191. More Secrets of the Puzzle Pipe

191. More Secrets of the Puzzle Pipe

Not too long ago, Geoff Watson, an erudite archeology photographer, pipe restorationist and Peterson devotee, sent photos of an unusual Made in England System. It was curious for all sorts of reasons and if you haven’t taken a look at Geoff and our first impressions, you might want to take a look. The shape, the mounting and the mouthpiece were all perplexing to us.

The mounting turned out to be one available on De Luxe pipes from 1896 until c. 1945, after which only space-fitting mounts—the heavy saddle (S) and taper (B) were available—and the taper only until the mid-1950s or so.  I originally thought the mouthpiece was a replacement, as it didn’t have a bone tenon extension. However, looking again at the early mouthpiece charts, the only one that illustrates the bone extension is the 1896, and then only on the short ones (AC shouldered and ABC tapered). As both Gary and I have documented Premiers and De Luxes with bone extensions, why some did and some didn’t is, at least for now, a puzzle.

“No bones about it”: the De Luxe may not have always had a bone tenon extension

We agreed this Made in England shape was an 11, or 312 in the Standard System, and couldn’t have been made earlier than 1937 (when the factory opened) nor later than 1945, as that was about the time the molded conical tenon was replaced by a tubular one. A few months later Geoff sent the pipe to me, a princely gift. It’s been sitting here on my desk for inspiration while I’ve been working on the digital restoration and commentary for the K&P 1896 catalog, and every so often I pick it up and look at it. And the more I look at it, the more interesting it becomes.

The first interesting thing happened when I noticed the ferrule was loose. I’m always grateful when the old glue gives way, because then I’ve got a chance to see what’s underneath without marring the finish of either mount or bowl. And this pipe had lots to show.

I  thought the ferrule might have been turned down tubular sterling because I couldn’t find a solder line on the outside. But this was something I didn’t think Peterson employed until many decades later. The inside of the ferrule, however, showed the line, and with a bit of effort and the loupe, I could locate it on the outer side, quite faintly.

Those of you with pre-1963 Petes will know that sometimes the solder line on the outside can be broad and wavy, easily distinguishable when the mount begins to tarnish a bit. This one is so tiny, straight and precise it was obviously welded by a master.

The next fascinating thing was the K&P maker’s mark and sterling stamp impression visible in the glue, which meant the glue was still wet when it was stamped.

So I asked factory manager Jonathan Fields about this procedure recently and he replied that nowadays the band is stamped first and then glued onto the stummel afterward.

The next curiosity is something you remember from the earlier post—the shape of the bowl is different from iterations of the 11 / 312 made from the late 1930s on until at least the 1980s. As I was working on the 1896 K&P catalog, the fog finally lifted—this is the original Patent shape. It’s got a thinner stummel (by about 3mm from top to bottom), making the mid-century version much chubbier in appearance. That being said, the chamber of every 312 in my rotation, from this one to one made just a couple of years ago, is 18 mm x 40 mm.

The 1906 illustration (on the left) doesn’t do the cheeking justice, but you see it’s still the same shape, especially when you place it next to the 1937 illustration to the right, as seen here:

If the 1937 shape appears larger, it’s because in some aspects it is. The bowl is taller, for one thing, and the stummel is thicker—look at the distance from the back crown of each pipe to the top of their stummels. The first or Patent shape is slenderer. It’s perhaps easier to discern the difference by placing the 1937 atop the Patent, from the rim down on the left and from the foot up on the right:

The 1945, 1950 and 1955 catalog illustrations continue the same 1937 chubby shape. Here’s the illustration from 1955:

This is actually my favorite version of the shape, which can be seen in its real life chubbiness in a previous post. It’s great to see and hold Charles Peterson’s original 11 shape, but in some ways I think the chubby version actually amplifies Peterson’s design language while retaining the original’s wide mortise and deep reservoir.

When I received the pipe and Geoff and I were talking about it, he expressed his concern over a black ugly spot on the reverse side of the bowl that he thought I might want to remove. You can see it in this photo taken before he did his reconditioning:

The original finish and stain color of the pipe can be seen underneath the ferrule and in the saddle of the stummel and crown, as you can see in this photo:

It’s a shade or two darker and glossier, naturally, than in Geoff’s reconditioning.  As I looked at that dark spot on the reverse side of the bowl I thought that perhaps it was a stain spill, covered by the dark finish. Or perhaps it was a fill or plug of some kind—but if so, why was the pipe stamped a De Luxe? And the black spots in the saddle—were they fills?

