200. Giocomo Penzo’s “Lee Van Cleef” 309 Dutch Billiard

200. Giocomo Penzo’s “Lee Van Cleef” 309 Dutch Billiard

In 1979 actor Lee Van Cleef went to Dublin to make The Hard Way, an Irish hitman film, starring Patrick McGoohan of Danger Man and The Prisoner fame.  Van Cleef, celebrated by cineastes for his spaghetti westerns in the 1960s and 70s, is also held in special regard by pipemen for his roles in Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy. In two of those films, For A Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Van Cleef smokes a dutch billiard about which there has been conjecture over the years: was it a Peterson or some other brand? It’s a question that misses the mark, at least in the sense that while Kapp & Peterson wasn’t the only early marque to make the shape, only theirs would become truly iconic.

If there is a single pipe that says “Peterson,” it’s the shape 4 (309) dutch billiard, made famous by not merely by K&P’s Thinking Man with a 4S hanging from his lips but also by Basil Rathbone’s 4AB as Sherlock Holmes. The pipe had a good run from 1891 through 2013 before it fell out of production due to low sales.  Just like pipe smokers asked the clerks in Peterson’s Grafton Street shop in the 1930s and 40s for the pipe that Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes smoked, so in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s they asked for the pipe that Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes smoked.

In the course of various writing projects over the past several years I have been blessed to commission pipes from Silver Gray, Dirk Heinemann, Davide Iafisco and Claudio Cavicchi. I’ve also had other artisans say (very politely), “I’ll sell you a pipe, but I don’t do commissions,” which I understand. Asking an artist to collaborate with you can intrude on their creative territory, and some artisans just can’t work that way. But when I saw Giocomo’s ‘309’ Bent Billiard with Boxwood, I knew I was going to have to ask.


Giocomo doing some finishing work
on the new POY 2020 bowls

You see, Penzo is the first artisan to craft completely hand-made pipes (i.e., the entire pipe made by a single person) since Paddy Larrigan retired in the early ’90s, and while the pipe would be branded G. Penzo and not Peterson, the facts that he’s Peterson’s pipe specialist and has made homages of what to me are K&P’s two foundational shapes was quite enough.

To my delight, he agreed. I began the discussion by suggesting we might use the color palette of the 1851 Navy Colt revolver and some of the other extraordinary weapons Angel Eyes (Van Cleef) used in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

On July 22nd he chose the briar, made a drawing of the pipe, transferred the pattern to briar and made the initial cuts:

Four evenings later he returned to his little shop inside the Sallynoggin factory to shape the chamber and shank on the lathe.

“I brought in the final part of the shank a little more than on the old 4 [309] shapes,” he told me, “to look like a bullet tip and emphasize the Western motif.”

As we talked about the guns Van Cleef used in the Dollars Trilogy it emerged that neither one of us owns one. Like a lot of men in the current misandrist (man-depreciating) world culture, however, we appreciate the importance of the warrior archetype and the empowerment and affirmation it gives to masculine self-understanding.* Being pipe smokers, I’d like to think we also can transcend and include the dualism of violence to a higher state of unitive consciousness! Or as it says in the apocryphal Tabakkuk 3:16, “they shall turn their spears into plowshares and pistols into pipes.” But I digress.

I had originally thought of the three colors of the revolver: graphite, brown and brass, but knowing my love for Castello’s natural vergin pipes, Giocomo suggested a natural finish and uncoated chamber would work well. I thought that was a wonderful synthesis of his work with Peterson’s finishes, since they Peterson employed this Italian concept in both the Rogha and the Burren lines and now use it for their Supreme blasts.

But with a natural bowl, I wondered if something copper-colored—another common hue in western films—might offer a richer contrast than brass (and of course look like the bullet-shaped shank). After thinking about what material he might use to achieve this effect, Giocomo decided make a solid copper ferrule, something he’d never done before: “After receiving some advice from Jason Hinch (our silversmith), I made my first copper band,” he says. “I started from copper tubing used for plumbing, working it on the lathe to to reduce its thickness. I then made a a boxwood spoke (template), shaping the band on the wood lathe by hand with a special gouge, the same way Jason works sterling ferrules out in the factory. I made five or six bands, spending a number of hours before I felt like I’d obtained a good result. Copper isn’t soft and elastic like silver and breaks easily, so I had a difficult time mastering it. In the end, though, it’s been highly satisfying, not just because I always enjoy challenging myself to learn a new skill in the workshop but because I’ve had good teachers here at Peterson.”  Here’s a shot of one of the earlier ferrules:

After satisfying himself with the band, he began sanding the bowl and found two marks he couldn’t avoid:

So he asked if I wanted him to make another bowl. I really liked the grain in this piece of wood—in fact, I thought he’d already applied some kind of stain to bring those vertical lines out. He said that he hadn’t, that was just the way the grain is colored. Incidentally, Giocomo sources his briar (as you might expect) from two of the leading briar-cutters on the planet: Mimmo (Romeo Briar) and Manno. He was disappointed because the root marks would disqualify it from his “A” grading, about which more below. He came back a few days later with this bowl:

This was the toughest part of the entire project for me. I felt he should pursue the project the way he thought best but found myself waffling (I’m a great waffler) what to do. In the end he decided to apply a light brown coat of stain, papering it to 1000 grit, to see if he could effect any changes in the bowl.

