The KBB Yello-Bole Apple now on the worktable brings with it a bucket full of nostalgia for me. It was November 7, 2016, and my wife and I were in the States from Bulgaria for the wedding of our youngest daughter, Johanna, in Nashville, Tennessee. The wedding was the day before and we were heading south from Nashville in I24 heading toward Atlanta. As we were about to pass the exit for Manchester, Tennessee, a large billboard announced the presence of Madeline’s Antiques & Uniques. Beth and I looked at each other and before we knew it, we were looking through the wonderful ‘stuff’ that pickers long for – our first of several trips to Madeline’s.Of course, my internal radar was pinging for pipes and pipes I found…stuffed into a coffee can. This was the first time I had gone pipe picking in the US. Since the genesis of my dive into pipe collecting and restoration was in Bulgaria, up to this point, I had only visited antique stores and second-hand stores in Bulgaria and a few other countries in Europe. The coffee can had some pipes that looked good to me that would go into the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY!’ collection benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria. Since I was still green behind the ears in pipe picking pursuits at that time, I didn’t realize that the bunch of pipes I managed acquire at Madeline’s (for a very agreeable price) included a very collectable 1961 Dunhill EK Shell Briar (See: LINK for its restoration) which a colleague in Bulgaria added to his collection! When we arrived in Atlanta, I spread my bootie out for this picture which included the pipe rack. The 4 pipes on the straw mat – the Poker, Medico Pear, Dunhill, and the humble Yello-Bole now on the table.In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first Yello-Bole that I have restored, and I look forward to it. Pipeman, Matt, reached out to me about the Yello-Bole after finding one of my restoration write-ups reposted on a catholic pipe group. Through our communications, I found out that Matt is a family man and also serves his country in the Army – a service for which I am deeply grateful. I also appreciate Matt’s patience in waiting for the Yello-Bole to move slowly through the queue. Here are a few pictures of the KBB Yello-Bole – what I believe to be a quintessential basket pipe, after Madeline’s and a few fresh pictures. A few pictures of the nomenclature stamped on the left side of the shank help to decipher the thinning text. To the left is stamped the KBB in the cloverleaf. To the right of this is stamped, ‘Yello-Bole’ [over] CURED WITH REAL HONEY [over] IMPORTED BRIAR. To the right of the main stamping is the circled ‘R’.Pipedia’s history of the Kaufman Bros. and Bondy (KB&B) company is interesting to me. Since this is my inaugural Yello-Bole restoration, I enjoy understanding better the history to better appreciate the pipe on the worktable:
In 1932 Kaufmann Bros. & Bondy (KB&B), est. 1851, expanded their program consisting of KB&B pipes, Reiss-Premier and Kaywoodie as the mainstay brand by introducing the Yello-Bole line. Yello- Bole was designed as an outlet for lower grade briar not used in Kaywoodie production. At that time KB&B produced their brands in Union City and in West New York, both New Jersey. Deviating from that, Yello-Boles were manufactured by The New England Briar Pipe Company in Penacook, New Hampshire to use this KB&B subsidiary to capacity.
As briar was hardly had during World War II, the KB&B Company embarked on a project of domestically grown briar wood, called Mission Briar or manzanita early in 1941. The Pacific Briarwood Company, a subsidiary founded for this purpose, began harvesting the burls growing on the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Though this wood is botanically the same as briar form the Mediterranean countries, the smoking characteristics were not quite as good, and the project was abandoned after the war.
Was it for that reason? Advertising from the 1940’s pictures the Yello-Bole “Honey Girl”, who gently urges the pipe smoker to smoke the pipe with “a little honey in every bowl.” In fact, honey was an ingredient of the material used to coat the inside of the bowl. It was said to provide a faster, sweeter break-in of the pipe.
