About Mark Irwin

Mark Irwin and co-author Gary Malmberg are currently at work on K&P: Kapp & Peterson and the Peterson Pipe, due out from Briar Books Press in late 2015.

68. Preserving A 356 System Oom Paul

I had thought to finish up the B shapes this time around, but placed a half-serious bid on eBay and found myself the winner, to my consternation (at first), but delight (on actually examining the pipe). Sometimes the most exciting auctions seem to involve sellers who don’t know what they’re selling or auctions with photos that are just fuzzy enough to create a certain amount of uncertainty as to what, exactly, the shape is, or what condition the pipe is in.  I thought it might be the O2 house pipe (that’s “O” for “oversize,” as we explain in the book), and in a moment of madness bid on it, although I rarely smoke such behemoths. I fully expected to be outbid as the auction had 5 days left to run, but no one did.

It didn’t turn out to be the O2, but a shape I reach for much more often, the first, chubby version of the 02.  This is Peterson’s classic Oom-Paul shape, going back to the patent shapes of 1896. I love the size of chamber on these pipes, which is usually about 19mm x 48, one of the best in my smoking experience for Virginias and VaPers.

By the 1937 catalog the original 02 shape had three numbers: 02 for DeLuxe, 305 for 2nd grade, and 356 for the 3rd grade – 2nd being today’s Premier, 3rd being today’s Standard.  One of first things I knew we needed for The Peterson Pipe book was a cross-reference shape chart of shapes that bridges System and Classic Range, and just last week I had a question about an unfamiliar System shape that turned out to date from the 1930s.

I have a hunch based on the Peterson ephemera and the 02 shapes I’ve seen that sometime during the 1940s the original chubby 02 was modified, slimming down the shape, but not the chamber size, as you can see in the Shamrock 02 photo above. My reason for believing this has to do with the disappearance of the chubby original 02 shape from the catalogs after 1937, the appearance of the 02BB shape in the 1940s, and the transition to simply the 02 number before it was finally discontinued in the c. 1973 Associated Imports catalog.

Why the “BB” you may ask? I can offer you my fairly educated guess: the second “B” just stands for a tapered stem (fact), an old Peterson practice still in use with saddle stems, which are marked “S.” The first “B” (supposition) stands for a tapered bowl.  Like I said, that’s just a guess, but until I get another chance to dig through the Peterson archives, I suppose it’s as good as anyone’s.

When the pipe arrived, I was delighted to find it stamped IRISH FREE STATE, which means it was cut between 1922 to 1937, although my co-author has never logged a hallmarked IFS early than ’27. Even so, to companion and smoke a Peterson that’s going on 80 years old is a marvelous thing. The only rarer COM stamp would be the EIRE, that short period from 1938 – 1948.

As received, the 356 wasn’t in anything like the condition that Steve Laug routinely deals with on a daily basis over at Reborn Pipes, but in what I call the “well-beloved” state, meaning that while it looks pretty nasty, the owner actually took extremely good care of it, apart from neglecting to ream the carbon-cake! Some dental chatter, lava flow, extreme cake, a small burn mark at the front of the crown, and some small cracks under the ferrule at the mortise are all I had to contend with, all well within my DIY skill-set. The vulcanite testified to use, but not abuse, and certainly hadn’t been out in daylight for a long while.

The wood itself is what I call “classic standard-grade Peterson” – good, strong birdseye covering most of the bowl, and better than many, many Standard Systems. The only fill – and what made it a 3rd (Standard) grade – is on the back toward the mortise. It is fairly small, black and still strong after all these years, so no need to pick and refill it.

The three cracks at the mortise deserve mentioning, because the 02 shape, like the 14, has an enormous opening here, making the briar extremely thin. It’s not surprising that the company eventually moved away from such extremes, although I wonder (as I always do) how this gigantic opening and its accompanying reservoir impacts the smoking qualities of the pipe. I know my System shape 14 pipes (which have the same huge mortise) perform extremely well.

The ferrule was loose, and on backwards. I had worried from the eBay pictures that the soldered band was cracked or had been inexpertly repaired, but such was not the case – it had just discolored, as solder will do on a nickel band. If you’re new to the world of vintage Petes, you can expect such solder marks as an indicator that the pipe dates to before 1963.  I was surprised by the brass color of the solder, as when most old Pete bands are polished up, the solder simply disappears until the band becomes oxidized again.  Doesn’t look like silver, doesn’t it? Metallurgists (Al?) can you shed some light on this?

