Okay, I won’t apologize for being in love with a System shape that was so popular it was discontinued in 2013 for being one of the six bottom-sellers. We’ve all seen what that eventually got us—the 2021 POY / 4AB (yes, I’m taking all the credit here—sorry to all the coat-tailers who thought it was their idea)!
So when I saw this unusual Early Republic 309 on eBay, my heart began to go pitter-pat. I tried to get the guy to take a best offer, but no, he was firm and I waited two weeks, hoping to forget about it (I have a problem that is sometimes referred to as PAD). But no one bought it. It was relisted twice and in one of those addictive-compulsive moments, I paid the extra $10 I hadn’t been willing to pay before. Besides, it’s my birthday month and a fresh 309 seemed like just the way to celebrate (do I sound like I have a problem? don’t answer that).
One of the things that drew me to the pipe was the unusual stamping, which I’ve seen somewhere before and if you remember where or it’s your pipe that has this type of stamp, please email me or comment below! I thought maybe this was a stamp I hadn’t seen before, an “XL309.” We all know there’s an XL339 of course and an XL307, but an XL309?
If you click on the photo above and enlarge it, you’ll see that it’s not an “L” but an upside down 7 in front of the 309. And that’s what I’ve seen somewhere before. I was hoping there was an “X” before it somehow (you know how bad eBay photos often are). But, no. It does have the MITROI stamp, thought, which in combination with the nickel-mount marks is rare enough to garner a little respect on my part, for sure.
But the other thing is what really boggled my feeble gray cells: is this pipe rusticated? Is it standblasted? Or is it . . . (wait for it) a “rustiblast”?!!
You can see the horizontal rings cascading up and down the bowl. That says sandblast to me. But what about the vertical grooves? That looks like some kind of out-of-control wire-brush rustication. You can see it has gobs of lacquer on it, for sure.
The bowl probably should’ve been tossed into the reject bin, although I’m glad it didn’t. You can see it’s been worked over quite a bit both by the craftsmen in the St. Stephen’s Green factory and the previous owner(s). The obverse has a noticeable concave scoop in it, visible not only from the side but from the rim as well (the rim isn’t out of round–it’s the bowl!).
Of course on nearly every sandblast bowl you can find a slightly deeper divot somewhere and many have a slightly concave line somewhere on the bowl. The divot was where an imperfection has been removed and the concave line is simply part of being a factory sandblasted pipe. For those of us who love “the gnarly,” it just adds character and it’s fun to find.
The seller had done all the heavy lifting of removing the oxidation on the stem, which was great. But the upper and lower button are a different story. Only a 309 addict would have proceeded with this acquisition. I knew I might not be able to bring this one back, but there is enough of an upper and lower wall to make the button clenchable if I liked the bowl well enough after refurbishment.
I used the same technique described in restoring my Dad’s 301 restoration, beginning with 220 wrapped around the edge of a MicroMesh pad and proceeding up the grits. There’s a flat surface around the airhole on the button you can see in the unrestored button photo: mashed is the only word for it. How it was done I don’t know. There is enough height on either side of the air hole, however, to round the top. I didn’t see the indentation on the bottom of the button in front of the shelf (to the left)–don’t know how I missed it, but I didn’t feel like going back. In any event, I’m pleased with the button rehab overall.
From the side view, you can see where the button has been thinned, but there’s still plenty of thickness left above and below the airway so the stem should be good for another 60 years. It also still clenches quite easily.
One more thing about the stem: as you can see from the photo below, the inner diameter at the tenon is 7mm. While the common wisdom at the factory used to be “from 1.5mm at the button to 5.0mm at the tenon,” I’m sure there have been slight deviations all through the System’s history, with smaller openings often seeming to occur since the 1990s.
That’s interesting, but here’s the important thing: when you clean a System stem, be sure to fold a pipe cleaner in half and run it up as far as it will go through the tenon. On old-timers like this one, you’ll be amazed that it effortlessly glides nearly half-way up. That half-way up is where most of the tars and moisture will be, and sliding a pipe cleaner down from the button won’t begin to clean this area. I know I said this a post or two ago, but it bears repeating because this is one area in System education that no one talks about and which can make a beloved System not smoke as sweetly as it once did.
Interestingly enough, the acrylic P-Lip System stems still appear to be step-down drilled, as they have since they were introduced several years ago. You feel it because there’s a jerky stop to even a single pipe cleaner threaded up the tenon.
So here’s a question for Gary Hamilton and Prof. John Schantz (both CPGs) and anyone else with knowledge of fluid dynamics: does the turbulence caused by the step in graduation cause more heat? That is, do we get a better smoke from the truly graduated bore? I can’t say with scientific knowledge, only my experiential guess.
