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114. A Visual History of Peterson’s Shape 999

 

I always find myself thinking of the classic 999 John Bull (pictured above) as typical of Kapp & Peterson’s house style with its short, beefy shank, chubby tapered mouthpiece and P-Lip.  Unlike other iconic Peterson shapes, however, it seems unlikely that this one was an original. Collectors more knowledgeable than I know there were many English and French makers who also made a shape very like it, if not earlier, then at about the same time beginning in the 1920s or 30s.

A 1939 GBD 9239R (Courtesy Al Jones)

Al Jones has several favorites, including GBD’s 9242 and 9438, Comoy’s 499, and Sasieni’s Ashford. And if you play with the design a bit, you can come up with a number of variations and more than one name by which the shape is called. Many American pipemen call the 999 a rhodesian, although at BriarWorks they call it a bullmoose. But Greg Pease, perhaps thinking of Tracy Mincer’s Custombilt pipes, would say a bullmoose has a forward-jutting chin and is usually sporting a saddle bit.

For Pete Freeks there is fortunately away out of this etymological muddle: what has Peterson always called it? It usually just goes by its shape number, but when Peterson has given it a name, it’s always the same name: John Bull.

Note also that whenever the two shapes pictured above are named in the K&P ephemera—which is from 1947 to 1992—they’re always given the same names. Diamond-shank? Pete freeks, that’s a Rhodesian Bent. Round shank? John Bull. But while the song (or name) remains the same, the fact is the 999 pictured in the 1992 brochure illustration above was not the first nor even the second shape given this number, but the third.

Thanks to Steve Dundish and his remarkable 999 collection, it’s finally possible to document all three shapes and shed a little light on the number’s history.

The first sighting in K&P ephemera occurs in the 1937 “Chat with A Smoker” pipe box brochure, which was printed at about the same time that K&P opened its London factory in the Bradley’s Buildings on White Lion Street. The thing to notice here is that this 999 is the classic fat beaded version Peterson later dubbed “John Bull,” the name (as Anglophiles know) being a metonym or personification of England, visually depicted, says Wikipedia as “a stout, middle-aged, country dwelling, jolly, matter-of-fact man.”

The 999’s entry into the Peterson catalog may not be just a coincidence, either. The London factory had just opened (as the book will explain in further detail) to manufacture pipes for the English market, and what more natural than to do than make sure Peterson has on offer a few fashionable English shapes?

The historians among us remember Ireland entered what its people called “the Emergency” on September 2, 1939—WWII—a state of crisis that continued until the Emergency Powers Acts was discontinued on the same day seven years later. We review the impact of this for Kapp & Peterson in the book, but what is interesting for the 999 is that between its first sighting in 1937 and its appearance just before international hostilities halted US imports in mid-1942, the shape had morphed from a John Bull into what appears to be a slightly-larger unbeaded shape, what everyone calls an “author.” Here it is in the George Yale 1942 catalog illustration you’ve seen in the blog before:

Thanks to Steve’s fascination with the 999, we can also now see two real-life Emergency-era 999s, a Captain Pete (top) and a nickel-banded Shamrock (bottom):

That both of these author 999s are from US Rogers Imports lines, and that the author version of the 999 isn’t seen in any Peterson ephemera outside the US, brings up some questions: did the factory make the shape exclusively for the US market (which may be the case with the 9BC and the 02BB)? Or did K&P or Rogers Imports change their minds about the shape after the war? I doubt we’ll ever know.

The Shamrock line, according to Rogers Imports Ltd. copyright information, seems to have been in production as early as 1938, while their Captain Pete line began c. 1940, giving a few time to get to the States. As the stamps reveal on Steve’s pipe (seconded by Gary Malmberg’s documented research), Captain Petes were not made solely by the London factory (contra Pipephil.eu).

“MADE IN IRELAND,” both Gary Malmberg and I agree, is what is typically found on the Rogers Imports pipes, rather than the “ÉIRE” stamp one would otherwise expect for these years.