You can see in the various photos the discolored white glue the craftsmen used to seat the ferrule. I’ll use Liquid Nails to re-seat it onto the stummel, because I’m in the habit of polishing Peterson bands with a silver cloth on a routine basis, which can break the hold when using white glue. On Al’s advice, I wasn’t as aggressive in polishing the nickel mount this time, and while Fabulustre didn’t quite do it for me, white diamond did enough to keep me happy & keep the nickel intact and the nomenclature clear and crisp.

Also notice that on these hand-soldered nickel mounts, a bevel has been turned down where the band meets the wood, something you unfortunately don’t see on post-1963 machined-pressed nickel mounts.

The bowl smelled like its previous companioner had smoked non-aromatic tobacco, and using the smallest head on my PipNet, it came out like sand with just gentle turns, telling me the pipe had not been smoked in many years. No heat fissures beneath, and a pleasant smell, so I opted for Steve’s trick of using cotton pads instead of sea salt for an overnight alcohol soak. It passed the olfactory test the following morning, and when I cleaned out the shank it also didn’t take much – a tube-brush scrub and 7 or 8 pipe-cleaners and it was clean.

As a help to those interested in such things, I include a side-by-side comparison of the tenon end of the mouthpiece with a recent-production mouthpiece: the tenon extension juts straight out on the recent one, but is conical on the original. Note the width of this thing—6.5 mm!

The rule of thumb for a System graduated mouthpiece is 1.5 mm at the button, 5 mm at the tenon. (And no, if you’re wondering, the old Systems never had filters.) Premier and DeLuxe Systems dating from the same era would have had hand-cut vulcanite stems with screw-in bone extensions, if they had not been erroneously removed by unknowing owners.

I’ve become convinced over the years that a tight fit on the mortise-tenon juncture is essential to good performance on a System (or any army mount): it creates a much better, cooler, more flavorful airflow. One way to spot a replacement stem is simply to notice the fit. An original will probably bear a ring scar from where it hits the ferrule. A replacement won’t seat as well. This is one reason the company won’t just send customers a mouthpiece: they know it needs to be fitted by hand, by an expert.

I decided to strengthen the three hairline cracks in the mortise with clear CA glue. Not really necessary with the ferrule glued over it, but as long as it’s off, it’s just a bit of extra insurance to prolong the life of the pipe. While the excess glue wouldn’t show, I did need to smooth off the excess glue on the inside of the mortise (with a small dowel and 220 grit) for the tenon to fit securely.

I was careful not to soak the crown of the pipe long enough in alcohol to lighten the stain around the top. The original 3rd Grade Systems, according to the ’37 catalog, were stained “medium walnut.” One of the things I don’t like about many restorations I see is that, in re-dying a bowl, the original grain is often obscured. Fortunately, I read Charles Lemon’s latest post at Dad’s Pipes, and got out the mineral oil instead.

I coated the pipe with a cotton pad, then stood it up in my makeshift dyeing / drying rack (pipe reamer inserted in beer bottle). I had intended to go back and wipe it down, but got distracted, and when I came back, the wood had soaked it all in! More importantly, it was gorgeous. The following day, I applied some carnuba with the Foredom to let the oil set up a bit. This was a revelation for me. I’ve never seen carnuba take to a Pete bowl like this before, and all I can conclude is that the mineral oil was the magic here. Charles, I am indebted to you!

I’ve learned from bitter experience that breaking in a pipe this old can be every bit as hazardous and worrying as any new pipe, so I gave some thought to giving it a very light coat of pipe mud, just enough to help get the new carbon cake started and prevent undo any heat from burning the bowl. I say this because I once companioned a Patent pipe, which I had paid dearly for, only to have a giant burnout develop down at the airhole. It was devastating to think I’d mucked up a 100-year-old pipe, and so I’ve vowed to take much greater precautions with old wood ever since. I don’t like the taste of cigar (being mostly a Virginia user), so I decided in the end not to apply it. I hope I don’t live to regret that decision! If anyone has suggestions for breaking in old briar like this, please let me know. I can use all the help I can get.

The stem work was routine – after internal cleaning, I pulled out nearly all the dental chatter with soft passes of the lighter. I’m more a preservation than a restoration guy, so I left two little dents on the bottom of the button rather than resort to CA glue.

I soaked the mouthpiece in Oxyclean for about 4 hours, then went to work with micromesh pads. This time I thought I’d try wet-sanding with each grade, just to see if the work went more quickly. I confess, this is the most tedious part of the job for me, but I hate stems that are still brown under the shine. I’m sure it was hard on the pads, but the work went much quicker, and while I stopped (again, like my hero Steve) between every three grades to wipe it down with Obsidian oil, the results were noticeably better than usual, so I think I’ll make wet-sanding a habit.

