Last week’s absolutely jaw-dropping drop of some 200 Plateau pipes makes it a perfect occasion to stop and take a closer historical look about what we can document concerning this remarkable line. For the new release, you might want to begin with Andy Wike, joined by Shane Ireland and Sykes Wilford for this week’s episode of All Pipes Considered which is must-viewing for all Pete Geeks. I’ve appended the transcript from the SPC website below for those who want to ponder it at length or digest its information after viewing.
So where’s the Plato been all this time? It was first seen about 50 years ago in a short film made for RTE, Ireland’s public TV station, narrated by and featuring Paddy Larrigan as he creates the complete Plato, from hand-turned P-Lip to final stamping, before our eyes. You can read about it at Post #263 and if you haven’t seen it, watch it below (it’s about 30 minutes).
In the film Larrigan is a youthful-looking 52 and had “entered service” (as they said in those days) on September 9, 1946 in the Repair Department, learning pipes from the ground up. By 1964 he had been promoted to Instructor, and in 1971 was made Factory Manager. His parents had both worked there before him; his brother Liam worked there as a silversmith; his son would work there for a time.
The immediate occasion for the film was what was perceived as the Centenary of the company: 1975. It turns out 1875 was actually the year Charles Peterson came to work for Frederick Kapp at the latter’s Dublin shop, probably coming over from England where he’d been working under Frederick’s brother George. Frederick had bankrupted in London and shifted to Dublin in 1874, presumably taking his assets with him if he was able to begin again.
So—back to 1975. Pipe smoking was nearly its zenith worldwide and the company was as robust and inventive as it would ever be, introducing new lines, shapes and series, inspired and invigorated by the past and by the apostolic succession of craftsmen like Larrigan who had been trained by previous craftsmen all the way back to Charles Peterson himself.The company would mount an exhibition for their centenary at Ireland Hall, Dublin, where Larrigan would take “the French,” a small lathe formerly used in the French-manned side building of the St. Stephen’s Green factory before WWII, and turn pipes for the public in much the same way Charles Peterson did in the window on Cuffe Lane at the Stephen’s Green factory. RTE got wind of the exhibition, naturally, and proposed to do a short film, which debuted early in 1976.
Back when you could smoke your pipe at the factory, Larrigan is getting ready
to apply the “SPECIAL” stamp to his creation.
The Plato we know has always been adorned with the Peterson over Dublin stamp.
Larrigan’s film creation bore this one.
Because it was 1975, new ideas in pipe shapes were in the air, mostly coming from Denmark and the “Great Danes.” One of these in particular would make a big impact on pipemen: the plateau-top “Fancy Freehand,” usually an XL or XXL shape that could and often did grow to a veritable mushroom top. While Larrigan was factory manager at the time, he also devoted time and energy to innovations, which in the course of time would include the Premier Dunmore System, the Dublin Briar Circle System, the Flat Bottom F11 and F20 (306 / 304), scores of XL freehands, briar basket (calabash) pipes and the pipe that would be christened “the Plato” as a typically Irish pun joining the Thinking Man icon with the plateau:
Plato Smokes A Plato
As Larrigan explained it to me in 2013, the idea for the Plato was to take blocks of plateau briar and cut them in a wedge to allow for grain to radiate upward to the outer surface. In the RTE film, Larrigan a short, wide-shouldered P-Lip stem like the one that would be used on several System shapes from c. 1979-84, and stamps his pipe “SPECIAL,” rather than the later absence of all stamps aside from “Peterson’s [over] Dublin.” Note also the longer shank than what we see in subsequent versions of the Plato.
At this point, the history of the Plato line goes underground, I’m afraid. There’s no official ephemera of the line—nor is it mentioned in any of the American distributor catalogs that I’ve seen—until 2017. Here we must bow to the inevitable indifference of commerce. As much as hobbyists want to know, love and celebrate their pipes, “business” is always going to be 98% concerned with business. K&P is better than most, but even they haven’t kept the kind of archives and records that every hobbyist simply assumes are available in some secret filing cabinet.
We can assume, I think, that the Plato continued to be made in small numbers, and where we see an estate listing with a shape similar to Larrigan’s original, there’s a probability that it is an older Plato, like this one from Worthpoint’s website:
An Early Plato
I acquired my first Plato around 2009, a Natural which was both Beauty and the Beast. Gorgeous, but with a chamber that always overwhelmed me, about 22.5mm x 60 if I remember (and was, atypically for the Plato, drilled as a System!). It was very fond of Esoterica’s Penzance but could never be happy with any type of virginia tobacco and eventually I had to find a new home for it.