Without handling several examples of a factory pipe made over a few decades, there’s no way one can really get a sense of true comparative sizes, which can vary by a few millimeters due to the nature of the wood, sanding, and production. Still, here are measurements comparing Steve’s 999 Shamrock Author with a classic 999 Shamrock John Bull:

999 Author                                                     999 John Bull
Length: 5.31 in. / 135 mm.                             Length: 5.25 in. / 133 mm.
Bowl Height: 1.69 in. / 43 mm.                      Bowl Height: 1.63 in. / 41.38 mm.
Bowl Width: 1.5 in. / 38 mm.                         Bowl Width: 1.80 in. / 45.91 mm.
Chamber Width: 0.87 in. / 22 mm.                Chamber Width: 0.70 in. / 17.88 mm
Chamber Depth: 1.25 in. / 31.75 mm.           Chamber Depth: 1.30 in. / 33.10 mm.
Weight: 1.8 oz. / 50 gr                                   Weight: 2.0 oz / 56 gr

There are three interesting things to note about Steve’s author Shamrock 999: first, the K & P maker’s mark in shields on the nickel band, which throughout Peterson’s history have typically been reserved for sterling mounts. Nickel bands and mounts typically were stamped with just the plain “K & P” maker’s mark. Second, Steve’s pipe has a P-Lip, while the George Yale has a very untypical fishtail.

The third thing I want to call your attention to is the tenon extension. Traditionally (if not during the Dublin Era), tenons and mouthpieces have been of great importance to Peterson. This one, while molded and not a bone screw-in, features the extended “chimney” so crucial to correct tenon-mortise airflow for the P-Lip mouthpiece. The graduated bore of the P-Lip as well as this extension makes the pipe a “sub-System” (as we call it in the book), which means that it will perform considerably better than a traditional fishtail. This type of molded extension goes all the way back to the original molded-stem Patent mouthpieces, incidentally, and doesn’t seem to have disappeared (alas!) from the Peterson workshop until the 1950s. This may have been due in part to the fashion of implanting stingers, and not merely to brand amnesia, but whatever the reason, it is unfortunate.

The author version of the 999 was never made again, and so remains the most elusive of the 999s and one of the rarest production shapes ever made by the company. In fact, I could never quite believe in its existence until Steve sent photos of his—despite its appearance on the George Yale page—thinking perhaps it was something the company intended to put in production, but never carried out when hostilities made it impossible to export their pipes to the US.

Following WWII, pipe production went into high gear at Peterson, just as it did for the other European pipe factories. The familiar pre-war 999 reappears in K&P’s red 1945 catalog, available in the company’s first four post-war lines: the De Luxe (highest), Dublin & London (high), Kapet (standard) and Kapruf (blast):

It was in the distributor’s shape catalog issued around 1947 that Peterson first officially named this shape the “John Bull”:

The “Product Line” (entry-grades) “K,” Shamrock and Donegal Rocky lines had all made their appearance by this time. As production geared up, K&P would continue to expanded its lines, adding the John Bull to a broader spectrum including (in approximate order of quality) the Supreme, Premier, Sterling, Killarney and Auld Erin.

The tenon work for Peterson will typically depend on the grade of the line. Using the prices from the 1953 Rogers catalog as one touchstone, neither my $3.50 Shamrock nor my $5.00 Killarney Natural have extensions, while Steve’s $10.00 Premier has a bone screw-in:

It is remarkable to me just how many classic 999s are seen on the estate market, always commanding good prices. Among the mounted lines, the Shamrock seems most frequent (being released in greater numbers than the higher grades), although every once in a while, a precious-metal band comes down the pike, like this one in the 1950s Sterling Silver line from Al Jones’s collection:

999 Sterling Silver line (Courtesy Al Jones)

But it’s far more typical to sight an unmounted 999—remember that sterling and nickel mount pipes were considered somewhat old-fashioned by the 1940s and 50s. Here’s several of Steve’s 999 collection  (the Captain Pete author in the upper left)—notice the John Bull Donegal Rocky 999, which (depending on the decade) was either sterling or nickel-mounted but lacked the standard double-bead):