In 1952, 101 years after the Kaufmann brothers had opened a small pipe shop in the Bowery section of New York City, Kaufmann Bros. & Bondy Company with all subsidiaries was purchased by an unknown company strange to pipe industry. (At least, the new owner was economical because the KB&B managers had to leave their luxurious bureaus on 630 Fifth Avenue, New York – the Rockefeller Center – for new rooms in the factory on 6400 Broadway, West New York.) This interlude ended after only 3 years in March of 1955, when S.M. Frank & Co. Inc. bought Kaufmann Bros. & Bondy, The Kaywoodie Company, Reiss-Premier Corp., The New England Briar Pipe Co. and – of course – Yello-Bole.
From the time of S.M. Frank’s purchase in 1955 until 1972 Yello-Bole was run as a separate company, as division of the parent. Through this period, Yello-Bole, same as Kaywoodie, had its own officers, sales force and maintained the production facilities in West New York. These 17 years were probably the most glorious years in Yello-Bole’s history.
I appreciate the historical timeline provided for the evolution of the KB&B company. What I found very interesting at the beginning of the entry above what the motivation was behind KB&B creating the Yello-Bole brand along with their primary brands, Reiss-Premier and Kaywoodie. Yello-Bole was designed as an outlet for lower grade briar not used in Kaywoodie production. Yello-Boles were made of briar blocks that Kaywoodie passed on.
In the Pipedia Yello-Bole article there was a very helpful guide for narrowing the dating of a Yello-Bole pipe. The bullets represent the ‘Tips’ and my comment follows:
Tips for Dating Yello-Bole Pipes
- KBB stamped in the clover leaf indicates it was made in 1955 or earlier as they stopped this stamping after being acquired by M. Frank.
- Pipes from 1933-1936 they were stamped “Honey Cured Briar”
- Post 1936 pipes were stamped “Cured with Real Honey”
- Pipe stems stamped with the propeller logo were made in the 1930’s or 1940’s – no propellers were used after the 1940’s.
- Yello Bole used a 4-digit code stamped on the pipe in the 1930’s.
- Pipes with the Yello-Bole circle stamped on the shank it were made in the 1930’s, this stopped after 1939.
- Pipes stamped BRUYERE rather than BRIAR it was made in the 1930’s.
Gleaning from the relevant ‘tips’ above, this is what I have gleaned. Since our Yello-Bole has the clover leaf KBB stamp, our dating is pre-1955. Since our pipe is stamped with, ‘Cured With Real Honey’, the dating is post 1936. So, the date is narrowed down to between the years 1936 and 1955. This means possibly that our pipe was a war-time pipe – including either leading up to WWII or following it. That’s as far as I’m able to go based upon the tips provided.
With a better understanding of the provenance of this KBB Yello-Bole another question is nagging me like low hanging fruit. The older yellow acrylic stem, perhaps made of Bakelite, is an original Yello-Bole stem – without doubt. However, there is question whether this particular Yello-Bole bowl came out of the factory with this stem. The fit of the stem was wonky from the get-go. A few pictures show what I’m seeing. The pictures below show the stem facing which looks like the edge of the stem facing was whittled with a knife. The tenon also looks like it was hand fashioned and the tenon is shorter than a normal tenon length.The width of the stem perfectly matches the width of the shank, but the upper and lower quadrants of the shank facing are obviously extending beyond the stem creating an upper and lower lip.The next picture tells what I believe the story to be – only an educated guess. The shank facing in this picture is not flat and not perpendicular to the tenon nor perfectly parallel to the shank facing. My imperfect vertical line attempts to show the disparity of the angle of the stem facing. Another observation is that the distance from the Yello-Bole stem circle dot and the edge of the shank facing looks like it has been shortened. This is to say, a new shank facing was created by mining into the original stem facing.One last picture shows the disparity between the shank and the stem from a side view. The shortened tenon allows the stem to ‘rock’ up and down. What I believe happened to this stem is that the stem was originally broken, perhaps the tenon broke off and a former steward (no telling how many the old boy has had!) fashioned a new tenon by purchasing stem real estate to fashion a new ‘make do’ tenon. This theory would possibly explain the forensics that are observable.The goal is to restore this vintage Yello-Bole and to salvage the stem in making it work – some way! The stem seating needs a solution