A Special Gift: A French Châtel Sculpted Edelweiss Horn Stem Billiard

The next pipe on the worktable came to me in August of 2018 from a seller in Paris, France.  He had posted a lot of 50 pipes on the French online auction block that got my attention.  The picture presenting the French Lot of 50 would make any pipe picking man salivate.  What stood out were so many horn stemmed pipes and some specialty pipes that were easy to identify.  I was thrilled to have sealed the purchase and I waited for the box of pipes to arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria, from Paris.  It was like waiting for Christmas in summer.  They did finally make it and made their way to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY!’ collection benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.

I just did a count of the original 50 pipes from France, only 12 remain in the online ‘Help Me!’ baskets that have yet to be claimed by a pipe man or women.  The French Lot of 50 has rendered several treasures.  The Chatel was among the Lot from Paris.

Pipe man, Stacy, reached out to me regarding the Chatel and two other pipes which he ended up commissioning.  Stacy is a pastor from Pennsylvania and he and his wife have been blessed with a large family of 9 children.  Three of these children are biological and 6 adopted. When we first communicated, he ‘confessed’ he was a ‘newbie’ to the world of pipes and welcomed the input about the various pipes about which he inquired before making his selection of the 3.

The first pipe was a special gift for his son, Levi who was married in August ’21.  When Stacy was writing to me last June (’22), he wanted the pipe to be a ‘new dad’ gift (Levi’s wife was expecting) and a ‘house warming’ gift as they had just bought a house.  Levi’s gift came out nicely (New life for a Striking Edward’s Handmade Algerian Briar).  I ask stewards who receive restored pipes from me to send selfies when the pipes are put into service.  I especially enjoyed seeing the picture Levi sent to me with the Edward’s Handmade his father had gifted him.

The second pipe was for Stacy’s personal collection – a Savinelli 4015 Slim Dublin that had some issues but turned out well (Repairing 14 Fills to Revive this 70s/Pre-70s Savinelli 4015 Slim Dublin).The next pipe Stacy commissioned was for a special young lady, his daughter, Sadie.  Stacy shared with me these words about his daughter:

Sadie is 21 and has a heart for missions and worship.  She’s been part of our worship team and was in Scotland with YWAM. She had to come home a month early when the pandemic shut down the UK, but is praying about returning, possibly leading a YWAM base in the future….  

I communicated with Stacy a few days ago to let him know the Chatel was next on the worktable.  This was his response:

Sadie has a birthday coming up at the end of May, and she’s going to love that pipe. She just mentioned the other day that she’d like to have a pipe of her own. She has no idea!!!

So, the Chatel is to be a May birthday present for Sadie and a surprise at that.  Here are the pictures of the Chatel Sculpted Edelweiss Billiard that Stacy chose for his daughter: The only markings on the sculpted pipe giving a clue to the provenance are bold, sculpted raised letters on the shank’s left flank.  Chiseled is, CHATEL.I have searched high and low to find any connection within Pipedom to the Chatel name.  I have found no connections.  In my research I usually don’t take liberties, but I believe there is a possible pathway forward to understanding the provenance of this pipe, PERHAPS.  My first educated guess is that the pipe is French made.  This guess is based upon two things: First, I have found that most of the pipes I received from the French Lot of 50 from Paris had France as the COM.  Second, I believe all the pipes with horn stems in the French Lot were also made in France.

The next educated guess is that the pipe was a special series pipe produced for French tourism.  When one does a simple search of Chatel, France, one discovers a very special Alpine skiing hamlet nestled on the border of France and Switzerland sharing the Alps.  The following map and information are from Wikipedia (See: LINK):Châtel (French pronunciation: ​[ʃatɛl]; Arpitan: Châtél) is a commune on the Swiss border in the Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in Southeastern France. In 2019, it had a population of 1,246. Situated in the northern part of the French Alps, Châtel is part of the French-Swiss ski domain known as Portes du Soleil.[3] Despite its development into a major ski resort, the village still retains many of its traditional alpine characteristics.[4]

I like this description a bit better from the https://en.chatel.com/hiver website – it was written with tourists in mind:

Châtel is a village in France’s Haute-Savoie region and a base for the Portes du Soleil ski area. A cable car runs from the center to the Super-Châtel piste, which has panoramic mountain views, and summer hiking and biking trails. The village is known for its Alpine chalets, aquatic center and La Vieille Douane museum, which presents the history of smuggling in the area. Nearby Lake Vonnes offers trout fishing.

