Amber & Ivory Care/Cleaning

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blackbeard

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2015
706
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Covering two topics here that I need some advice. Recently started cleaning a stem...didn't think it was amber until I started cleaning it and the colors showed. So I did the tests, acetone, salt water floating, and the taste of the stem (I cleaned that part before) I cleaned it with alcohol at first....seems like it may have been a bad idea and glad I realized before it was too late. Thought maybe it may make it brittle, or shatter it. Also, it turned part of it a more orange color.
The first question is, how do you clean amber? It's one of those stems that's super filled with nasty tars..and I don't want to ruin it. Also, how would you it clean as you go without any issues? Holding it up to the light seemed to be the best way for me to show it as well as with the pipe. Whoever smoked this meer...smoked it heavy!



The next part is about an Ivory Stem. I have read about cleaning Ivory piano keys, and basic things. However, nothing about anything with a hole in it...that you can't see and is full of tar. I know it's delicate as well. Most cleaning methods involve very delicate work, and doubt most of it will remove the tars. The stinger/condenser on The Esterd will cause an even larger hassle. So, again...I want to know how to clean it, and upkeep it. Would hate to break it. Another thing...is the third picture shows a rough patch. While the stem has every factor to make it ivory...including history of the pipe...the rough patch I don't understand. Does this occur naturally in ivory; or is there a possibility something has been added?
Thanks in advance.




 

shutterbugg

Preferred Member
Nov 18, 2013
1,452
6
Amber is a resin, I would not use any organic solven on it. Alcohol is a dipole, a bit more than water, that would be the extent I would use. Amber is also flammable, so keep it away from flame.
Natural ivory is porous. Frankly I would relegate that one to the display case, but YMMV.

 

blackbeard

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2015
706
0
YMMV?
Alcohol is a dipole, a bit more than water, that would be the extent I would use.
Maybe it's the long day, but not sure I follow. Are you saying go with alcohol, or go with alcohol in a low %?
I strive to smoke all of my pipes I buy. That being the purpose of them; I am determined to find a way!
Appreciate your response.

 

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mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
30,535
12,916
I'm so used to the durability of vulcanite and acrylic/lucite that I'd be timid about more delicate materials, but I admire your courage in cleaning and reconditioning these to smoke. I'll say they are visually pretty appealing.

 

blackbeard

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2015
706
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Cleaning Amber Thread
I did find this, soap and warm water...and one using everclear. I also found another where someone mentioned that they used the baltic amber in stems up until the 1920's.....how in the world would I know the date on this!
Also, my curiosity has been peaked...what is the value on something like this? I will tell you I spent $10 as I never plan to get rid of it. It has one big flaw, but that's it. The insert in the mortise...don't know what they are in meers for sure but it's crooked.
[/quote]I'm so used to the durability of vulcanite and acrylic/lucite that I'd be timid about more delicate materials, but I admire your courage in cleaning and reconditioning these to smoke. I'll say they are visually pretty appealing.
You've probably seen my posts....I will attempt anything to bring one back to life. The Ivory stem....someone has to know what I can do!
 

blackbeard

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2015
706
0
What luck! Just so happens that the Meer Mortise insert was explained in reborn pipes. Though I am very nervous that when I manage a replacement....removing it would be dangerous.

 

condorlover1

Preferred Member
Dec 22, 2013
4,589
4,967
New York
Amber is a real pain unless you are used to dealing with the stuff. A lot of pipes that claim amber stems are in fact amber-ine. The baltic amber stems are pretty durable as my friend Shaintiques has a couple of meerschaums with baltic toffee amber stems and apart from being hard on the teeth they tend to last if you don't drop them on the floor! I have found the easiest way to clean them is to smoke the pipe so that the crud in the stem warms up and can be got at with a pipe cleaner. In terms of pipe cleaners use those long fluffy soft ones available in modeling shops as many an amber stem has gone to the after life through having a wrong size pipe cleaner jammed into it!

 

mvmadore

Member
May 17, 2015
139
0
Northern NY
Ivory is and isn't a fragile material. It is a "dentine" material thus can be worked in numerous ways...I was a Scrimshaw artist for around 15 years before giving it up as materials became harder to get and laws more difficult to work with.
I still have a large collection of raw ivory and finished pieces, carvings, etc. so I'm still working with the stuff just not very often.

If I had that stem and wanted to clean it I'd first inspect it carefully to make sure there are no cracks, etc. that may worsen while working on it...there really shouldn't be but it is always good to check first lol.

I then start with a dry cleaner passing it through, or trying to, the hole to see what comes out. Next I'd use an alcohol based liquid, Whisky, etc., just dipping the tip of the cleaner in...maybe a quarter inch dipped max...and start gently running it through. I keep at this until it passed as cleanly as possible completely through the stem/stinger.

I'd use a "gentle" tooth brush to clean the stinger...I'd dip the stinger in the liquid just enough to cover it and use the brush to gently remove the buildup. Wrap the stem in a bit of paper towel "just in case".
I'd continue this process until it became as clean as I could get it. I would dip a bit of paper towel in the liquid to clean the outside of the stem...The ivory should not have any type of coating on it as it polished brilliantly just using jewels rouge on a buffing wheel.

I'm not sure I'd do much if anything else, other than perhaps a light buffing, to the outside of the stem. Ivory naturally "yellows" in light and from handling...the oils in your skin...this gives it a wonderful "patina" over time. But you can use a 1000 or higher grit wet/dry sand paper to "clean" it us a bit. Just be gentle...I can't really recommend this because I'd want to see and handle the stem to determine how much material is there in the button, etc. area...I'd not want to thin it at all. You may need to run it over a buffing wheel with a jeweler's rouge, etc. to coat it with a polish to bring out the shine and protect it from absorbing the oils in your hands too quickly.
Once clean, as has been said, I'd use it only as a display piece. If I wanted to smoke the pipe I'd have a stem made and use that.

