132. A Short History of the Making of the Peterson Pipe Book

This week marks the 5th anniversary of Peterson Pipe Notes, and while there’s still a wealth of lore to share here on the blog and lots of promising research to be done, it seems like an opportune moment to stop and say thank you to everyone who has been on the journey which led to The Peterson Pipe’s launch at the Chicagoland show a few weeks ago.

At the show I had the privilege not only of meeting a number of long-time Pete fans, but of talking at length about the making of the book as well as how it’s put together. You probably don’t want to read all that, but you might be interested in some of the highlights.

C. S. Lewis once said that we write the books we want to read, and I’ve wanted to read a book about Peterson for almost as long as I’ve been smoking their pipes—not long after I first discovered Carl Ehwa’s enchanted Books of Pipes and Tobacco, in fact.

Jim Lilley

After writing about a pilgrimage to the Peterson factory for the NASPC’s The Pipe Collector in 2009, I began to think more seriously about the possibility of a book. In 2011 I contacted the late Jim Lilley, who had been blogging about Peterson for about a year. I convinced him that’d I “gopher” (liaise) the book if he and a few others would do the heavy lifting and thus began a year’s discussion, planning and outlining of what we’d like to see in the book.

“Trucker” Chuck Wright

Jim’s declining health forced him to withdraw from the project not long after our initial planning sessions, but not before he put me in touch with the late Chuck Wright, who was very active on the Peterson boards, and with then-Sacramento Pipe Club president (and estate pipe dealer) Gary Malmberg. Several months later, in May 2012, with an outline, reams of research and a dash of courage, Gary and I met with Gary B. Schrier of Briar Books Press at the Chicagoland Pipe and came away not long after with a contract. To my amazement.

To rightly understand the project, you need to know that I had never been to a pipe show. Although I’d been a pipeman since 1975, published a little pipe zine back in the 80s and occasionally wrote to Tom Dunn or Gene Umberger, my puffing was for the most part a solitary affair. This meant that I wanted all the help I could get on the book.

While there were a few who thumbed their noses at us (figuratively speaking), we eventually coerced some of the hobby’s brightest talents into participating in various ways. First was the real hospitality and sustained help of Tom Palmer, Peterson’s CEO and owner until 2018. Then came help from Sykes Wilford at Laudisi, who created a secret back door into the Smokingpipes digital archive for me to study every Peterson pipe they’d sold. Then came the enthusiasm and writing of Rick Newcombe, whom I had already dubbed “the Apostle of Pipes” on an earlier blog for his advocacy of our hobby.

“The Apostle of Pipes,” Rick Newcombe (icon written by Chas. Mundungus)

Steve Laug of Rebornpipes gave me advice on creating a blog to not only advertise the creation of the book but to share information overflowing the book’s boundaries. From the Peterson came almost daily correspondence with Tony Whelan Jr. and Joe Kenny, and from the Peterson office came the detective work and scanning work of Angela Fortune, Palmer’s assistant. And as we began to put the chapters together, we asked and received pieces from Neill Archer Roan, Marc Munroe Dion, Regis McCafferty, Anthony Macaluso, Dave Whitney, Steve Laug and many others.

By nature, I’m given to wanting to know everything about a few things. This means I usually have all the novels of an author I like, all the albums of my favorite prog metal band, multiple recordings of Bach’s cantatas, every recorded note Beethoven or DSCH wrote, all the movies of Laurel & Hardy or Buster Keaton and so on. I’m not sure this is obsessive, exactly, but it is perhaps a bit detail-oriented. Maybe peculiar.

But as far as the book is concerned, my self-diagnosed personality aberration paid off in the exhaustive nature of the book’s design. Because the book is so very massive, I think it’s helpful for the reader to see it as a kind of trinity knot or triquetra braiding together Peterson’s history, pipes and craftsmanship:

  1. We knew we wanted a fairly detailed history of Kapp & Peterson, which was the scariest part of the project for me and was Gary Malmberg’s genius and gift to the book.
  2. We also knew we wanted a close and extensive look at the pipes. We wanted to create a nuanced and reliable dating guide that goes beyond the puerile and meaningless “Pre-Republic” claims you read in every other eBay posting, and I think we achieved that, illustrating Peterson pipes by their stamping eras from Pre-Patent (1865-1890) to the most recent Dublin era (1991-2018) and demonstrating once and for all that “Pre” or “post”-Republic is meaningless as far the quality of Peterson pipes are concerned.
  3. And I wanted several chapters written with common Peterson user’s questions in mind, including a detailed look at how Peterson pipes have always been made, how to smoke the System pipe, how to buy and restore estate pipes, and of course how to date a pipe you own or are thinking of acquiring.

To this three-fold design we added bookends. First, a layer of oral histories by Peterson staff, current and retired, running through the entire book and giving human shape, personality and depth to all those who have said, “We work for Kapp’s” (which is how the company is still named by those who work there today) from that first group of 20 hires in 1891 until today. What emerges from their stories is a fascinating culture of inclusiveness, of women accounting for slightly more than 50% of Peterson staff, of a family business which maintained a familial sense of responsibility for a century, and of an Irish sensibility of craftsmanship which is far different from either the old British factory understanding or contemporary American preconceptions. The second bookend is the Collector’s Reference section, containing an Irish hallmarks chart, pipe identification guide, annotated bibliography and deep index.

