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407. The System House Pipe: the Short History of a Big Pipe

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It’s always easy to forget that dating pipes and shapes, which is so crucially important (viz., fun) for us as companioners isn’t something to which pipe makers really give much thought. There are a few notable exceptions—like Castello’s stamping of many of their pipes down to the Italian tobacconist to which they’re sold. And then there’s Dunhill, long renowned for dating their pipes, and then, of course, K&P, who does an even better job.  Yet it behooves us as Pete Geeks to remember that for the most part the history of a pipe or line of pipes isn’t something that enters the thinking of pipe makers. I say this because to remain in business, a pipe maker has to continually make and sell pipes, and once the pipes are sold? Well, the maker must move to the next round. If a pipe maker does this long enough—say, 165 years in the case of one pipe maker dear to those who read this blog—well, the history can get hazy. Even the fairly recent history.

Enter the largest System pipe in K&P’s catalog, the HAND-MADE, or, as it’s more commonly known, the House Pipe. There are mysteries here that I wish I could unravel, but I’ll do what I can this morning and hope that perhaps readers today or by some valuable find in the future, will make matters clearer.

Detail from a Peterson-Glass 1979 Catalog

So here’s what we know. The System House Pipe and its sibling the straight billiard House Pipe didn’t enter the catalog until the demise of the Giant (Post #245). The Giant (ain bent and straight) is last seen in a rare catalog put out by Peterson-Glass, Peterson’s UK distributor from 1977 to 1982 or so. As you can see in the detail photo above, the Giant was classified as one of the Specialty pipes.

Not long after the demise of the Giant, the House Pipe entered production. Probably as early as the mid-1980s. In a letter to Linwood Hines CPG dated December 15, 1988, Tony Dempsey of Peterson wrote: “We don’t have any specific information on Peterson Hand Made Pipes. We only make them occasionally, when a customer like Hollco -Rohr requests them. It is very time-consuming work and there is a very high rejection level. The shapes we make are usually governed by the size of the wood available.”

The House Pipe was made for several years before Dempsey’s letter. We know this thanks to Andy Camire CPG and Linwood Hines CPG, who sent me copies of Al Rosenfield‘s Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club newsletter for March, 1991, where no less than three House Pipes were listed:

A 1981 Red Silver Cap and a 1987 Straight Grain Silver Cap are listed as well as an “1886 Housepipe.”  I’m guessing this was a typo on Rosenfield’s part and he meant 1986, since nothing is said of the pipe being a Patent.  This may be scanty evidence, but as we know the Giants had presumably ended production or were being phased out, it seems probable enough to go on that the HAND-MADE was in production by 1981.

As I wrote in the Chicago Show Collector’s Corner (Post #407), Linwood and his friend Rob Meinhard were doing business as the Arcadia Company in the early 1980s and imported a number of HAND-MADE House Pipes, working directly with Tony Dempsey.  These, Linwood wrote me recently, “mostly were the bruyere (dark red) finish.  Those were the ones that wouldn’t sell anywhere – that’s why Tony let us get them.”

Here’s the shape we all know today, in a very rare recent Natural Straight Grain from the collection of Mark Berman CPG, which I first saw at the Chicago Show:

Courtesy Mark Berman

In the System Guide, Pt. 2 (Post #147) I wrote that the HAND-MADE  is the largest current production System pipe, designated XXL by Peterson. It first appears in the company’s literature on the cover of a 1991 brochure. Large bowls like this are always a problem to source, meaning this shape will always be made in small numbers. As so often happens in Peterson history, the pipe has an early antecedent, the “O” or Oversize pipes in the 1896 and 1906 catalogs.

I will stick to my earlier assessment and say that the size is right at that of the original 1896 O1 and O2 House Pipes—from which it rightly derives its name.  I also believe I detect in its design a blending of the two original shapes, not being a true billiard with its fairly straight sides. This gives it a really imposing, heavy visual mass as the bowl gains girth and visual weight around the bottom.

System HAND-MADE Average Measurements:
Length: 5.88 in. / 149.35 mm.
Weight: 4.20 oz. / 119.07 g.
Bowl Height: 2.51 in. / 63.75 mm.
Chamber Depth: 2.18 in. / 55.37 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.88 in. / 22.35 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.86 in. / 47.24 mm.

Chamber diameters will always vary a bit, depending on sanding, but generally speaking, the House Pipe seems to hover around 22mm wide. The only System with a wider chamber that I can think of was the XL5 in its original bent dublin shape, which came in at a whopping 23mm.

You must know by now that while sometimes I’m motivated purely by a desire to find out more about a shape, line or series, there are also occasions when it’s a purely personal thing: I find a pipe, or get interested in a pipe, and that interest generates a broader inquiry and sometimes a blog post. So it is with the House Pipe. At some point I had a House Pipe—but I can’t even remember when that was. Can’t even tell you why I traded it off, unless it was part of my  LTLPP (“Life Trauma Latakia Pipe Purge” is not found in the DSM-5-TR—Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—but it should be).  It seems like it was a pretty nice oak stain smooth.