The bend on the stem does not conform to the 1937 catalog, giving the pipe an extra .25 inches in length over a similar 356 with the 1937 bend. I decided to leave as it was.

P-Lip army mounts are among the worst to restore, at least for me, because of the P-Lip and the shoulders on the mount. I always seem to have a fine light brown haze around the shoulders and a thin brown line at the juncture of the upper and lower walls of the button. This time I used a small diamond file to carefully cut through the oxidation on the walls at the button, followed by careful use of a split 2400 micromesh pad, before running the gauntlet from 1800 to 12,000. It’s been my experience that if you don’t cut through the oxidation at the beginning, you’re going to see it when you’re done. I also put more effort into those shoulders, and I’m pleased to report (as maybe you can see) that under the Ott-Lite, all is a glossy obsidian.

And finally, the finished pipe:

Cataloging Information

Stamps:
Peterson’s over System (fork-tail P) over 3 (in a circle) on obverse;
356 stamp, lower reverse side of stummel;
IRISH over FREE STATE on obverse of stummel, just below ferrule

Year: Cut between 1922 – c. 1940
Mouthpiece: Probably original
Length: 6.25 in. / 159 mm.
Weight: 2.15 oz. / 60 gr.
Bowl Height: 2.22 in. / 56.61 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.9 in. / 48.45 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.762 in. / 19.35 mm
Outside Diameter: 1.37 in. / 34.97 mm

 

 

Shamrock 02 photo courtesy Smokingpipes.com

 

 

 

 

67. Sneak Peek: The 2017 Christmas Pipes

I know Christmas is still eons away, but it’s not every day one gets the chance to visit the Peterson branch of Santa’s Workshop and see what the Sallynoggin elves are up to, much less take photographs and bring back a report. So turn down the air-conditioning (if you’re here in the hottest part of the U.S.), don your Aran sweater, put on your favorite Christmas music, and take a look.

XL02

I didn’t think we’d see another Elf Army, but I am happily proved wrong. This year’s lineup, as you know from earlier blogs, features the full “12 Pipes of Christmas”—for 2017, shapes 01, 03, 05, 69, 87, 106, 408, 999, X220, XL02, XL11, and XL90. Eleven are from the Classic Range shape chart, but the twelfth, the XL11, is the “Original” Sherlock Holmes shape designed by Paddy Larrigan back in the 1980s. That’s two straights and ten bents, as usual in a variety of chamber dimensions to suit almost anyone’s tobacco preferences.

XL11 (Larrigan’s Original Sherlock Holmes shape)

Shapes 03, 999, 69

The “Elf Army 2” (ask for it by name!) features a nickel mount with a laser-engraved bow on the top of the ferrule and the classic K&P over PETERSON nickel stamp on the bottom.

The laser-stamping of the bowl gives full documentation, as you can see, of the line, the year, and the shape number. Bravo.  The stain is a deep brown over red contrast, producing a suitably seasonal ember-glow effect. The blast on the ones I examined is also quite nice, as Peterson continues to improve in that department.

69

Sometimes the blast will be quite striking, and on the whole, it’s even craggier than some of the current spigot lines, which suits me just fine. I don’t mind saying again just how soothing a good sandblast can feel, rolled between thumb and fingers after a long day.

The acrylic fishtail mouthpiece is widely slotted, featuring a silver hot foil-stamped P.

As you can see from the detail photos, the acrylic rod isn’t white, but a lovely striation of creams, mostly straight but varying just a bit from stem to stem. It will be difficult to see these photographed against white, like most e-tailers do, so I thought I’d set it them against black to give you a little better look.

I’ve been trying to learn how best to smoke a Peterson fishtail army-mount, because it doesn’t behave for me like a System, a P-Lip, a spigot, or a fishtail “Navy-mount.” When I try to use my usual smoking style (long drafts), I find it smokes too hot and is less flavorful than other Peterson mounting styles. Recently, however, I’ve learned that short draws seem to make all the difference, bringing back the flavor and dissipating the heat. If you smoke an acrylic-stem army-mount, please chime in and let everyone know how it works best for you.

01

408

03

05

I can’t remember when the 2016 Christmas pipes arrived here in the States, but I think it may have been as early as August. Until then, a thought from forgotten essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie: “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”

999

 

Photographs: Chas. Mundungus

Next: Can it be? The Last of the B Shapes Catalog!

 

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.