139. The Shape 56 Mystery

Al Jones is THE Peterson 9BC man in my opinion, voicing a love for the shape held by many Pete Geeks, including myself. When I was at the factory in June, I brought three pipes to spin for re-introduction into the catalog: a Patent-era bog oak cutty, a copy of an Éire-era Basil Rathbone 4AB and an Early Republic 9BC. I received arched-eyebrows for the first (which I expected), the sound of crickets for the second (which surprised me), and a request that I leave my Shamrock 9BC for the third (which also surprised me). But while we await for further developments in Sallynoggin, Al recently posted at his regular venue, Rebornpipes.com, on a fascinating alternate shape number for the 9 (aka 9BC, 307, 77 Dunmore). What he has to say, not to mention the lunar blast on his pipe, is so cool that I wanted to re-post it here with his permission.

 

The Shape 56 Mystery
by Al Jones

If you read any of my posts at Rebornpipes or on the PipesMagazine forum, you’ll quickly learn that I am partial to a few select pipe shapes, primarily the rhodesian. But my all-time favorite shape is the Peterson 9BC, chubby bent billiard, which I learned about several years ago on Mark’s blog.

Over the past few years, I’ve acquired several 9BCs in various finishes, including a Shamrock that I featured in the Rebornpipes blog a few months ago. I can usually spy a 9BC, despite the way it may be listed. I found this pipe advertised as a Shape 56 Kapruf, which puzzled me, as I never encountered this shape number. It definitely looked like a 9BC or the modern version, the XL90. However the nomenclature did indeed look like it was a “56.” The 9BC is an Early Republic shape and this pipe was stamped “Made in the Republic of Ireland.”*  It’s not too often that I get a thrill from an estate pipe. However working on a shape I’ve never encountered definitely gets me excited.

When the pipe arrived, sure enough, it was identical to my 9BCs in all aspects, save one. The button was significantly slimmer than those on either my 9BCs or XL90. The stem had what looked like a factory P stamp. I searched thru my old catalog scans and pored over Mark’s new book, looking for this shape number, but to no avail. I then spent a good bit of time Googling the Peterson Shape 56 and I found only two other examples. One theory I had about the shape was that it was a transition piece, between the 9BC and XL90 [Ed: that is, between the early 1950s and mid 1980s].

One Early Republic Shape 56 Kapruf was sold by Smokers Haven. It had an incredible blast:

The other was from an undated eBay ad, and it was advertised as belonging to noted collector, Barry Levin. This one had the two-line MADE IN over IRELAND stamping [Ed.: generally indicative of a US-import pipe, but a stamp found in every decade since the 1920s].

These pictures show the slim button of the 56 versus the 9BC, which flares out at the P-lip. It is also shown with my 9BC Shamrock, and as you can see, they are nearly identical. This includes a flat nomenclature panel. I suppose the original owner could have sent the pipe back to Peterson for a replacement stem, which might explain the slimmer button profile. The other two shapes above, don’t show this detail, so I have no comparison.

The pipe was in very good condition, but had some curious damage marks on the stem. It appeared as though someone had pierced the stem in two places with a hot nail, creating gouge-like marks. The bowl interior looked terrific, with very little cake. There were a few shallow dents on the underside of the button and just a small amount of oxidation. Below is the pipe as it was received. The sandblast was terrific, particularly on the cross-grain section, which had a lunar landscape like appearance.

This picture shows the most severe of the two gouge marks:

I used some 320 sandpaper to remove the very slight cake reside from the bowl and filled it with sea salt and isopropyl alcohol and let it soak for several hours. While the bowl was soaking, I used a heat gun to warm the two gouge marks and I was able to work some of the rubber back into the mark. After the soak, I removed the salt/alcohol and cleaned the shank. The stem was mounted and the gouge marks smooth with 400 grit wet paper, then 1500, and 2000 grades. One mark all but disappeared and the other had only a slight mark remaining. It was underneath, so I left well enough alone. I worked around the P stamp. The stem was then buffed with White Diamond and Meguiars Plastic Polish. I used some Halycon wax on the briar to bring up the luster.

After the repair and buff, the gouge mark was barely visible.

I’m hopeful that Mark might be able to dig out some additional information about this mystery shape, and I’m quite pleased to add it to my collection. I’m particularly interested in how the slim button smokes, as a smaller profile button is typically my preference. Below is the finished pipe.

UPDATE – July 28, 2019:

Mark Irwin did get back to me with a theory about this shape. He noticed that the 9BC shape is only listed in US or Rogers catalogs. I noticed in the 1939 Peterson/Rogers catalog that “the earthy finish of Kapruf is achieved by a special carving process.” In the 1940 Peterson catalog scan Mark shared several years ago, the Kapruf finish is described as sandblasted. He further comments below:

I thought I’d figured it out, but no. My best guess at this point has to do with the two-digit shape numbers assigned to Classic Range pipes through the 1950s. None of the catalogs I have shows a 56, of course, but there the 1955 London & Dublin catalogs shows a 65, 69 and 70 bent billiard. I’m speculating that the 56 was part of that numbering system, which may explain why you found the button slightly different than the 9BC. I also believe the 9BC to be a US-market Rogers Imports number, as I don’t see it in any of the European or non-Rogers catalogs. . . Oh well, a brilliant pipe and a wonderful problem to have! Whatever they used to do the blast is also quite singular. I have an 02 Shamrock that’s close, with those circular, almost lunar patterns, but how they achieve that is shrouded, as is so much in our hobby, in pipe smoke and mystery.

Pictured below is a group comparison shot, from top to bottom: XL90 Supreme, 9BC Shamrock, 9BC Kapruf and 56 Kapruf:

*Ed. note: Since Al’s original post at Rebornpipes, Al and I reviewed the pertinent literature, as he originally believed the 9BC was from the Éire era (1938-48), but we could find no earlier reference to it than the 1953 Rogers catalog. Now if we could only find documentation for the 56!

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