Sunday, May 15, 2016

1881 Was A Very Good Year Whilst 2016 Was Shit!

Every now and then I come across what I can only describe as a truly interesting cutty pipe. Mostly I find my cutty pipes on Ebay or Etsy and occasionally through the various pipe forums I belong too. On even rarer occasions these days I stumble into pipes at 'Car Boot Sales' when visiting the UK although with the advent of Ebay every piker wanting to make a pound from garbage picking has an Ebay account so flea market finds in the UK are getting rarer. I was very pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across this pipe which surfaced on Ebay with a $50 price tag and no bidders. This really didn't surprise me since the carry case had certainly seen better days and the pipe was missing its amber stem and the bone tenon that connects the bowl to the stem was totally mashed up. What interested me was the silver work on the bowl cap and the stem that had been added either as reinforcements or an effort to make the pipe more appealing to the Victorian buyer. The shank band as can be seen contains the dedication 'Xmas 1881' and whilst I am unsure if the bowl cap was added at the same time or as a later repair the end result is quite visually pleasing. In common with all pipes of this age the bowl contained the predictable 'butt plug' in the form of a shirt button wedged at the bottom of the bowl to act as a filter and coloring device. Attempts to extract this were frustrated by the 1/8 inch carbon build up inside the bowl that I started to remove with an iron blade and then decided to leave to the wonders of Mr. Rick down at Briarville and his team of miracle workers.

Moving on I have now sent the pipe off to Briarville to have the bowl reamed out and the offending button removed which I will then add to my 'butt plug' museum of crap I find in old pipes. After a new tenon has been fitted along with a faux amber yellow stem as opposed to the tortoise shell ones that I usually favor the pipe should look tip top. The case I am afraid will have to be sent to a gentleman in Turkey who is now helpfully making cases for my pipes. I am optimistic thatI can get him to advertise his services here on my blog as I am forever being asked where to get old cases mended or redone. The Chicago pipe show has come and gone which may have been the last one in its current pre-FDA form but I will blog about this later in the week work time permitting. The new FDA regulations arrived this week which certainly have won the Kim Jong-Un award for the most undemocratic set of regulations ever combined with the 2016 Boris Yeltsin Crony Capitalism Award for handing over the whole e-cigarette business to Big Tobacco. I will look at this in greater detail  in the coming week and give you my views on the unfolding nightmare that is about to engulf our peaceful hobby.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy "Cutty" Easter Readers

At this time of year, when families may or may not gather to possibly share in various unspecified sentiments of the holiday season, the Neutral family—Ben Neutral, Coco Neutral and little Charley Neutral—would like to take this moment to wish various persons viewing this message an Easter of some sort. Or not. Heres hoping your Easter in enviromentally low impact, gender neutral, non racist and sexually inclusive and differently abled. I hate this PC crap so light up your pipe, shave a lesbian, shoot at your Bernie Sanders target, have a few beers and tell the do gooders to f*ck off and get a life! Happy Easter folks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Something Old, Something New, Something Cutty!

Every now and again we all get that fundamental human desire for change. Be it your environment, your wife or girlfriend or even your taste in tobacco. I don't suffer from that particular affliction as on the whole I have almost everything I want or might need in life except for when it comes to 'cutty' pipes. You can never have enough. That being said there comes a point when it becomes necessary to make room to accommodate new additions to the flock. This weeks entry is all about the dilemma one faces on having to make room for a new addition to my brood by sacrificing one of my pipe children.

About a week ago I spied an absolutely wonderful pipe on my favorite hunting ground Oi Vay the online auction platform dedicated to the sale of shit. Its the modern ages answer to Reggie Perrin's chain of Grot Stores and if you didn't live through the 1970s Youtube will happily supply you with excepts from The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin. Anyway this pipe was fantastic.  A perfect 'cutty' in an unmolested case, good clean threads, unbroken stem and the most amazing coloring since the last ox blood one I had purchased the other year. After some patient bidding and a ten day auction it was knocked down to me for Sixty Quid, thats about Eighty Five Dollars in US money with another Fifteen bucks thrown in for postage bringing my all in total to about One Hundred Dollars. Here are a couple of pictures to show you what a bargain I got and worthwhile addition to my collection.