If one goes to the website, these are examples of what is instore for your next winter holiday in the French Alps.  This would be a good birthday present for Sadie along with her Chatel pipe😊.Living in Colorado in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains and only a short trek to Alpine destinations like Vale and Breckinridge, I’ve experienced these villages which are full of shops for visitors to peruse and spend their discretionary allowances.  In France, in the French Alps, and perhaps a few years ago given the horn stem and that pipes would even be sold as ‘tourism’, I can imagine that this Chatel could be on such a shelf.  This pipe could have been in a shop or possibly a hotel, but we can’t say with certainty, but I believe we’re getting warm.

As a very possible pipe for purchase in the French Alps – in the Alpine village of Chatel, the theme of the pipe’s carvings pushes us closer to this provenance.  When I first looked at this pipe, I thought I was simply looking at indiscriminate carvings, perhaps to camouflage imperfections in the briar.  When I looked at it again, after discovering the possible alpine connection, looking more closely I then saw the flowers sculpted in the briar – but not just flowers, edelweiss.

Edelweiss is an interesting flower which is considered a mountain flower.  Here is the Wiki description which I found helpful:

Leontopodium nivale, commonly called edelweiss (German: Alpen-Edelweiß, English pronunciation /ˈeɪdəlvaɪs/listen), is a mountain flower belonging to the daisy or sunflower family Asteraceae. The plant prefers rocky limestone places at about 1,800–3,000 metres (5,900–9,800 ft) altitude. It is non-toxic and has been used in traditional medicine as a remedy against abdominal and respiratory diseases. Its leaves and flowers are covered with dense hairs, which appear to protect the plant from cold, aridity, and ultraviolet radiation.[1] It is a scarce, short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas and has been used as a symbol for alpinism, for rugged beauty and purity associated with the Alps and Carpathians. It is a national symbol, especially of Romania, Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Italy. According to folk tradition, giving this flower to a loved one is a promise of dedication.

The description goes on focusing on the different names given to this ‘scarce, short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas’:

The flower’s common name Edelweiß is German, and is a compound of edel “noble” and weiß “white”. Slovenian name is planika, meaning mountain girl. In Romania, it is known as floare de colț, which means ‘cliffhanger’s flower.’ The flower is referred to as Stella Alpina in the Italian-speaking Alps and étoile des Alpes in the French Alps, meaning ‘star of the Alps.’[2]

Edelweiß was one of several regional names for the plant and achieved wide usage during the first half of the 19th century in the context of early Alpine tourism.[3] Alternative names include Chatzen-Talpen (“cat’s paws”) and the older Wullbluomen (“wool flower,” attested in the 16th century).[4][5]

The scientific name Leontopodium is a latinisation of the Greek leontopódion, “lion’s paw”.[6] The Latin specific epithet nivale means “white”.[7]

For a birthday present, edelweiss sends a powerful message just alone considering the various names given to this flower.  The French name stands out to me – ‘Star of the Alps’ focusing on its God given beauty.  Perhaps the Greek name speaks of the strength seen in the flower: ‘Lion’s paw’.  The best description I suppose is this: It is a scarce, short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas and has been used as a symbol for alpinism, for rugged beauty and purity associated with the Alps and Carpathians.

As this Chatel Sculpted Edelweiss is considered as a gift, the pipe itself has a rustic, earthy vibe with the wood, the horn stem and sculpting.  The Billiard shape is also solid and considered a workhorse pipe.  Adding to this the depth of meaning and symbolism of the edelweiss, I can’t think of a better ‘pipe’ gift to give 😊.

With a better appreciation of the Chatel Sculpted Edelweiss, it’s time to take a closer look at the pipe itself.   The rim has some darkened lava flow and there is light to moderate cake build up in the chamber.  The sculpted bowl needs cleaning of the grime collected in the crevasses.  The horn stem is nice – it has some scratches, and the lower bit appears to have a chip or worn area which needs to be addressed.

