326. The Making of the 25th Anniversary St. Patrick’s Day Pipes: An Interview with Glen Whelan, Josh Burgess & Jonathan Fields at K&P
Last Thursday afternoon, Glen Whelan (Director of Sales), Josh Burgess (Managing Director) and Jonathan Fields (Factory Manager) and I got together for a chat on the making of the 25th anniversary St. Patrick’s Day Commemorative. But before we begin, here’s the essentials on Tuesday’s drop party:
- SPC drop, per Andy Wike, “The pipes are scheduled to go up at 6:00pm ET on Jan 31”
- SPE drop, per Adam O’Neill: “We’ll be dropping them in our weekly update on Tuesday at 10:00am Dublin time.”
- OTHER RETAILERS: I’ve already seen several up on eBay and elsewhere, so if you have a favorite Pete shop, do patronize them or make inquiries.
- Smooth tricolor band, terracotta finish, brass inlaid P, vulcanite F/T, serialized out of 1200, with Donegal tweed pipe bag; MSRP $220.
- Blast tricolor band, black, brass inlaid P, acrylic F/T, serialized out of 1200, with Donegal tweed pipe bag; MSRP $170.
- Rustic tricolor band, white paint retro P, acrylic F/T, not serialized; cloth pipe bag; MSRP $120.
- Shapes—more than I can count, a few of them quite surprising!* Having said that, I will say that in the case of a few of the shapes, there will only be a handful, so if there’s something out of the way or a shape you’re really hoping to find, you should plan on attending one or both drop parties. ’Nuff said!
The old-school white P on the rustic SPD 25: how I love these!
Mark: There’s a lot to admire and mull over in this release. The tricolor band’s workmanship is wonderful. The white-paint P on the rustic issue is another wonderful touch, a real throwback that we don’t see enough of. The serialized numbering of the chestnut smooths and black blasts. The use of a matte natural contrast on the rustic and its smooth stamping area. The gold color inlaid P on the serialized issues—what a great touch! It adds so much to the black blast and the terracotta smooths as well as provides unity with the brass sandwich on the tricolor band. A stroke of genius. Yikes. I’ll begin with the gold color inlaid P. How did that come about?
Jonathan: We’ll hand that to Glen—it was his call on that!
Mark: You don’t see that inlay often.
Glen: No, we don’t use them very often at all. On the gold band Sherlock Holmes pipes and some of the old Supremes. Used to be on twenty or so pipes, absolute tops.
Mark: That gold color P seems to have been first seen back in the 1950s or so on the highest grades.
Mark: I think Josh told me you headed up this project, Glen, but how does this collaborative model work? This project looks to be one of the most impressive K&P has ever done.
Glen: It begins when Josh and Sykes come over from the US toward the tail end of the year and we think about series for the coming year. We always try to associate a project with an anniversary if we can, and we knew that this year, being twenty-five years since the SPD was launched was going to be special.
The XL20 Rathbone from the first release in 1998
Mark: What can you tell us about the awesome tricolor band?
Glen: It’s something I’ve been trying to get done for the last couple of years, but we came up with other ideas and this time there was no argument—it had to be done!
We wanted to build on the idea and so added in the smooth version and the sandblast version, then to elevate it even more the tweed pipe bag was added.
Josh: Glen isn’t giving himself enough credit here. He’s been saying for the past four years we ought to go back and do the tricolor ring but there would be other ideas in front of it.
Jonathan: And around 2021 we realized that the 25th anniversary was almost here, which would be the perfect opportunity for the tricolor ring.
Mark: There is a fascinating synchronicity between K&P and its fans, because it’s only been the last couple of years that everyone’s been talking about the SPD pipes in Pete World, and particularly the 1998 tricolor release.
When the book came out in 2019, I wasn’t sure the 1998 release comprised anything but the single Rathbone / XL20 shape. But in the two years that followed, a number of other ’98 SPDs began showing up. And of course, now Jason Canady, CPG has shared his magnificent collection of these ’98s and his other SPDs not long ago on the blog. I’m sure he’s already been on the phone trying to order one of every shape this year.
Josh: Jonathan, weren’t you around when the original 1998 SPD came out?
Jonathan: Yes, I’d been here two years at that point. I remember we had to turn the original rings ourselves. We had to turn each rod color separately and then the brass on either end on the lathes and then glue them all together. It was a nightmare at the time. We had glue all over our fingers gluing those little bits together one by one by one.
You mentioned how there’s not many of the 2018s seen on the estate market. I asked my Dad what he remember of them, which probably explains why you don’t see many of them, and he said he reckons they only made about 1200 of them. It was one of Peterson’s first ventures into doing a seasonal release, and since it was an Irish holiday we weren’t sure if it would be a success. Now it’s one of our most anticipated releases.
