Whether the Peterson firm will soon be celebrating its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, hundredth and a half, or third fiftieth anniversary makes little difference: the occasion speaks for itself. It would be interesting to line up all the pipes ever produced, including from now to 2015, starting from Dublin to see where they would end up, but there is no need, for Peterson pipes are already everywhere. There are a huge number of Peterson pipe lovers worldwide, as well as a number of detractors, as happens with products of a certain character. Not only do they smoke the pipes, but many also collect them, which is already a complex task in itself, as it is not easy to navigate a story that started almost 150 years ago. This is because production began in the early days of briar pipes, launched through important, nineteenth century patents, and over time the firm increased its range of pipes, varying shape, size and finish, developing its different series and introducing some unique pieces. Thus, the aim was to produce pipes on a large scale, but also issue some limited editions, so that the focus was on both the practical aspects of their pipes and on the aesthetic and high quality features, without neglecting the price issue. In this way the apparent contradiction became the firm’s strength, enabling it to sail through the fluctuating market, whether successful or in difficulty. Thus, the firm evolved in relative stability, which is how it should be if one wishes to last 150 years. The intricacies of its production are almost jungle-like – lush and rather dense. It is up to the great collectors to find their way through the tangle of information and provide some reliable pathways for accurate dating. The collectors’ painstaking and untiring work is gradually producing a picture of Peterson’s products since 1865, albeit fragmentary and incomplete, but already quite substantial. We’ll see what happens from now until 2015.
A K&P pipe is often roughly datable based on some of the pipe’s external features, and for more recent pipes on the series or collection to which it belongs. For products from the 1970s, many experts frequently privilege reconstructing the different series or collections over the chronological aspects. This will be discussed later, but before we embark on this complex subject, it is worth offering a general timeline of K&P’s 150 years of production, following its highs and lows, its steady developments and improvements.
Fredrick and George Kapp arrived in London in 1865, and in 1874 Fredrick was already in Dublin. In the shop on Grafton Street briar pipes were introduced alongside the Meerschaums. Frederick’s encounter with Charles Peterson occurred in around 1876, while in 1891 the Peterson System was patented, and the P-lip in 1898. The first major increase in sales came about in the 1890s, as in addition to the successful patents the firm had an excellent contract supplying pipes to the British Army. This led to the creation of the military mount, which we will deal with later. An 1896 catalogue reflects a well-established firm, proud of its innovations and able to provide a good range of pipe models. Another catalogue, from 1905, displays a remarkable increase in the various models on offer. Pipes were the in-thing at that time, brought back into fashion after the decline of snuff and boosted by the introduction of briar, and there was no serious competition from cigars and cigarettes yet. These were regularly used common objects, smoked by people from every social class, whether connoisseurs or not of quality, aesthetic shape, or merely attracted by the reasonable price, but perhaps less demanding than today’s smokers as regards the briar's texture. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century K&P went steadily on, apart from the obvious difficulties in obtaining briar during the war. Then something gradually and relentlessly changed. The cigarette, which had already had some followers in the nineteenth century, became rapidly widespread in the following century thanks to new manufacturing technologies, improved blends, and the introduction of advertising and packaging. Compared to pipes it offered a smoke that seemed more “modern” and suitable for increasingly frenetic lifestyles. Its rapid rise varied according to the different markets, but in 1950 in Great Britain it accounted for 84% of tobacco consumption, compared to 31% in Spain, 37% in Germany, 72% in the USA and 76% in Austria. The trend was irreversible and within a few decades pipe smoking declined in popularity everywhere. How did a great, traditional manufacturer with loyal customers worldwide address this problem? Initially the firm withstood the drop in sales on one market by trying to recover on another, but sales were still declining so countermeasures were sought. Fredrick Henry Kapp, the founder’s grandson, died in 1972 and a year later the company merged with another group, and changed hands several times in the following years. Indeed, until Tom Palmer came onto the scene (1990-95) it was a critical time in which measures were sought to pull out of the crisis, some being successful but not decisive.
It was at this time that the company became aware of how the social role of the pipe was changing. From being a tool that was almost “necessary” and commonly used, it was slowly becoming a specially chosen, cherished object, and the type of users were also becoming more motivated. Thus, in order to keep this changing clientele, innovative models were created to arouse their curiosity, and also to encourage them to collect all the models in a certain series. In other words, an updated business policy which was a marketing ploy that was in line with the general evolution of tastes, thanks to which the astute manufacturers succeeded in remaining highly competitive. Indeed, not only was the market consolidated, but new generations of pipe users were also attracted by the special aura surrounding pipe smoking, who were certainly convinced and satisfied. In the last few decades it has been Tom Palmer who has contributed to the firm’s success with his innovations.
