78. First Look: The 2018 Peterson Pipe of the Year
I never thought we’d see the day when the Pipe of the Year was actually on the world market and available, at least with those with eyes to see, before January 1st. But so it is—the 2018 POTY is slowly rolling out, and true to the sea change at Peterson, it’s out on time. Those who’ve been Pete Nuts for years expect the POTY here in the US around the second week of June. This was because, traditionally, the company wanted to have the hallmark stamp bear the year of the pipe’s issue, and getting the Assay Office in Dublin Castle to get the sterling marked meant the pipes wouldn’t get on pods to cross the ocean until May. And that thinking surely helped with dating issues.
What this means for newer Peterson pipes is that the hallmark may actually predate the pipe–something new in the company’s 150+ years history. The POTYs I’ve seen recently all have a G for 2017 and not H for 2018 (and the same can be said for early releases of the St. Patrick’s Day 2018 commemorative). But as the pipe itself is plainly laser-engraved with the date, all this will mean is that companioners will know with a little more accuracy in what part of the issue of 500 pieces their pipe was made.
If you follow the Pipe of the Year, you know there was a change in direction when Conor Palmer became Commercial Director (click here for a visual history of the POTY). His strategy since he began with the company in 2014, he told me, is simple: “we like to try and vary the shapes each year. And this year we decided to settle on a bent shape at the outset.” If you look at the 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 pipes, you’ll see this pendulum swing: from the large straight army-mount in 2014 to the 2015 Oom Paul Founder’s Edition, then the straight fat-pencil tubular modern chimney of 2016 followed by the homage to the short, chubby vintage “Jap from the 1906 catalog in 2017.
As for the design itself, Conor writes, “I personally like diamond or oval shaped shanks, so that was something we were trying to flesh out from the beginning. This one was modeled on a rough sample we pulled out of the archives.”
Archives, indeed. The pipe can now be reasonably be said to be part of an emerging Peterson shape group, but to define it we need to step back and look at its predecessors.
The first appearance of a shape like this was the “Hansom” from the Return of Sherlock Holmes series (1997), which later appeared as the XL26 in the Kinsale line. I’ve read it described as a “combination acorn, bulldog, and calabash.” I can see all three of these shapes, but I wonder if “stack bent bulldog” isn’t more visually to the point? When I first saw this shape, I was almost repelled by it (“Nope! I’ll skip that one,” I remember saying). But it slowly and inexorably cast its spell on me, perhaps because there is something iconically Victorian about this shape and I have always loved both Dickens and Doyle. I had never seen anything like it. Its conical or v-shaped chamber also makes it a standout in my rotation, making for some of my happiest VaPer and virginia smoking experiences.
Return of Sherlock Holmes Hansom (1997)
Length: 5.64 in./143.18 mm.
Weight: 2.10 oz./59.39 g.
Bowl Height: 2.47 in./62.64 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.87 in./47.62 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.78 in./19.91 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.71 in./43.55 mm.
In 2012, Peterson released the Iceberg 1912 Collection “Bow,” (B60), which some e-tailers have mistaken for the Hansom. Apparently, they can’t see the round shank of the Bow, which actually makes it (to speak of it again as a hybrid) a “combination acorn, bulldog, and calabash.” “Stack bent rhodesian” is easier to visualize.
Actually the Bow has a different frazing, related to the Hansom but not identical. Look at the difference in the crowns at the rim, for instance: the Hansom has a taller and more steeply inclined cone above the double beads than the Bow. If you take the time to compare the measurements from several examples of each, you’ll also find that the Hansom routinely has a slightly smaller chamber diameter, is heavier in the hand, and most importantly, has an average of 5mm extra depth in its chamber. It’s a reasonable mistake, but at least in my experience, the pipes make for much different smoking experiences.
Iceberg 1912 Collection Bow (2012)
Length: 5.50 in./139.70 mm.
Weight: 1.90 oz./53.86 gr.
Bowl Height: 2.35 in./59.69 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.65 in./41.91 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.82 in./20.83 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.68 in./42.67 mm.
Behind the new POTY, the Bow and the Hansom there is at least one early briar shape to which all three bear a distinct family resemblance: Comoy’s “Quebec” from 1911. If Neil Archer Roan’s A Passion for Pipes blog were still online you could read all about this remarkable piece. As things stand, you can at least take a look at it in an illustration of one of the fourteen reproductions Roan had made for his blog’s 2014 Pipe of the Year.
It lacks the more conically-articulated head of the Bow and Hansom, but its hefty shank and stem look like something that might have (but did not, in fact) come from Kapp & Peterson. Hmm.
