257. The Pipe of the Year 2021—The Return of Basil Rathbone’s 4AB
The POY 2021 / 4AB homage will be released Friday morning, December 3rd, 2021, at Smokingpipes.eu and Smokingpipes.com in a limited, numbered edition of 500 pipes total. It will be available this year in seven finishes: rustic, sandblast, ebony, Terracotta, Heritage, PSB and Natural. I haven’t heard whether there is a Supreme or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised. This is the first System in the POY’s twenty-four year history and K&P has outdone themselves with a painstakingly retro-engineered bowl, ferrule, AB vulcanite mouthpiece and screw-in “chimney” or tenon extension, all taken from the 1937 catalog. It is, in fact, the shape Basil Rathbone smoked opposite Nigel Bruce in many of the Sherlock Holmes films for Twentieth-Century Fox back in the 1930s and ’40s.
“Watson, is there a different time zone in Dublin?”
–the first sighting of Basil Rathbone’s 4AB in the franchise
Continuing their practice from previous years,
K&P has issued a special “Chat with the Smoker” brochure in each POY pipe box
as well as a green suede leather pipe bag
The drop for Europe will be 10am GMT, which gives friends across the pond and Very Early Risers here in the US an opportunity to see what’s on offer on the Smokingpipes.eu site before the POY goes on sale later in the morning here in the US.
In conjunction with the POY2021, Smokingpipes.com is debuting an exclusive limited edition of The Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, which I believe will be out on Thursday, December 2nd. It features an interview with K&P’s pipe specialist Giacomo Penzo on the creation of the POY 2021 and some of the challenges he and the creative team faced. It also gives the fan a complete survey of the pipes in the Sherlock Holmes 14-film franchise that ran from 1939 to 1946. Kapp & Peterson’s Federica Bruno translated Giaco’s interview and Adam O’Neill, Marketing Manager for SPEu, provided some great photos. If you want the complete story of Rathbone and Peterson pipes, this is it. Help support my PAD and buy a copy to go with your POY!
Take the Reverse-Engineering Challenge: Here’s two 4AB bowls, one from the period of the Rathbone films (c. 1940) and one from the 2021 edition. Which is which? For the answer, scroll to the bottom of this post.
I think all the Pete Geeks have been blown away by the Laudisi Era’s commitment to the heritage of K&P, on display nowhere more clearly than in the three POYs they’ve released. The 2019 John Bull (999) was a first—a P-Lip and a vulcanite stem. It disappointed some because it wasn’t a more exact recreation of the original. The 2020 9BC took things up a level, with K&P’s pipe specialist Giacomo Penzo creating three prototypes and the crew selecting the finest. While it actually turned out to be more like the original Patent shape 9 than the Rogers Imports Ltd. 9BC shape, I had no quibbles. It’s a superb piece of craftsmanship. I have no hesitation in saying that the 2021 4BC is the best of the three, for three reasons: it’s the first System POY ever, the engineering is impeccable throughout and, well, it’s my favorite shape in the catalog—the 4!
The well is a three-decker, quite deep, on both samples I’ve looked at. In fact, you will probably need a doubled pipe cleaner to hit the cellar in addition to the usual twist of tissue for the upper stories. As you can see, I’ve already taken this pipe out for a smoke.
The vulcanite P-Lip is remarkable. I don’t remember seeing one this well-sculpted in a very long time—certainly back to the end of the Late Republic era.
The stem itself is also a bit of a marvel, engineered so far as I can tell to identical specs as the original. When you go to select your own POY, remember that stem bending is a craft and these stems are bent one at a time. Expect some slight variation and look for what pleases you most. A pipe cleaner can be run straight from the button through the end of the chimney (tenon extension) in both my samples. This has definitely not been the case for most of my System pipes with chimneys. The only ones, in fact, that I’ve companioned that can do this routinely are the 1975 Centenary pipes with their special thin extensions.
The stamps are all placed together. For K&P as well as other factory-made pipes, stamps are either hand-pressed or pressed with the use of a vise-like bench tool, and depending on how rounded the surface is, sometimes a full footprint won’t be present around the edges. This is especially so when the stamps, as on the POY, are placed on the most rounded part of the bottom of the shank. You won’t get much help on this from photos at SPC and SPEu, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Neither of my samples has a year stamp, (maybe other do?), but as this is going to be one of those mythical Pipe of the Years that don’t ever come around again, who cares? Every Pete Geek will remember 2021 as “the Year of the Rathbone 4AB.”