and I have some ideas. Looking at the rest of the pipe, the chamber appears to have been reamed and is fairly clean. As one would expect, the rim has dings and scratches.The following pictures provide a walk-around surveying the briar surface. There are scratches and dents sprinkled over the stummel, but the predominant characteristic I see is the deterioration of the finish. The special ‘honey finish’ looks like cracking enamel at this point. The Yello-Bole “Honey Girl” above, who urged the pipe smoker to smoke the pipe with “a little honey in every bowl”, would be dismayed looking at this bowl! The Bakelite stem, an old, early acrylic, has grime and scratching. The upper and lower bit have tooth chatter that need addressing.One last piece of evidence that would suggest that this KBB Yello-Bole Apple was a much loved and most likely in one steward’s primary rotation, the button was repaired after an obvious crack. In the picture below, what looks like a gaping hole in the button lip is actually solid from an application of CA glue to repair. The repair is solid.If this KBB Yello-Bole were a toy, I would imagine it being on the ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ that Santa rescued with Rudolph’s help. This pipe has seen many years and has served his steward(s) well, but he needs a bit of help to get back on his feet! 😊Before addressing the repairs, the pipe needs a thorough cleaning. The cleaning may remove the old honey stain, we’ll see. Starting first with the stem, the airway is cleaned with pipe cleaners moistened with isopropyl 99% alcohol. Only one pipe cleaner was needed to clean the airway.Turning now to the stummel, with the chamber already being fairly clean, the Savinelli Fitsall Tool is used to scrape the chamber walls and then the chamber is sanded using 240 paper wrapped around a Sharpie pen.A quick inspection confirms that the chamber is healthy with no heating issues. I can also see that there were former chamber issues that have been repaired with an epoxy. It is difficult to see in the picture below, but I can see a part of the chamber that has been patched. For these repairs, I have found that J-B Weld does a good job repairing chamber issues. Later on, I will go ahead and coat the chamber with a cake starter – a yogurt/activated charcoal mixture to cover the chamber repair.Using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and cotton pads, work begins on the briar surface. I’m hopeful that the simple cleaning will remove most of the old finish from the briar surface which appears like a sheen on the surface.The cotton pad shows the grime coming off the briar surface.The rim cleaning is helped by a brass brush which adds some muscle to the cleaning without damaging the briar – being too invasive.Not pictured here is taking the bowl to the sink and working on cleaning the internals. This is done using shank brushes with anti-oil liquid dishwashing soap and hot water. The internals are scrubbed and after the bowl is thoroughly rinsed, it comes back to the worktable to continue the cleaning process.Continuing the internal cleaning process, cotton buds and pipe cleaners are used with isopropyl 99% alcohol. A small dental spoon also helps by scraping and excavating the tars and oils off the mortise walls. The more gunk scooped out in this way helps with shortening the cleaning process.After the buds and pipe cleaners start emerging lighter, the cleaning process is shifted to an alcohol and cotton ball soak. This passive method of cleaning helps to draw the remnant tars and oils out of the internal briar and to freshen the pipe in preparation for a new steward. Two cotton balls are used in the process. One is stretched and twisted to create a ‘wick’ that helps to draw out the tars and oils from the mortise. The other ball is stuffed in the chamber.A stiff wire helps to force and guide the cotton wick down the mortise to the draught hole.After the other cotton ball is stuffed in the chamber, the stummel is situated in an egg carton to provide some stability and to angle the stummel so that the rim and shank facing are level. Next, using a large eye dropper, isopropyl 99% alcohol is placed in the chamber until it surfaces over the cotton.After a few minutes, the alcohol is absorbed more deeply into the cotton and the alcohol is topped off. The stummel is put aside to soak overnight.The next morning, the soiled cotton is what I want to see, and I do. The process of soaking through the night drew out more tars and oils.To make sure all is clean, and to take care of any residue tars and oils, a few cotton buds moistened with isopropyl 99% finish the job. Moving on.With the stummel