400. A Look Back to My 2009 Peterson Pilgrimage on the Occasion of the Blog’s 10th Anniversary

The Nate Lynn CPG Leather Pipe Stand
See end of post for details

The 10th anniversary of Peterson Pipe Notes is this very day, and I used it to say goodbye to my all-time favorite shape, the 4 /309.  The blog came about, as I’ve said a thousand times (that’s pronounced “TAO-send” since we speak Irish here), because I kept discovering information that could never be squeezed into the book we were writing.  After the book was published I found there was so much more that might be shared, the blog became a place not only to share my own continuing research but allow for the participation of other Pete Geeks as well–or as many as I’ve been able to persuade.

left to right: Irwin, Bill Unger and Fred Hanna at the 2013 Chicago Pipe Show

Five years before the blog and two years before the idea of Peterson book got under way, I was just beginning to think about pipe writing as something I’d like to try. I was been a member of the North American Society of Pipe Smokers (NASPC), which provided a way for me to write and see myself published under the accomplished editorial guidance of the late Bill Unger. One of my first articles was a travelogue of my recent pilgrimage to visit the factory in Sallynoggin and the shop in Dublin.

This morning I thought I’d share that article, which was supposed to be a write-up of how I got the itch to write a book about Peterson out of my system.  Instead, it became the foundation for the Peterson book, a Peterson blog and a handful of other pipe books.

These photos remind me that sixteen years turns out to be a very long time, as both the Peterson shop and the K&P factory have moved.  Looking at them does, however, make me want to make yet another pilgrimage, this time to see the new factory as well as some of my favorite sights in Ireland’s never-ending splendor.  I want to encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to make your own pilgrimage.

Whether this is your first visit to the blog or you’ve been reading it like Linwood Hines since it began on May 26th, 2014, let me thank you for the opportunity to share information, interest, passion and enthusiasm about the world’s greatest pipe maker and its pipes. With your continued interest and support, perhaps the blog may be around for another few years–

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—T. S. Elliot, “Little Gidding”


Smoak in Peace, Fellow Pete Geeks–

(The Pipe Collector, 17, no. 5, October 2009, 14-17)

The Peterson pipe tends to be the kind of thing one was always above, one has outgrown, or one simply adores. Like the British sports car aficionado, the true Pete devotee seems to love this pipe despite its flaws, quirks and faults. For us it’s the case of Hawthorne’s beautiful Georgiana with the birthmark on her cheek—except that unlike her husband who found it so irritating he ended up killing her in the attempt to remove it—we just love her all the more. Petes are simply part and parcel of the mystery of pipe smoking.

I hadn’t been smoking for more than a year or so when my best friend drove me in his Pinto from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to get a Peterson at the Tobacco Barn in Norman. I had been spending $12 to $15 on the two or three pipes I owned, and the Peterson System #309 was $33.  That was a lot for me as a college freshman–$98 in today’s coin using the Consumer Price Index. I hesitated. But there was something about that nickel band, that P-Lip, that saddle bit. And what did the brochure say? “The thinking man smokes a Peterson pipe.”

So thirty years and a few dozen Petes down the road, my wife and I finally made the pilgrimage to the Grafton Street store and the Sallynoggin factory, where things are currently running at peak production—about 1500 pipes a week,  “BTA” (Bowls, Turning, and Assembly) Manager Tony Whelen, Sr. told me. That’s 75,000 pipes a year operating 50 of the 52 weeks. Things have changed considerably since 1980 Whelen said, when Peterson had 150 employees and manufactured 10,000 pipes a week (500,000 a year). Now the Bowl Department employs only 16 workers—two or three of them women.

The facade of the Sallynoggin factory, 2009:
who would think the treasures of the universe lay within?

From the outside, the facility at Sallynoggin is about as nondescript as they come, occupying the right half of what would be a smallish American strip-center, with a Nissan dealer at one end and a carpet wholesaler at the other. Inside, the front of the facility has an office for Peterson executive Tom Palmer on right and a white-collar business office on the left, with a rough-and-ready Peterson museum behind Palmer’s office, a slender warehouse running the full length of the facility in the middle, and the brightly-lit factory behind that, also running the full length of the facility. Before entering the factory, on the right hand side was a wall display and behind it, a fairly good sized room that comprised the museum or archive:

What looks like fire damage actually was.  You can read about the fire in the big book.

