Renewing a Barling BB&S Challenger London England 5589 Billiard

After serving in Krakow, Poland, for a number of months helping with the Ukraine Crisis, my wife and I recently returned to home-base in Golden, Colorado.  It was an experience that will leave an indelible impression on us to have had the privilege of helping Ukrainians who had fled from their homes seeking places of refuge.  We helped with finding places/people in Europe that were willing to open their homes and help these families mainly consisting of mothers, grandmothers, and their children.  The husbands, sons and brothers in large measure remained to fight against the brutal aggression of the invading Russian forces.  A tragedy of striking proportions.  While in Krakow, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the nearby Nazi death camps of Auschwitz.  The tour guide remarked on several parallels from those horrific days to what is happening today in Ukraine.  My wife and I continue to help remotely by helping to facilitate much needed aid going to Ukraine.

I now return to the pipe restoration table to continue working on pipes after being on hiatus while we were in Krakow.  I’m grateful to have this outlet to occupy my mind and hands.  The pipe now on the table is a BB&S Challenger London England 5589 which I acquired in September of 2017 in the Lot of 66 which has offered up many treasures that are again serving stewards. Pipe man Mike Hulsey commissioned this pipe along with a number of others from my online ‘Help Me!’ baskets in the ‘For Pipe Dreamers ONLY!’ collection which have already been restored and sent to their new steward.  This lone Billiard was left on the table of those Mike had commissioned when Beth and I received the call to deploy to Krakow.  Mike created the FB pipe group, Brothers by Briar, which has been enjoyable to me to be a part of that pipe community.  Mike shared with me what was behind him starting the FB group:

I created the group alone in 2018 with the intent of providing myself an outlet and space to share ideas, stories, and opinions with generally likeminded people.  It has definitely been something to occupy my time and a great place to make friends like yourself.

As I’ve written on previous blogs, Mike is a veteran and my thanks and respect for his sacrifices is deep.  Another amazing thing Mike does is making flies for the fine art of fly fishing.  I’ve enjoyed his posts showing pictures of his craft.  I’m hopeful one day to take Mike up on his offer to teach me the art of fly fishing as well.  Since he’s moved closer to Colorado, from Tennessee westward to Iowa, my chances have improved a great deal!    I appreciate Mike and his commissions have benefited the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Here are pictures of the BB&S Challenger which has a subtle rustication that allows grain to come through.  The Billiard has an oval stem that is attractive, and the stem has a nice gentle taper to it creating a pipe with sleek lines.  It reminds me a lot of the popular ‘Bing’ shape.  Here are the pictures which I’ve lightened some to be able to see some detail: The nomenclature is on the flat underside of the shank.  Unfortunately, the stampings are severely worn, and the mid part of the stamping is almost illegible.  To the left is stamped, Challenger [over the COM] London England.  To the right of this is B.B&S [over the shape number] 5589.

BB&S is noted in Pipedia with this brief entry:

BB&S, which stood for Bill Barling & Sons, was a transition era Barling sub-brand. Among their lines were the Challenger, Rallye and Londoner. For more information see Barling.

The history of the Barling name goes back to the 1700s when the Barling name was associated with silversmiths in England.  Benjamin Barling, according to the Pipedia Barling article, applied the silversmith trade to “outfitting meerschaum bowls with exquisite silver mountings.”  The founding of the B. Barling and Sons followed in 1812.  The Barling history is full as it developed and grew through the 1800s and into the 1900s.  The family-owned business continued until October 3, 1960, when the business was sold to the largest client of the Barlings, Finley.  The Pipedia article drills in more detail describing and defining the ‘eras’ of the Barling name.  Here is what is said about the eras, but the author makes the disclaimer that it’s not as straightforward as it appears:

Pre-Transition: 1812 (or 1815) thru October 3rd, 1960.
On that date, the Barling family sold their business to Finlay, their largest client.

Transition: Late 1960 thru February 1963.
Finlay was 40% owned by Imperial Tobacco. Imperial Tobacco had an option to purchase the remaining shares of Finlay, which it did in February of 1963. When Finlay was absorbed, Barling came under direct control of Imperial Tobacco.

Post-Transition Era: Early 1963 and later.
Imperial ran the business; some say into the ground. They closed the Barling factories in 1970 and outsourced the production of pipes, first to several English makers, and then later to Nording, etc. In 1980 Bucktrout purchases the rights to the Barling name and Barlings have shown up as relatively cheap pipes made by Peterson.

