While there weren’t many of us at the Chicago show, the Pete Geeks bonded in a hurry. Chris Tarman met my wife and I the very first night, if memory serves, out in the smoking tent. I knew right away this was a guy I was gonna like. It was apparent from the get-go that we shared a lot of similar interests: prog rock (Yes in particular), backpacking, pipes, tobaccos, Petes, and that camaraderie common to the smallest counter-culture generation of all, the one that followed in the wake of the Boomers and endured the flagrant fatuities of the seventies and eighties. His community of pipe companions (‘collection’ if you must) just knocks me out, further evidence that we’re from the same tribe.
Chris in the smoking tent at the Chicago Pipe Show with a few of his favorite Petes
So Chris, what’s your super hero origin story?
I’m 57, and moved from a small town in Western Colorado to the city of Colorado Springs in August of 2020. I don’t look like it, but I’m a retired correctional officer with a 25-year career with the Colorado Department of Corrections. I’m currently working part-time at REI, which helps with my various hobbies (trail running, backpacking, camping, etc). I’ve also played bass guitar since 1980, and have been what I call a “part-time professional musician” for many years (meaning that I get paid to play, but not nearly enough to make a living at it!).
What’s the culture of pipe smoking like where you live?
The only real tobacco shop remaining in Colorado Springs is about a 10 minute walk from my house. It’s primarily a cigar store, but they have a good selection of tinned and bulk pipe tobacco and usually quite a few Petersons. They host a monthly pipe night which usually has a few geezers like me, but also a surprising number of newer and younger pipe smokers.
So when did you take up pipe smoking?
I started smoking a pipe in 1983, right after I graduated from high school. My father smoked a pipe, so I’d grown up around them. My first pipe was a small (tiny, actually) clay that was a reproduction of a very early 17th century clay. My dad said, “If you can stick with that for a month, I’ll know you’re serious about pipe smoking.” It was a very hot and short smoke, but I stuck with it and gradually accumulated a small collection of cheap basket pipes and one nice Pioneer calabash.
What led you to the Divine Art [of Pipe Smoking]?
I attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie, but my family had moved from Casper to a small town in eastern Colorado right after I graduated from high school. I spent the summer of ’84 in that small Colorado town, but would go to Denver or Colorado Springs whenever I could. One day that summer, in a tobacco shop in Colorado Springs, I happened across The Ultimate Pipe Book by Richard Carleton Hacker. Since childhood, when I was interested in a subject, I would read everything about it that I could get my hands on. But at that time, there weren’t many readily available pipe books. So I devoured this one.
What led you to Peterson?
One of the things about pipe smoking that’s always appealed to me is its history and its connection to the past. In Hacker’s book, I read about the Peterson System and how it was basically unchanged since its introduction in the 1890s. He also mentioned that Mark Twain had been a devotee of Petersons and I suddenly remembered having seen Twain’s very own Peterson in a museum in Hannibal Missouri when I was about 10 years old.
I decided that I needed a Peterson, so on my next trip to Colorado Springs I bought a System Standard 312, which was (if memory serves me) my first brand name pipe other than that Pioneer calabash. Later that summer, I bought a Peterson churchwarden.
I returned to college in Wyoming that fall, and eventually discovered a great tobacco shop a couple of hours away in Boulder, Colorado. That’s where I saw a pipe I HAD to have: a Peterson Mark Twain! It was $75, which was a lot of money for a 19-year-old college student. But then I found out that the shop would take trade-ins of used pipes! What??? I’d never heard of “estate pipes” until then. So I saved up some cash and eventually headed back to Boulder with some of my early pipe purchases and walked out with the Mark Twain.
In 1987, my family moved again, this time to Ogden, Utah (my father was a Methodist minister, which explains the frequent moves). I made friends with a guy about my age who worked at a Tinder Box store in Salt Lake City. One day, he called me in Wyoming to ask if I might be interested in a Peterson they had just gotten in the store. It was a Deluxe Briar Circle 05. I had him hold it for me, sight unseen. In fact, I didn’t see it until I had paid it off a few months later and received it in the mail. It was a beautiful little thing, with a much better grade of briar than my Standard or Twain.
I picked up a few more Petersons over the next several years, but then my pipe collection moved into other areas. I have about 500 pipes in my collection now, including about 100 Bill Taylor-era Ashtons, many Edwardian silver-mounted English calabashes, about 10 Ballebys and many other pipes of various makes and price ranges.
Other than the calabashes and Ashtons (Bill was a good friend from ‘98 when I first met him until his death in 2009), my collecting has never been terribly focused. I collect pipes that I like and can (usually) afford! I like to buy pipes from makers that I know personally since that gives me an added sense of connection to the pipes.
Pipes by Robert Vacher (courtesy Pipes Magazine)
I have about 38 made by my good friend Robert Vacher (Laughing Moon Pipes), and several by other makers that I’ve gotten to know over the years.
At the 2018 Chicago Pipe Show, I attended Mark Irwin’s presentation about Peterson and about his upcoming book. I thought to myself, “Hey… I ought to smoke my Petersons more often.” At the 2019 show, I bought the book and then bought three Petes on eBay that summer, which brought my collection up to 14.
In February of 2021, I bought my 15th, an Amber Spigot XL90. That was quickly followed by more, and now I have 34 Petes and a 35th on the way (a System Deluxe Sandblasted XL5s). I’ve always enjoyed the history of pipe smoking, and, while I love many of the modern spins on pipes, I also appreciate classic designs.
Do you have any favorite Pete shapes or lines?
I like the fact that many Petersons have changed very little since the introduction of the System. In fact, it’s the older original Peterson shapes that really draw me. The Deluxe System is probably my favorite Peterson line, with the 4s, 9s, and 11s being my favorite shapes (along with their Standard equivalents the 309, 307, and 312).
Chris’s White Whale: A 1990 Straight Centenary System
I do have one “Holy Grail” (or “White Whale” if you prefer) Peterson. Actually, there are probably several, but one in particular comes to mind: In ’91 and ’92 I worked in a tobacco shop in Lexington, Kentucky while my wife was in graduate school. The shop had the 1990 System Centenary straight billiard for my entire tenure there, and I kept thinking about buying it but never did. I’ve never seen another one in person until this year’s Chicago show, but it had already been purchased by the fellow Pete Geek who showed it to me! Ah well… someday! I also regret not picking up one of the meerschaum Sherlock Holmes models that were at the Chicago show 10 or 12 years ago. And maybe someday I can find an antique Peterson meerschaum, and a . . .
Photography by Chris Tarman
I know several CPGs who’re now enjoying their new Sherlock Holmes Rua Spigots. I’m so thrilled with this release and what the lads and lasses have done in Deargrange that I’ve expanded the drop post just a wee bit, especially as there are still some of these pipes available.
I have a new batch of ‘catch & release’ K&P goodies for the discerning Pete Geek up this week on eBay, including the Eire-era uber-rarity, a 999 Author. Global Shipping available, as usual!