I fell under the spell of the camera at a fairly early age when my cousin Richard was in the Air Force and stationed in Japan. He knew of my enthusiasm (I haunted camera shops as frequently as pipe shops in those days) and offered to get me some gear at the PX at much lower prices than I could in the US. Several months later I got a big box from him with a Konica T3 SLR, some lens and a bunch of filters. Fast forward forty years and my two interests merged: taking photos of pipes. After a quick email tutorial from John Sutherland at Laudisi Enterprises I was in business, this time with digital gear.
There’s nothing that flattens the learning curve as quickly as an end goal—in my case, to photograph much of what you saw in The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson. I got better as I went along, of course, and operating with no budget helped hone my skills no end. Of course the amateur work sometimes shows, but I’m still pleased with the book’s photography as well as what has been accumulating here on Peterson Pipe Notes since then.
I fall into that category of would-be writers who often begin with an image in their heads and then go on to write about it, so that it sometimes happens that the banner for a blog post is created before any of the writing is done. Growing up with comic books, I suppose I’ve never grown out of the enjoyment that illustrations add to a text, and with pipes they seem absolutely essential. The blog has been an ideal way to get into the details of pipe engineering and finish, things that are far outside the scope of what a book can get away with or a commercial website find viable.
To cut to the chase, rather than send out Christmas cards to everyone (fun but expensive) or send all the RSS subscribers a new Peterson pipe (even more fun and more expensive), I decided to share with you some my favorite banners and images and their backstories from the past eight years of the blog. How it can have been that long is one of those space/time conundrums that I can’t wrap my head around, but I hope my heart is in the right place in wishing you and your loved ones the very best of the holiday season.
I. “In the Attic”
My grandparents were farmers whose fields bordered Route 66 in southeast Missouri. They lived in a large two-story house built by my great-grandparents not long after the Civil War. It had a porch wrapping around two sides and a floored attic you could stand up in. Almost anything might be found there, from trunks with turn-of-the-century clothing to sawed-off shot-guns for hanging off the tractor to stacks of cigar boxes. This was real magic. When I read Ray Bradbury’s classic Dandelion Wine (1957) many years later I knew Bradbury had the same experience, only enlarged to the the size of the fictional Green Town, Illinois. This is the XL307 I never found in my grandparents’ attic, but should have.
II. “3x 68”
I was privileged a few years ago to clean up some estate Petes for a widow over in the UK. Her husband companioned three shape 68 Irish Sterling Army fishtails. I wish I’d known how to chamfer the tenons back then, because these were three of the most beautiful Petes I’ve ever held in my hands. The size of the 68 is absolutely perfect for me and is one of the great unsung shapes in the catalog. I tried to get a P-Lip mouthpiece on three separate occasions but at the time it just wasn’t possible. I finally gave it up and sold them. This is one of the photographs I took in celebration of that shape and the wish that someday I might run across a vulcanite P-Lip sterling 68 in this wonderful brandy shape.
III. “Fresh Pick”
I’m not sure we ever really “see” anything until we take time to be with it. That has certainly been the case with me, proving true again and again when it comes to Peterson pipes. I’ll see a shape and not care for it, then find myself circling back to it for another look. Sometimes it’s several years after a shape has appeared that it seems to open up in front of me and move from Big Dog Ugly to Dog of My Heart. That happened to me first with the Sherlock Holmes Hansom, then a few years later with the SH Hopkins. When I got interested in K&P’s apple shapes it happened again. Unlike most pipe-name shapes, the apple really looks like an apple to me. Now if I can only find the K&P apple of my dreams—the 1012 / 969 / 132.
IV. “That’s MY pipe, by Crom!”
Literacy is a peculiar thing. There’s readers and then there are readers. I would never have become one of the latter without the graced “co-incidence” (Mircea Eliade) of picking up my papers for my paper route next to a sundries store that had an incredible supply of the latest comic books. The wire comic book turn-arounds were just in front of a wall of mass market paperbacks, if you remember those. From the late 1920s until the early 1990s, these little “pocket books” ruled the lives of many readers—they were inexpensive and easy to carry around. Looking at them now, one wonders how we read them, the type was so small. The point of this meandering anecdote is that I became enchanted with reading because of Marvel and Dell comics. My favorite was Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian, especially those drawn by Barry Smith, a very unlikely choice for the testosterone-driven Cimmerian. The comic book led me to paperback by Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Betty Ballantine’s fantasy authors, J. R. R. Tolkien and thence, in more or less a straight line, to a vocation as an English teacher. The idea for this banner came from an association between (1) the pipe, the Peterson Giant, a billiard and bent billiard in production for many decades but never have a name stamp or shape number on it; and (2) the word “giant” itself, which always occurs in my imagination in conjunction with “frost-giant” and one of my favorite Barry Smith Conan the Barbarian covers.
V. “John Lennon’s No. 9 Dream (Version 2)”
The 2020 POY, a magnificent tribute to the original 9BC created by K&P for Rogers Imports Ltd., got me thinking about the importance of the number 9 in John Lennon’s lyrics and life, and one thing led to another as I pondered Peterson pipe specialist Giacomo Penzo’s brilliant evocation of the original 9BC and I couldn’t help but imagine Lennon as a Peterson System man. There’s no doubt that if Lennon had smoked a pipe, it would’ve been the 9S. The one between his lips was originally seen on the cover the 1965 K&P catalog. (And if you haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s Get Back yet, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.)
