The churchwarden is an intriguing, almost unsung pipe in Kapp & Peterson’s catalog, especially for a shape that spans well more than half the company’s history. Since its inception almost eighty years ago it’s never been out of production, often with multiple bowls and of late with some amazing stem bends, as you can see in the banner.
The ancestor of Peterson’s churchwarden is the Reading Pipe, seen here in its only catalog appearance in 1906. The longest of these shapes is the 104 T seen at the bottom, at 8 5/8 “. Truett Smith, Lead Copywriter at Smokingpipes.com, makes a helpful point here: “the Germans,” he writes, “translate ‘Churchwarden’ as Lesepfeife, which literally means ‘reading pipe.’” German, of course, was Charles Peterson’s academic language (the one he was taught in school in Latvia) and it’s quite possible he named these pipes. Like the later churchwardens, the name is really a category for several small-bowled shapes with long stems and shanks. Unlike the later churchwarden, the Reading Pipes all had bowl numbers.
(used by permission of Bill Burney)
Bill Burney, creator of the classic ASP Pipe Parts Charts, defines churchwardens as having 9″ to 18″ inch stems and small bowls than standard shapes. K&P’s churchwardens run between 10 ¼ ” and about 10 ¾ “. Looking at other current-production churchwardens, Savenelli’s are about the same length, Vauen’s around 12 ¾” to to 13″ and Ropp’s around 10″. While there are some expensive churchwardens out there, even from artisan-makers, the marques just mentioned all offer their standard lines at between $75 and $100 or so.
As with many pipe shapes, the lore behind how the churchwarden got its name is in need of demythologizing. The fable usually told is a mish-mash typical of that recycled by the late “Pete Nut” Jim Lilley in his churchwarden article at Pipedia.org. Lilley posits to its origin to early clay pipe styles (“tavern pipes”), its introduction by King William II (1650-1702), its earlier name as an “alderman” (a political councilman) and its being used by the local church official known as a “churchwarden” in the Anglican Communion who either (a) stuck it out of church window so he could smoke in church or (b) used it to help stay awake during his security-guard duties at night. Take your pick, mix-and-match.
The National Pipe Archive, a nonprofit dedicated to European clay pipe research and based at the University of Liverpool, can at least give us a whiff of academic authority in their glossary as regards the two names of the shape:
Alderman The historic name given to a pipe with a long stem, some of which were certainly curved. The name was probably used interchangeably with ‘Churchwarden’.
Churchwarden The name given to a type of pipe with a long stem, some of which were certainly curved. The name was probably used interchangeably with ‘Alderman’. During the nineteenth century churchwarden pipes typically had stems of 16″ or more in length but, from the mid-twentieth century, the term was increasingly applied to shorter lengths right down to about 9″.
from the 1945 “Red” Catalog
However it came about, the first churchwarden—a canted, slim Dublin shape—is found in the 1945 catalog in its new group of “Specialty” lines, one of the most important additions to the K&P shape chart since the Patent era. The original churchwarden obviously exceeded the company’s hopes, as it was made available with eight different bowls by 1947. In addition to the Dublin, K&P offered a billiard, bullcap, apple, pot, ringed bullcap, prince and panel prince for the next decade or so. All of these bowls except the original Dublin were also available in Classic Range, traditional-length shapes, and even the Dublin would enter the Classic Range later on as the 124, a number it retains to this day.
Demand continued through the 1950s, as seen in the detail above taken from the 1955 London & Dublin catalog. I wonder if the sustained interest in the churchwarden / Lesepfeife didn’t have something to do with the end of World War II. Just as earlier Peterson smokers came home from traumas of Great War I to be greeted by K&P’s “Contented Man” icon, so the servicemen of WWII’s horrors perhaps came home and wanted to do nothing so much after the work day as burrow down in a favorite easy chair with a pipe evocative of an earlier time. The name and style may have reinforced a deep need to just sit and be quiet. Human beings seem to operate under the assumption that life was always simpler and gentler for earlier generations.
from the 1975 catalog
By 1965, the demand seems to have quieted and the eight shapes were reduced to the Dublin, billiard and bullcap. In 1975 the bullcap was dropped in favor of the prince—which as a shape was extremely popular in the 1960s and 70s—and a sandblast version was added. By 1983 the billiard shape was dropped, leaving only the Dublin 124 and the prince.
The next change in the churchwarden production came with the 1997 catalog just at the five-year mark of the Dublin era, when an ebony, sterling mount version was added to the Dublin and prince bowls.
In March of 2015, three new churchwarden shapes were added to the Dublin and prince, made possible by the release of the D15, D16 and D17 in March of 2015, released in red, green and the short-lived gray.
The churchwarden reached a new height in 2018 with the release of the green sterling spigots, which expanded the range to the shapes seen above. The D6 was also, if memory serves, christened the “Zulu Queen” by some retailers in Europe.
Not too long after Laudisi assumed K&P, the two smallest shapes of the Specialty quartet shapes were recruited for the churchwarden line: the Belgique and Calabash. The D6 has all but vanished, although a friend at SPC points out there are still a few of this decidedly Danish shape around.
In the next post I’ll share the story of a famous Peterson pipe smoker who smoked a K&P churchwarden, documented by a fellow Pete Geek. For now, if you have experience with these pipes, please drop everyone a line in the comments below. Opinion in the hobby on the smoking qualities of churchwardens—of whatever make and model—is much more extreme than on almost any other shape. Many report this type of pipe smoking hot with gurgling that never seems to stop. Some smoke a churchwarden regularly. Whatever your experience, do think about sharing it as well as your opinion of what makes it a great or not-so-great experience.
Photos of K&P Churchwardens
Two fellow Pete Geeks have reported that pipes they’ve bought through eBay’s Global Shipping Program from UK dealers have been confiscated as “possible drug paraphernalia.” Among the lost pipes are two antique Petes, a gold-band 9S DeLuxe (unsmoked), a Supreme and several others. Before you buy from UK dealers, be sure they understand what’s happening and agree to ship via Royal Mail, DHL, FedEx or some other method. Both pipemen had their money refunded by eBay, but what they really wanted, of course, were the pipes.