Tag Archives: polishing silver

Yet Another Treasure – a 1905 BBB Silver Capped Gourd Calabash


Blog by Steve Laug

Time really flies during this COVID-19 time! 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. The collection included 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 very interesting pipe caught my interest when I looked at pictures of it. It was a beautiful older BBB Calabash with an albatross wing bone extension that is shown in the photo below. 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 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 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). It has the same stamp on the rim cap and the shank extension. I could not wait to get it and have a look at it up close and personal. 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 Calabash with the silver cap and bone shank extension for me to look at while he worked his magic in cleaning up the pipe. It is a real beauty. Jeff took photos of the bowl and the silver capped rim top to show the cake in the bowl. The silver cap has some nicks, dents and dings in it that will remain after the cleanup as part of the story of the pipe. 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 gourd. You can see the beautiful shape and the contrast of the silver and the calabash even through the dirt and debris of over 105 years.       The stamping on the pipe was on the silver of the pipe rather than any where else on the gourd. It is on the rim cap, the ferrule and the end cap of the extension. On the rim cap it is stamped toward the front and reads AF&Co which are the Adolph Frankau Company. After his death, the BBB gradually became known as Britain’s Best Briars. Soon to be the oldest English trademark in current use and the first pipe ever to have a registered trade mark. “Britain’s Best Briars”, often called BBB, is one of the oldest brands still in production. At the back of the rim cap 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). There is a slight variation on the stamping on the scalloped ferrule. It includes the BBB Diamond stamp above the AF&Co which is above the same three hallmarks noted above. The shank extension matches the ferrule exactly. All have the same date letter “h”.  The ferrule has some dents on the left side as shown in the photos below. Because of the attachment to the gourd I will be leaving the dents as a part of the pipe’s story. I turned to one of the numerous silver hallmark chars on line for the city of Birmingham, England (https://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Dates/Birmingham.html) and was able click 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 1778-2005. I have drawn a read box around the hallmark pattern that matches the one on the BBB pipe silverwork. You can see that it dates the pipe to 1905. That means that this gourd calabash is over 115 years old. All of the silverwork confirms the 1905 date for the pipe. The bowl lining in the calabash seems to be a clay lining that is seat in the gourd and held in place by the silver top cap.

With the information from the two sites I had a pretty clear idea on the background of the pipe. It was definitely an old timer and really was another stellar acquisition. Now it was time to work on the pipe.

Jeff carefully cleaned the pipe from top to stern. He reamed it 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. Without being able to remove the bowl liner the internal cleaning of the gourd was complicated but he cleaned it as much as possible. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime and grit on the calabash and the tarnish and lava on the rim top. The finish looks much better and has a deep richness in the colour that highlights gourd. The rim top looked very good and the inner and outer edge looked very good. The nicks and dents in the silver remain and will be “war wounds” that travel with the pipe. Jeff scrubbed the stem with Before & After 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 for the second stop of its restoration tour 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 rim top  looked good. There were some dents and scratches in the silver. I took close up photos of the stem to show the condition of the surface and button. I took the pipe apart and took a photo of the pipe with the short stem and with the extension. It is a good looking pipe and very unique.I polished the silver rim top, edges and the gourd 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 silver, remove scratches a bit and also polish the gourd.     I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the gourd with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the gourd. 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 scalloped silver ferrule with a jewelers cloth to remove any residual tarnish and also to protect it from future tarnish (at least for awhile). The interesting detail for me is that the ferrule is scalloped and the end of the shank extension that holds the stem also is scalloped.   With that done the bowl was finished other than the final buffing. I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded out the tooth marks and chatter on the stem with 220 grit sandpaper. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the silver stem cap with a jewelers cloth that helps remove any residual tarnish and protects the silver.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.    With the bowl and the short 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 little pipe. The dimensions of this part of the pipe are – Length: 6 ½ inches, Height: 2 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the short version of the pipe is 2.33 ounces/66 grams. This unique find – a 1905 BBB Silver Capped Gourd Calabash 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. With the pipe and short stem finished all that remained was to finish the shank extension that fit in the shank end of the pipe. The end that fit into the shank had the same end cap as the stem itself. The opposite end was fitted to receive the end cap of the stem. The tube between the caps is albatross wing bone. There was a small crack in the bone at the joint of the silver that held the stem. I filled in the crack with clear CA glue to stabilized. It I polished it with the full gamut of micromesh sanding pads to blend it in the rest of the bone. I polished the silver with a jewelers cloth to remove residual tarnish in the turnings of the silver caps and polished the shank extension with Obsidian Oil. The length of the extension tube is 8 ½ inches. I took a few photos of the pipe next to the extension to give a sense of the size. I also took photos of the extension tube with the stem in place to show the look of it. Finally the last photos give a sense of the fully extended BBB Silver Capped Calabash with the bone extension. With it installed on the pipe the length of the pipe is 13 inches. Height and other measurements remain as noted above.