clean, the attention is turned to the stem. The bit has a lot of chatter, and the entire stem has scratching which needs to be cleaned up.First, the button is refreshed using a squared needle file.Then the tooth chatter is sanded using 220 paper on the upper and lower bit.The sanding is next expanded to the entire stem using 220 paper.Before proceeding further with the sanding and polishing of the stem, the less-than-ideal fit and loose seating of the tenon in the mortise needs to be addressed. As I commented earlier, I think a former steward did what he could to repair a broken tenon and fashion a make-do tenon from the stem. The stem facing is not perpendicular to tenon nor parallel with the shank facing.I use the shank to place pressure on the high side of the stem facing (the right side of the stem in the picture above) and sand it down so that it’s in a better orientation. Using 220 grade paper, a hole puncher creates a hole in the middle of the strip. Next, the sanding paper is mounted over the tenon with the rough side toward the stem facing.With the paper held stationary, the stem is rotated back and forth – not all the way around. The hand-fashioned tenon is not at true center of the stem facing, and if rotated completely around the mortise will put a lot of pressure on the mortise. This stem does better if it is simply rotated back and forth. As it’s rotated back and forth, I hold the stem’s orientation so that pressure is placed on the high part of the stem facing.After a good bit of back-and-forth sanding, the stem facing is nicely joined with the shank – not bad. The approach worked very well.aint the tenon with the polish and spray it with an accelerator to hold the polish in place and to quicken the curing process. This repeated painting process will expand the width of the tenon giving it a better grip in the mortise. Well, my first painting and spraying with an accelerator helped me to discover that the polish is not affected by the accelerator! Not a problem. I hang the stem vertically and allow the polish to cure on its own.After the polish cured, regular CA glue is used to continue building out the tenon width. After placing the CA around the tenon, it is spread around with a toothpick the sprayed with accelerator. The accelerator cures the CA immediately keeping it in place, but the surface is not as smooth as painting with the polish brush.The next step is to sand the tenon to smooth it and bring the tenon down in size to custom fit the mortise – snug is the goal. This takes some time to do. To keep the sanding uniform, 220 paper is wrapped around the tenon and the stem is rotated. I apply pressure more toward the stem facing so the sanding will be even – not to turn the tenon into a cone shape.A lot of sanding and testing shows a gradual seating of the tenon.Finally, the tenon fits into the mortise and is a nice, snug fit. It looks great. Much improved over the original condition I found this Yello-Bole. The seating is snug, but not too tight and no longer rocking.To shine and smooth the tenon after using 220 paper, it is sanded with 600 grade paper.I noted earlier that the stem facing on the lower side of the stem looked like it had been whittled. The next two pictures show the section that falls away. The first picture is from the bottom perspective and the second from the side of the stem.Call me OCD, but this needs to be addressed. Using regular CA glue, a line of glue is run along the whittled section not to run over the stem facing. Using a toothpick, the glue is pushed up to the stem facing edge and then accelerator is used to hold the patch in place and cure it quickly.Next, using a flat needle file the patch is filed down flush with the stem surface.The filing is followed with sanding with 220 paper. The facing looks much better.The sanding and polishing of the stem continues with wet sanding the entire stem with 600 grade paper. This is followed with the application of 0000 grade steel wool.Continuing with the sanding/polishing of the stem, the stem is wet sanded with pads 1500 to 2400. Following this, the stem is dry sanded with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. Between each set of 3 pads, Paraffin oil is applied to the stem to condition the acrylic. Wow! I’m really liking what I’m seeing. The honey-yellow acrylic has attractive white marbling flowing through the stem. With the stem on the sideline, the stummel is in focus now. The stummel still has patches of old finish over the external landscape. The patches are shiny spots which can be seen in the next pictures.To remove the old finish, I start by using alcohol with a cotton pad to scrub the briar surface. This does