Restoration of a John’s Natural 532 by Comoy’s

A while back I wrote about a Comoy’s-made John’s Pipe Shop briar to which I fit a new stem. Dating from between 1910 and 1940, I was quite taken with the quality of that pipe, so I was keen to work on another. When I pulled this John’s sibling from the refurb box, I knew it would clean up just as nicely as the first one.

Here is the pipe as it looked when I brought it to the worktable. Overall, it wasn’t in bad shape, but the finish was dark and dirty, the rounded rim was crusted with lava and the stem had some serious tooth damage to both the upper and lower button areas and some deeper scratches further down the saddle stem. There was also an odd looking spot on the left facet of the square stem shoulder that looked slightly melted.

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The briar is stamped “JOHN”S” over “NATURAL” on the left flank,  and “JOHN’S” over “PIPE SHOP” over “LOS ANGELES” in a football pattern followed by “532” on the right flank. The stem is stamped “FRANCE” on the underside.

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As I wrote in my last post about John’s Pipe Shop, the company was formed in Los Angeles, California in 1908 and operated until 1980. They did not make their own pipes, electing instead to contract existing manufacturers to produce their briars for them. As the last John’s pipe I worked on was made by Comoy’s of London, that was where I started my research on the present pipe. Sure enough, Shape 532 is another Comoy’s shape, listed as a “Globe, straight, square shank, saddle stem” on the Comoy’s Shape Chart.

Given the France stamp on the stem and the lack of any other COM stamp on the briar, it’s safe to assume that this pipe was made at the Comoy’s factory in St Claude, France. Unfortunately, there’s not enough information available to determine when the pipe was made, but it certainly pre-dates Comoy’s acquisition by Cadogan (1979/1980) by at least several decades. The stamps are all deep and clear, so I’s suggest this pipe is younger than the last John’s pipe I worked on, but not by much – perhaps Post-War 1940s or 50s?

The stem was pinched nearly shut at the button from years of clenching, so before doing anything else, I warmed the vulcanite over a lighter flame until it was soft enough to push a pipe cleaner through.  I let the stem cool with the pipe cleaner in place to hold the airway open.

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A few pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol cleaned out the stem’s airway.

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I set the stem aside for the time being to work on the stummel. I reamed the old cake from the chamber and tidied up with a bit of sandpaper wrapped around a marker. The lava crusting the rim came away nicely with a bit of 0000 steel wool. This pipe was already starting to look good!

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The stem was nearly perfectly clean, so it was a bit of a surprise to find the mortise and airway of the stummel was packed with old tars, dirt and debris. It took quite a bit of work with cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and alcohol to get it clean.

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When I was happy with the state of the internals, I set up the pipe with an alcohol treatment and left it to sit overnight. This dissolved and removed the last traces of tar and sweetened the briar considerably. The second pic below shows just how much more tars were lurking inside a freshly cleaned pipe.

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The stummel didn’t have any major dents or dings to take care of so I set it aside at this point to work on the stem repairs. These close-up pics show the state of the button clearly – it had been bitten through on both sides, and the vulcanite had started to crack at the bottom of the tooth dents.

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To shore things up and seal the nascent cracks, I first flooded the damaged areas with thin clear CA glue. When that glue had cured, I followed up with a dollop of thick CA mixed with charcoal powder to fill the dents and provide enough new material from which to carve a new button.

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Sadly, my photos of carving and sanding the new button have gone AWOL, but the job itself went off very smoothly. I also went back over the stem to fill in the melted spot on the side of the stem shoulder, sanding everything smooth afterwards.

As the pipe is marked “Natural”, I did not stain the briar, though I did give it a light coat of mineral oil to inject some moisture into the wood and help bring out the grain, an attractive mix of cross-grain and birds-eye. There are no flaws or fills in the stummel, which not only looks great but also reinforces my opinion of the pipe’s age.

I finished this restoration by giving the entire pipe a run on the White Diamond wheel and several light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect. The finished pipe is quite striking in person – the attention to detail during manufacturing is evident throughout. I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to preserve this old briar for a new piper.

I’m sorely tempted to keep this one for myself, but I’m quickly running out of rack space, so this lovely John’s Natural Globe is available on the Pipe Inventory page now. It would make a fine addition to anyone’s rotation!

Thanks for following along. Until next time, Happy Piping!

Here’s the finished pipe.

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