Brethren, our text for this morning is from the prophet Tabbakuk, Chapter 30, verse 9: “And the pipemen asked, ‘Are the Peterson Old Boy-style lighters worth it?’ And flicking his Pete Old Boy to light his favorite System he answered wryly, ‘Yea, verily.'”
I began my combustion journey as a pipeman in the early1980s using matches—the beautiful Rosebud matches made by the Ohio Match Co. in the late 1970s and always available in the grocery stores in Tulsa where I lived. In my self-produced pipe smoker’s magazine, Pipeman’s Quarterly: For Pipe & Coffee Connoisseurs, I couldn’t resist creating a faux-ad:
The Winter 1981 issue of PQ
As soon as I’d seen Citizen Kane I knew there had to be a tiny sliver of Charles Foster Kane’s childhood sled in every carton.
The guarantee is stamped “Mar 26 1962.” Cost? $3.95.
It wasn’t too long, however, before I discovered the amazing if curiously-named Nimrod Pipeliter, which had been around since the 1950s. Nimrod was the guy, if you recall from Bible class, was a well-to-do hunter who funded the Tower of Babel, which if memory serves had a few low-bidder problems. Nimrod was also frequently dissed by two of my comic heroes—Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.* Be that as it may, the Nimrod was—and is—a wonderful accessory.
If you haven’t seen a Nimrod before, you may think you can find it on the nuts and bolts aisle of the hardware store… The indefatigable researcher Doug Valitchka has a great entry on it at Pipedia, which makes for delightful reading. I have no idea what happened to my Nimrod, but in talking about lighters to Ken Sigel, CPG, who loves them, he generously provided me one for old time’s sake to illustrate this post.
Not the original 1982 SOLILD BRASS version, but a current one.
Before the Ohio Match Company went out of business in 1987,* Zippo had introduced its first pipe lighter, the 1982 brushed brass affair with its discrete black pipe and the open circle lighter insert. The great thing about a brass lighter is that it just looks better and better the older it gets. Because the brass has already been brushed, additional wear marks from sitting deep in my jeans pocket simply enhanced its ruggedness. I believe mine bore the SOLID BRASS legend, although my new one doesn’t.
I could not resist this very Celtic Zippo at SPE when I saw it, even though the weight of the front panel makes it difficult to flick open in true gangster style.
I remember at one point I was going away for the weekend and flooded the packing of my Zippo, determined it wouldn’t dry out on me. Twelve hours later there was a strange burning sensation on my upper thigh. Cut to the chase, at some point I gave up on the Zippo without ever having really mastered what it can do.
At the urging of fellow Pete Geek Shimshon Cook, I recently reconsidered that position, especially as the Zippo is the only reliable method of lighting one’s pipe out of doors. Finding one at SPE with the Celtic Cross made it a done deal. As Shimson will be joining me next Sunday for a post on Peterson Zippos and the proper indoor use of Zippos for pipemen, I’ll move on except to say that for general ease of use and reliability, the Zippo has no peers.
My next combustion preference—moving on into the 1990s—was for Swan Vestas, back when every box carried the legend “The Smoker’s Match.” I don’t know where I found my first box, but I did and I became a believer. These were always hard for me to find, although I did have two friends who traveled to the UK and would bring me back a carton whenever they went. Paul Combs told me that for those who long for them, Swan Vestas are still available at an incredibly reasonable price through Iwan Ries.
Some day, some where, I’m going to find a Maguire & Paterson matchbox! The whole box. Nothing but the box.
My problem with wooden matches then as now is that I to do a lot of relights. Back then it was because I didn’t know what I was doing. Now it’s because, thanks to Shane Ireland I do know what I’m doing. The other problem is with spent matches. When I’m at home, there’s always ashtrays of spent matches to throw away (as if I need one more chore). My co-author Gary Malmberg used to just stuff the spent ones in the match box, which doesn’t work for me as I’m always pulling out deadheads instead of fresh ones.
When my Swan Vesta sources dried up (not knowing about Iwan Reis) I began to again experiment with lighters. First it was disposables. But even Brian Levine’s much-vaunted Djeep, which I’ve carried with me to Ireland and the Grand Canyon, are to me sadly lacking. It’s not that they don’t light every time. They do, although with repeated lightings they get hot really fast. The real problem for me as a “high church” Pete Geek—and I don’t mean to offend anyone—they’re decidedly “low church.” What I mean is that for me pipes are about ceremony, ritual, the quality of life, its depth and meaning. Pipe smoking demands accessories of the same caliber. For me a Djeep is for cigarette smokers or perhaps for use with a MM cob. It’s just not combustion. But a Pete? No. They just won’t do. Enter the IM Corona Old Boy.
The IM Corona is hands-down the best engineered Old Boy-style lighter on the market for the money. It runs from $120 to $180 here in the US, depending on what finish you want. It’s not that you can’t spend a lot more money on lighters from S. T. Dupont or Dunhill, but those seem to fall off the other end of the Peterson mindset to me, which has always been the “Everyman / Thinking Man’s” pipe. Enter the Corona.
