On the second day the British Army had already marched into Sackville Street in Dublin, setting out to capture the General Post Office where the rebels had set up their Headquarters, one of several bases where fighting occurred. The Easter Rising, prologue to the fight for independence, was crushed within a week. Nothing but the walls of the Post Office remained and the surrounding buildings had not fared better, such as the nearby elegant Metropole Hotel, which had literally collapsed and with it the pipe and tobacco shop on the ground floor. Some time later, an unusual headline appeared in the Dublin newspapers: “The Capture of Kelly’s Fort". Fortunately, this time the capture was not military, but economic: Kapp & Peterson, owners of the destroyed tobacco shop in the Metropole Hotel, had swiftly come into possession of new premises. The turbulent events of 1916 had also hit a brick building, at the corner of Sackville Street and Bachelor's Walk on the banks of the River Liffey, generally known as Kelly's or Kelly's Corner because it was owned by M. Kelly & Son, purveyors of fishing tackle. Kelly's had also been damaged extensively, but it could be restored, and the tobacco firm saw this as a golden opportunity to take over the shop, thereby changing its name. It was “business as usual” as proclaimed in the newspaper article, which was now run from the new Kapp & Peterson Corner, where customers could purchase the already well-known finest pipes and tobacco.
The Post Office has been restored since then, while a modern building has been erected in place of the Metropole Hotel, which had been rebuilt and then subsequently demolished. The name of the street, the main one in Dublin, has been renamed O'Connell Street, after the famous nineteenth century national hero, and after much tribulation most of Ireland is a Republic and member of the European Union. The pipe shop has moved south across the river. In 2015 the firm will celebrate 150 years of a long story, one of the longest. An official book providing a detailed history will be issued to mark the occasion, but meanwhile we would like to touch upon some aspects of it here and provide some further updates once the book has been launched.
Everything more or less began in 1865 when Frederick and George Kapp, two brothers originally from Nuremberg, arrived in London. The following year they were listed in London trade directories as Meerschaum (“sea foam”) pipe makers of Dean Street in the district of Soho. However, in around 1868 the two brothers separated. Both brothersstayed in London until 1874; George remained carving pipes in London, where he would die ten years later, while Frederick moved his family and business to Dublin, where in 1874 he sold both Meerschaum and briar wood pipes in his shop on Grafton Street.
Meerschaum and briar wood. However, it is no coincidence that at the beginning of the firm’s history (1865) only Meerschaum pipes were being produced. Known since antiquity, this mineral was only discovered as ideal for pipe making in the early eighteenth century. The first products appeared in around 1767 in Thuringia, in the city of Ruhla, but these pipes were only crafted and sold in small quantities until 1830. International recognition, and in particular in London, the home of tobacco, came with the Great Exhibition in 1851. It may be no coincidence that Nuremberg, only a hundred kilometres from Ruhla, was the Kapp brothers’ native city. They arrived in London a few years after the Exhibition, probably already equipped with the expertise necessary to make these new, desirable pipes. As for briar wood, it is a more recent material used for pipe making compared to Meerschaum. Indeed, it began to be used for pipes in the 1850s. Thus, when Frederick established his business in Grafton Street in Dublin in 1874, this material was still relatively new and exciting. But why did Kapp choose to move to Ireland? The answer may be found in the fact that in London in 1876 there were already over thirty craftsmen and importers of Meerschaum pipes, whereas Dublin was a market still to be conquered. It was in those same years that an important centre of pipe manufacture was established in Nuremberg, and Frederick must have kept in touch with that city, although for briar he turned to the birthplace of briar pipes, the French city of Saint-Claude.
On the other hand, Charles Peterson came from Riga, today the capital of Latvia, but in that period part of the immense Russian empire, a lively, busy Baltic city, full of pipes and smokers like all ports open to traffic and foreigners. Charles emigrated to Dublin in around 1876, and appeared in the pipe shop on Grafton Street . He was hired by Frederick Kapp as a craftsman to make custom-made briar pipes. It is highly probable that the twenty-four-year-old had already acquired extensive skills in this craft, and soon proved to be an expert, in just a few years becoming the backbone of the business. Later, between 1881 and 1882, Frederick died, soon followed by his widow, and Charles found himself running the business (the firm was called “Kapp Brothers”at that time ) and being the guardian of their two sons aged ten and twelve. When they were old enough to enter into the family business, Christian decided to give up his quota, which went to his brother Alfred and to Charles Peterson. Thus, in 1893 the firm changed its name to "Kapp & Peterson".
