Last week (June 12th), Smokingpipes.eu, in conjunction with the Peterson shop on Nassau Street in Dublin, released a special limited edition of 16 numbered pipes that deserves celebration and a place in your Peterson Identification Guide, the Nassau Street Edition.* With its sterling band and real Cumberland stem, it’s the finest realization of an unfinished natural sandblast Peterson has yet released.
As the advertising copy explains:
Back what feels like three lifetimes ago, when we were in the final planning stages for our move into the offices above Peterson of Dublin’s Nassau Street store, both we and the team at Peterson thought it might be kind of neat to put out a special edition pipes to celebrate the union. Something that would be a fusion of Peterson’s Old World charm and Smokingpipes Europe’s more modern sensibilities.
What better way then, but to combine Peterson’s traditional silverwork with real Cumberland stems sourced from the factory’s archives, and then finished off with…well….an unfinished virgin sandblast, utilizing the marque’s newly refined blasting technique. Sixteen would be produced in total, covering four of Peterson’s most popular shapes, with eight going to the store and eight to our site.
The perfect combination of Peterson’s traditional and modern craftsmanship, eight of these exclusive, limited edition pieces are on site now.
The numbered sequence was taken from four bowl shapes: the 03 small apple, 107 chubby billiard, 221 small billiard (314 in the System line) and 999c john bull.
The idea of the unfinished or natural sandblast “virgin” or “vergin”pipe (meaning not merely an unfinished but a perfect bowl) originated with Castello in the early 1960s and is seen mostly in their rusticated Sea Rock line these days. What may be a surprise to new readers of this blog is that Peterson comes legitimately to their own unfinished natural lines via their long-time Italian distributor and collaborator, Mario Lubinski of Lubinski.it. Mario had a request from the gentlemen running the Sansone Smoking Store in Rome for a Peterson sandblast version of the natural vergin, and as documented in an earlier Pipe Notes post, Mario hand-picked from 12 to 16 bowls for three different editions of the Sansone Rogha (meaning “choice”).
A Peterson Rogha System (2017)
The Sansone Roghas, bowls for which were hand-culled personally by Mario from hundreds of bowls at the Peterson factory, were quite good, but never approached the glamor of Castello’s finishing. But now that Peterson is doing artisan-quality in-house blasting, the game has moved to a new level. Peterson’s blasting philosophy goes beyond Castello’s Old Antiquari blast and to depths and individuality beyond Castello’s beautiful if uniform Sea Rock rustication.
The look of a natural vergin as it seasons is not to everyone’s taste, which may go towards explaining why we don’t see it very often. Older smokers remember the days when a pipe with “character” (beat up, weathered, well used) was occasion for demonstration of one’s prowess as a pipe smoker. But for many years the idea has been for one’s pipes to appear as though they’ve never been smoked, and a natural vergin will never ever look that way after the first smoke.
J. T. Cooke’s standing dublin in natural
J. T. Cooke is one of the only artisans I know who will make a natural (although I’m sure there are others), because keeping the briar clean and pristine is a very difficult operation. I met a wonderful man while sitting at the Chicago pipe show talking to Brian Levine in 2018 who was puffing on a Peterson Burren Tankard and had smoked it frequently enough to really darken the bowl. He thought it was a fantastic smoker, which of course went without saying from the look of the pipe.
In a recent Pipes Radio Magazine podcast, host Brian Levine asked Linwood Hines, founder of the Richmond CORPS pipe show, Doctor of Pipes & all-round good guy if he could notice any difference between the flavor of an oil-cured briar and one that has not been oil-cured. In agreement with other experts whom I trust, Linwood said that if the pipe in question is unsmoked (and not an estate), then yes, for the first smokes it is decidedly better. An article by Chuck Stanion on briar-curing at the Smokingpipes blog describes the taste as nutty. And that got me to thinking: what about uncoated chambers vs. coated chambers?