The 999 is found in Peterson shape charts from the 1950s through the mid-1970s, when it becomes the “XL999” in an Associated Imports brochure from 1976:

I can only make a guess here, but based on the other shapes included on the same line, it would appear in hindsight that Peterson was making a transition. In the 1977 Associated Imports catalog of the following year, the brief-lived new 998 shape and the older 999 appear together:

By 1978, the Associated Imports chart illustrates only the smaller 998 appears:

If you chance across shape 998, then, you can be reasonably certain it was made sometime between 1975 – 79. In 1980, a full-color brochure shows the older 999 in a meerschaum, and then, in 1984, the darkest year in the company’s history, the classic version of the 999 makes its last bow in the company’s tiny down-sizing catalog as the “Large John Bull” (the 998, of course, being the “Small John Bull”):

By the time Hollco-Rohr’s distributor pages appeared in 1987, the Large John Bull was gone and what we may call the Small John Bull (shape 998) had been given the 999 number, which it retains to this day. I know this newest version remains one of Peterson’s top-selling shapes and is widely admired in Pete circles, even though I find myself preferring the older, chunkier version. The Small JB, however, can sometimes approach the sublime, as seen here in its Amber Spigot release a year or so back:

Aside from their very real visual appeal, I think there’s two more ingredients that have made the classic Large John Bull so popular: it’s extremely comfortable in hand and has an exceptionally wide button, spanning between 15 and 17mm, making it a really easy clench between the teeth, especially when the button has the slight downward turn seen in so many of them. In fact, I don’t think there’s another mouthpiece in the Peterson arsenal that beats it, although the “Comfort P-Lip” on the original 301 Systems from the late 1970s equals it.

There’s enough classic John Bulls on the estate market that with a little perseverance and luck, you can usually bag one in a month or two if you’re persistent. And you’ll usually pay only a fraction of the price that similar shapes in one of the fashionable marques like Comoy’s, Sasieni or GBD demand. Maybe someday Peterson will see fit to restore this fine and richly-deserving shape to production, embodying as it does all the best marks of the classic Peterson house style.

 

 

Many thanks to Steve Dundish
for sharing photos of his 999 collection
and to Al Jones for sharing his passion & knowledge of the shape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. The 1996 Old English Collection

OEC BoxA few weeks ago, George Fachner of “Tinashobby” on Ebay began running the complete 1996 Peterson Old English Collection in unsmoked, individually-boxed condition. Once in awhile one of these twelve shapes will appear in estate condition on Ebay, but to see all twelve of them simultaneously and in unsmoked condition was a marvelous opportunity for Peterson collectors. I contacted George as the auctions were nearing their ends to see if he’d mind letting us use his photos and he said he’d be glad to oblige. If you follow Peterson sales on Ebay, Tinashobby is well worth bookmarking, because George almost always has some great Petes on offer (http://www.ebay.com/usr/tinashobby).

The Old English Collection is important in several regards. First, it marks the innovative and somewhat experimental early period of the Tom Palmer era, when art direction and design was headed up by Bernadette O’Neill, K&P’s Marketing Manager at the time. The lavish companion case as well as the individually-boxed pipes featured an early photograph, “Garden Party at Harrow” by celebrated British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983), something we’d normally expect from Dunhill, not Peterson. But the mid-1990s were the heyday of the Big Cigar Boom and “Conspicuous Consumption” seemed to be in every advertiser’s mind. K&P was re-launching its own cigar lines at the time and its line of accessories and appointments extended as far afield as Peterson pajamas, dressing robes and cufflinks. The pipe-smoking world was obviously very different twenty years ago. The OEC then is a product of its age—an extensive, expensive collection designed to appeal to what I’d think of as the Dunhill demographic.

