113. Documenting A Killarney Natural 999 John Bull

John Bull 999s are always a cause for celebration to me, and this one especially so, because it’s one of Peterson’s first documented and stamped “Natural” releases—the Killarney Natural, so when I saw this one recently on eBay, I wanted to investigate a little further:

The Killarney line is first mentioned on the Rogers Imports page of the 1949 RDTA catalog, then in the 1951 Genin, Trudeau & Co. catalog. But the first sighting of a 999 John Bull in the line is found in the 1953 Rogers catalog:

As you can see, it was available in both the traditional plum stain we’ve also come to associate with another Rogers line, the Shamrock, but the Killarney also came in a higher, natural grade. What’s fascinating to me is the stinger. I couldn’t draw through the air hole at all, so clogged had it become with tars. When the pipe was on the work bench, my thought was to carefully clean and remove it, then restore it and give it a smoke and experience what it was like to smoke this pipe 70 years ago. I let just the stinger soak in ice water for a spell, hoping that would contract it and make it easier to remove, but had no luck. I thought I was gently turning it with the jeweler’s liars and it just snapped in two. So much for reliving the past!

If you enlarge the picture to full frame on your computer, you can see that the stinger is glued rather than threaded into the traditional graduated-bore P-Lip mouthpiece—interesting, right? (I’m sure Charles Peterson would’ve rolled over in his grave if’d heard about it.)

Also note the “K” stamp. Apart from the oxidized mouthpiece and a bit of scuffing on the rim and light carbon in the bowl, this was an amazingly clean pipe. The stamps on both sides of the shank are among the sharpest I’ve seen in any Peterson.

The MADE IN IRELAND in a circle is indicative both of its being a Rogers Imports pipe (the shape isn’t found in the Canadian GT&C catalog) and being of a better grade. There are a few tiny fills, notably one on the bowl rim, but I think what qualified this bowl for the Killarney Natural line was the fantastic grain.

The Killarney Natural line last appeared in the 1957 Rogers Imports catalog, which makes dating this piece a cinch—it had to appear not much before 1953 and not much later than 1957.

There wasn’t much to the restoration that you haven’t already seen and read about here or on other sites dozens of times. I’m a recent convert to the joys and beauties of natural (un)finished pipes, so while I sanded the bowl with pads from 400 to 12,000 grit, I didn’t follow with carnauba, but with a very, very light coat of olive oil, which I laid on gently with my fingers and rubbed off with a micromesh towel immediately, leaving a soft, smooth matte finish.

I would like to know from other restorationists how you preserve the vulcanite stamping while simultaneously removing oxidation–in other words, how do you keep from sanding it off? And how do you apply a new coat of paint to the letter—in this case, the K. Mine came out pretty well if you look closely at the photo at the very top of the post, but there’s got to be a better method than toothpick, acrylic paint and tissue.


NEXT: A Brief History of Peterson’s 999


TIN TALK #10: Charles Peterson may not have
used Latin to say it.






112. Franken Petes

Sona Oíche Shamhna! Or, in translation from the Irish, Happy Hallowe’en! Most folks don’t know that All Hallow’s Eve has its origins in the ancient Irish festival of Samhain, although back 2009 Peterson tried to educate the masses with an annual Samhain commemorative pipe for a few years.

I have been promising myself that this year I’d devote a post to an after-market sideshow which we’ll dub the “Franken Pete,” Peterson’s version of the “Frankenpipe.”

Frankenpipes lie at the spectral end of pipe restoration, sometimes going to unearthly lengths to exhume something that will resemble a pipe. A “frankenpipe,” then, can be defined as “a pipe made from spare parts,” and has doubtless been around as long as there have been broken pipes, but I first ran across the grisly science in posts at two of my favorite restoration sites, one at Steve Laug’s Reborn Pipes and one at Charles Lemon’s Dad’s Pipes.

Most frankenpipes are created by using one strand of the System’s engineering: the army-mount. As soon as you have a pipe that readily disassembles (hot or cold) into (somewhat) interchangeable bowls and mouthpieces, you’ve created the opening for design aberrations. And that’s how Franken Petes are made. Sometimes they’re easy to spot, sometimes only a Pete Freek with the heightened powers gained by ingesting Tlachtga Celtic fire can spot them.


