Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2021, fellow Pete Geeks. I hope you’ve got one of your favorite Petes in hand—perhaps an SPD commemorative—and filled with your favorite tobacco, ready to lift your bowl in celebration. (Guinness is optional, although here in the States and in some other parts of the world we can enjoy one of my all-time favorites, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.)
I also hope you’ve got your Capt. Peterson Secret Squadron Decoder Ring handy. If so, you can easily decrypt today’s rather fractal post. If not, read on!
Everyone knows the Irish flag symbolizes the unity (white) of Catholics (green) Protestants (orange), but only Pete Geeks know that Charles Peterson sought to go deeper even than the tricolor flag with the three symbols he placed on every nickel band: the shamrock, Irish Wolfhound and round tower—symbols that could be seen on every nickel-banded Pete until around 1963.
Charles Peterson loved his adopted country, incorporating into every nickel-band pipe K&P made three great symbols of Ireland: the shamrock, the Wolf Hound and the round tower. St. Patrick is said to have used the shamrock to explain how God could be one and yet three: a leaf standing for Father, for Son and for the Holy Spirit. But the plant has come to symbolize Ireland itself, and I believe this is the reason Peterson used it. The middle nickel mark is of the Irish Wolf Hound, a giant in the dog world (in fact, the tallest breed). Its name in Irish, Cú Faoil means “brave wolf.” The breed goes back to at least 391AD, where it is mentioned as being used in gladiatorial games. But its reputation in Ireland is not only for its bravery, but for its protection of family and farm. Symbolically it represents the Irish spirit: strong and family-centered. The round tower, the third mark, was built from about the 9th through 13th centuries within a monastery or near a church. Thought to have functioned as belfries by some, they also indicate the deeply religious spirit of Ireland. The nickel-mount marks were part of K&P’s brand identity until around 1963, some sixty years ago now, and if you get a minute you should drop them a line and let them know you’d love to see them bring the marks back.
My best mate for many years, the one who introduced me to the Peterson System, smoked an XL307. Like him, I always thought of the shape as larger than life, and indeed it was the biggest System shape in the catalog until the B42 came along in 2010. But after the release of the 2020 POY and the increase of interest in the original 9BC and the original shape 9, I began to think that the time might be right to take the plunge. But K&P no longer stamps the bowl 9 / shape 307 with the XL307 stamp (for reasons no one seems to know). So instead of waiting for a new Premier to surface, I knew I’d have to begin the hunt for an estate.
Before doing that, I decided to reach out to friend Brian 500s to see if he had one in his vast inventory he could spare. And he did–a lovely Early Republic Standard. It only needed a stem, which I could supply. After a few very successful smokes, I knew I was going to look for a Premier version. But Premiers, unlike De Luxe and Standard Systems, are the rarest of Pete Systems and are rarely seen—either as new pipes or on the estate market. I think the person who sold me the XL307 Premier below knew it, creating a vacuum where my wallet had been.* But while the pipe was dirty and the stem oxidized, it appeared to be very sound under the grime, which is always my idea of a fun project pipe.
The pipe is hallmarked “S” for 1983, right before K&P went through its darkest hour and at the very pinnacle of its production. Comparing it with the Early Republic XL307 Brian sent me, you can see that the earlier pipe has slightly better cheeking:
It’s possible that this is just an anomaly of sanding, but it could also be that there had been some degradation in bowl shaping in the two decades or more between the pipes. I don’t know the production reasons that make cheeking difficult, but it seems to be becoming clear that for some shapes, the older the Pete, the better the cheeking. I am in hopes that having done so much with their blasting, K&P might turn its attention to issues like this as well.
The first thing I wanted to do was try La Belle Époque’s “Before & After,” a deoxidation solution that Steve and Jeff Laug at Reborn Pipes have used for a few years now. It’s created for use on pen restoration but equally at home on vulcanite mouthpieces. I got a chance to see first-hand an example of a stem treated in this manner not long ago and was impressed. It’s a little pricey compared to resorting to Oxy Clean and/or bleach and Micromesh pads, but if it could truly achieve ebony, I thought it might be worth the expense. I don’t mind spending time with the old methods, but on many occasions I’ve finished a stem and thought it looked fantastic until I photographed it or caught it in just the right light to reveal that nasty yellow color lurking under the surface, especially around the tenon end.
