I want to begin with a timely greeting from Steven Hersey which he posted a few days ago in the comments, in case you didn’t see it:
Hello, all. I hope that you are able to adjust to whatever new regimes have been placed before you by your respective governments as we adapt to different life patterns. As one who works from home anyway, the isolation has not negatively affected me and I can continue the routines. But I am aware of the challenges and problems posed for others.
My pipes have been constant companions in these days and the only danger is that I’m smoking them more than ever. I have three Petersons on the go at the moment plus a couple of others (Falcons).
Thank goodness that for the last couple of years I have been able to build up a small cellar of tobacco; at times like these it is reassuring to be able to dip into the cupboard for ready supplies… I am sure that things will begin to ease at some point; I’m just mindful of those who have lost loved ones to this awful thing.
Enjoy your pipes, all. They will be reassuring presences in lonely moments.
A K&P 1908 Companion Case
I had originally thought to do an April Fool’s day post tomorrow announcing a new series of Peterson Companion sets, but “sheltering in place” has sobered all the fun out of it somehow. Nevertheless, as Steven remarks, there is something about our pipes as companions that has intrigued me for quite a spell and in fact is one of the subjects I explore in a new book I’m working on.
Nowadays we usually think of ourselves as pipe collectors, but for many reasons I think there is just as much justification to consider ourselves as companioners of our pipes and our pipes as companions in our fortunes and misfortunes. Our capitalist milieu leans inevitably toward seeing ourselves as accumulators, but I feel there is an imbalance here that isn’t genuinely expressive of many pipe smokers’ interests and feelings if not always their words.*
When I told Elke Ullmann, Peterson’s great designer of tins and boxes during the latter part of the Dublin Era (1991-2018), that I thought of myself as a “pipe companioner” last summer, she asked how many pipes I had and said, “Really? You have a relationship with each of those pipes?” Now she is a wise and remarkable lady, one to whose friendship I would aspire if I lived in Ireland, and as I’ve thought about her comment since then, I think my response now would be that I aspire to treating each of my pipes as companions, some more than others, but I inevitably fail.
1908 Patent System Companions (courtesy Secondhandsmokes)
The word companion itself is a good one, compañero literally meaning “one who breaks bread with others” and having originated in the practice of soldiers eating together as men of equal standing and in potentially equal peril.
However diminished the number of pipe smokers may be in the world, I still think of ours as the Golden Age, at least insofar as wonderful pipes and incredible tobaccos are available to anyone within reach of the internet and a credit card. But it is interesting that from the earliest days of the briar pipe, cases were commonly made available from single clam-shells to companion cases of two to six or so pipes. Kapp & Peterson, as we document in the book, had in its employ at least one case-maker until the late 1970s or early 1980s, who carved cases from soft wood, covering them in a variety of available leathers and lining them with either chamois or plush.
The shift from companion case to “collection” came about in part, I’m sure, because demand fell off and there was no no longer any need for a case-maker. When Tom Palmer, during the Dublin era, wanted to resurrect the practice, he immediately found how expensive an undertaking it was to outsource the cases (remember Peterson no longer turned any of its own bowls by 1991, apart from the few Paddy Larrigan handmades), telling me in one interview that the cases often cost as much as the pipes to make and were too often ill-fitting.
The first Antique Collection (1995)
The “Age of Collectability” had begun, however, and all the marvelous sets released during the Dublin era, ranging from two to twelve pipes, were marketed as collections. They ranged up the scale in terms of price-point and quality, from mid-range to high, but after the earliest issues in the mid-90s were released in point-of-sale collection boxes rather than cases like this one from an ebony spigot set in the 1996 catalog:
But even here in the overblown extravagance of this early set, one can see something interesting that will occur again and again in the execution of Peterson’s companion sets: the combination of a bent and a straight pipe. The first marketed example came right before the Dublin era in an iconic set released for Dublin’s millennium (988-1988):
I call attention to the set because it combines the two shapes at the foundation of the design language of Kapp & Peterson: the dublin, which predates K&P; and the straight-sided dutch, or oom paul in this case.
