1914 BBB Stubby Apple and Bulwark Cut Plug

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klause

Preferred Member
Jul 9, 2012
554
0
I was lucky enough to acquire a beautiful old BBB Stubby Apple made in 1914 late last year - I mentioned it in the BBB shapes thread, here.
Well a couple of weeks ago, on a visit to friends in Norther Ireland, I finally got to see it in the flesh and hold it.

When I lifted it out of the box, the hairs on the back of my neck literally stood on end. As I held it and looked at it I felt an energy course through my body - it took me totally by surprise, so much so that I immediately put it down and stepped back. I stood looking at it in the box - it was small, dirty and battered. When I did get the nerve up to pick it up again I was ready for it - I was excited to the point of shaking - literally shaking. This was something very special.
I have quite a few old pipes from that era and they all have a presence that cannot be explained, but has to be experienced. This pipe, however, had a presence that was quite extra ordinary. As I looked closely at it I became aware of a pipe that was so deeply loved that it was obviously more than a pipe, it was a friend, but more than that, a pipe that was a comfort to someone. It provided solace, warmth, support, refuge to its owner. It was very well handled - I could see the wear from where it had been held, often and repeatedly. The rim was charred and knocked from excessive use. The cake was massive, but meticulously maintained in its smoothness and perfect symmetry. This pipe had been repeatedly filled to brimming and smoked to the heal of the bowl - the char was from lighting and smoking tobacco packed to the limits of the bowls capacity.
The internals were solid with years of accumulated tars and the stem nearly closed from tar. I got the feeling that this was a pipe that was smoked continuously, bowl after bowl, like a chain smoker smokes cigarettes. The impression was of a man who took great solace from his tobacco and pipe - and the pipe rose to the need, time and again - a trusty servant that never wearied from his duty.
The pipe was dark to the point of the grain being almost impossible to perceive. I had something in my hand the likes of which I have never in all my years come across before. This wasn't just a pipe abused by a careless and callous smoker. This was something else entirely. The Pipe was the top grade for its time, not a cheap utilitarian lump of wood - not a pipe picked up cheaply and then tossed aside when finished with. This was a pipe that cost a pretty penny. But, its value was not measured in its price, but in what it gave to the owner, whoever he was.
I placed it back in its box until I got home and set to cleaning it. First the cake was taken out with my trust opinel, listening to the change in sound as I worked it down to bare wood, to reveal a quite cavernous bowl that was perfect apart from the damage to the rim - no matter - I'm not interested in obliterating battle scars so well won. They are part of The Pipe and its history - something to contemplate - a story in and of themselves. Then to the internals - this took a long time to clean, but clean they did, eventually, as did the stem to a gorgeous shine, the orific bit eventually accepting a full fluffy cleaner without difficulty.
With this done I turned to the externals, convinced that I would wipe away the years of grime to reveal a beautiful grain that was hidden beneath. I cleaned and cleaned but to no avail - the darkness did not move. The wood was saturated from years of intense smoking, so that it was nearly black - the smoke and tars had permeated The Pipe. This convinced me more that my initial impressions had some validity. Close inspection under a bright light reveals some stunning birds eye on the right and left of the bowl that now seems to be looking out onto a world from the depths of time - eyes that no longer want to see what the world has to offer. So, I waxed, and I polished, and I waxed. Waxed some more and polished for all I was worth, but I could not get a deep lustrous shine - it just deepened the darkness of the bowl, pushing the birds eye further into the wood, back from the light.
As I worked I had strange feelings about this pipe, and thoughts were whirling through my mind. I know I sometimes get wrapped up in hyperbole, and the joy of these old pipes, and I try not to - but this one was something I couldn't fight. Words to describe it rushed to and fro - jostling to be the ones to describe this pipe and the feeling its was invoking, until one word repeatedly pushed itself to the fore and would not be ignored.
BEREFT!!
The overwhelming feeling was of a soul bereft. There was, is, a melancholy that comes from separation. This pipe has it.
I will freely admit to being a little disconcerted by this. But I kept working on it. And, the more I worked, the more I took this pipe to me. It felt to me like an old dog that had been abandoned, become cynical, suspicious, sad............that wanted only to have someone take care of it again.....
I placed it on the shelf and let it sit. Over the next week I pondered it - thought about the journey that led it to my door. Was it meant to stay with me, or go to someone else? At the least I was going to have one smoke with it.
Eddy, a fellow forum member, made a comment about the pipe that had me thinking - about how the smoke would taste. I wondered if it would smoke well, even after cleaning, if the wood was so completely saturated with years of oils and tars as I suspected. Only one way to find out I suppose!!!
So what to smoke in this old trooper? What, indeed! Well, nestling at the back of the sock draw is a jar of Bulwark Cut Plug that I got in a cutter-top tin last year. The tin, when I opened it, had some rust inside at the bottom, but the tobacco seemed ok. I'd carefully removed all the tobacco, and separated out the small amount at the bottom that had been in contact with the rust, and jared it. I honestly didn't hold out much hope for this tobacco, and was immensely disappointed at what I'd found when I'd opened it. But, faint heart n'er won a fair maiden, so I kept hope alive that maybe, just maybe, it would be ok, and set it to one side for the day when I would get to try this legendary smoke.
Today, Gents, was that day. And, I had The Pipe that had been waiting for a mighty long time to see service again. Who knows? Maybe this was the blend that had been smoked by the gent who once treasured this pipe?