Remember ivory is "generally" the elephant's tusk and they take quite a beating...what we got, raw tusks, from our dealers in Africa/India and China were nothing to look at...stained, dirty, etc...compared to when we got through with them...absolutely beautiful material when polished in a natural state.
Keep us informed on what you do and how it turns out.

 

mvmadore

Member
May 17, 2015
139
0
Northern NY
Here are a few pics from my collection.

Some of my work.



Another piece.



I cut this, 6" diameter, from a raw tusk we were processing as an experiment to see what would happen. It took several years for it to start to warp and eventually snapped on its' own due to the "drying" process. I have recently cut it up and made a few tampers out of it.



Lastly this is a 200 year old tooth from a sperm whale. I've had it nearly 45 years. It is an oil painting of one of the Azore Islands in Portugal...it was passed down from a family who traded it for some jewelry I made...I got the better of the trade imo.



 

blackbeard

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2015
706
0
I have found the easiest way to clean them is to smoke the pipe so that the crud in the stem warms up and can be got at with a pipe cleaner.
The amber stem is so nasty...I mean...so nasty. I can actually smell the tar from a foot away. I wouldn't draw through it right now if you payed me. I have been working on cleaning it, slow...but it's going through.
mvmadore Thanks very much. I like your work as well. I have no intent on removing the yellow, that seems a bit redundant anyways. I just wanted to get the tar from inside the stem so I can smoke it without damaging it. I've read of so much causing harm to it...just didn't want to jump in and make a mistake without a little more discussion. I had considered a new stem as well....but at the same time it defeats the purpose for me. I want to smoke the pipe as is; part of the experience.

 

lonestar

Preferred Member
Mar 22, 2011
2,820
1
Edgewood Texas
I have cleaned amber with warm soapy water. Try soaking it for a little bit first, then just keep working at it until you can get a pipe cleaner through it. Then its more soap and more warm water until its clean. Use a toothpick to work out some of the gunk if you need to.

 

lonestar

Preferred Member
Mar 22, 2011
2,820
1
Edgewood Texas
Also, be very careful you don't chip the amber as you're working it. It's a very chippy material, a little too much pressure at a funny angle and a tiny chunk will pop right off.

 

blackbeard

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2015
706
0
I'm just having trouble getting it out. Very hard build up now. Will the amber remain a blackish color inside where it's been smoke so heavy?

 

xrundog

Preferred Member
Oct 23, 2014
737
0
Ames, IA
I'm pretty sure from the style of the pipe and stem that the first one is acrylic. That pipe isn't very old.
The second pipe's stem is probably bone or horn. The bowl looks vaguely asian so I suppose it could be ivory. But the stem fitment dates it to around the 40s. I don't think Ivory would have been used on a pipe stem then.
Use alcohol on the inside and Magic Eraser and Soft Scrub on the exterior. It will dull the surface a bit but won't take material off. Then use some sort of polishing method.

 

blackbeard

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2015
706
0
I can almost guarantee they are Amber, and Ivory. The Esterd is Ivory, with the same stinger and all. It has the cross hatching, coloring, if it were bone....it would melt and sting with the heated pin test...which, already was done. No damage caused. The Amber passed all tests but the hot pin to smell it.

 

xrundog

Preferred Member
Oct 23, 2014
737
0
Ames, IA
I take no pleasure in telling you that you are wrong. But you want to know what you have.
Horn was and is commonly used for pipe stems. Similar grain to Ivory. And it reeks when warmed. That isn't a high end pipe. I can't imagine Ivory, being a fairly dear material even then, being used on that pipe. But I'll concede it's possible however unlikely.

The other stem is the wrong era for amber. I've seen lots just like it on fairly late model pipes. It's a common type. In the second pic I can see machine marks where it was turned from rod. The hollowed tenon end is also a give away. It's acrylic.

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
9
I have nothing to add here,

except to agree with Xrundog who is very knowledgeable in these matters,

and add a piece of Sherlockian trivia...
Holmes made a remark about amber in The Yellow Face,

it reads:

I wonder how many real amber mouthpieces there are in London?
Some people think that a fly in it is a sign.
Why, it is quite a branch of trade, the putting of sham flies into sham amber.



 

mayfair70

Preferred Member
Sep 14, 2015
1,968
0
@Tyler
I have to second xrundog on the amber looking stem being acrylic. Amber would have inclusions like air bubbles, specs of dirt, mosquitoes to make dinosaurs from ( :rofl: ) and other such things. It was originally sap and trapped all manner of gunk before petrification. Gem grade (non-included) amber would be outrageously expensive, especially with the red tint. As was pointed out, lines are also visible from cutting stock on a lathe. I could not say for sure, however, unless I held it in my hand.
The Japanese Dragon bowl stem could be from any number of creatures. It could be elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn, walrus tusk, whale bone or many other sources, considering Japanese proclivities for acquiring animal parts for aphrodisiac and medicinal purposes. The unpolished spot near the shank looks like bone. It seems porous and has the color I would associate with bone and without the visible growth rings associated with ivory.
Those are still amazing pipes. You have a good eye. I'm also in your camp when it comes to smoking them "as is" after a good cleaning. If the white stem wicks moisture away from your lips, it is bone. I've seen your other restoration posts and have to say you are doing outstanding work so far. Makes me want to get off my ass and restore a couple pipes that need the work.
Peace !!

 

iamn8

Preferred Member
Sep 8, 2014
4,251
3
Moody, AL
Personally, were it me, I'd only use Macallan 25yr to clean those. Whatever scotch you have left, please send to me so that I can "clean my pipes".

 
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