93. The Unsung Story of Shape 68: Restoring a Trio of Hidden Gems

The Shape 68 K&P Irish Made Story

1975 was a pivotal year in Peterson’s history. The world-wide pipe-smoking community was nearing its zenith, and the company was at the most expansive point in its history. Peterson was celebrating what it thought of as its centennial, and marked the occasion with a number of celebrations, including the most elaborate catalog it had released since 1906.

Four years later, under the direction of W. F. Murphy, Peterson continued its expansive effort by introducing a number of shapes which have become iconic of the Peterson house style in the years since: the 03 and 02 bent apples, the 01-bent pot (itself an homage to the straight-sided billiards of Charles Peterson’s design), and the 05 bent dublin (replaced in 1984 by the equally important 305 calabash).

New Shapes for 1979

Tucked away behind these releases were others which are now becoming more familiar to Peterson enthusiasts: the muscular 107 billiard, the 04-horn antique reproduction (Peterson’s first serious foray into its early catalog), and that hidden gem, the 68 bent brandy.

I would never have given the 68 much attention if a trio of them had not come to me from across the pond. There were eleven pipes in the box, all from the same piper (now deceased), and three of them were sterling K&P Irish Made 68’s. It struck me that this pipeman must have had a great affection for the shape to have had three of them in his rotation.

The “K&P” in “K&P over IRISH MADE” is actually part of the line’s name, which most people don’t know, and understandably so. The non-System army-mount Peterson dates from the 1906 catalog and has been issued in several line names. It is currently enjoying a huge vogue, with Peterson releasing two or three new army-mount lines every season.

There is seeing a pipe and there is holding a pipe, and the two are not the same, as you doubtless know. Sometimes a shape’s form captures the eye and imagination, but as you hold it in your hand or clinch it between your teeth, it seems to find no place to rest. Peterson’s B7, for me, is one of those shapes—I love to look at it but can’t figure out how to hold it. I can say much the same for many artisanal shapes that have passed through my rotation—for whatever reason, they don’t seem to conform to my hands. My hands tell me the shapes are either awkward, unwieldy, too large, or simply misshapen.

The Only Pete I Ever Hated: A Kildare 82S

That was part of the story with my old 82S, a shape released the same year as the ones mentioned above. Partly the fault was in the chamber, because in those days the bowls were still dip-stained, which meant the stain continually produced a sour smoke. I didn’t learn until years later that knowledgeable Pete Nuts would alcohol-soak the chamber, or lightly sand it, or both. Of course, Peterson has long since given up dip-staining, but another problem for me was the bent diamond shank—it just could not be held in my fingers. Likewise with the mouthpiece: this was a very small P-Lip, and I just couldn’t get it to clinch in my teeth. So somewhere, sometime, we decided to part company and it went to another pipeman, who I hope gave it the attention and love it doubtless deserved.

But as I say, the 68 is a pipe for the hands: voluptuous might be one word to describe it, but that’s got too much of a Rubenesque connotation. Plump may be a better word, and like so many of Peterson’s best shapes, it possesses a solidness, a kind of wholeness, that seems to fill the hand. I know people refer to this shape as a brandy, but in handling it and photographing it, what it really reminds me of is a brown-speckled egg straight off the farm.

 

Restoration Work

I did my restorations of the trio simultaneously, which only furthered my sense of the magnificence of the shape. I submerged them in an alcohol bath for a day, which lightened the stain (of course), but is the best pipe-sweetening method I know how to do.

After the alcohol soak, I applied Simichrome Polish to remove the worst of the oxidation. I taped up the bowl as usual, then used white diamond to remove any bad scratches, being careful not to use it over the hallmark and maker’s stamps. I did a pass with Fabulustre over those, just to brighten them up.

The rims all had some tar to deal with, and after giving them an alcohol-soak on cotton pads, I needed to do a little light sanding to get rid of a few light scars and scratches. It wasn’t enough on any of the pipes to qualify as “topping,” but just to bring the rim back to an as-new finish. The soak did, of course, remove more stain, so I mixed up some Fiebings Medium Brown with alcohol and gave the rims 2 or 3 coats to bring them into uniformity with the bowls.

