357. The 125th Anniversary of the System Pipe & A History of Shape 12.5 (“Good Things Come in Small Packages”)

It’s that time again for Pete Geeks from all over the globe to show off their favorite Systems. This year we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Patent System Pipe and I’d like you to be part of System Day festivities if at all possible, which will be held just  TWO Sundays from today, September 3rd.

Whether entering as a first-timer anxious for the coveted “Certified Pete Geek” PDF certificate or an old-time PG wanting to add yet another merit badge the existing one, I hope you’ll take up the challenge.  Directions are found at the end of this post and it would be amazing to get 125 entries from every part of the globe.

Oh, and did I mention that the 2023 PPN Commemorative pipe will ALSO be revealed on September 3rd?

Double Shot: A straight-grain 12.5 Deluxe at SPC just now

Did I mention System Day 2023 marks the 125th anniversary of Charles Peterson’s Patent System Pipe? This is surely some kind of record in the history of the briar pipe. The “125” number got me thinking that it’s also a most propitious time to recall Aesop’s moral that “good things come in small packages”—as, for example, in shape 12.5, one of the smallest of the System pipes.*



I know most everyone who thinks of himself as a Pete Geek probably has a copy of the Peterson book—if not everyone has read every single page of yet it. (Did you know, for example, there’s an Identification Guide with colored edge pages for easy access? Or a cross-reference chart of System-to-Classic Range shapes?)  For everyone who may not quite have the facts at their fingertips, the Patent origin story goes something like this:

As a young man in a part of Russia that would later become Latvia, Charles Peterson apprenticed to become a “wood turner,” an all-purpose years-long journeyman program from which he would be certified and then could go on to work in a variety of capacities—as a cabinet maker, musical instrument maker, pipe maker or any other type of work requiring a high degree of skill in wood-working. As the country of his birth was at that time under German political and cultural control, Charles knew German from school and spoke the Latvian dialect of Russian at home, being equally conversant in either language.

Through connections after graduation, he worked first in Riga (which would be the capitol of Latvia and has always been the center of the amber trade in Europe) and then after a bit I believe he wound up in London’s Soho district working for George and Frederick Kapp, immigrants from Germany. From them he learned meerschaum as well as briar pipe making, which latter was in its first decades and making great inroads in the trade. The brothers Kapp at first worked together under one roof, then split up, Frederick moving a few blocks away and concentrating on retail trade (although he, too, carve meerschaums) while George keep on as a meerschaum carver supplying retailers.

For reasons unknown to us, Frederick had a few business difficulties, went bankrupt and left London for Dublin with enough capital to start up again in 1874. Charles arrived in Dublin in 1875. I believe Charles was in London at this time, remaining with George, and followed when Frederick needed more hands in the workshop. I think this  because when George died a few years later, Charles and George’s widow Sarah began a correspondence and were soon married. In my conjecture, Charles already been close friends with George and Sarah, paving the way for a long-distance romance with the widowed Sarah.

After Frederick died, Charles and Sarah married. She brought money from George’s estate which she and Charles invested in his Patent System pipe. This explains—to me, anyway—why Charles was later called “Capt. Pete”—he and Sarah were business partners: “Kapp ‘n’ Pete.” Sarah Kapp and Charles Peterson. According to Peterson family biography Sandra Bondarevska, this was not a marriage of financial convenience, as one hears about, but true love (evidenced by Charles’s extreme grieving when she died suddenly nine years after their marriage). “Capt. Pete” was an affectionate nickname, therefore, given to Charles by employees and friends in recognition of his marriage and business with Sarah.

By this time the company’s name had changed to “Kapp Bros.,” a legal fiction since Frederick’s sons were minors.  As Charles was a manager and not a partner in the company, he and Sarah kept the rights to the Patent pipe even while K&P began manufacturing it. Only after he was made Managing Director and partner did Charles and Sarah sell the patents to the company. In the meantime, his young nephew-by-marriage Alfred Kapp, had achieved his majority and grown into the job of co-managing the company with his uncle, which would henceforth be “Kapp & Peterson.” The transition from 1874 to the early 1890s was from a Dublin tobacconist to an export company that would sell their pipes throughout the world.

The start-up years of the company were, roughly, from 1890 to 1895. With fortuitous publicity from winning exhibition medals in London and the notoriety of being in European news consequent to having made a very fancy House Pipe at the bequest of friends of President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal, everyone in short order became aware of the Patent System and, in an age when patent pipes were all the rage, immediately distinguished itself above its peers first, because it worked, and second, because it featured an extraordinarily comfortable button—something quite new in the pipe-smoking world. By the time of the company’s second catalog in 1906, they’d been forced to move into a second, larger factory—the one across from St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, where they would remain until the early 1970s, when expansion was again needed.

The rest was, with some ups and downs from two world wars and the Pipeocalypse in the mid-1980s, history. After a steady decline of interest by both the company and world market in System pipes beginning in the late 1990s, there was a turn-around of interest from about 2018 or so, one which continues.