A reminder and testimonial that K&P used to blend their own range of tobaccos in the factory
at St. Stephen’s Green

[Before going on the tour, Gigi and I were invited to wait in the museum. It was not a big room, but it was packed inside and along the wall on the outside before entering the factory. I invite you to pursue the photos closely, even though they raise more questions than they answer. Who collected all these pipes? Harry Kapp? Charles Peterson? Tony Dempsey? I can tell you there was a highly-regarded K&P employee (whose name escapes me) that was the window dresser at the various Dublin Peterson shops (there were three for most decades in the 20th century), and he created most of these displays.  If you collect Peterson ephemera, you’ll find a number of “props” scattered throughout.  It would have been such a thrill had the City of Dublin allowed K&P to open a museum. Perhaps someday there will be a similar room in the factory, although I’ve heard that a great deal of the material has been packed up and removed to storage elsewhere.  Anyway, the museum was actually quite tidy on our visit and didn’t have the ransacked look it did when we next visited in 2013.]


Tony Whelan, Sr.

Whelen acted like a man-with-a-mission who hadn’t met his quota when we walked in out of the rain. He took us to the back of the factory, picking up a briar root to begin an obviously too-well-rehearsed story of the Peterson pipe. But when after a few minutes it became clear that I wasn’t a tourist but a card-carrying Peterson Maniac (“you’re just a kid in a candy shop” Whelen kept telling me), he visibly relaxed, obviously enjoying the fact that here was someone who appreciated what his factory was doing. So over the next hour and twenty minutes, Mr. Whelen took us from station to station demonstrating the stages in the production of a Peterson pipe.

Bowls graded and filled

The bowls arrive already cut to Peterson specifications, but not bored or graded, so the first thing that happens is that the grader takes a box of whatever shapes are on hand, marking pits and grading them. Whelen said Peterson gets its briar from three different sources. The young man who was grading the bowls had a printed checklist with what looked to be about  twenty different grades on it, which made me think Peterson orders x number of bowls in a particular shape and it’s just the roll of the dice whether a shape comes up that meets the criteria for Supreme or Deluxe or Standard System or Aran or what have you. I did notice shape charts for the new Castle series posted in a few places. The bowls that don’t meet the criteria for a smooth finish, Whelen said, are outsourced to a shop in London for rustication and then returned for completion.

After the bowls had been marked and the pits circled with pencil they were passed to a woman who used a small pick-like instrument to fill the pits. From there the bowls went to Joe Kenny and his crew, who took us through the next several steps. First the bowls are attached to a stem (which are outsourced to a firm in Germany), then stained with stem attached.



The stain is made from a powder aniline dye and alcohol, is liberally painted on by hand, and yes (it’s true), there seemed to be no apparent concern whether or not stain soaked the inside of the bowl. I did notice later on at the Grafton street shop that Peterson has started wiping a black substance inside the bowl, at least on the high-grade pipes I looked at).* After applying the stain, Kenny held the wet bowl over a retort where it is literally burned in.  The pipe-and-stem is then placed stem-end in a heater to make them pliable for bending. Whelen was proud of the fact that Peterson bends their stems half-way down, “not quarter-way, like our competition,”  even though this results in the breakage of about  ¼ of the stems. After bending, Joe took the bowl-and-stem unit to a lathe with a sanding wheel where the stem-and-pipe were “turned” or sanded down and buffed at what he said was 400 grit, removing the outer layer of “burnt” stain and sanding the stem-and-pipe combination so that the stem seamlessly matches the stummel.


sanding and buffing

At this point I took advantage of my once-in-a-lifetime situation and drew out two Petes I needed help with. Kenny has worked for Petersons for upwards of thirty years, and was instantly engaged, the epitome of the pipe craftsman. First he popped off to get a replacement aluminum screw-in extension for a ’79 De Luxe which I’d lost long ago (a “chimney” he called it).

Then I took out my real problem—“The Gimli,” my nickname for a tub-like ’84 rusticated Premiere System system—a full bent pot with house-pipe proportions. I picked it up on eBay and after restoring the bowl myself, I had the obviously mismatched stem replaced, but was having a great deal of trouble with the draft. He studied the pipe and stem for a few moments and after pronouncing it a “hand-turned piece,” he went off to “make a few changes” while we continued with our tour. . .

the “Gimli” with Joe Kenny’s custom made stem (see below)

To most of us, the Pete is instantly recognizable by three things: the silver or nickel ferrule (band), the P-lip, and a certain bowl shape sensibility. David Blake is Peterson’s silversmith and if you have a Pete hallmarked back to around the mid-1980s, David is the one who turned the silver on your pipe, inasmuch as he is Peterson’s only silversmith. He was trained by the silversmith before him, who also worked at Petersons for more than thirty years and who was apprenticed by the smith before him. I asked Blake why the bands on standard shapes seem to vary over the decades and he said it was the silversmith’s “personality,” inasmuch as each smith makes his own hardwood mandrels over which the silver is turned. Blake said he could identify which silversmith turned a Pete back through most of the 20th century.