A 2009 Natural
So where were the Platos from 1975 to 2009? I suspect the Great Collectors like Andy Camire (of the Boston Pipe Club), Linwood Hines (CORPS) and Doug Owens (owner of the Cargo Hold and lifelong tobacconist) might be able to recall when and where they saw these pipes before then. One thing is certain: they have always been giants.
A Wear-Gap Plato, c. 2010-13
(note the double bead work on the sterling)
A 2011 release can perhaps be documented from this photo from Smokingpipes.com, which at the time was using copyright notices on their photos:
In 2014, busy on the Peterson book, I wrote and asked then-factory manager Tony Whelan, Jr., about Plato production: “We get about three hundred blocks of plateau briar in at a time,” he said, “and do the Freehand (plateau-top) pipes in three grades. We do a Natural, which would be the best. Then we do them in a brown color, and then we do them in a dark, near-black color, ‘Black & White’ we call it. They come in an assortment of shapes, it all just depends on the block.”
This was the 2017 “Black & White” Plato F/T from SPC I used for the “Plato Smokes A Plato” pun
In 2017, Kris Perry, the proprietor of the UK’s Black Swan Smoke Shoppe, listed a considerable number of Platos, most with vulcanite P-Lips, but a few with the new acrylic P-Lips. For the longest time, he had more Platos than anyone in the world and still has 17 of these beauties!
From Black Swan
A “Kildare” line Plato from 2017 at Black Swan
At about the same time that Kris got in his gigantic shipment of Platos, the line was re-released and for the very first time featured in a a K&P catalog, with an acrylic F/T:
From the 2017 catalog
Last year, Harrison & Simmonds, the UK mens shop, acquired about a dozen Platos with a new look—minus the plateau! These sport acrylic F/T beaded spigots and feature what must be stummels that had faulty plateau rims. They’re big enough, and interesting enough, however, to be quite acceptable in the Peterson house style:
Harrison & Simmonds Platos
And that brings us up to the present Plateau Revival release. As Sykes, Andy and Shane can speak with authority below in the transcript from their SPC video, I’ll only add one note Glen Whelan at Peterson sent me: “These are all still from plateau briar and we are all really pleased with how the release turned out. We also wanted to utilize some of our new finishes and offering Rua and Iora has really delivered some incredible stand-out pieces. When blasted, the Plateau briar gives incredible craggy blast!” Amen to that. I’ve never seen anything like these, and confess I was really disappointed when I made my Iora selection last week and then found out my fantastic 19.5mm x 46 mm chamber had been accidentally mismeasured—it’s really 22.5m x 60mm! Maybe someday there’ll be a Plato for virginia smokers, but I guess I won’t hold my breath! And in the meanwhile, let me wish joy to all who acquired one of these marvelous shapes, one of my all-time favorites and a crucial part of the Peterson heritage.
All Pipes Considered: Peterson Plateau Pipes | Daily Reader Digest
December 13, 2023 by Andrew Wike in Pipe Line
Welcome to another episode of All Pipes Considered. I’m joined by two special guests, Shane Ireland and Sykes Wilford, and we’re here to talk about something that is really unique, really special, and probably very unexpected, and that is the return of the Peterson Plateau. So, Sykes, I know that you had talked a little bit about setting some context for this project. Do you want to just jump off there and maybe talk about that?
[Sykes Wilford]: Well, really this story, this iteration of this story starts with when Shane was in Dublin. So he should probably kick this off.
[Shane Ireland]: First of all, if you’ve been following the Peterson brand for any number of years, a customer of ours for any number of years, you may remember seeing these, you may see them pop up as estates from time to time, but it is a defunct series. And basically, I was in Dublin poking around the factory, being nosy, as I’m wont to do, and Willie, who does all the grading for Peterson, wanted to show me something that he had finished grading out.
So for those of you who may not know, when a bowl is turned, or shaped, in this case, after that, it goes to grading because only then do you know really what is underneath and what the grade looks like. So Willie pulled me aside and said, “Hey, I want to show you something cool.” He had just finished grading a batch of plateau blocks and the grades were amazing. Basically, the yield was incredible, the grain looked great, a lot of really cool shapes, and I instantly was like, “What is the plan for these?” And kind of called dibs and ran over to Jonathan and Josh, and said, you know, if these are otherwise unallocated at the moment, I would love to have them for Smokingpipes. And then you were there a week later, and I think they told you that I was desperate to steal them.