Restoring an Old BBK Hunter Pipe


In the box of pipe bowls that I received was a complete sitter with a silver shank band and windcap. Upon looking at the side of the bowl I could see that it was stamped Swiss Made and on the side of the shank it was stamped BBK. The finish was sandblasted and well done. The stain was either a dark brown or a black. The cap was in good shape. Under the cap the silver rim trim was also blackened and tarry. The end cap/band on the shank was also silver and quite nice. Inside the cap was blackened and the bowl was caked with a crumbly aromatic smelling cake. The inside of the shank was black with tars and oils and the stem was very tight in the shank. The stem was clean of tooth marks and dents but was badly oxidized. On the front of the bowl was a carved/pressed stag climbing the bowl. There were nails holding the top rim cap and the stag emblem on the briar. On the back of the rim cap was a small silver ring where a chain had obviously been sometime along the way. It was missing as was the place on the stem where it attached to the stem. I have seen these before on German-made pipes as a means of keeping the stem and bowl together.
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I have cleaned up several BBK pipes over the years. The last one was a square shank panel billiard that I have written about previously on the blog https://rebornpipes.com/2012/09/21/refurb-on-a-bbk-panel-billiard-swiss-made/. I had never done much research on the maker or the meaning of the BBK initials. I knew that it was a Swiss made brand as the shanks of all the pipes I had cleaned up and restored were stamped with that moniker. I did not however have any idea of the history of the brand. This time I decided to do a bit of digging and see what I could find out about the pipemaker. IMG_8245 I checked one of my usual sources of information, Pipedia and found that there was actually quite a bit of helpful information to be found there. http://pipedia.org/index.php?title=Bru-Bu. I have copied, edited and summarized that material below. I find the information quite fascinating to read and gives me more appreciation for the pipes themselves.

“Josef Brunner, oldest son of the farmer Konstantin Brunner from the hamlet Nieder-Huggerwald, belonging to the community of Kleinlützel (Canton Solothurn), was sent in 1871 to a pipe turner in Winkel/Alsace for his apprenticeship. As was usual at that time, Brunner wandered as a journeyman after ending the apprenticeship. Eventually, he went to Saint-Claude, France which was then the world’s stronghold of briar pipe manufacturing. There, Brunner was able to increase and deepen his knowledge in the field of industrial pipe making. When he returned home in 1878, he installed a small turner’s workshop in the house of his father. With the energetic support of his two younger brothers, he began to produce tobacco pipes of his own calculation, taking them to the markets in the surrounding area. In 1893, Bernhard Brunner’s wife inherited the mill in Kleinlützel. At this point, the pipe fabrication was transferred to an annex belonging to the mill. Now it was possible to drive the machines by water power – an important relief to the workers and a considerable innovation compared to the previous pedal-driven system.

On the Pipedia site they also had some photos of a catalogue from BBK that was interesting. They note that it was an early catalog and came to them courtesy of Guido Brunner, Josef Brunner’s grandson.” Unbenannt Unbenannt2 Unbenannt3

Also on the Pipedia site was a photo of a pipe that was very similar to the one I have but obviously older. The stem on mine is not horn but is rather a hand cut vulcanite that makes it much newer in age than the one below. However the shank cap, the rim cap, the Double Deckel wind cap (pictured on the last page of the above catalogue are the same. The one I have is also missing the chain from the cap to the stem but the finish and everything else about the pipe below is parallel to the one I worked on. It was interesting to see how they attached the chain to the stem. That gave me an idea on how to attach a new chain to the one that I have. The stem on this one however made me question whether the one that I had was an original or some newer replacement stem. More digging would be required to know whether my stem was original or not. BBK_9 A bit more digging revealed one for sale on EBay that had the exact same stem as the one I have. It also was missing the chain and the shape and top cap was slightly different but the stem was identical. Now I knew that the one I had was at least original. BBK Further information was found on the Pipedia site that spoke of the growth of the company. “The production was boosted, and business developed pleasantly. A new factory building was realized by 1896. Corresponding to another demand, a department producing walking sticks was added in 1900. The pipes from Kleinlützel were well appreciated and received many awards, e.g., a gold medal for outstanding craftsmanship at the National Swiss Fair in Bern in 1914.

The business developed so well after the turn of the century that even a lack of workers in Kleinlützel occurred. The problem was solved by founding a subsidiary company in the small nearby town Laufen an der Birs in the Canton of Bern. This plant didn’t exist too long. The disastrous economic crisis in the 1920’s and early 1930’s forced the Brunner family to restrict the fabrication of pipes dramatically. In addition the big French pipe factories in Saint-Claude – although suffering from the same circumstances – flooded the Swiss market with pipes at prices that couldn’t be matched by Swiss producers. By 1931 ca. 150 of 180 Brunner employees had been sacked – the rest remained in Kleinlützel, where the cheap electric energy ensured a meager survival.

In 1932, Mr. Buhofer joined the Brunner family. The company was named Brunner-Buhofer-Kompagnie, and, shortly thereafter, Bru-Bu. Buhofer had made his fortune in the United States but, homesick, returned to Switzerland to search for a new challenge.

