Sona Oíche Shamhna! Or, in translation from the Irish, Happy Hallowe’en! Most folks don’t know that All Hallow’s Eve has its origins in the ancient Irish festival of Samhain, although back 2009 Peterson tried to educate the masses with an annual Samhain commemorative pipe for a few years.
Frankenpipes lie at the spectral end of pipe restoration, sometimes going to unearthly lengths to exhume something that will resemble a pipe. A “frankenpipe,” then, can be defined as “a pipe made from spare parts,” and has doubtless been around as long as there have been broken pipes, but I first ran across the grisly science in posts at two of my favorite restoration sites, one at Steve Laug’s Reborn Pipes and one at Charles Lemon’s Dad’s Pipes.
Most frankenpipes are created by using one strand of the System’s engineering: the army-mount. As soon as you have a pipe that readily disassembles (hot or cold) into (somewhat) interchangeable bowls and mouthpieces, you’ve created the opening for design aberrations. And that’s how Franken Petes are made. Sometimes they’re easy to spot, sometimes only a Pete Freek with the heightened powers gained by ingesting Tlachtga Celtic fire can spot them.
I’ll begin my tour of the Franken Petes with a non-example, just to set a baseline. Here’s a D19, which was originally stamped TANKARD after appearing as the faux-cob pipe in 2010’s Mark Twain set:
The would-be mad scientist here didn’t like the stem’s bend. He apparently thought that since the pipe had a flat bottom, the bottom of the bowl ought to fully rest on the landing platform, which it didn’t. He simply heated the pipe stem and rebent it. Anyone with a knowledge of Peterson’s bending practices will at once recognize the incongruity of it. It’s a bit like a kid after-marketing his Honda to give it a little more juice. And if the kid’s happy and his vehicle street legal (me, in this case), that’s all that matters, right?
With the 307 pictured above we get into basic Franken Pete bowl alterations. Someone new to the brand might not know the bowl was topped. Someone who studied Peterson shape charts like a maniac instead of devoting his life to more profitable ends, should. It’s actually a fun shape, a kind of ladle, resulting from a substantial “topping” of a scorched rim. It gives a pleasing profile and leaves a deep enough chamber to still be serviceable. The problem comes when the buyer (it was me several years ago) is disappointed to find he hasn’t discovered a long-lost Peterson shape, but a “chop”! Caveat emptor, as the saying goes.
The most common type of Franken Pete occurs when someone has a bowl but not a mouthpiece to go with it and goes to the boneyard. Sometimes the new configurations are quite subtle. Take a look at this pipe, the A2 billiard from the original Antique Reproduction collection back in 1995:
This pipe actually passed under the radar and was sold by a major online retailer. The mouthpiece, however, belongs to the dublin A4 shape from the collection. This one originally had a plump straight taper P-Lip.
Here’s a gorgeous 4 De Luxe (notice the facing or flat-top ferrule), but again, it’s been bedeviled with a standard army P-Lip mouthpiece:
Here’s a more obvious faux pas, one I’ve seen several times on eBay, where someone took a standard army-mount P-Lip from a smaller System and placed it on a larger-bored shape. This is another De Luxe System with a standard System mouthpiece:
The giveaway, of course, is that the shoulder of the mouthpiece is jammed right next to the ferrule.
You can also go to the other extreme, as in this wild example: a straight Patent System Commemorative with what looks like a 307-sized System mouthpiece. Apparently, the Commemorative mouthpiece wasn’t working out? Needed a little more droop? Who knows. It looks sinister. Vincent Price would have loved it, I think.
These next three photos document my own ultimately unsuccessful attempts to better an Italian-market XL23 Kapp Royal (the Lestrade shape). Here’s the way it came to me:
Beautiful, right? Kapp Royals are among the elite in Peterson pipes, hand-chosen by Mario Lubinski from the very top tier of Peterson bowls and slotted into the Kapp-Royal line with a marmalade acrylic fishtail mouthpiece, aluminum P and sterling band. I liked it so much, I had a spigot mouthpiece made for it:
This is the pipe at its most beautiful. But the problem back then was that I hadn’t learned how to smoke an army-mount fishtail, puffing on it like it was a System instead of giving it short sips. I knew it was a sweet-smoking bowl, but the army mount made me pass over it again and again. Then I got what I thought was a brainy idea: make it into a System! A Lestrade System–how cool would that be?
I asked them at the factory if they could do it, and they said yes. So back to the factory it went. The problem here was that the P-Lip AB mouthpiece—gorgeous—was much thicker than the original acrylic and the spigot replacement, so the ferrule and bore had to be widened. The thick shank, as I thought, took a reservoir quite easily. Here’s how it came out:
Is it a System? Yes, a Franken System. Did that cure the hot smoke? Yes. It smoked well as a System. But at a visual price. And one that I eventually found I wasn’t willing to pay. It’s not bad looking, but for me the love was gone. The monster, in effect, died on the operating table.
So now let’s turn to more ghoulish reconstructions, getting closer to the living dead of pipes. First is an elongated stem that’s just a little outré:
It’s got a P-Lip mouthpiece, curiously unbent. The bowl is a bit over-reamed, but might smoke just fine.
But what about this one? It looks like something Charles Laughton left in the meat locker too long in Island of Lost Souls (1932):
And here’s a genuine vintage Patent System bowl with the base of its wind cap still intact and a cheery wood stem with horn mouthpiece:
A fascinating piece, actually, and the reconstruction may have been quite old. I suspect the man who smoked this would have been worth knowing.
But now, something that should’ve stayed buried. Peterson never made a bowl or a mouthpiece like these. But somehow, a Peterson ferrule found its way into this monster’s construction:
We can only hope its mummy loved it.
Now for for my “Trilogy of Terror.” Everyone knows a good monster needs megawatts of electricity to bring it to life, right? And here’s three that really give me the shivers. Are they e-pipes? Drug pipes? I don’t know. I don’t care. But we need a mob of angry villagers to put them out of their misery:
The same mad scientist who designed the 309 Undead above also took this poor Kapmeer into his lab:
About now you should be hearing the old familiar chant from Tod Browning’s Freaks: One of us, one of us. Gooba-gobble, gooba-gobble. The last of the “trilogy of terror” by the unnamed mad scientist:
And what of the future, you say? What dystopias lie in store for the unsuspecting? This thirteenth pipe was publicly acknowledged by designer “Jong Hyuk Bae” as a genuine Peterson commission back in 2016. When Tom Palmer, then CEO of the company, heard about it, he told the maker a “cease-and-desist” letter would be forthcoming.
I’ve heard a few pipemen tentatively say some positive things about e-pipes. But an e-pipe, for those theologically so-inclined, has removed itself from the sacramental nature of reality. Pipe tobacco and briar, as well as many of the adornments which are used in pipe-making, are organic. They grow or are produced by the earth. With the combustion of tobacco in the bowl, a third something, the smoke, produces a syzygy in which the pipeman is a participant. Perichoresis is the theological term here, from the early Church Fathers: it’s a divine dance of tobacco, pipe, smoke and piper. With these three sacramentals missing, the e-pipe becomes a parody, a sham or anti-symbol. Bent, as my old friend Ron would say. And that’s about as frightening as it gets.