[SW]: Yeah. So I was there like a week later, two weeks later or something. And they said that Shane was super excited about these blocks and that we should do something with them. And we had them, and we’d had them for a while, and we didn’t have a clear plan for them. And Shane, of course, was proposing we do this, something akin to this with them. We sat down, as we customarily do. Glen, Josh, Jonathan, me, and just tried to figure out how we would do something like this that Peterson had not done in a number of years, sort of in the way of the new Peterson.
So one of the things we decided is that we would lean much more heavily on sandblasts, and the only smooth ones would be the very, very, very top-quality smooth. We would lean heavily on our new … Well, not that new now, but new over the course of 160-something-years, sandblast finishes, Iora and Rua. If you all have been following these videos or our commentary on Peterson over the last few years, once these bowls get sandblasted, then they get graded. So we have a good idea. You can look at a block and you have a pretty good idea of what that sandblast is going to look like before you sandblast it, but you don’t really know.
[SI]: Density of the wood, all kinds of stuff.
[SW]: Yeah, yeah. There are enough outliers that you’re sometimes surprised. So we sandblasted all the bowls, and we graded them out, and before we sandblasted them all, and we’re still trying to conceive the brand of the series, we thought most of them would end up being this very fetching black sandblast and we put a contrasting acrylic Cumberland stem on this. And as it sort of worked out, a lot more of them were Iora and Rua-quality bowls. Like the density and structure of the sandblast needs to be really good for the contrast sandblasting stains to work and not just look weird and muddy. But we had so many beautiful sandblasts. And that’s where we landed, basically. We worked with that, and then we decided that the next thing is that they would all have — with the exception of the black sandblast — P-Lips, which is something of a departure for this series also.
[SI]: And, real quick, just to comment one more time on the quality of the wood and the quality of the grain in these pieces, to end up with a sandblast that is this good, you’re basically talking about a straight-grain pipe in the first place. To get that kind of definition and that kind of structure and that kind of contrast, the stuff that ended up sandblasted here, a lot of manufacturers would be really, really happy with that grain as a smooth pipe. And yeah, that was what got me the most excited. You just don’t see in a single batch of blocks this kind of grain.
[AW]: I think this is sort of an archetypal Smokingpipes modern Peterson treatment of an idea like this. For those of you who don’t know, the Plateau pipe was originally called the Plato. It was originally developed by Paddy Larrigan in the mid-’70s. And it was actually really interesting because at this time, you know, the Danish Freehand-
[SI]: Sort of the height of the Fancy Freehand.
[AW]: Yeah, you know? That was what was really driving the market. And so Paddy developed this idea of doing something similar in the Peterson aesthetic. It’s really cool because he did that, and they were pretty popular. There was a point in time where the Peterson “Thinking Man” actually switched to smoking a Plateau pipe for a minute.* So that’s really interesting. There was also a made-for-TV film called “…And Then He Called For His Pipe” that actually featured Paddy going through all the steps of the process from making and shaping the actual block to turning the ebonite rod, doing all the drilling, all the finishing, and he was narrating the whole thing.
So it’s this really ephemeral piece of Peterson history that we just don’t really think about that much because we’re always thinking about the patent pipes and Charles Peterson’s innovations. But it’s really unclear how many times the Plato pipe was released in the 20th century. However, when we go to the 21st century, it was released sometime around 2008, and then again in 2017, I believe, when it was renamed the Plateau. And it’s really cool because until the 2017 version, they were all pretty much unbanded. There were no really special adornments. The only real signifying mark was the sort of fork tail Peterson logo, which most of these actually do sport, which is a really interesting sort of throwback here.
I find it really interesting that this is very much part of Peterson’s history. It is very much part of their design language, albeit not the first thing that you might think of. It’s interesting to see these come back and be treated with the sort of modern artisanal lens that I think we as an organization have come to develop. And I think they’re actually pretty killer. They’re really rad.
You guys mentioned the Iora contrast finish and the Rua contrast finish. Both of those are exceptional. I love what we’ve been doing with those two finishes, and I think they work exceptionally well with the grain patterns of these blocks. And the Supremes and Naturals are just out of this world.
[SI]: This is one of the Supremes here, and it’s really hard to argue with the wood there. That’s a gorgeous piece of wood.
[AW]: Yeah, and the finishing too, I think you guys did such a great job on those, all the Peterson guys. It has just the right amount of shimmer, just the right amount of warmth. And most of these are unadorned; they’re sort of accented by these craggy plateau crowns and shank faces. But I believe there also will be some that are mounted, right?
[SW]: There will be 10 pieces, five Iora and five Rua, that are mounted.
[AW]: Awesome. That’s super cool.
