404. Fathering the Peterson Flame: Al Rosenfield’s 1987 Pilgrimage to Peterson

Left to Right, September 1987: Jimmy Nicholson (CEO), Tony Dempsey (Director of Sales), Al Rosenfield (Pete Geek), Paddy Larrigan (Factory Manager)

Lá na nAithreacha sona duit!
Grattis på farsdagen!
Glücklicher Vatertag!
Joyeuse Fête des Pères!
Buona Festa del Papà!
З Днем Батька!
Šťastný Den Otců!
Happy Father’s Day!

Let me extend a “Happy Father’s Day” to every father today, knowing that many countries celebrate on a different day than we do here in the US. Fathering—whether biological or nurturing, mentoring or providing—is something so often painted over in harsh negatives that we lose sight of the bedrock and blessings bestowed on us by our fathers.

This morning I want to honor Al Rosenfield, who “fathered the Peterson flame” in the 1980s, and also C. Bruce Spencer, the publisher of Pipe Smoker (A Journal of Kapnismology).  Eugene Umberger was my go-to for help with Spencer, but Al Rosenfield I know through Paddy Larrigan, whose 1987 photos grace Rosenfield’s pilgrimage to Peterson essay this morning,  as well as from the first newsletters Rosenfield wrote as founder of the Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club of Boston, given to me by Andy Camire CPG and Linwood Hines CPG back in 2011.

Allan H. Rosenfield
from Pipe Smoker, Jan-Mar 1988, pp. 12-14*

Like any pipe-smoking enthusiast, I have my idol. That singular industry giant who raised pipe making from craft to art and who still inspires imitators and admirers. What sets my hero worship apart? Simply this: nothing would satisfy my passion but a trip to the enchanting Emerald Isle itself where my hero became a legend.

Let me say that my fantasy journey to Peterson of Dublin – the very city where Charles Peterso’s handicraft looms larger than life – took on special significance from the start. Here I am a pipe collector for over a quarter of a century and a working man who has not had a vacation in that same time frame about to embark on the trip of dreams.

A MASTER AT WORK – Paddy Larrigan, master pipemaker at Peterson’s hand works a piece of Moroccan straight grain briar.

I arrived in the fair city on September 23. Excitedly, I checked into the Berkeley Court, one of the poshest hotels in Dublin. I received a royal welcome in a manner befitting the days of old. I quickly rang up Jimmy Nicholson, president of Peterson. Right from the start, I was taken with Jimmy’s graciousness, wit, and extraordinary command of the language. He met me, along with Tony Dempsey, marketing director and vice president of Peterson, as well as Paddy Larrigan, the company’s foreman and master pipe maker. They shared a brief history of Peterson’s company, founded on 55 Grafton Street in 1875. The year Peterson sowed the seeds for what would become – in my opinion – the finest smoking pipe in the world today. Traditions are strong; both of Paddy’s parents also worked for Peterson’s company.

Tony Whelan, Sr., puttying bowls

As I heard the lively trio exchange tidbits on company history, I felt a curious kinship, not only with these three men, but also with the many famous men – and ordinary ones, too – who were united by their appreciation of Peterson’s artistry. These three, though, were special; what cemented their bond was their love for Charles Peterson. Each had joined the company in their teens, and matured together. I couldn’t help but envy the comraderie that marked a de­ dication to a company and a pride in long service – one that I seldom see in our country.

The tour of the Peterson shop was more remarkable than I had anticipated. I had the pleasure of seeing the entire operation, from the ground up. It seems that despite the modernization, even the machine pipes are lovingly “hand made.” The old-world methods of creation, combined with the love and respect the staff shares for their craft, are evident here. A lot of what I call the “push-em-out” high tech mentality in our world is virtually non-existent in this one.

Liam Larrigan working a coil of sterling

I was enthralled with the marriage of precious metals to briar. Of course, every pipe receives painstaking care; even the moderate priced ones are thoroughly finished with as many as 128 hand operations. Liam Larrigan, Paddy’s brother, handles the silver and gold mounting, and we chatted about the demand for their 1987 100 Anniversary (commemorative) for Sherlock Holmes. This pipe has far more richness and inspired craftsmanship than any Calibash. Not only is it marked on the band, but also stamped on the briar itself (a touch not often found). You’re lucky if you can still secure this particular pipe, since demand far exceeds supply.

Buffing the new SH Baker Street pipes

I want to call attention to their Mark Twain Commemorative as well (made in 1985). I’m proud to say I own number 1/1000, but prouder of the enthusiasm this and other pipes still evoke for the men here. I think this company’s understated elegance commands respect; a respect the workers never take for granted.  In fact, Jimmy Nicholson himself makes it his business to praise everyone at least once a day; he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves either and lend a hand. The levity here, the positive spirit, and the open communication transcend typical stuffy business relationships.

PRESIDENTIAL – This superb sample of the Peterson Pipe was presented to President Ronald Reagan in 1984 by Henry Arundel, representing the famous pipe crafting firm. A letter from the president (see below) is displayed with pride at the factory.

