Checkmate – a Celius Chess Series Root Bishop 22

I picked up this Danish pipe on a recent pipe foraging trip to a local antique fair. It was jumbled in with a few other pipes, but it looked to be in decent shape so I added it to my bag. I had my first opportunity to examine the pipe closely when I got it home. It is marked “Celius”. I was unfamiliar with the brand, but Pipedia and Pipephil quickly supplied the required information, which I will summarize here.

Svend Axel Celius established his own pipe company in 1963 after learning the ropes at Suhr’s Pibemageri in Copenhagen under the tutelage of Poul Rasmussen and Sven Knudsen. Celius apparently foresaw the coming North American hunger for Danish pipes, and aimed most of his production toward the U.S. market. The company initially did very well, employing 20 craftsmen at its peak, but for some unknown reason, Svend Axel Celius sold the company and the Celius name to a man named Randsborg in 1970. Randsborg ran the company for six years, and then sold it back to Celius. Business in this later period never quite took off, it seems, and Celius closed the shop for good in the late 1980s.

There are three major series in the Celius lineup: Fantasy, with grades from 1 through 6; Zenia, a limited series named after Celius’ daughter, and the Chess series. I quote here from the Pipedia information:

Chess line: the most important group of Celius pipes. The grading of these typical Danish freehands is borrowed from the chess pieces: Pawn (sand-blasted), Rook, Knight, Bishop, Queen to King. Pipes, where the natural bark of the briar was left at the rim of the bowl, were called and additionally stamped “Root”. Furthermore these pipes had numbers from 1 to 31 (as far as known today). The numbers, we can take that for certain, denominate the shape. But please note that they surely have not the same binding character as the shape numbers of other manufacturers– they rather stand for a basic form, that was modified often.

The pipe on my worktable is an asymmetrical shape with a conical bowl somewhat resembling an elongated bulldog stummel with a plateau rim. It is stamped “Celius” over “Root” over “Denmark” on the underside of the shank, and “Bishop” and “22” on the right shank.

As you can see from the pictures below, the pipe arrived in good condition, although generally dirty. There was a light cake in the bowl, dust, dirt and tars caught in the plateau rim, and oxidation on the stem as well as some tooth marks. For some unknown reason, there were vertical scratches running around the perimeter of the shank/stem junction. I’d have guessed that someone had attempted to adjust the fit of the stem at some point, but the scratches reached up and over the flared portion of the stem. The stem also looks to be original, so I’m not sure what caused the marks.

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I reamed the cake from the bowl, pleased to find no issues hiding inside, then cleaned the stummel’s internals with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol.

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A toothbrush dipped in Murphy’s Oil Soap lifted the dirt and tars from the plateau rim and the rest of the stummel exterior. I found a few small dents in the bowl under the grime, which I’d ave to deal with later.

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I cleaned the stem with more pipe cleaners and alcohol, and then scrubbed away the light oxidation with Meguiar’s Scratch-X plastic polish and a cotton pad.

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After roughing up the surface slightly with some 220-grit sandpaper, I dabbed CA glue mixed with charcoal powder into the tooth dents and let the fills cure before using needle files, sandpaper and sanding sponged to level and shape the repairs.

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This stem is made from a quality Vulcanite – it was quite easy to work compared to some others. A full course of micromesh sanding pads soon had the stem scratch-free and shining.

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Leaving the stem, I pulled out the iron and steamed out the dents in the side of the stummel. A damp cloth held over the dent provides just enough steam to penetrate and fluff the crushed wood grain.

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The stummel got an all-over light sanding with a 320 grit sanding sponge to smooth out the dent repair (the steam tends to lift the grain around the dents, leaving it feeling a bit rough). I took care of the scratches on the shank at the same time.

The stummel is unstained except for the plateau rim. The darker colour there was looking a bit thin, so I dabbed some Fiebing’s Dark Brown leather dye on the rim to spruce things up. When the stain was dry, I scrubbed across the top of the plateau with 0000 steel wool to take the colour off, leaving the dark brown in the valleys.

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A wipe with mineral oil refreshed the briar and really made the grain pop. I let the oil soak in for a bit then buffed of the excess with a soft cloth.

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Then it was off to the buffer for a run of White Diamond compound and several coats of Carnauba wax.

I’m quite pleased with this refurbishment. The pipe came out looking great. The stummel is smooth and the grain really shines through the natural finish, complimented by the dark gloss of the stem.

This Celius Root Bishop is an odd, but oddly pleasing, shape that combines features of several classic pipe shapes and yet defies categorization. All I can say is that I like it, whatever it is! And it looks like I’m not alone in this – Celius’ flexibility in pipe shapes, quality workmanship  and the relatively short production span have made these pipes rather collectible.

If you like it too, you can find this pipe in the DadsPipes Store now.

Here’s the finished pipe. Thanks for looking and until next time, Happy Piping!

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