Meanwhile, Kapp&Peterson continued to pursue and expand on their own philosophy of pipe making: fine, functional and sturdy pipes, objects that the common person could afford and that would make pipe smoking particularly pleasant. From 1891 onwards the firm focused on the functional aspects of pipes, seeking a technically perfect pipe, which lead to a series of patents. The Peterson System Pipe featured (and still features) a special design in the internal cavity of the stem and mouthpiece, in which changes in smoke direction, and a variation in the diameter of the parts enabled the smoker to have a dryer smoke, as the resulting condensation mixed with impurities in the pipe is collected in a small reservoir. The special shape of the mouthpiece (P-lip, patented in 1898) and the direction of the small draft hole makes the smoke rise towards the palate, so that the tongue is not bitten by the smoke. ThePetersonSystem was an instant success, although not all smokers were enthusiastic. The P-lip has also been criticised, as although the tongue is spared, the palate may be irritated. However, supporters of this System say that a positive feature is a cool, smooth smoke, and thanks to the P-lip tongue bite is a thing of the past. In any case, the number of patents awarded to the Peterson pipe until 1905 brought international renown and contributed to a unique characteristic of the pipes: in order to hold the internal mechanism of the System the stem had to be massive, providing a certain impression of solidity. This is the basis of the Peterson shape aesthetic: a thick stummel.
An idea of the design of late nineteenth century Kapp & Peterson pipes can be gained from a catalogue dating back to around 1896. Austere, functional shapes, with some elegant grain patterns on the bowl. The only Meerschaum present is also quite simple. There are also some interesting “extra large” pipes. Pipes could be ordered by matching the more or less straight or rounded bowl to a mouthpiece, thereby obtaining straight “billiard” or “bent” models. An interesting link to the world of clay pipes are the briar bowls featuring spurs. The three price ranges meant that everyone could afford a quality pipe. In the top range there was greater choice of hand-crafted sterling silver-mounted mouthpieces. In the middle range, the mouthpiece was moulded, again incorporating a silver bandand in the lower price range the metal band was nickel, not silver. However, regardless of the price everyone was offered the practicality and solidity of the Peterson System. An advertisement from that period announced: "The Thinking Man Smokes a Peterson's Patent Pipe". This idea of sturdy and finely crafted pipes has always been the firm’s hallmark. The price policy has not changed much over the years. Indeed, the different ranges still remain today. The less expensive products are still of good quality and the higher quality pipes are not as expensive as those of other brands. The System is still being produced, one straight (the #31) and numerous bents, whereas the P-lip mouthpiece is a general feature of most pipes.
Kapp & Peterson have been in Irelandfor over a hundred and fifty years, providing work for many local labourers. Although the founders of the firm came from elsewhere, they settled well on the island, having in common a practical approach and guided by the island’s traditional values. Following the Easter Rising, the firm began to stamp the pipes "Made in Ireland". Whether through personal conviction or making a shrewd marketing move, the German’s son and the Russian from Riga were indirectly advocating future independence. Friedrich Henry Kapp, Alfred’s son, joined the firm in 1914, while Charles Peterson died in Hamburg in 1919. Only a few decades after being established, the firm was already internationally known, and today export worldwide and continue to produce a large quantity of pipes (delegating part of the work to third parties). The name Kapp has remained in the business name, but the pipes are known solely as “Peterson” pipes, as had been evident since the late nineteenth century.
Since Friedrich Henry Kapp died in 1972, the firm has changed hands several times. There were difficult periods for pipes, especially when cigarettes became popular, while the free-style craftsmen created problems for the important manufacturers who had invested in classical, enduring models. However, the change in ownership of the firm once again in 1991 brought about a series of positive developments in the capable hands of Tom Palmer, pipe connoisseur and expert in this field, and in 1995 he bought out his partner’s shares, becoming sole owner of the company. He immediately set to work and turned around the business successfully.
Since then the Peterson policy has changed, but only in part. Under Palmer’s direction production has been diversified. He states that “a pipe is a consumer product… and the consumer wants something new every so often”. However, he adds that the new models still feature the traditional designs and quality that Peterson pipes have always displayed. Moreover, the traditional ties with the Emerald Isle are evident in the names of the pipe ranges and in their Celtic-style decorative features.
Passing through Dublin, the pipe-lover should not miss making a pilgrimage to the Peterson Shop of Dublin, in Nassau Street. There he will find pipes, tobacco and a wonderful atmosphere, as well as a careful, innovative spirit that does not betray, however, the firm’s enduring motto: "The Thinking Man Smokes a Peterson Pipe".
Special thanks to Mr. Tom Palmer for his precious contribution
Milan, September 2013