Though few realize it, Peterson makes a select number of pipes today totally by hand. And they put out more shapes than anyone I’m aware of right now. I particularly admired watching the skilled artisans make the Peterson system pipe. To me, nothing smokes as well as a system pipe. Believe me, in my quest for perfection, I’ve found nothing to compare to this one, for it smokes dry and clean. On the other pipes I had the pleasure of witnessing, I guess what awed me the most was the fact that I got a first-hand look at all. A special thrill was watching the pipes pass through the flames to enrich their pigmentation.

Speaking of fine craftsmanship, I want to add how impressed I was with the Peterson tradition that anyone who works in the factory must also work in their retail store. The purpose is admirable: each can see what the consumer wants. I enjoyed the retail store and have the souvenirs to prove it! Two last details I wouldn’t want to omit; both very personal. One was the moment I had with Paddy when he shared his feeling on the magic of watching a raw piece of briar evolve into a unique finished product. The other is when Tony Dempsey pulled two gold medals from his pocket (a permanent home, I imagine) that were awarded at the International Trade Exposition in London.

As I left that boardroom and my special friends at Peterson, I left a part of my heart, too. A part of myself that will always cherish the memory of Charles Peterson and of the men who keep it alive.

LOOKING THE PART – Allan Rosenfield is dedicated to the Peterson pipe, shape, make and all. This is the photo that he used for a holiday greeting. His friends call him “Irish Al Rosenfield.”




Tony Dempsey in a photo from Smoke Shop in 1980.
Notice he’s studying the 1906 catalog!

Al Rosenfield made Tony Dempsey a member of the Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club soon after its founding, and part of the fun was Al’s newsletter. Like PPN, Al always solicited contributions, and in the very first issue Tony—who was K&P’s last in-the-house all day pipe smoker—sent Al his own “Dempsey Blend”:

Dempsey Blend – Mix one 50 gr. tin
            Erinmoor flake with one 115 gr. tin
                        St. Bruno flake

I have both of these old-time aromatics in the cellar, so made up a small batch, at something like the 2.3 to 1 ratio. I think I’ll give them a few weeks to marry, and when I light up it will be to remember how Tony and Al “fathered the flame” of our devotion to Peterson pipes.



Fathering the Flame: C. Bruce Spencer (1931–2022),
Publisher of Pipe Smoker and Originator of the Term Kapnismology

Around the time I was publishing Pipeman’s Quarterly: For Pipe & Coffee Connoisseurs in the early 1980s, I came across the wonderful word kapnismology, and it just came to me that I found it in an issue of Pipe Smoker, which Ted’s Pipe Shop in Tulsa carried and which was the Pipes & tobaccos magazine of the ’80s.

The word was coined by its publisher, C. Bruce Spencer, who rightly understood that if stamp collectors are philatelists and coin collectors numismatists, then pipe collectors by rights ought to be kapnismologists. As one of our greatest and certainly grumpiest pipe collectors, Ben Rappaport writes,

“C. Bruce Spencer was the founder of the quarterly magazine Pipe Smoker that debuted in spring 1983. Wholly unfamiliar with this hobby, Spencer wanted a unique designation for everyone affiliated with pipe smoking, so he reached back to ancient Greece and introduced the following in the spring 1984 issue without much fanfare: “kapnismology, the science or study of smoke; kapnisma, the act of smoking; kapnismologist, one who studys [sic] or who makes an art of the business of smoking; kapnizdo, I smoke.” Did we need this term to identify ourselves? It’s beyond my comprehension as to why this term caught on, but it did. The magazine is long gone and it’s time that Spencer’s term is gone.”1

Of course, I disagree Ben as I have about most things in life, but in this case it’s personal. Without kapnismologist, how could I be a Kappnismologist, one who studys and smokes the pipes of Kapp & Peterson? I ask you.


Magazines Published by Spencer

 Pipe Smoker (The Journal of Kapnismology). Pipe Collectors International, 6172 Airways Boulevard, P.O. Box 22085, Chattanooga, TN 37422.

Spring 1983–Jan/Feb/Mar 1988  [glossy paper]

Pipe Smoker & Tobacciana Trader. Pipe Collectors International, 6172 Airways Boulevard, P.O. Box 22085, Chattanooga,  TN 37422.

May/June 1988—July/August/September 1989  [newspaper] [successor to Pipe Smoker]

The Smokers Pipeline. Pipe Collectors Club of America (PCCA), c/o Old Virginia Tobacco Company, P.O. Box 2089,  Merrifield, VA  22116. [subsumed Pipe Smoker and Tobacciana Trader in 1989]


1 Ben Rapaport, “An Historical Review of Reviews: Chronicling a Century of Magazines for the Pipe-Smoking Maven,”  The Pipe Smoker’s Ephemeris (Winter–Spring, 2003) 58–9.



This photo, Larrigan told me in 2013, was taken in his living room,
shows his great diversity as an artisan. If you have the big Pete book, you’ll recognize some of these, including the Original SH set.


Many thanks to
Andy Camire CPG and Linwood Hines CPG.
Photographs courtesy Paddy Larrigan.
Special thanks
to Eugene Umberger CPG, for providing
bibliographical information about Spencer and Pipe Smoker,
as well as a photo of the cover in which this article appeared.
Thanks also to
Kapp & Peterson for use of archival material




Ralle Perrera asks if you’ve got your bowler brushed


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