Pipe Restoration: Pre-1956 Medico Zulu “F” Stamping


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So I purchased this pipe at an antique store last weekend for $10. That picture does not do it justice; it looked much worse in person. In fact, I’m pretty sure I overpaid. The pipe had many gouges and pits throughout, and whatever finish it had on it was very worn, like an old, dry cork. The rim was deeply blackened and dinged. There were several HUGE fills in the briar, indicating that this was probably a low-end model, even as far as Medicos go.


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The stamping was almost all worn away, but you can tell that at one point it said something like “Medico Imported Briar” which was a common stamping at the time.

The bowl itself looked reasonably clean. No thick cake to deal with.

The bakelite stem was actually in decent condition, with some very fine chatter near the bit and some darkening of the translucent center vein. I’ve since discovered that the “F” marking on the stem was discontinued in 1955, roughly 11 years before Medico began making stummels from Brylon composite for their lower tier pipes.

A very well used and abused briar pipe, that I wish I had taken more pictures of.


THE RESTORATION:

Being my first attempt at a pipe restoration, I really only had the most basic of tools at my disposal:


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Just some 0000 steel wool, grain alcohol (the drinking kind, though I would not recommend drinking from the bottle), an assortment of sandpaper grits, and a two-part finish made from Turmeric (yes, the spice!) with an olive oil/beeswax polish.

No doubt, a simple collection of tools, but it is always nice to complete a project using stuff you have laying around the house. Let’s get started!

1) Sand away the old finish using 400grit sandpaper and then smoothing with 600/800/1000/1200/1500

2) Sand down and smooth the gouges on the rim

3) Soak stummel in grain alcohol and salt to remove any remaining finish and soften the carbon in the bowl

4) Apply a natural homemade Turmeric stain for color and polish with 1500 grit

5) Finish with a homemade beeswax and olive oil polish for protection and shine

6) Polish by hand with cotton cloth


THE RESULTS:

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The difference in the rim is night and day, and the finish definitely hides a lot of the imperfections that were just too deep for me to sand away. I would have liked to take off more material, but I was worried about changing the shape of the pipe too much.


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I preserved what remained of the stamping as best I could. Here you can see the huge, jagged fill on the bottom/side is still quite visible, even after my restoration (more on that later).


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Some decent birdseye for such a bargain-bin pipe. The oil/wax finish really made the grain “pop” nicely I think.


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Here, again, you can see those massive fills by the shank and bottom of the bowl. Definitely a cheap pipe, even in its prime. Also note the slight darkening on the edge of the rim. I didn’t want to sand too far down into those dark scars on the side of the bowl, and so some of the darkening remains.


CONCLUSION:

All in all, i’m quite happy with the results. I thought about trying to hide the large fills a little better, but I wasn’t sure how to do it with the tools I had available, and I kind of like the rough-finished look it has now.

I used all food grade stuff for the finish just so that I knew exactly what was going on to my pipe. I wish the Turmeric had given it a more Amber color, but I can’t complain too much about it, I suppose. I have read a lot from various pipe forums about using olive oil on pipes, and 1/2 the people say it’s the worst thing in the world and the other 1/2 say they’ve been using it for 20 years and love the finish it provides. So we’ll see how this one turns out. In any case, I had a lot of fun with this project and look forward to finding another pipe to rehabilitate.

Finally, I haven’t smoked it yet, but the bakelite stem has a certain “old attic” smell/flavor to it that i’m thinking will go away with smoking. I tried soap and hot water, but it still tastes somewhat stale. I’m thinking i’ll smoke some big aromatics out of it first, and if that doesn’t work i’ll try the Lakeland blends.


UPDATE:

If you’ve read my review of Samuel Gawith Black XX you’ll have discovered two things:

  1. Black XX is one tasty tin of tobacco
  2. I finally, and properly, broke in this old Medico

So how did it do?

The attic flavor was obliterated with the first puff of Black XX, so that’s good. Also good: the pipe smoked wonderfully. I ran through a few aromatic choices the following day and the Medico performed its duties pleasantly.

If I had one complaint, it would be that the outer stummel gets hotter than other pipes in my collection. Even my somewhat thinly walled GBD New Era 867 bent billiard (pre-1980) keeps its cool better than the Medico. Maybe the Medico’s briar isn’t as dense as that old walnut-stained English. Maybe the cake is not robust enough yet.

In either case, the pipe smokes perfectly with a slow cadence. This is not a pipe to smoke in frustration (though, one might argue you should never smoke in frustration!).

It also sits well and looks handsome.


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As for dedication, I think this one will make for a lovely anything-goes-pipe. It is narrow enough to complement tight and spicy Va/Pers and still wide enough to accommodate a large breezy pipeful of English or aromatic.

As long as I keep it away from Ennerdale, I think it will bounce back from whatever I decide to throw at it.

Need pipes, tobacco, and supplies? You might be surprised what Amazon has to offer:

3 thoughts on “Pipe Restoration: Pre-1956 Medico Zulu “F” Stamping

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