, liquid pipe cleaner, humidors, tobacco pouches, ash trays, pipe tools, pipe racks and of course the pipe collection!

The closing paragraphs of the book bear quoting. They give both a great conclusion to the book and a clear picture of the writing style of the book. It is that which captured me the first time I read it and that which keeps me coming back. I quote:

“ A day can never be completely without brightness as long as there is a glowing pipe in hand, nor can a man be alone, for in a good pipe there is companionship, its warmth is like a glowing hearth where in there is deep understanding and peace.

You like the friendliness of a man with a pipe and what better compliment to a friendship than for a man to offer you some of his own special tobacco. Just this one simple act will tell you he is gracious, reliable, unselfish and, above all, considerate.

A good pipe and a good tobacco say good things of a man. And the good things that it does are many: it gives heart to the man at work, it accompanies his leisure hours and brightens his fireside at night.

His cares, his worries drift away in the air, weariness floats away and disappears, it brings hope for the days ahead and the contentment of well-being. It is a brightener of conversation, the maker of friendship.

In its aroma there is comradeship, and in the goodness of its taste there is unending pleasure.
Indeed a simple pleasure with deep satisfaction, and priced so that a man may enjoy the contentment of hours, if he has but two silver quarters.”

I think that well summarizes the beauty and pleasure of this small book. If you can find a copy you will not do wrong to buy it whatever the cost. It is a treat to read and has the ability to lift you from the mundane of your days. The following drawing in on the end piece of the book.

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #4: Buy estate pipes that challenge your refurbishing abilities

When I formulated Rule #4 it was a natural outcome of my pipe refurbishing self-training. I purchased according to what I wanted to learn until I had learned it. For me this method of buying old pipes provided the class time/workshop time where I could practice some of the tips I was reading about and learning from others in the online community. I have never been particularly shy about asking “how” and “why” questions. Ask my daughters and they will tell that one of my nicknames is “Why”. Buying pipes according to what I wanted to learn in refurbishing quickly became a habit that I really did not take time to think about until I was ready to move on to something new. I often picked pipes that I really was not interested in keeping in my collection but because they had problems that would be teaching/practicing opportunities for me. This has been the case each step along the learning curve for me. In the rest of this article I will trace out my journey in refurbishing through the kinds of pipe I bought. Through this monologue on the journey you will see my process and the method to my madness.

When I began my refurbishing education in earnest my earliest purchases were pipes that were dirty and caked but did not have any issues requiring technical skills. I was looking for very straightforward cleanup jobs. The bowls just needed to be reamed and cleaned and the stems cleaned and deoxidized. They were not chewed on or beat up on the edges of the rim. They were not charred or badly damaged. They had merely been smoked and used. I bought that kind of pipe and worked on them until I was ready to move from learning how to cleanup minimal external and internal issues. I wanted to learn how to clean a pipe from the inside out. I bought reamers – actually I have over twenty different kinds now residing in my work kit. I tried them all until I found the ones that worked best for me. I read about processes of cleaning shanks and bowls. I bought a retort and learned how to use it. I practiced with salt and alcohol treatments. Everything I did was done with a single purpose in mind – to learn how to clean a pipe. Once I felt comfortable in the process of cleaning out a pipe it was time for me move on and learn other aspects of the craft.

The second skill I wanted to learn was to refinish a pipe bowl. This influenced the type of pipes that I hunted for and purchased. I looked for ones that still had intact stems with little damage but bowls that needed to be refinished. I bought sandblasted bowls, rusticated bowls, smooth bowls all types and shapes. I wanted to learn how to remove the finish from a pipe and then to prepare it for restaining. This involved different methods for cleaning each kind of finish.I learned to top a bowl and remove damage to the inner and outer edge of the rim. I learned to steam out the dents in the bowl and to remove or minimize dings and scratches. I learned to sand smooth bowls and rims with varying grades of sandpaper and micromesh sanding pads. Each step in sanding taught me to be pickier regarding the scratches and sanding marks I left behind. Once you have a pipe almost finished and have to start over and resand you quickly learn to work at the preparation more carefully. I spoke with several pipe makers to learn the art of staining and where to get the aniline stains. I learned (and I am still learning) the techniques of staining and practiced them on many pipes. I worked on various colours and blends of colours. I worked on understains and overstains. I worked on learning how to do contrast stains. I worked on buffing the bowls and sanding them after staining. It was a great learning curve, one fueled by the kinds of pipes I bought.