He felt that, despite the “B” grade, the bowl was simply too gorgeous to set aside. I confess it made my eyes pop out of my head a bit, as I’ve never seen a briar look quite this way before.

For Giocomo as for myself, ebonite is the mouthpiece choice, but I was in for a surprise in his treatment. The publicity still of Lee Van Cleef from For A Few Dollars More is the one most people have in mind when they think of him. Because of the angle of the photograph, the mouthpiece appears longer than it actually is. Part of it has to do with the fact that he’s only got the end of the button hanging between his teeth. But Giocomo also seems to have had in mind one of the long guns used by Van Cleef’s Col. Mortimer in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, an outrageous Colt SAA Buntline Special with a 12 inch barrel that must weight 30 pounds:

I asked Giocomo about the drilling he uses. “The draft hole dimensions on the bowl depend on the shape,” he says. “Usually I drill it at 4mm but I make it a bit smaller (3.5 mm) if I make a nose warmer or very small pipe. The mouthpiece has always a conical [graduated] drilling, usually 4 mm from the tenon to 1.8 mm at the button.” In case you wonder about the drilling on his army mounts (of which this is the first with a metal ferrule), it’s so spot-on that the pipe cleaner glides effortlessly from button to bowl bottom. The gap between tenon and mortise is so slight that the two seem to kiss, with the barest hint of moisture on the wood and ebonite ends. Those with artisan pipes in their rotation know that, while artisans routinely tout this as a quality in their pipes, it doesn’t always seem to be the case, with a little jiggling or wiggling or a few expletives sometimes necessary.  About a week later, on the 18th of August, Giocomo wrote to say the project was complete:

I’ve been smoking it for about three weeks now, and as Giocomo prophesied “the long mouthpiece guarantees cool puffs and its precise and conical drilling insure a dry and clean smoke.” What I found to be true of my Peterson Rogha and Castello Le Dune has held true here: the uncoated chamber offers a taste far superior to any coated or pre-carbed pipes I’ve ever smoked, one which seems to get richer with successive smokes. The taste of this chamber, for whatever reason, is also quite unique. If you’ve smoked Cavicchi and Radice pipes with uncoated chambers you’ll know what I’m talking about—Cavicchi’s briar, which he selects himself, is quite different in flavor from that the Radice family uses.

Unlike some of the abstruse or undatable stampings used by other artisans and marques, G. Penzo pipes are clear enough that, even without explanation, most pipe smokers could figure them out. Before moving to Ireland, Giocomo used a “G. Penzo Pipe made in Italy” in an oval. Since moving there in March of 2019, he uses “G. PENZO PIPE * MADE IN IRELAND” in a circle. Inside the circle will be icons for flame (smooth pipe), shell (sandblast) or mountain (rusticated). Clever. The two-digit number is the year of production and the grades are indicated by “R” (Rudegar), extremely rare ultra-high grade, followed by “A” and “B.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if before too many years Peterson begins offering handmades crafted by Giocomo as they did once upon a time from artisans like Paddy Larrigan, Frank Brady, Jimmy Malone and Charles Peterson. Until then, you can still get a handmade pipe made on the Peterson premises by their pipe specialist in his off-hours and under his own G. Penzo marque by contacting him HERE. Giocomo offershis pipes through his dealers except those he takes with him to pipe shows and in the eventuality a customer doesn’t have an official in-country dealer. You can check out the extensive range of his designs at Smokingpipes.com, Smokingpipes.eu, Le Pipe, Floppy Pipe and Bisgaard Pipes.

 

Just to settle the Angel Eyes / Col. Mortimer pipe question before wrapping this up: it’s a Wellington. The giveaway is the wide saddle on the mouthpiece. In 1965 and ’66 Peterson’s 309 had no such mouthpiece and never did. Paddy Larrigan’s shape 79 Dunmore in the 1970s, a few of the new System shapes released not long afterwards as well as the XL Rustic System iteration of the Mark Twain in the early 1980s did, to beautiful effect.