David Blake, K&P’s silversmith

While we watched, David took a flat sheet of silver and turned it over a beech wood mandrel, in this particular case for a 19mm stummel. He said he hand-turns a beech wood mandrel for each of the different requisite silver ferrules. I naively asked, ‘So how do you turn a band for a diamond-shanked stummel?” He got a laugh out of that before taking the cap he’d just turned and hammering the sides out on a small anvil specially made for the purpose. Blake has that lovely, dry sense of Irish humor that is absolutely inimitable. When I asked him how to best to reattach a loose band on an old Donegal Rocky in my collection, he told me to use carpenter’s glue, turning the demo into a pantomime skit that would be a hit on YouTube.

Here’s the aluminum P-stamping vice in action

 After attaching the ferrules (or bands), Blake or someone else in the BTA then places the bowl in a specially made vice and imprints the bowl with its make and model from an huge array of stamps. He picked up a lower-grade Rhodesian pipe and demonstrated, imprinting “FLAME GRAIN” on the stummel. I got a laugh out of that, thinking about various Petes in my collection that either aren’t stamped at all or seem to be incorrectly stamped. A great deal of the Pete personality has to do with the Irish pipe-makers themselves, whose work ethic is, shall we say, somewhat different than the English, the Danes, or the Americans, and which may account for some of the quality issues Pete lovers and haters like the gripe about. It’s not that the Irish don’t take pride in their work—they obviously do—but there’s a certain lack of fastidiousness that other pipe-makers would find upsetting. “It’s just a pipe,” they seem to say.

Sandblasted and ready to stain

The last step before the pipe is boxed and bagged is to give it a final buff (and sometimes a coat of what looked like lacquer to me) on a pumice wheel. Behind the desk where Doris Barrett was assembling the pipes, socks, and boxes was a warehouse of boxed pipes maybe forty feet by twenty—enough to make my mouth water. But alas, you can’t buy a pipe at the factory. For that, you need to get on the train, take a 20 minute ride up to Dublin and make a short walk to the Grafton Street store.

As we were saying our goodbyes and my wife was taking pix of me, Tony Whelan, Sr. and David Blake, Joe Kenny came up with my ’84 Premiere System and explained what he’d done. He’d made a custom saddle stem, attaching an aluminum “chimney” (the extension from the DeLuxe stems) to the end, saying that because of the design of the pipe (it has a very high draft hole), the regular saddle stem was overheating (it was melted somewhat where the draft hole opened next to the stem) and couldn’t provide the proper draft. When I got home and smoked the pipe, he was right. It smokes like a dream—the draw is as should be, free and easy.

The shop at 117 Grafton Street

An hour or so later we found ourselves on Grafton Street, with Trinity College behind us looking at the peculiarly Irish orange-fronted store at 117 Grafton Street. It’s not a big store by any means, with one full-length counter on the register side and a half-counter in front of a full wall display on the other side. But there is one thing absolutely unique about this store: it’s the only pipe shop in the world devoted exclusively to Peterson pipes. And for that reason, it’s just a wee bit of heaven for us Pete lovers.

John Dromgoole, a youthful Glen Whelan and self

“Who IS this fecker?” the young Whelan is quite obviously thinking.
I don’t blame him.

Once inside I introduced myself as having just come from the Sallynoggin factory and was cordially welcomed by John Dromgoole, who has managed the store for the past twenty years, and his assistant Glen Whelen, Jr. (the son of the Sallynoggin factory Tony Whelen, Jr.). I was anxious to see both the new (3rd) series of Antique Pipes and the new Castle series, as well as get an up-close and personal look at the 2009 Pipe of the Year.

