Ask most any pipeman and he’ll tell you there’s nothing quite as fascinating, mysterious or vexing as not being able to properly identify a pipe. Kapp & Peterson, as the world’s oldest continuously-operating briar pipe maker, has done a rather remarkable job in helping us date their pipes through the use of hallmarks, Country of Manufacture (COM) stamps, line stamps and shape numbers. There are still a few, however, that can bedevil the collector, especially at the magnum end.
If we could look in the glossary of the mythical K&P Design Handbook we would doubtless find something like the following two entries:
N Stamp use no Stamp on any pipe made for members of the Irish Illuminati or the Secret Society of Fomorians (Old Irish: Fomóire, lit. “giants”).
O Stamp use an Obfuscation Stamp for any pipe weighing over 90 grams or larger than a Leprechaun’s rear end.
There is, in other words, something mythic about these behemoth pipes, something that precludes their being identified with a simple shank stamp. I want to focus on the least known of these, the “Giant,” but a better understanding of its place in the catalog will be achieved by scrolling to look at three others: the “Pub,” the “Hand Made” and the “Plato,” which lands us at just a few years after the Giant’s demise.
The Pub Pipe debuted in the summer of 2019
The “Pub Pipe” is the most recent of K&P’s giants to enter the catalog. Most Peterson Geeks know it’s the System version of the Classic Range Founder’s Edition / D18 that was the 2015 Pipe of the Year, also known as the Founder’s Edition. The Pub Pipe was one of the first releases in the Laudisi Era and has proven its place in the catalog, being issued in several finishes, including a Silver Cap version. I love it nor merely because it’s a System, but because it’s part of the shape family centered around shape 4 (309), a group which K&P originally called “straight-sided billiards” and later the “dutch bent billiard.” There were originally 10 of these shapes, including two in the magnum or giant class. We are fortunate that the company still makes the original 8 / 313 / 338 as well as the later 01 / 301 and the “Pub.”
I certainly don’t object to the name, as I can think of no better way to spend a hypothetical evening than with my friends in a quiet pub with good beer and a Please Smoke Your Pipe sign on the wall. The HAND MADE stamp, however, continues to bother me because it’s neither made by hand (in the sense of a Larrigan one-off, hand-turned pipe) nor is it the earlier “Hand Made” House Pipe which also uses this inexplicable stamp, to which I’ll come in a moment. I won’t say it’s as if K&P simply couldn’t afford a new stamp with P-U-B on it, nor will I complain that there’s no D18 stamp on it. I love my PSB [“P-U-B”] pipe and smoke it far more than I’ve ever smoked my FE / POY 2015: it’s comfortable, classy and delivers a full evening’s smoke.
The Hand Made / House Pipe on the cover of the 1983 catalog: it wasn’t seen inside!
Continuing backward, we come to the confusing House Pipe, stamped HAND MADE [not “House Pipe”], which surfaced in the late 1970s and was first seen in the Peterson ephemera on the cover of the 1983 catalog. As it is an established part of the catalog, Pete Geeks know there is a straight Classic Range version and a bent System. The bent was a revitalization and of the original 1896 “O” (for oversize) Patent shapes O1, O2 and O3, which got the nickname “House Pipes” because both the 1896 and 1906 catalogs featured extra long stems that were available for these (and other) pipes on the facing pages. Charles Peterson and his brother John both really enjoyed these XXL shapes with the super-long stems.
Back to the future, among American Pete Freeks there has always been a a number who favor big pipes, and some pipe shops in the late 1980s wanted K&P to make a magnum. Back when the book was in its early days of research, either Linwood Hines or Andy Camire sent me an old letter from K&P which, if memory serves, concerned filling a request for these pipes. I can’t find the letter, but recall K&P said it was extremely difficult to source briar for these, but they’d see what could be done. Linwood recalls that at his Tinderbox at the time, “we couldn’t sell them even at a discount. We sold them only at pipe shows.” By 1992, when the Hand Made brochure appeared, enough American pipemen had apparently been to the CORPS show in Richmond that these giants were in demand.
It may be that at the beginning, Larrigan or Frank Brady hand-turned these magnums. Certainly Larrigan enjoyed making XXL hand made pipes and used the HAND MADE stamp on his own one-off, unique creations. In any event, the House Pipe is now firmly established in the catalog.
For those new to the arcana of Peterson, the stamp is of course misleading. Estate dealers often take it to mean that the pipe has been artisan-made and I’m sure many smokers have bought one making that assumption. For those of us on the hobby side, it would have been nice if one more letter had been added to the cost of the stamp so that it read HOUSE PIPE instead of HAND MADE, but now that you know (if you didn’t already) you can add a merit badge to your Pete Geek vest.
