Discovering the Origins of a French Echt Lacroix S.A. Erikson 185 Flame Grain Billiard

I purchased the Lacroix S.A. Erikson at an antique shop on the walking street in Burgas, Bulgaria, during the summer of 2017.  My wife and I had gone to the Black Sea coast and were enjoying our summer holidays. The little copper pot on the stack of books contained a gaggle of pipes waiting for my perusal.  I purchased 7 pipes from the shop owner, Kaloyan, who was a stranger when I walked into the shop, but in true Bulgarian fashion, we were best of friends as I left with 7 more pipes to add to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY!’ online collection benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. Rob is from the Detroit area of Michigan, and he reached out to me after seeing the Echt Lacroix SA Erikson in the Dreamers section.  I responded to him that the nomenclature was not a name that I was familiar with, and I looked forward to doing the research.  When I got the pipe out of the ‘Help Me Basket!’ and took a closer look, it struck me as a solid Billiard shape with very attractive grain.

Through our communications, I found out that he had seen my work in one of the online pipe groups, but because my work helped the Daughters of Bulgaria, that “hit a soft spot” with him.  I found out he and his wife help to support an anti-trafficking / sex trade organization in Detroit (also in Indianapolis and Austin) that is called All Worthy of Love.  I checked out the website and resonated with the information conveyed that reminded me of our work in Bulgaria with the Daughters of Bulgaria.  I appreciate the work that folks like this are doing and I’m glad that Rob desires to help the Daughters through commissioning a pipe from The Pipe Steward.  Thanks, Rob! Here are some pictures of the Lacroix Erikson Billiard that whispered Rob’s name. The nomenclature on the shank is clear and crisp.  The left shank flank is stamped beginning with a flourished ‘E’ and written in cursive, ‘Echt’ [over] LACROIX S.A.  The underscore of the ‘L’ under the entire name is cool.  The right side of the shank is stamped with a bold, ERIKSON [over] FINE BRUYERE.  The shape number, ‘185’ is stamped on the underside of the shank next to the shank facing.  One more marking to account for.  The stem is stamped on the top with a ring reminiscient of Yello-Bole’s stem marking. As I had written to Rob, I was not familiar with the Echt Lacroix S.A. Erikson name.  Right from the outset, the nomenclature presented some confusion.  I wasn’t sure of the COM at first.  Lacroix seems to be French, but Erikson is most likely Danish.  I didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘Echt’ so I looked it up on Google Translate for a quick rendering.  I discovered that ‘Echt’ was Dutch according to Google Translate and translated as ‘Genuine’.  I wasn’t sure what ‘S.A.’ signified either.

I take my superficial confusion to Pipedia and find for certain that Lacroix is most certainly a French name from St. Claude.  Here is the information from Pipedia’s Lacroix article:

Lacroix Pipes have a rich history of pipe making tradition and the brand was started in 1962. Eugine Lacroix began making pipes for the Delacour factory in the 19th century; his sons founded their own factory in 1921.

Two of the grandsons (including Jean) continued on in the business, but parted ways and struck out on their own in 1962. At that time, Jean set up Jean Lacroix pipes, coincidentally in the old Delacour building his grandfather started in 85 years prior. Today, Jean Lacroix, Chacom, Jeantet, and Vuillard are all pieces of the larger Cuty-Fort Enterprises, and Jean is actively involved with the prestigious Confrérie des maîtres-pipiers de Saint-Claude. Jean still makes pipes; his spectacular freehands are known throughout the world. The model named “Nizza” De Luxe is made by him with scripted stamp showing his name (hard to read!). Jean Lacroix sometimes marked Maitre Pipier a Saint-Claude.

When I first read this article, I was again confused by the first paragraph which states that the brand was started in 1962 but then describes ‘his sons’ founding their own factory in 1921 – that didn’t make sense.  I reminded me of a zany song that I heard some years back, ‘I Am My Own Grandpa’!  I kept reading and discovered that what was dated in the beginning was actually referring to the ‘grandsons’ who parted ways in 1962 starting their own enterprises.  Jean, one of the grandsons, set up ‘Jean Lacroix Pipes’ which eventually became part of the ‘Cuty-Fort Enterprises in 1988 (see: The A. Lacroix factory) which included the names, Chacom, Jeantet, and Vuillard.