The only wide-saddle mouthpiece used on shape 4 was the unmounted Dunmore Premier System 79
(photo courtesy Blue Room Briars, who often have choice Petes on offer)

Van Cleef seems to have used the same Wellington seen in the two Leone films for Giancarlo Santi’s The Grand Duel (1972), but even if it’s not the identical pipe, it remains a Wellington:

The Wellington used in Grand Duel (1972): notice how the top of the ferrule is more blocked on the Wellington than on a Pete.

For whatever reasons, Kapp & Peterson seems never to have prosecuted patent infringements in the US and by 1910 or so they didn’t seem to feel it was even important, probably because they were operating at maximum capacity. The William Demuth Company, operating in NYC from 1862 until 1976, made what appears to be an extremely accurate System clone from quite early on. Here’s a demonstrator ad from 1915 in which the only difference between the design of the two pipes would appears to be the wider saddle of the WDC mouthpiece:


According to the Pipedia article, WDC’s System clone was their “mainstay” pipe in later years. Doug Valitchka, that inveterate Pipedia contributor, posted the following two WDC Wellington ads that look like they could be from anytime between the 1950s and 1970s, although there is no date:

(Red and white Wellington ads courtesy Doug Valitchka and Pipedia)

What I love about these is that they feel like I’ve gone through Alice’s Looking Glass or maybe the Marvel Alternate Universe, into some kind of (pardon me, Wellington fans) warp where an entire line of pipes was made from the bad memory of one or two old K&P shapes. I’ll let you spot the likely dutch billiards from which Van Cleef obviously chose.

Van Cleef’s Sheriff Clayton enjoys several pipes throughout the otherwise rather horrible Grand Duel, enough that we can get a really good look at it thanks to director Giancarlo Santi’s tendency to imitate his former boss Sergio Leone’s close-up strategies:

To conclude, as I said at the outset, it’s no matter that Van Cleef smokes a Wellington. The historical anachronisms of spaghetti westerns could fill several good-sized books. The important thing to remember is that the original behind the imitation is Kapp & Peterson’s own ‘309’ dutch billiard and that K&P now has their own master craftsman capable of making an artisan-quality homage with deep appreciation and respect for the original.

For information on ordering a pipe directly,
email Giacomo at here.

For a short video on Giocomo at work, click here.

Photos of the ‘Lee Van Cleef’ as work-in-progress by Giocomo Penzo
Photo of Giocomo Penzo by Federica Bruno
Photos of G. Penzo ‘309’ with boxwood and dublin with boxwood courtesy Smokingpipes.com and Smokingpipes.eu
Additional photography by C. Mundungus

 

*The other three archetypes, according to Richard Rohr, are the priest, the lover and the healer. See Adam’s Return.Tolkien’s Strider (Aragorn) in The Lord of the Rings, incidentally, eventually enacts all four archetypes. Not surprisingly, he was a pipe smoker.

 

 

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John Schantz
John Schantz
29 days ago

Nice 309, but I really love that straight dublin.

John Schantz
John Schantz
29 days ago

I guess I should have said “those” G. Penza 309 homage pipes. Also, I am glad to see the nice straight grain stummel become a pipe. A few small root marks are kind of like the inclusions in gemstones.
I really need to find a teacher for metal spinning on the lathe. My few attempts with sterling silver failed miserably.

Paul Schmolke
Paul Schmolke
29 days ago

Wow!!! What a fascinating piece. A master pipe maker turning a great piece of briar into a flawless pipe. It exudes grace with its beautifully curved stem and nicely proportioned copper finial. A sculptural work of art on every level. I could never afford something this nice and even if I could, I’d be afraid to smoke it and risk damaging it. Great photos and very well written. I own one custom built that I watched being made…I kept my mouth shut unless asked for a comment. It’s a big beautiful billiard with a red and brown Cumberland saddle bit… Read more »

Joseph
Joseph
26 days ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

The precision mating of beautiful wood to metal has always fascinating me. Giocomo does this process very well.

Stephen Wilson
Stephen Wilson
29 days ago

Hi Mark, Thanks for the great article. Whenever I see a pipe in a lathe, I wonder how many bruised knuckles and fingers an apprentice must suffer before learning that craft. Copper is a little weird. Straight copper pipe is annealed, which is to say, made hard through heat treatment. Copper tubing is not, so it is soft. He might have better luck forming tubing, which can then be annealed so as to hold its shape. That pipe is gorgeous. I was lucky enough to get a Plato a couple of years ago and found that a longer stem from… Read more »

Steven Hersey
Steven Hersey
26 days ago

Hello once more. Apologies the gap in communications.
A fine article and the briar has such a lovely grain and colouring. I think the stem may be too long for personal choice, but that bowl is something else.
Managed to obtain the Pipe of the Year, with a beautiful texture and a great size. Hopefully, the photo shows.
Always good to read the articles (as I do on every occasion they are sent).
Steven

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Daniel
Daniel
17 days ago

Wonderful read. Thank you for sharing!