A 1984 Briar Circle “Kapp & Peterson” Book Set by Paddy Larrigan
This morning I want to share a few thoughts on Peterson first issues and rarities. I’ve been in correspondence with a number of Pete Geeks who have amazing and extensive collections of both, and I’m hoping they’ll consider this entire post as an invitationl for them to share their knowledge and collections with us and thereby enlarge our understanding and appreciation of the world’s oldest continuously-manufactured briar pipe.
I’ve talked about first issues a number of times in the past, but what I want to look at this morning is what may not at seem an obvious fact: the first issue of a particular shape, line, or series should be seen by us as definitive and important as the first edition of a book is to the bibliophile. While this observation could doubtless be expanded, I’ll confine it to three instances: 1. A first issue represents K&P’s original idea and understanding of what a shape or line should be. 2. Like a first edition book, a first issue Pete usually sets the standard for how subsequent issues will be judged. 3. Sometimes the first issue is simply an original, as it’s the only issue.
1. What it “Should Be”
What a Shape or Line “Should Be.” In talking with Josh Burgess, Managing Director at Peterson, on the phone last week, we compared notes on the evolution of catalog shapes over the decades. We agreed that while Charles Peterson’s original Patent Systems all of necessity featured tubular shanks, most of them were feminine in comparison with the masculine, iconic versions these same shapes would assume by the Éire era (1938-48). Of course, if you’re an enthusiast of Patent and IFS-era pipes (as many of us are), then you’ll think of shapes like the 9 and 14 differently than those of us who reference the Éire 9 and the 1980s Mark Twain version of the 14. As Post #203 has dealt with the 9 and Post #296 with the 14, there’s no need to go into it further, although other examples could be given–the original 301 Short Dutch with its beautifully proportioned stem is one that comes to mind:
My idea of what shape 302 “should be”
(see Post #317)
2. A Standard for Comparison
A Standard to Compare With Later Reissues. Sometimes a shape can change so much that it’s not really even the same shape at all, as was the case with the John Bull 999 (see Post #114 ) and the the B42 / Darwin (see Post #323). The B42 went from being a bent apple (something almost never seen) to a bent brandy (a common-enough shape and one even K&P has repeated, as in the 2013 Limited Edition / POY). While I like both shapes, the very fact that the bent apple was the first, as well as it being replaced by the bent brandy, has prejudiced me in its favor. More recently and charmingly I wondered if the 307 has become even chubbier or whether it’s simply my mad devotion to the shape as it appears in the Spigot System. While it turns out this is simply an aberration from stummels provided by K&P’s supplier, it’s a welcome one for Pete Geeks like myself who adore All Pipes Great & Chubby.
A recent 307 Spigot : I think it’s my imagination, but wow
this is One Chubby Pipe!
Sometimes the changes are in more subtle details: the beading on the original SH Baker Street, for example, which was dropped many years ago but which gave the original so much of its character.
The beaded lines of the original SH Baker Street give the first years of its production an added elegance to the Original Sherlock Holmes Collection
Or take the sophistication of the original Kinsale line the smooth rim found on some of the SH shapes. You’ll recall the Kinsale was a staple of the Dublin era, running from the 1997 catalog through the 2010 or so. Doubtless the smooth rim of these first issues was more labor intensive, and as the purpose of the Kinsale line was to utilize SH bowls that didn’t fall in the requirements of the SH line at the time, I can understand why it was decided to drop the extra work. Still, when you compare the two side by side, the smooth rim and abstract rustication of the first issue is (to me) hands-down to be preferred to the machine-like regularity seen on the later issues:
Kinsale XL20 first issue
Kinsale XL20 subsequent releases
3. An Original
An Original. There are also occasions when a release will never be repeated, so that it becomes for all intents and purposes an original. Most recently, last year’s amazing Short Army release comes to mind, although if it is ever repeated, that distinction will fall away. But two more important instances come to mind. The more recent is the 2019 Rosslare Black release. I believe this was one of Laudisi-era Peterson’s first in-house rustications, and it was extraordinary in its cragginess. It was absolutely rough, not only visually but to the touch–something I’d never seen before:
Rosslare 606 (HM 2019)
It was also one of those issues I wish I’d acquired at least two examples of and kept at least one. The roughness of the black rustication combine with the reproduction amber acrylic mouthpiece and the beaded silver work to produce what can only be called a masterpiece.
