104. Restoring A Late Patent-Era House Pipe (Pt. 1)

The System’s 120th Anniversary is September 3rd!

That’s right, next Monday, September 3rd, 2018 marks the 120th anniversary of the 3rd and final patent of Charles Peterson’s celebrated System pipe. I’ve been trying since last spring to get folks interested in celebrating, but it looks like it’ll just be you and me this year.

To start things off, I thought I’d share a detailed look at the history and restoration of a rare System House Pipe in the collection of James Arrington. He and I have been trading emails about a few of his vintage Petes, and when he asked if I knew someone who might be interested in restoring this one, I volunteered for the job. James is a brave soul.

The shape is an O1, and it was one of Charles Peterson’s favorites as Pete Geeks may recall. Peterson, who had a great sense of humor, had the band of his own O1 engraved with the legend, When stolen, please return to 55, Grafton Street. C. Peterson.  The pipe still resides at the factory in Sallynoggin and was commemorated in a limited run 140th Anniversary Pipe reproduction back in 2005:

From 1896 until probably the onset of WWII, Kapp & Peterson made three of these XXL shapes, prefaced in the 1896 and 1906 catalogs with the alphabetical “O” designation. “O” stood for “oversize,” but because the early catalog pictures also illustrate 7″ and 12″ mouthpieces for these pipes—which they called “House Pipe mouthpieces” —the pipes, described in the catalogs as “Extra Large Size,” have become known as house pipes. Here is the 1906 illustration of James’s O1, but with an AB or army-tapered mouthpiece:

In the four-level taxonomy of pipe restoration (easy clean-up, reconditioning, restoration, reclamation), James’s pipe required a deep level 3 restoration. I’ve grouped the jobs as chronologically as I could, although you may notice photographs that run forward or back a little

1. Photos

The first thing to do with a great old pipe like this is get a preliminary set of photographs: its stamps, bowl, chamber, mouthpiece, button and mortise (if it’s a System). These photographs yield clues for restoration as well as documenting its unrestored beauty.

The bowl is stamped Grade 4 in a circle, the first I’ve seen, although my co-author Gary Malmberg says he’s run across this grade from time to time. You can see there are sizable fills on the obverse and a few smaller ones scattered over the rest of the bowl. Had the pipe been made after the introduction of sandblasting or rustication, that’s where it would have gone. But at this early date, the bowl was deemed of sufficient quality not to consign it to the “Dummies” reject line, so K&P created the Grade 4 line, which is not found in Peterson ephemera.

2. Dating the Pipe

Before beginning a restoration, I like to find out as much as I can about when a pipe was made on the basis of the stamps and mouthpiece combined with what can be gleaned from the Peterson ephemera. After working with the pipe and looking at the photographs for a while, I have come to believe this O1 is from the latter part of the Patent Era, for the following reasons:

  • The nickel marks are typical of those found in both the Patent Era and the Irish Free State era (1922-1937), with the mushroom-top, doored round tower and long-necked Wolf Hound. The ribs of the shamrock have either been worn down or were not stamped deeply.
  • The first COM (Country of Manufacture) stamp to appear on K&P pipes was during the Irish Free State era (1922-1937).
  • The bowl has no COM (Country of Manufacture) stamp, which could mean it was either not stamped, it was made in the late Patent Era (1913-1921), or it was made in the IFS era before the COM stamp was used.

  • It is stamped SYSTEM, a stamp which replaced the PATENT stamp at some point after the patent’s expiration in 1912.
  • K&P was advertising the De Luxe System line by 1917.

Taken together, these clues lead me to conjecture the pipe was probably cut between 1917 and 1927 (1927 being the first documented date we have the IFS stamp), which means either the late Patent era or the beginning of the Irish Free State era. Conservative estimate: 100 years ago.

3. Chamber Preliminaries

After the documentary photos, the next job was to ream the bowl and get a sense of how the chamber has fared. The previous owner liked to use a knife to remove dottle, and unsurprising in a chamber this large, often only smoked half the bowl—the cake being noticeably thicker at the top half than the bottom. The cake was all quite old, dense and hard, so he seems to have been a fairly slow, methodical smoker.