Bru-Bu’s fabrication program was expanded with many handcrafted wooden art articles: carved family coats of arms, bread plates, fruit scarves, and – more and more – souvenir articles for the expanding Swiss tourism industry. Pipes remained in the program continuously, but the offerings changed from traditional Swiss pipes to the more standard European shaped pipes. Bru Bu is widely known as BBK.”

One further point of interest to me was found in the last paragraph of the Pipedia article linking BBK pipes to Former Nielsen. I have two of Former’s pipes so this stood out to me.

“At some point in the late 1970’s, Bru-Bu went out of business. Some of the Brunners, as far as known, continued as timber traders. But in 1986 new life filled the old Bru-Bu pipe workshop, when Dr. Horst Wiethüchter and “Former” Nielsen started to produce the high-grade Bentley pipes there.”

I am not sure why it works this way but once I have some background information on a pipe I move into cleaning and restoring it with more gusto. It seems to energize me knowing a little about the company or individual who carved the pipe I am working on at the moment. I took the next two photos show the inside of the lid and the front of the bowl before I started cleaning up the pipe. The tars and oils on the inside of the lid were rock hard did not come off with scrubbing with alcohol or oil soap. Instead it would take more work to remove it. IMG_1685 IMG_1686 I reamed the pipe with a PipNet reamer (also Swiss Made by the way) to remove the cake buildup around the inside of the rim. Once the bowl was clean and smooth I wiped it out with cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. IMG_1690 IMG_1691 I scrubbed the briar with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and then wiped it off with a cotton pad. The finish was in great shape under the grime and once polished with a soft cloth and Halcyon II wax it had a rich glow to the sandblast. I wiped down the silver with a silver polishing cloth and the tarnish on the rim cap, the shank cap, wind cap and stag emblem came off very easily and the silver shone. IMG_1692 IMG_1694 IMG_1693 I scrubbed the inside of the windcap and the rim with 0000 steel wool to remove the tars and oils that had hardened on the surface of the caps and the inside of the windcap. It came off easily and then I polished with the silver polishing cloth. IMG_1695 I cleaned out the inside of the shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. The tars that came out of the shank were black and thick. It took quite a few swabs before the shank and sump area were clean and the cotton was still white after I ran it through the shank. IMG_1696

IMG_1697 The stem had been soaking in Oxy Clean while I worked on the bowl. I removed it from the bath and dried it off. The oxidation had softened significantly and I was able to see the black of the vulcanite show through the brown oxidation. IMG_1698 I scrubbed the stem with Meguiar’s Scratch X2.0 and once dry wiped it off to see how much more of the oxidation had been removed. The second photo shows the stem after I had wiped off the polish. There was still a lot of work to do on this stem. IMG_1699 IMG_1700 I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and then with medium and fine grit sanding sponges to remove more of the surface oxidation. It took some careful sanding but the oxidation was finally coming off and the stem was moving toward the place where I would sand it with micromesh sanding pads. IMG_1701 I buffed the stem with red Tripoli and White Diamond before sanding with the micromesh pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil between each set of three pads. I buffed the stem with White Diamond and then rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil one last time. I buffed it with carnauba wax and then a soft flannel buffing pad to raise the shine. IMG_1702 IMG_1703 IMG_1704 I gave the silver caps a final polish with the silver polishing cloth, buffed the pipe by hand with a shoe brush and then took the final photos below. The finished pipe is ready to load a bowl and fire up its inaugural smoke. I still have to do a hunt for a piece of chain to connect the cap to the stem and make a strap or connector to hold it to the stem. IMG_1705 IMG_1706 IMG_1707 IMG_1708 IMG_1709

Restemmed Red Point Capped Bent


I picked up this Red Point Old Briar Capped Pipe bowl on Ebay awhile ago. It did not have a stem but seemed to have promising grain. When it came in the mail I cleaned it up a bit and then worked on a stem for it. I decided to use a faux p-lip stem that has the airhole on the end of the stem rather than on the top. I fit the tenon to the shank – that was a bit of a trick as the shank is like a Pete shank in that it narrows/tapers as it descends toward the bowl. I finished fitting and polishing the stem.

Here are some pictures of the bowl when it came. From the second photo you can see that it was barely smoked. It was very clean and needed a few pipe cleaners run through it. The exterior needed to be wiped down with a little oil soap to clean away the grime – I always rub it on undiluted (no water) and quickly wipe it off. I do not leave it to sit. I also polished the silver work on the shank and the cap.

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I heated the stem with my heat gun and bent it slightly and took the next three pictures. I have learned that pictures give the true story in terms of bend and overall look of the pipe in a way that is clearer than the naked eye. From the photos I decided that the bend need to be a bit more dramatic and match the curve of the bottom of the bowl and shank. I reheated it and used the rounded edge of my work table to get a proper bend in it.

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Here is the final product – a proper bend with a curve that matches the bottom of the bowl and shank. The look is like an elongated S. Once it was finished I cooled the stem for a bit and then loaded it with Blue Mountain and smoked the inaugural bowl. Since then I have smoked it several times. It delivers a great smoke.

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