To begin the cleanup of the Chatel, the horn stem’s airway is cleaned using pipe cleaners and isopropyl 99% alcohol.  While working with the pipe cleaners, I noticed the crud caked on the metal tenon.  An application of 0000 grade steel wool cleans the metal nicely.The bristled and smooth pipe cleaners begin to emerge lighter, and the airway is declared good to go.Continuing to look at the horn stem, there are scratches and nicks populating the upper side surface looking at the next pictures.Looking more closely at the lower side of the stem, there are scratches like on the upper side, but the bit has also been chewed.There are two places where the horn material has been worn away because of clamping on the bit.  The first two pictures show the larger damaged area from different angles.The next picture shows the lower right edge (inverted on the left side of the picture) with a worn spot that has also impacted the edge.To address these areas, after cleaning with alcohol, clear CA glue is applied for a patch.  With the clear CA, it’s almost impossible to see the patch after sanded and polished. The CA patch is built up more than needed to leave room for sanding and shaping.With the stem on the side, the cleanup of the stummel starts with reaming the chamber.  A starting picture shows light to moderate cake in the chamber.  The cake will be cleared to allow fresh briar to emerge and to inspect the chamber wall for heating issues.The chamber is reamed using 2 of the 4 available blade heads from the Pipnet Reaming Kit.  The reaming is followed by scraping the wall and the chamber floor with the Savinelli Fitsall Tool.  Finally, the last vestiges of cake are removed by sanding the chamber using 220 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen for leverage and more muscle.After the chamber is wiped with a cotton pad, an inspection reveals healthy briar in the chamber.Moving next to cleaning the exterior briar and rim, undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap is used with a cotton pad and a toothbrush to clean in the crevasses of the sculpting.  A brass wire brush is also used to help with the lava flow covering the rim.The lava crust proved to be a bit more stubborn than expected and required scraping the rim with the Winchester knife.  This was done carefully so as to not gouge or cut the rim.After the scrubbing, the stummel was taken to the sink where the internals were cleaned.  Using hot water and anti-oil dish washing soap, the mortise was scrubbed with shank brushes.  After scrubbing, the stummel was thoroughly rinsed and brought back to the worktable.Continuing with the internal cleaning, cotton buds and pipe cleaners are used with isopropyl 99% alcohol to work on the mortise further.  When the buds and cleaners emerge lighter, this phase of the cleaning process stops in order to transition to another.To clean the internals more thoroughly, the stummel is given an alcohol and kosher salt soak.  This passive form of cleaning uses kosher salt and alcohol to penetrate further into the internal briar pulling out tars and oils.  A cotton ball is pulled and twisted to act as a ‘wick’ to draw the tars and oils out.  With the aid of a stiff wire, the wick is guided through the mortise to the draught hole.Kosher salt then fills the chamber.  Kosher salt is used instead of common iodized table salt because the iodized variety leaves behind an aftertaste.When the stummel is placed in the egg carton with the rim and end of the shank level, a large eye dropper fills the chamber with isopropyl 99% alcohol until it surfaces over the salt.After a few minutes, the alcohol is absorbed into the salt and cotton and is then topped off one more time.  The stummel is put aside for the soak to do its thing through the night.The next morning, the alcohol/kosher salt soak had done the job.  The cotton wick is pulled from the mortise and both the wick, and the salt are yellowed from the processes through the night.  After the expended salt is tossed, the bowl is wiped and cleared of salt crystals.To confirm that the internals are clean, a few cotton buds and a pipe cleaner moistened with isopropyl 99% are used.  Good to go.The horn stem’s patches on the bit are ready to be filed.  Starting with a square needle file, the button lip is filed and refreshed.The flat needle is next used to file down the patch mounds.  The goal is to file the mounds flush with the horn surface.Both the lower side (first picture) and the upper side were filed and things look good.Next, the bit is sanded with 220 grade paper to further smooth the patch on the lower side.  The sanding is also expanded to the entire stem to address the scratches.The upper side is sanded – bit and entire stem.Next, the stem is wet sanded with 600 grade paper then 0000 grade steel wool is applied.The horn stem is waking with the sanding and polishing.  