I’ll begin my tour of the Franken Petes with a non-example, just to set a baseline. Here’s a D19, which was originally stamped TANKARD after appearing as the faux-cob pipe in 2010’s Mark Twain set:

This is not a Franken Pete

The would-be mad scientist here didn’t like the stem’s bend. He apparently thought that since the pipe had a flat bottom, the bottom of the bowl ought to fully rest on the landing platform, which it didn’t. He simply heated the pipe stem and rebent it. Anyone with a knowledge of Peterson’s bending practices will at once recognize the incongruity of it. It’s a bit like a kid after-marketing his Honda to give it a little more juice. And if the kid’s happy and his vehicle street legal (me, in this case), that’s all that matters, right?


“Karloff’s Monster”

With the 307 pictured above we get into basic Franken Pete bowl alterations. Someone new to the brand might not know the bowl was topped. Someone who studied Peterson shape charts like a maniac instead of devoting his life to more profitable ends, should. It’s actually a fun shape, a kind of ladle, resulting from a substantial “topping” of a scorched rim. It gives a pleasing profile and leaves a deep enough chamber to still be serviceable. The problem comes when the buyer (it was me several years ago) is disappointed to find he hasn’t discovered a long-lost Peterson shape, but a “chop”! Caveat emptor, as the saying goes.


The most common type of Franken Pete occurs when someone has a bowl but not a mouthpiece to go with it and goes to the boneyard. Sometimes the new configurations are quite subtle. Take a look at this pipe, the A2 billiard from the original Antique Reproduction collection back in 1995:

“Doctor Pretorious”

This pipe actually passed under the radar and was sold by a major online retailer. The mouthpiece, however, belongs to the dublin A4 shape from the collection. This one originally had a plump straight taper P-Lip.


Here’s a gorgeous 4 De Luxe (notice the facing or flat-top ferrule), but again, it’s been bedeviled with a standard army P-Lip mouthpiece:

“The Colin Clive”


Here’s a more obvious faux pas, one I’ve seen several times on eBay, where someone took a standard army-mount P-Lip from a smaller System and placed it on a larger-bored shape. This is another De Luxe System with a standard System mouthpiece:

“The Igor”

The giveaway, of course, is that the shoulder of the mouthpiece is jammed right next to the ferrule.


The “Vincent Price”

You can also go to the other extreme, as in this wild example: a straight Patent System Commemorative with what looks like a 307-sized System mouthpiece. Apparently, the Commemorative mouthpiece wasn’t working out? Needed a little more droop? Who knows. It looks sinister. Vincent Price would have loved it, I think.


These next three photos document my own ultimately unsuccessful attempts to better an Italian-market XL23 Kapp Royal (the Lestrade shape). Here’s the way it came to me:

XL 23 Kapp Royal

Beautiful, right? Kapp Royals are among the elite in Peterson pipes, hand-chosen by Mario Lubinski from the very top tier of Peterson bowls and slotted into the Kapp-Royal line with a marmalade acrylic fishtail mouthpiece, aluminum P and sterling band. I liked it so much, I had a spigot mouthpiece made for it:

“Dr. Alymer’s Georgiana”

This is the pipe at its most beautiful. But the problem back then was that I hadn’t learned how to smoke an army-mount fishtail, puffing on it like it was a System instead of giving it short sips. I knew it was a sweet-smoking bowl, but the army mount made me pass over it again and again. Then I got what I thought was a brainy idea: make it into a System! A Lestrade System–how cool would that be?

I asked them at the factory if they could do it, and they said yes. So back to the factory it went. The problem here was that the P-Lip AB mouthpiece—gorgeous—was much thicker than the original acrylic and the spigot replacement, so the ferrule and bore had to be widened. The thick shank, as I thought, took a reservoir quite easily. Here’s how it came out:

“The Aminadab”

Is it a System? Yes, a Franken System. Did that cure the hot smoke? Yes. It smoked well as a System. But at a visual price. And one that I eventually found I wasn’t willing to pay. It’s not bad looking, but for me the love was gone. The monster, in effect, died on the operating table.


So now let’s turn to more ghoulish reconstructions, getting closer to the living dead of pipes. First is an elongated stem that’s just a little outré:

“Dr. Moreau”

It’s got a P-Lip mouthpiece, curiously unbent. The bowl is a bit over-reamed, but might smoke just fine.