This resulted in the dilemma of what had to go to make room. I decided to 'out' a meerschaum 'cutty' I picked up last year that was sadly without a case that probably dated to around 1910. It had one of those amberoid stems which either outlast your life span or break when you least expect it to happen. I pointed this out in my advert in My Pipe Club along with the fact that the threads, tenon and shank etc where as sound as the Empire Estate Building but it should be sent to Ric at Briarville at some point to have a new stem made and fitted. Here are a few pictures of the pipe before it was put up for adoption/sale.

Sure enough my good friend and fellow 'cutty' enthusiast David was in touch and before I had rolled out of bed the next morning I had a few dollars in my PayPal account and a pipe that needed mailing out by USPS Express Mail. So there you have it one pipe goes to a new home and another dusky one joins the collection. Later on this week I think I will take some pictures of my March/April 'cutty' rotation of thirty pipes so that you can get a good idea of how many pipes you need to be considered a serious old fart like me!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Waxing Your Old Girl!

I have read on many forums about how people slather their pipes in bees wax, even using a small paint brush. After each coat of melted bees wax some people recommended blasting your pipe with the wife's hair dryer and then polishing off the wax. On a couple of forums people have posted quite detailed instructions about this whole process and the resulting pipes look like they have been soaked in an ash tray of old dottles of Warrior plug and hot water!

Before I start passing judgement on the process I thought I would test out these various theories on a surplus to requirement early 1920s French meerschaum 'cutty' that had a hairline crack in the bowl so it was buggered for all intents and purposes. Firstly I smoked the pipe non stop for about a week with a mixture of finely cut black twist and Condor plug which resulted in minimal color changes and the predictable rim burn. I then disassembled and cleaned the pipe and put the amber stem in the case so that it didn't get lost or sat on.

Next I fed a long soft pipe cleaner through the bowl and out through the shank so that the bowl could be supported during the warming process. I acquired through my good friend David Shain in Georgia a half pound of pure bees wax as his friend keeps bees or may be secretly is running an S&M establishment but I think it highly unlikely.  I then warmed the pipe bowl up using a hair dyer and then carefully wiped all the crud and build up off the stem using a soft cotton cloth. Next I rubbed very gently over the hot stem the new clean bees wax and the continued to heat the stem with the hair dryer. Once the stem had received an even coating I set the bowl aside to cool down. After about thirty minutes I repeated the process again and kept the stem warm and then I polished the stem with a clean soft cotton cloth.

What was the result? Well it polished up the meerschaum quite nicely and removed some of the dirt and crud from the outside but that was about it. I did detect some very slight change in color but nothing to write home about. I will now run a whole bunch of tobacco through the pipe over the next week or so and see what changes if any take place. I have a feeling that the tried and tested Victorian method of using a silver coin or 1 Euro Cent piece with holes drilled in it will be far more successful. Thanks to my good friend Frank over in the Fatherland (Germany) I have a supply of suitably defaced Euro cent coins for the next stage of this experiment.

As you can see from the picture not a whole lot happened when I waxed the 'old girl' so we will now do it the traditional way with coin at the bottom. This should get the same result as using a Coloring Bowl without having to turn your pipe into something that resembles the smoke stack of a mid 19th century steam train. Watch this space for further developments.....

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Crap You Find Stuck in Meerschaum Pipe Bowls!

I have commented on 'butt plugs' which are the things you find in the bottom of old pipes, more often then not meerschaum 'cutty' pipes from the late 19th century through to the early 20th century. They are normally defined as some form of artificial obstruction deliberately placed at the bottom of the bowl to (i) assist in the coloring of the meerschaum and thus acting as a primitive form coloring bowl (ii) a way of stopping the finely drilled stems from becoming clogged with tobacco fragments and other forms of dendrites.

Elsewhere here and on my own own blog I have commented that it is not unusual to encounter silver buttons, silver three penny pieces to name just a few items I have pulled out of pipe bowls. I have not idea if the silver has some form of reactive quality that assists in the coloring process, I personally suspect not but I am more than happy to be proved wrong by any amateur chemists reading the piece. Below are a few examples of items I have pulled with the aid of a cork screw from the bottom of several ancient meerschaum 'cutty' pipes.

This first example was pulled out of a meerschaum 'cutty' I was cleaning up for a forum member and appears to be a threaded nut with a safely washer added. It was the same diameter as the pipe bowl and since it was tapered it formed a hollow void beneath the burning tobacco that assisted in the coloring of the pipe. As you can see from the picture below the effect has been to concentrate all the coloring of the meerschaum from the bottom third of the bowl and the shank. Since this pipe came without a stem and is currently undergoing a refit with Ric at Briarville the new owner will have to decide how patient he wants to be with coloring the rest of the pipe.

