Rev. 8/22/2022 with special thanks to Daniel Billings
For this second “Famous Pete Smokers” post, I want to look at another controversial figure, Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain (1835-1910). Kapp & Peterson first issued the Mark Twain, their most famous commemorative, in 1981.1 Much of the story of how it came about and most of the versions in which it has been issued is told and seen in The Peterson Pipe. The connection between Twain and K&P goes back to their very first catalog, which used a testimonial on pipe-smoking written by Twain. While he didn’t mention the Peterson Patent System, the testimonial seems to infer by its inclusion that Twain was smoking them as early as 1895. 2
The original Limited Edition of 400 from 1981 came in a fantastic rough-wood presentation box
Many would name Twain America’s great humorist and first authentic literary voice, yet for the past several decades he has been increasingly recognized as one of America’s severest critics and darkest voices. Biographer Ron Powers argues throughout his book that the two are intertwined. Twain’s rough edges began upsetting people early on, beginning with his wife Livy’s family, Livy and their eldest daughter Clara, contemporaries President McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt and thence to a long list of right-wingers and fundamentalists that stretch to the present day. Twain’s books have been banned, his essays suppressed, his work bowdlerized, not only by enemies but by friends and family who felt his reputation needs sanitizing. So who more likely to issue a commemorative pipe than Kapp & Peterson? 3
Twain’s life and work remain sharply, searingly contemporary over one hundred years after his death because the faults and foibles he satirizes in American culture haven’t changed. An adamant abolitionist and friend of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe, he observed first-hand British white privilege in South Africa, India and the Malay Peninsula and was outraged at the racist imperialism the US displayed in the Philippines and Hawaii. A longtime friend of Helen Keller, he not only supported women’s rights but actively campaigned for women’s suffrage. 4 Certainly Twain lived his life, as Powers notes in his biography, more like a rock star than a writer: his very quirkiness, his game-changing greatest hits from “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” to A Tramp Abroad, Huckleberry Finn, The Mysterious Stranger, “1601” and “A War Prayer” all establish his unassailable street creds.
The XL Rustic was the only domed-mount version of the MT System released. It uses the broad Comfort Lip button seen from 1981-84 on the big System pipes, a nickel mount and a tiny crystalline rustication process. The leather pipe stand found in the box was a give-away in many pipe boxes at the time.
For us as Pete Geeks, Twain must always be seen as an expression of the “Thinking Man,” enhanced by his championship of the profound value of pipe smoking. As Chuck Stanion recounts in the most masterful and in-depth look at a famous pipe smoker ever written, the redolence of tobacco saturates everything in Twain’s life: the early age he took it up, the meritorious roles it plays throughout his writing, the contentious aspects of early family life associated with it and his sustained battles with with medical and religious authorities over it. 5 Aside from the hogsheads of cigars he consumed, there are two pipes everyone associates with him: the cob (which he bought by the dozens) and his Peterson Patent Systems, with which he was photographed almost continuously from 1899 until his death.
How Twain came to the Peterson Patent System can be surmised without much difficulty from existing historical facts around K&P and details from Twain’s travels. He and his wife and daughter Clara were ex-Pats traveling around the globe for much of the 1890s and at the end of September, 1897, they moved into the Hotel Metropole in Vienna, where they lived until the late spring of 1899. 6
Kapp & Peterson’s first catalog appeared in 1896, paid for in part by advertisements from K&P’s distributors and business friends made at the 1895 exhibition in Islington. One of the distributors was Carl Hiess of Vienna, a high-class full-service tobacconist. Hiess’s establishment was located at 11 Graben in Vienna, and Twain would certainly have visited there with his wife Livy because it was the place to shop—and still is—as the most famous street of Vienna’s city center.
The tiny straight Patent System seen above is not the only Pete we’ve documented with the Hiess insert in the upper case lining. These inserts, suggests my co-author Gary Malmberg, were placed by tobacconists to identify the pipes bought at their shop for warranty purposes.
Vienna has maintained the beautiful Graben street area, and while the Carl Hiess shop is long gone from the corner, the building is still there. One of the things Twain loved about Vienna, incidentally, was that the women of fashion smoked pipes. 7
Twain loved to be photographed, and it is significant that existing photos of Twain with Charles Peterson’s Patent pipes date from 1899 to 1906, after he and his family had returned to the US. The photographic evidence seems to indicate that Twain bought several Patents at Carl Heiss.
One of my favorites is the O1 (the O1 A.B is seen above). Twain poses his O1 A with in several photos. The photo above was from a series taken at the family residence in Elmira, NY, in 1900, the giant pipe as big as his fist.