But what about this one? It looks like something Charles Laughton left in the meat locker too long in Island of Lost Souls (1932):

“Leave Until Called For”


And here’s a genuine vintage Patent System bowl with the base of its wind cap still intact and a cheery wood stem with horn mouthpiece:

“Robin Crusoe on Mars”

A fascinating piece, actually, and the reconstruction may have been quite old. I suspect the man who smoked this would have been worth knowing.


But now, something that should’ve stayed buried. Peterson never made a bowl or a mouthpiece like these. But somehow, a Peterson ferrule found its way into this monster’s construction:

“The Imhotep”

We can only hope its mummy loved it.


Now for for my “Trilogy of Terror.” Everyone knows a good monster needs megawatts of electricity to bring it to life, right? And here’s three that really give me the shivers. Are they e-pipes? Drug pipes? I don’t know. I don’t care. But we need a mob of angry villagers to put them out of their misery:

“Reanimator 309”

The same mad scientist who designed the 309 Undead above also took this poor Kapmeer into his lab:

“Kapmeer Manimal”

About now you should be hearing the old familiar chant from Tod Browning’s Freaks: One of us, one of us. Gooba-gobble, gooba-gobble. The last of the “trilogy of terror” by the unnamed mad scientist:

“Deerstalker Undead”


And what of the future, you say? What dystopias lie in store for the unsuspecting? This thirteenth pipe was publicly acknowledged by designer “Jong Hyuk Bae” as a genuine Peterson commission back in 2016. When Tom Palmer, then CEO of the company, heard about it, he told the maker a “cease-and-desist” letter would be forthcoming.

I’ve heard a few pipemen tentatively say some positive things about e-pipes. But an e-pipe, for those theologically so-inclined, has removed itself from the sacramental nature of reality. Pipe tobacco and briar, as well as many of the adornments which are used in pipe-making, are organic. They grow or are produced by the earth. With the combustion of tobacco in the bowl, a third something, the smoke, produces a syzygy in which the pipeman is a participant. Perichoresis is the theological term here, from the early Church Fathers: it’s a divine dance of tobacco, pipe, smoke and piper. With these three sacramentals missing, the e-pipe becomes a parody, a sham or anti-symbol. Bent, as my old friend Ron would say. And that’s about as frightening as it gets.


Happy Hallowe’en!

Tin Talk #9: Gateway Drug / Dharma Door

















108. The Old 900 Shape Group: Restoring an IFS 949 Oval-Shank Billiard

James Arrington, who entrusted me with his Late Patent-Era House pipe, also sent me a vintage billiard to restore that I think you’ll find interesting. It’s one of those shapes that deserve to be reintroduced to the catalog, for one thing—an oval-shank that can be set on a flat surface.

One of the great things that characterizes Peterson as a marque is its emphasis on practicality. Over the years the company has released a number of “setters” or flat-bottomed pipes, both bents and straights. There aren’t any oval-shanked straights in the current production catalog, although the classic dublin 120F (“F” in this case for flat) was in the catalog as late as 1965. And then there’s this amazingly dynamic, forward-canted oval-shank billiard.

The pipe is stamped with number 949 on the reverse, IRISH over FREE STATE on the bottom of the shank at the mortise, and fork-tail “Peterson’s” over Dublin3 on the top of the shank. The 900-shape group is first glimpsed in a Viennese distributor’s Peterson chart from the mid-1920s and was firmly ensconced by the 1937 catalog, where it is presented in the “K” and “1st Quality” lines as the 949 and in the Kapet and De Luxe lines as the 260. The same shape (as sometimes happens with Peterson) is double-described.

Twenty-one shapes from the 900 group are found in the 1937 catalog, but by the 1945 catalog this numbering system had disappeared, with the shapes formerly double-described moving into the Classic Range numbers still in use today.

The usefulness of this knowledge for the collector is in knowing that, with one or two exceptions, almost any pipe with a 900 number was made before 1945. (I’m not forgetting the 999 or its brief-lived cousin, the 998 that became the 999.) The big 1942 George Yale catalog illustrates sixteen of these shapes, and a close scrutiny of the page shows the shank on the large pipe is stamped SHAMROCK and the nickel band is stamped with a shamrock image  under the nickel marks, both indicative of the Rogers Imports Shamrock line. (The page is reproduced on p. 102 of the book.)

