150. Peterson and the Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes

This has been a long time coming, but at last The Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, described on the back cover as “an informal guided tour of the pipes smoked by Rathbone, Bruce and a host of foes,” is available through Amazon.

The idea for this little book came not long after we’d begun work on The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, when I saw one of Larry Gosser’s wonderful illustrations of Basil Rathbone leaning over the counter of a tobacconist, with a large ceramic jar labeled “Peterson’s” prominently displayed.

When I contacted Larry, he not only informed me that I’d missed a lot by not watching the fourteen films in the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes franchise, but that he believed Rathbone was smoking a Peterson in most of them! So my wife and I watched one—a very poor public domain print—and there it was: The Thinking Man’s pipe! Shape 4, the 309, clenched between the Great Detective’s lips.

I’m old enough that everyone I knew during my first years of pipe smoking promulgated the myth that Rathbone smoked a Dunhill in his Sherlock Holmes movies. Exclusively. Or maybe a Hardcastle. But a Peterson?! They laughed with more than a touch of scorn at the very suggestion. To them I can only say, echoing the detective and holding this little book under their noses: You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” (“A Scandal in Bohemia”).

To make a long story short and not give away too much (as you can see, Rathbone did smoke a pipe that looks like a Dunhill in the first films), Larry Gosser was right. This was a bit of a revelation to me, explaining why there was such an affinity, an almost mythic connection, between Peterson and Sherlock Holmes extending decades before the first of the Peterson Sherlock Holmes pipes appeared in the 1980s. In an anecdote told in the Peterson book, Jimmy Tighe, the manager of the old Grafton Street store back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, used to regularly get requests for “the Sherlock Holmes pipe—the one Basil Rathbone smokes.”

After contacting one of the professors at UCLA who was involved in the restoration of the films, I set about the amazingly enjoyable task of screening and re-screening the films, taking notes and then using some digital magic to obtain frame stills of the various pipes that Rathbone smokes as well as Nigel Bruce’s John Watson (who actually smokes a far greater variety of pipes) and all the friends and foes the duo face.

I wrote a draft of the book and circulated it, but then found my time wholly occupied with teaching (during the day) and the Peterson book (nights and weekends).

When it came time at last to do the book, I talked over my design concept with “The Woman”—the remarkable lady who did the layout and design for the Peterson book—and of course, she exceeded my expectations, as you can see from some of the page layouts. I had hoped initially to release it through Briar Books Press, but we wanted to take it to the Chicago pipe show last May and time was pressing, and so we decided to do it ourselves.

The “Chicago edition” came to about 30 copies or so, and I was delighted to sell every single one of them at the show. One quite fortuitously fell into the hands of Gene Umberger, Doctor of Pipes and author of the classic bibliography Tobacco and Its Use (2009), a long-time friend and fellow old-film fan. He gave it the critical reading it needed during the early part of the summer and we subsequently made some important editorial changes for the second edition.

Here’s the Table of Contents:

There are some unanswered questions in the book—mostly about other pipe brands—but for all that, it’s a book that tickles me every time I pick it up. When you read it, if you can fill in any of the gaps, please let me know. The beauty of publish-on-demand books like this is that changes aren’t all that difficult to make.


UPDATE: 9/27/19, 10:30pm. Hi everyone! You’ve blown me away by your interest in the book. It was sold out on Amazon by 10:30 this morning. I couldn’t believe it. We re-ordered from the printer before noon today and it will be back in stock in about 7-10 days.

OVERSEAS: All my Pete friends outside the US: eBay’s Global Shipping program is the least expensive way to get the book to you. When we get it back in stock, I will post the eBay auction # for you.

IF YOU ORDERED TODAY: We will have your books in the mail to you tomorrow, First Class mail. And many thanks! If you like it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.

The book will be available again, in about 7-10 days, through Amazon.com hereIf for some reason you can’t find it, drop me a line and I will email you directly. We will do our best to keep it in stock.

Paperback: 68 pages
Publisher: Simulacran Press; 2nd edition (2019)
ISBN-10: 0578559951
ISBN-13: 978-0578559957
Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
Price: $12.95


“The Peterson Was Still Between His Lips” (With Apologies to Sidney Paget)
© 2019 Chas. Mundungus


Can you believe it? I just spotted a typo on one of the pages reproduced above. I need an editor!

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