As some of the finish in the saddle needed to be removed before I restained the pipe, I decided to throw caution to the wind and see if I could remove the big stain on the bowl side and perhaps see what those black spots were in the saddle. If I was going to restain it a dark reddish-brown, it didn’t really matter, did it?

So I taped over the bowl stamps on each side and went to work. I started with the big black spot at 400 grit, then went up to 600, 1000, and the eight Micromesh pad grades from 1500 through 12,000. If you’ve never taken the small amount of time to go through these grades on a briar bowl, by all means try it. It yields an amazing hand feel and gloss to the wood. When I showed the bowl to my wife, she couldn’t believe I was going to stain it and eventually talked me out of it.

I know restorationists all have their own philosophy about preservation and the integrity of the artifact and I certainly respect the diversity of opinions surrounding the topic. My father and my old teaching friend Glen, both avid MGB fans, always represent the two extremes for me. Glen would shudder in horror to think someone might paint over the original factory paint on one of his beloved Bs, while my father wouldn’t hesitate. I think I follow more in my Dad’s footsteps, wanting to renew a pipe for my smoking more than preserve it as an historical artifact.

As you can see, the small black marks in the saddle between the stummel and crown were simply root marks, not fills. And the big black ugly on the bowl? Gone. I have no idea what it was. Maybe the previous owner laid it down in a puddle of ink. What is apparent is just how gorgeous this piece of briar is, even if the grain does flow horizontally. Aside from the four root marks in the saddle and a few other much smaller ones, the grain is flawless.

After the 12,000 Micromesh pad and a quick wipe with a lightly infused alcohol pad to clean it, I let the bowl dry and buffed in a light coat of carnauba. As you can see, while lighter, the briar remembers its original stain.

Removing much of the original stain allowed the gold hues to come out through the the original first coat of black grain stain.  I also buffed out some of the surface scratches on the ferrule using the extremely gentle Fabulustre, a compound made for fine jewelry. I am also thinking that, if original, the mouthpiece was hand cut. The fact that it is only 3.9mm at the button supports my theory, as the molded P-Lips have never been this thin.

By way of benediction, Ralle Perrera sent me this geeky Pete cartoon, a fitting conclusion to such System carrying on and one that you may have experienced if you’re of a certain personality type (I almost said disorder):

 

Many thanks to Geoff Watson for the hours of enjoyment
this pipe has brought me before I ever smoked a single bowl in it.
Thanks also to Ralle Perrera, one of the great Peterson philosophers,
for his wonderful cartoon.

 

Keep hope within,
Keep despair without.
— from an ancient Celtic “circle prayer” for protection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Al Jones
Al Jones
2 months ago

It looks like you made a good decision on the restoration – it looks magnificent! Love that slim button!

Andy Camire
Andy Camire
2 months ago

Wonderful photos and explanation with each. The restoration is as good as it gets especially bringing out the magnificent grain on that old piece of wood. Like you, I would have had to see what that dark spot was on the side of the bowl and I’m so glad to see that it was nothing serious. That pipe would be in constant rotation if it was in my possession, truly a gem of a Peterson System.

Scott Forrest
Scott Forrest
2 months ago

Beautiful restoration. Also, very interesting concerning being able to date a mouthpiece by the conical tendon. Is there a blog entry that has more detail on dating Peterson pipes by stem/mouthpiece design? Thanks

Scott Forrest
Scott Forrest
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

Thanks. It’s probably time for me to re-read the book from cover to cover. My memory is not that great, so I have been relying on the index and thumbing through it to find such information. I also plan to leisurely go through your past blog entries – they are a real pleasure to read. Thanks.

Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
2 months ago

I agree with Ralle. Cleaning a system is good for the nerves.

Gianluigi
Gianluigi
2 months ago

Thank you for share this lovely work, meticulously precise but respectful.High quality macro photos…As a profound connoisseur and lover of the ’69 MGB GT, I fully agree with your father’s philosophy.

Joseph
Joseph
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

I like the more ‘conical’ like shape of the ferrule on this specimen. Very nice pipe!

Douglas Owen
Douglas Owen
2 months ago

Another great result from Mark, the master rejuvenator. The cartoon was priceless and right on the money. Some folks, even some pipe smokers are always looking to the next problem to be addressed. Keep puffin. Doug.