143. The Mystery of Peterson’s Patent-Era Bog Oak Pipes

One of the the amazing things about Kapp & Peterson’s early history is the encyclopedic range of their shapes and lines. Not only did they produce four sizes of every System shape and an amazingly diverse range of Classic Range pipes, but they offered pipes beyond meerschaum and briar as well.

As early as 1895, Charles Peterson was in contact with French clay pipe makers (considered to be the finest in the world) for the Patent System clay, but he also outsourced bowls to cherrywood and Irish bog oak makers, fitting these with the P-Lip and sometimes nickel bands.

I’ve learned a little about Irish bog oak, and when I saw Gary had obtained what appeared to be a pipe identical to K&P’s shape 8 in the 1906 catalog, bought it from him to look at it more closely.

I once owned a fabulous chubby Paolo Becker dublin morta (bog oak) pipe, and before it developed a burn out, it gave me some of the finest smoking experiences I’ve ever had, better than briar, I suppose, at least in the sense of being far different from anything I’d ever smoked.

As you can see from the composite illustration above, the K&P pipe was virtually identical to this one. In size, the bog oak is a little larger than a traditional clay cutty, but not much. Because the 1906 catalog was printed at full scale, I could get a few of the measurements for the 8B. Here’s how Gary’s bog oak compares:

Shape 8 B
Length from bowl to shank: 3.93 in. / 100 mm. (end of band)
Total length of pipe: 5.2 in. / 132 mm.
Bowl Height: 1.96 in. / 50 mm.

Irish Bog Oak Pipe
Weight: 0.95 oz / 28 gr
Length: 5.2 in / 132 mm
Bowl Height: 1.77 in / 45.1 mm
Bowl Diameter: 1.21 in / 30.9 mm
Chamber Depth: 1.59 in / 40 mm
Chamber Width: 0.64 in / 16.3 mm

I would guess K&P sourced their bog oaks from one of a number of local Dublin manufacturers, removed the finished mouthpiece, then fit a band and tiny P-Lip. There are actually a few photos of K&P bog oaks floating around, but the best I’ve seen, while of low quality, seems to have a P-Lip made of horn, rather than the amber, amberoid or vulcanite mentioned in the 1906 catalog:

So who made K&P bog oak pipes? Kelly’s Directory of the Watch & Clock Trades for 1880 gives this list of manufacturers, indicating that there were a number to choose from right in Dublin:

Baldwin David – 47, Henry Street, Dublin
Cahoon Brothers – 16, Castle Place, Belfast
Connolly Myles – 18, Wellington Quay, Dublin
Goggin Cornelius – 13, Nassau Street, Dublin
Goggin Jeremiah – 79 Grafton Street, Dublin
Irvine & Co. – 25, William Street, Dublin
Johnson Joseph – 22, Suffolk Street, Dublin
Neill James & Co. – 14, Donegall Place, Belfast
Newman Mrs. Catherine – 57, South Great George’s Street, Dublin
O’Leary & Co. – 140, St.Stephen’s Green West, Dublin
Panton James & Co. – 25, St. Andrew Street, Dublin
Rosenstein Mrs. Phœbe – 16, Lower Sackville Street, Dublin

Four years earlier in another Irish publication, The Watchmaker, Jeweler and Silversmith (September 5, 1876), gives a related reference, inasmuch as it was another jeweler, Mr. Gibson, “manufacturer of a fine grade of stem-winding watches,” who is listed as a bog oak pipe maker:

“Besides his richer jewelry, Mr. Gibson makes a fine display of Irish bog-oak jewelry, something of which we have seen very little in this country. The appearance is like jet, and there are, among others, many characteristic designs that can only be appreciated by those well acquainted with the Irish peculiarities. One small piece represents a man “wid a shillaly” [Irish walking stick] who has just knocked down one man and is ready for another, while he says: “The man who speaks ill of his country deserves a fall!” Then the eye lights, just at the right moment, upon the “Harp of Old Ireland,” elegantly carved from the same bog oak. Then figures of birds, pipes, candelabras, snuff-boxes, &c.” (emphasis added).

A K&P Bog Oak Walking Stick (Shillaly), hallmarked 1910

How were the pipes made? Were they individually hand-carved, or was there a way to frase and then press the ornaments into the morta? When I suggested the ornaments were pressed to the Peterson folk in Sallynoggin, I could see eyebrows raise. Consider, however, the final paragraph of this extract on Irish bog oak ornaments from the 1865 British Art Journal:

“One branch of Art-manufacture exclusively Irish deserves something more than the passing notice . . . we mean the manufacture of ornaments from Irish bog-oak. In compensation, as it were, for the coal-fields of England, Ireland possesses vast tracts of peat-moss or bogs: in these have been found, deeply buried, the relics of primaeval forests which flourished, it may be, before man had trodden the earth. Oak, fir, deal, and yew, have been dug up and used for firing and other purposes. But in the present century the hand of Art has converted portions of this product from comparative uselessness to articles of artistic value.