After reaming with the PipNet, I used a short dowel rod with 100 grit to remove all the remaining cake and get a good look at the chamber surface beneath. I know some pipemen won’t buy a pipe that’s been reamed back to the bare wood, but with a pipe this old, I felt it was necessary to know what James might be facing as it breaks it in. The chamber was tight and clean, with just a few of the typical “fire veins” or spider webs produced by the heat of the tobacco in any chamber over the years. The draft hole in particular was small and tight. In wood this old, as that’s often where a burnout will begin, another reason to clear it of cake.

4. Restoring the Crown

What immediately draws the eye when looking down on the crown of the bowl is if it is “out of round” and if there are any cuts or nicks along the inner rim. But what is often hidden in plain sight is damage to the outer rim, usually (like this one) softened and beaten down from years of use. At this point, I made the decision to top the crown by a millimeter (less if possible) to bring the sharp edges back.

And here’s take-away #1 for anyone new to pipe restoration, or for those who haven’t worked on many Petes: old Systems, particularly the straight-sided ones like the ‘dutch’ bent shapes (the 02, 4 / 309, and 1 / 301) can often benefit by topping a millimeter or so if the crown has been softened or beaten down. If you’re careful, it won’t affect the visual perception of the shape at all. If you take nothing away from this post, think about trying this step on future projects where it may be indicated.

After reaming the chamber and giving the outside of the briar a good wipe down with isopropyl-soaked cotton pads, I found exactly what I needed to guide my topping job: a small burn mark on the outer rim. It measured .95mm, which should remove enough wood to restore a crisp top and sharp edges to the crown.

After taping the ferrule (very important for System pipes), I began with 100 grit on a flat surface (no pads!) to get through the first .50 mm, then went up to 150 until I hit the burn mark. There followed 220 and 400, where I stopped to put in the bevel.

Take-away #2: When the inner rim of the chamber has been scarred in various places by a knife, it can be made to look almost new with a small bevel commonly used on Petes of mid- and high grades. I suspect one reason such bevels have been used by pipe makers is to aid in getting the ashes out without scarring the rim.

As so often happens, the bowl itself will tell you how deep and wide to make the bevel. On this O1 there is a little nick in the inner rim from the previous owner’s knife-reaming that indicates the depth I want. Achieving that would remove surface imperfections around the inner rim and bring it back into round.

I use the same dowel rod I use to finish the inner chamber to make the bevel, using 150 grit to do most of the shaping, then 220 and 400 to finish the preliminary work.

There are two lines to keep your eyes on when you bevel: the outer line on the top of the crown, and the inner line inside the bowl. The goal, of course, is to make the two lines run parallel to the edge of the bowl and each other. In practice, this isn’t usually possible, because the rim and the chamber are never perfect circles—in fact, they probably weren’t when it was originally drilled.

5. Bowl Surface: Sanding and Fills

Before sanding the bowl, there are some dings to deal with: two little meteor showers, one on each flank of the bowl, and two little pock splashes, one on the bottom of the bowl and one near the crown.

I use a doubled T-shirt fabric, soaking wet, covering the affected area, then heat a flat-head screwdriver on the stove and press it onto the T-shirt, letting the hissing steam pull out the dings. This takes a few applications until you can see and feel the dings rise. There’s usually a ghost left, which sand paper can easily remove.

After raising the dings, I turned to sand the bowl, beginning with a 400-grit pad, then followed with a 500. I find that if I go below 400, I’ll remove most of the original stain, which I don’t want to do if I can help it, as this is a restoration, not a reclamation.

Before you begin, be sure to tape over the stampings! I tell you this as one who has nearly sanded them off before I realized the pad was hitting the affected area. Just sanding with 400 grit makes an old bowl like this feel incredibly smooth. I stopped here to take care of the major fills, but as you can see, at 500 (in the photo below), the briar is already beginning to “glow.”