You can see the 14B in another photo from the Elmira series, already showing signs of extraordinary wear. Twain seemed to have been the kind of pipeman to stick the bowl of his pipe next to any flame as long as he could get it lit. Take a look at the the front of the rim on the bowl. It also looks like there’s some serious burn along the left side. I think this is the very pipe his daughter Clara donated to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, as seen in The Peterson Pipe.
The famous 14B, from which the MT commemorative was made
It would seem that Twain, ever ingenious, was also the first to show off his frankenPete skills, sticking a tapered De Luxe stem onto a pipe with a domed ferrule, in this, a detail from one of the standard photos of Twain seen on the web:
Technically, it’s a 14A onto which Twain has pushed a B (tapered) mouthpiece. It’s a gawd-awful look and I hope K&P doesn’t ever think of issuing one like it.
There is at least one more Pete that must have been in his rotation, as the De Luxe space-fitting mount seen in the photo above is not the A or army-mount stem of the O1 A.B, and the bowl pictured above is made for an A mount. The missing pipe may be in this photo:
The MT commemorative is something that belongs in the rotation of every Pete Geek, at least in my opinion. It’s true that it’s not an exact reproduction of the 14B—it’s about 4 mm shorter, because K&P used Twain’s charred pipe at the Boyhood House & Museum rather than their own catalog from which to take their measurements. (In their defense, there was no shape number stamped on Peterson bowls during the Patent era.) The MT has long been recognized as a great smoker. Ask anyone who companions one and they’ll tell you it’s fantastic with burley, aromatic or english, although most praise it for its greatness with virginias and va/pers. The MT surfaces with regularity on eBay, often in unsmoked condition, usually in the numbered releases. The unnumbered release (as pictured in the banner photo) is much more numerous and often has briar at far more reasonable prices.
K&P last issued the MT with its “cob” or Large Tank sibling in 2010.
It disappeared sometime around 2012 but revived in a Patent rendition of the original 14B by K&P as their Pipe of the Year for 2022. The 2010 MT was not received well, although its companion, the Large Tank, ought never to have left the catalog.
One of the reasons I love this pipe has to do with Twain’s willingness to go toe-to-toe with religious and medical “authorities.” In 1865 he wrote a rebuttal to all would-be political-correctness spokespersons in The Californian newspaper. I keep a copy of it folded up my wallet and bring out every time I visit my doctor (who hates all forms of tobacco) or find myself in the presence of someone who disapproves of my pipe (and by extension of me). Twain writes:
Moral Statistician.—I don’t want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it.I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering how much a man’s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking. . . . And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking.
Many thanks to Daniel Billings
for recognizing that it was not Frederick Douglass but John T. Lewis in the photo with Twain from The Ladies Home Journal
1 Twain was in London briefly in late March of 1895, but had returned to the US before the International Tobacco Trades Exhibition in Islington in late June and early July, , where K&P won its first medals. See Ron Powers, Mark Twain: A Life (Free Press, 2005), 565 and Irwin, Peterson’s Patent Pipes: A Facsimile of the 1896 Catalog, 70 (forthcoming, Briar Books Press).
2 For the first “Famous Pete Smokers” post, see Greta Garbo.
3 What is amazing is just how many controversial figures on whom Kapp & Peterson has bestowed this honor. Okay, there’s Oscar Wilde (gay), Charles Darwin (agnostic and for creationists in the US quite anathema), Dracula (blood-sucking vampire) and the Titanic (okay, they softened that to the “1912 Collection,” but still). Having mastered the undead, icebergs and gay rights, I think K&P needs to move into some really controversial territory: religion and myth-making. How about a Tolkien & Lewis set (Lewis was an Irishman, Tolkien adored the Burren and used its scenery in his work)? Or a collection featuring the Peregrenari Pro Christ—the great Celtic saints—Brigid, Columba, Kevin and Aiden?
4 I have been asked if we can’t have pipes in this blog without politics and religion. Certainly we can, but not Peterson pipes, since the company was co-founded by a registered Free Thinker who was a pacifist yet covertly supported the Irish Republican cause, actively supported women’s rights, labor unions and even allowed his Jewish factory workers to observe their religious holidays. While no later managing director was so adamant about human rights, K&P has continued Charles Peterson’s edgy spirit, most recently in issuing their Charles Carroll of Carrollton commemorative. He was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was enormously wealthy. He was also a slave-holder (which troubled him a great deal in his later life). If thinking men can’t probe the depths of the human heart and mind, I doubt if their pipes are doing them much good.
5 See Chuck Stanion, “Mark Twain,” Pipes & Tobaccos, Fall 1997, pp. 34-41; and Mark Twain, Part II,” Pipes & Tobaccos, Winter 1998, pp. 30-38.
6 Powers, 589.
7 Powers, 590.
Click to download:
MT in Vienna Banner Landscape Poster