not remove the old finish. Next, 0000 steel wool is used with alcohol to put a bit of abrasion on the old finish. This did the trick. During the use of the steel wool, I steer clear of the very thin nomenclature on the left side of the shank.There is one old fill on the lower right side of the of the bowl that needs to be repaired.Using a sharp dental probe, the old fill material is cleaned out.After cleaning the area with alcohol, to refill the pit, a small drop of regular CA glue is placed over the pit and then sprinkled with briar dust to help with blending.After the patch has cured, a flat needle file brings the patch down flush with the briar surface. The file stays on top of the patch as much as possible to avoid collateral filing on the briar surface. Then, 220 paper sands the patch to remove the file marks and to further smooth.The patch is completed with sanding the area with 600 grade paper.Next, the rim has some dark charring on the inner edge that creates a dark line around the chamber. The rim also has a myriad of scratches and some small chips that need addressing.Even though the rim is rounded and does not have a bevel, to create fresh lines around the chamber circumference, a wooden sphere is used with a strip of 220 grade paper. With the paper pressed between the sphere and inner chamber edge, the sphere is rotated.After using the sphere to cut new lines, the entire rim is hand sanded with 220 paper as well to complete an even rounding of the rim.The same process is used with 600 grade paper. The result is a great improvement in the rim presentation.I discover that there is one cut into the inner rim edge that is too deep, and sanding did not erase it.To address this blemish on the rim, after wiping the area with a cotton pad wet with alcohol, a small drop of regular CA glue is placed at the cut. An accelerator is used to quicken the curing process.After the patch has cured, round and triangle needle files are used to file down the patch flush with the rim surface.This is then followed by sanding the patch area with 220 then 600 grade paper to smooth.The rim looks great – what a change from the original condition.Next, before applying the micromesh sanding pads, the nomenclature is covered with painter’s tape to protect it. I don’t trust my sanding eye to stay away from the already ghosting stampings of this vintage KBB Yello-Bole. This will result in the covered patch not blending exactly, but this is worth sparing the nomenclature of this old guy.Starting first with pads 1500 to 2400, then 3200 to 4000 and finally, pads 6000 to 12000. Between each pad, the bowl is wiped with a wet cotton cloth to clean off the dust and give the pads more traction in sanding. I am very, very pleased with how the briar grain emerged during the micromesh process. To add frosting on the cake, Mark Hoover’s, ‘Before & After Restoration Balm’ (www.Lbepen.com) does a great job bringing out the natural hues of the briar. After placing some Balm on my fingers, the Balm is worked into the briar and then the stummel is put aside for about 10, 15 minutes to allow the Balm to do its thing.After the time has passed, a microfiber cloth dedicated to buffing of the Balm is used to wipe off the excess Balm and to buff up the shine. ‘Before & After’ Restoration Balm does a great job deepening the rich briar hues.Anxious to see how the pipe looks at this point, stem and stummel are reunited. Wow – I like what I’m seeing! This KBB Yello-Bole was barely hanging on as ‘basket pipe’ and he’s looking pretty good.The stem is seating much better now but the mismatched stem and stummel persists bringing back thoughts of the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys 😊. The only way to bring the stem facing and shank into sync would be to sand the shank by tapering it down and up to merge with the stem. I had thought about doing this much earlier in the process, but I feared that the end result would be a shank that looked like, as Steve describes it, the stuffed pants look. The unpleasing appearance of trying to force a union that’s just not going to look better. But I had another idea that I thought would be a much better solution.In my collection of brass bands, rings, and caps, I found a perfect match for the Yello-Bole shank.I slip it on to have a look. My thinking is that the band, which is actually a cap, creates the impression that the transition from shank – cap – stem was intended to have an exposed brass facing. My goal with the restoration of this KBB Yello-Bole was to return it to a condition, even with his age and wrinkles, where he returns to service to serve yet another steward. The band/cap not only masks the