You may not know this, but Peterson pipes of the last several decades are only sanded up to 400 grit. They tried to go higher at one point—600 or maybe 800 I think Paddy Larrigan told me—but they ran through the paper so quickly they realized it wasn’t financially viable and so settled on 400 as the sweet spot.

Compare that to what one of my favorite artisans, Silver Gray, said in her interview on PipesMagazine Radio Show: she sands her pipes to 12,000 grit. “Light bulb,” as Felonius Gru would say. But before I sand, I need to do the fills and re-stain it.

The obverse has some “acne” (pits, root marks and fills) which I’m leaving, as they give the pipe some of its distinctive character as a Grade 4. The putty seems solid in the tiny fills on this side, so I see no need to pick it out and refill.

I use Steve Laug’s method for filling places where the old putty has fallen out. You need a dental pick, a small sculptor’s tool, or something similar, and of course some briar dust. It doesn’t take much at all, so if you’ve got an old bowl, a minute or two of swipes on 100 or 150 grit will get you all you need.

Here’s Steve explaining his method from a post over at Reborn Pipes:

I then took a tin of briar dust I have saved from pipes I have worked on over the past months. I keep some on hand for patches like these. I wet the end of the dental pick and dipped it into the briar dust and move it around to form a ball of the dust on the end of the pick. I used my finger to move the dust ball into the hole on the shank and the bowl. I patted the dust into the hole with the tip of a knife blade as I wanted a good tight fill. I then squeezed a few drops of super glue into the dust in the hole. As I did this the dust would shrink a bit and I added more dust and more super glue. When I was done the holes were filled and both had a small bump over where they used to be. I always over fill the holes so that when I sand them down they are smooth and I can feather in the fills with the rest of the briar. I was fortunate in this case that the holes were lined up with the grain marking around them. Once the glue dried (very quickly by the way) I sanded and checked to see if I had missed any spots. I wanted the entire surface smooth to the touch and under a jeweler’s loop. I sanded the spots down and blended them into the bowl surface. Once that was done I wiped the bowl down with a cotton cloth dampened with Isopropyl alcohol to remove any remaining dust.

You can see the mistake I probably made. I used amber CA glue instead of black. I’m not sure the black would have colored my briar dust–does anyone know? As glue is over the top of the sanded fills, I’ll need to spot stain these fills afterward, so they will be a bit less obvious to the eye than might have been the case. Oh well. Sorry, James!

And now for take-away #3: sand the bowl all the way through the Micromesh pad set up to 12,000 grit. It’s easy work that costs nothing but a little time and some pad grit, but will tell afterwards in the long-term patina and gloss of the bowl, as well as how it feels between the fingers. So after sanding down the CA glue fills, I continued up from 500 grit to 600, 900, then through the Micromesh grades.  This goes much faster than vulcanite restoration, and I think you’ll see the end result worth the few minutes it takes.

 

COMING:
September 3rd: System Day 2018–
The 120th Anniversary of the Final Patent
. . . And the exciting conclusion of
“The Case of Arrington’s O1”. . .

 

TIN TALK #7: The indisputable connection between
pipe-smoking and ratiocination.

 

 

102. The Burren: Peterson’s New Sandblast Natural Virgin Line

I’ve been anxious to see the new 2018 Burren line—an unfinished or “natural virgin” sandblast army-mount at the entry-grade level.  Followers of the blog will remember that in the 2018 Peterson catalog, the Burren line was originally named “Summertime,” but as the Burren area of County Clare was a favorite haunt of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who often took long walking holidays there together, I think I can cope with the change.

Karst landscape typical of the Burren in the southwest of Ireland

My co-author Gary Malmberg, being more knowledgeable than I about the history of pipes, told me that, off-hand, he could think of at least three distinguished forebears in the sandblast virgin style of finishing: the Dunhill Tanshell sandblast of the early 1950s, the Savinelli rusticated Capri Root Briar of the 1960s, and of course the Castello rusticated Natural Vergin line, also beginning in the 1960s. But the Burren’s immediate inspiration was Peterson’s small-batch Sansone Rogha, an annual release of about a dozen pipes hand-selected by Mario Lubinski.