I can only offer my experience with my own Peterson Rogha System, and it’s an unqualified, high-five “Yes, there’s an astonishing difference–why didn’t anyone tell me this forty years ago!?” As Stanion laments in his SPC post, breaking in a pipe can be a daunting and unsavory experience. Several decades ago, Peterson used to be sniped at for stain-dipping, a practice which I can attest provides dozens of nasty smokes, and one they gave up at least 20 years ago. But those same snarky guys on the forums who think Peterson still dip-stains never bother to mention an even worse bowl coating culprit, one still in wide use among some German pipe artisans and one American pipe factory: water glass. This thick grayish armor is made of activated charcoal powder and sodium silicate and is so nasty tasting you will wonder from the first smoke why you bought that pipe in the first place.
Just as important as the look, then, is the taste of a natural vergin. And here I will assert my opinion that there’s no better unsmoked pipe experience. The older I get the less enjoyment I get out of a new pipe simply because the break-in is so much of a hassle in this regard (apart, I would hasten to add, from Peterson’s own fairly recent and tasty activated charcoal and gum arabic bowl coating).
While I generally eschew romantic analogies in thinking about pipes, in this case it may be justified. Breaking in most new pipes is like meeting a beautiful woman at a party. You experience a thrill, a sense of beauty that’s almost a blow, taking your breath away. You can’t help it—it’s in your DNA—and your knees go weak. Then she opens her mouth and you find out she’s dumb as dirt, more vacuous than outer space or more arrogant or vain than you thought humanly possible. So you politely disentangle yourself and look for the nearest exit. But with a natural vergin like the Nassau St. Edition it’s just the opposite. The girl is just as gorgeous, but when she opens her mouth you get that champagne-feeling knock-kneed feeling wondering if you’re going to fall down. This is “The Woman” as Sherlock Holmes says, the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. You can’t believe it, because for reasons you will never, ever know, she thinks you’re not only handsome but smart. More incredible still, she likes you. And of course you marry. As the years go by there’s the inevitable knocks and dings, but the whole relationship just gets better and better as it develops the incredible patina of two lives lived as one.
The 2017 Rogha after 30 bowls
Unlike oil-cured bowls, uncoated bowls just get better. They do this, I think, in the same way a good romance (or friendship) develops: each meeting brings an equal or slightly greater amount of delight. It might plateau (no pun intended) at some point, but it never lets you down. It seems effortless, so that you can always turn to that pipe with confidence, knowing it will give you a great smoke. There’s no waiting and watching and wondering if you and your pipe are ever going to get along.
Here as elsewhere in the blog, I’m anxious to hear your own experience with uncoated bowls, water glass and other types of bowl coating.
Did you have to be careful at first? Well, yes, the same you would with anyone whose love (or friendship) you hope to cultivate. But that’s far different that having to merely put up with a pipe in hopes that someday, if you live long enough, it will give over tasting like burnt sewage.
At this writing, there are still four of these beauties available online and probably a few at the Nassau Street store, which you can contact by phone (it’s not that difficult, even in the US). I’d discourage email if you’re serious about one of these, not only because of their scarcity but because the store can sometimes … take a while getting back to you.
*For your Identification Guide:
Nassau St. Edition (2020) Limited, numbered edition of 16 pieces with “natural vergin” in-house sandblast, sterling band, genunie Cumberland F/T. Created to celebrate the move of Smokingpipes.eu over Peterson’s Nassau St. store in Dublin. eight pieces were sold by SPEu and eight in the shop, in four shapes: 03, 107, 221 and 999.
Many thanks to Adam O’Neill at Smokingpipes.eu
Photos courtesy Smokingpipes.eu
Smokingpipes.eu Exclusive Petes
This note is primarily for US smokers. In case you didn’t know, SPEu will sell you a Peterson, and not just a Peterson (or any other pipe they have) but a Peterson not carried by SPC here in the States. Whether you’re looking for an Irish Second, a three-tiered line of seconds carried only in Ireland, or special pipes like the Nassau St. Edition and the Pipe Smokers of Ireland commemoratives, you should take a look. Here’s a few of my favorite Irish Seconds:
And I love this Pipe Smokers of Ireland 2019 commemorative: