Thursday, August 20, 2015

Coloring Your Ancient Meerschaum

People often ask me how I get my pipes the color they are and I usually respond that they are that color through about a century of shit getting smoked in them!  The reality of the situation is that I have fathomed out over the years how our forbears actually achieved this amazing two tone color scheme. If you look at the pipe below this will illustrate exactly the point I am making.

Some of you may of read articles about meerschaum 'Coloring Bowls' which are similar to the bowl that fits into a calabash pipe but simply are designed to fit into the top of a meerschaum pipe. It simply creates a chamber that fills up with moisture and tar that the pipe absorbs and it results in the pipe taking on the desirable traits associated with an antique meerschaum pipe. Others simply slather their pipes with beeswax and achieve a similar but more often darker result with the aid of a hair dryer and a cotton wool bud. The question is how did Joe Q Lunch Box achieve the results we see in the very old meerschaum pipes that sometimes come to the market today?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Over the years I have purchased pipes and as I have cleaned out all of the crud in the bowl I noticed that most seemed to have either a button drilled with a couple of holes or a silver sixpence which was a very small pre-decimal British coin that represented half of a shilling with a couple of small holes drilled into the coin. I used to extract these nuisance obstructions with either a stud puller or a cork screw after carefully cleaning away the carbon deposit that had cemented this heirloom into the bottom of the bowl. One day I was at a classic bike race meeting and I mentioned this a very old boy who smoked a pipe and he smiled riley at me me and then explained the reason. People put these items at the bottom of their pipe to create a miniature air chamber similar to a calabash or a 'Coloring Bowl' so that the pipe absorbed all the crud from the tobacco thus coloring the stem and the base of the pipe. Also in an age before pipe cleaners when you cleaned your pipe with a feather it stopped the stem getting blocked up with fragments of tobacco.

This got me thinking after I have pointed out this story to numerous people on forums over the years about how a similar system could be replicated for today. We don't have any silver coins in the US and a dime is far too big to sit snuggly at the base of a bowl and besides who wants to smoke through something that contains nickel and heaven knows what else. The solution is to take a trip to your local Head Shop and buy a packet of the gauzes fitted to a hash pipe. If you carefully trim one of these you can get it to sit neatly at the bottom of the bowl so that it creates an air space of 1/8th of an inch. By smoking the pipe and leaving this gauze coin in place it will have the exact same effect as achieved by our Victorian friends and color the lower bowl and stem over a month or so of active smoking as well as preventing stem blockage and damage from the less then intelligent of our number trying to ram a pipe cleaner down a small hole and breaking an antique stem or worse.

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