Sansone Rogha X220 System (2017)

 “The Burren and the Rogha are indeed very similar,” Conor Palmer told me, “and there is not a massive difference to be honest. We really like the natural, ‘unprocessed’ look and feel of the Rogha pipes that were for the Italian market previously. We simply wanted to offer it to the wider market and so decided to incorporate it into the 2018 series with a few small tweaks. The Burren doesn’t take any finishing while the Rogha were buffed with a white soap buff to give them a slightly glossier finish.  The Rogha pipes have a black saddle acrylic P-Lip mouthpiece while the Burren have acrylic mocha- colored fishtail mouthpieces.”

“Each pipe receives a light brush and polish” the copy reads in the 2018 cataalog, and at first glance the B10 I have in front of me (pictured at top) doesn’t appear all that much different than the Rogha, aside from the fact that the latter did indeed seem a bit cleaner or whiter.

Having logged almost two dozen smokes in the Rogha and one in the Burren, I’m inclined to say there are two chief differences, one in the smoking experience of the P-Lip System vs. the army-mount fishtail, and one in the aesthetic experience of the bowls.

If you’ve mastered the typical air-turbulence problems of a Peterson army-mount, you’re home free. This type of pipe smokes hotter for me than either a traditional tenon-mortise (better) or well-made System (best), but I’ve learned that a slower cadence and a sipping style (rather than my standard chuffing routine) overcomes such difficulties, at least when I shy away from virginias and va/pers.

The aesthetic difference lie in the Rogha’s sterling mount, the fact that it is hand-stamped rather than laser-engraved, executed as a System pipe, and is comprised of hand-selected bowls. Joe Kenny, factory manager at Peterson, told me the two lines are of the same bowl grade and finish. But it’s obvious that Mario Lubinski went through baskets of these bowls to find 12 flawless ones. Much the same process happens with the selection of bowls for the Premier and De Luxe System sandblasts, by the way.

When I say “flaw” in reference to the Burren, I’m not talking about engineering or quality control, but the accident of wood–perceived visual imperfections caused by dirt, sand or other debris during the growth of the briar. It’s part of what keeps the price affordable for most of us. You can see in this photo of my B10 what I’m talking about, the little dark nick just across from the shank on the bowl:

As I say, this isn’t an issue, just an observation of the differences one can expect between spending $117 for the Burren and $205 for the Rogha. (And one downside to the Rogha is that only a dozen or so have been made in each of the three years of production, so they’re just a bit difficult to source!)

So how about the Burren’s smoking qualities? For me, so far it’s been identical to the Rogha’s, taking into account the chamber differences and mouthpiece configurations. To the point, while I was careful breaking in the Rogha, it’s been hands-down the best-tasting Peterson break-in I’ve ever had. All I can surmise is that natural, unfinished chamber walls provide a much better initial taste experience than ones with a pre-carb or charcoal-colored vegetable coating.

The Burren’s engineering is typical for this grade of Peterson. The nickel cap bears the traditional K&P over Peterson maker’s mark and can benefit by a bit of buffing with white compound on the wheel to bring it up if the smoker so desires.

The mocha-and-cream acrylic swirl mouthpiece is the same rod used on the Derry Rustic a few years back, although lacking the hot foil silver P of that line.

As with the Rogha, I predict it will be a lot of fun to watch the bowl darken. Definitely recommended for anyone with an interest in a natural virgin Peterson army mount experience.  Here’s my X220 System Rogha after 20 bowls, to give you an idea of what you might expect in fairly short order:

Peterson’s done a great job in selecting shapes for the line, with something to please everyone: the 03 bent apple, 87 bent apple, 106 billiard, 230 small bent billiard, 408 quarter-bent apple, 999 rhodesian, B10 rhodesian hybrid, D18 tankard / setter, 105 straight billiard, X220 bent billiard and XL90 large bent billiard.