James’s pipe is an earlier-made example of the large pipe, which seems to have been mis-marked as the slightly-smaller oval shank 977. The apple in the Yale page is part of the same problem: it is really shape 969 (per the 1937 catalog).

I love how these old catalogs would once in a while throw the pipeman a bone in the way of a 1 to 1 reproduction. George Yale did a good job sizing the image of the pipe—as you can see, they match up almost perfectly.

At present, Peterson make a series of billiards that could almost be matryoshka (nesting) dolls: you can start with the incredible 107 and nest inside it the incrementally smaller X105, 105 and 101.  I wish they’d bring a little more diversity to their straight billiards and back the old diamond-shanked 109 and something like this oval-shank 949, or even the old 1049, a square-shank straight billiard.

The cake was simply amazing. Reaming actually brought the weight of the pipe down by 3.5 gr and cleared out a very clean and tidy chamber with the classic Peterson dimensions of 19.6mm x 40.00. It also made itself very aware to my nose that this pipe, so carefully and fastidiously smoked (notice it was never clenched between the teeth) was also never reamed. And it smelled it. So, in it went for a good long soak in the isopropyl bath—48 hrs. When it came out, the stain was lightened, as I expected, but nothing a very light wash of medium-brown won’t cure.

The bath also brought home the damage done to the rim’s outer and inner edges. This time I applied 100 grit first, from a standing position to give me more torque, and the work went very quickly through the 150, 220 and 400 grits.

With the outer edge crisp, next came the decision of what to do with the inner rim. Underneath all that carbon, someone had been fairly cavalier with a knife, giving the chamber an out-of-round effect caused by gashes on two sides.

A Grade 3 would never have an inner bevel. Looking at the Peterson billiards in my rotation, only my Supreme has one, as a matter of fact. In the end, the desire to make the pipe look as fine as possible won, and I gave it as slight a bevel as possible, because the walls aren’t as thick as some Pete bowls. I used the 220 grit to “saw” the 45-degree angle into the chamber, then “wisped” 400 grit sideways around the inner rim to give the edge a uniform width.

There were a few “meteor showers” and “falling stars” on the bowl, which I took out with steam heat (heated flat-heat screwdriver pressed against wet t-shirting onto bowl). Then I sanded the bowl at 400, being careful to tape over all the bowl stamps first.

Some of the finish color was removed with the 400 and 600 grit, not surprising considering the pipe dates to at least 1937.

Afterwards I made a weak black-stain wash and coated the rim several times.

Old Peterson stamps can be weak and indistinct. This time, I gave all three stamp areas (949, IRISH FREE STATE and Peterson’s over Dublin 3) a few coats of the weak black-stain wash, to bring out the visibility of the stamps. This helped a little, but not as much as I’d hoped. I’d like to know from someone “more senior”: what I could do to make them stand out more?

Then I made, then made the stain a little stronger and coated the entire bowl. As you can see in the photo, a black wash doesn’t stain the pipe black, but brings up the original black undercoating applied to bring out the grain.

After staining, I applied Simichrome liquid silver polish to the nickel mount, let it set for a while, then rubbed it off. It’s worth noting that the nickel band is not only silver-soldered by hand, but has been turned down at both edges of the band to meet the briar and the stem. Very classy. The nickel-mark stamps are also quite well articulated and look like they’ve never suffered under the buffing wheel of an over-zealous tobacconist.

The stem is another unusual one in my experience. It doesn’t seem to have oxidized over the years, yet everything about it convinces me it is original: it was filthy on the inside, matching the massive lava and carbon; it has an extended tenon (as you’d expect); it has very light teeth chatter marks, but not on the button—further up the stem. After an extensive internal cleaning and giving the button a few passes with a soft-flame lighter to raise the light chatter, I felt I could go straight to the buffing compounds: tripoli, rouge, and white diamond, with Obsidian oil in between.

I finished the bowl with a light white diamond buffing followed by a light coat of carnauba. Then, as insurance for James’s first smoke in an 81-year old pipe, I treated the bowl to Charles Lemon’s maple syrup / activated charcoal bowl lining.

I’m really pleased with this one—it looks like new/old stock to me—and I hope it finds its way into James’s regular rotation.