For the first thirty years or so of my smoking life—when I was still a rookie, as friend Ralle Perrera would say—I thought only bent pipes (preferably bent Peterson pipes) were acceptable, eschewing straight pipes, especially straights with saddle bits, as gauche and morally suspect (and I still have no taste for straight saddles). If you’re a long-time Peterson smoker, this may have been your experience as well. But from the beginning of K&P it was not so. While there was no questioning the primacy of the bent System, following right behind it was its opposite, the straight System. And I think that’s the genius as well as the difficulty of most of the “companions” I have known in my life, briar and human: they can sometimes be so very opposite of my own foibles and expectations. Walt Kelly, the cartoonist who launched my career in smoke, captures the essence in this strip:
Whether it’s yin and yang, day and night, south pole / north pole, obverse / reverse or any other duality you care to name, pulling such antipodes into fruitful relationship is difficult, although as Albert says, “it’s a career with more moxie in it.” Most of the wisdom teaching in the world’s history would also say it’s necessary for the sagacity to which all true pipe smokers aspire. And that’s just where a companion set of bent and straight shapes could come in handy, as a visual aid, a concrete objective correlative, sacramental in the struggle to hold everything in balance, find the middle way, achieve a nuanced non-duality or whatever you want to call Enlightenment with a capital “E.”
With all this fuzzy thinking firmly in mind, here’s a few of my favorite Peterson companion cases, most of them imaginary:
Like the 1988 Millennium commemorative set, this imaginary one is comprised of two shapes at the foundation of Peterson’s design language, the dublin, with its roots in the dudheen, and the dutch billiard 309, seen clenched between the lips of the Thinking Man.
This is actually not from my imagination but was the only POY issued as a pair back in 2000. Whenever I smoke one of these I think of the amazing accomplishments of Peterson under its former CEO Tom Palmer, who brought back the silver cap in a big way, released the remarkable B shapes catalog and increased production of spigot mounts.
If I could vote for just one more Antique Collection in Peterson’s catalog, it would be the release of these two pipes, which were available only briefly in 1942 during WWII, which the Irish referred to as “the Emergency.” Both have been featured here on the blog, the 777 dublin bulldog and the 999 author.
In the post-WW II boom Kapp & Peterson rose to new heights, expanding its markets and manufacture as well as its engineering skill. These two shapes, at least for me, symbolize the peculiar aesthetic of the 1950s: the 02 oom paul and the 999 john bull, both seen here in Premier editions with amazing “sub-System” engineering I want to talk about in a post in the near future.
Here’s a takeaway from this post: while K&P made non-System army mounts during the Patent era (“Patent Lip pipes”), it wasn’t until the 1975 catalog that Peterson re-established the nickel and sterling army mount as the “K&P Irish Army” for nickel mount with fishtail and as “Silver Mounted Army” with P-Lip. The former have always had the K&P over ARMY stamp while the latter have only ARMY. Pictured above: a NOS straight apple 87 (seen as early as the 1937 catalog) and the 68 brandy (introduced in 1979).
And finally, a set to celebrate two of the most original and daring POYs released by Peterson at the end of the Dublin era, the so-called “Gaslight” POY 2018 and the fat-pencil POY 2016. As you can see, they’re a match made in heaven.
So what about you? Do you see your pipes as companions or part of a collection, or both? If you had to pair your Petes, what would you choose? Bent or straight, bent and straight, System or non-System? There’s a new feature in the comments that allows you to upload photos of your choice by clicking on the camera icon at the bottom right of the dialogue box, should you so choose to honor us.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers—
for whoever smokes his pipe with me today shall be my brother.
However humble his birth, this day shall grant him nobility.
—Hank the Fifth, Act 4, Sc. 3 (Skewed Shakespeare Ed.)
Aran Islands June 2019
*Notice Jeremy Sitts’ advocacy of collector-before-companion in his recent essay on the SPC blog .