We like to think that we know a great deal about the past here in the second decade of the 21st century, but the more I read history, historical novels and study pipes & tobaccos, the more I’m convinced that we have very little visual understanding of the quotidian realities of bygone days. Take almost anything from the past—the tenements and mansions of Dickensian London, the British naval vessels of Patrick O’Brien’s “Aubreyiad” (the Aubrey-Maturin novels), our own home towns 50, 80 or 100 years ago, or the actual pipes, tobaccos and related ephemera that might be found in any of them—and it’s difficult to conjure any kind of real sensory impression of what they were like.
Even in more recent history, we know so little about what it might have been like to buy, say, a Peterson pipe 70 years ago, either here in the US or in Europe or abroad. I think that’s why, when we started writing the Peterson book, I became fascinated by the wealth of Peterson pipe boxes, especially when I would see what looked to be a NOS pipe with its box, brochure, sock, guarantee and maybe even Gratis Pipe Tool. I knew that the boxes each had a story to tell, prompting to me create the montage of boxes on p. 131, one of my favorite images in the book.*
I know there are some dedicated collectors of Dunhill, Comoys, Barling and other great production pipes of the past who sometimes read this blog—if you’re one of them, can you tell us whether these or other companies had the same profusion of pipe boxes through the 20th century?
There were a number of fascinating Peterson boxes that I did not have at the time I created that montage for the book, including the following one that’s seen in period photographs of the factory’s shipping department and dates from late 1940s and early 1950s. It was a struggle not to bid for it, as it was part of a nearly-complete Standard System 307 set on eBay, which went for $143, just a little more than a new Premier System:
But knowing I wouldn’t smoke the 307 and was only buying it for the box, I resisted (and had a bit of remorse in doing so!).
There are four early boxes that I want to share, all made in Dublin by P. O’Reilly, who did business in Dublin at 32 & 33 Poolbeg St. and made cardboard boxes, as this ad from the September 13, 1902 issue of All Ireland Review indicates, for millinery, mantles, costumes, soaps, cigarettes and tobacco:
It’s a pleasant coincidence that Kapp & Peterson took an ad out on the same page of the All Ireland Review, and it turns out that in addition to doing business with P. O’Reilly, Alfred H. Kapp and Malchi J. O’Reilly (of P. O’Reilly’s) were fellow Rotarians, as indicated in The Rotarian for October, 1913:
I was unable to trace when these fellow Dublin Rotarians first began doing business together, but it was certainly by the time of the Patent shipping cartons (c. 1906) we’ve seen, and of course could have been much earlier.
The earliest Peterson boxes Gary Malmberg and I found, which are seen on p. 62 of the book, are actually shipping cartons. These were made in several sizes, and not long ago I found this small one in remarkable condition. At 7 ½ x 4 x 2 inches it was designed to hold a half-dozen “K” briars, per the packing sticker on the side.
The Big “K” apples from K&P’s 1937 catalog
The “K” briar pipes it contained were from a K&P entry-grade or “Product Line” which is first mentioned in the catalogs in 1937. This doesn’t mean they weren’t made earlier, although it’s interesting that K&P would continue using the same shipping carton twenty years after the patent’s expiration.
The beautiful herringbone-patterned Kapet box seen above is just six inches long, an inch shorter than most every other Peterson box ever made. It is stamped for the 53 lovat, which at just over five inches, will fit quite comfortably, but one wonders about longer Classic Range shapes.
The 53 lovat entered the classic range about 1937
The Kapet line entered the known catalog in 1925, although I don’t find shape 53 mentioned earlier than 1937. The box bottom is rubber-stamped MADE IN over IRISH FREE STATE, which accords with the catalog information we have on the Kapet line and shape 53 (IFS = 1927-1938).
Jorgen Jensen, my co-author Gary Malmberg and myself were all fascinated by a Peterson auction on eBay not too long ago for an empty pipe box with the title Peterson’s “Goldsmith” Briars. Gary Malmberg speculates, “Like you I had never heard of such a thing. As I recall, the seller was in Dublin. I don’t know what that means. Goldsmith might refer to a person’s name, but I doubt it. It might have been made specifically for Fox or some other retailer. It may have been a gold-banded pipe. It may have been named in honor of the Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin.” For my part, I thought it quite appropriate that a previous owner has penciled “Religious Object” just above “Peterson’s.”
Now that we know a little of the history of collaborations between James Fox and Peterson, we can discount Gary’s third speculation, since James Fox did not carry K&P until quite recently, but only their own line (which was not sourced through Peterson) as well as several other famous production lines. I have yet to find any K&P pipe with the Goldsmith line stamp, and if you have one or see one, do drop me a line so we can document what it looked like.
The Shamrock box seen above came with the earliest pipe-box version of the K&P “Chat With a Smoker” essay I’ve been able to document (and which graces p. 3 of the Peterson book). The box predates the Rogers Imports, Ltd. Shamrock boxes and I believe that it also dates from the Irish Free State era or the first years of the Early Republic era (1939-48). My reasoning for this is twofold: first, the calligraphy is similar to the Kapet box and would seem to be the work of the same period or even designer; and second, the side panel shows it contained a 3262 bulldog, which is seen the 1939 Rogers Imports catalog:
A 3263 bulldog from the Rogers Imports 1939 catalog
All three of the pipe boxes carry the P. O’REILLY LTD. DUBLIN legend on the guarantee, which is glued to the top inner edge of each box (the shipping carton O’Reilly legend is printed on the bottom–see below):
I know a number of collectors with extremely deep pockets who couldn’t care tuppence about pipe boxes & brochures. If you’re one and have a closet full of such unwanted clutter, do let me know and I’ll happily arrange to have them removed! But for everyone else—when you add a Pete to your collection, if you can find the space, tag the box, sock and ephemera and hold onto it. Even better, display them in with your pipes. They’re one of those things that will help you as you transition, as Ralle Perrera so drolly comments, from a rookie to a truly experienced pipeman:
Thanks to Ralle Perrera, Gary Malmberg, Jorgen Jensen
and Chas. Mundungus
440 and 53 shape photographs courtesy Smokingpipes.com
*Peterson book news: I have just heard from Briar Books Press that their inventory is now exhausted. The book is still available through Smokingpipes.com, and I’ve heard that Smokingpipes.eu, which has been out of it for some time, will be restocking it in the near future. If you’re interested in a copy, do think about acquiring one before too long.