66. The Newgrange Line

The Newgrange Spigots will be arriving on our shores in the next few months, and like so much of the great work out of Sallynoggin, you’ve really got to hold one in your hands to appreciate what the Peterson artisans have done.

This was forcefully driven home to me on my first Peterson pilgrimage in 2009, when John Dromgoole at the old Grafton Street store asked if I would be interested in one of the new LEs, just then in the shop. I’d seen photos of it on the internet, but only from the side, so to me it just looked like another quarter-bent billiard. But when I held it in my hands and turned it over, the magic revealed itself. It had a wonderfully pinched stem that couldn’t be seen from its sideview.

The LE 2009: Case in Point

So it is that I wanted to present the Newgrange pipes from angles and with lighting that would allow you to appreciate the careful flow of the brown-and-black gloss accent rims to the matching acrylic mouthpieces and the force of the “Facing”-mount spigots.

X220 Newgrange

The flat-top mount used, called a “Facing” mount in the 1906 catalog, originally appeared on System pipes, Patent-Lip pipes, and spigots, and when Peterson re-introduced its spigot line in the late 1970s, they brought it back in very limited numbers, but usually with a smooth tenon spigot instead of the beaded one (used on the Newgrange), which I much prefer. It’s not a mount you see very often on a Peterson, which may be why I like it so much.

301 Newgrange

On the pieces I examined, the Peterson stamping on the sterling mount was uniformly aligned on the top of the shank. The hallmarking was centered on the bottom, as you can see if you click on the picture below. The acrylic at the airhold of the spigot tenon is chamfered and clean, and should provide a smooth airflow. I want to mention this, because the standard Peterson acrylic fishtail army-mounts are not chamfered, and I suspect this is one reason they smoke hotter. Of course, a P-Lip would make airflow even better, but I suspect I’m voicing a minority opinion here!

The line takes its name, as students of megalithic structures know, from the incredible passage tomb in the Boyne Valley which archeologists believe dates to about 3,200 BCE. When we toured the tomb — and visitors go in single file — someone behind us (not me, thankfully!) got claustrophobic and everyone behind him had to do a backwards shuffle.

408 Newgrange

According to Conor Palmer at Peterson, as the Newgrange is phased in, last year’s Roundstone Spigot line will be phased out. The Roundstone is a particularly beautiful line with its Hinch mount, dark brown blast finish and tan-and-pearl faux-tortoise shell acrylic stem. Most of the shapes are still available, “while supplies last,” as the saying goes! Like the Roundstone, the Newgrange will probably retail at about $180 or so.

302 Newgrange

XL11 Newgrange

68 Newgrange

 

LE 2009 photos courtesy Smokingpipes.com

Fumare in pax!

 

 

65. The Wicklow Line: What’s in a Name?

One of the things I’m most pleased with in The Peterson Pipe book is the encyclopedia, the first of three appendices at the end of the book.Gary Malmberg (my co-author) and I probably spent more time on this single chapter than any other part of the book, because his documentation of hallmarked pipes and my documentation of every line, series, and collection found in the catalog ephemera laid the foundation for everything else in the book.

Fairly early on I made an interesting discovery concerning Peterson’s line names, something you may already know. A single name can sometimes be used to describe four or five different lines of pipes, usually spread over several decades, but once in a while used concurrently.  When a name is used simultaneously for two separate lines (for example, Shamrock or Rock of Cashel), I found one line being produced for the U.S. market and the other being made for a market elsewhere on the globe.

Shape 87 apple (Novelli)

Having access to the encyclopedia will help a collector pinpoint a range of years an un-hallmarked pipe he’s holding (or thinking of buying) was made. The original Aran line, for example, consisted of six oversized rusticated shapes stained coal-black, and was available in Classic Range shapes from roughly 1965 – 1975, when a second Aran line, this time in just six XL shapes, stained dark red, was released. The name has been used twice more since then, and even today causes consternation among collectors because it describes both an unmounted line and a mounted one.

