It all began with Peterson : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

It all began with Peterson

Ireland’s iconic pipe sparks a lifelong pipe passion

By Rick Newcombe

For more than three decades, I have closely examined, bought, traded and sold thousands of pipes, read hundreds of pipe-related stories, written dozens of articles for pipe journals, given numerous speeches at pipe club banquets and written books that are bestsellers in the pipe world and have been translated into other languages, including German and Chinese. And it all started with Peterson.

This is because my first great-smoking pipe was a Peterson Shamrock that I bought in 1978. It was not my first pipe, but it was my first pipe that smoked almost magically, like nothing I had experienced before, and it spurred me on to try many great Petersons over the years, which in turn led to my unrepentant passion for pipes over the course of a lifetime.

That first pipe was a small-bowled billiard, like a Dunhill Group 2 in size, with a tapered mouthpiece and a normal button, by which I mean it was not a P-lip. I loved that pipe and smoked it and smoked it, and I watched the orange-brown stain gradually turn a very dark brown.

The nomenclature has been pretty much buffed off. In the old days, I never paid attention to markings, and every few years I would drop off the pipe at a local tobacconist—a variety of different ones—for a ream-and-clean, and somehow much of the writing has disappeared. I remember it was a Shamrock, and I can read the letters “SHAMR” on one side, and the word “PRODUCT” on the other side, with the word “ENGLAND” under that. This tells me that it was a Shamrock, and if the lettering had not been buffed off, it would read “A PETERSON PRODUCT,” and, under that line, the words “MADE IN ENGLAND.”

The point is that for a novice pipe smoker, Peterson brought my enjoyment of the pipe to a new level, and I will always be grateful for that.

My next Peterson was a system pipe, and I loved that one too. I remember smoking it at Holt’s Cigar Co. in Philadelphia, talking to a white-haired tobacconist and complaining that something was stuck in the bowl and I’d have to wait until the pipe cooled down before I could take it apart.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I don’t want to crack the shank,” I said. “I’ve already done that once before. It was with the second pipe I ever bought.”

“Here, let me have your pipe,” said the elderly man.

I handed it to him with some trepidation; I’d gotten the pipe going full blast and smoke was still curling out of the top.

“With a silver-banded military mount like this pipe has,” he said, as he pointed to the silver band, “it is no problem to take the pipe apart while it is still burning,” and he proceeded to do just that. I was shocked and scared, thinking he just broke my pipe.

But after he ran a cleaner through the pipe, I looked inside the wood of the shank to make sure that nothing was cracked, and sure enough, it was fine. “Wow, this is amazing,” I said.

—————

At one of the first Chicago Pipe Shows in the mid-1990s, I found another Peterson billiard with a tapered stem, only this one had a P-lip. The bowl was bigger than my beloved Shamrock, maybe a Group 5, and it had a meerschaum lining. The meerschaum had turned a dark brown color and was pretty nasty-looking. The pipe was a pre-Republic specimen, with clear stamping: “Made in Ireland.”

I was with the Danish pipemaker Jess Chonowitsch, who knows as much about pipemaking as anyone I have ever met. I asked Jess if he thought the walls were thick enough to handle it if I had the meerschaum lining removed. He studied the pipe for a while and said, in a Danish accent, “Yes, they are thick enough, and you will have no problem. In fact, it will be like smoking a new pipe because tobacco has never touched the wood inside the bowl. I have never heard of this, but it’s pretty clever. I have never understood why you Americans like used pipes, but this will be different.”

So I bought the pipe and sent it to the late Jim Benjamin for refurbishing. He told me that no one had ever asked him to remove a meerschaum lining before, and it took him a while to figure out the best way to cut it out. He then cleaned the shank and mouthpiece and sent me the pipe.

Since no one had ever smoked tobacco in the wood, it was almost as if it were a brand-new pipe. I was very curious to see if it smoked like a new pipe or one that had been broken in over time.

The result was astounding. It smoked like a well-used pipe that had been broken in completely over the years, yet I could see raw wood inside the bowl when I loaded it with tobacco. I asked Jess if he knew why, and he said it was probably because of the heat inside the bowl, but he did not know for sure and was only speculating.

That is a great test. I have since looked for more old, meerschaum-lined, Peterson “Made in Ireland” pipes but have yet to find another one.

—————-

When I visited the Peterson factory in 1998, I spent time with the affable Tony Whalen, who started working at Peterson in 1952. Tony was the bowl department manager at the time I met with him. I wanted to know more about the dating guide for Petersons, and specifically when Peterson started using the nomenclature “Made in the Republic of Ireland.” Tony said 1949.

Subsequently I attended pipe shows with confidence that any Peterson pipe I found that said “Made in Ireland” was made before that year. So you can imagine my excitement when I found two beautifully grained Oom Paul pipes that said “Made in Ireland.” They looked almost new! I could not believe my find! Century-old, or half-century old, pipes that looked like they came out of the factory last week.

But later I showed these pipes to my friend, Rich Esserman, who confirmed what I secretly feared: There is no way these new-looking pipes were made a hundred years ago. “Maybe they were commemorative pipes,” Rich said.

I researched it, and, sure enough, Rich was correct.

In the early 1990s Peterson came out with the Peterson Commemorative Patent System Pipe (1890-1990) Limited Edition No. 12393. One of my pipes was made in 1990 and the other in 1994.

I have been smoking these pipes for many years and they smoke like a dream. They are fantastic, and I have been told that they have become difficult to find since Peterson only made a limited number.

Read the rest of the article in P&T magazine or the online digital edition.

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Category: Pipe Articles, Winter 2013

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