the 2009 POY

The 2009 POY, a bent brandy/billiard, is much more exciting in person than its official photo suggests—“I told publicity,” Dromgoole said, “that they’d left the most interesting part out”—referring to the “pinched” stummel (see my photo). The ferrule, while not as decorative as some of the POYs of years past, has a very large “Petersons” script over the top. The Grafton Street store—meaning Dromgoole—gets first pick of the 1000 POYs produced every year. John says he has a host of “lucky numbers” his customers like to choose from, as well as casting an eye over the best grain. If you’ve followed the POYs since their inception following the 1998 “Limited Edition,” you’re aware that these are not only among the best pieces Peterson makes but a surprisingly good value. I’m always on the lookout for the unusual Pete, so the 2001 squat brandy silver-capped sitter and 2006 silver-capped poker are among my favorites. But the more I looked at (and held) the 2009, the more impressed I was with it. And it didn’t hurt a bit that it seemed to be a bargain price, almost a hundred dollars less than here in the States. “Oh yes,” John said, “you won’t find Peterson pipes for a better price anywhere than right here.” And when I got home and checked internet prices on the six pieces I brought back with me, he was right—each piece was between €40 and €60 less at the Grafton Street store than the UK and German internet sites.

I asked Tony Whelen, Sr. back at the Sallynoggin factory about the late appearance of the POY each year: why doesn’t it hit the European market until May/early June, and the U.S. until late summer/early fall? “It’s all to do with the Assay Office and how the orders come in,” Tony said. They can’t get the new silver hallmarked and to us until the middle of January or so, which means the pipes aren’t ready until late March/early April. “I wish we could convince them to stamp the silver for us in October—that would help us tremendously,” he added.

So then I asked him about the correlation of hallmark with year of production, a source of considerable discussion and confusion among Pete aficionados. “It’s quite simple, really,” he said. “We get the silver in January and will keep getting it as needed throughout the year, but there are actually very few pipes produced in any given year with the previous year’s silver.” I asked him about a Return of Sherlock Holmes piece I’d bought at Jay-Ems in London a few years back which seemed to have silver hallmarked several years before the piece was released. “Impossible,” he said. “They just sold you old/new stock.  We don’t have silver laying around that isn’t being used. The hallmark tells you the pipe was either made the year of the hallmark or early the following year.” Thus endeth the mystery of the Peterson Hallmark.

Look closely and you’ll see some astounding Petes

I next asked John to see the new Antique pipes and the new Castle series. He didn’t have the Antiques in store, and only had the Castles in the rustic finish. When I expressed my disappointment, John said that aside from the POY, for which he has gotten “first dibs” since its inception, Peterson gives its European market highest priority. A little internet surfing bears this out—e-shops in Germany and the UK both carried these new pipes by mid-June of 2009, while no one in the U.S. listed them yet. John did, however, place a call to Sallynoggin, and as we were returning to Dublin at the end of our pilgrimage, he had wonderful examples of both the pipes I wanted ready for me.

The new Antique Series is the third to be issued, following the original 1995 tan finish set of four (which were available in a leather box and in individual cases, in P-lip and fish-tail), and the second 2006 orange finish 1904/1908 set, issued as a box set with fishtail stems. The new set is undated (“but they’re re-creation of Peterson originals,” John assured me) also with fishtail stems, features a lovely Zulu with wide silver band and a very slender bent billiard, in the Peterson “red” finish. (They are, by the way, still making the 1904/08 set—I saw them at Sallynoggin. Whelen said, “it’s just whatever we get orders for. We even still make a few of the “SPORTS” pipes for England.”)

My old 140th Anniversary

(I asked Tony back at the factory about the Charles Peterson 140th Anniversary Pipe than came out in late 2005, as I was curious to know how many were produced, seeing as they were so hard to come by here in the States. He said the idea originally was to make a limited edition of 1,000 pipes, but they couldn’t get enough bowls of sufficient size and quality, so they ended up not numbering them at all, making only about 300 pipes in all.)

Tom Palmer seems determined to bring something new forward every year in the Peterson mid-range, and following the Claddagh series and Rivers Collection, I think the Castles Collection is much stronger. For one thing, it’s available in smooth (higher grade & priced) pieces as well as rusticated finishes, and for another, it features sterling bands decorated with attached sterling crowns. Always on the lookout for an unusual Pete, far and away the most interesting piece of the set to my mind is the Lismore, a six panel cherrywood (if that makes sense—if not, see my photo). He only had a set of the rustics on hand at our first visit, but had a set of the smooth for me on our return visit. I was also fearful that I would have to purchase the entire set to get the Lismore, but at the Grafton Street store (unlike most Pete retailers) there’s no problem with breaking up a set.