VI. “Hopkins does the Watusi”
The Sherlock Holmes Hopkins pipe, from the now-deleted Adventures of SH quartet, is absolutely the most whimsical pipe K&P has ever released. It’s massive, smacks of Rene Magritte, is difficult to hold, and guaranteed to raise a smile every time I take it from the rack. I caught it on film doing the Watusi when it thought I wasn’t looking.
VII. “The Game is Afoot”
As this year’s POY has taught the pipe-smoking world, Peterson and Sherlock Holmes are inseparable. I always raise my highbrows when someone lightly dismisses or disparages Conan Doyle’s Great Detective—or Tolkien’s Ring, for that matter. Those who’ve never read the books simply have no idea. This photo was created for the thirtieth anniversary of the Baskerville, the second release in the original set of SH pipes and one of my all-time favorite shapes. It’s an incredible smoker, easy to clench and hold in the hand and delivers a great, full evening of pipe smoke.
VIII. “Poppa Tom”
When my father passed away two years ago, his pipes dispersed to my nieces and nephews before I even knew what was happening. When I was going through a chest several weeks later to help my Mom pack for the move to my sister’s house, I found his 301 System Blast, perhaps his favorite pipe.
This short dutch (I can never call it a “bent pot”—how unIrish!) is a perfect example of the evolution of the Peterson house style. It was seen first in the 1979 catalog and with its original wide stem is one of the great shapes in the catalog.
My Dad was at his happiest when he was in the garage solving mechanical problems from underneath his latest project car—most often a British sports car, but he wasn’t that particular. He called one night and said he’d bounced his favorite Pete while smoking it on the garage floor—it was his 301 sandblast, and it had a crack in the bottom of the bowl: could he still smoke it? I told him of course, it’s a Pete. But he put it away and later I brought him another, almost identical. The crack in the original is just a hairline, about two inches long, and as you can see, he loved smoking his pipes and not so much cleaning them. Scottish Mixture was his favorite tobacco for decades, until during the last decade or so of his life he discovered that the high nicotine-punch of Cornell & Diehl’s Bayou Morning helped him focus. There’s nothing quite as sacred as smoking pipes with your Dad.
IX. “Trom Dubh”
For a few years I enjoyed doing an April Fool’s Day post, just to see how many people might think what I was announcing was legitimate. The first year, K&P got phone calls requesting the pipes I had dreamed up. I got an email from Sallynoggin and well, they were dealing with it didn’t think it was quite as funny as I did. I wasn’t too upset about it. Anyway, this imaginary strut card for the “Trom Dubh” (which means Heavy Black) featured a quartet of some of the most muscular (or fattest, depending on your perspective) shapes in the catalog: the XL02, 107, 9BC and 999 John Bull. The idea was to use a black anodized band and smooth ebony finish and sort of channel the eight-string guitars used by djent prog metal bands. The spectacular background is of the basalt pillars at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, from a photo I took in 2013.
X. “Remembrance of Things Past”
Bokeh is one of my favorite things in photography. This is from the set of photos I did for the 2019 Chicago Pipe Show of my co-author Gary Malmberg’s one-in-a-lifetime collection of vintage Petes, which we displayed that year. The dutch billiard meer dates from the Kapp Bros. period, after Frederick Kapp died and before his son Alfred and Charles Peterson changed the name of the business to Kapp & Peterson. Sometimes you just get lucky.
XI. “Giacomo’s Revolution 9”
I have always delighted in contexts and paradoxes, believing that either/or thinking sooner or later has to be superseded by non-dual thinking for the heart to grow. So when I was doing a second take of the POY 2020 / 9BC, I ran across a very brainy explication of one of my all-time favorite Beatles tracks, the hallucinatory “Revolution 9” from The Beatles [White Album]. It seemed like the perfect juxtaposition.
XII. “Key of Heaven”
I’ve been at work for a few years now on a book which is inspired by the Rev. Arthur D. Yunker’s Toward A Theology of Pipe Smoking and looks at pipe smoking through the lens of historical fiction as a legitimate avenue of contemplative practice. The pipe seen above is somehow linked with that project for me. It was a gift from K&P and Laudisi not long after the re-introduction of sandblasting in the factory. The NAP replica project had gotten under way and someone at the factory found the NAP amber stem. Needless to say, this 313 NAP System is one of the most treasured pipes in my rotation.
XIII. “Ceci ne’st pas une K & P. ”
Inspired by Rene Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe, this is a slightly revised version of the very first blog post banner from March 26, 2014. Magritte’s work and hermeneutic were an inspiration all the way back to my college days, when my friends and I “published” Pipeman’s Quarterly: For Pipe & Coffee Connoisseurs. The illustration seemed appropriate to note the passing of shape 4 (the 309) from the catalog and now its temporary reemergence as the incredible POY 2021. Then as now I find something very compelling about a well-beloved pipe, one that shows high mileage and considerable wear.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—T. S. Elliot, “Little Gidding”