A rare PSB System House Pipe (Bollitopipe.it)

In perusing my usual shopping venues, I came across an amazing PSB House Pipe at Bollitopipe.com a few months back. It piqued my interest because the chamber was listed at only 20mm wide. Could that really be? I thought, because if so, I wanted to give it a new home.  In the time it takes me to write this and think about the purchase, the pipe was sold. Those of you who (like me) suffer from PPAD know this type of situation only adds fuels to the fire, so the search was on.

It wasn’t too long before one appeared, at Judd Perl’s site on eBay. But look closely at the shape—it’s not the House Pipe we know, and it’s also not the Patent O1. It’s more buoyant than the current iteration. And the grain. The grain (see how I’m using italics instead of exclamation points). But as incredible as it looks, I knew I’d never smoke it unless that chamber width was correct. Now one thing Judd does not do is give measurements. So I asked. He seemed not to have a caliper to hand, but he did send me a photo with a measuring tape across the crown. For some reason I converted to metric a long time ago where chambers are concerned, so I whipped out my handy Photoshop ruler and came up with this:

My best guesstimate? 20mm. I was still wavering on whether to hazard the process of bidding when I recalled the 1992 Handmade brochure, since the straight grain on this—“pecan shell” I’ll call it—looks very like that on the brochure:

1992 Handmade Brochure WEB

This is a charming brochure, produced almost the first year of the Dublin era, and if you’re a fan of all the wonderful grain seen on even standard-grade Petes at this time in world pipe history, this one is worth a look. What’s aggravating about it, at least for us this morning, is that while the title is “Finest Handmade Pipes in the World” and the cover shows an astonishing straight grain House Pipe, there’s no photo of it inside the brochure. (I almost added an exclamation mark, but I’m running short on my year’s supply and it’s only June). You can’t even tell much about the shape of the House Pipe.

But with the brochure and the grain and possibility of a 20mm chamber, I decided to enter the lists.  Lately, what with PPI (that’s “Peterson Pipe Inflation” according to wag Ken Segel CPG), I’m not winning many auctions. But this one—I did. And yes, it is 20mm. Extraordinary.

Cleaned up and ready for action

There still remains, at least for me, the mystery of whether this shape is truly a Larrigan-style authentic “HAND-MADE” or simply the first House Pipe shape.  I say “Larrigan-style” because you know that Paddy made lots of XXL original shapes, and as he was still working at K&P in 1992 (about which more later), I thought this might be an original. Then I spotted this House Pipe on eBay—different pipe, but the exact same shape and also a straight grain:

To make matters even more curious, I recently spotted a third early House Pipe in the SPC Archives:

Notice the shank is thinner and the angle steeper than on the pecan shell. Also notice it does not have the Thinking Man engraving on the band, which Linwood Hines believes didn’t come about until the Dublin era, that is, at least until 1990. That being the case, this pipe would be one of the very earliest examples of the House Pipe made at in the 1980s. Of course this makes for three different iterations of the modern System House Pipe.  Crikey.

And now the final mystery, which concerns the third hallmark seen on the two “pecan shell” pipes.  This isn’t a date letter, but rather the fineness mark of the European Convention on the Control and Marking of Articles of Precious Metals indicating .925 sterling. You can read the PDF brochure for yourself (below), but I couldn’t decipher anything of help. I wrote the Dublin Castle Assay Office for help and they suggested I get in contact with Peterson.  Right.  Anyway, we know the two pipes were made in the Dublin era and the bowls of both are so startlingly close to that on the Handmade brochure (mine looks almost like it could be the same pipe, in fact), that it seems reasonable these pipes represent the shape as it was made c. 1992 when the brochure was printed. So much for the murky beginnings of the modern System House Pipe.

hallmarking-conventionorg-information-brochure

By 1997, as you can see in the page from the 1st edition of the “Black Catalog” seen above, the House Pipe was the shape as we know it today.

For now, I think it’s safe to say that the modern System House Pipe began in the 1980s and underwent a few iterations before settling into the shape we know.  I also think the two pecan shell pipes are from the same batch as that seen on the Handmade Brochure.  It only remains to say that the 1997 version has been dressed out in every way K&P has had at its disposal in its almost 30 year history.  I’ll conclude with a gallery of a few of my favorites, although there’s plenty more.

Antique Nickel Cap (NO P-Lip!)

 

Ebony

 

Courtesy Scott Forrest CPG, this Natural Rustic has a nickel band. Is it the 1997 shape? It’s quite similar.

 

Oak

 

Current Rustic

 

 HAND-MADE  (c. 1981–)  Always referred to as the “House Pipe,” although stamped HAND-MADE, XXL specialty pipe available in a Classic Range straight billiard P-Lip and bent billiard System with wear-gap stem and aluminum tenon. System shape not finalized until 1997. From 1997, smooth in two grades, the higher terracotta stain or the lower oak stain; also rustic and sandblast, sterling band engraved with image of The Thinking Man. Subsequently in a variety of finishes, including Ebony, Natural Rustic, Silver Cap (from c. 2010), green, Heritage and Natural Rustic spigot (Classic Range only).
(From “Quick Reference Guide,” The Peterson Pipe Field Guide, a work-in-progress.) 