I finished up each bowl by first giving it about five minutes’ worth of mineral oil, to refresh the wood and heighten the grain depth. I’ve done this a few times now, after learning about it at Charles Lemon’s site, Dad’s Pipes, and really like it. I followed up with a carnauba buff. I have found that, when using mineral oil, I usually need to go back a few weeks later and reapply the carnauba as the oil dries.

The last thing to tackle were the stems, which were oxidized but had virtually no dental chatter. I read every blog I see about getting vulcanite back to black, but I guess one man’s black isn’t another’s, and sometimes I just scratch my head and wonder how come the described method doesn’t work for me or why it the mouthpiece still looks brown in the photos.

I imagine I’m one of the last on the planet to still use a bleach soak, but I haven’t seen convincing proof that there’s any other way to remove all the yellowing. I know it can sometimes raise small bubbles on the mouthpiece, but as I’m going to have to work through all the Micromesh grades anyway, it doesn’t seem like a big deal.

I have learned to follow the 20-minute bleach soak with a few hours in a warm bath of Oxy-Clean, which does seem to soften the vulcanite and make the cutting easier. If it’s a really tough job, I sometimes also dip the sanding pad in water, but while it makes the cutting easier, it also seems to shorten the pad’s life quite a bit.

One of the skills I’m still working on is how to remove brown and yellow oxidation from the crevices at the button. This time I wrapped a 500 wet/dry grit paper over one of my needle files to get up close to the perpendicular wall.

This time I also tried placing a 1000 grit pad on my Foredom lathe to cut through the initial oxidation. I had more than reasonable success, and as it’s an army-mount graduated taper with no stamps on the vulcanite to worry about, I’ll remember it for future projects.

Using Obsidian Oil between sanding pads, which I first read about on Steve Laug’s Reborn Pipes blog, also works wonders, and I’ve taken to routinely applying the oil after every two grades of pad.

 

Different Personalities of the 68

Royal Irish 68

The bowl assumes slightly different personalities according to the stem treatments, as you can see in the following photographs.

Cork 9mm 68

Dracula 68

Aran 68

Sterling K&P Irish Army 68

The K&P Irish Made is my favorite of the 68s, in part because it’s an army mount and harkens back to the company’s earliest days. I also like the “K&P over IRISH MADE” stamp, another reminder of Peterson’s long history. But another part of my appreciation has to do with the way the shape seems to be enhanced with the army ferrule, rather than allowing it be absorbed, as it were, by a navy-mount taper stem. I’ve been trying to acquire a P-Lip tapered mouthpiece for my own 68, but so far to no avail. I’m not sure it actually looks as good as the more traditional army-mount fishtail, but I’d like to try it out and see how it compares in its smoking ability. I see far more of these shapes from European e-tailers than here in the US, although Smokingpipes has had one or two in the not-too-distant past.

Completed Restorations

 

K&P Irish Made 68 Average Measurements:

Length: 5.16 in./131.06 mm.
Weight: 1.90 oz./54 g.
Bowl Height: 1.91 in./48.59 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.48 in./37.74 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.77 in./19.60 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.67 in./42.79 mm.
Stem Material: Vulcanite

 

Navy-Mount 68 photos courtesy
Smokingpipes.com

 

 

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92. Rogha Addendum

Just a brief follow-up on the Sansone Rogha pipes. The top photo shows the tamper Gianluca issued for this year’s batch, very nice with its own draw-string bag.

I was a little curious to see if the X220s were, indeed, drilled with a reservoir. They are, as you can see. If you know Peterson’s shape charts, you’ll know this is a bit strange, as this is a System shape 312 (an 11 bowl, or 11S in current De Luxe System).

The pipes are hallmarked “G” for 2017, which is spot-on. As you may have read in earlier blogs, for the first time in Peterson’s history pipes are now sometimes issued with hallmarks dating to the previous year—this in an effort to get pipes out in a timely manner, but liable to cause a bit of dating confusion.