“The history of bog-oak manufacture is somewhat interesting. When George IV. visited Ireland, in 1821, a person of the name of McGurk presented him with an elaborately carved walking-stick of Irish bog-oak, the work of his own hands, and received, we believe, a very ample remuneration. The work was much admired, and McGurk obtained several orders from time to time. Subsequently a man of the name of Connell, who lived in the lovely lake district of Killarney, commenced to do somewhat more regular business in carving the oak to be found plentifully in the district, and selling his work to the visitors as souvenirs of the locality. The trade prospered sufficiently to induce him to establish himself in Dublin, some twenty years ago, and at his retirement the business, now a profitable one, passed to his son-in-law, Mr. Cornelius Goggin, of Nassau Street.

“The beauty of the carving, and the elegance of the designs, chiefly taken from objects of antique Irish Art, made these ornaments the fashion not only in Ireland, but in England. The Queen, the Prince Consort, and other members of the royal family and the nobility, were purchasers of the most beautiful specimens; and so, carving in Irish bog-oak attained the position of a native Art, giving employment to many hands, and supporting many establishments.

“The oak is black, and as hard as ebony; that best suited for carving is brought from the counties of Meath, Tipperary, Kerry, and Donegal. Of a load, which will be purchased for about thirty shillings, a considerable portion is unfit for use, by reason of flaws or splits. The wood is cut into pieces suitable for carving, and is worked on the end of the grain or section, and not on the length of the grain, or plank-wise.

“The process of carving is similar to that of ivory. The more experienced workmen carve designs without any pattern before them, and can earn from forty to fifty shillings a week; the wages of the less expert vary from ten shillings upwards; and women earn nearly as much as men. The total number of persons employed in this artistic handicraft is something over two hundred. Many of them work on the premises of their employers, while others take the material to their own houses.

“A method of producing very fine effects at a great saving of cost and labor, has been patented by Mr. Joseph Johnson, of Suffolk Street. This is effected by stamping: the piece of wood, cut to the required size, is placed on the top of the die, which latter is heated by means of a hot plate of metal upon which it stands; over the wood a similar hot plate is laid; upon this a powerful screw-press descends, and the wood receives the impress of the die as freely as wax, the bitumen in it preventing the fibre from cracking or crumbling. In this way object of exquisite delicacy and very high relief, almost to the height of an inch, are produced in a moment. The designs thus obtained by the die are readily distinguishable from those wrought by the carver’s tool; they want the extreme sharpness of the carving, but they are capable of showing, in compensation, more minute figuring and more elaborate details” (italics added).

When I wrote to renowned Croatian morta pipe-maker Davorin Denović about this type of press, he sent back a picture of what he thought was an early 20th-century example:

I also wrote to Brian McGirr, director of Island Turf Crafts, an Irish business which sells Irish bog oak decorative items. In addition to pointing me to many of the citations used above, he explained that his business doesn’t carve bog oak, but processes it in molds. I got the idea that Island Turf Crafts must somehow shred the bog oak and then use a binding agent and glue it into forms, although as you can see in this illustration, the effect is very like the bog oak pipe:

My final question has to do with the particular bog oak pipe that caused all my curiosity. I noticed it has a line around it at the base of the stummel, separating the stem from the bowl (seen below). Gary thinks the pipe was originally made in two parts and then glued together. Davorin Denović doesn’t believe that likely, thinking it must have been broken at some point. In either case, we know that contemporary pipe artisans routinely use strong adhesives to bind decorative elements like bamboo and exotic wood bands, so I suppose it really shouldn’t make make much difference in the smoking of the pipe.

What I’d really like really, really like to see, though, is a Peterson Irish bog oak System. Sounds easy, right? Source the wood, dry it, turn it, drill it, presto chango–the Peterson Bog Oak System! Would ’twere thus.


Many thanks to
Gary Malmberg,
Davorin Denović,
Sean Hampsey and Brian McGirr for their help

The Irish bog oak pipe is for sale this week on eBay HERE.

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Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
4 years ago

Good morning. Maybe I should try to smoke mine. Used but in very good condition, James Fox, Made i Dublin, Ireland, large apple shape. Maybe, but perhaps I only have it just to have it, I do not know.

Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

Time is running and we are getting older, you thanked me for a photo of that pipe 3. Jan and it was in 2018 yes, not this year, said it was shape 87. To send a photo I have to ask the madam on a day she is not angry ! And about time running
I have about 400 unsmoked and the short end left so I have to hurry up. I do my best every day.

4 years ago

Four or five years ago, I came across a Irish Bog pipe in an junktique (cross between an antique shop and a junk shop) but passed on it because I didn’t know what I was looking at and they had it priced at over $100 if I remember correctly. Had the same clover design on the bowls but the stem was smooth.

Craig Hairrell
Craig Hairrell
4 years ago

I, too, have a very similar pipe with an amberite or similar material for the mouthpiece, which was in very poor condition. I was particularly drawn to the pipe by a very unusual flat windscreen, which features a pair of blades which fan to either side, exposing a v-shaped section of the bowl. It turned out to be removable, so perhaps it wasn’t original. It’s a fun piece that I use once a year in March. The shank has a small crack, so a previous owner wrapped wax-coated thread around the tenon to hold it in place. One day, I’ll… Read more »

4 years ago

Here is a big oak listed on EBay right now.
Thanks for another great read.


Al Jones
Al Jones
4 years ago