The 2010 MT Set (from the collection of Anthony Macaluso)

Tony Whelen told me here is also a new edition in the works of Peterson’s all-time best selling pipe, the Mark Twain. I have no idea how many times this has been issued, as reports and opinions seem to vary. We know there was an original Numbered edition of 400 with gold band, which some claim was issued in 1979 (but seems to contravene the Peterson’s brochure which accompanied my unnumbered issue Mark Twain); there was a second numbered edition of 1000 issued with sterling band; a third, lesser-quality unnumbered edition, also with sterling band, in 1984. After that, some think there were additional unnumbered Mark Twains issued in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I had no idea when I was taking photos of the shop this is the earliest Kapp & Peterson advertisement.
You can read the back story in my commentary to the 1896 catalog.

I asked John how much business Grafton Street does. “I sell a minimum of 15 pipes a day, and a few times a month I’ll sell 40.” On my first trip I bought a St. Patrick’s Day 2008 “sale” pipe for my nephew from a full tray of 24. A week later, at my return, they were all sold. Biggest day of sales? “A man from China came in and bought one of almost everything—€9,000!”

I asked him if  pipe-smokers had changed in the twenty years he’d been managing the store. “When I first started here, it was mainly about the tobacco. A gent would walk in and buy any old pipe. Didn’t seem to care much what it looked like as long as it didn’t cost too much. He’d just point to the wall and say ‘I’ll take that ‘un.’ But now it’s much more about the pipes.”

Treasures from the trip: the kaffir from the 2008 Antique Collection (front),
the 2009 POY (middle) and the Lismore from the Castles Collection (back).


to Kapp & Peterson–craftsmen and women, office staff, sales staff at the Dublin shop;
thanks to Smokingpipes.com;
thanks to Anthony Macaluso.



Yes, it’s a SH Original System

David Seulan, CPG recently acquired a fascinating bit of System history: one of the early SH Originals which is a factory-designed System.

David told me there is no year mark in the hallmarks, just the Hibernia Seated and .925 marks—which means it was made in or after 2003, as the .925 mark replaced the Harp Crowned in 2003. This happens frequently enough to just be annoying but not mystifying.

The pipe has the original box as well as the original outer sleeve, although not, apparently, the original “Original” pipe box brochure. This is infrequent enough these days to make me smile. I recently bought an unsmoked 120 Donegal Sterling from a certain big box pipe shop and wondered, not for the first time, if they simply discard all this wonderful ephemera? How hard would it be to simply pass it along?

This sleeve, as you can see in the photo above, is correctly marked and printed SHERLOCK HOLMES over “THE ORIGINAL” in the upper panel and SYSTEM over SMOOTH (two stamps) in the lower. Q: Why would it be stamped “SYSTEM” unless K&P manufactured it AS a System? A: Because it IS a System. And sure enough, it has all three System components: P-Lip, graduated bore, reservoir.

A look at the reservoir in comparison with a recent XL315 is instructive. The SH Original has the kind of full bore drilling that we don’t see anymore but was certainly typical of System engineering in the past. This type of full bore mortise was the engineering reason behind the metal ferrule and bands, as the thin walls of the mortise were much more susceptible to splitting or cracking than today’s narrow bore mortises.

The takeaway here is simply that it’s a good idea with older estate SH pipes to check under the hood and see if there’s a reservoir. If so, you’re on to something good: a System Sherlock.


A CPG  Event

Nate Lynn, CPG presents the latest Pete Geek Event, a leather loop pipe rest with double brass snaps for variable sizing, the CPG logo on the left side and your choice of a Celtic Knots Shamrock or Sherlock Holmes profile on the right. He’s making them available in green, black, natural, and mahogany, shown below with the Celtic Shamrocks reverse side:

I’m left-handed, and if it matters to you, Nate will print CPG on the obverse and the Celtic Shamrock or SH logo on the reverse.

  • Price is $20 each, including shipping in the US 
  • Price is $40 each , including shipping internationally via FedEx International Connect (this does NOT include any customs/import fees) 
  • Deadline: Monday, 3rd June, 2024, at 11:59 p.m. CST (GMT-6)
  • You will invoiced through PayPal when the pipe rests are ready to ship. I will send a reminder when I’m ready to invoice
  • Estimated to ship mid-late June
  • You MUST fill out the Google form below to order
  • Questions? Send email to petegeek1896@gmail.com




Continue Reading400. A Look Back to My 2009 Peterson Pilgrimage on the Occasion of the Blog’s 10th Anniversary