This unsmoked Baskerville System from 1990 recently sold for nearly $600
Another example is the 1990 HM Sherlock Holmes System duo (see Post #277 ). I had an email recently asking me how many of these had been made as there was one up on eBay. “Not many,” was my reply, since I’ve only seen four of them on eBay in 13 years of daily watching! Of course the Baskerville is a revered staple in the Peterson catalog, but this first issue is also an original, one I doubt will ever be repeated, given the majestic sinuous curves of its AB stem and the difficulty of sourcing vulcanite stems. To think it recently commanded a price tag of nearly $600 is almost mind boggling, isn’t it?
Continuing with my first edition analogy, a rare Pete may be worth a lot or it may be worth next to nothing, depending again on a number of variables. As we discuss these among ourselves—which is one reason it’s so important to share our collections with other Pete Geeks here on the blog, in forums and at pipe show Pete Geek Meets—we come to a better understanding of Peterson’s catalog culture and our companioning/collecting climate. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll again just hit three of the most obvious factors in what makes a Peterson pipe a rarity: 1. Desirability and value; 2. Scarcity; 3. Condition.
Value or desirability. For us as companioners and/or collectors, desirability is what drives the value of a pipe, both at estate dealers and auction sites. This continually fluctuates, which is what makes giving pricing advice to anyone outside our community (or new to it) nearly impossible. A recent auction example occurred on eBay where a beautiful Kapet 02BB oom paul (seePost #206 ) went for for $63 while a Shamrock 02 went for $203. Yes, they’re both rarities and yes, the Shamrock had a nickel band and the Kapet didn’t. But what was curious was that the Kapet (which has the coveted older “BB” stamp) is actually the much better pipe. Usually, I’d say an 02 oom paul shape would generate in the neighborhood of $150-250, but in the case of the Kapet 02BB someone got a great deal.
Two Amazing 02 Oom Pauls
Desirability goes up and down, of course. For awhile everyone wanted an original 9BC or John Bull 999, and while those still generate good prices like the 02, there’s simply not as many people who are even aware of them now, let alone looking for one, while shape 4 (the 309) has edged both out in value and price because it appeared as the POY in 2021 and hasn’t been in production since 2013.
Scarcity. Scarcity plays a part, and an interesting one. If a pipe is so scarce no one knows of its existence, then it won’t be worth much. It will be worth a great deal if it’s scarce but has been widely heralded—say, for example, the House Pipe that Charles Peterson engraved to his friend that was pictured in the Peterson book and then last year put on eBay by Gary Malmberg. I wasn’t at all surprised at the price it fetched, and if my friend Ken ever sells it, I’m sure he will double, treble, or quadruple what he paid for it. After Charles Peterson’s O2.B, housed at Kapp & Peterson, it’s the most important Peterson pipe we currently know about.
The little pocket pipe seen above is an interesting case in point. Back before the Peterson book came out, it probably wouldn’t have generated much. Now, however, there are enough Pete Geeks interested in the “deep catalog” that a novelty pipe like this will probably go for at least $100, maybe more. I know I’ve never even seen this shape from K&P, although I used to carry one around like it in my pocket back in high school. Since I’m a “smoker-collector” I won’t even bid, but I know several Deep Catalog collectors who are interested in precisely this kind of pipe because it is never seen, kind of like the 700 and 500 shapes.
Pfeiffen Tesch 1880-2005
A similar kind of scarcity occurs when no one knows much about a pipe. Recently I acquired a beautiful Chubby on eBay that didn’t go for much out of the ordinary. When it came, I noticed it didn’t have a shape number stamp and is actually a bit fatter than the regular 107—an “XL107″ if you will. More importantly, though—and what drew me to it—it has an interesting shank stamp: Pfeiffen Tesch 1880-2005. If you read the Peterson book, you know Charles Peterson made regular visits to his agent and close friend in Hamburg. In 1919 while on a business trip there, Charles became ill and died. The Pfeiffen Tesch shop undoubtedly carried Peterson Patents, and while I haven’t been able to find anything about this shop’s history online (if you live in Europe and speak German, please help me out!), I couldn’t pass this pipe up—a favorite shape with a bit of extra-deep Peterson history attached to it.
The bent original from the Racing Green Collection (1997)
When my co-author Gary Malmberg of Secondhandsmokes came to stay with us for a week back in 2013, he brought a number of fascinating Petes for me to look at and, if I chose, to buy. One of them was from the 1997 Racing Green Collection (counterpart to the Claret Collection)–the first green-stained Peterson and forerunner of the Racing Green line. There were only 250 of these sets made in each finish, so it was a genuine rarity and also quite scarce—and I bought it.