[Both John and Gary agreed that the smoke would not taste hotter but there might be more moisture from the step-down in a non-graduated System airway (like the present acrylic ones). Gary elaborates:
For the “technical” CPG’s out there regarding your curiosity linking turbulence and heat generation, induced from the “stepped” airway. We will need to once again consult Mr. Bernoulli. Basically the Bernoulli principle states that as a fluid flows through the graduated airway of a Peterson system stem (i.e diameter decreases along the length of the stem), the velocity of the fluid (smoke / air) will increase and the pressure will decrease. This is valid for a constant volume of flow. If the temperature of the fluid changes this will result in density changes in the fluid. A density change to the fluid during flow would alter the mass (volume) flow rate. For our pipe smoking, I would tend to believe that when we take a “pull” from the pipe, the volume pulled from the bowl is the same volume delivered to the mouth at the bit. No more, no less. Thus no density change (of a significant nature) to the fluid and no significant temperature change. I’m in agreement with John Schantz, that the “step” would most likely contribute to localized turbulence and the formation of a bit of moisture at this point. I do not think that it would contribute to making the smoke “hotter.” ]
The nickel ferrule has the beloved pre-’63 nickel-mount marks and in the photo a faint bronze tone can be seen. That plus loads of tiny surface “scratches” lead me to believe this cap was perhaps made soon after WWII as the scratches seem to be under the nickel plating and not made by the previous owner(s). The nickel-plating, I theorized, must be fairly light so I didn’t want to buff it on the wheel with white compound for fear of rubbing it off.
To restore the ferrule I went back to what I used before the Foredom buffer and still resort to on occasion: Simicrome, a tube metal polish safe on any metal but made for cyclers. It’s made to be applied with your fingers, let set for a minute or two then buff off. I just use a tissue normally, but this tarnished enough to utilize a light cloth.
As you can see, the nickel had quite a bit of oxidation. I made two applications, and then, wanting to bring up a bit more shine, cautiously went over the ferrule with Fabulustre, an extremely gentle compound made for fine jewelry that Mike Glukler (of www.briarblues.com) told me about many years ago. This is also the only compound I use when buffing over metal stamps, as it won’t buff them off.
This did indeed bring up the shine but without taking off of the nickel.
I inevitably make at least one mistake on a restoration. I thought this time, rather than using my usual Hobby Lobby acrylic white paint, I’d try white nail polish, which someone recently suggested, thinking it might work better. Obviously I didn’t know what I was doing. I let it dry and couldn’t get it off!
With the Hobby Lobby white acrylic, I apply with a toothpick to fill the P, then wipe off the excess after 10 seconds and can pick off what remains on the upper surface of the stem with a finger nail. This nail polish didn’t budge. So–*sob*–goodbye, white impress P and hello, 220 grit sandpaper. Sigh.This time it was a big one: I blew it on the white imprinted “P.” I almost never see the imprint so deeply and clearly made as on this stem. I was sorry to see this go.
(And let me chase a rabbit here and sing the praises of this old-fashioned kind of stamping over the later hot-foil. While hot-foil may look flashy, as often as not it isn’t done well and is often partially misprinted. It’s also easy to remove because it’s more or less just on the surface rather than pressed into the vulcanite or acrylic. Even repeated casual cleaning with a microfiber cloth can have an impact. Buffing is totally out of the question. The old school “press and paint” P is the best. While the paint may fall out in time, if the impression is well made, the impression can be refilled, which I’ve done time and again on estates.)
The day after I finished the pipe I came back and was looking at the stem bend, feeling a little uncertain about it. If you’ve seen the myriad bends on the Patent Systems in the 1896 catalog, you know there wasn’t anything strictly uniform about them, although they all dropped the front rim of the chamber down a bit to lessen the moment arm and felt weight of the pipe while clenching
Still, this bend wasn’t anything I’ve ever seen on a 309 before. It’s just not bent enough. Thinking about it, it wasn’t the “short thumb” Paddy Larrigan advocated and seen on 309s from the 50s through the early 80s. But it wasn’t the “extreme bend” either–the one on the 309 demonstrator seen above. And the little 25 watt refrigerator bulb in my head lit up (any more wattage and my circuitry blow): this needs the extreme bend.
The extreme bend measures 55mm from the tip of the ferrule to where the bend begins and 50mm from the tip of the button to the end of the bend. This operation usually takes me at least two tries to get it right, but this time I seem to have nailed on the first go. The photo above shows the point 50mm from the top of the ferrule where the bend has to being to get the 55mm from the tip of the button to the end of the bend. Notice I put a pipe cleaner through the airway. I’ve never had one collapse on me, but this is a fairly thin stem and I don’t want a crimp in it.
On to the chamber. It had been efficiently and cleanly reamed and looked great, although it smelled faintly like men’s cologne (which sometimes happens with an otherwise fragrance-free pipe that it packed by someone who uses cologne). Still, I did the cotton-ball-and-alcohol overnight soak which pulled out more oils and tars than I thought it would and which left the bowl smelling neutral after the alcohol dried.