Pipedia also has a small article dedicated to, ‘A. Lacroix SARL’ that turns out to be the other ‘grandson’ who parted ways in 1962 who isn’t mentioned in the former Lacroix article I reference above.  Here is the ‘A. Lacroix’ article:

French company from Saint-Claude, dating back to 1880. Andre Lacroix, the current owner, is the third generation of his family in the business.

In 1925, the factory launched the La Belote brand, named after the popular French card game, which sold successfully for over 20 years. Between 1935 and 1940, 35 workers were employed there but, by the end of the century, only 8 remained. The company shop is in Saint-Claude. See Lacroix.

What I glean from the information to this pont is: the two grandsons who began together in 1921 by founding their own factory – Jean and Andre, parted in 1962 with each seeming to take the Lacroix name as their own….

My next stop sheds additional light on the Lacroix brothers with more of the history described at Pipephil.eu.  The Pipephil site has an extensive panel devoted to ‘A. Lacroix’ which I’ve clipped: Pipephil also reports that in 1981, Gérard Lacroix, son of Andre’, took over running the business and in 2009, Gérard retires and gives Gaël Coulon the right to use the “A. Lacroix” name.

The question I have at this juncture is regarding the Lacroix on the worktable:  From which Lacroix lineage does it come?  As I see it, there are thee possibilities:

  1. Joint brother Lacroix (pre-1962)
  2. Jean Lacroix path (1962 to current)
  3. Andre Lacroix path (1962 to 2009)

Looking at the panel above, the “Lacroix SA” stamping seen on the first pipe would indicate that the pipe on my worktable is from the A. Lacroix line which would date it probably between 1962 and 2009.  I discovered in the Pipephil article that ‘S.A.’ (Société Anonyme) is the French equivalent of ‘Limited Co.’ (UK) or ‘Incorporated Co.’ (US).  However, there remain questions: 1) The ‘L’ underscore in the A. Lacroix panel only underscores the ‘La’ not the entire name as with the pipe on the worktable.  2) The other question is in regard to the stem logos?  The stem logos that are given as examples – the star and cursive L, don’t match the Lacroix on the worktable.  These Pipephil examples may not be exhaustive but the stem with the Yello-Bole ring does not match.  I do a survey of the collection of stem logos in Pipephil and I find that there are no listings of Lacroix having a ‘ring’, ‘filled ring’ or ‘Target’ as a stem logo – the listings that are similar.

In my research I found no definitive example of what a pre-1962 example of a Lacroix pipe looked like, nomenclature or stem logo.  When ‘Lacroix’ is looked up in Pipephil.eu, the ‘Lacroix’ panel simply says, ‘Lacroix’, but actually, it is devoted to the Jean Lacroix line not Andre’s line.  Here is the panel: Jean Lacroix is a respected pipe artisan himself and is known for his Freehands (Nizza Line).  The nomenclatures of his pipes seem to be more complex with Jean’s signature, initials as the stem logos and lines descriptive of his achievements (Maitre Pipier) – while not conclusive, discourages me from proposing that the pipe on my worktable is of the Jean Lacroix line.

In addition to this, the quandary with the ring stem logo showing up nowhere in the research and the question of why a Danish name, ‘Erikson’ is the pipe line – leaves me perplexed.  I decide to expand my search to Dr. Google and simply look for pipes with the same nomenclature – Lacroix S.A., Erikson and see what I find.  This is equivalent to a ‘Hail Mary’ in research!  Yet, I found at least one other pipe in the world that met my criteria and confirmed the rogue logo to be a Lacroix stem logo.

