PSA: Second Batch of ZIPPOs deadline 3/3
It is with considerable delight that I present the remarkable Lee Skiver this morning to those Pete Geeks who don’t already know him. It’s not every day that we meet a pipeman who’s also a piper and a West Point grad!
Ever noticed how many Pete Geeks are avid readers?
In short, I’m an ex-Army recovering banker and current pest control operator who likes to play bagpipes, guitar and rugby, ride bikes, and of course smoke pipes!
Outside my personal hobbies, I’m a married father of three, burgeoning Anglican and love to go on road-trip adventures with my family, to places as far-flung as South Dakota, South Florida, and the North Country of NY State.
Not too long ago I moved to Charlotte, NC, unfortunately during the lockdowns, and haven’t had much time to seek-out other like-minded pipe smokers in my area. But when I can, I enjoy a convivial relationship with my local tobacconist, the famed McCranie’s.
As far as pipe smoking goes, if I weren’t focused on Peterson’s pipes, I’d have no self control in my collection. Further, if I weren’t seeking unusual, uncommon, or undiscovered Petes to companion, my shelves would be overflowing with shapes and styles that I can’t live without.
The 1990 System Commemorative set in Pebble Grain Rustic
I will, though, share more, in-depth, about why, and how I came to know, appreciate, and love Peterson pipes, particularly the archetypal shape 9 (307).
Every Pete has a story, or so the saying goes…
In our current era or at least for myself in particular, it seems all too often that I’m caught saying “so, I snagged this new Pete online.” And, of course, there must be a great number of excellent stories behind the numerous estate Petes that one finds and companions, but most often those stories are left to flights of fantasy in my imagination and the stories that I hope to wrap them into over the course of our companionship.
As a recently renewed (or is it refreshed?) Pete Geek, I find myself with an almost equal number of new and estate Petes. So I’m a bit challenged to spin a great yarn about any one of them in particular, although I might be able to conjure a fantastical backstory for some of my more unique pieces. “The little grey cells” aren’t up to the challenge right now, what with all the young enquiring minds in my household preoccupying my imagination with tales of unicorns and semi-friendly dinosaurs (T-Rex to be specific). I will therefore try to lay out my own journey to the pipe, joining the brotherhood of briar and most importantly, how I came to know to Mr. Peterson’s smoking instruments.
Great Classic Range shapes
I suppose the story really begins long ago in my youth, growing up in the Old North State (North Carolina for the uninitiated), during a time when tobacco was still a big going concern and rather conspicuous, even in the life of a child with few relatives who’d ever even smoked the wicked weed. Cigarette ads still adorned billboards, tobacco fields were more common than even cotton and could be found dotting even some of the most suburban areas, and tobacco barns lined the every two lane highway that crisscrossed the Eastern half of the state.
Nobody in my immediate family smoked. In fact, my father abhorred the smell of cigarettes, a byproduct of the aroma coming off his own father’s after-shift snack of hardboiled eggs and unfiltered Camels. My grandfather was a NYC beat cop who clearly knew how to unwind after a long day. Still, I had a fascination for the king crop of my home state and always enjoyed the smell and ambiance of a smoky room—remember those were days when you could smoke indoors and nobody looked at you funny.
D20s start to finish
Somewhere along the way the regional history of tobacco converged with regional Civil War history in my imagination and I remember discovering the hobby of Civil War reenactment, thinking how fun it might be to play the part of a Rebel drummer boy. How does one go about learning to drum a single snare with the least amount of expenditure? While visiting the state capitol for Independence day one July, my mother had a revelation: why shouldn’t her boy learn to drum in the only Boy Scout Bagpipe band in the country, our council’s very own Occoneechee Highlanders? Funny thing was, at the first practice I attended, I wasn’t all that taken by the drums, but was enthralled by the skirl of the bagpipes—they had me hooked, and I didn’t look back. I’ve taken a hiatus or two, but I continue to play to this day, mostly for my own amusement, or my kids . . . (usually not my wife) . . . but I digress.
Back to the baccy… At one point in my youth, I got my hands on an old corncob and fancied myself Huck Finn in the backyard, down by the creek, smoking some horrible bamboo-like leaf, hacking up half a lung. But real smoking—that came with age, boldness and the encouragement of other like-minded young boys in need of rebellion. I shared some cigarettes with friends in high school and although I’d already tried my hand at the cob, my next brush with pipe smoking came vicariously.
When the first of my youthful clan to turn 18, he proudly sauntered down to the local tobacconist to buy himself a ‘proper’ (basket) pipe and all the trappings – including the most sickly sweet and sticky cherry cavendish, as is most appealing to the neophyte. Needless to say, if ever one needed a cautionary tale about smoking tobacco, my chum provided the prime example when, alone, unafraid, and untrained, he smoked down his first (and last) bowl of that aromatic delight. In short order he proceeded spewed-up the entire day’s worth of sustenance and in such a violent manner that he found himself with a small hemorrhage in his eye for the next couple weeks. That incident scared me enough to stop thinking about tobacco for another year or so.
