265. Annus Mirabilis: 2021, A Year of Wonder for Pete Geeks

2021 has been dubbed annus horribilus by a friend of mine and certainly was in many ways for so many folks around the globe. And yet, insofar as we were able to turn to our pipes and tobacco for a few moments of solace, there was always a time for quiet and if not content, then at least the absence of strife—which is one definition of peace. In the Sacred Pipe religion of the Latoka and other Native American peoples, the axis mundi or center of the world is found in the ritual pipe. While our own use of the pipe probably doesn’t have the cosmic of the Latoka, there are similarities in what we do and how we do it as practitioners of the art of smoking. One of the chief of these, I think, is that however we understand ourselves spiritually or philosophically, our pipe is one place we can return to a place of centeredness. And while the world looks like being as crazy this year as it was last, let’s not forget that for Pete Geeks 2021 was something of an annus mirabilis—a year of wonders. So this week I want to take a look at what the good men and women at Kapp & Peterson have brought into our lives, whether we find ourselves smoking out in the shed, on the front step or in the comfort of an easy chair.

 

SPD 2021

The 23rd annual St. Patrick’s Day release was, in my opinion, the most whimsical of all the releases—“just for the fun of it” is what is said to me. It was also a return to the “navy mount” traditional tenon / mortise for the first time in three years. And it created a bit of a furor amongst all us PGs (Pete Geeks) by the inclusion of the shamrock-stamped green pipe leather stand.

 

The New Peterson Gear

(Yes, the first 100 who bought the hard shell case received everything shown above.)

Ted Swearingen, a devoted Pete Geek whose favorite shape is the Deluxe System 12 ½ , is Chief Operating Officer at Laudisi Enterprises (in previous incarnations he was in a rock band and managed a Starbucks). This year, thanks to his aesthetic skillset (he majored in poetry and art at university) we saw some incredible new Pete Gear, including a terrific leather hard-shell pipe case, ingenious leather tobacco jars and a leather tubular pipe cleaner holder (not shown). The gear is the kind of stuff that, well, a Thinking Man would want when he has to travel. Even to the nearest Starbucks.

 

New Deluxe Classics Line

The Deluxe Classics line had been MIA for a number of years, meaning the Classic Range really had no equivalent to the System Range. Noticing this, Josh Burgess, Managing Director at K&P, knew he had to address the serious imbalance. (In some ways there are similarities between Burgess and Hercules Poirot, but we won’t step into that just now.) The new Deluxe classics—or “DeLuxe” as I keep writing it out of force of habit from the way it was spelled many decades ago by the company)—features the ultra-wide sterling band that debuted on the John Bull [oops, make that Chubby Rhodesian POY] in 2019 and tiered in high-grade blast, terracotta and natural. Oh, and did I mention a vulcanite P-Lip? These are not just uber-cool, but with the P-Lip graduated bore are engineered as Sub-Systems. Which is what the original DeLuxe Classics line always was: they smoke cooler, drier and for most of us are far more comfortable than a traditional fishtail. Now we can all relax—balance has been restored in the Pete Universe!

 

Irish Harp Sandblasted

The Irish Harp Sandblasted took a great smooth line and gave it an even more impressive sandblast treatment. Taking just enough stain off to really give contrast and highlights to the blast, the bowl is really set off by the Cumberland-style acrylic F/T stem. (Incidentally, Charles Peterson’s daughter Soldie was an accomplished harpist and performed publicly on many occasions: now you know why the Irish Harp is extra-special to Pete Geeks.)

 

Made in Ireland Stamp

Among the first pipes off the line to receive the new MIE stamp was this Sterling Army 160

This little stamp is a small token that Laudisi-era Kapp & Peterson has arrived. When Laudisi Enterprises acquired K&P in the summer of 2018, they took it in an act of deep stewardship and responsibility. But their way of doing things—so successful, as Laudisi has proved over and over in its twenty-two year history—meant that they wanted to go slowly and methodically, bringing their own understanding to what the world’s oldest continuously-operating briar pipe company ought to be. The year 2021, I think, ought to be remembered by all who love the marque, as the year that vision manifested.

