Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Buying a Meerschaum Cutty Part 2

The package has arrived. You have torn open the wrapper and wrestled with the miles of taped up bubble wrap and finally you are confronted with a pipe case containing a meerschaum pipe that hopefully has cost you under $100.

The first thing I recommend is that your examine the pipe carefully to make sure everything aligns and that the stem is a reasonably tight fit, looks for cracks on the shank or anywhere else and note them down. Do not attempt to remove the stem from the shank in any way as this could lead to problems later on. I would recommend gently blowing down the stem to check that the air ways are not blocked. Once that has been achieved insert a soft pipe cleaner of the variety used in modeling down the stem. The first cleaning of the stem should be warm water with a slight hint of washing up liquid. The second cleaning should be achieved by the use of a dry pipe cleaner to remove any residual moisture. I cannot stress to you the importance of using soft modeling pipe cleaners, if you use any of the commercially available 'bristle' type cleaners you will damage the stem or the 'button' by trying to force something into a small space thus over stressing the material.

Once you have accomplished the above straight forward task I recommend you take another pipe cleaner and insert it into the pipe and leave it in there whilst we deal with the subject of bowl cleaning. Prior to carrying out all the prescribed operations enumerated in paragraph one it is advisable to clean out any loose tobacco or residue in the bowl. It is at the point you may run into one of the following things (i) a butt plug (ii) silver or copper button or silver Three Pence if you are very lucky. Both of these will be at the base of the bowl and if you have never come across one before I will explain to you exactly what they are designed to achieve. The pictures below should help you visualize what I am talking about here.

You will see from the above pipes that one is deeply colored half way down the bowl and along the shank whilst the first example is just starting to color. In the third picture you will see the famous 'butt plug' which was a device thought by the Victorians to prevent tobacco matter from blocking up the stem. In reality it acted like a coloring bowl which I am sure you have come across in discussion threads about meerschaum pipes on the various forums. In essence this is a device that fits into the bowl of a meerschaum and is loaded with tobacco and if used causes the pipe to change color be collecting and condensing all the tars and moisture at the bottom of the pipes bowl so that it can be absorbed by the meerschaum. If you find one of the plugs at the bottom of your meerschaum use a very thin and sharp bladed knife to scrape away any build up or very fine sand paper so that the edges of the plug are visible and with a little patience and a gentle tap against the palm the hand the plug should fall out.

Interestingly enough I saw hundreds of these plugs and broken clay pipes when some renovation work was being done on my local pub back home so they must have been like the cigarette butt of yesteryear!  The other item you might encounter is the silver three penny bit or silver button these were also put in the bottom of the pipe to act if like as a primitive coloring bowl. As in the figure (i) follow the same procedure although I have found the best method after scraping around the bowl is to use a cork screw to extract these annoying obstructions. I have even found the copper version of a Levi Denim button used as a coloring device which was removed before the copper content started leeching into the meerschaum.

Having now dealt with all the fun stuff we come down to bowl scraping which I will deal with in part 3 of the article since I have to buzz off to work right now!

1 comment:

  1. What a great series! I had never seen these little buttons that go in the bottom before. I suspect that they also kept tobacco pieces out of the older sort that had a pierced draft hole.