Shape D19 Wicklow (Novelli)

The Wicklow is a relevant illustration of Peterson’s use of line names, because just now Novelli has replenished their Peterson stock, and as usual has some of the most handsome examples you’ll find anywhere.

The Wicklow name was first given to an exclusive Iwan Reis line back in 1969. The line was unusual for Peterson in that it featured not only two otherwise unknown shapes – the “Bell Poker” and the “Calabash, Special Shape” (pictured below), but also because it featured a twin bore mouthpiece, as you can see in the photo of the calabash. IRC continued to advertise the line in their 1970 catalog, but then the name disappeared. Its $35 price tag (the same IRC customers paid for a De Luxe System) meant it was, indeed, something beyond the usual.

In 1987, Peterson resurrected the line name, this time for U.S. distribution, in a smooth range of Classic Line shapes with a rusticated patch, P-Lip and nickel band. The partial rustication, dark stain, and nickel mount would place it in quality probably just below the current Aran line.

The c. 1987 Wicklow line

The line name resurfaced for a third time in 1993, when Mario Lubinski took it up (along with a few other discarded IRC line names).* Mario again worked his magic, obtaining only the most striking pieces of briar for the Italian Wicklows. The line’s use of a sterling band is typical for Mario, but what’s unusual from an Italian perspective is that it features a vulcanite, usually P-Lip, stem. I can’t be sure, but I have a hunch it’s Lubinski’s only vulcanite-mouthpiece line.

Rare shape 261 Belge-Canadian Wicklow (Bollito)

A few years ago, a fourth iteration of the Wicklow line appeared on the market, this time in the U.S. with a sandblast fishtail and nickel band.  Undocumented in the ephemera I have seen, the line serves as an important reminder to collectors that Peterson’s catalog is so deep that anyone who thinks they’ve touched bottom is probably suffering from the bends.

D6 blast Wicklow, nickel band (Smokingpipes)

 

Coda: I would be remiss if I didn’t end by noting that, like nearly all Peterson lines, the Wicklow takes its name from the Irish landscape. If ever you visit Ireland, a day’s leisurely drive from Dublin through the Wicklow Mountains is a day well spent. Even better for the adventurous is the seven-day hike (about 80 miles)  from Marlay Park in southern Dublin through County Wicklow to Clonegal in County Carlow. Many B&B’s will pick up your luggage and have it waiting for you at the end of the day.

St. Kevin’s Way signpost, Co Wicklow,
photo courtesy Chas Mundungus

Pipe photos courtesy Novelli.it, Bollitopipes.it, and Smokingpipes.com

 

* I have this from Tom Palmer’s recent conversation with Mr. Lubinski.

64. The Next-Gen System?

One of the goals of The Peterson Pipe Book is to delve deeply into the System, Charles Peterson’s flagship line, and recover an understanding of why it is in fact one of the world’s great smoking instruments, deserving of the pipeman’s respect and a prominent place in his rotation. But while the layout & design artist and I are at work this spring and summer getting the book finalized for the publisher, I’ve become aware of a new and interesting development in the System that I want to share. First, some background:

Peterson’s System pipes, as most Peterson smokers (if few others) know, are by definition “system” pipes if they adhere to Charles Peterson’s two patent design principles:

  1. a System reservoir;
  2. a graduated-bore P-Lip stem.

If a pipe lacks either, then it is quite simply not a System pipe, whether considered from the perspective of history, engineering, marketing, or the smoking experience itself.

To the two patents mentioned above, Peterson has traditionally (but not always, as we discuss in the book) added a third, strengthening element, although it’s not in the patent: either a domed army-mount on the Standard and Premier Systems, or a ferrule with Space-Fitting Stem on the De Luxe.

As lovers of estate Petes have noticed time and again, the nickel or sterling mount makes the System (like its cousin the Peterson Army) the toughest pipe on the market, impervious to shank cracks, weather, and too loose or tight tenons. About the only thing that could make it tougher would be a spigot mount.

