205. K&P’s Gratis Pipe Tool: A Dating Guide

Back in 2018 Kris Parry at the Black Swan Shoppe sent me a Peterson-branded 3-in-1 pipe tool.* It turned out to be a generic but well-made instrument but got me thinking about the original Gratis Pipe Tools that accompanied System pipes from 1891 until 1963 or so. With a gift from my co-author Gary Malmberg and research on K&P’s 1896 catalog, I can now offer a visual history and tentative dating guide.

Bach Smokes the Thinking Man’s Pipe (a 4s, of course)

As long as there have been pipes, there have been tampers. If you haven’t used your finger as a tamp, you probably haven’t smoked more than a bowl or two, because along about the second or third burned finger, you learned to keep a tamper handy. In the beginning tampers were called “stoppers” and Johann Sebastian Bach—a man who loved his pipe—had this to say about them:

 How oft it happens when one’s smoking:
The stopper’s missing from its shelf,
And as one goes with one’s finger poking
Into the bowl and burns oneself.
If in the pipe such pain doeth dwell,
How hot must be the pains of Hell! *

By about 1850, or twenty years before briar began to come onto the pipe smoking scene in a big way, pipemen had come to a consensus that there are three operations which require some kind of tool when smoking one’s pipe: (1) “stopping” or “tamping,” (2) clearing clogs from the draft hole, and (3) unloading smoked and unsmoked tobacco from the chamber.

Charles Peterson was not only a great artisan, inventor and entrepreneur but a guy who smoked like a freight train, so he knew from the get-go that his Patent System pipes deserved a quick-reach all-purpose tool to keep them functioning their best. Having already provided a fairly comprehensive user’s guide in the 1896 catalog, he realized that charity consists more in action than words. Accordingly, from the outset his company provided every single System pipe they made with a 3-in-1 pipe tool. For the next seventy years, it was the best advertising K&P could have done: every time a pipeman picked up the Gratis tool, he remembered how much he liked his System pipe.

Czech, mate? A close copy of the K&P Gratis Tool

The Gratis Tool is still seen in auctions a few times a year on eBay, but most smokers know it through its later clone, the “Czech Tool” (so-called because the genuine article says MADE IN over CZECH REPUBLIC on the tamper stem).

It would be great to say that Charles Peterson invented the 3-in-1 tool, or at least patented K&P’s version, but as it turns out earlier versions had already been circulation for a while.

One of the first patents for a 3-in-1 was by Gustavus Miller, from 1864. In his patent letter he writes that “it is well known that devices of similar kind have been used long since by smokers; but they were not so complete as mine, and they lacked the spring, which constitutes the essential part of my improvements.”

Among US patents, there is one filed in 1905 by George Walker of Newton, Massachusetts. Like Miller before him, he states that the three parts of the tool “are well known to pipe-smokers,” his patent covering a fourth tool, a flexible cleaning rod concealed in the bore of the tamp (#6).

One of the great gurus of our hobby is Fred Hanna, a Doctor of Pipes. If you haven’t read his deliciously satirical essay on “The Hidden Benefits of the Expensive Pipe Tamper,” I suggest you immediately do so, which can be found at the TobaccoDays blog or in his classic out-of-print book The Perfect Smoke (2012).

Hanna is seemingly able to get along with just a tamper, having no need of either pick or spoon. There will be those who suspect he wasn’t brought up with tools or say he doesn’t go in for the manly D-I-Y aspects of the hobby, but they’re wrong. It’s because as a Doctor of Pipes he is a veritable Jedi Knight in the pipe-smoking world and never has clogged airholes, never has packed his pipes too tightly and never, ever finds his perfect straight-grain artisan pipe chambers choked with ash making it impossible to burn the unsmoked tobacco beneath.

One step up from the single-function tamper is the dual-function, made rather like a sword stick and consisting of a tamper with a screw-out poker (aka a reamer) concealed in its shank. You may think Hanna occasionally sneaks out the poker of his genuine unicorn tusk tamp to unclog the draft hole. Fie! Not he. It is there only to give succor to those in need around him.

Anyone who has encountered the frustration of a clogged draft-hole knows the value of a poker, but only System and army-mount users can safely remove the mouthpiece during smoking to unclog the draft. While System users may never encounter a clog in the mouthpiece (which is designed to prevent large matter from ever ascending into its draft), they will sometimes find a clog in the draft hole to the chamber.

I couldn’t live without a poker, having passed my smoking life as one of those poor sods who sometimes packs his tobacco too tightly and must scoop it all out and begin again. I am also sometimes cursed by a clogged airhole and unable to draw, which typically happens in an otherwise idyllic smoke.