I took The Pipe from the shelf and put it in my pocket. I opened the jar, inhaled deeply, and was very pleasantly surprised by the wonderful aroma that greeted me. Took a good clump of the broken flakes and headed to the greenhouse.
The tobacco, nicely moist, dark to the point of being almost black, like a very well aged lump of mahogany, I screwed into a ball and stuffed into the pipe. Not my normal method of operations, but seemingly appropriate in this instance. I stuffed it in hard, to over flowing the bowl - picked off straggly bits and poked the rest in. Tested the draw - wide open and easy. Surprised, given the force of the stuffing and the quantity stuffed.
Why over flowing the bowl? Well, stupid as this sounds, this is what I deduced was the norm for this pipe, so thought what the heck - go for it - and go for it I did.
The Pipe sits so beautifully in the hand, like it was moulded into me, nestling between cupped thumb and forefinger. I apply a charring light......absolutely no movement from the tobacco - no expansion, no unfurling of strands, no spilling out over the top of the bowl - just sits there taking the light as I draw lightly, thin wisps of smoke slipping through the draft hole onto the tip of my tongue. Let it go out, linger on the smoke, savour the first taste of Bulwark, the first draw on this 101 year old beauty. Eyes closed. Let the smoke slip from my lips slowly.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Let the tobacco do its thing. Think about the taste. Think.
Stop thinking. Just be...........beautiful smoke.....
Tamp. No movement of the tobacco. This stuff is unreal. It sits, a perfect bed of tobacco waiting for the true light. Who am I to deny it? Light, slow, gentle draws. One. Two. Three. Four. Alight. Gentle glow, warm smoke.......
Outside the greenhouse the wind is blowing a gale, snow is falling, the chickens huddle together out of the wind, and inside, the spiders sit contentedly on their webs, waiting, waiting, waiting.........smoke reaches them, and still they don't move. The noise of the wind seems to disappear, the snow recedes into the distance. I sit. I smoke slowly.
My first thought was of Rich Dark Flake - that beautiful flavour. But as I pay attention I realise that this is the tobacco that RDF wants to be, pretends to be. This is beautiful. That flavour!!! Not floral (whatever the hell that is!), but sweet, light, pervasive, intense.
I smoke.
The Pipe is warm to the touch. Not hot. Warm like the hand of a loved one held tightly on a cold day - it radiates gently, comfortably. You never want to let go, you want to hold that moment, that warmth forever...........the smoke, coming through that sublime orific bit caresses the tongue, gently, enticingly. The taste, oh God! The taste.
This tobacco is cased, topped, whatever, with something. Something I have not experienced before. This is NOT RDF, or any other tobacco. It has been steeped in the tears of Angels - not the tears of melancholy, shed for the sadness in the world, and the ultimate fate of mortal man. These are the tears of joy, as understanding of all that is beautiful, of all the potential for goodness and happiness, rushes uncontrolled from deep in the soul; overwhelming and passionate.
The Pipe and The Tobacco are in harmony - an angelic chorus - music for the soul, manifest in smoke, beguiling the tastebuds of mere mortal man. No hand could notate this music. It surrounds me, enters me, lifts me, radiates from deep within. It emanates from The Pipe.
I smoke. I don't think. I smoke, and I lose myself in smoke. The Pipe has taken me in hand. I relight, often, as I let the tobacco smoulder on the edge of extinction, those subtle flavours leaping from the gently glowing embers. The taste is not of this world - it is ethereal, Angelic.
This continues unabated to the bottom of the bowl - the flavour consistent and constant. There is a stout tobacco lurking beneath it all, as I realise as I stand up......but, I'm still smiling.
A word. Redemption. That is what has just occurred. The Pipe has found redemption. It is no longer bereft.
Sound stupid? Maybe. But The Pipe is changed. The feeling I get as I hold it is completely different. It is alive. It is full of life. There is much to this pipe, and I'm going to spend many more years, hopefully, getting to know it better, and enjoying its company - it's a treasure that has found its way to me, and I am blessed to be acquainted with it, to be able to add to and share in its story. So, Eddy, sorry my friend, but it's definitely staying with me :)
But what of the tobacco? I have a couple of ounces of it left, and I will savour every single strand of it. It is something entirely different to anything I've ever smoked. I've been fortunate to smoke some rare blends in my time, and I've enjoyed them all, but this one is the finest to date. It's often said that seeking these old smokes is pointless, or risky. Maybe! To some. To me, it is the pinnacle of smoking. Maybe, only one in ten of these old tins yields a smoke, and isn't destroyed by time, but that one is worth the effort, the risk, the cost.
Yes, this blend is being produced, I believe, by a manufacturer somewhere. It has been resurrected - but it is not the same smoke - it cannot be. Will I seek it out? No! I'm satisfied with this small amount I have. Even if it were still being produced by the original manufacturer, in unbroken production since first created, it would be different. Time, environment, production values, etc all conspire to change a blend. Even the mighty Condor, conceived in the primordial soup at the beginnings of time has suffered the visitudes of evolution - is the blend I smoke today the same as the Condor I smoked as a lad? No! It is a pale, weak imitation of its former glory. If I were to smoke the modern Sobranie, would I recognise it as the beauty of my youth, even were it to have continued in unbroken manufacture by the same blending house? No, I don't think so.
Take it for what it is. The old smokes are no better, or worse, than the new ones - but, to me, they can create a moment, with the right pipe, that is other worldly. Of course, I can get that with a brand new tin - it's just a different other worldly.
As for The Pipe, is it better or worse than newer pipes? Hmm! I'm not going to answer that - I may start a bun fight.