The next step in my refurbishing course came from the previous one. After staining old pipes and still being bothered by the fills that were eyesores to me I decided to learn how to replace the old pink wood putty fills. I tried a variety of methods all learned on bowls I picked up at garage sales, antique malls, junque stores and thrift shops. The idea was to remove the fill and replace it with something that would take the stain. I tried putties and filler sticks and still was not happy. I tried wood glue and briar dust mixed with a bit of stain and was a bit happier. But I found that the wood glue dried shiny and still stood out on the bowl. I moved on to try superglue and briar dust and am very pleased with how it works. It is a dark colour in contrast to the lighter/pinker colour of the putty but it is solid and hard when it dries and does darken with the stain. I began to look for pipes with fills to remove and practice on in the stores. I found many pipes that I practiced on and then passed on to the racks of new pipe smokers. The pipes I worked on had begun to look better and better but I still had much to learn. Everything up to this point was pretty simple and cosmetic. The real challenges were just around the corner for me.

It was time for me to learn stem repairs with a greater degree of technicality. I say repairs and not restemmingbecause as yet I had not tackled that aspect of refurbishing. With that objective firmly in mind I was on the hunt for and purchased pipes with tooth marks, bite throughs on the stems, cracks and broken pieces. I wanted to learn how to make patches on the stems and also to recut and shape a new button on the stem. I shortened the stems. I cut buttons with files and sanding blocks. I learned to shape slots in the button with needle files. I called repair people and pipe makers to make sure I got the right tools. I bought and discarded many in the process of building the right kit. I worked with epoxy patches mixed with vulcanite dust. I worked with patches using pieces of vulcanite and epoxy. I worked with superglue and finally settled on black superglue for patching holes and bite through areas. In the process I learned to use heat from a hot water bath, a heat gun and then even a lighter to raise bite marks in the stem and to reduce tooth chatter. I learned a variety of methods to remove oxidation. All of this was part of the process of learning to refurbish stems.

When I felt more competent in the stem repairs I wanted to learn how to fit new stems to the bowls. I went on to purchasing bowls that were missing stems and learned how to turn the tenons on precast stems and to shape the stems with a Dremel and files. I bought precast stems from Pipe Makers Emporium and also bought lots of used stems on Ebay and scavenged them from broken pipes. The learning included fitting tenons, shaping stems, adjusting the taper, making saddle stems, reducing the diameter at the shank, countersinking the shank to make for a tight fit, shaping the button and opening the slot in the end. Lots of experimenting took place in learning to use the PIMO tenon turning tool which meant that some tenons were too small and others too large. All were part of the process of learning to use the tool, its limitations and methods of working around those limitations.I also learned how to shape a stem from a piece of rod stock. Each step was part of the education for me in stem repair and shaping. You can see with this method in mind I bought many bowls that later I ended up giving away and/or selling very cheaply. They ended up being good pipes for starters.

I always keep an eye out for pipes that push the limits of my restoration abilities to see if I can learn new tricks and tools. For me the purchasing of estate pipes is for my ongoing education. I am always looking for better methods and learning new methods and acquiring new skills and tools. The above paragraphs spell out my learning journey. A few more years down the road I will add new skills and thus new paragraphs to the learning journey. The long and short of Rule #4 is to buy for the purpose of learning.

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #3: Check out every tobacco tin

Blog by Steve Laug

This third rule is one that I have learned through a lot of trial and error. I have walked through and entire shop and found nothing, only to ask at the counter if there are any pipes or tobacco items available and be taken back to a shelf of tins. The shop owner took the lid off several to reveal pipes and pipe items to me. They went back to their till and I went through the shop with new eyes. I not only found pipes in the tins but also found old tobacco that was smokable as well.I have found tins of Dobie Four Square Green, Prince Albert, Half and Half, Flying Dutchman, MacBarens Scottish Mixture, Amphora Brown and Red and others too numerous to mention all available for little cost. In every case, a little hydration and even the open tins provided enjoyment for me. It was these finds that keep me looking through old tins. I have looked and found them in antique malls, thrift shops, rummage sales, thrift shops and even garage sales. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to what I may find in the hunt.

This particular rule has, since that lesson from the shop keeper, played out quite naturally for me. I now always shake every tobacco tin or open each one when I come across it on the shelf. I dig through the piles of tins in the displays – not just tobacciana displays but also collectible tin displays, removing cookie tins, oil cans, spice tins etc. to hand pick every tobacco tin I can possibly check. The only way I am certain they are empty is if I can see the shiny or rusty bottom of the tin through the open lid. I take each of them down and if open, remove lid and look inside. If the tin closed I shake it and see if the contents are still inside and solid. I can often tell by the weight when I pick it up that it has something inside. I have also learned to not get my hopes up too soon as I have opened seemingly full tins with great expectancy and found button collections or nails and screws. Nonetheless I continue checking them out.