[SI]: Super limited.
[AW]: Yeah, so the 2017 version was the only to ever feature silver. And so, yeah, that’s a really cool homage to that as well.
[SI]: I also have to say that I’ve become particularly fond of the P-Lip over the last couple years. And I have to be honest; for me, it’s a little bit less the smoking characteristics and a lot more the comfort level. And I think on a larger format pipe, especially one that is bent, the P-Lip is going to lend itself to pretty effortless hang given that these are oversized in general.
[AW]: And I will argue all day about the smoking characteristics of the P-Lip. I think most of these have P-Lip stems, and I think that that is a wonderful way to tie something like this, which is relatively a modern innovation in Peterson’s history, back to the 1906, you know?
[SI]: The roots, yes.
[AW]: And that final Peterson patent, which of course celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. So I think putting the P-Lip on these Freehand pipes was a really smart choice, both aesthetically and as a tribute to Peterson’s history.
[AW]: It’s a really exciting series. I’m excited to see them back. I love that this serendipitous thing happened as it’s wont to do. I think we’re always looking for unique opportunities to look to Peterson’s past to innovate in the future. And I think this is such a great microcosm of that approach. All right, guys, so any closing thoughts?
[SI]: One other thing I was going to mention: it probably goes without saying, but the overall size of these. So it’s built into the Freehand aesthetic, but these are not only gorgeous blocks of wood, they’re also capacious. I think the fans of Pub pipes and House pipes, any of the XL stuff, if you really want something with a lot of capacity, this is going to fit the bill as well.
[AW]: Yeah, and I think historically, too, that fits the bill. These have always been quite large.
[SI]: Well, when you get a piece of wood like that, you kind of want to show it off.
[AW]: You have to. Yeah, absolutely.
[SW]: It’s also very limited. We only made about 200 at the factory, like 205-ish. There was no target number, we just made what we could make.
[SI]: Yeah. Extremely limited.
[SW]: Very limited.
[AW]: Yeah, so lots of different finishes to look at and lots of different shapes and variations on those shapes. And they’re all on-site now, so go check ’em out. Thanks everybody for watching.
[SI]: Thanks, guys.
[SW]: Thanks, everyone.
Many thanks to Laudisi, to Kapp & Peterson, to Smokingpipes.com
for permission to use photographs, reblog the transcript of
“All Pipes Considered,” monkey around with the “Thinking Man,”
and make everyone’s holiday just a little brighter with
every pipe they make.
Ken Sigel, CPG’s Supreme
In the big Peterson book, we called the Plato a “Freehand,” and since then I’ve thought is incorrect since Larrigan and his co-craftsman Frank made so many other freehands. In 2017, Conor Palmer (who was acting CEO if not so-named) re-christened the line “Plateau,” which is descriptive but not true to the brand’s identity, as the original “Plato” was quite witty and made a direct connection to Peterson as the original “Thinking Man.” In the next Peterson book, the entry will according read thus:
A Barktop w/ Acrylic F/T (Courtesy AlPascia)
PLATO c. 1975 – Undocumented until 2017 and made in small numbers, this XXL freehand is the only pipe Peterson manufactures from plateau briar, hand turned to follow the grain. Paddy Larrigan designed the original, although no two are alike. The design usually features plateau at the rim and the shank face, although sometimes seen with wear-gap sterling saddle mount; P-Lip with embedded brass or aluminum P in high-grade natural finish, aluminum P in slightly lower finish, and hot foil P in lowest. Called Barktop in Europe and Plato in the United States, the most desirable models are finished in orange stain, although lesser grades are seen in darker stains. There is no stamp on shank other than Peterson’s over dublin. Released in 2017 as the Plateau Range with acrylic F/T in sterling wear-gap mounted and unmounted versions. Re-released in 2023 as the Plateau with P-Lip unmounted and ferrule-mount sterling in Supreme and Natural smooth and Iora and Rua contrast stains with P-Lip vulcanite and in black with cumberland acrylic F/T.
*Oops. That was actually me, sneaking under the intellectual property wire for strictly educational purposes! LOL. I created “The Thinking Man Smokes A Plato” for the 2017…
THOMAS FAWCETT, CPG.
“Enjoying some bosun cut plug in the beautiful PPN XL5BC in the Lake District.”
LINWOOD HINES, CPG has a 2023 PPN sandblasted XL5BC, number 108, unsmoked, that he’d like to see go to a Pete Geek. For more information, contact him at email@example.com.
TIM is looking for a 2022 Christmas B10. If you have one you’d be willing to part with, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.