Length: 5.75 in /140 mm
Weight:  0.80 oz / 32 gr
Bowl Height: 1.90 in / 48 mm
Chamber Depth: 1.51 in / 38.51 mm
Chamber Diameter: 0.80 in / 20.50 mm
Outside Diameter: 1.44 in / 36.58 mm.
Era: Irish Free State (1922-1937)


Happy Birthday, Poppa-Tom!



106. Restoring A Late Patent-Era House Pipe (Pt. 2)

It’s System Day 2018, understandably confused in some people’s minds with a national holiday. In Ireland, at least, it should be, right? I can think of no better way to celebrate than with a poem by fellow Pete Freek Bryan J. P. Gesinger. I first saw Bryan’s poem, “My Peterson System Pipe,” hanging in the Peterson Museum in Sallynoggin, and he has graciously allowed me to share it with you:

Warm, season’d briar evokes the Em’rald Isle
Bespeaks the land of Jameson’s and Guinness.
Mystique pervades the ingenious design
Of Charles Peterson’s crowning achievement.
The natural, pure essence of tobacco
Its well-form’d bowl of aged briar yields.
Reflection turns my mind to County Dublin –
In Sallynoggin does my heart repose.

And if you love mystique of Peterson pipes but haven’t really figured out the ingenious design of the System yet, check out the post Adam O’Neill did with me on the Pipe Lines blog at Smokingpipes.com today.

And now, on with the show!
6. Ferrule

Dings, bends and loose ferrules are all common in older estate Petersons, and can often be removed without too much difficulty. The ferrule’s job isn’t primarily aesthetic, but to keep the tenon-mortise strong in the “push” (as Peterson craftsmen call the army mount style). The fit on James’s O1 is quite snug and the glue very strong. It is unusual only in the sense that I’ve never seen one mounted in such a way as the nickel marks are up front, facing the chamber rim, rather than flush to the obverse.

You can see the problem at the shank face, where the ferrule has been pulled up along the edge, presumably through long use in extracting the mouthpiece, which it scarred over the years.

Steve Laug has complete instructions in the Peterson book (by the way, the book is done and off to the indexer) for how to fix almost any problem with a ferrule, so you’ll have to wait for the official version. But this repair is straight-forward. I needed only to use the heat gun to heat the ferrule at the shank face, then roll it on a hard surface—in this case, my all-purpose mat board. The nickel was pushed back to the shank’s opening, and the few tiny crimps were pushed down and sanded with the judicious application of a small flat file.

I can’t sand the nickel cap like I would a sterling one, as it would remove the nickel-plate (the ferrule is nickel-plated brass). But I can use rouge or Tripoli compound along the ragged edge to give it a light sanding.

Before putting the ferrule on the buffing well, I applied Simichrome, my go-to silver polish, to get it as clean as possible and avoid any buffing strain on the nickel. Afterwards, aside from the nickel marks, I gave the ferrule a light buffing with white compound to remove the light surface scratches.  The nickel mark area I went over lightly with a finer jeweler’s compound, Fabulustre.

Some of the tiny dents couldn’t be removed, but any more use of the wheel might buff through the nickel, so these will have to stay as reminders of the pipe’s age and character.

7. Chamber and Air Passage

Before I go on to restaining, I’m ready to stop and clean out the air passage and sweeten the chamber. I might have just submerged the bowl, but the old briar, old putty, and bare chamber walls make the Professor’s Sweetening Method seem like the best way.

When I heated the ferrule to bend down the edges, the reservoir wafted up a strong smell of latakia. I don’t know whether James smokes English or not, but a good cleaning now will allow him to decide what he wants to smoke without the fear of ghosts haunting the bowl. You can see in the photo below that tars saturate the reservoir of a System much more intensely than its chamber.

8. Restaining.

As Steve Laug has often noted, you can match virtually any stain with just a few bottles of Fiebing’s. In my Peterson work, I routinely use medium brown, burgundy, black and orange.

Crown: At the factory, the pipe had been given a typical Peterson contrast stain: first, black over the entire bowl to bring out the grain, then the top stain, in this case a medium brown with just a bare hint of red in it.