Though we now have Eras whose duration is linked to the *public record, it’s still not simple and here’s why.

The author of the Pipedia Barling article goes on to describe how when the Barlings sold the business to Finlay in 1960 ushering in the beginning of the ‘Transition Era’, the Barlings continued to operate the business for Finlay.  During this period of 20 months, pipes continued to be produced with no changes to the nomenclature.  The result of this was having no way of determining which pipes were produced under the Barling ownership before the transition period and those pipes produced during the transition, under new ownership.

For this reason, the Pipedia author proposes an alternative method of dating Barling pipes:

  • Family Era 1912 – 1962: Pipes made by the Barling family while it either owned or managed B. Barling & Sons.
  • Corporate Era 1962 – the Present: Pipes made after the family left off managing the company, beginning with the revised product grades and revised nomenclature that were introduced in the 1962 Dealers’ Catalog.

It is interesting also to note that the Barling entry identifies the transition period from the Barling family era to the later corporate era as dated from 1961 to 1967.  There are differences in era dating from different sources, but with the B.B&S Challenger on the table now, which is not a Barling stamped pipe but a second brand line most likely put out by Barling during the early transition period dating this pipe somewhere from 1960 to 1962.  In the Pipedia entry quoted above for BB&S, there are 3 lines put out during this time: Challenger, Rallye, and Londoner.

Pipephil has a helpful entry on BB&S with the panel.The ‘Challenger London England’ pictured on the top of the panel, matches the Challenger on the table.  The nomenclature on the panel is crisp showing what cannot be seen clearly on the Challenger on the table.

The author of the Pipedia Barling article makes one additional observation that helps to corroborate the sense that the BB&S Challenger on the table was indeed in the transition period, but more likely in the earlier part of the transition era – under the Finlay ownership commencing in 1960:

Initially, Finlay’s management used the remaining stock of bowls that were turned by the original family run company, and then proceeded to turn more bowls with old wood remaining in inventory, and at least initially, this work was performed by many of the same craftsman. Under Finlay’s management the factory continued to turn out a quality product.
Production was expanded to produce a greater number of own name brands for Finlay and Bewlay, as well as the production of pipes for other pipe firms such as Colibri, Falcon, and Ronson. Also, several lines of “seconds” were developed, amongst them Portland, BB & S, Cragmoor, and London Brand.

Here, the ‘seconds’ are described during the Finlay ownership included ‘BB&S’.  It would seem, therefore, that ‘Challenger’ is a line of the second, BB&S.

One last additional piece of information that is of interest.  The Barling 4-digit numbering system was introduced in the June 1962, publication of the 150th Year Anniversary Catalogue which was still under Barling management, but owned by Finlay.

Here the number system is explained:

It is in the 150th Anniversary catalog that the new numbering system first appears. The new numbering system was introduced while the Barling family managed the business. The price list explains that the new number designates size.

