150. Peterson and the Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes

This has been a long time coming, but at last The Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, described on the back cover as “an informal guided tour of the pipes smoked by Rathbone, Bruce and a host of foes,” is available through Amazon.

The idea for this little book came not long after we’d begun work on The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, when I saw one of Larry Gosser’s wonderful illustrations of Basil Rathbone leaning over the counter of a tobacconist, with a large ceramic jar labeled “Peterson’s” prominently displayed.

When I contacted Larry, he not only informed me that I’d missed a lot by not watching the fourteen films in the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes franchise, but that he believed Rathbone was smoking a Peterson in most of them! So my wife and I watched one—a very poor public domain print—and there it was: The Thinking Man’s pipe! Shape 4, the 309, clenched between the Great Detective’s lips.

I’m old enough that everyone I knew during my first years of pipe smoking promulgated the myth that Rathbone smoked a Dunhill in his Sherlock Holmes movies. Exclusively. Or maybe a Hardcastle. But a Peterson?! They laughed with more than a touch of scorn at the very suggestion. To them I can only say, echoing the detective and holding this little book under their noses: You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” (“A Scandal in Bohemia”).

To make a long story short and not give away too much (as you can see, Rathbone did smoke a pipe that looks like a Dunhill in the first films), Larry Gosser was right. This was a bit of a revelation to me, explaining why there was such an affinity, an almost mythic connection, between Peterson and Sherlock Holmes extending decades before the first of the Peterson Sherlock Holmes pipes appeared in the 1980s. In an anecdote told in the Peterson book, Jimmy Tighe, the manager of the old Grafton Street store back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, used to regularly get requests for “the Sherlock Holmes pipe—the one Basil Rathbone smokes.”

After contacting one of the professors at UCLA who was involved in the restoration of the films, I set about the amazingly enjoyable task of screening and re-screening the films, taking notes and then using some digital magic to obtain frame stills of the various pipes that Rathbone smokes as well as Nigel Bruce’s John Watson (who actually smokes a far greater variety of pipes) and all the friends and foes the duo face.

I wrote a draft of the book and circulated it, but then found my time wholly occupied with teaching (during the day) and the Peterson book (nights and weekends).

When it came time at last to do the book, I talked over my design concept with “The Woman”—the remarkable lady who did the layout and design for the Peterson book—and of course, she exceeded my expectations, as you can see from some of the page layouts. I had hoped initially to release it through Briar Books Press, but we wanted to take it to the Chicago pipe show last May and time was pressing, and so we decided to do it ourselves.

The “Chicago edition” came to about 30 copies or so, and I was delighted to sell every single one of them at the show. One quite fortuitously fell into the hands of Gene Umberger, Doctor of Pipes and author of the classic bibliography Tobacco and Its Use (2009), a long-time friend and fellow old-film fan. He gave it the critical reading it needed during the early part of the summer and we subsequently made some important editorial changes for the second edition.

Here’s the Table of Contents:

There are some unanswered questions in the book—mostly about other pipe brands—but for all that, it’s a book that tickles me every time I pick it up. When you read it, if you can fill in any of the gaps, please let me know. The beauty of publish-on-demand books like this is that changes aren’t all that difficult to make.

 

UPDATE: 9/27/19, 10:30pm. Hi everyone! You’ve blown me away by your interest in the book. It was sold out on Amazon by 10:30 this morning. I couldn’t believe it. We re-ordered from the printer before noon today and it will be back in stock in about 7-10 days.

OVERSEAS: All my Pete friends outside the US: eBay’s Global Shipping program is the least expensive way to get the book to you. When we get it back in stock, I will post the eBay auction # for you.

IF YOU ORDERED TODAY: We will have your books in the mail to you tomorrow, First Class mail. And many thanks! If you like it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.

The book will be available again, in about 7-10 days, through Amazon.com hereIf for some reason you can’t find it, drop me a line and I will email you directly. We will do our best to keep it in stock.

THE PIPES OF BASIL RATHBONE’S SHERLOCK HOLMES
Paperback: 68 pages
Publisher: Simulacran Press; 2nd edition (2019)
ISBN-10: 0578559951
ISBN-13: 978-0578559957
Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
Price: $12.95

 

“The Peterson Was Still Between His Lips” (With Apologies to Sidney Paget)
© 2019 Chas. Mundungus

 

Can you believe it? I just spotted a typo on one of the pages reproduced above. I need an editor!

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Alex
Alex
11 months ago

Do you not ship to the UK ? . A shame if so .

Alex
Alex
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

That’s great news Mark . I’m so pleased your valuable work is being appreciated . I remember the scene with the “Peterson’s” jar in “Dressed to Kill” as it was the first time I heard the word “latakia” being pronounced . Was the jar an early example of product placement ? . Perhaps your book will reveal all .