Then how, you ask, did I come to pick up the pipe? Well, by fate or grace I fell in with the right crowd of tobacco-loving, pipe-smoking, bagpiping cadets at my establishment of higher learning, on the West bank of the Hudson river, North of the Great Bear Mountain—The United States Military Academy at West Point—or as some of us colloquially knew it, the “South Hudson Institute of Technology”!
One of the most beautiful 308s I’ve ever seen
As I had been playing the bagpipes on and off since middle school, and was 19 years old, tethered to my Rockbound Highland Home and in need of a social outlet, one that afforded opportunities to escape the ennui of gray, cold weekends. So I gladly joined the Pipe and Drum band knowing that my excursions would like be on the dime of the Cadet Activities fund. So I rekindled my piping skills of yore and rather quickly a new kind of piping was also kindled in my heart. The tradition of pipe smoking bagpipers at West Point was initially unknown to me but had been handed down from generation to generation and was adhered to by the most dedicated ‘pipers’ in our band. Another unknown to me when I joined: the band would be taking a long-planned and highly anticipated Spring Break trip to participate in the St. Paddy’s Day festivities on the Auld Sod! In Dublin, no less.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to find myself enjoying an old pastime, making new friends and being handed opportunities for foreign travel. Most of all, I became fast friends with two bandmates both older than I, which is uncommon for a plebian, or “Plebe” at West Point. It wasn’t long before these two gents convinced me that, under the proper tutelage, adding the art of pipe smoking to my repertoire would afford unlimited moments of solace, companionship, contemplation, and perhaps even revelation. And so it was that I made my first humble steps on the journey towards fate and at the very same tobacconist’s at which my high school chum procured his ill-advised starter kit.
Rare Smoke: the 1990 SH System Original 05
Luckily for me, I had the advantage of two relatively seasoned pipe smokers to hold my hand and guide me into the brotherhood of briar. On top of the essential skills of a pipe smoker – packing, lighting, tamping, cadence, etc. – my tutors also taught me about the broad range of pipe crafting styles, shapes and systems, their preferences leaning toward the Danish and the Irish. Most importantly, they directed me to the incomparable experience of smoking the highest quality leaf from none other than McClelland’s, chief amongst those mixtures being Dark Star.
The Thinking Man’s Pipe (shape 4 / 309)
As the year progressed, thoughts began to crystalize at the back of our minds but moving ever so steadily to forefront, that the trip to Ireland was coming and a most essential stop during our time in Dublin must be a pilgrimage to the Peterson shop on Grafton Street.
The Lee from the 2007 Rivers Collection: This should never, ever have left the catalog with its classic, innovative Irish design language.
When the day came to board our Aer Lingus Airbus, the excitement was palpable, not least because we’d be hosted by the Irish Defense Forces and march in celebratory parades with them both in Limerick and Dublin (on the holy day of St. Patrick itself). Of course, beyond our official duties, our quest to Grafton St. would be paramount.
The Bard (left) and 2nd year Carrollton (right)
As all good things come to those who wait, we finally got the chance to descend on the Peterson shop the day after St Paddy’s, just a day before our return to West Point. My two associates knew precisely what they were after: the one a deeply bent billiard (probably a 312 Standard or De Luxe 11S), and the other a silver wind-cap bulldog (which must have been a De Luxe 150). On the other hand, I was overwhelmed by both the number of Petersons in one place and the fact that I was having to make my first real pipe purchasing decision. Which Peterson would be best? How could I ever know? Does the smoker choose the pipe or does the pipe choose the smoker? No sweat, one of the ever-capable salesmen asked me if I wished to have a great all-around smoker, one most exemplary of Mr. Peterson’s house style. How could I say no?
The XL18 Oom Paul: Emerald (back) and System Commemorative (front)
And so it was that my first Pete came to me, the beautiful, stout and steadfast 307 Standard System. With a couple ounces of the house blend (De Luxe Mixture, I’m sure), I departed a happy lad, eager for my first bowl. I didn’t have to wait long, because our next stop was a pub, and these were still the days when civilized men could smoke within the confines of reputable public houses. There we were, three young pipers, piping away to our hearts content. And there I was, without even an inkling that I become a devoted Pete Geek.
Alas, this is only the beginning of my tale, and like many an adventure, the next chapter featured a fall from pipe smoking grace – a wandering in the wilderness, if you will – but, then finally there was a return to sanity and the peace that comes with a fine hunk of Irish-crafted briar.
Photos courtesy Lee Skiver
Two things of note this week in my Catch & Release: a extraordinary c. 1906 Peterson Patent packing box and the Charles Peterson 140th Anniversary commemorative pipe from 2005.
Light for the Path
So I knew the Iora SH pipes were coming, but confess they caught me off guard when they were released last Friday at SPE. This is a “CP” Special Collection release. I had hoped to let everyone know in advance, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I don’t know what shapes were released nor how many pipes were made. I only know what was in the advert email: they released 47 pipes Friday morning 2/24 on site and a few in the Nassau St. store. I’m sure the devoted in the US were up early for the Dublin release. At this writing, there’s only 3 of the Originals left.
Photos courtesy Smokingpipes.eu