Vollmer & Nillson’s Comoy’s “Quebec” (1911 / 2014)
Length: 4.99 in./126.75 mm.
Weight: 1.80 oz./51.03 gr.
Bowl Height: 1.85 in./46.99 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.45 in./36.83 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.76 in./19.30 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.47 in./37.34 mm.
And now Peterson has a third shape, resembling yet not identical to the previous two. “I guess for me,” says Conor, “the oval shank, domed top and tapered chamber all make for what will hopefully be an eye catching and interesting piece.” The almost swan-neck effect of the oval shank is, indeed, one of the loveliest features of the pipe, one that will might be missed by anyone who sees only obverse / reverse profile shots of the pipe. The long neck is also pertinent given 2017’s exquisite Waterford long-necks, another first in the Peterson design aesthetic. As much as I love still photography, it’s certainly worth a minute of your time to look at the Al Pascia video to get the pipe in motion:
“Believe it or not,” said Conor, “the silver work is much trickier for the guys to complete on oval or diamond shanks as it is harder to ‘turn over.’ But we felt it was worth pursuing in the interest of creating a unique shape this year.” Which indeed they have.
I’m looking forward to a first smoke and expect marvelous things from this pipe’s 19mm x 50mm conical, v-shaped chamber. This is not a chamber size you can find from most pipe-makers these days, and more’s the pity. I also appreciate the wide mouthpiece and its 4.57mm thickness, both of which will make it easy to clinch. And either the acrylic is getting softer, or I’m growing used to it.
The pipe comes in one of the new snap-hinge hardshell boxes (pictured at top) we’ve seen on the Amber Spigots—a real upgrade for ephemera lovers and the best box and a great improvement over the XL black box of recent years.
Incidentally, Joe Kenny, factory manager, told me the rustic version (for which I do not have an illustration) will feature the same red over black stain as seen on the sandblast.
Putting the three pipes together like I’ve done here makes it obvious that Peterson has claimed a new shape for its chart. But with oval, diamond, and round shanks, what should it be called? Their double-beaded crown precludes a straight identification with the acorn shape as it has come to be understood within the hobby:
They actually bear a much closer resemblance to the classic acorn street light globe:
But the Hansom, as I said earlier, has always seemed to say something Victorian. I’ve thought about the shape on and off in the years since the pipe became part of my rotation but could never quite put my finger on it. The stars finally lined up one night when I was smoking the pipe and watching Jeremy Brett in one of the BBC / Granada adaptations: it looks like a Victorian gaslight.
With the acorn shape name already taken, maybe “gaslight” works. I doubt it will inspire an avalanche of imitators like the Devil Anse, acorn, or volcano of past years. But that’s all right. Pete Nuts seem to march to the drum of a different pipe band.* So just between us—although feel free to throw the name around—I think I’ll call it a gaslight, as in, “Oh, that’s a Peterson gaslight shape, isn’t it?”
Pipe of the Year 2018
Length: 5.57 in. / 143 mm.
Weight: 1.88 oz. / 54 gr,
Bowl Height: 2.28 in. / 58 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.96 in. / 50 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.74 in. / 19 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.64 in. / 42 mm.
Mouthpiece Width: 0.735 in. / 18.68 mm.
Mouthpiece Thickness: 0.18 in. / 4.57 mm.
Conor Palmer at Peterson
*Sorry, just can’t help myself. From Wikipedia: The most common form of pipe band, the Scottish/Irish pipe band, consists of a section of pipers playing the great highland bagpipe, a section of snare drummers (often referred to as ‘side drummers’), several tenor drummers and usually one, though occasionally two, bass drummers. The entire drum section is known collectively as the drum corps. The tenor drummers and bass drummer are referred to collectively as the ‘bass section’ (or in North America as the ‘midsection’). The band follows the direction of the pipe major; when on parade the band may be led by a drum major, who directs the band with a mace. Standard instrumentation for a pipe band involves 6 to 25 pipers, 3 to 10 side drummers, 1 to 6 tenor drummers and 1 bass drummer. Occasionally this instrumentation is augmented to include additional instruments (such as additional percussion instruments or keyboard instruments), but this is typically done only in concert settings.
Pipe bands are a long-standing tradition in other areas with Celtic roots, such as the regions of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria in Northern Spain and Brittany in Western France, as well as other regions with Celtic influence in other parts of Europe. The tradition is also long-standing in the British Commonwealth of Nations countries and former British colonies such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brunei, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Pipe bands have also been established in countries with few Scottish or Celtic connections such as Thailand, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina.”