213. The Hallmark Silver Cap & Chain Special-Issue System (1974)

Most Peterson collectors & companioners these days think of 1981’s Mark Twain as the first great K&P commemorative, and over time it has certainly become the most famous. It was the fortuitous combination of a charismatic System smoker and a great System pipe.

Fans were (and are) particularly fond of the MT’s space-fitting B or tapered stem, with an affection the company has rarely tried to satisfy in subsequent System releases. But before the MT, there was another commemorative, just as fascinating and considerably harder to find on the estate market—the 1974 Hallmark Silver Cap” System.  It didn’t appear in the landmark “Centenary Catalog” from 1975, but it did appear in the subsequent 1979 update:

The Hallmark Silver Cap was originally released in 1974, as we find out in some sales promotion materials from William F. Sweeney, who headed up Peterson’s Associated Imports, the company who distributed K&P pipes from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s. It’s worth your perusal (even though the front page says it was released in 1976), so I’ve placed it as a downloadable PDF below the following image:

Hallmark Silver Cap 1974 K&P

Sweeney’s rhetoric is one I haven’t heard since collecting catalogs from our family mailbox when I was a teen. It’s obvious that he either trained with or was certified as a snake oil salesman before he became the director of Associated Imports and uses facts rather . . . creatively. He’s charming all the same.

The hallmark on the 9s sandblast I’ve documented is a lower-case “l” for 1974, incidentally:

Sweeney calls this special issue the “Hallmarked Silver Cap,” which to me seems rather vapid, although I’m not sure what I’d suggest in its place: “the 1906 Cap & Chain”? Attached windcaps wouldn’t be reintroduced for five more years.  On the page reproduced above the copy reads that the special issue is “a replica of a special pipe Charles Peterson created in his shop . . . in 1905.” Of course we all know that shape 9 is a “special shape”—but then, aren’t all Systems? But your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not CP was on Grafton Street in 1905 hand-carving a shape 9.  In any event, in the 1978 Associated Imports catalog, Sweeney shortened the name to “Silver Cap” System:

The advertising copy is a little wrenched here, but maybe that’s what advertising is supposed to do. For one thing, Shape 9 appeared in the 1896 catalog, which isn’t really “long before the turn of the century.” And the silver cap and chain weren’t seen until the 1906 catalog. And of course, even the shape wasn’t, strictly speaking, the same shape 9, as fans of the 9BC and 2020 POY  know.

Advertising to one side, there’s a lot to celebrate here. K&P had only resumed their hallmarking five years’ previous to this in 1969 and already they could see the benefit of doing so. And despite losing Harry Kapp in 1971, the creative minds at K&P (nearly all of whom at that point had worked under Kapp) were taking a good look at their heritage and history.

The Hallmark Silver Cap was released in the largest and smallest De Luxe Systems available: the 9s and the 20s, in three finishes: natural, dark (what the company now calls Heritage) and black sandblast. Sweeney calls the release a “Limited Edition,” but that is certainly not by today’s standards: 3,048 or “254 dozen”! The dozen is important to remember, Pete Geeks, because that’s how factory hands reckoned their daily output: by how many dozens they’d completed. This was also the era of K&P’s largest production—about 500,000 pipes a year. The price for the Hallmark Silver Cap, if you haven’t read the PDF yet, was $200 for a natural, $170 for a dark and $165 for a smooth (order yours before midnight tonight and receive absolutely free a cake pan in the shape of Kansas).

The blast was done in-house, as K&P wouldn’t lose their bowl turning operations until the Pipeocolypse [pipe-ah-co-lypse] in 1984, when the entire industry collapsed. It’s marvelous in any case to compare the in-house technique of c. 1974 with that being done today:

The sterling cap and chain are what mark this issue as absolutely unique in the Peterson catalog and undoubtedly the reason you never find one on the estate market—being removable, they inevitably get lost over the years. When it was originally released in 1906, the chain was secured with a small eyebolt on the tenon of the mouthpiece:

You might think the eyebolt a good idea until the late, icy night you’re exhausted and sitting in your most comfortable chair next to the fire with a good drink at your elbow. You light the pipe and put the cap on. It goes out, so you take the cap off, light the pipe and let the chain dangle. The jangling cap gets in the way of what you’re reading so you put it back on. Your pipe goes out again, so you  take the cap off and it’s there again, just dangling.  So you put it back on. Pipe goes out. You take it back off. Before long the pipe is in the fireplace. Okay, that was a Twilight Zone scenario. It could never happen in real life. But you can see how the 1974 designers, having watched Twilight Zone for many years, very wisely chose to place the chain on a ring so that when one is smoking indoors or simply not in the mood for jingle, it can be easily removed. “Peace & Pipes,” as Bob C. says.

The cap features a deep K&P in shields maker’s mark over STERLING over SILVER on the dome. The Irish hallmarks are placed in the center of the cap rim and JMCO. to the left of the hallmarks. These initials refer to the Jewellery and Metal Manufacturing Company, who made the cap and ring for K&P. I haven’t found much on this company aside from the facts that they were based in Dublin, incorporated in 1925 and run by the Seagal family. The business was dissolved in 1995, although may have closed many years prior to that.

The aluminum tenon extension on the Hallmark Silver Cap issue was originally gold-tone. This type of extension would be used subsequently on Supreme Systems.  On this pipe, the gold tone has been over-zealously buffed off the external funnel but can still be seen on the tip and threads.

As for the COM stamp, K&P used their old fork-tail P PETERSON’S over PATENT and the MADE IN over IRELAND stamp familiar for decades to collectors of upper-grade Petes.

One thing we don’t talk about much in regard to estate pipes is their relative physical weight next to new or recent examples of the same shape.  Apart from Pete Geeks, I’m not sure there are any pipemen to whom this question would even be meaningful.  It was Smokingpipes.com that first got me used to looking at a pipe’s measurements and details and then comparing them to another example of the same pipe.

The 9S De Luxe, 2021: Deeper blast than the Hallmark Silver Cap & Chain, but at the cost of shape integrity.
Notice also the difference in the tenon spacing of the 1974 vs. the 2021 (both stems are vulcanite).

When two pipes are otherwise identical—say, the two De Luxe 9s blasts seen above—and one weighs 5 to 15 grams more than the other, I always go for the lighter pipe. I’m not talking about the 1-2 grams difference caused by sanding or blasting, but a substantial difference caused by the curing of the briar. I’m told that really well-cured briar has lost its tannins (phenolic acids). J. T. Cooke, the only pipe artisan I know who cures the chamber of a pipe bowl, claims this extra drying can lighten the wood from 4 to 12%. His belief is that the better the wood is cured, the better the pipe will smoke—a belief echoed in the myths of Dunhill’s Dead Root briars and K&P’s own “150-year old” wood advertisement for the De Luxe lines from 1917.

1974 Hallmark Silver Cap Blast Measurements & Other Details

Length: 6.53 in /165.9 mm.
Weight (without cap and ring): 2.25 oz / 64 gr
Bowl Height: 2.07 in / 52.7 mm
Chamber Depth: 1.62 in / 41.2 mm
Chamber Diameter: 0.82 in / 20.8 mm
Outside Diameter: 1.55 in / 39.4 mm
Stem Material: Vulcanite
Bowl Shape: 9
Pipe Shape: 9S
Hallmark: “l” for 1974 (Late Republic)

 

Pipe courtesy Bob Cuccaro
MT photo courtesy Anthony Macaluso, from his collection
9s De Luxe Sandblast photos courtesy Smokingpipes.com
Other noise by Chas. Mundungus & Co

 

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