The instructions that come with the solution are good – as long as you use them. (Steve suggested the valuable stuff be placed in a small glass resealable pan, which is what I did.) After the dunk in the goopy stuff, I began worrying about the possible toxicity of the solution in the airhole, so I rinsed the stem in water. Oops. That brought back quite a bit of gray. The instructions say that after wiping the stem vigorously with a cotton cloth after coming out of the solution, to wipe the stem with mineral oil. No water! So back I went to do it again.
This time I followed the directions, then followed the B&A with the two grades of polish La Belle Époque recommends, which is rubbed with one’s fingers. You can see the result above. Jet black, a vast improvement over Oxy-Clean or chlorine bleach. There is a problem, but it’s not the solution’s fault. As you can see, the stem’s oxidation had raised the surface, making it rough. I hoped a run on the buffer with Tripoli might smooth it out, but no, it was too deep So I had to use the Micromesh pads after all, applying mineral oil after every few grades. The remarkable thing was that the sanding pads did not return the stem’s oxidation. After using them, I ran the stem on the buffer with white compound. And eureka, as they say:
You’ll notice that I applied a bit of white acrylic paint into the “P” and screwed in a tenon extension, which the pipe was (of course) missing. I can’t replicate the lighting used to detect faint oxidation underhaze here, but I assure you, there was none. Impressive.
I realize there’s many a Pete lover who has neither time, interest nor inclination to go to such lengths, which is quite understandable. I think I enjoy doing it because my generation of pipemen suffered through green, nasty tasting buttons for decades, using tooth paste, pen knife scrapers and other questionable home remedies. It’s just so wonderful to have the knowledge and tools to be able to bring an old stem back to life that I usually relish discovering a stem that needs some work.
The chamber had some very light carbon and there was a black smudge on the top, back rim. The rim smudge came off quite easily by sitting the rim in a bit of hand sanitizer. There was an almost imperceptible tobacco ghost, evidence that the pipe hadn’t been smoked a a long time. Nevertheless, I sanded out the chamber’s carbon with 220 grit wrapped on a pencil. Afterwards, the chuck marks could still be plainly seen inside the chamber, additional evidence that only a few bowls had been smoked.
I know most pipemen wouldn’t bother with removing the old carbon, but with estates and NOS I’ve been experimenting with what I call euphemistically call “APBC,” or All Purpose Bowl Coating since last October. Here’s the Early Republic XL307 with the APBC:
I’m trying to replicate K&P’s activated charcoal and food-grade arabic gum powder recipe, as I’m a charter member of the League of Pipe Break-In Haters, and K&P’s recipe is the only one I’ve ever found to make acquiring a new-to-me pipe an enjoyable smoking experience. If readers are interested, I’m happy to share my experiments with APBC in a future post, which I’ve only discussed with Scott Collins at this point. While the APBC isn’t perfected, I haven’t regretted using it on any of the six or eight pipes I’ve treated. I notice my stress level is on a downward trend and pipe-purchases on an upward.
Here’s the 1983 Premier XL307 just before getting its APBC
And finally for SPD 2021, a new Tobacco Drying Paper, recreated from what may be K&P’s very first pipe box pipe sock, which wasn’t actually a sock at all, but a piece of textured, waxed paper which was wrapped around the pipe. I can’t give a date, but my hunch is that it was from sometime during the Eire era (1928-38). You can right-click on the title above to download a PDF. I like printing these on ivory copy paper, as they curl very nicely when funneling tobacco back into the jar after drying or rubbing out and can be folded to take on the road in one’s pipe luggage.
Here’s a parting salute in the form of a beautiful, unsmoked 80S Straight Grain that Scott Forrest recently received:
The pipe dates from before 1963, and like other of the super-rare Straight Grains of its era lacks a band (which were not fashionable at the time on high-end pipes). Yes, that’s a cross-drilled pristine bone tenon extension. The pipe will smoke very much like a System. All of K&P’s high-grades before 1963 routinely had such extensions and P-Lips and are well worth seeking out as they’re incredible smokers. Notice those wonderful chuck marks as well. How I miss them!
I’ll be doing my annual “Sweet Petes” post in the next month or so. If you’ve got an unusual, extraordinary, fascinating, obscure or down-right gorgeous Pete to share, send me a photograph or let me know via the comments section & I’ll get in touch.
*When I asked him, retired factory manager Tony Whelan, Jr. told me: “I remember the XL 307 then it became the 307 but I don’t think the dimensions changed.” The questions are—what was the “original” 9 / 307 (from c. 1937 to 1983) and why the XL designation? Another Pete Mystery. Until next time, this is Odd Burley, wishing you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day . . . in the Twilight Zone.
R.D.D. smoking his XL307, c. 1983