The wisdom of following this rule while I am on the hunt was proved to me twice in the last month of pipe hunting. I found two older tins of tobacco that I enjoy and which are no longer available in their original renditions. The first one was an unopened cutter tin of Gallaher’s Condor Sliced. (I wrote about finding this tin earlier on the blog https://rebornpipes.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/tobacciana-dating-an-old-cutter-top-tin-of-condor-sliced/ ) I am not entirely certain regarding the age of the tin but the seal in unbroken and the tin shows no sign of rust on the outside or at the bottom or top edges of the tin. All of which leads me to believe that the tobacco inside is still in great shape. It also does not rattle around when it is shaken which is great news to me. I have found that the rattling inside a tin is a bad sign and can mean that the seal has been broken and the tobacco may be dry and dusty. However, the point is that clearly Rule #3 was proved true once again. I reached for a tin of tobacco on display in an antique mall and came back with this old unopened tin of tobacco. The bonus for me is that it is a blend I enjoy!I am still in the process of deciding whether to smoke it or keep it in the collection for display. The verdict is still out on that decision.



The second tin that I found this past weekend when my son-in-law and I were wandering through some antique malls and shops. As usual I was on the prowl for pipes and tobacciana. This old tin was situated deep in the back of the display case that made up the front sales counter of the antique mall. It was well enough hidden that I had missed it the first two times I scanned the display looking for pipes and tobacciana. When I was settling my bill for a pipe I had found I looked down for just a moment at the case. And out of the corner of my eye I saw the tin. It was well hidden behind some other items – poker chips, lighters, decks of cards and pocket knives so it was easy to pass over. I paused in my paying the bill and asked the clerk if I could see the tin. As she moved the other pieces away from it I could see the tin still had a lid on it and seemed like it also had something inside from the way she handled it as she gave it to me.

I took the tin in my hand and found it had a bit of weight to it – it was not empty. I gave it a light shake to see if the items inside rattled – if it was tobacco it would have a different kind of rattle than nails or screws or even buttons. It sounded like tobacco to me. I checked the lid and could see that it had been opened. I twisted it off and found that when I opened it there was a slight whoosh of air meaning that there was still a seal on the tin. When it was open, I could see that the tobacco inside was a broken flake and was not dried out too much. I picked up a small piece and found that it still had some bend and play in it rather than crumbling in my fingers.

This tin was an old cutter top can of Balkan Sobranie Virginia No. 10. I have smoked this blend in the past and thoroughly enjoyed the taste of it so I was sold on it before I knew the cost. I looked on the backside of the can and saw that they were selling it for $4 – a full four ounce tin of very mature and smokable Virginia. It smelled heavenly and the low price for a tin of this age made my heart skip a beat. That fact that it was full was a bonus to me no matter what the clerk thought. She apologized for the “inconvenience” of the tobacco still in the can, but I was excited about it. I decided to play it cool though and settled my accounts – a pipe and the tobacco and left the store having spent just under $15 US. Once outside to the car, I explained what I had found to my son-in-law and then opened the tin and took a deep whiff. This tobacco smelled divine and the moisture content was perfect for smoking according to my liking. It sits on my desk waiting for me to fill a pipe this evening and give it a smoke.


Both of these finds illustrate the point of Rule #3. It is worth checking all old tobacco tins for potential finds. Some will have tobacco that you can smoke and others will have pipes, tampers, lighters or pouches that can still be used. The list of finds that I have come across leads me to continue to shake and check out all the old tins that I come across on my journeys. I know that each and every tin I pick up could potentially have something worth keeping inside its confines. Whether that find be a pipe related item or just some good smoking tobacco really does not matter to me for both are part of the potential that keeps me picking up old tins and checking them out.

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #2: Look Inside ALL Small Boxes, Cupboards and Drawers

Blog by Steve Laug

A second rule of the pipe hunt that I have learned over the years is that not all pipes and tobacco related items are in plain view as I walk around a shop. This took time to learn and by and large I learned it by asking sellers if they had any old pipes or tobacco items for sale. I used to do this after an initial walk through but now ask as soon as I enter a shop. It saves time and generally is a way of engaging in a conversation that may lead to more pipes. When the answer was affirmative I followed them to the stall or spot in the shop and watched where they had placed the items. This quickly taught me where to look. But they would also often have pipes or items at home or in the back room and they would gladly bring them out for me. I have learned that it never hurts to ask.