The Patent System pipe itself consists of three separate patents from 1890, 1894 and 1898. The first was for the graduated bore and the reservoir, seen in the detail of a c. 1895 period advertisement above. The second and third patents concerned Charles Peterson’s work on the button. At the time, recall that pipe mouthpieces were quite primitive. Some idea of the button for the second patent can be seen above, although in real life it is much softer. For the 1894 patent, Charles pushed the airway to the top of the button.  The third patent added the round top and the clenching shelves whicht make it possible to tuck the button under the tongue and between the lips, providing the softest feeling button ever created, the one we’re all familiar with every time we smoke a System or P-Lip Pete.

The three-part design was so incredibly successful that the company had to litigate in early days to protect its patents. By the expiration of the final patent in 1918, everyone knew what a Peterson Patent pipe was and most everyone, from that day to this, has copied it in some fashion or another. In fact, at some point I’m hoping we’ll find a Pete Geek whose mission it has been to track down and collect all those P-Lip clones, of which I know there must be at least two dozen, if not more.



The 12 ½ would not appear in the catalog until 1906. There is a 12, however, in the first catalog from 1896.

The 1896 shape 12 (left) and 1906 12.5 (right)

Both catalogs were printed at 1 : 1 scale, and if their flank shots are true, then shape 12 is a bit larger than the 125.5, which is thicker around the waist line (kind of like me) and a bit shorter.  As the 12.5 is down at the small end of the System chart, it might be helpful to put it into context.   There are three Systems which we would by today’s standards classify as small—the 313 dutch billiard, the 314 ball and the 317 bent billiard. All three have been in continuous production since 1906.

Line drawing from the 1965 catalog

The cross-reference numbers between System and Classic Range  should also be remembered, since many pipemen companion smaller Classic Range shapes and may not realize these bowls shapes are also in the System line:

Cross Reference Numbers

Deluxe            Standard/Premier        Dunmore Premier       Classic Range

8                      313                              73                                338

12 ½                317                              77                                230

20                    314                              74                                221

Current Heritage Standard System 313, 314 and 317

Measurements are yet another way to “see” the three shapes. Working from the Heritage Standard Systems found on site at SPC we come up with these figures:

313                                              314                   317

Length: 128.27 mm.               135.13 mm.     124.21 mm.

Wt: 42.52 g.                            48.19 g.             39.69 g.

B.Height: 44.45 mm.            44.96 mm.       39.88 mm.

Ch. Depth: 33.02 mm.          33.02 mm.      30.23 mm.

Ch. Dia: 18.29 mm.                18.29 mm.      16.76 mm.

O.D.: 32.26 mm.                     35.56 mm.     33.02 mm.


Placed side by side, the 8s and the 12.5 are quite close in size:

Current production 313 Spigot System and 12.5 Deluxe System


Pretty much only way to smoke a bona fide 12.5 these days—that is, one with the “12 ½” stamp on the shank—is to buy a new Deluxe. There have been a handful of estate 12.5 Deluxe pipes on eBay, but they don’t come up very often.  It is true, of course, that the 314 Standard and 314 Premier have the same bowl, that in fact their bowl shape (as opposed to pipe shape) is 12.5. But for my test purposes, I wanted that stamp as well as the look of the 12.5 Fortunately, SPC could oblige me, which hasn’t always been the case.

A very rare siting of a 314 Premier with vulcanite P-Lip from eBay

Because of their smallness, the 314 and 317 and sometimes even 313 used to be quite hard to find in the US, even though they never fell out of production.  There were many years when a dealer might stock either the 314 or the 317, but not both. The 313 was also seen less often (as the only dutch billiard in current production, it is now readily available, at least as a 313). While the three seem quite small in domed ferrules, if you’ve ever owned or seen one in person in their Deluxe wear-gap attire as the 12.5, 20s or 8s, they exude the same power and visual weight as their physically larger brethren. I say this in surprise. Clench one in your teeth and look in the mirror and it just looks like you’ve got a good System pipe hanging there. Not a “small pipe,” a nose-warmer pipe, or a pocket pipe, just a good-looking System Deluxe pipe.

A possible reason for why the 12.5 smokes so well: a proportionally larger tenon and closer-set tenon mortise.

What is also surprising to me is just how well the 12.5 smokes. I attribute this not to having lucked on some piece of “magic briar” but to the components involved in its engineering. While a reservoir can only be as large as the shank permits (and is often far smaller than it might be), it is full-on scale for the demands of the chamber size. The difference occurs in the comparatively enlarged mortise and tenon extension. These are of course the same size as those used in every System. Put them into the smaller 12.5 and you have a larger tenon that goes deeper into the mortise than those larger-sized Systems. That, for my money, may be why the pipe smokes so well.

