My publisher has told me over and over again that while books on pipes don’t sell, pipe catalogs really don’t sell. With no advertising, no reviews and no Chicago Pipe Show book launch, I thought it might be a good idea to at least let my fellow Pete Geeks know what went into the making of Peterson’s Patent Pipes and why I think it’s an important book to accompany their love of all things Peterson.
I realize that most pipe smokers would rather spend their limited income on pipes or tobacco than books. Be that as it may, the true Pete Geek is usually (not always) interested enough in the history of his favorite pipe to invest in learning about its history, even at the cost of a few tins of tobacco. Before I begin, let me assure those who are afraid this post may spoil the rich drama and adrenaline rush of the catalog that there are almost no plot spoilers.
Page 35 from the partial catalog in circulation in the 1990s, pages of which found their way to the internet c. 2003
The story of the digital restoration actually began well before formal work on The Peterson Pipe, probably in the late 1990s, when a few scans of the 1896 catalog began circulating on the internet. The serious CPGs, of course, downloaded those immediately for future reference. The advanced collectors—or at least a dozen or so of them—had bought photocopy reproductions of a mostly complete catalog from a collector who is no longer a Peterson collector in the latter part of the 1990s. Then there were those especially fortunate souls who owned small poster versions of single pages from the 1896 catalog like “The Strong Man,” the cutaway demonstrator, and the “Cleaning and Filling” page, all seemingly circulated by K&P back in the 1970s or 80s, verifying that at one time K&P had a copy of the lost catalog.
At that time, everyone agreed that K&P didn’t have shape numbers for their pipes in the 1896 catalog and we would never know what those shapes were. Fast forward to 2012, when it became immediately apparent to me that there could really be no Peterson book without high-quality images from the first catalogs. One of the reasons the book took so long was because the research and the writing went in a sequential fashion, like driving a car until it runs out of gas then pushing the vehicle to the next gas station to refuel before setting out again.
One of the advertisers in the back of the catalog was Kryiazi Frères, who exported Egyptian cigarettes to Great Britain. Unbeknownst to most today, cigarettes at the time covered a broad flavor spectrum not unlike pipe tobacco today and many who smoked them did not inhale. Those who did inhale were nicknamed “gaspers.”
It was on one of the “push the car” days when I was researching K&P clays that I found, by pure chance (or grace) the National Pipe Archive out of the University of Leeds, whom I contacted to see if they might have any information on the Peterson clays. The director wrote me back to say they had little interest in such “new” pipes as those from the late 19th century, but she’d take a look when she had time. A few weeks later she wrote again, sending a scan of the clay pipe page from the 1896 catalog. Hardly daring to draw a breath, I wrote and asked if they owned the whole catalog. Yes, indeed, they did.
Before & After
So after the big book was published in 2019, I turned thoughts again to restoring and reprinting the 1896 catalog. My publisher said in no uncertain terms that it simply wasn’t going to be on his list. Undeterred, I kept working on the project on my own for several months later that year until one day discussing a project on American artisan pipe-makers with him, he brought up the 1896 catalog, and before I knew it we were on the way. The book was mostly complete by March of 2020, but with COVID shutting down the Chicago Pipe Show (traditional avenue for Briar Books Press book launches), the project was shelved until the publisher could decide how to market the book.
The restoration itself took about six months of work time. A perfect, flatbed hi-rez digital scan would have hastened the project, but for lots of reasons that didn’t happen. Work-arounds had to be found to deal with lower-resolution black and white images, photocopy and photographic scans in both color and B&W. Some pages were warped or wrinkled, some missing a few letters or words and some had pencil or pen marks. The most fun, obviously, was restoring individual letters on a page, lifting them from other, better examples on the same page.
I hadn’t intended to write anything but a simple introduction when I began the project. As the page-by-page restoration continued, however, I kept uncovering secret after secret, all locked in densely formatted text and illustrations. The first discovery was the original Charles Peterson shape numbers, which floored me. They’d been there all along, simply hidden by the photocopy catalogs in circulation.
Another thing I hadn’t counted on was just how much visual information would be found in one of the two steel engravings at the front of the catalog, that of a K&P exhibition display. Careful study led me to all sorts of things, from the history and enormous importance of the K&P’s participation in the 1895 and 1896 exhibitions in London to the pennants on the catalog’s cover to the company’s very first advertising poster.
The cumulative effect of all this information was just how much of Kapp & Peterson’s identity—the brand as we know it today—is so readily seen in this catalog. Many of you are familiar with the idea of an “oral tradition”—a story or truth handed down by word of mouth. We uncovered some of these traditions in writing The Peterson Pipe, but here I found documentation for those and more. If you study the catalog carefully, you’ll find not only Charles Peterson’s essential design language in some great shapes that haven’t been around for over a hundred years, but even more importantly a blueprint for the company’s vision and mission which goes to the heart of what a Peterson pipe was and remains to this day.