The great thing about the IM Corona Old Boy is the quality of the head housing unit, that complex machine on the top of the lighter where all the action is. With just a bit of maintenance of the this unit, the IM Corona goes forever. Except that it doesn’t, because the butane tank is so small. The big design flaw is thinking the pipeman needs a tamper / poker housed inside the lighter. The poker isn’t long enough and the tamper isn’t large enough to be effective at their jobs so that most pipemen who want these close by during a smoke are going to bring stand alone units.
The other serious flaw, from the Pete Geek’s point of view, is that somehow Corona has never got the message that Peterson lovers need a Peterson-branded Old Boy-style lighter. Fortunately, K&P came to the rescue some few years ago and launched their own Old Boy lighter series.
The serious retro styling of the Old Boy, of course, is what appeals to me over the more brick-like lighters, plus the ability to direct the flame accurately.
I think these were the first Peterson Old Boys, c. 2009/10.
For Pete Geeks interested in this type of combustion, there’s no argument about the Peterson Old Boy style lighters. They debuted c. 2009/10 (can anyone document this?) with three or four finishes and have since added and subtracted a few. Because I’m smoking while simultaneously throwing a dog toy to my Mini Aussie and reading a book, I’ve taken to having two lighters on the table next to me, because inevitably one of them will either run out of fuel or not light properly.
Again, just a supposition: weren’t these the second release of Old Boy Petes?
The Peterson Old Boys are more work than the IM Corona because they are, frankly, not as well made. Of course they don’t cost as much, either. The flint tube spring isn’t as good on the Peterson version and the head unit itself isn’t engineered as well, particularly where the friction wheel meets the flint loading tool. The twin-hole nozzle, which is supposed to improve wind resistance is, frankly, not as effective as the IM Corona’s single nozzle. And the larger cap? Kind of clunky, in my opinion, but it does make it easy to flick it up with my thumb.
In any event, being a System user, I don’t mind working on mine when they need a bit of maintenance, although it took a bit of frustration to get me to the workbench a few years ago and see what’s what. If you’ve got one that isn’t working or are thinking about acquiring one (because you’re a Pete Geek, after all), here’s a few things I learned the hard way, and I’m hoping those of you who also use them routinely will offer your own advice in the comments section. Here’s my list of trouble-shooting solutions:
Fueling. While of course you only buy the highest quality filtered butane, sometimes you push the nozzle over the fuel spigot and it just sprays out. That’s because, for that particular brand of butane, you need to remove the fill screw. D’oh! Took me a long minute to figure that one out.
Folks say that you should remove remaining butane before refilling the tank or you won’t be able to fill it correctly. I’ve had that happen once or twice over the years, but normally I just fill ’er up and go. It’s always one of those things to try if you can’t seem to get any flame. Another is to see if you’ve inadvertently turned the flame wheel on the bottom of the lighter down so far that no butane is coming out.
Flint Replacement. When you’re not getting a spark you might say to yourself, “Self, think I need a new flint.” So you remove the flint spring screw and see this tiny brassy-looking thing at the end of the spring and think, “Oh, there’s still some flint,” then screw the spring back in. This is another d’oh! moment. That little brass thing isn’t the flint. It’s what holds the flint in place. (Don’t ask me how I know not to remove it. It’s too embarrassing.)
Thumb Wheel Lockup, Pt. 1: Cleaning. Sometimes the thumb wheel just won’t turn and you’re thinking, “Now what!? I just sat down.” (That’s why you have two lighters but are only smoking one pipe.) Later, when your blood cools and you want to see what the problem is, you take it to the bench, strap on the head loupe, and see something like this:
It’s ugly but it happens. Not quickly, even when you have several Old Boys in use, but it does happen. Sometimes there’s just so much carbon build-up on the friction wheel that it can’t move freely. Time for a tune-up.
I use isopropyl alcohol and sometimes lighter fluid, whichever is in reach. Soak it down then scrub it with a wire brush and a wire shank brush, rotating the wheel around until all the debris is removed. I also clean up the flint tube and base of the head unit while I’m at it with the same tools plus a Q-Tip and tissue or cloth. All done and it looks, well, not exactly new, but quite a bit better:
Notice the twin-hole nozzle on the brass spigot to the right. This unit is on a spring. When it’s up, butane is being released. The cap pushes the brass housing down, covering the jet openings.
Thumb Wheel Lockup, Part 2: Unjamming. Except. Except it still won’t turn. What gives? It’s quite possible there’s a small piece of flint jammed at the end of the flint tube. How to tell? Remove the flint spring and allow the flint to drop out. With a magnifying glass you should see an opening between the flint tube and the flint wheel, circled below:
If that area isn’t clear, you’ve got a flint jam. Use an XActo blade, dental pick or whatever tool comes handy to dislodge it. I thought this lighter was totally defective for over a year. I’d work with it and work with it but the thumb wheel was always difficult to turn.
I’ve had flints jam at this spot not only on my Peterson Old Boys, but on my Kiribi as well (which I suspect may be made by the same factory in Japan as the engineering is actually quite similar).