 

Carroll of Carrollton Ltd Edition

A well-researched, thoughtful issue with roots deep in both American and Irish history, the Carroll of Carrolton takes a long-time staple in the K&P catalog and reinvents it. Seeing it, I wondered how it hadn’t been a staple all along. Like the POY 2021 and a few others, the Carroll is the kind of pipe that seems so Irish and so Peterson that it’s hard now to think of it as a one-time commemorative. I know those who acquired one will enjoy it, for for these reasons and more.

This also seems like the first time the Laudisi K&P has released a limited edition in all five finishes, creating a tiered approach for the pipeman and a way to maximize the use of bowls by grade in the factory. I certainly don’t object, as I’m one of those who love rusticated pipes, finding them to be often aesthetically more desirable than smooth.

 

New Tyrone Line

The Tyrone is difficult to write about in the sense that, like the Aran line, it’s such a necessary “meat and potatoes” kind of pipe. It’s right there at the entry / gateway level for new smokers, for those who’d rather spend their money on tobacco and for those who really like a solid-looking, nearly archetypal style of pipe. The new Tyrone has much better lines than the earlier iteration—it’s a fuller shape with the acrylic mouthpiece. The black acrylic and brass sandwich band and hot foil gold P are perfect complements to the dark Heritage-like stain.

 

Army Filter Line

If you study the photograph above you may begin to see where the feeding frenzy of the POY 2021 came from. Like the “B” (tapered) mount on the 1981 Mark Twain and its successors— which nearly drove Pete Geeks mad when it appeared in an edition of 400 and was gone an instant later—much of the success of the Army Filter line has to do, I think, with the “AB” tapered mount, which no one has seen on a military mount K&P since the Patent era. Granted, these are acrylic, 9mm and fishtail. But the word I heard from friends and fellow PGs is that sales on these pipes here in the US has been amazing. People who don’t even smoke filter pipes were buying them just to get the look.

Like the 4AB, Mark Twain, 02BB, 9BC, John Bull, Kaffir, Jap, 493 and all the other sought-after vintage shapes, it’s a shame K&P can’t more often simply listen to what Pete lovers want. I’m grateful that Tom Palmer, CEO of the Dublin-era K&P, was persuaded to bring back the Kaffir and the Jap and the second Jap. And like everyone else, I just can’t get over the 4AB POY. I hope we’ll see more of our old favorites return, and not just for a one-day flash sale but as part of the catalog. Some, like the 949 apple, would only take a shorter stem and slightly more pronounced cheeking. Others I realize would involve genuine retro-engineering. But with K&P’s reputation rising in the hobby month by month, it’s getting almost impossible to find some of these old shapes on the estate market without paying serious money.

 

2021 Christmas Pipes

As I’m writing this, Epiphany has not arrived (January 6th) and there remains but a single 2021 Christmas pipe at SPC and six at SPEu. I suspect (but do not know) that this was the single-most successful Christmas commemorative in this annual’s history. Nearly everyone I know in the Pete world said he bought one, some more than one and one gent who was hoping to obtain one of every shape on offer.

Certainly everyone admired the copper band and how it sets off each of the three finishes. Many also admired the litheness of the acrylic stems and not a few commented on how well those stems performed. The “coal” black blast, the deepest mahogany smooth and the rustic with its burgundy highlights are all very winning as well. The black leather pipe stand with its Sherlock emblem was also more than welcome, I hasten to add.

My ambition for the past 5 years—one I’m not achieving, by the way—has been to have fewer pipes on each successive New Year’s day. But this year’s Christmas pipe beckoned in such a festive way that I find I now have two, a Rathbone rustic and a Hansom Heritage. I really wanted a black Baskerville, but someone I resisted, in what I now realize was a very serious error in judgement.

 

Halloween System

Back in 2019, K&P released its first System as part of an annual commemorative—the St. Patrick’s Day System.   It was a great beginning to what have become the kind of interesting, fun and often enchanting releases in this new era of K&P’s history. But I have to say that the Halloween System beats the SPD all to h—! I have never thought of myself as the kind of pipeman who succumbs to crazy-color stems, but this one took me up in all its uncanny glory and accompanied me for many nights’ viewing of the old Universal classic horror movies. I am already anxious to see what will emerge from the Celtic Crypt next year.