Charles Peterson’s “Gratis Tool” debuted as the “Compliment” tool in the 1896 catalog and was one of the first 3-in-1 Pipe Tools. It was included with all System pipes from 1896 through 1963 and is still avidly sought by collectors on the estate market. The tool, even 60 years after it ceased being part of the company’s offering, remains as effective an advertising device as “The Thinking Man” icon, not to mention the most useful combination pipe tool in the history of pipe smoking.
Another discovery is one I wouldn’t have made without the oral tradition and the insights of other pipemen: Charles Peterson understood from the start that he was making a complex smoking instrument. He knew he needed to educate his customers on how to use these pipes and tucked into the catalog all the essential instructional pieces they needed to know.
Like the 1906 and 1937 catalogs that followed it, the 1896 was intended for use not merely by distributors but by pipemen. Each illustration is presented at 1:1 scale so that a smoker can lay down a favorite pipe and compare its size to those in the catalog. 1 When my copy of the book finally arrived this past week, I opened it to compare one of my vintage Systems with the original. I thought my IFS pipe was an O.2 (oversized or XXL). I was wrong: it’s the smaller (but still XL) 02, as you can see:
With the page forced flat, the shape 2 IFS above fits perfectly onto the shape 2 Patent below
This book, like the previous one on Peterson, benefited enormously from the help of some highly talented folk. Gary Schrier, my publisher, asked a number of clarifying questions that greatly enriched the commentary. Marie Irwin once again stepped up as book designer, cleaning, straightening, doing font research, more editing and everything a super designer does. It looks so cool because of her.
One thing Marie insisted upon was that original cover illustrations be reproduced on the bound book with a dust jacket over it to make for a fun “reveal”
The multi-talented Adam O’Neill, Marketing Manager of Laudisi in Dublin, went above and beyond to source and scan the remarkable “Arbitrator” poster found in the book. I had seen it—or thought I had seen it—on a 2009 trip to Ireland, but no one knew seemed to know what I was talking about or where it was. After emailing Adam about where I thought I’d seen it, he found it, hidden in plain sight for several years. And he scanned it and it to me. It would be crucial to the dust jacket as well as tell us about Charles Peterson’s deep interest in politics.
Maggie Pym uncovered the reason and rationale behind the ads in board meeting notes from the Patent era. As we didn’t know whether the steel engravings were printed in color or B&W, I had intended originally to render them in color. While that didn’t happen, I still wanted to share one with you.
Likewise crucial was the help of Maggie Pym, the erudite Dubliner who runs the office at Kapp & Peterson and who scoured the pages of the company’s earliest business meetings to find out how and when and by whom the 1896 catalog was published. To her and everyone else, I’m deeply grateful.
IPSD has been celebrated annual since 2008. According to BimCal (an online calendar), there are 10 million pipe smokers in the US alone. It’s only right and fitting, therefore, that Pete Geeks everywhere join in the celebration as we have in previous years.
This year’s theme is one close to my heart: “Every pipe has a story.” That’s the reason Larry Gosser and I collaborated on Of Pipes & Men and why Gary Malmberg and I wrote The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson and why I wanted to share the 1896 Peterson’s Patent Pipes with everyone.
Sometimes we know the story of a pipe—when we bought it or who gave it to us or its importance at pivotal moments in our lives. Sometimes we don’t know the story of an estate pipe we’ve just acquired and wish we knew more—when it was made, who made it, who companioned it before us. And even when we pass a pipe on to another pipeman, we hope that while we may not have befriended it, it will find a new home where it will be appreciated and smoked on a regular basis.
For this year’s IPSD, go through your pipes and find the one with a story that you’d like to share. Anything from a few sentences to a few paragraphs is acceptable. Don’t be afraid of the Grammar Nazis, I’ll send in the 101st Airborne before anyone sees your copy. Be mindful of whether you want your last name or simply last initial included. I want to respect your privacy.
Send your story and photo to firstname.lastname@example.org. before midnight Friday, February 18th. I can’t promise I’ll get your story in after that, although I’ll do my best.
If you’ve never received your Certified Pete Geek electronic certificate, now’s the time. If you’re already a CPG, you’ll receive an electronic 2022 IPSD Merit Badge. How’s that for a no-prize?
1 One of the most interesting differences between the original shapes and their “descendants” is that Charles Peterson’s originals sometimes have slimmer bowls or bowls with more pronounced cheeking (the outward curve of the bowl sides). Later versions would often become heftier and chubbier and those still later would lose some of their cheeking.