Now, back to the present, after 150 years since the firm’s establishment. Looking back at the history of K&P, it seems that there is an evident point that marks the separation between the long history of the firm in the hands of Kapp/Peterson and the shorter, but no less interesting period that followed. In other words, the firm’s history could be divided into two periods – the period of “pipes for everyone” and the period of “pipes for the discerning”.
FIRST PERIOD (from 1865 to 1973): Pipes for everyone.
This period spans almost 110 years of history, and is difficult to reconstruct due to a lack of documents, so dating has to rely on a series of features found on the models. The features to be considered leads to the identification of four eras.
The first era (some call this the “zero era”) goes from the beginning in 1865 (in London) to the introduction of the System patent, 1891. Undoubtedly fascinating years, although so little is known apart from the fact that the oldest dated example from the firm is a Meerschaum, from 1890.
The second era (Patent) is more forthcoming with data, as accuracy here relies on the Peterson patents. On the System pipes was stamped the word “Patent”, although the pipes with no System would lack this. None of the pipes from this era displayed the country of origin, which would only be introduced in 1916. The System patent expired in 1910, while the P-lip expired in 1918, being patented in 1898. Thus, some experts claim the second era ended in 1910 when the System patent expired, while others extend the era to 1920, thereby complicating matters further as the second era overlaps with the third. One thing is certain: on the patent’s expiry it was no longer necessary to stamp the word “Patent” on the pipe.
The third era (Pre-Republic) began in 1916 (when the country of origin appeared on the pipe) and extended to 1949 coinciding with the official declaration of the Republic of Ireland. It is worth pointing out that in 1916 all Ireland was still a part of Great Britain, so the inscription "Made in Ireland" on the pipes from this era are a cross between geographical indication and wishful thinking. Later on the stamps changed several times, reflecting the turbulent events in the history of the Island, from an initial sort of independence to a Republic. Therefore, the subdivision of the third era into 3 sub-eras is linked to these events.
First sub-era (3.1): MADE IN IRELAND. This stamp was issued in 1916, some time after the failed Easter rising and remained until 1922.
Second sub-era (3.2): IRISH FREE STATE. This was adopted in 1922 following the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed the year before which declared Ireland an independent, free State, albeit only partially free, as it still depended largely on Great Britain. The second sub-era ended in 1937.
Third sub-era (3.3): MADE IN EIRE - MADE IN IRELAND. In late 1937 a new Constitution was declared and the State adopted the name Eire (Ireland in Gaelic). Dependence on Great Britain was reduced, but still remained. The stamp MADE IN EIRE was issued in 1938 but some years later (1940-1941) it was replaced by MADE IN IRELAND until 1949.
The Fourth era (Republic) corresponds to the stamp MADE IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND or a shorter version with the abbreviation of the word REPUBLIC. On 18th April 1949 the Republic of Ireland was proclaimed, now completely independent. Since then there have been no further variations in the country of origin stamp.
An analysis of the stamps is of help in dating the pipes, especially as regards the second and third eras, but only to a certain extent, as is evident from the rough guide above. If only we could be sure that (for instance) the stamp MADE IN EIRE corresponded to the years between 1938 and 1940-41, it would already be something, whereas this is not so, unfortunately. It appears that in the Peterson workshops where the pipes were stamped, the older stamps were still used, together with the later ones. In this case, a pipe from sub-era 3.3 could very well bear the previous stamp IRISH FREE STATE. Conversely, a pipe stamped MADE IN EIRE could certainly not reach back further than 1938. For a more accurate reading, it is worth examining other evidence.
Still on the subjects of stamps, it is worth looking at the capital “P” of Peterson stamped on the pipes. Throughout the years the style of the letter has changed three times.
The first style is in old style lettering with a spiral upper part and a forked tail. This was used from the origins to the 1930s.
The second style can be considered “handwritten” or standard block letter, in use from the early 1930s to the present.
The third style was adopted in the late 1970s, so in the second period. We mention it here because it could be confused with the first style, although a bit simpler. It appears only on commemorative or replica pipes.