 

Rua Spigot

The Rua is one of those behind-the-scenes kind of projects that are always happening at K&P and Laudisi but we don’t hear much about. Just everyday business for them, I’m sure, but it’s fascinating to me how collaborative projects like this and many of the others (all?) are at Peterson. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read about it more fully on the #252 post as its artisan contrast staining represents the new high watermark in terms of K&P’s finishes. It’s simply remarkable.

 

PSOI Pipe of the Year

There have always been and I’m sure will always be all kinds of small batches, one-offs and specials that most of us never hear about. I’ve been looking for years for a K&P natural made for my hometown tobacconist back in the 1960s. The PSOI pipes are a bit different, I know, since they have two thousand members. That being the case, their POY still numbers under a hundred pieces for each release. These are seriously fun pipes, created by K&P’s multi-talented Glen Whelan. This year’s is especially cool, the facsimile POY “Jap” bowl with a unique sterling mount configuration never (?) seen on a Pete before.

 

Nassau Street Trinity Fox

This was created under the leadership of Adam O’Neill, Marketing Manager at SP.Eu. Based on one of my Top Five POY shapes, it’s one of the too few stacks to issue from K&P and more’s the pity. The original shape—in my opinion—is one of the truly significant shapes which build on Charles Peterson’s design language in a markedly 21st-century way. Well done, Adam!

 

Ragaire

The Ragaire project was led by Josh Burgess and is one of those eclectic, fascinating ideas that in a few years everyone will look back and say, “Why didn’t I get one of those while they were still available?” I experience the same kind of minor shock when I see an artwork for the first time or hear a symphony or new CD from a band I follow—I kind of have to go back and back and circle around again, puzzle over it a bit and then fit it into my poorly-arranged, overstuffed Mind Garage (I can’t call it a “palace”). When I finally get it in there it’s usually one of my favorites. So you owe it to yourself to take one more look at it, just in case it slips away. I’ve been looking at the 221, 338 and 230 at least once a day lately.

 

POY 2021 / 4AB

This may go down as the most popular POY in the annual line’s history. There’s lots of reasons for that, some of them having little to do with the pipe itself. But those who’ve acquired the pipe and been companioning it now know that what is so remarkable about the pipe is its extreme functionality. The P-Lip stem is the best I’ve ever smoked. The clenching shelf is perfect: wide enough with a horizontal platform that creates great balance. The airway is something Charles Peterson would be proud of—engineered, I would expect, to meet or exceed even his standards. The bend is spot-on with the original 4AB. The bowl, which I’ve not heard anyone comment critically on, is actually a tiny bit different from the the shape 4 we’ve been accustomed to for decades. It’s the 1937-style bowl. How cool is that?

 

SPECIAL House Pipe Spigot

When the Special House Pipe Spigot came out I dearly wished that I enjoyed these large chambers. It’s a beautiful piece, masculine, comfortable, elegant. I hope we may see a bent House Pipe Spigot at some point with the same blast and stain. When that happens, I will probably have to learn to smoke something this big. I won’t be able to resist.

 

Barley Spigot

Barley is currently grown by over 9,000 Irish farmers. In 2019, Irish breweries and distilleries purchased 220 tonnes of malted barley and grain for brewing. In 2021, not to be outdone, K&P produced the Barley Spigot, a tanshell which was picked up by just a few hundred Pete lovers. It’s a fantastic way to end the year (especially with a certain kind of beverage using barley). Seeing K&P circle back to the idea of the tanshell, sandblast natural and vergin-style pipe, I can only hope we’ll see more of this in the coming years. I’d go for a tanshell blast, a vergin, or even the light tan finish of the Special House Pipe in a Premier, Deluxe or Standard System. Let’s get to it, people!

 

 

Photos courtesy Laudisi Enterprises
and Charles Mundungus

 

Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit!
Happy New Year!

 

 

 

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