Sometimes if the wheel won’t turn you’ll discover that the overhang on the flint tube is pressed too tightly down on the flint or has rotated slightly to one side, hanging up on either the starboard or port side of the wheel. This photo shows how close the tolerance is:
As long as the flint wheel and housing aren’t rubbing against other, all is well. However, on the aforementioned Green Devil (the one with the flint jam), I also had the joy of this problem. In this case, I unloosened the flint wheel screw on top of the flint wheel (that goes through the flint tube and down into the body of the lighter) a few turns. Then I used a small flat head screwdriver to gently rock the tube flange from either side, pulling it away from the flint wheel but also parallel above it:
This is considerably higher than the lighter as it came new, but the friction wheel now turns. You can tighten the screw back down, but mind how you go. Don’t pull the flint tube back into the friction wheel.
Lock Cap Arm Hinge Pin Sticks Out. If you don’t lose your Pete Old Boy, chances are at some point the threaded pin that hinges the lock cap arm will begin to screw itself out. I think this is caused by the several thousands of times the lock cap is flicked up, but PGs like Gary Hamilton, John Schantz or Paul Combs would be the ones to ask.
What will happen (at least it did to me) is that you’ll begin to feel the hinge pin protruding and think (perhaps in a whiny voice like inevitably do), “Well, that’s just great, man, looks like something else has gone wrong with this lighter!”
The pin had been sticking out at an angle on the Kiribi pictured above for oh, maybe a year? making me think the lighter was nearing the end of life. In reality, the pin had simply unthreaded far enough to disengage with the far wall of the hinge bracket.
Same thing in this Pete Old Boy seen above. All it needed was a few gentle turns with a small flat head screw driver and snugged back up:
While every PG will have his favorites, of the Pete Old Boys, my own are the System, Thinking Man, Silver Stripe P and Harp. The first three need no explanation to a PG, but you may ask “Why the Harp?” First, the Harp is the symbol of Ireland. Second, Charles Peterson’s daughter Isoldie was an accomplished harpist and gave recitals throughout her long life. Third, it’s a brown leather wrap and has the script “P” on the other side. That’s fun.
If K&P was to ever release another Pete Old Boy, I’d love to one with the K&P Maker’s Marks (“K & P”) and set of classic hallmarks on the obverse (Hibernia seated, Harp crowned letter year for 1891) and the nickel mount marks (shamrock, wolf hound and round tower) on the reverse. It would have to be some sort of silver metal or nickel, I think, to pull it off.
Not long ago this fascinating novelty butane lighter came to my attention—in the shape of a System replete with P-Lip! I haven’t been able to track anything down about it and so I’m forced to proceed only by the box and lighter. The back of it merely says PETERSON’S LIGHTERS over RICHMOND, VA 23224.
It probably was made for Peterson’s Ltd of NY, as the font used matches the one they used for their catalogs and on most of their pipes. The history of K&P’s association with Petersons of NY is under documented but fascinating. The short version is that Harry Rogers (Rogers Imports) and Harry Kapp were pals of long-standing, Rogers being the one who seriously boosted K&P’s presence in the US. Rogers had unique shapes made for US distribution like the 9BC and 02BB, he had special pipe boxes created for all the major lines and was a major reason there are so many estate Petes here in the US. He had a son who took over the business but not before establishing the Petersons of NY shops, which utilized Peterson logos, including the Thinking Man, and marketed its own line of tobaccos, including ones with the Thinking Man on the tin and package. But he didn’t get along with K&P very well or at least wasn’t interested in marketing their pipes. But at some point his company did sell a novelty butane lighter—in the shape of a System pipe!
The Wax Seal K&P was is by Brian Heydn. It is an homage to the wax seals originally placed on top of the original paper-wrapped McClelland tobacco tins of the late 1970s and 1980s. The logo is one Peterson used for a very short time in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Notice the SH calabash in the center, with smoke aiding the formation of the ampersand.
Many thanks to Ken Sigel for the vintage Nimrod lighter
and to Brian Heydn for his continually amazing artwork
Documenting Peterson Zippos, with Shimson Cooke, CPG
Joe Marti, CPG
Gilbert Ludwig, CPG
PETE GEEK VOCABULARY BUILDER
Pufferation, n., the act of “pufferating” or smoking a Peterson with gusto and probably with some tongue burn. May happen in moments of excitement, botheration or simple joy in smoking one’s Peterson pipe. Introduced to me by Charles Funn.
Kappnismologist, n., someone with profound knowledge of the pipes of Kapp & Peterson. Should be used with great frequency among Pete Geeks. Should not be confused with kapnismologist, someone with a deep knowledge of pipes in general. The proper study of K&P pipes is, of course, Kappnismology.
Another Failed New Year’s Resolution
Gary Hamilton sent this to me. I was so proud of myself from January first until Friday the 13th.
I went 13 days without buying a Peterson.
I’ve put up a few “catch & release” items on eBay this week to help out with my media hosting storage fees. Nothing out of the way crazy, aside from the novelty butane System lighter, but I thought you might enjoy taking a look. I will have a few serious Pete Geek pipes next week, but I’ll give you a heads-up with some photos here.