The BB&S Challenger ‘shape number’ reflects this new Barley system.  The first digit represents the size followed by a shape designation.  The ‘Barling Pipe Reference Number Chart’ below was taken from the ‘Retailers Catalogue’ which was also published in 1962, but later in the year.  Note in the chart below, going horizontally (yellow highlight), the sizes are from 1 to 6 representing an increasing size designation (‘1’ was introduced in this later catalogue).    Our pipe’s designation is also highlighted – Size 5 – 589, described as a Billiard Short Oval with a flat mouthpiece.  This description seems spot on for our BB&S Challenger.I love drilling into the provenances of pipes I have the privilege of restoring.  For me, it adds to the value and appreciation of a pipe and this, I hope, is passed on to a new steward who has commissioned a pipe.  With a deeper appreciation of the BB&S on the table, it’s time to look at its condition.  Another look at the chamber and rim reveals moderate cake build up and lava flow over the aft section of the rim.  This should clean up nicely.  The carbon buildup will be removed to allow a fresh start for the briar. The overall appearance of the subtle rusticated briar is that it has darkened from years, grime, and normal use.  I have lightened the pictures some to be able to see more detail.  As the stummel is cleaned, care will be given to avoid the ghosted nomenclature on the flat briar underside.  The last thing I want to do is to contribute to the deterioration.  The stem shows some calcification around the bit and teeth chatter.  There’s a small compression on the upper button lip. To begin the restoration of the early 1960s BB&S Challenger, the stem is the first step.  Using pipe cleaners and isopropyl 99%, the airway is cleaned (forgot picture!).  To address the oxidation and calcification on the stem, the stem is placed in a soak of Briarville’s Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover for several hours. After the soak, the stem is rubbed briskly with a cotton cloth to remove the raised oxidation resulting from the soak.  The airway is cleaned of the fluid with a pipe cleaner and isopropyl 99%. To aid in reconditioning the vulcanite stem, paraffin oil is applied to the stem and rubbed in.  The Briarville soak did an excellent job cleaning the stem.  It’s looking good. Turning now to the stummel, the chamber is reamed using the Pipnet reaming kit. After taking a fresh picture to mark the starting point, starting with the smallest blade the carbon removal is started. Only the next larger blade head is used to clear most of the heavier carbon buildup. The Savinelli Fitsall Tool is used next to continue to scrape the chamber walls.  The Fitsall tool does a good job getting at the sharper angles at the floor of the chamber to clean additional carbon. Lastly, a Sharpie Pen wrapped with 240 paper is used to sand the chamber bringing out the fresh briar more. The full arsenal used to clean the chamber is pictured. After wiping the chamber with a cotton pad a picture shows the cleaned chamber.  An inspection confirms that the chamber wall is in good condition – no heating issues. To continue the basic cleaning phase, undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap is used to clean the exterior briar.  I noted earlier that the briar was dark and lackluster.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the cleaning will do. Along with scrubbing with a cotton pad, a brass wire brush is used to address the lava flow on the back side of the rim. This quadrant was charred more from lighting practices.  The brass brush adds some abrasion without being overly aggressive with the briar. After the scrubbing, the stummel is transferred to the utility sink where the internals are addressed using shank brushes.  Using hottish water, the internals are scrubbed with anti-oil liquid dish washing soap.  Afterwards, the stummel is thoroughly rinsed and brought back to the worktable.A quick look at the rim reveals the cleaning did a good job.  I also discover that the inner rim edge has a small smart bevel which needs to be refreshed later on.Again, addressing the internals, isopropyl 99% is used with pipe cleaners and cotton buds.  After several plunges using pipe cleaners and cotton buds, a small dental spoon is used to excavate the tars and oils from the mortise. The spoon is used methodically to scrape the inner wall to remove the gunk.  This picture shows a scoop at the beginning of the process.  The more that the gunk can be removed in this way, fewer pipe cleaners and buds will be needed.After a good amount of digging and cleaning, the buds start emerging cleaner and less soiled.  I call a halt to this phase.To continue the cleaning of the internals the stummel is given a cotton ball and isopropyl 99% alcohol soak.  In the past, I have used kosher salt instead of a cotton ball in the chamber to draw out the residual tars and oils and to give the briar a refreshing.  While I never experienced problems with this method, and it is the method of deeper cleaning I use with my personal collection, there has been discussion on different pipe groups that there can be long-term issues resulting from the use of kosher salt (non-iodized).  For this reason, for my restorations, I have used the cotton ball approach which does an adequate job.One cotton ball is inserted into the chamber while the other is used to create a ‘wick’ which helps to draw out the tars and oils.  The cotton ball is stretched and twisted to form the wick.A heavy wire is then used to help guide the wick down through the mortise to the draft hole. Then the alcohol is introduced into the chamber using a large eye dropper.After the isopropyl 99% alcohol surfaces over the cotton, time is given for it to be absorbed into the cotton.  About 10 minutes later the alcohol is topped off.  The stummel is then put aside to soak through the night.  The workday has come to a close – tomorrow is another day.The next day, a picture reveals the soiling in the cotton indicating the results of drawing tars and oils out of the internal briar.Just to make sure, a few more cotton buds and pipe cleaners with isopropyl 99% confirm the cleaning and refreshing of the stummel is complete.Turning now to the stem, the tooth chatter and bites are addressed on the bit.  