mismatch, but I believe the brass cap gives this already vintage warrior a touch of class in his future service 😊. I like it a lot! So goes my thinking.With this solution seemingly the best, to permanently mount the brass cap, a little CA glue is carefully spread around the inside of the brass cap. Then, with the cap on the table, the shank is firmly pressed down and seated in the cap.With the brass cap in place, a cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted on the rotary tool with the speed set at about 40% full power. Blue Diamond compound is then applied to acrylic stem and stummel. The brass cap is not buffed with the Blue Diamond with this buffing wheel.After the bowl and stem have received the Blue Diamond buffing, another cotton cloth wheel is mounted on the rotary tool. This wheel is dedicated to the application of Blue Diamond on metals. As the picture shows, the wheel is black, and the section of the Blue Diamond brick is also black. Compound on metal produces a black residue that can stain the briar if there is run-over on the briar when applying Blue Diamond to metal. This is why the brass cap was previously avoided and a dedicated buffing wheel is used. Blue Diamond compound is carefully applied to the cap to avoid running over the briar. The compound does a great job bringing a high pitch sheen to the brass. Nice.To remove compound dust from the stem and stummel, the entire pipe is wiped/buffed with a felt cloth – including the brass cap. This is done to clean the surface in preparation for the wax.Before applying wax, I have one mini project left. Earlier, I noticed that the chamber had been repaired previously using an epoxy. The patch is in great shape, but I will apply a cake starter to help protect the chamber.Using unflavored natural yogurt and activated charcoal, a mixture is created that when applied, hardens into a shell. It creates in the chamber, a surface that helps to develop a natural carbon cake layer around the chamber. A cake should only be the thickness of a dime, and this provides the chamber environment for briar to continue to serve without heating problems. One important thing to remember for a new steward: when the pipe is put into service, do not scrape the chamber with a metal tool to clean after using. This will remove the protective shell. Allow a cake to grow for several uses. To clean, simply fold a pipe cleaner and rub the chamber walls to remove the loose debris.
Some yogurt (sour cream can also be used) is placed in the bowl along with activated charcoal.The pipe nail tool mixes the yogurt and charcoal. I added a bit more charcoal to thicken the mixture. The goal is that it’s thick enough to remain where you put it. If its too runny, it will run with gravity.A pipe cleaner is placed through the draught hole to keep it clear of the mixture. When the mixture is ready, the pipe tool trowels the mixture into the chamber and then spreading it around the chamber. When the chamber is covered, the stummel is set aside allowing the mixture to dry and harden.In the home stretch – another cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted on the rotary tool with speed at 40% of full power. Carnauba wax is then applied to stem and stummel (not to the brass cap). After application of the wax, the pipe is given a rigorous hand buffing to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.I have to admit, this 1937 to 1954 KBB Yello-Bole has come a long way and has exceeded my expectations. KB&B created the Yello-Bole brand to use inferior briar passed up by the flagship line, Kaywoodie. The grain on this Yello-Bole need not take a back seat to any pipe brand on the market. The lateral grain running along the sides of the bowl result in nice patches of bird’s eye grain displayed on the fore and aft quadrants. The stem had a boat load of issues, but with the brass cap transiting to the acrylic stem, the presentation is very nice. Matt was able to ‘see’ what this pipe could become and as the commissioner, has the first opportunity to claim the KBB Yello-Bole Apple from the Pipe Store benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. To remind us how far we’ve come, a ‘basket’ picture to start off. Thanks for joining me!
Please pray for the people of Ukraine!
4 thoughts on “An Unbelievable Transformation of a 1937-’55 KBB Yello-Bole Cured With Real Honey Apple”
Wow, what a good read, and heck of a find in my own woods lol
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Thanks Mike. This one was on his last legs and turned out better than I expected!
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Thanks, Al. I was surprised how well this guy cleaned up 😊.