A Christmas Pipe for Me – A 1920s Champion Made in France House Pipe

My son, Josiah gifted this pipe to me Christmas of 2018.  He was in St. Louis working on his master’s degree and happened upon a lot of 26 pipes in an antique store nearby where he lived.  He knew that I’m always looking for pipe deals to help benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria – a work helping women and girls who had been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Josiah saw a bunch of good pipes in the batch and sent a text to me in Bulgaria with pictures and this proposal – that he would split the cost of purchasing the Lot of 26 on the condition that I would pick one from the Lot that would be his gift to me for Christmas.  That year our family gathered in Denver to celebrate Christ’s birth, and my wife and I flew from Bulgaria to join them.  A gift-wrapped box was under the tree with my name on it.  After unwrapping it I was amazed at the quality of pipes that Josiah had landed!   The pipes were arranged on the carpet and the picture below recorded the treasures of the Lot of 26. I chose the goliath ‘House Pipe’ overshadowing all of the other ‘normal’ sized pipes.  A Christmas gift that I haven’t forgotten! The rest made their way to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY!’ collection where many pipe men and women have commissioned benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria. As it happens, the ‘House Pipe’ went into my personal ‘Help Me!’ basket and has been there waiting for attention.  For the longest time I called the Champion a Churchwarden primarily because of the length of the stem, but I was never settled with that designation.  Usually, Churchwardens have characteristically smaller bowls mounted onto the long stems.  This guy is an unbelievable gratuitous handful of briar.  I got the ruler out and measured:  The length from bowl to bent stem tip is 10 3/4 inches.  The bowl height is 2 1/4 inches, rim width 1 1/4 inches, chamber width 7/8 inches, and the chamber depth is a roomy 2 inches.  Curious, I used a pipe cleaner to measure the straightened length – 11 1/4 inches; nearly a foot long pipe.

Not sure about the Churchwarden designation, I sent a note to Steve with a picture wondering what he would call this giant.  His note came back quickly:  I have had few of those over the years. Some were Wellingtons some were Yello Bole KBB. They called them House Pipes.

That was a new one for me.  I had never heard of a ‘House Pipe’ before.  I was surprised to find an article in Pipedia called, ‘A Closer look at the Peterson House Pipes’.  I was interested to see that Peterson put out a whole line of what they call ‘House Pipes’.  Jim Lilly, the author of the article described the provenance of the ‘House Pipe’ in the first few lines:

Another popular Peterson system pipe variant is the huge House Pipe. I believe the term house pipe, has come from the fact that they are just too big to carry around and too heavy to hold in one’s mouth. The pipes are so large that you’ll want to smoke them at home, settled into a comfortable chair for a very long session with a good book! I remember seeing them referred to as ‘systems on steroids’!

What could be a better description for a Christmas pipe!  With this year’s Christmas celebrations before us, I decided that the pipe had waited long enough and that Josiah’s investment in my pipe happiness was not wasted 😊.  Here are pictures of the French made Champion on the worktable that I took a few years ago: The nomenclature is stamped on the shank’s left side in a fancy cursive, ‘Champion’ with the long tail underscoring the name.  Below this is the COM: MADE IN FRANCE. The nickel band is stamped with an ‘EP’ ensconced in a flattened diamond.  Over the ‘EP’ are stamped what I believe are faux lettering simply for decorative purposes. Figuring out the provenance of this French made Champion House Pipe has taken me down some rabbit trails.  The cause of the rabbit activity was due to the ‘EP’ stamped in the band in the picture above.  I did a restoration a few years ago (See: Discovering the History with the Reclamation of this Petite EPC Majestic Bent Horn Stem Billiard) that led me on an interesting research trail which unearthed a Parisian pipe manufacturer that produced pipes from the 1800s but disappeared into oblivion during WW2.  I was honored that this research was received into Pipedia’s trove of information: A. Pandevant & Roy Co..  The registered trademarks of the A. Pandevant & Roy Co., included the following: E.P.C., Majestic, and E.P.  The EP on the Champion’s band led me to think that perhaps this pipe might also be a product of this French pipe manufacturer, but this proved not to be the case.  The EP on the band is a common stamping indicating that the metal was produced by a process invented in the early 1800s, electroplating (See: Wiki – Electroplating).