Here is another shot of this nasty obstruction.

The most common obstruction to run into is the old metal button either made from silver or whatever else was on hand at the time. Usually these items have been filed down slightly and seem to be popular as they have been pre-drilled thus creating an easy way for the pipe to draw whilst being smoked. Again they also form a void or chamber below the burning tobacco for tar and moisture to build up which accelerates the coloring process of the bottom third of the bowl and the shank. If you shake the pipe you will often hear the rattle of 'clinker' and all the other dried crap that has built up in the bottom of the pipe over the last 100+ years. Here are a couple of examples and should you run into anything like these they can again be removed with a cork screw and a little bit of patience without any harm befalling your pipe although do scrape with a blade well around the obstruction before extraction.
The final item you may encounter is the porcelain 'butt plug' although they tend to be pretty rare. They come in two varieties (i) absorbent clay (ii) fired ceramic. Which ever one you come across I have found these to be the most problematic obstructions to remove from an antique pipe. Once you have cleaned and scraped around the obstruction the only thing you can do with these fellows is to use a 'shim' to remove all the concretion and build up around the edges of the obstruction and then hope for the best or hand the whole thing over to your professional pipe man. Strangely enough you can find these things kicking around in the gardens of most Victorian pubs along with endless clay pipe shards as they seem to have been cheap and frequently discarded. Here is the only picture I have of one of these things and it is interesting to note the veins that allow for the smoke to be drawn through the whole construct thus creating the space that is today served by a coloring bowl.

 In part two I will answer the age old question regarding what we use for a modern day replacement to achieve the same effect with a meerschaum pipe so tune in again soon!

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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Buying a Meerschaum Cutty Part 3

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

I assume by this stage you have carried out all the operations that I have laid out in parts 1 & 2 and you have done all of these without breaking the pipe or damaging anything. We now come to the subject of scraping the bowl as opposed to scraping the bottom of the barrel! For this job you will now need the services of a good iron bladed pen knife - see below

Take the pipe bowl in your left hand, firstly remembering to leave the pipe cleaner in the pipe slightly protruding into the bottom of the bowl. Do not do this while holding the stem as it will snap and remember the pipe cleaner is in there to stop all the sh*t going down the pipes airway. Put the blade into the bowl flat but at a 45% angle and scrape around the bowl 1/32 below the rim. Tap the bowl over some toilet paper and slant the bowl towards the light and with the top 1/4 inch of the blade scrape around the middle of the bowl and repeat this process until you reach the bottom. Some pipes often have very heavy build up sometimes greater than 1/16" and this will come off at the top of the bowl in large pieces with the rest having to be very gently chipped away using the point of the knife. If that is the case go very slowly and scrape the bowl after each successive carbon deposit removal until all the carbon and clinker has been extracted. It is very important this is done as this stuff heats and expands at a faster rate than meerschaum and has the potential to crack the bowl if not dealt with promptly.

Once this has been achieved wipe out the bowl with a damp cloth and then gently with another clean damp rag wipe off and polish the bowl. Remember never use spirits or anything else on the outside of a meerschaum as any finger prints or historical marks are there for good and cannot be removed. I now want to talk about bees wax and waxing your pipe. Many people recommend this and if you feel like dismantling your pipe and warming it up on a stove to slather it with pure bees wax by all means do so. It will turn the pipe a brown color but I have always felt like it is cheating and defeats the object of buying an older pipe. Also remember if you use too much wax it will leech out of the meerschaum and give your tobacco a very interesting taste that will take many smokes to get rid off and you may find you will get better results with a coloring bowl but then the choice is yours.

I am often asked what type of tobacco will color my pipe quickly. Well the short answer is there isn't one as its a factor of how much you smoke your pipe. Unlike briar pipes meerschaums do not need to be rested so you can smoke them for days on end and providing the bowl is scraped once a week and you put the correct pipe cleaner down the stem you can get by with smoking the same pipe every day. You all know I smoke Condor Plug or twist which is what was traditionally consumed in this type of pipe but then anything with a reasonable moisture content will suffice over time to turn the pipe brown.

I hope you have found this article both informative and helpful.

Foot Notes:

Rick Farrah can be found at
Tim West can be found at J H Lowe
Both of these fellows do excellent work on old meerschaum pipes and I am sure there are others but these are ones I have used and recommend.