The upper bit has chatter and a sharp scissor bite.  The button also has some compression.  The lower bit has some significant compressions and chatter.  To begin addressing this, the heating method will be used by painting the upper and lower bit with the flame of a Bic lighter.  As the rubber compound heats, it expands and reclaims the original shape of the surface – or to some degree.  This is the hope.  After painting each side fresh pictures are taken for comparison. The results are good.  First, the process with the upper bit almost erases all the chatter.  The scissor bite is still visible but much lessened in its severity.  The button also has reclaimed most of its original shape.The results with the lower bit are very nice – the compressions are all but erased along with all the chatter.  Sanding will be much easier at this point.Next, 240 sandpaper is used (forgot to picture the paper!) on both the upper and lower bit.After sanding the bit, the entire stem is wet sanded with 600 grade paper followed by applying 0000 steel wool.  The stem is shaping up very nicely.Continuing with sanding the stem using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400, the stem is wet sanded.  This is followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  To condition the stem and to guard against oxidation, Obsidian Oil is applied between each set of 3 micromesh pads. The finely shined gloss has emerged through the process. I like what I’m seeing. Putting the stem aside, I take a closer look at the stummel to determine the next steps.  There is a lightened patch around the back of the rim where the cleaning was more intense removing the darker stained briar.The inner rim edge remains darkened from the charring.  There is also a small smart bevel which needs refreshing.The rusticated briar surface’s hue is uneven with the ‘bald’ patches and still seems to me to be lackluster – needing a bit of a boost.  To address these issues, the inner bevel will be refreshed to clean the rim and provide new lines.  From there, latter micromesh pads will be used beginning at 2400 to fine sand the stummel. My hope is that this will bring out more definition between the rustication and the grain – a bit more pop.  When this is completed, an assessment will be made at that point if more is needed.To ‘cut’ a smart bevel I use either a small cue ball or a wooden sphere to compress the sanding paper evenly into the inner rim edge circumference.  When the balls are rotated using the sanding paper, it creates a sharp bevel which doesn’t round the edge.I choose the smaller wooden sphere which matches the chamber better.  Using a strip of 240 sanding paper wrapped over the sphere, the sphere is rotated back and forth to cut the initial bevel.The same is done with 600 grade paper.  The results are good. The black ring is replaced by fresh briar.Next, starting with 2400 grade micromesh pad (skipping 1500 and 1800), the rim and stummel are sanded.  By not using the more abrasive pads, the goal isn’t to address scratches, but to bring out more of the grain.  This BB&S Challenger is unique in that it has very subtle rustication.  Because of this, the grain is able to emerge more distinctively mingling with the rustication.  This preserves the patina of the aged briar but helps the grain to do its thing. 😊 Care is given not to sand the underside to protect the nomenclature.  A couple of starting pictures are taken to mark the progress.As hoped, the fine sanding/polishing process of micromesh pads brought out the grain nicely without destroying the patina of the 60+ year old briar.  The effect of the rustication and the grain is an attractive presentation.To further bring out the subtle hues in this unique stummel, Before & After Restoration Balm is used.  After putting some Balm on the fingers, the Balm is worked well into the briar making sure all the surfaces are covered.  The stummel is then set aside for 10 or so minutes to allow the Balm to do its magic.After the time elapsed, the stummel is rubbed with dedicated microfiber cloths to remove the excess Balm and to buff up the stummel.  I’m very pleased with the results.  To get a look at the progress, the stem and stummel are reunited.  The briar grain along with the rustication are attractive and active.  It has a rustic, down-home sort of feel that I find appealing.This BB&S Challenger is ready for the home stretch.  After mounting a cotton cloth wheel onto the rotary tool, with the speed set to about 40% full power, Blue Diamond compound is applied to the stem and stummel.To remove the carbon dust after the application of Blue Diamond, a felt cloth is used to wipe the pipe in preparation for the application of the wax.With another cotton cloth wheel mounted at the same speed, carnauba wax is applied to the pipe.  When this is completed, the pipe is given a brisk hand buffing with a fiber cloth to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.This BB&S Challenger was manufactured in London, England, in the early 1960s during the transition period of the Barling pipe production.  It is an attractive pipe which reminds me of a ‘Bing’ with the lines and tapered stem.  The subtle rustication with the briar grain peeking through, gives a rustic feel that will provide good fellowship packed with one’s blend of choice.  Mike commissioned this pipe and the last of a number of pipes which was delayed because of my hiatus serving in Krakow to help with the Ukraine crisis.  I mentioned earlier that Mike and his family recently moved to Iowa from Tennessee and have a home there that was a gift from God.  For this reason, this commissioned Barling BB&S Challenger will be a ‘housewarming’ gift to Mike in appreciation for all he does for the pipe community and for the man he is.  A ‘before & after’ reminds us how far we’ve come. Thanks for joining me!

5 thoughts on “Renewing a Barling BB&S Challenger London England 5589 Billiard

  1. Pingback: Renewing a Barling BB&S Challenger London England 5589 Billiard – Urban Fishing Pole Lifestyle

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