This was confirmed to me when I reached out to Steve regarding any knowledge that he might have of a French ‘Champion’ nomenclature since the Pandevant ‘EP’ origin was now officially a rabbit trail.  I had already checked the usual sources, Pipedia, Pipephil, and my prized copy of, ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ by Wilczak and Colwell.  I had found the name ‘Champion’ in these sources, but nothing that had a French origin, but Steve’s note said that there was a French connection to a Swiss company that made pipes stamped with ‘Champion’.

Dal

I have worked on several Champion pipes and found a tie to a Swiss company. Here are two links

https://rebornpipes.com/2020/11/27/new-life-for-a-chunky-rusticated-champion-giant-%c2%be-bent-billiard/

https://rebornpipes.com/2020/11/27/new-life-for-a-chunky-rusticated-champion-giant-billiard/

The pipes were both well-made and interestingly though Swiss made had France stamped on the shank end. Give them a read if you want.  As for the EP stamp on the band I am fairly certain it is for Electro-plated. The marks are faux hallmarks and really have no meaning.

S

I looked at both of the writeups that Steve’s links took me to.  The Swiss Champion referenced in both articles I had already seen in Pipephil (See: Pipephil – Champion).  I had dismissed this source earlier because of the Swiss origin, yet the pipes Steve had worked on matched the stem logo, etc., but were stamped with a COM of France.  This was interesting.What didn’t sit right with me were the lack of similar stem logos or a similar nomenclature comparing my Champion House Pipe and the examples of the Swiss/French Champion.   Another factor in my uneasiness with the Swiss/French Champion connection was the apparent age of my Champion on the worktable.  The size and style of the pipe says ‘age’ to me.  It has that feel.  Another age factor is the orific stem.  In my research over the years, I’ve come to understand that the ‘O’ airway gradually was replaced by today’s slotted stem during the 1920s.  Based upon this, I’ve been thinking that the Champion House Pipe should have an early 1900s dating. Not fully ready to stop the research searching for a French pipe maker that was producing ‘Champions’ in the early 1900s I decided to go back and look at Pipedia for more clues and I again opened my prized copy of ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ by Wilczak and Colwell and look up ‘Champion’ once more.  Well, blame it on my vintage age, blame it on lateness of the hour, or blame it on COVID, but this time looking at ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ resulted in a breakthrough!  There WAS a French manufacturer producing a ‘Champion’: Ruchon & Verguet 1924. At this point a warning is in order – diving into the mysterious world of French/English pipedom can be hazardous to one’s health!  When I went to Pipedia with search parameters of ‘Ruchon & Verguet’ I was surprised by what I found.  Listings for GBD, Oppenheimer Pipe, and Dr. Plumb’s came up – each a very well-known entity.

From all the reading I did about Ruchon and Verguet with a great desire to simplify and be as succinct as possible, here’s my unapologetic abbreviation!  Ruchon (and Marechel) was the owner of GBD until it was sold to the Oppenheimer Group in 1902 (See: Oppenheimer article).  The Oppenheimer Group is, simply stated, a French/English corporate ‘bag’ holding several different pipe names and manufacturers together as a management and investment umbrella.  Oppenheimer (and later the Cadogan group) needed ‘pipe men’ to run things because they were familiar with the pipe manufacturing side of things.  After GBD went into the ‘bag’, Ruchon and Marechal lead the French production of the GBD factory in Paris where Ruchon was the CEO (See: Pipedia GBD article).

When Herb Wilczak and Tom Colwell in ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ reference ‘Ruchon & Verguet’ as a producer of ‘Champion’ it would seem that with Ruchon being mentioned, it can almost be synonymous with GBD pipes within the Oppenheimer French-sided universe.  I haven’t forgotten that Wilczak and Colwell also included ‘Verguet’ in the equation.  This emerges in the Pipedia GBD article:

At the same time when the negotiations with GBD started, Oppenheimer also acquired two pipe factories in Saint-Claude: Sina & Cie. and C.J. Verguet Freres. Merging them, a huge plant came into being that was thoroughly reconstructed and reorganized. The management was headed by Lucien Verguet. This new Saint-Claude factory was ready to operate in 1906.

