La le athair Shona! Happy Father’s Day to you, whether you’re a father, grandfather, father to your students or pater familias to those where you serve or work. Fathering is an enormous responsibility and one no one gets through unscathed. But the blessings are many, and so I lift my pipe to you wherever you are and in whatever capacity you serve.
Stamps are important on a pipe, helping us date a year, a line and other specifics of its manufacture. Gary Malmberg, my co-author, has many times said that Kapp & Peterson is the second most datable factory pipe in the world, the first being Dunhill. But that’s only because Dunhill’s lower grades have always appeared under other names: first Hardcastle and Parker, then names like Start, Argyle, After Lunch, Crescent, Duke, Jockey Club and Scout, according to a note at Pipedia. Analogically, it’s like taking K&P’s Supreme and Deluxe lines and stamping them Petershill and then marketing and selling all their other pipes as Kappswamp.
K&P has actually done an amazing job, considering how long it’s been in business, in helping Pete Geeks determine when they made a pipe. Bowl stamps and metal-mount markings are the two primary identifiers, but they can often be supplemented by bowl number and line.
“I’ve really missed the COM stamp,” Josh Burgess, Managing Director told me recently, “and we’ve discussed bringing it back for a bit now. We finally decided that the time was right. So we had a new one made up, which should start start appearing on basically everything.”
Stamps are part of the story, but certainly not all of it, which is why for the world’s oldest continuously-producing briar pipe maker it’s helpful to have some backup reference material, like The Peterson Pipe Book and as many catalogs as you can lay your hands on. There are also some pitfalls to avoid. The most nefarious of all K&P stamps is this one:
The MADE IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND stamp was introduced, unsurprisingly, right after the formation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949. It was stamped on almost but never all of K&P’s pipes for over forty years, suffering a lingering death during the first decade of the Dublin era (1991-2018). There’s nothing wrong with the MITROI stamp, of course, except that many collectors still have the notion that a “pre-Republic” Pete—any without this stamp [and hence made before 1949]—is a pipe of better quality than one made afterwards. The truth is simply that it isn’t so. Factory standards didn’t suddenly slip from celestial to the substratum in 1949. The fact is, K&P didn’t even put Country of Manufacture (COM) stamps on their pipes until the 1920s, the first being the IRISH FREE STATE.
Just to be absolutely clear: there is no era or period in Kapp & Peterson’s history in which they have not made extraordinary high-grades, accessible entry-grades, good mid-grades and rare one-offs, including the present.
The second most trouble-causing stamp among collectors is the dreaded “Fork-Tail P”:
I’ve reversed the image here in case you’ve never seen one, but the argument used to be that if a Pete has this stamp, then it’s really old. Like Methuselah old. Problem is that it’s been used quite a bit in the last few decades, as deemed appropriate at K&P, and it also appears in several eras of the company history.
The MADE IN IRELAND stamp is probably the third most problematic for neophytes, again because many collectors think it signifies a vintage pipe, when in fact it has been used in its two forms (straight line or in a circle) in practically every era except the Patent. When we were doing our initial research back in 2013, Gary was keen to nail down how the stamps were used and after many conversations with the craftsmen, we asked Joe Kenny to stamp twin 106s Supremes for us with both stamps just to let the world know these stamps are still right there on the workbench. The straight stamp was used quite a bit in the 1990s, often on commemorative or Antique Collection pieces and the round one in earlier eras.
Having belabored all the above, let me say that bowl stamps are not only a lot of the fun we have in identifying Petes, but are also the rationale Gary and I chose to divide K&P history into distinctive eras. We believe this schemata gives the enthusiast an easier job in dating bowls, styles, lines and individual pipes.
PATENT era, 1890 – 1921. The Patent actually expired in 1912, but as the IFS stamp wasn’t used until 1922, it seemed ridiculous to create a “Post-Patent” division, especially considering the facts that Charles Peterson was alive until 1919 and no full catalog has been discovered yet for the years between 1906 and 1937.
IRISH FREE STATE. 1922-1937. K&P’s London factory geared up in late 1937, and there’s a flock of stamps for English-made Petes, but you can see those in the book. (Proportionally, the output for the London factory can be gauged by the fact that it employed between 12 and 24 craft folk depending on the year, while the Dublin factory was something between 80 and 120).
EIRE. 1938-1948. The WWII years were extremely difficult for the two factories, but they stayed up and running, the worst years being between 1941 and 1946.
REPUBLIC, EARLY. 1949-1968. We divided the Republic era into two parts simply because hallmarking was reintroduced in 1969 and so much changed in production, shapes and lines between 1949 and 1991 that it seemed the sensible thing to do.
REPUBLIC, LATE. 1969-1991. A tumultuous period in the company’s history as it went from a family owned business through a series of owner and management turnovers, not to mention the world-wide ebb in pipe-smoking (and therefore manufacturing) in the mid-1980s.
DUBLIN. 1991-2017. During the mid-1990s, the MITROI stamp gradually disappeared and “Peterson’s of DUBLIN” began to be the standard. There were lots of exceptions, but it’s one reason we named this the “Dublin” era, the other being that the CEO and owner of K&P during this period, Tom Palmer, didn’t want the era to be named after him, as if he were the whole show. Shortly before hand-stamping was replaced by the laser-engraving process, all stamps were moved to one side, as seen in this 309 from c. 2012-13.
LAUDISI. 2018-Present. When pipemen thirty or fifty or eighty years from now look back, they may believe that the oval MADE IN IRELAND stamp seen above began in 2018. Well, you can tell your grandsons that it wasn’t so. It didn’t happen until 2021. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that this is a Laudisi-era indicator, isn’t it?
There are so many COM stamps, Maker’s Marks, hallmark styles and other bowl and mount markings that it would take a book to illustrate them all. Wait—there is. If you don’t have a copy, don’t fret and certainly don’t pay a scalper some ridiculous price. It is coming back in print, Briar Books Press informs me, probably in the fall. I would say probability is near 100% if the West Coast Pipe Show happens in Las Vegas, and indicators across the nation seem encouraging.
Stamps at the factory
All photos by Chas. Mundungus
Thanks to Josh Burgess, as per usual!