We shall now turn to another criteria used to date Peterson pipes that is much more accurate than the previously mentioned guides, although here again there are some limitations. From the beginning K&P mounted their pipes with silver bands, which was usual practice in the late nineteenth century, also for other personal objects. However, K&P decided to continue this practice, and have done so until now so that this form of decoration has become one of their distinguishing features. However, silver is a precious metal, and in Ireland hallmarking is a legal requirement, to be tested by the Assay Office, in this case the Dublin Assay Office where the bands were examined before being mounted. Thus, all 925 silver bands of Peterson pipes bear three hallmarks, each in an escutcheon: The first is the symbol of a seated Hibernia, denoting the Dublin Office; the second is the classic Irish harp, denoting the silver’s purity (925 parts of silver per 1000 parts of metal); the third is a letter of the alphabet which is the most important element to aid dating. The shape of the escutcheon and style of letter can help us to determine a certain year, though not necessarily the same year that the pipe was completed. This is because great numbers of bands were sent to the Assay Office, but this did not mean that the pipes were immediately mounted with them. This is why dating may not be so accurate in some cases, but it still helps when trying to date silver-mounted pipes. What may be another problem is that not all Peterson pipes have metal bands, and not all the metal bands are in silver. You just have to look through the 1896 catalogue to realize that the cheaper models were mounted with nickel rather than silver. These bands bore three logos in the form of a shamrock, prone fox and stone tower, but do not help to date the models as they were only decorative additions.
While we are on the subject of the 1896 catalogue, it is interesting to note the advertisement for the military mount. What kind of model was this? The tenon and mortise connection of a standard pipe is cylindrical, designed for a snug fit and not suitable for taking apart the pipe while it is still hot, as the briar expands when heated. The tenon and mortise connection of army mounts are conical shaped, so that the fit is less snug and consequently the pipe can be easily pulled apart while still warm and there is no risk of damage to the delicate parts. Why the name “military”? This is due to the fact that a soldier in the trenches could be in the middle of a smoke when having to go into action, so it was important to be able to swiftly pull the pipe apart and tuck it away in his pocket without worrying about damaging the wood in the shank, or the heat. The Peterson pipe with this type of mount features a metal ferrule on the shank designed not only for aesthetic purposes, but also to reinforce both the shank and the “vertical” part (compared to the pipe’s axis ) between shank and stem. The type of bend shape of the metal band between the shank’s surface and “vertical” part can also help to determine the pipe’s age, valid for both silver and nickel mounts. On examining a number of these models, it has been observed that during the second (Patent) era the metal ferrule was “acorn” shaped, with a relatively large radius. Later on (in the Free State era) the radius gradually decreased to a sharper bend until it took on the modern shape present from WWII onwards.
To conclude this description of the first period we shall briefly add four notes, leaving out some other points that would go too much into detail for our purposes here.
First note: Peterson pipes, proud of their Irish origins, were and still are (at least partially) also crafted in other countries. England is especially important because in this case more clues can be found to help determine age. In 1895 K&P "returned" to London and stayed there more or less until 1959. During the company’s lengthy stay in London the pipes were stamped Made in England (rectangular version) which coincided approximately with the pipes stamped Made in Ireland from the third era. More recently the round/circular versions of the Made in England pipes corresponded to those Made in Eire. Then followed the stamps Made in London, Made in London England, London England, and Great Britain.
Second note: In the first period of “pipes for everyone”, little was done to encourage customers who were already converted, apart from offering an increasing variety of shapes, sizes and finishes according to price, tastes and markets. Yet, in the 1905 catalogue, we can already find a commemorative pipe: a fine bulldog called "Coronation", to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902.
Third note: The 1965 catalogue yields some interesting information concerning post-war production. Indeed, on offer was a wide range of pipes divided into various categories in order to meet all tastes and preferences. The System Briars play a particularly important role, being most associated with the firm’s unique brand, and they come in a variety of models and quality grades. Then follow the tried and tested models of the Standard Lines. Next, the Speciality Briars with special shapes and features: Lightweight, the traditional Churchwarden with long stem, the unmistakable Calabash, the Meerschaum Lined, a briar pipe with the bowl containing Meerschaum, even a Dental model specially made for smokers with dentures. Finally, there are the Product Lines, which we would term entry-level products today, of good quality and reasonably priced. In the second period the firm consolidated its focus on initiatives to classify the products in a rational manner, but also in such a way as to lure different types of customers, by adding to their ranges and making the products appealing to collectors. The unique example of the Coronation pipe (1902) had probably already been an unconscious move in this direction.
Fourth note: During the first period, K&P employed various other materials apart from meerschaum and briar to craft their pipes. For instance, traditional clay during the second era (Patent) and later during WWII when briar was scarce. Their aspect recalls more the contemporary briar pipe than the ancient clay pipes. At the turn of the twentieth century bog oak pipes were produced. Bog oak is semi-fossilized wood that has been buried in anaerobic conditions, often found in peat bogs in Ireland. The idea was to promote local material. When briar became largely unavailable during WWII, bog oak (like clay) served to substitute it. Another material that was used for pipes at the turn of the twentieth century was cherry wood.