I came upon the Penn Valley Pipes website (See: LINK) that was selling an attractive Square Shank Panel that was billed as an “Erikson Super Lacroix Panel”.  The text describing the pipe raised an interesting question regarding the dating of the Lacroix for sale:  Vintage Erikson Lacroix Panel pipe. A brand new old pipe. Not an estate or presmoked pipe. This French-made briar pipe was produced in the 1950s and acquired along with a large number of vintage unsmoked pipes by our man in Europe.

The picture of the ‘claimed to be’ 1950s Lacroix Panel followed.  To my amazement, the stem logo on the Panel matched the Lacroix on my worktable as did the ‘Echt Lacroix S.A.’ with the ‘L’ underscoring the entire name, and it belonging to the Erikson line.  It is very possible that this pipe, claimed to be from the 1950s, is an example of a pre-1962 Lacroix before Jean and Andre parted ways.  The ring stem logo doesn’t show up in any of the post-1962 examples of the examples that I found of either Jean or Andre Lacroix in Pipedia or Pipephil.  It is possible and seems to be probable based on what I’ve seen that the Lacroix on the worktable is an example of the pre-1962 Lacroix production before Jean and Andre went in different ways. With a better appreciation of the pipe on the worktable I take a closer look at its condition.  The grain on this pipe is a vertical, slightly diagonal flame grain with bird’s eye grain populating the heel and most likely, if it could be seen, the rim. The chamber has moderate cake build up with lava flowing over the rim.  The stem shows oxidation, and the bit and button are chewed well with tooth chatter. The lower bit has a deep bite that will need attention.  The stem will receive a 6mm filter or air restrictor.  Another issue I see is a chip on the shank facing which seems to be keeping the stem from properly seating in the shank.  After the general cleaning I’ll check this fitting again. The pictures show what I’m seeing. To begin the restoration of the Echt Lacroix S.A. Erikson, I start on the stem.  A few more pictures of the upper and lower bit show the chatter damage to the upper and the bite on the lower.  The stem has oxidation and calcium deposits on the bit from saliva.  To get a jump start on the oxidation and calcium, 00 grade steel wool is used with alcohol to scrub the vulcanite stem.  This is followed by cleaning the airway with pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 99%. Next, the stem is placed in Briarville’s ‘Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover’ through the night to work on raising the oxidation. The next day, the stem is fished out of the Oxidation Remover and rubbed briskly with a cotton cloth to remove the raised oxidation.  The Oxidation Remover did a stand-up job.  To clear the airway of the Oxidation Remover, a single pipe cleaner wetted with isopropyl 99% does the job. To help condition the vulcanite stem, paraffin oil is applied and it is put to the side for the oil to be absorbed. The stummel is next on the worktable.  After taking a few pictures to get a closer look at the chamber and rim, the reaming begins to remove the moderate carbon cake buildup. The reaming is done by utilizing 2 of the 4 blade heads from the Pipnet Reaming Kit. The reaming is followed with the Savinelli Fitsall Tool which continues to scrape the chamber wall removing harder to reach cake deposits.  The Tool reaches down to the floor of the chamber and does a great job. After wrapping 240 grade sanding paper around a Sharpie Pen, the chamber is then sanded removing more carbon and cleaning the chamber wall. The full arsenal of reaming tools is pictured which extracted a large pile of carbon cake. After wiping the chamber, a quick inspection shows that the chamber briar is healthy – moving on. Next, the external cleaning of the stummel commences with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a cotton pad.  The cotton pad scrubs the briar surface.  The rim’s lava flow removal is helped by my fingernail as well as the brass brush that does a good job gently removing the crusted lava without damage to the briar. The stummel is then taken to the sink with long shank brushes which help to begin the cleaning of the internals.  Using hot water and anti-oil liquid dishwashing soap, the mortise and airway are scrubbed with the shank brushes.  