A second distinction concerns the gold-plated sterling bands. During this period K&P issued a few of its Limited Edition and other high grade pipes with gold-plated sterling bands, which is used on the OEC as well. It’s a peculiar effect as the bands give off a gold cast in some lighting and sterling in others. Complementing the gold-plated sterling, the OEC pipes feature gold-colored (brass) inlaid “P”s in the mouthpieces. The first year’s issue was hallmarked K. Nomenclature—as you can see in Fachner’s excellent photographs below—read PETERSONS over OLD ENGLISH over COLLECTION on the obverse and MADE IN THE over REPUBLIC over OF IRELAND on the reverse of the shank. The briar used was exceptionally good, and while not unmarked, was at the upper end, with tiny sand pits and root marks left visible (as is Peterson’s practice in their better briar) and at most one or two tiny fills.

Finally, as for the shapes themselves, all have good-sized chambers, but the idea behind them—to present very English designs in sizes typical of the 1930s and 40s—means that most of them are what pipe smokers today would consider smaller and lighter shapes. As you scroll down the photos and dimensions George Fachner provided below, you’ll see some well-known and perennial favorites like the 264 Canadian, 80 Rhodesian, the 86 Apple, the 65 Bent Billiard and the 407 Prince. But there’s also some extremely rare and interesting shapes: the 55 Liverpool, the “no-shank” Tankard and (my favorite) the 124 Dublin Stack. In between are shapes similar to current production: the 26 Lumberman and three billiards, the 119, 265 and 25. I’ve noted first appearances of shape numbers where I could find them in the Peterson ephemera.

265 Old English obverse

265 Old English obverse
Shape 265

Length: 5 1/2″
Bowl height: 1 3/4″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/4″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 1/2″
Weight: 36 grams

80B Old English obverse80B Old English reverse
Shape 80B

Length: 5 1/4″
Bowl height: 2″
Diameter Outside: 1 5/8″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 1/4″
Weight: 46 grams
1947 Shape Chart: “Large Rhodesian”

86 Old English obverse86 Old English reverse
Shape 86

Length: 5 1/2″
Bowl height: 1 1/2″
Diameter Outside: 1 3/8″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 3/8″
Weight: 34 grams
1947 Shape Chart: “Large Rhodesian”

119 Old English obverse119 Old English reverse
Shape 119

Length: 5 1/8″
Bowl height: 1 1/2″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/4″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 1/4″
Weight: 30 grams
1947 Shape Chart: “Chubby Billiard”

264 Old English Obverse264 Old English reverse
Shape 264

Length: 5 3/4″
Bowl height: 1 3/4″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/4″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 1/2″
Weight: 36 grams
1947 Shape Chart: “Long Flat”

65 Old English Obverse65 Old English reverse
Shape 65

Length: 5″
Bowl height: 1 3/4″
Diameter Outside: 1 3/4″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 3/8″
Weight: 32 grams
1947 Shape Chart. “Bent Billiard”

Tankard obverseTankard Old English reverse
Tankard

Length: 5 3/4″
Bowl height: 1 3/4″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/8″
Inside: 5/8″
Bowl Depth: 1 3/8″
Weight: 22 grams

55 Old English obverse55 Old English Reverse
Shape 55

Length: 5″
Bowl height: 1 3/4″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/4″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 3/8″
Weight: 36 grams

407 Old English obverse407 Old English reverse
Shape 407

Length: 5 3/4″Length:5 3/4″
Bowl height:1 1/4″
Diameter Outside:13/8″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth:1″
Weight:30 grams
1937 Catalog; 1947 Shape Chart: “Prince.”

124 Old English obverse124 Old English reverse
Shape 124

Length: 5 3/4″
Bowl height: 1 7/8″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/8″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 1/2″
Weight: 24 grams

26 Old English obverse26 Old English obverse
Shape 26

Length: 5 1/4″
Bowl height: 1 1/2″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/4″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 1/4″
Weight: 28 grams

25 Old English obverse25 Old English reverse
Shape 25

Length: 5 3/4″
Bowl height: 1 5/8″
Diameter Outside: 1 1/4″
Inside: 3/4″
Bowl Depth: 1 3/8″
Weight: 28 grams
1937 Catalog