Never in Peterson’s history, until recently, has there been a genuine spigot System. One was advertised in a Hollco-Rohr distributor catalog c. 1987, but as you can see from the photograph below (which I’ve digitally enhanced to show the mouthpieces more clearly), it actually featured a traditional fishtail spigot mouthpiece and thus violated Charles Peterson’s second design principle. And a fishtail mouthpiece with a reservoir will not smoke like a System pipe. Trust me, I’ve tried it. You get a lot of hot, wet smoke. There’s a reason it’s called a “System”—it needs both parts to function correctly.

The c. 1987 “Spigot” System had a fishtail!

In 2016, for the IPCPR show, Peterson produced a handful of Premier Spigots. “We used Premier-grade bowls and stuck a spigot mouthpiece on them,” Conor Palmer at Peterson recently told me. “We only produced them as a one-off,” he said, “part of some IPCPR picking stock that we created for last year’s show.” As you can see, they all feature the new Hinch flat-nose mount.

XL315 Premier System Spigot

When Laudisi (aka Smokingpipes.com) visited the factory in March, they acquired the remaining pieces and quietly put them up on their Smokingpipes.com site. I have no idea how many, nor what shapes were made, but I did pick up a few photographs and had Laudisi send me a 312 to give it a go.  Because of a quirk in the factory computer program, the boxes were incorrectly labeled “Standard System Premium Spigot,” but the bowls, as Pete freeks quickly noticed and Conor Palmer confirmed, are indeed Premier grade.

A Classic Vulcanite 1979 P-Lip (left) and the 2015 Acrylic P-Lip (right)

The other piece in the next-gen System is a new acrylic P-Lip. As you can see from the comparison photographs, the button has a slightly different shape, but like the best of the vulcanite P-Lips, it has a well-developed upper and lower wall with a wide, flat shelf, elements crucial for comfort and clenching.

Long-time readers of the blog will know I’m something of a Luddite, and an acrylic stem is something I have learned to tolerate rather than admire, although that may be changing. My chompers are as far away from movie-star glam as can be, with pointy dog teeth that always leave a mark. Acrylic is more slippery than vulcanite, but I found after the first smoke that my clenching style adjusted without any problems.

The 2015 Acrylic (top) and 1979 Vulcanite (bottom) mouthpieces:
gorgeous articulation of the walls and clenching shelves!

The acrylic P-Lip not only follows Charles Peterson’s design principles, but even improves on it. The air hole is graduated, as per patent specs, from 1.5mm at the button to 5mm at the base.  The first improvement, seen in the photo above, is in the better articulation of the button walls and clenching shelves. This has been a problem with the Standard and Premier mouthpieces of the past several years and comes as a great return to form.

A second  improvement is in the air hole at the button. It is upturned, as per patent specs, but unlike its vulcanite predecessors it is chamfered, as you may just be able to see from the detail photographs.  This means a better airflow as well as a little greater ease when inserting a pipe cleaner.

5mm Opening, Per Patent Specs

There is no screw-in tenon extension, normally part of the Premier and De Luxe treatment, for two reasons: first, because Peterson hasn’t found a partner who can chase the threads into the acrylic; and second, the company is in the process of finding a new manufacturer for the extensions.

Profile of the New Acrylic Spigot on a 312

An acrylic mount will, of course, be another feather in the System’s cap: stronger and so much easier to maintain than vulcanite. Whatever will the old-time System-user do with all that time freed-up from cleaning and buffing oxidized stems?

303 Premier System Spigot

So how does the System Spigot smoke? Or to use “precision of language,” as Jonas from The Giver might ask, “does it smoke like well-functioning System?” The answer (drum roll, please) is . . . an unequivocal full-on Yes.  The 312 I’m smoking is as cool and dry as the finest Systems in my rotation—at least, after a dozen or so smokes. For me, that’s saying a lot, as I don’t believe there is a pipe that smokers better, all things considered, than a well-made System. I have several fishtail Petes that are absolutely first-rate smokers, but the fact remains that nothing (to my taste) smokes as comfortably between the teeth, as cool and dry, or as flavorful as a graduated P-Lip mouthpiece in conjunction with a System reservoir.

312 Premier System Spigot

There is one final peculiarity to ponder with the System Spigot. I have other 312 Systems in my rotation, but unlike them, the Spigot System smokes my Virginia flakes to absolute ash. It also requires fewer relights. I can only hypothesize that this has to do with the Spigot mount. The metal-on-metal of the tenon-shank connection transfers heat more uniformly than vulcanite-on-briar or acrylic-on-briar, creating a tighter seal when smoking. The tighter seal results in a better airflow.

304 Premier System Spigot

Tom Palmer said he doesn’t know when the company will go ahead with the next-gen System, but here’s hoping it’s soon. Can you imagine some of the multi-color acrylic rod used on new product lines applied to the System?

Tom also said that if the right grade of bowl materializes, there are several shapes that could be used. These include not only traditional System shapes (including the B42 / Darwin), but shapes like the B10 and B11. Even more intriguing was his inclusion of several straight shapes – the 107, X105, and 150 among them. Straight Systems smoke like the Sahara – almost too dry for me. But that’s another story.  In the meantime, it looks like the toughest pipe on the planet  may just get tougher.

307 Premier System Spigot

 

 

Fumare in Pace!

Photographs courtesy Smokingpipes.com
Additional 312 Premier System Spigot Photographs
by C. Mundungus

 

63. The New Valentia Line

The 2017 Valentia line takes its name from beautiful Valentia Island just off the southwest coast of Ireland, historically famous as the site of the first permanent communication link between Europe and North America with the completion of the Transatlantic telegraph cables in 1866. Like other stops on the Ring of Kerry tourist route, it’s a must-see, and I’m really hoping to spend some time there on my next Peterson pilgrimage.

The six shapes comprising the new Valentia line all continue Peterson’s commitment to an idea that began back about 1945 with the Specialty quartet of pipes known as the Tankard & Barrel, Calabash & Belgique seen below.  The Italians have always liked to call small pipes like these “Lady Pipes,” and I can see how Jackie Onassis could have tucked one of these away in her purse when out and about with JFK.*

Don’t let the name put you off. I can see why the Calabash and Belgique got the nick-name, but the Tankard and Barrel, while small, are as quintessentially Irish as a shape can be. Talk about gender and pipe shapes can be useful to illustrate an aesthetic or design principle in a particular shape or line of pipes or even marque (for example, “the Peterson house style is predominantly masculine, while classic English shapes are feminine”), but is worse than worthless if attached to the gender self-identification of the pipe-smoker. This may be why 2016’s expansion of the idea began with the decidedly masculine look of the sterling army-mount Short Classics.

The Valentia pipes are probably the finest green-stain pipes Peterson has produced. The earliest documented example of a green Pete came back with the 200-piece Limited Edition Racing Green duo in the 1990s, and has been more or less a staple in the catalog ever since, appearing in the long-standing Racing Green line as well as several of the St. Patrick’s Day commemorative years.

Five of the six shapes chosen for the Valentia appeared in the Short Classics line last year (of course, in army-mount dress), the shape 65 billiard being the new one.

Once again, there’s quite a bit of variation in the acrylic stems, as you can see. Sometimes this can be quite dramatic. The wide flare promises a good clinching experiences, as, of course, does the extremely light weight of these pieces. I also like the slightly wider-than-usual sterling bands.

The button is an interesting shape, not one that I’ve encountered before on a Pete, so I thought I’d give you a look at it as well.

I’ve long been intrigued with small-bowled pipes, but my current lifestyle rarely offers me the opportunity. Fellow pipemen tell me they’re wonderful for short smokes or for flake tobaccos, but I’m an after-work smoker, so I’m usually looking for a bowl that will give me 2 hours or so of Pete Heaven.

 

Pictured at top: the Calabash

 

Pax in fumare!

A next-gen System on the horizon?
Stay tuned. . .

 

*Jackie O. a pipe-smoker? See “A Woman’s Handbag,” http://www.alpascia.com/moments/d/A-womans-handbag-i23001.html#