After thoroughly rinsing the stummel, it comes back to the worktable.  I’m pleased with the cleaning and the condition of the stummel’s finish looks to be in good shape. Continuing the internal cleaning, cotton buds and pipe cleaners are wetted with isopropyl 99% to do the job. The use of a small dental spoon helps the process immensely.  The spoon is used to reach into the mortise and scrape the crud off the mortise walls.  After a time, one becomes intimate with the internal drilling and the ridges created.  The spoon focusses a lot on the internal ridges circling the cavity to dislodge the tars and oils that get stuck there and the cotton buds miss. The cycle of this cleaning rotates between the spoon that stirs things up and the cotton buds and pipe cleaners that clean things out.  After expending a lot of buds and pipe cleaners, they begin to emerge much lighter, so I call this phase completed. Next, I return to the issue of the tenon seating properly into the mortise.  Earlier, I had observed that it appeared that a chip on the shank facing was hindering the flush union between shank and stem – there remained a gap.  The earlier picture shows what I observed. After the cleaning, I want to take another look.  As often is the case after a thorough cleaning, the briar in the mortise expands because of the moisture absorption.  As I try to mount the stem, I get this far and it’s too tight for comfort.  Adding a shank crack repair to this project is not what I have in mind! To remedy this, a piece of 240 grade sanding paper is wrapped around the tenon.  While pinching and holding the paper stationary, the stem is rotated to create the sanding abrasion. With several rotations and after a few tests, the stem is seated in the shank.  The picture below shows a dent in the shank facing which at this point is not hindering the stem from seating in the shank, but it isn’t pretty. A picture looking at the shank facing shows very rough, skinned briar on the upper part of the facing that has the dent.  The issue is not as simple to solve as one would initially think.  To sand the rough area could increase the gap so that it would be smoothed, but the shank facing, and stem would still not be flush.  To sand the area would necessitate sanding the entire shank facing like topping the rim.  Another option is explored.  I have a container full of brass rings and caps.  Simply to cover the shank with a ring or shank cap would hide the damaged area and create a flush seating. I found a possible candidate, but the problem is that it covers the shape number that runs parallel to the shank facing on the lower side of the shank.  I look to see if I could find a narrower ring but was not successful. I decide to ‘top’ the shank facing in the end.  Not doing this right can create some problems if the topping is not perfectly level.  To lean to one side or the other will leave a stem not seating with a flush junction.  I use 600 grade paper on the chopping board.  The key is patience – as with much of pipe restoration.  Instead of rotating the shank facing over the paper, I elect to ‘pull’ the shank over the paper in a straight, 2-to-3-inch line.  Doing it like this feels more stable to me.  I start by firmly planting the shank facing on the topper, making sure it is flush against the paper.  Then I drag the shank over the paper – not tipping but keeping it level. I look at the shank facing after each cycle of dragging and these sample pictures chronicle the patient process. I stop with this picture below.  There is still a small roughness on the top of the rim, but the gap has been removed nicely while keeping the shank topping level. The seating looks great and if I hadn’t told you about the dent, you wouldn’t be able to see it now! Moving on. Next, I turn my attention to the stem.  The bit is in rough shape from tooth and biting damage.  The upper bit has significant chatter and a compressed lip on the right side of the button.  The lower bit has two deep clenching compressions which most likely formed from the former steward using the Lacroix with hands free.  Pictures are taken of the upper and lower bit.  The first step to repairing the bit is using the heating method.  The bit, upper and lower, is painted with the flame of a Bic lighter.  As the vulcanite rubber heats, the physics causes the rubber to expand reclaiming its original shape – or to some degree.