This Plato Natural dates from 2009 and was the last issue with a vulcanite stem
The next mysterious giant, originating in the 1970s, is the Plato. I know some Pete Geeks can’t stand the “Plato” because it is such an outlier in the K&P design language. For me, however, it’s an important part of the Peterson story, being created by master craftsman Paddy Larrigan and celebrated in the 1975 Irish public TV film, …And He Called for His Pipe, which Larrigan narrates as viewers watch him create bowl on the lathe, turn down the ebonite rod and create the P-Lip, then stain, buff and finish the pipe.
The Plato was created as Paddy’s response to the freehand craze sweeping the pipe world at the time, and it remains K&P’s sole pipe to use plateau briar (hence Paddy’s name, a marvelous pun on “The Thinking Man”). Every Plato is also unique, as each is cut and turned to follow the lines of the briar from the plateau rim down to the bowl’s base. These are most often really, really big pipes with 22mm and 23mm diameter chambers, although some of the smaller ones have approached the Pub pipe’s chamber width. I don’t know how many times they were issued in the 20th century, but they’ve only been released twice this century, once around 2008 / 2009, and the other in 2017, when it was renamed the “Plateau.” 1 The Plato—aside from 2017’s curious sterling-band version—has never had any identifying mark aside from the lovely fork-tail “Peterson’s” over “Dublin” stamp on the obverse of the shank. Elegant. (You can see a dozen of the last iteration of this remarkable pipe still available at Kris Parry’s Black Swanne Shoppe.
Finally, the Giant, made in both a bent and a straight, neither being Systems, but both available with P-Lip or fishtail. This is the least known of the four magnum production shapes. It is first seen in the 1975 K&P “Orange Catalog,” which means that it was probably in production at least a year previous that, maybe longer. Associated Imports shows the Giant in their 1976 catalog brochure and the 1978 color catalog (seen above), where it is grouped with other Peterson specialty pipes. Its final appearance, as far as I can tell, was in the 1980 Peterson-Glass Price List.
Like the Plato, the Giant was never given a stamp, just the lovely fork-tail Peterson’s over Dublin logo on the obverse shank and the MITROI (“Made in the Republic of Ireland”) COM stamp on the reverse. For collectors even a few years later, it must have seemed quite exotic, having no shape number or line stamp. The COM helped of course, narrowing the window a bit. But without a great deal of supplementary materials, it remains difficult for neophytes and non-Pete Geeks to know much of anything about it.
Going by the evidence, the Giant was in production for about a decade, from roughly 1974 to 1983: the Orange catalog in ’75 contains first glimpse and the House Pipe which eclipsed it debuted around 1983. The major reason for the Giant’s demise, at least to my way of thinking, is that while it is a marvelous magnum in both straight and bent versions, there is really very little specifically Peterson design language in either pipe. It does follow the 105, 106, 107 straight billiard logic, looking like nothing so much as a larger entry in the series, as you can see in a side-by-side comparison:
A 107 Kildare Patch (c. 1979) in front of a Giant P-Lip Birdseye
There is one final observation to be made concerning the Giants, having to do with how they were made. They don’t seem to be production pipes but individually hand turned. I say this because my friend Brian 500s has collected several of them, both bent and straight, and none of them are the same size. In the photo below you can see the variations in some of the straight Giants he loaned me for this post, with a House Pipe at the top for comparison.
Top to bottom:
Pebble Grain Rustic Straight House Pipe, P-Lip Birdseye Straight Giant, Fishtail Straight Giant, Lovat Straight Giant (?) and P-Lip Bent Giant
You can see variations here as well:
After I sent out this post–12:01 CDT in case you’re wondering–I got an email from Lance Dahl, a CPG whose specialty is in very early Petes. He sent me this photo, along with measurements:
Guess what? It measures down to the centimeter with my own Giant, the one seen just below the House Pipe. Lance’s pipe has an MIE – Made in England – stamp, as well as a stinger. It’s unsmoked. It dates to 1963 or before. So there goes another of Irwin’s “Pet Pete Theories”! At least in part. This particular Giant, without shape number stamp or line name, has apparently been around quite a long time. By the way, lookit that blast on Lance’s pipe! Every bit as good as a Dunhill, I’d say.
to Brian 500s for the loan of several of his Giants
as well as a Pebble Rustic House Pipe
to Frank Frazetta and Barry Windsor-Smith
Santa Claus is coming—
Hear the banjos strumming!
LAUNCH TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 14
post to follow
“By Mitra, who cares about the girl?—give me my Peterson Giant!”