To bring the unstained crown into a sustainable finish aligned with the rest of the bowl, I applied a coat of isopropyl-diluted Fiebing’s black aniline dye to the top (fairly weak), wiped it with a cotton pad, reapplied, and burned it in while wet. I then repeated this operation a second time. Afterwards, the crown was sanded not with a Micromesh pad, but with a flat piece of cloth Micromesh so as not to round the corners I have been at such great pains to sharpen. The rim is now ready to restain with the rest of the bowl.

Bowl: What seems to have been original color, as I said, was brown with a bare hint of red. So that’s what I mixed up: 1 drop of burgundy with about 5-6 drops of medium brown in a tiny cup filled with alcohol. I just do tiny batches, enough to treat the bowl with the Fiebing’s applicator. I didn’t burn in the stain (except on the rim), just applying, wiping off with an alcohol pad and making sure it’s uniform. My experience has been that burning in the stain clouds the grain underneath, so if you want the grain to show, don’t burn.


8. Stem

This was one of the yellowest stems I’ve ever seen. In good condition, overall, just extraordinarily oxidized. I soaked it overnight in Oxyclean, then stopped to compare the bend to those seen in the 1896 and 1906 catalogs. It might have had this slight a bend, but bends like this aren’t typically seen until decades later, and I’d like it to look as close as possible to its period. After some thought, given that I believe this is a late Patent-era pipe, I heated the mouthpiece over the heat gun, and brought down the mouthpiece end just a little to bring it into alignment of what would have been typical for the era.

After the slight re-bending, I gave it 30 minutes in a bleach dip, as I haven’t been persuaded there is any other way to get through the oxidation to the black vulcanite underneath. The air hole wasn’t clogged, but was full of tars, as the Oxyclean soak and the bleach dip both confirmed.

Cutting through such thick oxidation is always a trial for me, and I’ve learned over the past several months I can do more with less strain if I use a 500-grit sanding pad on my Foredom lathe at low rpms. The low rpms give me a chance to see what’s being cut and not take off anything but the surface oxidation. And as you can see in the before and after photo above, it worked.

If I had more experience, I might have risked taking the scarred grooves off the tenon-end of the mouthpiece. These were caused over time by the raised ferrule mentioned above. They don’t show when the mouthpiece is inserted into the mortise, and I was afraid that by cutting deeply enough to remove them, I would make the shaft too narrow and the stem wouldn’t seat properly.

9. Final Bowl Finishing

At this point, I took a page from Charles Lemon’s book and used just a little white compound on the bowl. On top of the 2000 grit-sanded surface, I’m in hopes the compound will provide a bit of a finish underneath the carnauba.

10. Pre-carb Coating

Most burnouts, as one knowledgeable estate dealer told me, stem from (1) chuffing pipers who haven’t learned to sip their smoke (yes, I plead guilty, although I’ve learned how to sip in recent years); (2) those who break in their pipes with hotter-burning tobaccos (Virginias and vapers); and (3) really old briar which may not have been smoked in recent years.

To give the pipe a little insurance against such a catastrophe, Charles Lemon at Dad’s Pipes offers my fourth and final take-away: apply a pre-carbon coating made of activated charcoal powder with maple syrup as the binder. You can read about it here.

I’ve used Charles’s method on four Petes now, and can attest to the fact that it not only works, but tastes better than any I’ve ever experienced. Commercial pipe-makers use various products, and some taste downright nasty. For the past 15 or so years, Peterson has used a good one, a vegetable-based paint-like substance, but not as good as Charles’s. His cake has virtually no taste, just a kind of clean sensation, and lets the flavors of the tobacco safely shine through from the first smoke. Moreover, his pre-carbon has done its work in 2-3 bowls, unlike commercial offerings that seem to take forever.

The method is simple: dip your finger in maple syrup (don’t let your wife see you do this if you dip directly from the bottle!) and thoroughly coat the inside of the bowl. Then fill the bowl completely with activated charcoal powder and let it set for a minute or two. Turn the bowl upside down to empty out the charcoal and let the bowl sit to dry for a few days. Before smoking for the first time, gently blow out any residue (you might want to shield your eyes here), and you’re ready to go.

I’d recommend this application anytime you take the chamber back to bare wood, but it should also work well on light cake when you want a little extra protection as you break in an estate. If anything, it will just absorb the tars in the cake underneath and help the pipe smoke sweeter. Of course, James will want to pay attention to the heat of the bowl and flavor of the smoke as he’s breaking it in, but there’s a little more insurance now.

Happy System Day!