SECOND PERIOD (from 1973 to the present): Pipes for the discerning.
Everything went on as before under many aspects, apart from the fact that many more models were added to the collections. These were new and different not so much from the point of view of the pipe as a smoking tool, but from the spirit with which they were (and are) produced and offered for sale.
Apart from the unique example of the Coronation pipe (1902) K&P’s business policy had never contemplated commemorative pipes. However, times change and 1975 was a special year, being the firm’s centenary. During that time it was thought that the firm had been established in 1875, but recently further extensive research has unearthed more evidence to suggest that the firm may have been founded ten years earlier. Thus, in 1975 to celebrate the centenary two different models were issued (one straight and one bent) with one hundred pieces of each type.
Something exciting had been discovered in Hannibal, Missouri. The pipe that had belonged to Mark Twain and was now housed in a museum was in fact a Peterson from 1896. This was an opportunity that was too good to miss on occasion of the centenary, and the firm targeted potential American customers who would be especially fond of the author and would be drawn to the collections. A replica of Mark Twain’s pipe in high quality briar mounted in gold was issued in a limited numbered edition of 400 pipes, and sold out instantly. In the following year, a second identical numbered edition was issued, this time a thousand pipes, together with another 2,500 silver-mounted pipes, and these also swiftly sold out. From 1983 to 1989 the firm continued to produce Mark Twain replicas, this time without numbers, as well as another gold limited edition (numbered) in 1985 to celebrate 150 years since the birth of Mark Twain. Yet another edition was issued in the late 1990s. Thus, the Mark Twain models were incredibly successful, and the special “collection” pipes had a cult following.
Seeking other new initiatives to attract customers, K&P focused on another famous pipe smoker, this time a character, not a writer: Sherlock Holmes. Marketing became more complex and even more appealing to pipe lovers. The centenary of “A Study in Scarlet”, the first story in which Holmes and Watson meet, fell in 1987. This was just the right year to launch a limited edition of the Original, a large-sized pipe. Six months later, seven other pipes in the series were subsequently issued, together with a specially designed pipe case. As this was so successful a second limited edition of the series featuring seven extra-large pipes was issued, then an unnumbered series and a “junior”, in which the pipes had the same shape but were smaller in size.
Since then K&P has never missed an occasion to propose new series of pipes, featuring special models, with new initiatives designed to link the pipe world to aspects of the real world and culture to which they are associated in some way. However, it is Tom Palmer who managed to greatly improve the firm’s business to achieve the results that we can see in the present.
The history of K&P could not be interrupted by radical changes in management: high quality, value for money, attention to the different types of consumers, and traditional shapes were all factors that customers appreciated and expected. The necessary changes were implemented in the form of providing an ever wider range of models on offer, as well as some innovative features, while older models were (and are) removed. On the whole quite a complex array of products, which can be divided up into four large groups, which we now list below in descending order as regards quality and price.
First group: Straight grains, Gold and Silver Mounted.
These are exceptional pipes for the top quality of briar, fine gold and silver mounts, shape and finish.
Second group: High grades
Still of extremely high quality, these pipes display some fine ranges: Plato, limited edition freehand pipe; Celtic, bearing silver mounts inscribed with special Celtic details; Royal Irish and Rosslare Royal Irish; Grafton; Gold & Silver Spigots, pipes with "military mounts" in which both the shank and stem feature silver bands.
Third group: Collections, Series
Here we can find the "Sherlock Holmes" series, together with a vast array of other series ( Old English, Darwin, Kapp Royal, Deluxe Systems...) and House pipes, rather large System models that are perfect for a quiet smoke at home.
Fourth group: Basic Entry Level Pipes
This is the most interesting group as regards price, though of course the Peterson quality is still outstanding. Here we find Holiday and Calendar date pipes designed for special festivities (Saint Patrick's Day, Father's Day, Christmas), Special pipes ( Belgique and Calabash, Tankard & Barrel, Churchwarden), System Pipes, and Classic Range: from Aran to Tyrone and 4U there are about 50 lines which are constantly updated.
At the beginning we mentioned the notion of the jungle when referring to what K&P has offered and still offers its loyal customers. This was obviously in a positive sense. Having reached this far, the definition may not be exaggerated, also considering that we have had to simplify things somewhat in order not to lose the thread of the discussion. However, it may be precisely this “Irish jungle” which is the distinguishing and appealing feature of the Dublin firm.
Special thanks to Mr. Tom Palmer for his precious contribution
Milan, October 2013