A 12.5 Deluxe with vulcanite P-Lip

One of the biggest hesitations I’ve always had about smoking a smaller System is that I believed it might smoke hotter and for a much shorter duration than a larger chambered System.  Lessons from Shane Ireland at SPC taught me different. With the 12.5 Deluxe I get about 80- 90 minutes of smoke time using virginia flake and a slow cadence. In comparison, I normally smoke for about 120-150 minutes with a 309 / 4s or other similarly chambered System. So it’s great for an 80-90 minutes smoke.

After getting it broken in a bit, though, I took a chance on Shane’s advice about smoking the same pipe twice in the same evening (he actually said two or three times), and… it worked. I let the bowl cool a few minutes, wiped off the condensate and swabbed the reservoir, then repacked and lit up. No problems. Amazing.

A recent 12.5 Deluxe full-on birdseye from Peterson.ie

I also like how light the pipe is between the teeth. Almost as if it isn’t there. It’s certainly long enough to be away from my face, so no “nose-warmer” issues that I’ve had in the past from smallish pipes. And the bulk of the wear-gap gives the 12.5 visual heft. So now I’m thinking, “Hmm, maybe an 8s?” Time will tell (if you want to donate to the Irwin Pete Fund, however, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.)

Many thanks
to Federica Bruno at Peterson
for photos of a recent smooth 12.5 Deluxe at ShopPeterson.ie
and to SPC for stock photos




System Day 2023 Challenge

This year’s  challenge takes it cue from a passage in my pipe-smoking novel The X-Pipe (which is in the editing and book design process):

The Smoker is incomplete without the body of the pipe; the pipe is incomplete without the soul of the tobacco; smoke from the tobacco is incomplete without the censing spirit of its transformative power. These four are united yet distinct; in community, yet one.

To receive your CPG certificate or the new merit badge, address these four elements in a sentence or two accompanied by an illustrative photo and email them to petegeek1896@gmail.com :

The Smoker—your name and global location as you want it to appear in  the post;
The System Pipe—your chosen System pipe;
The Tobacco—the tobacco you will most likely smoke on System Day 2023;
The Transformative Power—your most probable hour and locale for celebrating System Day.

Your entry must be received by Saturday, September 2nd, 5pm CDT, to be included in the  System Day 2023 blog post for Sunday, September 3rd.

  Catch & Release

This week on eBay, the “32s” Dublin shape from the 1906 catalog seen in the Peterson book. It appeared in 1996 as part of the quartet of original Antique Collection pipes. It was available in a large leather companion case or, as with this pipe, in an individual leather companion case. You can check it out at eBay here.


Pete Geek AccessoriesInvoices have been sent for the 2nd batch of Pocket Jars, which will be mailed out Monday.

Kevin Cabanagh


Brandon Labudde


Martin Schwartz


*Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse”

A Lion was sleeping peacefully when he was woken by something running up and down his back and over his face.  Pretending to be asleep, he slowly opened one eye and saw that it was a little mouse.

With lightening speed the Lion caught the little mouse in one of his huge paws. He dangled it by its tail and roared, “I’m the King of Beasts! You’ll make a nice little snack for showing such disrespect.”

As he held the little mouse over his open jaws and prepared to swallow it, the mouse squeaked, “Please don’t eat me, Mr. King of Beasts.” “Forgive me and let me go and maybe someday I can do you a good turn.”

“That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard,” laughed the Lion, setting the mouse down on the ground. “I simply couldn’t eat you now. So be off with you before I change my mind!” And the little mouse scampered away just as fast as her little legs would go.

Sometime later the Lion was caught in a net made of stout ropes and couldn’t get free, no matter how hard he struggled. The little mouse heard the Lion’s roar from across the valley and came scampering to help. He was soon busy at work, gnawing the cords with his sharp little teeth, cutting through first one and then another until the Lion could pull free.

“I know I’m ever so small, but I thought maybe someday I could really help you, and I’m glad I have,” squeaked the little mouse. “Even a small mouse like me can sometimes help someone as big as you.”

The morals of the story:
Good things come in small packages.
The size of an act of kindness can never be measured.
Small acts can lead to great outcomes.

Lucas Reynolds writes that “The lore tradition of ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ dates back to the slave Aesop in the 6th Century BCE in Greece, and, before him, to Sumerian proverbs from nearly 1500 years before the Christian New Testament. Like many of Aesop’s fables, this story conjures thoughts of entrapment and liberation at the hands of a merciful yet unsuspecting source. With clear political, religious, and social meaning, ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ is a story of mercy and reciprocity, a motif many folktales share. . . . The story recalls Christian proverbial wisdom expressed in Jesus’s beatitude: ‘Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’”

NB. Those familiar The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will recall how C. S. Lewis at the climax of the novel recasts this fable to unforgettable effect.





Continue Reading357. The 125th Anniversary of the System Pipe & A History of Shape 12.5 (“Good Things Come in Small Packages”)