Thanks:
Mark Hunt CPG, Mark Berman CPG, Linwood Hines CPG, Andy Camire CPG,
Smokingpipes.com (archival photos), Bollitopipe.it (archival photo)

 

 

Mark Hunt CPG.  I asked “Abba” Mark Hunt to contribute the banner photo, because, well, he’s  a big guy and since he smokes a House Pipe—and he’s also quite talented as a videographer and photographer. He also sent some other  marvelous pix of his life as a pipeman that I wanted to share with you this morning:

 

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As usual with these big events, this is an opportunity to earn your Certified Pete Geek certificate or add a Merit Badge to your existing one–so when get the cap, send me a photo.

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Gary Hansen
Gary Hansen
23 days ago

I enjoyed the article as I have 2 House Pipes myself. Nice to always know the history of something you own. By the way they are both great smokers.
Gaz

Nate Lynn
Nate Lynn
23 days ago

Great post. I’m currently hunting a House pipe and it looks like you might have beat me in an ebay auction. Lol. Glad to know who won it, it’s a gorgeous pipe.

Scott Forrest
Scott Forrest
23 days ago

Nice write-up, as always, Mark! FYI – that ‘Natural Rustic’ is mine. Not sure it means anything, but it’s an unsmoked, nickel-band pipe that I bought from an ebayer in Germany.

Scott Forrest
Scott Forrest
21 days ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

The chamber is 22cm across – thick walls.

John H. Schantz Jr.
John H. Schantz Jr.
23 days ago

I’m have been on the lookout for an older, smooth, House Pipe/Hand Made myself (Within my financial constraints). In today’s market, it is a “Pipe Dream”. The straight grain smooths throughout this post are awesome! Nice pipes Mark Berman and Mark Irwin. My “Founders Edition” POY will have to do.
On another note, I have had the empty box for a 988-1988 smooth commemorative Oom-Paul for several years I have been needing to fill. My budget ended too soon to grab the recent offering on EBay. Oh well, I want a tapered stem rather than saddle stemmed one anyway.

Last edited 23 days ago by John H. Schantz Jr.
Luis Nube
Luis Nube
23 days ago

Excelente artículo! Muchas gracias. Me interesó ya que me intriga una billard p-lip recto HAND MADE que poseo, cuya banda de plata tiene ilegible el sello de ley de plata. Es una gran pipa robusta aunque de dimensiones más estándar: 20mm de diámetro de la cámara, 16 cm de largo y 92 gr de peso. Disfruto mucho de la lectura del blog. Gracias nuevamente, desde Argentina. Luis

chris mendoza
chris mendoza
23 days ago

Hey mark,

I believe I bought the psb house pipe from bolitto. Once I get back.home I’ll confirm and send you some photos.

Martin
Martin
23 days ago

Great read as always, I own two red bent rusticated ones. Huge smokers for a long evening. Good to hear the Field Guide is in progress. Keep up the good work.

Lowell
Lowell
23 days ago

Another good Sunday read. I can’t decide which is better, the text or the photos.

Gary Hamilton
Gary Hamilton
23 days ago

What a collection of fantastic pipes, I love the wonderful photos. So, I’m sure you have had your “first smoke” in your new pipe, are you pleased with its performance? I bet it smokes as good as it looks!

Nevaditude
Nevaditude
22 days ago
Reply to  Gary Hamilton

That is for sure Gary, they are stunning pipes! None of my oversized pips D18’s & up can even approach the beauty of those Pecan grain specimens. 😍 Thanks Mark for the great historical write-up. Banner pic.. lol yeah~ Bruce Banner & the HULK. All of mine smoke super well, the fanciest is my PPN d18 first year offering, love that sandblast & color. I have ordered 2 caps👍🏼Thanks

Chris Streeper
Chris Streeper
22 days ago

Thanks for another great article Mark. This one was especially nice for those of us who enjoy larger pub & house pipes.

Rick Myerscough
Rick Myerscough
21 days ago

Beautiful shapes… those House Pipes…
Thanks Mark…
Blessings and Happy Independence Day to all you Americans.

Vince Hayes
Vince Hayes
18 days ago

Received my pipe rest today. Great quality materials & workmanship! Kudos Nate.

Nevaditude
Nevaditude
17 days ago
Reply to  Vince Hayes

The green & the brown pipes rests ordered arrived in Nevada on the 3rd. Nice work & many thanks Nate. Thanks Mark for sending them on!

D.H. Billings
D.H. Billings
16 days ago

Pub Pipe is big enough for me, but I certainly appreciate the craftsmanship and the history for sure. And on a side note, I got my pipe rest in and it is even better than I thought it would be! Definitely made for larger pipes.