A One-Off STRAIGHT GRAIN, Early Republic
Gary also brought a STRAIGHT GRAIN-stamped pipe (the earliest example of this stamp I’ve ever seen) with a bone condenser, probably made in the 1950s. While it looks similar to some of the System bent billiards, the fat shank reveals it as not any of them, but a hand made pipe. I asked him about its value as compared to the Racing Green and he said the latter would bring 2 to 3 times as much as the Straight Grain. This puzzled me as the SG was to me far more beautiful and would undoubtedly smoke much better, since it’s a sub-System. The problem, he said, is that while they’re both rarities, the FG is simply too rare.
The small Pick Axe is another great, seldom-seen “one-off,”
but several of these have been documented, despite never being in the catalog.
I should add that the state of our knowledge as a community was such that in 2011, practically no one knew K&P even made one-off, hand made artisan pipes. Now of course we know that not only has K&P made these pipes from Day One, they made scores of them in the Patent and IFS eras and made them on a small but regular basis until Paddy Larrigan and Frank Morgan retired in the early 1990s.
Like the Pick Axe, this slender straight-sided stack appeared
in both smooth and rusticated versions,
and like the Pick Axe has never been seen in the catalog.
One final word, more a caveat than anything, ought to be added about scarcity. The trade side of pipe smoking these days is 98% about perceived scarcity and the singularity of each pipe. But that being the case, sometimes I feel the market can be a bit ruthless in its creation of a scarcity mentality. I remember when, as a high school student, I first learned about subliminal advertising and the way advertisers manipulate consumers. The recent SPD issue (see Post #380)–and I mean no disrespect here–is a case in point. By serializing 1200–twelve hundred–pipes, and then adding the tiering of tweed pipe bags for two of the finishes, there is, in addition to creating the uniqueness of each piece, the creation of a scarcity response in buyers. And I’ll admit I’m often one of the first to jump on the wagon if what’s on offer is something I really like and know I won’t be seeing again. I’ll publicly confess that when things get rough, while I don’t turn to an opioid pain patch, I catch myself applying a “pipe pain patch purchase”! It doesn’t solve the problems of life, of course, but it makes a great band-aid.
Condition. The pipe’s condition also plays an important part in its value, which is why so many Pete Geeks find restoration fun: it offers us a way to acquire pipes in need of TLC that others routinely pass over. In fact, I’m usually drawn to a pipe that’s in good condition apart from the dirt, grime and rim lava precisely because it gives me a chance to clean it up. Recently Matt R., who reads the blog, wrote to me about some pipes he was interested in and in the process of our sell & swap I ended up with a beautiful 1976 9s Natural Hallmark Cap & Chain, one of K&P’s very first (if not the first) commemorative release. (see Post #213 ). Matt sent me a load of great photos and when it arrived I had a week’s worth of fun refurbishing it.*
Everyone, of course, finds a different path in the amazing world of Petes, and the whole point is of course (I hope) to enrich our lives with the joys of pipe smoking. Whether we’re working on a complete Chares Peterson collection, a run of the POYs or simply reveling in this month’s new Peterson release or today’s eBay offerings, understanding first issues and rarities can only add to the fun.
Unfreezing a Frozen Condenser
Frozen, no fecking Disney about it
One challenge that I was really pleased to surmount in the restoration of the 9s Hallmark Cap & Chain was unfreezing the cross-vent condenser. Steve Laug and others teach placing the mouthpiece in the freezer for a few hours or even overnight, as the contraction of the aluminum and vulcanite will be different and unstick them from each other. Unfortunately that has never worked for me and I’ve destroyed or marked more than one condenser and/or stem trying to get them unstuck.
The condenser was glued by goop around the top surface
as well as all the threads
After my usual failed freezer attempt, this time I tried something different. I knew I needed a great deal of delicately applied torque—something channel locks could theoretically achieve if there was a way to soften their bite, since they have teeth that will destroy the soft aluminum. My friend Ken Sigel has had luck with a jeweler’s pliers that will curve metal, with one half convex and one concave. They’re a bit pricey ($35) so I kept thinking about how I could grip the aluminum condenser with the channel locks without damaging it.
I wound masking tape around the condenser several times, kind of like wrapping a hockey stick. The sticky side of the tape on the aluminum would, I hoped, would give me a grip on the while layers of the the paper side would protect the aluminum.
Theme music: “One Little Victory” (Rush)
As you can see, it worked. The slight marks on the condenser—full (embarrassing) disclosure—were caused by an initial attempt using a microfiber rag wrapped around the condenser. Didn’t work. The rag just slipped and the teeth of the channel locks bit right through the rag. But the masking tape sure did!
My friend Todd Becker, CPG, who does business
as Deadmanspipes on eBay,
is putting up this amazing Patent 160 swan neck today.
Check it out!