Glen: And it was from that first SPD series that later releases with acrylic sandwich rings probably came about, like the Dublin Filter and the Emerald and some others.
Mark: So how does publicity work in the trade world for pipes and for Peterson pipes? I know back when there were brick & mortar stores K&P would send out strut cards or counter brochures or window stickers. But after the transition to the Internet, how does K&P let folks know something new is out? Especially if the smokers don’t subscribe to something like SPC’s bi-weekly email?
Glen: It all comes down to social media. That’s the platform for all new releases and that’s the audience we target. Let’s say you don’t subscribe to an email like SPC’s, but if you have an interest in Peterson or in pipes it’s going to show up in your feeds, or people are going to share in the groups you’re active in. They may not share what part you’re into specifically, but they’re going to share. And even if you don’t see it there, somebody is going to ask you, “By the way, have you seen the new Peterson St. Patrick’s Day pipe?” or the new Pipe of the Year or whatever.
Jonathan: There’s a body clock that starts tickin’ for the Peterson annual releases like the St. Patrick’s Day and Pipe of the Year. People start asking each other on social media, “Have you heard when if the new pipe’s out yet?” They just seem to know when it’s time.
In the US, the Laudisi Group makes assets for brick and mortar stores to use. They can print them off as posters or flyers or on display on computers in a shop that doesn’t have an online presence.
My favorite “asset”: the electronic strut card
Mark: Josh, do you worry about the marketing? Whether people are hearing about the new Peterson pipes?
Josh: I always want more opportunities to reach more people with Peterson pipes. I feel like today, for the most part, if you’re serious about the hobby, if you’re engaged with it online in some way—and it doesn’t need to be Smokingpipes.com, it could be on a forum or elsewhere.
Mark: I know that there are literally dozens and dozens of pipe vlogs and most of them reach vastly greater audiences than Peterson Pipe Notes. I think PPN’s appeal is to hardcore Peterson fans or pipe smokers who are also readers more than simply viewers and looking for deep information about the brand. It also pleases me when I see something in social media where a pipeman who reads PPN refers his own audience here for more information about a new release or some aspect of the brand’s history that’s been dealt with here.
Josh: Your level of engagement is high.
Mark: How did you come up with 1200 as the number of pipes for the smooth and for the sandblast? It’s always been fascinating to me that so many things having to do with pipe numbers at K&P goes by 12s. Is it a Celtic numerology thing? You know, the Egyptians used a duodecimal system. My whimsical theory is that the Desert Fathers, who came from the Scetes desert of the Roman empire and traveled to Ireland—founding the monastery at Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry around the 6th c. AD—and responsible for Christianity’s earliest inroads in Ireland—brought it with them.
[laughter from Dublin]
Josh: Do you want to know the bottom line?
Josh: Our pipes come in trays of twelve.
Josh: That’s why it’s always multiples of twelve. Our production cassettes or trays hold twelve pipes.
Mark: So if this had been some other pipe company that had trays that held fifteen pipes, then there’s be 1500 smooth and 1500 blast?
Mark: Well, that’s doesn’t invalidate my theory. It only says why K&P still does it.
Josh: Right. What you would say is ‘why was the pipe tray designed to hold twelve pipes?’
Josh: Well, that’s easy. Each of the apostles smoked a pipe—common knowledge among the Celts—and so there was one Peterson pipe for each of them on every tray.
[laughter all around]
Mark: Exactly. That squares with everything I know about early church history.
Josh: You know, Laudisi is biased toward twelves as well.
Mark: Obviously part of the apostolic succession.
Glen: And my dad [Tony Whelan, retired factory manager] said they always talked about grosses of pipes—a gross being 144 or 12 twelves. Twelve has always been the institutional denominator for counting at Peterson.
Josh: And I seem to remember seeing that companies of old sold briar blocks by the dozens as well.
Jonathan: It’s an old-school bias.
The old ways are so often the best ways
Mark: And that brings me to my next question: How do you see Peterson as unique in the pipe-making world today?
Josh: One of the things I’m doing here in Dublin this week is training a new person, who knows nothing about pipes, how they’re made, and here’s shape charts and how pipes and pipe making evolved over time.
And one thing that occurred to me was that there used to be a lot of English and French factories like Peterson who were in a price tier like us, who offered affordable pipes that anyone could buy on up to more expensive pipes. GBD is an old brand that I’m fond of that comes to mind in this regard. One thing that makes Peterson unique is that it survived the decline of the 1980s, whereas a lot of the other brands, if they survived, only survived as brands, not as factories. They were bought by big conglomerates, and then decisions started to be made about efficiencies and numbers. And Peterson survived that, and made it through the 1980s intact as an institution. That’s one big difference. It’s a little island that survived that tsunami and shipwreck, and that’s an important part of our tradition.