This section goes on to describe the continued development of a symbiotic economic/production relationship between the English and the French entities producing different components (Saint-Claude produced bowls) of the pipe and shipped them to either the Paris or London factories of GBD.  The effects of WW1 on the industry is also described in the article.  Most important for the research on the Champion House Pipe, Verguet comes into the picture as the main pipe manufacturer for GBD (and the Oppenheimer Group) based in Saint-Claude.

I wish I had in my possession the source that Wilczak and Colwell had in hand when they referenced the specific year of 1924 in the context of ‘Ruchon & Verguet’.  Did they have an old flyer or GBD catalog that listed mainline pipes but also seconds or sub-brands put out by the Oppenheimer Group – a publication that listed the Champion House Pipe?  I don’t have that conclusive piece of information, but the Pipedia GBD article continues to give clues.  Moving closer to the 1920s which helps to put the Wilczak and Colwell 1924 in historical context:

 After the war [WW1 ended in 1918], GBD continued production both in London and in Paris. London GBDs mainly went into the national trade and as well into the British Empire and the USA. Paris on the other hand served the French and the other European markets. The location of the factories influenced the GBD history furthermore in the future although later on the products of both countries occasionally were marketed side to side to match special market requests.

Going into the 20’s, GBD branded pipes were in greater demand both in the English as well as the French targeted markets.  The article also goes on to say: The solid demand for GBD pipes also encouraged the management to introduce a number of sub brands designed to win new buyers.  Again, ‘Champion’ is not listed in the list that includes, City de Luxe, Marcee, Camelia, Riseagle and Dr. Plumb’s.  I conclude with this statement from the Pipedia GBD article:

Not only today numberless brands are made in Saint-Claude and stamped with whatever the buyer wants to be stamped…

And so, my research will end here as well.  While still searching for the ‘smoking gun’ Oppenheimer or GBD catalog or flyer that will conclusively  answer the question, I believe that the Champion Made in France House Pipe that Josiah landed in St. Louis, is most likely a sub-brand of GBD or within the Oppenheimer Group, produced in the 1920s (1924 – Wilczak & Colwell?) in Saint-Claude or Paris – maybe it is more likely in Paris with the general ‘Made in France’ COM rather than the more specific ‘Saint-Claude’ which is found most often on pipes manufactured in Saint-Claude.  I will continue looking for the smoking gun!