Next, micromesh pads are applied to the horn beginning by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400. Then dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Between each set of 3 pads, Obsidian Oil is applied to condition the horn – it drinks it up. Looking more closely now at the bowl after the cleaning, the rim had a stubborn lava crusting which came off nicely.The stummel itself, with the sculpting of raised edelweiss and the Chatel nomenclature, looks good.  The smooth/rough contrast between the raised smooth briar and the troughs or crevasses is nice – and will be even nicer as the contrasts are teased out. A few problem areas persist because of lighting damage.  The inner edge of the rim is a black ring from the charring.  Interestingly, the forward outer rim edge has also sustained a charred edge.  I’m not sure how this happened, but it’s a low-hanging eye sore to me.To address these issues and to reestablish clean lines on the rim, the stummel is given a very light topping with 600 grade paper on the chopping board.A few revolutions show a nice improvement.To address more directly the inner ring, 220 paper gives a very soft beveling – really, not a bevel but a simple erasing of the inner darkened ring.The outer edge of the rim gets the same, very soft sanding with 240 paper.  The darkened area is erased, and the rim overall is softened a bit which I think blends nicely with the entire sculpted showcase.The smooth briar is sanded and polished using micromesh pads.  Starting with pads 1500 to 2400, then 3200 to 4000, and finally, pads 6000 to 12000.  To remove the dust and to give each pad more traction, the bowl is wiped with a damp cotton cloth between each micromesh pad. Taking a closer look after the micromesh process, I like the grain that has emerged on the edelweiss leaves – revealing the delicate patterns.  Then these softer patterns are contrasted with the roughly chiseled valleys…  This pipe may have been produced for tourists in the Alps, but I’m enjoying it more with each step.Part of the survey also revealed caked briar dust in the tight carving at the center of the flowers.  This packed dust was removed with a sharp dental probe.Now, time for the magic using Mark Hoover’s, ‘Before & After’ Restoration Balm.  I’ve been looking forward to this step in the process.  Mark’s Balm does a great job bringing out the natural hues of the briar.  Briar is already beautiful in its presentation, but the Balm seems to take the color depth up a notch when used.It takes a good bit of Balm, but not only is the Balm worked into the obvious smooth briar, but also into the rough crevasses between the raised briar.  The rough wood almost drinks the Balm and turns to a rich darkened hue setting up the nice contrasting.  To make sure the Balm was getting into the deeper recesses of each crevasse, a cotton bud was used to swab the Balm.After the Balm was thoroughly applied, the stummel was set aside for about 15 minutes for the Balm to do its thing.  After the time was finished, the stummel was wiped and buffed with a microfiber cloth to remove the excess Balm from the surfaces – smooth and rough.Next, the horn stem is further polished using the finely abrasive, Blue Diamond compound.  Usually, the bowl receives the same application of compound, but in this case it is not.  Applying compound to the sculpted surface would only muck it up – compound dust would be in every nook and cranny.  So, with a cotton cloth buffing wheel mounted onto the rotary tool with the speed set at about 40% full power, Blue Diamond compound is applied to the horn stem.To remove the dust after application of the compound in preparation for the wax, a felt cloth is used.The final step – with the stem and stummel reunited, another cotton cloth wheel is mounted at the same speed and carnauba wax is applied to the stem and stummel.  The wax is applied to both the smooth and rough briar of the stummel, but the application is very conservative.  After the wax is applied, the pipe is given a rigorous hand buffing to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.I’m impressed with how this Chatel Sculpted Edelweiss Billiard turned out.  The contrast between the smooth and rough briar annunciates the sculpted edelweiss.  The grain appears on the flowers, and this gives the sense of texture.  The ensemble is completed with the rustic feel of the horn stem, again giving yet another contrast to observe with the wooden bowl.  This Billiard shape cradles nicely in the palm and is ready to serve a new steward.  This pipe was commissioned by Stacy as a special birthday gift for a special young lady, his daughter.  Stacy will have the first opportunity to acquire it in the Pipe Steward Store benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

2 thoughts on “A Special Gift: A French Châtel Sculpted Edelweiss Horn Stem Billiard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s