Paddy Larrigan (2013), Peterson’s Master Craftsman (Marie Irwin)

In the summer of 2013, with some idea in mind of the scope just outlined, Gary and I and Marie Irwin, our third author (a data miner and book designer who is a librarian by day) went to the Peterson factory. We photographed and scanned everything we could find for a full week, digging through draws, cabinets and press books, climbing upstairs, looking around corners and trying not to get in anyone’s way. I did oral interviews with over a dozen current and retired staffers. Gary had detailed discussions with Paddy Larrigan and David Blake, two of Peterson’s most celebrated craftsmen. Marie kept pulling out catalogs, ledgers and pipes, insisting we document them all. And we had a blast.

I spent the rest of 2013 and most of 2014 unpacking everything we’d brought back, transcribing and editing recordings, filing and doing initial digital darkroom work on the photos we took. That was also the year the blog launched, it being in my mind that since the book would be out in the next year or two, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little promotion. Oops. A little optimistic, there.

The Digital Darkroom: 1898 Kodak Brownie and 2017 Peterson POY (Charles Mundungus)

The next two years (2015–16) were given to the digital darkroom on the one hand and getting a manuscript presentable on the other. The last time I took a word count was in December of 2017, when the manuscript stood at 123,750 words. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose. An average novel, just for comparison’s sake, runs about 90,000 words. I’ve already heard some pipemen call the book “the Peterson bible,” and I’m hoping they mean that as a compliment. Not that it matters—I’m just grateful that everything I thought should be in the book is there (well almost everything).

Gary Malmberg was responsible for the bulk of the first five historical chapters of the book as well as the pipe chapters from the Pre-Patent (1865–91) through the Éire (1938–48) eras, and his documentation of hundreds and hundreds of antique Peterson pipes was indispensable to our understanding of the company.

I took over beginning with the pipes of the Early Republic era chapter (1948–69) and continuing on to the end of the craftsmanship chapters. We collaborated on the Identification Guide, which should be seen as one of the foundations of the book, the other being my annotated bibliography of Peterson catalogs and brochures, which is the documentary grounding of Peterson’s shape and line history.

In the summer of 2017, after re-immersing herself all spring in the world of desktop publishing, our designer Marie came back on board for the first time since the research trip to Sallynoggin. If you think Gary and I are geeky, you should meet this lady. She looks at learning curves like Kami Rita Sherpa looks at Mt. Everest (and Sherpa has reached the summit 23 times so far).

While this part of the book took us another 18 months, it was a blast working with her, first because I could do a lot of back-seat driving—“Say, could we make the text swirl around the pipes here?” More importantly, on at least a dozen occasions I’d say something like, “I wish we had a photo of the old Cuffe Lane factory entrance,” or “there’s got to be a photo of Kelly’s fort with the Kapp & Peterson sign above it just after the Easter Rising”—and she’d find them.

It was also fun because she’d throw a lot of stuff back my way, encouraging me to come up with some of my own layouts (I’m proud of the hallmark chart and the Rogers Imports 2-page spread). And we had a lot of fun collaborating on double-page spreads like “The Thinking Man” or putting together the funny story from the Irish Times about a drunken medical student who stole billiard balls from Kapp & Peterson’s shop billiard room.

“Unlawful Possession”—A Kapp & Peterson True Crime Story from the Irish Times

All along the way we had the world’s best editor. If you’ve ever worked with one, you know that means nasty, brutish, eats broken glass for breakfast and other epithets I won’t go into. He made us justify everything, explain everything, spell-check everything (!), rewrite it all and then absent-mindedly say he didn’t remember the last draft (but it stunk) and we needed to give it another go. If I ever write another book, I want this guy.

I hope, when and if you get a chance to read the book, you enjoy reading it even half as much as enjoyed writing it.



K&P Cuffe Lane Tobacco Drying Paper

PetersonPipeNotes.org GOLD BOX Drying Paper May 2019

To celebrate the blog’s fifth anniversary, I’ve made a new Peterson tobacco drying paper. This one is taken from the lid of a vintage Kapp & Peterson tobacco tin in Gary Malmberg’s collection. Gary brought the tin for his Peterson exhibit at the Chicagoland show in 2018 and again in 2019. With his permission and using photographs of the lid, I was able eventually to re-create the graphic design and add a few flourishes to it. You can download a plain copy PDF suitable for printing on 8 ½ by 11” paper by right-clicking on the title above.

The K&P Tin, c. 1906 (note the telephone number)

The idea behind a tobacco drying paper (if you haven’t heard of such a thing) is simply to give you a flexible sheet to pack you pipe. If you like to dry your virginias or va/pers, it’s the perfect way to do so, because you can easily funnel back the unused portion of tobacco after packing your pipe. And even if you don’t routinely dry your tobaccos, it’s a tidy way to pull out a pinch or a few flakes of your favorite tobacco without spilling ribbons or strands everywhere.


Top photo courtesy Smokingpipes.eu

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