 

Thanks to Conor Palmer and Joe Kenny at Peterson,
to Sansone Smoke Shope (Rogha portrait),
to Smokingpipes (for stock photos),
and to Chas. Mundungus (other photos)

 

TIN TALK #5: A Tool for Wisdom

 

 

95. The 2018 Evening (Army) Collection

The first of the 2018 Evening Collection army mounts should be appearing over the horizon almost any day now, and I thought you’d enjoy a closer, non-commerical look and perhaps a bit of background on the line.

A P-Lip Army Mount from the 1906 Catalog

I’ll assume if you’ve been reading this blog or smoking Petes for most any length of time, then you know Peterson and army mounts have been together almost since the beginning. The Identification Guide in our Peterson book (forthcoming! I promise!) lists over a dozen named army-mount lines dating back to late 1940s. In 2016 a great renaissance of the style began at Peterson, and since then we’ve seen some really beautiful, fresh lines: the Orange Army (2016), Christmas Pipe / “Elf Army 1” (2016), Summertime “Blue & Orange” (2016), Derry Rustic “Killer Bs” (2016), Short Classics (2016), Christmas Pipe / “Elf Army 2” (2017), and will soon see the Summertime “Natural Blast” (2018) and the Christmas Pipe / “Elf Army 3” (2018).

“Army” is the new “System.” And maybe at some point Peterson will further its experiments in the acrylic P-Lips and offer an Army P-Lip–something we haven’t seen in the catalog since the vulcanite 1898-1998 P-Lip Commemorative and the first Antique Reproduction quartet of 1996 (the latter of which featured two System reproductions and two P-Lip Army reproductions)–over twenty years ago, now.

The Evening Collection is a step above all its recent army-mount siblings, a mid-to-upper grade sterling-mount line with a beautiful matte black finish dress bowl, a marbled greyish-white acrylic fishtail mouthpiece (slightly shortened), and the aluminum P, pressed quite dramatically on the top of the button. If the sterling and the aluminum P weren’t enough to guide collectors, please note the hand-stamped logo on the obverse, and hand-stamped shape number on the reverse. After getting used to the laser-engraving system, it looks like Peterson is reverting to hand-stamping on its mid-to-upper grades.

There’s six shapes in the collection, as you can see: a medium and a large bulldog (the 150 and the XL21), the small billiard used for straight Systems (the 31), the classic small 03 bent apple, the B11 brandy “setter,” and the large XL11. It’s going to be available in 9mm or standard, so I’d guess we’ll see it debut in Germany and Europe before reaching US shores.

I like the way the sterling work on the ferrules has settled down to the Peterson script over DUBLIN on the top of the band and the hallmarks large and precisely centered on the bottom. These are the first 2018 hallmarks I’ve seen, and I like the crisp articulation.

I also like some of the classic shapes Peterson has chosen—the B11 is an old friend and does virginia and va/per proud. The XL11 looks fantastic in its foreshortened stem treatment. And the 03 and its big brother the 02 are about as iconic as you can get in a Pete.

My Dad has always been a fan of black dress pipes and companioned a 301 black System for years before dropping it (hot) on the garage floor. It cracked, but never enough to be a bother for him. I was about to say I’ve never companioned a black pipe, but that’s not true, as my first non-basket pipe was a Jobey Stromboli, which still occupies a place of honor in my rack.

For me, the fishtail Army smoking experience is considerably different from either the System or the Navy (traditional tenon and mortise), but I’ve come to it after 40 years of System and Navy pipes and am not the best guide to how to get the most out of these pipes. P-Lip Armies, yes. But the fishtail are another kettle: I’ve got a trio at present that I’m becoming friends with—a Derry Rustic XL339, an Arklow XL339, and an IRISH MADE 68—and so far, they’ve responded best to cooler-temperature tobaccos than the hotter, sweeter virginias. If there are any stout Army fans reading this, give us a shout out and pass on any wisdom about the smoking and care of these beautiful pipes.

 

Deataigh i Síocháin!