With a deeper appreciation for the ‘Ruchon & Verguet’ Champion House Pipe on the worktable, I take a closer look at the issues it has.  The chamber has light carbon buildup with some thicker lava flow on the rim, mainly on the back side. The stummel is a large piece of briar with some horizontal grain sweeping the forward section and bird’s eye on the lower right quadrant.  As one would expect, there are scratches, dents and some divots in the briar.What I notice too, is the shiney finish on the stummel.  I wouldn’t call it shellac, but there is a shiney film that to me, obscures the natural grain which I like to see.  I hope that cleaning will help drill down to the natural briar.The long sweeping bent stem has some mass to it – it’s not a slender cut.  I found that taking pictures of the black stem shows the issues better.  There is a general drab greenish hue that indicates oxidation in the stem.  There are scratches throughout the reach of the stem that will be removed with sanding.The upper- and lower-bit show tooth chatter and scratching.The orific button on the stem is an indication of some age.  Slotted buttons began to dominate the stem landscape in the 1920s.  This is one of the characteristics that points to a early dating for this House Pipe.   There is a deeper scratch on the upper button over the rounded air hole. To recommission the House Pipe, the first step is to clean the stem.  Using pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 99% the airway is cleaned along with help from long shank brushes.To help remove the deeper subtle oxidation Briarville’s Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover is used.  The stem obviously does not fit in the Briarville bottle, so improvisation with tipping a plastic sushi container a bit works well enough.  In order to cover as much as the stem as possible, the container is hoisted up on a wood block to deepen the pool.  The entire stem except for the far end – the bit is sticking out. After several hours of soaking, I clean the soaked part and then resubmerge the bit end for its turn soaking. With the stem continuing its soak, I begin the cleaning process of the stummel.  The nickel band is easily removed and put to the side.  To remove the light cake, the bowl is reamed with 3 of the 4 blade heads then scraped further with the Savinelli Fitsall Tool.  The chamber walls are next sanded with 240 paper around a Sharpie Pen to further clean the briar surface. After wiping the chamber, an inspection reveals very healthy briar.Moving next to cleaning the external briar, a few starting pictures are taken to show the starting point. Using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a cotton pad the bowl is scrubbed.  The lava flow on the rim is stubborn.  A pocketknife edge is carefully used to scrape the rim surface to break up the crusting.  This is followed by using a brass brush which helps in the cleaning without harming the briar.Next the stummel is transferred to the sink where using hot water, the internals are scrubbed with shank brushes and anti-oil dish washing soap.  After a thorough rinsing the stummel returns to the worktable. Next, the cleaning continues with the internal briar.  Pipe cleaners and cotton buds wetted with isopropyl 99%, the mortise and airway are scrubbed.  A small dental spoon is used to scrape the mortise, but there is little scraped.  Not with too much effort, the pipe cleaners and buds begin to lighten.With the basic cleaning completed except for the soak, I look over the external surface to see how the cleaning did.  I like the patina of this briar.  The glossy old finish has been removed and the rim look great. There is one pit on the forward left side of the bowl that needs to be filled.A small drop of regular clear CA glue is used to fill the pit then briar dust is sprinkled over the patch to help with blending.  To allow the patch to cure, the stummel is put aside.The long-bent stem has been soaking in the Briarville Oxidation Remover.  The stem was so long that I needed to soak it in two phases because the bit was not fully submerged.  Phase one had the entire shank-side of the stem submerged.  After a few hours, the stem was fished out and that end was rigorously wiped/rubbed with a cotton cloth to remove the raised oxidation.  The stem was then placed back into the soak with the bit-side of the stem submerged.  After some hours, the stem was again retrieved from the soak and given a vigorous rubbing with a cotton cloth.  The results are good. A few pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 99% reach into each end of the stem to clear away the Briarville fluid.  Then, paraffin oil was applied to the vulcanite to help in reconditioning the stem.After the patch on the stummel cures, the patch mound is filed down to the briar surface with a flat needle file,  This is followed by sanding with 240 and then 600 grade papers.  It looks good!Continuing with the stummel sanding, micromesh pads are used starting with wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400.  This is followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Through the first set of three, care is given to avoid sanding the Champion nomenclature.  This is the first time I’ve given more attention to the briar grain as it emerges during the micromesh process.  My, it is a nice block of briar!At this point in the process, if I were considering applying a dye to the stummel, it would be now.  However, the natural briar patina on this almost 100 years ago House Pipe, is gorgeous – he needs no help from a dye.  What I do decide to do next is to apply Mark Hoover’s, ‘Before & After Restoration Balm’ (Lbepen.com).  This Balm works very well nicely to bring out the natural beauty of the briar hues.  It is applied with some of the Balm on my fingers and then worked thoroughly into the surface.  After this, the stummel is set aside for about 15 minutes to allow the Balm to be absorbed. After several minutes, a microfiber specially dedicated to removing excess Balm and buffing, is used on the Champion stummel.  Wow!  I love it, but…While I was admiring the briar grain, I see a dent that wasn’t there before.  Then I remembered – during the final pads of the micromesh sanding process when the stummel becomes slippery, the stummel popped out of my hand and flew hitting the leg of the desk next to the worktable – where the computer sits.  