Glen: You could say the uniqueness of Peterson is almost born out of survival. When all the other companies fell by the wayside so that now they either don’t exist or exist only as brand names, not as factories.
Jonathan: And we haven’t changed the way we make pipes. At all.
Glen: And that’s the connection between us and the tweed bags we had woven for us by the Kerry Woollen Mills. The way they make their woolen tweeds hasn’t changed hardly at all since they opened in 1760. That’s the association between Irish tweed-making and Irish pipe-making that we want to make: they’re both Irish institutions.
From the factory of the Kerry Woollen Mills
Mark: Well, all I can is that I think you missed an opportunity not offering a special Peterson tweed sport coat here!
Glen: We’ll write that down for the 50th anniversary SPDs.
Mark: And I’m sure everyone’s looking at the leather logo and making the association to the leather elbow patches on traditional tweed jackets. But I wonder if folks know that this logo has itself a history with K&P?
Pipes bags like these from the end of the Late Republic Era in the 1980s used the oval Peterson logo
Josh: Anna Nierwinski at Laudisi heads up Andy Wike’s design team and was responsible for it, although I wouldn’t be surprised if she or Ted Swearingen or Andy didn’t use it as an inspiration.
Tuff Young Pete Geek in Tweed, c. 1981
Mark: I couldn’t start my interminable university career without a tweed jacket with elbow patches. In fact, I wore the first one out—literally—and had to get another one. I won’t say who the kid’s picture is above, but do notice he had good taste in Petes and that behind him, he seems to think he can read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics—all 13 volumes. One more vote for Peterson + Tweed = Pipe Nirvana.
Mark: The shape chart for releases this time out is phenomenal and the variety is phenomenal. Where, for example, did the D20s [POY 2016] come from? We haven’t seen any since the Adam O’Neill’s great Nassau Street Trinity Fox last March.
Jonathan: We found ’em in the move.
Glen: I was biased in wanting to featuring shapes from the Classic Range this time. You’ll see the 264 Canadian, for example, and the 268 Zulu. We haven’t featured several of these them in recent SPD issues which have been army mounts.
Mark: Last question: Anything coming out soon you’d care to share with you?
Josh: Everyone will be hearing about the Pipe of the Year before too much longer. And another release I’m very excited about is a revival of the Junior Rustics line, featuring some smaller shapes that I think are just great. I was looking at them on the factory floor earlier this week and the shapes are really nice, so we’re excited about those. And then we might have something special to offer, small, in the Deluxe System before long.
Mark: On the Junior Rustics, are these shapes in the current catalog?
Glen: No, they’re shapes that haven’t been available for many years.
Jonathan: So start saving, Mark!
Mark: I think I just have time to get to the blood bank before they close . . .
Glen Whelan, Andy Wike, Josh Burgess, Steve Mawby, Jonathan Fields,
Kapp & Peterson, Laudisi Enterprises
CPG / Merit Badge Opportunity
“PETE GEEK” ZIPPO LIGHTER
Orders for the Pete Geek commemorative lighter will be submitted on Monday to Zippo, so you still have time to get yours. Go to the end of the last post and fill out the GOOGLE FORM. All questions will be answered there. Invoices will be sent out when the lighters arrive in about 4 weeks. After receiving your lighter, if you want a CPG certificate or a Merit Badge added to your current certificate, send me a photo of your lighter & a favorite Pete or yourself w/lighter and favorite Pete.
Fellow Pete Geek Gary Hamilton has been working on something for all who are interested—a St. Patrick’s Day tamper!
Per Gary: “These SPD tampers are hand crafted one at a time by a pipe smoking Leprechaun, secluded in his workshop high atop a ridge in the Texas Hill Country. Drawing inspiration between quaffs of Guinness, the tampers are made from the finest European Beech wood for the shank and topped off with African Gabon Ebony for the tamp head. The Irish tricolour flag is made from individual pieces of acrylic, each sprinkled with just touch of Sidhe dust for Celtic color. The shank is crowned with a Shamrock, in homage to Ireland’s patron saint.”
More details on how to order will follow in time for St. Patrick’s Day. For now, let me tell you I’ve seen these in person and love them. While each is unique, they will fall into larger and smaller sizes to accommodate chamber preferences.
and finally a little
CATCH & RELEASE
including one of the original NAP Reproductions from Silver Gray
all on eBAY here.
*Per Steve Mawby at SPC, these include: