A few weeks ago I began thinking about my favorite Peterson Chubbies, beginning with the John Bull 999. Today I want to look at another old-timer, the 9BC. Like the John Bull, the 9BC is something special among Peterson collectors, perhaps because it is hands-down the most sensuously curvy bent billiard Peterson has ever put on the market. You don’t have to take my word for it—Allison Rose Harrell’s photograph for Smokingpipes.com says it all:
So where did it come from, and where did it go?
The shape number of the 9BC tells us that it’s a classic “9”—a Charles Peterson Patent shape that’s been in the catalog since 1896. In the 1906 catalog it was first identified as a 9, which by the late 1940s would become a “307” in the Standard System numbering or 9S in the DeLuxe. It remains a standard in the Peterson catalog and is routinely found in the Classic Lines as the XL90s as well as in its original System versions as the 9s and 307.
This is a big pipe, at least in the traditional sense of the word, with a chamber geometry hovering at 20mm x 42 and a weight of around 65-68 grams. The shape was the largest of the regular System offerings until the B42 / Darwin slightly eclipsed it a few years back.
The “BC” in the shape number designates something special—it refers to the stem style and length, respectively. No other instance in the Peterson catalog is known of a pipe stamped “BC,” although both the 1896 and 1906 catalogs make it plain that a customer could custom-order any Peterson pipe with a BC stem. The “B” tells us the 9BC has a got a tapered, rather than saddle, stem style. The “C” means it’s got a shortened stem, which gives the 9BC pipe its distinctive chubby character.
We owe the existence of this shape, apparently, to the enthusiasm of Harry L. Rogers, Peterson’s incredible importer here in the United States from the late 1930s through the 1960s, as it appears nowhere other than in the Rogers ephemera.
The first appearance of the shape I’ve been able to track down is in the 1953 Rogers Imports catalog’s shape chart. It reappears in their “Chat With the Smoker” pipe-box brochure, also issued sometime in the 1950s, as well as their 1957 catalog. In all three cases, it is shown as an unmounted pipe, although the only 9BCs one is likely to run across these days are in its Shamrock dress and, sometimes, in the Sterling line.
The Shamrock was the least expensive of the Rogers Imports “individually boxed” lines during the 1950s and retailed at $3.50, while Peterson’s top of the line, the unmounted Supreme, cost $15.
At some point during the 1950s or early 1960s, I think Shamrocks were given a lighter finish, as can be seen by comparing the following two photographs:
I’m quite willing to be proven wrong on this, but if you look at enough Shamrocks, you’ll begin noticing there’s two stain colors, and the earliest catalog descriptions and illustrations are always of the darker stain.
The lighter-finished 9BC’s stem illustrates one problem in sourcing one of these beauties: whoever restored this pipe thinned down the button, and in the process the pipe lost a bit of its chubby charm.
The current production XL90[B]—the pipe with the tapered stem, not what would traditionally have been stamped the XL90s for “saddle” but is not currently so stamped—is for all intents and purposes the same shape as the old 9BC, as a comparison of their measurements reveals. It doesn’t have quite the delirious curve at the button, but is in other respects nearly identical.
For those wanting the original 9BC, Ebay has them on offer almost monthly. Right now there’s a 9BC Sterling whose only problem is a sawed-off P-Lip stem and the need for a bit of reconditioning. The former, of course, can be taken care of by dropping it in the mail to Peterson. For the latter, if you’ve never restored a pipe, you can find all the help you need at Steve Laug’s www.rebornpipes.com blog.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
What’s the chubbiest straight of all?”