One important note: When using Murphy’s, I found out the hard way that you need to be careful to clean all the soap away from the inside of the top rim. Yuck. That’s the taste you’ll get–as I know from the soapy experience of smoking the first two bowls! (The same can also be said of using the Before & After deoxidizer on vulcanite stems. On a recent cleaning of a Deluxe stem, I didn’t get all the goop sufficiently out of the mortise end. Whew. Nasty. Clean it with alcohol before smoking!)
This being a 60+ year old pipe with bare chamber walls and a pipe I’d like to keep and smoke, I applied the half-and-half charcoal / gum arabic bowl coating K&P uses. I’ve gotten quite good at it, applying just the right amount to break in the chamber in 2 or 3 smokes.
Moving on to the stummel rim, I went back to the full-strength Murphy’s Oil soap routine to clean it. After soaking the rim face down on a cotton facial pad, I scrubbed it with another pad, wet it again and then began using a copper wire brush (since it’s a “rustiblast” anyway). The lacquer is really evident around the banged rim, where it’s been chipped off.
There was a lot of gunk on the rim. Estate sellers don’t want to take the time to clean the rim, especially on a rustic or blast—they just run the wheel over it until they get a kind of low sheen and hope you won’t notice. I don’t mind, because as I said earlier some of the clean-up work has been done.
Then I began going over the bowl, again with full-strength Murphy’s rather than alcohol, hoping once again to see if I couldn’t come up with another home-made contrast stain like that on my Dad’s 301. I used the wire brush on the bowl, but not until I’d taped over the smooth stamping area!
You can see all the dents along the obverse of the shank and up the bowl a little, both in the photo above and in the ones at the top. I tried to lift these out with steam, but quickly rethought and left them alone, as I was afraid the steam might also lift the rustication and blast a little.
Those of you from pecan country will recognize the similarity here between paper shell pecans and what’s left of the finish. Like I said in the post on my Dad’s pipe, if I’d used alcohol to remove the lacquer and stain, any chance of a contrast effect would be lost as the alcohol, coming into contact with the stain on the surface of the bowl, would create a uniform muddy wash rather than preserve the chiaroscuro.
Getting the lacquer and the majority of the top coat of red/brown stain off, the black understain remained. To restore the bowl I thought at first I could simply use white compound to bring up the shine. Nope. It didn’t take well on the bare wood. So I stripped that off with isopropyl and went the tried-and-true route: first Halcyon II wax (made for rough finishes) applied with the thumbs and buffed off with a micro fiber rag, then polished with a bristle nail brush to get into all the ridges and crevices. Following that I applied carnauba with the buffer, polished it with a wide finishing wheel, then repeated. The result is what I’ll call a “paper shell pecan contrast” stain.
After a few days, I repeated the Halycon II treatment but didn’t follow it with carnauba, just a buff with a clean wheel. This really intensified the glow.
If nothing else, this was another fun excursion into home-made contrast stains and a welcome addition to my 309 companions. Someday, friends, I hope we’ll see a real System contrast stain release!
Until next time,
Rath Dé ort!
In the Rearview Mirror:
THE 2022 CARROLL OF CARROLLTON
Well, if you didn’t hear about the 2022 Carroll of Carrollton release, there may still be time. I see SPC still has five or six left. The original edition in 2021 was a tremendous success and just drop-dead gorgeous. I didn’t know there would be a 2022 release one until I saw it drop in the SPC June 27th email.
This year’s C of C commemorative (dare I say “July 4th” pipe?) was produced in an edition of 246 pipes, as it’s been 246 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Whether any pipes mere made available in natural or ebony, rusticated I couldn’t say.
I thought it an unfortunate advertising faux pax to place the pipes over a map of Africa, since Carrollton (like many of his day) owned a large number of slaves:
Late in life, Carrollton did have misgivings and stirrings of conscience regarding the incredible wealth he acquired from the slave labor on his plantations. Like all men in situations of power and wealth, however, a simple blanket condemnation of his life belies everything positive he and others among the Founding Fathers who were slave owners did to advance freedom and human rights. “He who is without sin,” right? And that may be the very best reason to acquire and smoke a Carrollton: as a moral and spiritual correlative of our frailty as human beings. As Bach’s lyric has it, “Thus think, and smoke tobacco.”
In any case, the new Carrollton commemorative continues K&P’s work with the “demi-warden” or short churchwarden pipes. The bowl chosen, the 124, is a classic (and considerably larger than last year’s tiny Belgique bowl), going back to the 1945 Specialty Collection churchwarden that would be used by Jeremy Brett in his depiction of Sherlock Holmes for Granada TV. . . . and before you ask, there doesn’t seem to be any interest on K&P’s part in producing a special Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes commemorative–so just keep looking on eBay. The unmounted 124 churchwardens do come up two or three times a year.