I did a cursory look and saw no adverse effects from the jettisoned stummel.  However, after the microfiber buff, I see it now.  Bummer.The injury to the briar is a sharp dent.  A method that is often very useful in situations like this where there is a traumatic compression of the briar is to use a hot iron and a cotton cloth that has been moistened with water.  The iron is heated so that it makes steam.  When it is hot enough, the wetted cloth is placed over the dent and then the hot iron presses the wet cloth and against the compression with the point of the iron.  As a wood, briar is actually a porous material that is like a sponge but denser.  When the iron super heats the moister in the cloth pressing against the dent, this ‘steams’ the damaged area forcing the moisture into the wood.  This expands the wood helping to erase the trauma. After the iron is applied a few times and there is a sizzling of the steaming moisture I inspect the sharp dent.  It takes a moment to find, but the method did the trick.  If I look closely, I can still see the trauma line, but it is now much reduced.The procedure also lightens the area that was super-heated and steamed.  To make sure the dent has been reduced as much as possible without using sanding paper, I run the set of 9 micromesh pads over the area and then buff it with the Restoration Balm micromesh cloth to again bring out the briar hues.  Moving on.Switching next to the stem, a few new pictures are taken to show the condition.  The orific button has a bite compression on the top as well as a dent over the top toward the air hole. The lower bit has some tooth chatter, and there are nicks on the stem.  The vulcanite is rough over the entire stem and will need to be sanded.To fill the tooth compression on the upper lip of the orific button, black CA glue is applied to the compression with the help of a toothpick to increase the precision.After the patch has cured, a flat needle file removes the excess patch material and shapes the button.Next, 240 sanding paper continues to shape and smooth the button as well as removing tooth chatter from the upper and lower bit.A picture capturing the entire length of this stem is like taking a picture at 30,000 feet!  The sanding expands to the entire stem to remove the roughness in the vulcanite. Next, the stem is wet sanded using 600 grade paper and then 0000 grade steel wool is applied.The following pictures Look at closer views of the upper then lower button and bit to show the progress.The sanding is continued next with micromesh pads by starting with 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 3 pads, the vulcanite stem is conditioned with Obsidian Oil which protects the stem from oxidation.A few closeups pictures of the upper and lower bit are taken to show the progress.The orific button is also looking very nice!After reuniting stem and stummel, minus the nickel band, the rotary tool is mounted with a cotton cloth buffing wheel designated for applying Blue Diamond compound.  With the speed set at 40%, Blue Diamond compound is next applied to the entire pipe – stem and stummel.The compound leaves behind a lot of dust on the surface of the stem and stummel.  A felt cloth is used to wipe off the dust preparing it for waxing.Before applying the wax, one project awaits action.  The nickel band that is marked EP for electroplating with decorative faux lettering needs some cleaning.  The metal is dull and rough and needs some blingness!The first step is to see what Tarn-X will do, a product that I’ve used on metals that has done very well.  The Tarn-X is applied and rubbed over the nickel with a cotton pad and quickly rinsed with tap water.  It cleans the surface, but I was hoping for a bit more pop.The next step is to mount a cotton cloth wheel dedicated to the application of Blue Diamond on metals.  The byproduct of metal buffing processes is a black residue that can easily stain briar if buffed with this wheel.  The Blue Diamond is applied methodically around the band at about 35% full power and wow!  It does the job!  Hmmm…. nickel?The next step is to apply a small amount of CA glue to the inside of the band to attach it to the shank.  This is done easily but care is needed to use only a small amount of glue so that it doesn’t squeeze out the edges of the band fowling the briar with CA glue.The question started to develop while the band was being mounted.  The bling on this band reminds me more of silver than a nickel shine.  A quick look on the internet provides a way to determine whether it is silver – for silver plated or sterling.  The test is using a magnet on the metal band to see if it responds with a magnetic attraction.  Silver is not magnetic even when electroplated.  With a magnet in hand, the test results are clear.  The band is not nickel but silver – frosting on the Christmas cake!The stem mounts beautifully onto the banded shank.On the home stretch!  Another cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted on to the rotary tool with speed set at the normal 40% full power and carnauba wax is applied to stem and stummel.  After the wax is applied, the pipe is given a hearty hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.Words are strained to describe my appreciation for this French Champion House Pipe that Josiah gifted to me on Christmas a few years ago.  The provenance places this pipe just shy of being a centenarian.  The natural briar patina is rich and expressive.  The length of and curve of the House Pipe will make for a wonderful time for me, as was said earlier The pipes are so large that you’ll want to smoke them at home, settled into a comfortable chair for a very long session with a good book!  Thank you, Josiah, for this wonderful gift! 

I am enjoying a Christmas bowl with Cherokee from The Country Squire and reflecting on the greatest gift of all – the celebration of Christ’s birth and the children and grandchildren He has given!  Thanks for joining me!

 

 

6 thoughts on “A Christmas Pipe for Me – A 1920s Champion Made in France House Pipe

  1. Pingback: A Christmas Pipe for Me – A 1920s Champion Made in France House Pipe – Urban Fishing Pole Lifestyle

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