The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson from Briar Books Press debuted at the end of March 2019 and had sold out around March 1st, 2020. At the urging of Smokingpipes.com, itt will once again be available again, this time in paperback, in January or February of 2022. The print run this time out is 500 copies (last time it was 1000), so if you’re interested, don’t delay too long. The book garnered a gold medal from the Independent Publishers Association in 2021 for Best First Non-Fiction book, which Gary Malmberg, Marie Irwin and myself are really proud of!
A Short History of the Making of the Book
C. S. Lewis once said that we write the books we want to read, and I’ve wanted a Peterson book for a long time now. When I noticed a few of the Peterson authorities I admired had passed away, I began to wonder who was going to get this book written. As it turned out, I was. But not without a lot of help from my friends. Here’s a video preview of the work-in-progress text our designer made before publication:
After a pilgrimage to Peterson in Sallynoggin in the summer of 2009, I began to think more seriously about the possibility of such a venture and in 2011 contacted the late Jim Lilley, who was blogging about the marque at the time. I convinced him that’d I “gopher” (liaise) the book if he and a few others would do the heavy lifting. His declining health forced him to withdraw from the project not longer afterwards, but not before connecting me with the late Chuck Wright, who was very active on the Peterson boards and with then-Sacramento Pipe Club president Gary Malmberg.
Several months later, 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 Show in 2012 and came away not long after with a contract.
As you might imagine, I wanted all the help I could get, and while there were a few who thumbed their noses at us, we eventually coerced some of the hobby’s brightest talents into participating in various ways. First and foremost, of course, was the real hospitality and every-point-of-the-way help of Peterson’s CEO and owner (until 2010), Tom Palmer. But then there was help from Sykes Wilford at Laudisi, the enthusiasm and writing of Rick Newcombe, the encouragement of Steve Laug, the daily correspondence with Conor Palmer and Tony Whelan Jr. at the factory and pieces authored by Steve Laug, Neill Archer Roan, Marc Munroe Dion, Regis McCafferty, Anthony Macaluso, Dave Whitney 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 and 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 perhaps a bit detail-oriented. Maybe peculiar. But as far as I’m concerned, it paid off in the exhaustive nature of the book’s architecture, which can be seen as a kind of Celtic trinity knot or triquetra of braiding Peterson’s history, pipes and craftsmanship:
We knew we wanted, and could write, a fairly detailed history of Kapp & Peterson. That for me was the scary part and that was Gary’s genius and gift to the book. We also knew we wanted to establish a reliable dating guide that goes beyond the puerile and meaningless “Pre-Republic” you hear everyone talk about, illustrating Peterson pipes by their stamping eras from Pre-Patent (1865-1890) to the most recent, now concluded Dublin era (1991-2018). And I wanted a full section for Peterson users encompassing various aspects of craftsmanship: steps of production, smoking the System pipe, how to buy and restore estate pipes, and of course our Identification Guide on how to date a pipe you own or are thinking of acquiring.
To the three-fold design we added bookends. First, an extra 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 Kapps” (which is how the company is still named by those who work there today) since that first group of 20 hires in 1891 down through the years. What emerges from them 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. The second bookend is the Collector’s Reference section at the end of the book, containing an Irish hallmarks chart, pipe identification guide, annotated bibliography and deep index.
In the summer of 2013, Gary and I and our third co-author, Marie Irwin, a data miner and book designer whose day job is academic librarianship, went to the Peterson factory in Sallynoggin for a week. We photographed and scanned everything we could find, digging through draws, cabinets and press books. I did oral interviews with over a dozen current and retired staffers. 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 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 (well alright, almost everything) is there.
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 through 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 pipe history.
In the summer of 2017, after re-immersing herself all spring in the world of desktop publishing, our designer Marie Irwin stepped 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, because I could do a lot of back-seat driving—“Say, could we make the text swirl around the pipes here?” or “I wish we had a photo of the Cuffe Lane factory entrance” [where the staff entered the old factory down on St. Stephens Green]. Of course, she threw a lot of stuff back my way, allowing 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.
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.
Top photo courtesy Smokingpipes.eu