Jack Gillespie
11 months ago

Fantastic! Another book about Peterson Pipes! This year my Christmas list is going to be all about pipes! I’d LOVE to see Peterson do a commemorative release of the 4AB! Recently I went looking but can’t find one anywhere. Do you know of a current shape that is the closest to the 4AB, Mark?

Al Jones
Al Jones
11 months ago

Mark, congratulations! I wanted to share this update on the PIpesMagazine forum, but I can’t locate the book on Amazon, can you add the link?

Jack Gillespie
11 months ago

Here you go, Al: https://amzn.to/2nfJkd2

Andy Camire
Andy Camire
11 months ago

Mark,
You just keep the interest growing and growing. Will you have these books with you in Las Vegas at the pipe show? If so, I’ll be glad to acquire one from you there, and might even ask for a signed copy. Cheers.

George Duffy
George Duffy
11 months ago

No longer available through Amazon.

Roger G.
Roger G.
11 months ago

Great big DITTO to the Jack Gillespie request above. Re-release the classic shape 4AB please, Peterson!

Robert M. Boughton
11 months ago

Thanks for another great advancement in the Peterson cause! I look forward to getting a copy. Just to toss in a note I hope will be of interest, in the original story and novel texts, there are only about nine specific references to the types of pipes Holmes smoked: at least two briars, six clays and one cherry wood. The writer of the best account I found noted that cherry wood could be the material or the shape but had the sense to conclude it was the material to which Doyle referred. https://www.quora.com/What-kinds-of-pipes-did-Sherlock-Holmes-smoke-according-to-Sir-Arthur-Conan-Doyles-writings

Jack Gillespie
11 months ago

Just sent my email to Peterson! Here’s hoping we get this icon pipe — with the tapered stem — back in rotation!

Jim Vetrovec
Jim Vetrovec
11 months ago

Is it possible to pre-order this book through Amazon? Can’t miss this one.

Jim Vetrovec
Jim Vetrovec
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

Thanks Mr. Irwin. I hope you won’t forget to let me know. I’m A Big S.H. fan and have all the old movies with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Nothing like watching one of them before bed time while smoking one of the S.H. series pipes.

Jack Gillespie
11 months ago

I got a response from Peterson:

“We do have any plans to manufacture the Peterson System 4AB (309 Standard System) again.”

As that’s a little off, I’ve asked for clarification. Do they have plans or did they leave out the “not”? I’ll let you all know when they reply!

Jack Gillespie
11 months ago

Okay… they clarified:

“No, sorry, I should have said we do NOT have plans to manufacture the 309 again.”

In the immortal words of The Dude, “That’s a bummer, man.”

Tim Huber
Tim Huber
11 months ago

I missed knowing about this by 3 days, I will be watching to grab one out of the next batch

Tim Huber
Tim Huber
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

I will be peeling an eye to catch it this time !

Jack Gillespie
11 months ago

Mark, I’m watching “The Spider Woman” — what a spectacular display of the 4AB! In one scene, Holmes asks Watson for some tobacco. Watson then gives Holmes a large tin and Holmes packs his pipe in a very unscientific method (based on today’s standards). Pray tell, do you — or anyone else — happen to know what tobacco Rathbone liked to smoke?

Jack Gillespie
11 months ago

It seems I spoke too soon as I did my own investigation and found that Rathbone smoked Wilke No. 515: “This is the blend smoked by Basil Rathbone, Wilke’s famous No. 515. A blend of ribbon cut Virginias and toasted Black Cavendish, or as the Wilke sisters described it: ‘exotic tobaccos aged in a rare Jamaica Rum — smooth, mild with a delightful aroma.'”

Jim Vetrovec
Jim Vetrovec
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Gillespie

You guys don’t have a hair unless you have a big bent Pete House Pipe. The MLB playoffs start tonight and the House pipe will smoke for 3 hours while you’re watching the game.
The one S.H. Rathbone and Bruce movie I like for showing off their pipes is the House of Fear 1942. It’s what I call a first class piper movie.

Tim Huber
Tim Huber
11 months ago

When I checked again last night, Amz had one copy left, I grabbed it immediately, was going to get 2, lol.
Now to find your other books to go with this one and the Big Peterson book already on my bookshelf.

Jim Vetrovec
Jim Vetrovec
11 months ago
Reply to  Tim Huber

I was able to snag one thanks to Mark’s message that they were in stock again.

William Rothwell
William Rothwell
1 month ago

Do you have any more of your “The Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes” on their way to Amazon?