73. An Amber Spigot Gallery Walk at the Black Swan Shoppe

There are folks who are passionate about pipes, those who are passionate about selling pipes, and those who are passionate about Peterson pipes. But how many people do you know that comfortably fit in all three circles? Few, I’d think, especially of that final category. But Kris Parry at the Black Swan Shoppe is one of the few. You may remember him from an earlier blog I did on Peterson’s rarest line, the Plato.*

Kris and I were emailing a few weeks ago about some Peterson pipes (of course), and he mentioned that at the recent UK trade show Peterson was offering what is probably the last installment of the real amber spigots. Kris told me, “the UK got 50 and retailers were falling over themselves to snap some up. The show opened at 9:00am and they were all gone by 10am. I was the first on the stand and managed to select the 10 best pieces. I then gave other eager retailers a chance to grab some (we are all friends in the trade) and took what was left at 10am.”

When he offered to let me see what Black Swan had received a few days ago, my eyes popped. It’s not just the amber spigots, nor the incredible “A” bowls with their breath-taking birdseye or flame grain, but the combination that is so pleasing. And to see all these pipes together was so remarkable that I thought I’d pass along that experience to you with a minimum of commentary.

Before beginning your tour, I would like to point out a few things about the mouthpieces. Notice as you go along that there are three distinct types of mouthpiece: a round-end with the draft hole in the middle, a flattened button which isn’t quite a fishtail, and a P-Lip. While the 50 kilos or so of amber mouthpieces were inventoried in the late 1930s, the three styles of mouthpieces tell us a little bit more. The orifice or round-end style predates P-Lip production and was abandoned during the 1890s, meaning these mouthpieces were fashioned no later than that decade. The almost-fishtail stems could date anywhere from the late 1890s to the time of inventory. The P-Lips, of course, date no earlier to the time of the 3rd patent in 1898.

We know Charles Peterson and his young hand Jimmy Malone both worked amber, so there is the very real possibility that either CP or Malone actually crafted some of these stems. In the photo session Thomas Mason (the famous Irish photographer) did for the 1906 catalog, CP and Henry Kapp chose the amber and meerschaum work station not only for its prestige value, I think, but because Charles was justifiably proud of his skill as a craftsman. He always chose to wear his workman’s smock in any indoor photograph, while the other execs wore suits (that photo, of course, is in the forthcoming book).

 

 

B10 P-Lip (1 of 2)

 

 

999 P-Lip w/bone tenon extension

 

 

124 P-Lip

 

X220 Flame P-Lip (2of 3), bone tenon (11S DeLuxe or 312 System),
with bone tenon extension (a System)

 

120 (1 of 5) with either orifice or early flat button

 

X220 Flame P-Lip (1 of 3), bone tenon (11S DeLuxe or 312 System),
with bone tenon extension (a System)

 

106 P-Lip

 

120 (2 of 5) P-Lip Flame

 

230 P-Lip (a small billiard, same as 12 1/2 De Luxe or 317 System),
with bone tenon extension

 

15 P-Lip

 

120 (3 of 5) orifice button: probably the earliest-made amber in the gallery

 


X220 Flame P-Lip (3of 3), bone tenon (11S DeLuxe or 312 System),
with bone tenon extension (a System)

 

120 Flame (4 of 5), P-Lip

 

 

408 P-Lip

 

B10 (2 of 2)

 

120 Flame (5 of 5) with flat button

 

This release of the amber spigots comes with a second mouthpiece, black acrylic fishtail. The first release in the U.S. came with no extra stem, while the Lubinski / Italian releases have routinely featured an extra acrylic fishtail spigot mouthpiece. As expensive as the extra spigot mouthpiece makes the pipe, I think I would’ve preferred that if I was going to invest in one of these beauties. I wouldn’t let that stop me, of course, if I wanted one, as Peterson is willing to make an extra spigot mouthpiece for a very reasonable price. Kris said with this release there’s a new padded, hinged box:

I know some folk have been a bit hesitant because of the hoop-lah over the fragility of the amber. There are still lots of vintage Petes in circulation with amber bits, some with quite a bit of dental chatter, and of course as a semi-precious “stone,” amber is brittle. But it’s not more brittle now than it was when Peterson craftsmen originally formed it, and there’s loads of advice on how to take care of it and bring back its luster if it gets a little sun (a drop of olive oil and a silver polishing cloth). But if you decide to invest, I hope you’ll take my old friend “Trucker” Chuck Wright’s advice: “it’s just a piece of wood unless you smoke it. Then it becomes a pipe.” Fumare in pace!

The acrylic black fishtail mouthpiece

You can view available Amber Spigots from the Black Swan at
https://www.thebackyshop.co.uk/categories/peterson-briar-pipes-peterson-antique-amber-pipes

Photos courtesy Kris Parry, Black Swan Shoppe,
https://www.thebackyshop.co.uk/

 

 

If you’re ever in Scarborough, be sure to drop by and introduce yourself to Kris Parry at the Black Swan Shoppe. If you click on the photo below, you can see a card of Peterson pipes in the upper right side of the window display.

* See https://petersonpipenotes.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/60-peterson-2017-product-catalog-a-well-kept-secret/.  Kris has several of the latest gen Platos in stock, as you can see. It looks like some have the new acrylic P-Lips, some still have the vulcanite P-Lips. “Worth a peek,” as the old duffer says.

