183. Hallmarks: Dating Your Peterson with Metal-Mount Markings
With the Peterson book now sold out at the publisher (although Smokingpipes.com still has copies), I feel I can finally offer a guide on dating Peterson pipes by their metal-mount markings to those don’t have the book and perhaps make it a little easier even for those who do. Peterson ranks only very slightly behind Dunhill as the world’s most dateable production pipe, which is one of the many joys of owning and smoking one. Even when the mount is nickel, with a bit of knowing, the collector can usually date his or her pipe to within a five year period.
Usually Peterson metal stampings and bowl stampings aren’t too difficult to decipher, but I’d recommend at the outset, if you don’t already have one, some kind of strong magnification loupe. Jeweler’s hand held loupes are usually not quite strong enough to do the job. Headset loupes with multiple lenses can usually be had at quite reasonable prices which, with a good light source, are usually all you need. If you dabble in photography and have a lens with macro capability, it’s often the case that a digital photograph of the stamps offers clues that even a headset loupe can’t, since you can then magnify the photo on your computer.
There are five types of metal stampings: the “K&P” maker’s mark; nickel-mount marks (which are often confused for hallmarks on the estate market and by those new to the brand); Irish sterling hallmarks; Irish gold hallmarks and British sterling hallmarks.
The K&P Stamp
Pipe smokers new to Peterson sometimes wonder what the “K&P” stamp is all about, not realizing the company was known as “Kapp & Peterson” until the 1970s and is still referred to as “Kapps” by the old hands who work in the shop. Most Peterson pipes with metal mounts (and all nickel-mount Systems) have a “K & P” Maker’s Mark, also called a Sponsor’s Hallmark, which is used by The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin (est. 1637) to identify the silversmith or goldsmith responsible for making the article. The “K & P” maker’s mark was registered at the assay office shortly after Kapp & Peterson’s incorporation and appears either in capital letters (on early sterling and later nickel mounts) or capital letters in shields (on sterling). This detail of a sterling band on a 1908 meerschaum shows the original K & P maker’s mark:
The maker’s mark was later placed in shields, which may be flat or pointed at the top. Here’s an example:
After 1938, the K&P maker’s mark became a stand-in for the Company of Goldsmiths (aka Dublin Assay Office) date letter and was usually accompanied nearby by the STERLING over SILVER stamp, as seen above.
The practice of stamping sterling with the date letter wasn’t resumed at Peterson until 1969, for rather humorous reasons explained in the Peterson book.
Nickel Mount Marks
Dealers and pipe smokers unfamiliar with Peterson often confuse the three nickel-mount markings of Shamrock, Wolf Hound and Round Tower with assay marks. They are instead multivalent symbols chosen by Charles Peterson and Alfred Kapp to represent Ireland. They’re so rich that I encourage you to search them out for yourself as I think you’ll be fascinated by what you discover.
The marks appeared on every single nickel mount ferrule and most nickel mount bands from 1891 to 1963, when they disappeared–the three marks, not nickel bands (which were, by the way, actually brass-plated nickel plate until the advent of alloy base metal under nickel plate in the last 40 years or so). The three stamps resurfaced on the copper-plated 2019 and 2020 Christmas pipe mounts but have not made their way to general production. I hope at some point that Peterson will be able to return to this important historical practice.
The markings appear in at least three iterations over the decades. Here’s how they looked on a wind cap in the 1920s during the Irish Free State era:
Notice the articulation of the shamrock leaves, the upright Wolf Hound and the door at the base of the round tower. And here’s a very clear, deep impression probably dating from the Éire era:
You can see how the stamp has deteriorated, although the Wolf Hound’s position makes it even more probable that it’s a later iteration.
The following photo of a sandblast 308 Standard System shows a fairly typical stamp configuration, K&P maker’s mark over nickel mount marks with PETERSON in small caps beside K&P:
Irish Sterling Hallmarks
Irish sterling hallmarks denote the year in which a piece was made or hallmarked and began with the foundation of the Dublin Goldsmiths Company in 1683. Peterson hallmarked pipes have been documented from 1891 to 1938 and 1969 to the present, leaving a 30 year gap. Approximate dating of a precious-metal mounted pipe made during these 30 years is possible but requires The Peterson Pipe Book or an extensive collection of Peterson catalogs to understand the history of shapes, lines, finishes and stains.
Peterson’s first hallmark dating chart appeared in their Smoker’s Guild #5 magazine, which appeared in 2005:
It was a great effort but marred by the fact that, at the time, they didn’t realize that Peterson had not hallmarked any pipes from 1938 through 1969! The extra marks, at the bottom right of the chart, also perplexed many Peterson collectors for years, as these never appeared on any Peterson pipe.
There are three symbols that appear on Peterson sterling. The first is Hibernia [symbol of Ireland] seated, with arm on harp. This is the special symbol of the Dublin Assay Office. The second symbol is the Harp Crowned, a fineness mark indicating sterling silver. It appears on hallmarked Peterson pipes through 2002. Here it is on a 305 sterling mount:
From 2003 on, the fineness mark indicating sterling has been a .925, as seen on this Peterson from 2019:
The third mark is the date letter. These follow a system peculiar to the Goldsmiths of Dublin and sometimes use a Celtic alphabet, sometimes an English one, and quite often skip a few letters in each cycle. Here’s a simple chart for your use. The first one is eye candy for the blog post, but you can click on the PDF below it to download a black & white version for printing or to keep handy on your computer. It has all the information you’ll need to date Peterson Irish Sterling and Gold mounts from 1890 through 2026:
Irish Gold Hallmarks
Gold band Petersons are amazingly rare, but they do come up from time to time, and chances are the estate dealer won’t be able to tell you the year, but if you know what to look for, you can make inquiries.
If you think the Irish sterling hallmarks are confusing, try the Irish gold. The trouble lies in the fact that there are four instead of three marks and that the marks are placed both vertically and horizontally:
In this thin 9 karat gold band, only the .375 purity mark for 9 karat gold runs parallel to the Peterson’s over Dublin script. The first three marks are at 90 degree angles, placed one atop the other. The first is—as you smart Pete Geeks guessed—the special symbol of the Dublin Assay Office, Hibernia Seated. The second mark now becomes the date letter. In this case, an italic capital N for 1999. The third mark is a 9 for 9 karat gold. The fourth mark seems redundant to me: “.375” indicates a ratio of 9/24 is pure gold while the rest is other metal (silver, copper, nickel, etc. depending on the color and type of gold). The 375 represents 375/1000 or what 9/24 would be.
Okay, your turn. Using the Irish hallmark chart provided, see if you can determine what year this gold band Pete is from:
British Sterling Hallmarks
I have never actually held or owned a British sterling-mount Peterson, but just in case you run across one, you need to know two things. Thing One: the Peterson factory in London was operational in 1937 and was liquidated in 1962 (and there are some years for which my co-author Gary Malmberg has never documented a single British sterling mount). Thing Two: here are the date letters for London:
If you think of anything not covered here, please let me know in the Comments section, as I’d eventually like to add a version of this post to the pages at the top of the blog for easy reference.
Be safe, be healthy–