As a result I quickly look through a shop (I know quickly is a relative term but to me it is quicker than it used to be and way more focused). I walk through after my initial scan and open small drawers, cupboards, cigar boxes, and look inside revolving display cabinets. This may seem intrusive but trust me, it is not (well at least in my mind it isn’t). Small typography cabinets can hold pipes and tobacciana. Revolving display cases can hold pipes, tampers, lighters and other pipe related objects. I have found wind caps, tampers, Baccy Flaps, Bakelite stems, pipe holsters and other items too numerous to list by just going through these revolving cases slowly looking for tobacciana. Coffee cans, tobacco tins and old cigar boxes can often hide old pipe paraphernalia in their interiors. Don’t hesitate to have a look. Here is a tale of an old pipe I picked up by doing what I am suggesting – a nice older bent billiard for $20. I can tell you it was well worth opening drawers and digging deeper.

My wife Irene and I love doing an antique mall crawl on our days off. We generally visit as many as we can fit in before lunch and then have a good lunch at a neighbourhood pub before finishing the day with visiting a few more shops on our way home. Over the years one of our favourite spots is found not far from Vancouver. Just across one of the many bridges and upriver it is a spot with several antique shops and several larger antique malls. On the day of this tale we had visited several of them in the morning and so far had struck out on any significant finds of pipes or tobacciana for me or anything of interest for her. We had stopped for a great lunch at the local pub and were now visiting the last of the shops. We were almost finished looking and still empty handed. I had passed by some very high priced drugstore pipes – no deprecation intended here as I have many of them in my collection but I am not willing to pay the exorbitant prices that sellers mark these – $50 or more is an unacceptable price in my opinion.

I turned down the last aisle. It was lined from floor to ceiling on the right side of the aisle with display cases. These cases had drawers underneath that were labeled with different key items that resided inside. I did a quick walk by of the display cases checking them out. In one I found a couple of older Brighams that I noted. I would need to get the sales clerk to open the displays for me so that I could look at them more closely. That could wait. I turned my attention to the drawers beneath the cases. In the middle case I opened a drawer labeled miscellaneous collectibles and dug through it. There in the middle of the drawer, nestled among lots of unrelated items such as linens and doilies I found an older looking pipe that captured my attention. I stopped for a minute before picking it up. (I have a habit of trying to guess what the pipe might be before I actually look at. Quirky I know but it is what it is.)
1938 Dunhill Shell

I made my guess (a Dunhill of some sort) and then I picked it up. It was a sandblast bent billiard. I turned it over in my hands and noted a slightly darkened white spot in the top of the stem and then read the stamping on the underside of the shank. It read Dunhill Shell Made in England 8 and underneath that it was stamped Patent No. The number itself was obscured in the dirt and grime that accompanied the old pipe. It was caked with a heavy carbon buildup and the stem was oxidized and had several small tooth dents on the top and bottom of the stem. Other than that it was a good clean find. To say that I was excited is to understate the case. Here in the drawer under the display cabinet I had found not just a Dunhill pipe for $20 but a Patent Era Dunhill pipe with fairly clear stamping and in a condition that would easily be refurbished. I was ecstatic. I called my wife over to show her the cause of my ecstasy and she just shook her head – another pipe. Big deal. She wandered off and I was left standing there.
I almost totally forgot the Brighams and just stood there basking in the joy of discovery! This is what I always dreamed of finding one day in my pipe hunts. And now here it was in my hands. I could hardly believe my good fortune on finding it. I shook myself and carefully cradled the old pipe while I went and found the sales clerk. She brought the keys with her and opened the case so that could add the two old Brighams to the lot. I carried the three pipes to the counter and paid for them before they disappeared in my dreams. The clerk carefully wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them in a bag for me. She handed me receipt for my purchase and I went looking for Irene. I had my haul and I was finished. I just wanted to get home and do some research on this lot.

When I got home I went to my basement work table and used my jeweler’s loupe to check out the stamping more clearly. I had read the majority of the stamping correctly at the shop. I was also able to read the patent number on the bottom of the pipe. I looked up the information on John Loring’s Dunhill dating site and found that I had a 1938 Patent Era Dunhill Shell bent billiard. I could not have been more pleased. I cleaned up the old timer carefully and gave it several coats of wax. Here are a few pictures of the restored pipe.




It is this kind of find that keeps me pulling out the drawers and looking in the boxes and behind tins and displays. I am confident that there are other hidden treasures out there. So Rule #2 will always be right up there next to the first rule I posted about earlier. I will look in every nook and cranny while I am working my way through a shop looking for “treasures”. Will you join me in following this rule of the hunt?