 

 

 

 

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72. The New Arklow Custom Line from Smokingpipes

As we discuss in the book, Peterson has a long-standing tradition of customization and design collaboration that stretches back to the first decades of the company. This could be anything from a short run of a single pipe, like the 307 System sandblast currently available for pre-order from Cupojoes.com for the Pipe Smokers of Ireland Facebook club, to a commemorative like the 135 numbered pieces produced for the James Fox 135th Anniversary last year, to a full-fledged line for a large retailer like Laudisi (Smokingpipes.com). These special edition pipes are of great interest to Pete Nuts, and I always enjoy hearing about them and how they came about.

A few weeks back, one of the finest examples I’ve seen in a long time of a custom-line collaboration appeared at Smokingpipes, one that just begs to be seen all in one place. So I got in touch with Sykes Wilford at Smokingpipes and Conor Palmer at Peterson, who both modestly demurred that it was just part of the routine, but as you look at these pipes, I think you may find the Arklow line that came out of their collaboration is anything but.

According to Sykes, the 2011 sandblast Wicklow was the first Peterson-Laudisi collaboration. From the Smokingpipes website, it looks like the line underwent two or three iterations in color and finish before coming to a close around 2014. At some point since then, Laudisi also commissioned two further sandblast custom lines, the Aran sandblast and the Kildare sandblast. The latter was a collaborative effort between Sykes, Michael Walters (of Ashton Cigar) and Tom Palmer at Peterson and as you can see, is moving toward what would become the Arklow.

Earlier Smokingpipes – Peterson Sandblasts (left to right):
Wicklow, Aran, Kilare

But for the fourth round of Smokingpipes – Peterson sandblasts, the idiom seems to have switched from Shakespeare to Oz: Sykes may have gone in as usual for “a horse of that color” (Twelfth Night, 2:3), but I think he went out with “a horse of a different color” altogether, as they say in The Wizard of Oz.

1.

A little over a year ago, Sykes and Conor began talking about a new line for Smokingpipes that would reflect Laudisi’s commitment to the uniqueness of each pipe as a functional work of art. Each pipe the company sells (as you already know) is photographed so “the pipe you see is the pipe you receive,” as their slogan goes.

The first change on the bells was that Smokingpipes wanted breadth in shape selection for the line, something not usually seen in a custom line, nor in Peterson’s annual commemoratives like the St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas pipes. These usually top out at a dozen shapes, one of which is often a collectible coming down through one of the higher, more limited production series or specials. Then, of course, the Derry Rustic line happened, and with it, the dam seems to have burst.

The B60 (Bow), curiously mis-stamped
for the Arklow line as the XL26 (Hansom)

In any event, the best way for Conor to achieve the catalog breadth Sykes wanted was through sandblasted shapes, which are more readily available than smooths. Like the Derry before it, the Arklow seems to be conceived to allow virtually any shape from the catalog to come and go. Cool idea.

The original idea, Sykes continued, was to have the pipes silver-mounted (like the Lubinski Italian lines), but in the end that pushed costs higher than was thought feasible for the line, so a nickel-mount was decided upon.

2.

Then came the issue of stains. Samples were made up in both a dark ruby and a brown, but it was a toss-up: everyone liked both. Conor brilliantly suggested they go half red and half brown, thereby diversifying the line even more.

The D20 (POY 2016) Arklow in red and brown

3.

But as the final design concept began to come together, the real coup-de-grace occurred when Jonathan Fields in the workshop suggested the crowns be finished with a smooth deep bevel and stained with a lighter shade of ruby for the red and honey for the brown finish. You can see the penultimate visual design (without the contrasting top color) in the deeply-blasted sample of the B58 below (the Starboard from the original Iceberg series).  “But wait,” as they used to say in the old late-night TV ads, “There’s more!”

4.

Finally, Jonathan had the idea that some of shapes be slightly “topped” or shortened, about 2mm to 4mm, it looks like to me. Not all the shapes, just enough to make a Pete Nut’s jaw drop in surprise. This is the first time in the company’s history that anything like this has been done–to consciously alter an established shape. One of the most dramatic examples is the plump brandy transformation of shape 68, seen here.

68 in the Royal Irish (top) and brown Arklow (bottom)

 

The intense chubby effect produced on the XL90:
pure Peterson muscle

The shape-shifting effect is immediately evident to aficionados, in some cases being quite dramatic. Of course, the smooth sanding of a bottom portion of the bowl to accommodate the laser-stamping – a long-standing Peterson practice – also effects produces some of the shape change, as we’ve seen before in earlier blast lines. Here’s another of my favorite shape-shifters from the first release, the XL20 (Rathbone):

The XL20 (Rathbone) in its Arklow “red” dress

5.

The shorter acrylic fishtail stems with hot foil P also deserve mention, because they’re a departure from classic Peterson house style, some with only a very slight bend and an upward cant at the button. And I have to compliment the button on these acrylics, with their taller shelves, as much easier to clinch than what was being made in the previous generation of acrylic mouthpieces.

The XL23, already stout, is just plain PHAT in its Arklow “red” dress

Sykes told me Smokingpipes has initially received 170 pieces in the Arklow line, and they’re proving very popular. It’s easy to see why. If you see a shape you like, give it some thought, because you might not see it again. When I first saw my beloved XL339 (the 309) shape, I resisted as long as I could – it must have been two, maybe three days (!). When I could stand it no longer, I found it had been sold. When it appeared again the following week, I knew my duty and did it, as you can see in the photo at the bottom.

 

 

Thanks to F. Sykes Wilford of Smokingpipes
and Conor Palmer at Peterson
(Photos courtesy Smokingpipes.com & Chas. Mundgunus)

 

 

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!

 

 

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