At the Chicago show in 2018, my co-author Gary Malmberg taught me a neat use of the poker. I like to smoke out my bowl to the bottom—a dubious practice frowned on by many among the Smoking Elite. When I get about three-quarters of the way through the bowl it often happens that I tamp the surface but can’t get a good relight. When Gary saw me doing this, being the wise man he is, said, “That’s one of the reasons you’ve got a pick in the 3-in-1 tool: take the pick and gently poke three or four air holes down through the layer of ash and tobacco beneath to the bottom of the bowl, being careful not to push the pick into the chamber floor.” Well, I tried it, and presto, as they say. Problem solved. Merrily I smoke along to the end of the ride.

In addition to the tamper and poker, a spoon or shovel is also essential. While Pipe-Smoking Superheroes simply turn their pipes over and watch ash drift effortlessly down and across the universe, I often find my pipes need some coaxing, cajoling and occasional cussing. Especially if I didn’t have time to smoke out the bowl. I usually begin with the poker to loosen the dottle and then if a slap on the palm doesn’t drop it out, use the shovel, never forgetting to say (as it rolls out) “Alas poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.”

1896 Catalog Gratis Tool

The first version of the Gratis Tool might be called the “Compliment” Tool, since it is stamped COMPLIMENT WITH PETERSON’S PATENT PIPE. It is seen only in an illustration on p.21 of the 1896 catalog (forthcoming from Briar Books Press, by the way!). Not visible in the illustration, it bears the words MADE IN GERMANY around the hinge and COMPLIMENT with on the spoon shank.

The word on the shank is interesting—why it didn’t read complimentary with or compliments with? I wonder if there was a translation error somewhere along the line. That it was made in Germany is no surprise, as Charles Peterson not only was a fluent German speaker (it was one of three languages spoken in Latvia where he was born) but had many business associates in German-speaking countries.

One more interesting thing can be seen on the inside of the spoon: the engraving of a cutaway demonstrator Patent System.

1906 Catalog Gratis Tool

The Gratis Tool in the 1906 catalog is obviously the same design as the 1896, but COMPLIMENTS on the spoon shank has been replaced by GRATIS the words MADE IN GERMANY removed from the hinge—or at least in the illustration, as I have no physical specimen to document. If anyone has one of these, perhaps they can tell us if the hinge bears any inscription and whether the inside of the spoon has been engraved with a demonstrator cutaway?

First British Made Gratis Tool, c. 1914-21

The next version of the Gratis Tool appeared somewhere after the 1906 catalog and before the end of the Patent era. In The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, we date the Patent era from 1891 to 1921, as the Irish Free State was formed in 1922. We did this because even though the first patent expired in 1912, the third didn’t expire until 1919 and the IFS stamp would come into use by 1922, making that year a convenient turning point.

I can only conjecture that the transfer to a new and slightly different, British-made tool occurred either with the beginning of hostilities of the Great War in 1914 or not long before or after. Many of the Irish (especially in the south) had no love of Britain, but none cared much for the Axis powers. For whatever the reasons (which may be in the company’s business notes), it would seem to have been prudent on many levels to transfer the manufacture of the Gratis Tool from one country to the other.

It is important to note that this version of the Gratis tool has the word PATENT in the middle of the spoon, because its successor will not.

The next and final version of the Gratis Tool was identical to the first British-made aside from the omission of the word PATENT from the middle of the spoon. I’ve seen this version a few times a year since I began daily study of eBay’s Peterson listings back around 2009.

We know the Gratis Tool was included in System boxes in its own cellophane paper jacket at least through the 1950s but perhaps as late as 1963, when the factory discontinued bone tenons (substituting them with aluminum) and began using pressed nickel ferrules exclusively for Standard Systems (before that, some were soldered by hand).

While I like the heft of the recent generic Peterson pipe tool and love the Lagnole pipe knife, neither has a spoon, opting for a reamer instead. The reamer can be used as a spoon but without near the success. As is so often the case, Charles Peterson and the Patent-era Kapp & Peterson had it right: nickel-plated poker, tamper, spoon on a hinge with a brass grommet. Free with every Peterson System. Invincible to anything but rust and nearly impervious to that. He knew how to make the smoker happy.

It would be grand (as my Irish friends say) if K&P would bring back the Gratis Tool with every System pipe or even as a separate-purchase accessory in nickel plate or sterling. But along with the original nickel-mount marks and vulcanite mouthpieces, I think the only place we’re going to find it is in the estate listings on eBay. Good luck & good hunting!

Thanks to Gary Malmberg for the “Compliments” pipe tool.
Thanks to John Schantz for a vocabulary check.
Thanks to J. S. Bach for the soundtrack.

Rath Dé ort!


*So check out Kris’s fantastic selection of Petes, especially the rare ones, as he’s got plenty!






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