After applying the flame several times, ‘after’ pictures are taken to compare.  I would say that the heating method helped some, but the button still needs to be repaired and the two compressions on the lower side need filling with a patch.  The upper bit may be rectified with sanding only. We’ll see.

The upper button lip: The upper bit: The lower bit: To begin the repairs on the bit, the area is cleaned with a cotton pad and alcohol. Using black CA glue, a drop of glue is placed on the button lip and the small compression on the upper bit.  To keep the glue patches in place and to quicken the curing time, the patches are sprayed with an accelerator. The same is done for the lower bit compressions.  The stem is put aside for a time to make sure the patches are thoroughly cured. Turning back to the stummel, I’m stoked about the grain on this block of briar!  To erase the minor cuts and dents from wear, the stummel is sanded with micromesh pads. Wet sanding starts the process using pads 1500 to 2400.  This is followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  The grain emerges beautifully through the micromesh process. At this juncture, to tease out the hues of the natural briar, Mark Hoover’s Restoration Balm is the product that I like.  Putting a little of the Balm on my finger, the Balm is then worked into the briar.  The Balm begins as a cream-like consistency and then thickens as it’s worked.  The Prince to the right in the wings benefits from the Balm left on my fingers.  There’s enough to give one of my guys some of this liquid gold.  After applying the Balm thoroughly, the Lacroix is put aside for 15 or so minutes for the Balm to do its work. After the time is complete, a microfiber cloth dedicated to removing the Restoration Balm wipes/buffs the excess Balm.  I like what I’m seeing. The patches on the bit and button of the stem are fully cured.  A flat needle file is used to first file the slot facing to remove the excess patch material from the button patch and to assure the slot facing is flat. Next, the upper button lip patch is filed down and shaped.  The small bite patch on the upper bit is also filed until flush with the stem surface.  The same is done with the lower bit with the two large bite compression patches. After the filing, 240 grade sanding paper is used to remove the larger filing scratches and to further smooth the patches and shape the button repair – upper and lower. The sanding is now expanded to the entire stem.  The shoulder guard disk I made works well pinched between the stem and stummel.  The flat guard keeps the sanding from rounding the edge of the stem keeping it sharp and cornered. Throughout the sanding, the Lacroix ring stem logo is mindfully avoided.After the 240 sanding, the stem is wet sanded with 600 grade paper, and this is followed by applying 0000 grade steel wool. Moving next to the micromesh cycles, it starts by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400.  This is followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Between each set of three pads, Obsidian Oil is applied to condition the vulcanite and to protect against oxidation. With the stem brought up to speed, it is reunited with the stummel. Next is the application of Blue Diamond compound to the stem and stummel.  With another cotton cloth buffing wheel mounted on the rotary tool, with the speed set at about 40% full power, and Blue Diamond is applied to stem and stummel.  After applying the compound, a felt cloth is used to wipe away the compound dust in preparation for applying the wax. Before applying the wax, there is one other project to attend to.  The Lacroix stem logo ring, which I believe may be an example of the pre-1962 Lacroix brothers production, is bare and needs attention. I did not recall seeing an example of the same Lacroix Erikson line that showed the logo with color.  Returning to Dr. Google, the same website, Penn Valley Pipes, which I had visited before (see: LINK) provided the example I was seeking.  I could have guessed that the ring was white, but this confirms it. I begin the facelift by applying a drop of white acrylic paint over the ring logo. Next, the paint is daubed with a cotton pad to absorb the excess paint and to speed the drying. Next, using the side of the shaft of a pointed cotton bud, the excess paint is scraped off.  I then use the cotton point to fine tune the logo.  It looks great.  Moving on. After mounting another cotton cloth buffing wheel onto the rotary tool with the speed remaining at about 40%, carnauba wax is applied to stem and stummel.  After application of the wax, using a microfiber cloth, the pipe is given a rigorous hand buffing to remove excess wax and to raise the shine. The research on this Lacroix was interesting and helped to better understand the history of the Lacroix name and the specific provenance of this Echt Lacroix S.A. Erikson 185.  Based upon this research, it is probable that this pipe is 1950s/early 60s vintage.  The vertical flame grain is beautifully positioned around the bowl and as one would expect, the side perspective of the flame grain renders an array of bird’s eye pattern on the rim, heel, and upper and lower shank.  The lines of the Billiard are classic, and this Lacroix Erikson will be a workhorse for a new steward for years to come.  Pipe man Rob, from the Detroit, Michigan, area commissioned this pipe and as the commissioner has the first opportunity to claim the Lacroix from The Pipe Steward Store.  This purchase benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

 

 

2 thoughts on “Discovering the Origins of a French Echt Lacroix S.A. Erikson 185 Flame Grain Billiard

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