Laudisi-era K&P continues to use the understated, classic Peterson’s over DUBLIN stamp for the sterling, albeit this year on the obverse side of the shank (nice touch). The hallmark stamps, which are done by the Goldsmiths of Dublin and not at K&P, are crisp and tell the year story quite well—“K” for 2021 (which letter also graces the hallmarks on the back cover of the new paperback version of The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, due out in the fairly-near future).
For those who prefer an uncoated chamber, the Natural is issued that way. But on all the K&P POYs this year, the pre-carbon can be gently washed out with water, allowing the smoker to begin with a bare chamber if he or she so chooses.
THE BACK STORY
As I know everyone tires of me saying, the 4 is the iconic bowl hanging from the lips of the Thinking Man as the 4s De Luxe. It was originally available in several mounts, but what concerns us is the tapered army used on the System 1st Quality and System 0—what we think of today as the De Luxe and the Premier.
There have only been two catalog appearances of the 4AB that I know of, the first in1906 and the second in the 1937. The original Patent shape (above) differs from the later version (below) primarily in the way the bowl is turned at the mortise into a bit more of a point, making the ferrule a bit more pointed as well. The 1937 version assumes the fuller, rounder, chubbier Peterson ferrule house style that was coming into its own by the late 1930s. The 309 remained the same from 1937 until its demise in 2012, varying only in the slight differences caused by sanding and chamber diameters.
By the 1940s K&P had expanded its catalog in other directions and the sterling A (army) and AB (army taper) mounts had been eliminated from the top System lines. The AB disappeared altogether at about this time, while the A went into the Standard System as the 309 (Premier) and 359 (Standard) for most of the Éire era (1938-48). By the end of that period, the 359 was dropped, leaving only the 309 in both Premier and Standard.
As we relate in The Peterson Pipe, the shop on Grafton Street in Dublin received regular requests for “that pipe Sherlock Holmes smokes” from the 1940s onward—referring to Basil Rathbone’s 4AB. In 1987, the corporate memory recalled this love, embarking on the long and successful Sherlock Holmes series, eventually producing 18 shapes, 14 of which are still in production. No one thought to make a 4AB, probably because the 4 was still in production at that time and because the average pipe smoker more readily identified with the image of a calabash, which Paddy Larrigan used in The Original (which was an XL version of the 05 calabash made to replace the bent dublin 05 which was retired in 1984).
Gosser’s “Sherlock Holmes in Pipe Heaven”
Fast forward to 2013, two years into the creation of the Peterson book, and I began corresponding with illustrator Larry Gosser, whose work would later grace the pages of that book. When I found out the illustration of Holmes at the tobacco shop was in fact not in Gosser’s imagination but actually seen in one of the movies, I contacted a film professor at UCLA and with his help began gathering screen captures for what would become The Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, which was first published in May 2019 and debuted at the Chicagoland Pipe Show. Early drafts appeared of that book appeared on a blog I was writing in 2014 or so, and not longer afterwards I began to get requests about how to find a 4AB. Of course, there wasn’t one, although by that time I’d sent a really nice shape 4 bowl to be retrofitted with an AB stem and I knew a few Pete Geeks sent their own bowls for the same treatment. After the book went through its print run in 2020 and finding out there would be a POY late that year, I thought it was time to bring the long-evolving project to its conclusion with the help of Giacomo Penzo, Federica Bruno, Adam O’Neill and Josh Burgess at K&P. If you want one of these books to accompany your POY, don’t wait too long. There won’t be any more!
309 with a factory retrofit AB stem, c. 2016
At that 2019Chicago show, I ran into comics illustrator and tobacco-reviewer extraordinaire Jim Amash, aka “Jiminks,”who told me he’d met with Shane Ireland (Director of SPC) about the 4AB the year before at the Las Vegas show and we agreed to promote the shape to our friends and fellow pipe smokers, which we did over the course of the next year. Before the end of 2020, K&P had committed to the project and began the lengthy process of reverse-engineering, which involved not only cutting a bowl identical to the one from the Éire era but making sure the shank end was cut in such a way as to allow their silversmiths to match the “turnover” of sterling on the earlier pipe. Then there was the whole issue of the bend of the specially-created P-Lip AB stem, which I’m hoping someone at SPC or K&P—Andy or Shane or Josh—might take up and explain in one of the great videos they do at The Daily Reader.
I’m thinking this year’s POY will sell out faster than any in the company’s history. Look for it Friday morning!
Good luck, good hunting—Dia is Muire duit!
Thanks to Josh Burgess, Andy Wike & Adam O’Neill
at K&P and Laudisi for all their help and support,
and of course to the incredible craftsmen and women at
Kapp & Peterson for their skill and passion in this project.
1940 System “O” (left) and 2021 POY (right)