 

owen

Preferred Member
May 28, 2014
560
0
Great write up klaus. Love the bowl shape on that pipe.

owen

 

papipeguy

Preferred Member
Jul 31, 2010
15,799
7
Bethlehem, Pa.
What a wonderful story, klause. Your narrative puts the reader in the room with you. Beautiful prose that belongs on the front page of this site. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

 

david555

Member
Sep 15, 2014
129
0
That is a great pipe! I have three of the BBB's from that time frame and all three are some of my best smokers.

 

dottiewarden

Preferred Member
Mar 25, 2014
3,049
8
Toronto
Thanks so much klause for taking us on a journey through pipe smoking heaven. These are the moments when we know why we smoke a pipe. Oh the glory!

 

klause

Preferred Member
Jul 9, 2012
554
0
Thanks for the kind words, Gents - I really appreciate 'em.
Sam, I think you've hit the nail on the head. I read something a week or so ago, in a vintage tobacco trade journal, about the early pipes being made from softer, more absorbent briar, which bolsters your theory. It works for me.

 

pitchfork

Preferred Member
May 25, 2012
3,846
17
Great looking pipe, klause. I must have missed part of the story, though. Why did you have to go to Northern Ireland to pick it up?

 

klause

Preferred Member
Jul 9, 2012
554
0
Sam, the text I referred to is, "The 'Tobacco World' Handbook", for 1914 - a very interesting read, but more interesting are the Trade adverts it contains - well worth seeking out a copy.
Pitchfork, it was either that the seller only posted within the UK, or the cost of postage to Ireland was crazy, I can't remember - either way, the solution was post to a friend in Antrim, and collect on my next visit. There was quite a stash waiting for me, including a beautiful 1914 GBD Xtra (whole other story).
Warren, thanks - I'm doing a mild redner!

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
2
Great pipe and great story!
The tobacco, nicely moist, dark to the point of being almost black, like a very well aged lump of mahogany, I screwed into a ball and stuffed into the pipe. Not my normal method of operations, but seemingly appropriate in this instance. I stuffed it in hard, to over flowing the bowl - picked off straggly bits and poked the rest in. Tested the draw - wide open and easy. Surprised, given the force of the stuffing and the quantity stuffed.
This I love because I've encountered a couple of pipes who "spoke to me" and subliminally instructed the proper baccy or filling technique - it's always a real treat to interact with a soulful old pipe!
The Bulwark sounds beyond description!
1914 has been calling your name.
Congrats on the handbook!
You got a great deal if that was the one that went for £28 - those rarely pop up, I totally missed that listing.

 

allan

Preferred Member
Dec 5, 2012
2,429
0
Bronx, NY
Klaus
Beautifully and heartfelt narrative on you BBB. I completely understand your feelings regarding a briar that is over 100 years old-it really makes you wonder who has had the pipe before you.
I have a 1912 Bewlay with an orfic stem that bothers the sh&t out of me, but it smokes wonderfully and I won't change it, just because of its history.
As far as the soft briar is concerned, I believe it was briar obtained in Algeria that made Barlings such a special brand of pipe. Bewlay and I believe some of the BBB's in that period used some of that soft briar.
Enjoy and treasure that piece of history.

 

klause

Preferred Member
Jul 9, 2012
554
0
You got a great deal if that was the one that went for £28 - those rarely pop up, I totally missed that listing.
I actually thought you'd swoop in a whip it from under my nose - expected it to go for crazy money, so was very pleasantly surprised.
Allan, thank you. The oldies are the goodies. The more I smoke 'em, the more convinced I am that there's nothing to touch 'em - even the low grade pipes seem to smoke beautifully. Hope the Bewlay brings you many more years of pleasure.

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
2
... the text I referred to is, "The 'Tobacco World' Handbook", for 1914 - a very interesting read, but more interesting are the Trade adverts it contains - well worth seeking out a copy.
Believe me, I've been seeking out a copy!

Very difficult to find they are.
...I actually thought you'd swoop in a whip it from under my nose
Knowing that you're "o***l 391", I would try to refrain from bidding up the price!

:puffy:
Serendipity:

I actually found a 1917 edition,

although incomplete, I can't complain because the price was right!

1917 Index of all tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, snuff brands iUK, Tobacco Year bk
ʘ‿ʘ

 
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