The sterling mounts are laser-engraved, which I don’t much care for, but I can see that having a hand-stamp made for every special issue might be cost-prohibitive when you have a laser-engraver there on the shop floor.

They are hand-stamped with the classic fork-tail P, a classic move. And most importantly, they’ve got that fabulous acrylic P-Lip mouthpiece, so no worries there either for comfort in clinching or for a cool System smoke.

It would appear that all the Roghas are now sold, but if you missed out, there’s a bit of good news.  Peterson has decided to offer something like the natural virgin-style bowl in this year’s Summertime line, as you may have seen in the 2018 catalog. I say “something like,” because the Roghas, according to Peterson’s Italian distributor and long-time collaborator Mario Lubinski, comprised a mere 12 bowls out of more than 3,000 Mario examined in making the selection! “Choice” (Rogha) indeed.  To meet the “choice” criteria, the bowls had to be clean, spot-free and have gorgeous grain.

So I made inquiries with Conor Palmer, commercial director at Peterson, and he replied: “We really like the natural, ‘unprocessed’ look and feel of the Rohga 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.” I’m thinking we can probably expect a few visible cracks and rough marks on the Summertime pipes, just due to the very nature of the sandblasted bowls stock. And of course, the Summertime is an army-mount, than being fully-functioning System pipes, and so requires a different smoking style. But I’m having so much fun with my Rogha, that I think I might just be up to it.

I’ve smoked nine bowls so far in my X220, and must say it’s the sweetest Pete I’ve ever smoked, in part due to the bare chamber. Mario Lubinski told me it would be, and he’s spot-on.

I detest breaking in a new pipe, and confess sometimes a pipe will sit in the rack for months before I gather courage to get started on it. I didn’t risk high-sugar Virginias for the first few bowls, and was careful not to overheat the bowl and to keep watch for that dreaded burnt-wood taste, but all is well and it looks like the pipe is off to a running start. It’s also fun watching the outer bowl darken with each smoke. I’ve already got my scouts out looking for a Summertime B10 with its fabulous V-shaped chamber.

Mario indicated there will be a 2018 Rogha (out next year about this time), but if you’re not inclined to wait, you might want to try out one of the Summertime 2018 pipes, which should debut here in the US anytime now. And if you’ve a mind for the 9mm version, it can be obtained now at the James Fox Pipe Divan:

Photo courtesy James Fox
Thanks also to Mario Lubinski and Conor Palmer

 

 

 

91. The 2018 Peterson New Lines

2018 Pipe Catalogue_Low Res

Here it is, long overdue (from me, not from Peterson)—a PDF of the 2018 Peterson Pipe Collection for your perusal and enjoyment! Download it, share it. I won’t spoil any of it, but look carefully, as there’s some great new lines coming. You can expect a close look at all the highlights shortly.

88. Peterson’s Rogha: A Small Batch Release of Natural Virgin Briars

A few weeks ago, Gianluca at the Sansone Smoking Store in Rome contacted me and asked if I’d like to see some photos of Sansone’s Peterson Rogha pipes from 2016, made especially for his shop, as he was preparing to put up a new 2017 small batch on his website. I said yes, of course, even though I had no idea what a Peterson “Rogha” was.  The photographs arrived the next day, and as you can see, they’re natural virgin briars. The photos were so gorgeous that when our book designer saw them, she immediately asked if we could use one for the book (Gianluca said yes, by the way).

Natural Virgin briars aren’t something many pipemen here in the US know much about—what they are, why they’re special, or how they smoke. But ask an Italian smoker, or an aficionado of Castello or Radice, and you’ll get a warm and enthusiastic response. When Peterson releases a small batch of these, it’s something to talk about.

The first question incognoscenti (rookies) of this type of briar (like myself) may ask is simply, where did the idea of a natural briar come from? Gianluca says the commonly-circulated story in Italy is that pipe-smokers in the Castello workshop were the first to discover the smoking properties and beauty of the natural briar, which Castello has released as Natural Vergin or Natural Virgin. “It’s a really sweet smoke,” he says, “because the briar is very porous and untreated with any kind of lacquer, stain or polish, allowing them to season like meerschaums.”

