263. “And He Called for His Pipe”
Old King Cole,
Was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he,
And he called for his pipe,
And he called for his glass,
And he called for his fiddlers three.
An ad found in K&P’s archives. No date.
The company had been a family business from 1865 to 1971. The year was 1975 and it was now almost four years since Harry Kapp, the last of the Kapp family, had retired. Harry had recognized the need for the company to move out from Dublin in 1971 to a larger, more modern facility in the suburban coastal town of Dun Laoghaire, but it wasn’t an easy decision. For one thing, it necessitated a 22-minute bus ride for many of the crafts folk who were accustomed to walking to work. For another, the factory had been across the street from St. Stephens Green for over sixty years. His father Alfred and great-uncle Charles Peterson had worked there.
When Harry retired, he left behind him an administrative and craft team more than capable–managers like Jimmy Nicholson and Tony “Jolly D” Nicholson and craftsmen like Paddy Larrigan, Frank Brady and Liam Larrigan. In 1973, crackerjack Bill Murphy was brought in as general manager. Under Bill’s guidance the enormous talent in the shop and office reinvented the company, as it had many times in the past. 1975 would be a remarkable year for Kapp & Peterson.
A 1975 Centenary Celebration XL339
Since the early 20th century, Kapp & Peterson had reckoned its founding date as the year Charles Peterson joined Frederick Kapp in Dublin, which was 1875. The Centenary, as 1975 was called, was celebrated in a number of ways. There was an exhibition in Dublin, where Paddy Larrigan turned pipes from start to finish, from hand cut vulcanite stem to lathe-turned bowl, on a small lathe that dated from the Patent era. A new catalog was issued, the most important since 1906. For its devoted fans, the company released the sterling Centenary limited edition pipes in System and Classic Range shapes with their distinctive rich walnut stain and awesome grain patterns, P-Lips, special tenon extensions and leather pipe socks, now much sought-after by collectors. Toward the end of the year the company would cap it all with a documentary on pipe making, “And He Called for His Pipe,” made right in the factory and the most important of all the K&P films and videos that have been made over the years.*
Paddy Larrigan in a newspaper photo from January 1976
found in one of the K&P scrapbooks
The film stars Paddy Larrigan, whom Gary Malmberg and I always call “Peterson’s master craftsman.” Paddy was 51 years old at the time. He entered service at K&P on September 9, 1946. His brother Liam, two years younger, entered service in 1948. They followed in their parents footsteps, who had both worked at K&P. Paddy began in repairs and worked his way through every skill in the shop to become factory manager and then a sort of presiding genius, free to mentor, create and oversee the lads and lasses and to create new shapes, one-offs and special orders. Liam would in time become the head silversmith (the Larrigan story is told in full, incidentally, in The Peterson Pipe, which should be out in January or early February in paperback).
The film, which can be streamed below, shows Larrigan creating a freehand and stem from start to finish, with a voice-over narration by Paddy himself. He used a block of plateau briar and later dubbed the pipe the “Plato” (a pun in honor of The Thinking Man). It would see a very limited release, each pipe unique, on and off for the next several decades. Most Peterson fans weren’t even aware of its existence. While many don’t care for the shape, it’s an important one in many ways for the company, not only because Larrigan created it or because it’s the only shape known to be made from plateau briar by the company, but because it shows K&P maintaining relevance to the pipe fashions of the day. In its way, the Plato is just as important as any of the multi-faceted panels from the 1920s, the Coronation Cad bulldog of the Patent era or the Dublin era collections.
It seems a fitting gift therefore, to share the film with you here on Christmas day in celebration of what to many of us has been the most remarkable year the company has seen in decades–about which more in a later post. Suffice it to say that for Pete Geeks it’s been a struggle to keep up at times and know which new line or special pipe to add to the rotation, simply because in one way or another they’ve all been wonderful. With thanks to Sykes Wilford, Josh Burgess, Glen Whelan, Jonathan Fields, Giacomo Penzo and everyone else at K&P and Laudisi, let me wish all who read this blog (and by doing so give me much joy) Nollaig shona dhuit!–a Merry Christmas!
Friend and fellow Pete Geek Ralle sends this e-Christmas card to all:
“And He Called for His Pipe”
A visit to the factory at Sallynoggin is,
for the Pete Geek, akin to heaven. Or nirvana.
In 1975, K&P had only been in this building, which they called
“Victory House,” for a little over three years. The factory at this time
ran all the way from the left to the the right of the screen.
We saw and photographed several of the pipes seen in the film.
We didn’t see this long amber-stem meer, with its P-Lip.
The film begins, appropriately, with a look at K&P’s past.
We aren’t given a flanking shot of this extraordinary cased P-Lip amber Patent System.
Its proportions suggest the O.2, one of the largest.
Note the display cases of Peterson pipes in the background.
Paddy here chucks the plateau briar into “the French,” the little lathe
he liked to use, which dates from the Patent era when a small group of
French craftsmen who worked for K&P turned bowls in a shop connected
to the factory at 113 Stephen’s Green in Dublin.
Here Paddy’s finishing up the bowl, having previously cut the block on
the lathe and filed it into its approximate shape.
One of the most fascinating parts of the film for me is
watching Paddy turn a rod of vulcanite, drill the airway
and by hand cut the P-Lip. As you can see, the final airway
drilling comes after the button has been shaped!
Here Paddy is papering off the first under stain,
which will bring out the grain of the finished pipe.
…and now the final coats of stain.
Two things: first, note that craftsmen could smoke while at work,
and I’ve always wondered if Paddy didn’t make the pipe he’s smoking for himself.
Second, briar stamps are applied either with this machine,
which I think is still at use (Jonathan, if you’re reading this,
could you tell us?) or by hand.
And here’s the stamp: “Peterson’s Special.”
Paddy and Frank Brady would sometimes use this stamp
for hand-cut pipes. The Hand Made stamp has also been used
for one-off and custom pipes since at least the 1940s.
This is Paddy’s finished pipe. It differs from the Platos I’ve seen since then
in its longer shank. The Platos pipe smoke quite coolly, as you might imagine,
but all the ones I’ve documented are XXL, with chambers of at least 22mm.
I think it would be grand to have one like this, with its shorter P-Lip stem,
a longer shank and probably more normal-sized chamber.
* More Peterson videos will be found on these posts:
17. Peterson : 150 Years of Irish Craftsmanship (2014)
29. The Making of the Peterson Pipe (1998)
43. The Making of a Peterson Spigot (2016)
73. Peterson at the IPCPR Trade Show (2017)
90. The Peterson Pipe Book Preview Video (2018)
164. Charles Peterson: The Original “Thinking Man” (2019)
“…a Merry Christmas to all,
and to all a good night!”
with many thanks to Ken Sigel for the beautiful
display pipe rack
. . . and if you’ve read this far
“hang on, dollface,”
OF PIPES & MEN
is now available from