2016 05 Rogha (photo by Francesco Castiglione)

In Irish, “Rogha” can mean “choice,” “pick” or “selection,” and all three are apt descriptions of the line. The Rogha, now in its third year, is an extremely limited-edition line made in collaboration with Mario Lubinski (Peterson’s renowned Italian distributor and a passionate advocate of the brand), comprising mostly System but some Classic Range shapes as well.The line came about through Gianluca’s friend and collaborator Giuseppe Balzano, who is passionate about virgin briar and about Peterson, and wanted to see if he couldn’t bring his two loves together. They went to Mario Lubinski with their plan, and he agreed to hand-select bowls for them on his annual trip to Dublin.

Mario writes, “I’ve never been able to find more than 12-18 bowls per visit suitable for this kind of project, they’re so few and so rare.” Gianluca says the bowls have to be very clean, without root marks or spots. They’re rare enough that while there was a Rogha edition in 2014 (19 pipes, actually), there wasn’t one in 2015, because Mario couldn’t find any bowls of the right quality. For 2016, Mario found only 12, and for 2017 another 12. The bowls must be absolutely flawless.

“The Rogha is similar in some respects to the Army Linseed oil finish we’ve done in the past,” says Mario. But the Rogha is totally virgin briar: no stain, no oils. Many Italians believe they’re the best smoking pipes in the world, but you’ll have to be the judge of that for yourself!”

Continues Gianluca: “When we saw the first Rogha pipes Mario brought back in 2014, they took our breath away. It was like looking at the soul of a Peterson pipe laid bare.”

A 2014 Shape 05 Rogha after smoking several bowls

So how does one companion such a pipe? “The natural virgin is a briar that has nothing to hide,” says Gianluca. “It acts like a sponge—the smoker should do nothing to clean the outer surface; just smoke it! This kind of pipe works in principle like a meerschaum; it absorbs impurities from the smoker’s fingers on the outside and tobaccos in the chamber inside and ever so slowly it becomes darker and darker. The smoke is sweet, because all the heavy tar residue is naturally absorbed into the wood like a meerschaum.”

In the right light, a natural virgin can seem to have a slight rose blush, as you would expect from naked wood. Sometimes it looks nearly white, and sometimes a very light blond. So, what does it look like as it ages? To my embarrassment, I can tell you—after a half-dozen or so smokes, the outside just begins to look a bit dirty. I know that because I lucked into a new Larrysson artisan lumberman a few years back, had no idea what it was, and as the outside begin to look, well, smudgy and grimy, I traded it off! Whoa. Bad idea. If I had persisted, as you can see in these pictures of Castello natural virgins, it would eventually have begun to color:

Unsmoked Castello Sea Rock Natural Virgin Pot KK

Moderately Smoked Castello Natural Virgin Pot S55 KK

Heavily Smoked Castello Natural Virgin V KKK

The Rogha 2017 pipes, like the earlier issues, are sterling mounted, with the tough new well-formed acrylic P-Lip mouthpieces (yes!). The blasting, which Gianluca says is done by Peterson’s regular provider, is more intense than we usually see on a Peterson. I’ve included both the color and black and white photos of all 12 pipes to give you an idea of their real color and of the contrast in the blast.

Like most recent Peterson high-grades, the bowls are hand-stamped with the classic forked-tail Peterson’s over Dublin stamp, and the hand-stamped shape number beneath. This year’s batch includes nine X220 / 312 Systems, a 150 bulldog, an 80s and a 999. Each pipe comes with a tamp special to the 2017 release. They’re priced at 220€, or about $270.

Rogha photographs
by Filippo Verova (and Francesco Castiglione*)
for Sansone Smoking Store

 

Many thanks to Gianluca at Sansone Smoking Store
and to Mario Lubinski, Lubinski.it
Castello photos courtesy Smokingpipes.com

 

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