198. Peterson Pipe of the Year 2020 / 9BC: Reimagining A Classic
Despite the pandemic, global warming, political and economic woes and general pall of lassitude and negativity that hangs over the globe, Kapp & Peterson has done it again—for the 23rd year in a row they have issued a Pipe of the Year.
This year’s pipe is the first new shape designed and offered in the Laudisi era, which makes it all the more exciting for Pete Freeks. It’s being offered in an array of finishes, expanding on last year’s offerings. I have been told (and I could have gotten this wrong) that there will be at least one Supreme Natural blast, some Naturals, several PSBs (Peterson Special Blasts), the regular blast, a dark walnut and of course the smooth.
The pipe will be limited to 400 pieces across all finishes, another reason for you to know about it before it appears tomorrow in the US (it has already debuted in Europe). I’ll add photos of the various finishes as soon as they’re available. But before I talk about what it is, let me briefly gloss over what it isn’t.
WHAT IT ISN’T
There’s been a little talk on social media, a friend tells me, that the 9BC POY looks too much like the SH Professor. This may be because SPC (Smokingpipes.com) photos in the recent past have tended to rock the pipe forward and up a bit instead of actually giving a clear side view of the shape.* You can see the confusion by comparing these these photos:
The Professor, Contemporary Bend, Obverse
But here’s the real deal, a side “flat” view of each pipe, using a Professor from c. 2010:
The Professor, Obverse flat view with “Traditional” Bend
The Professor is an altogether larger pipe with extended base at the back of the bowl, an XL-designate like all the SH shapes, heavier in weight and with a larger chamber. The chambers are different enough to warrant comparison as well. The POY202 is almost identical to its 9BC inspiration and has that sublime chamber proportion of about 2:12 of depth by height, making it versatile for virginia, vaper, oriental, English, whatever. The Professor, on the other hand, is actually too wide to make a good virginia smoker, dissipating the strength and sweetness of the leaf, pushing its use (at least for me) to orientals, English and aromatics.
If you’re not visually-minded, here’s some numbers to crunch. Bear in mind there’s usually a small bit of variation between actual pipes, but overall you get the idea:
Professor Typical Measurements:
Length: 5.43 in./137.92 mm.
Weight: 2.80 oz./79.38 g.
Bowl Height: 2.21 in./56.13 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.81 in./45.97 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.81 in./20.57 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.77 in./44.96 mm.
Mouthpiece: Vulcanite P-Lip, Contemporary Bend
Shamrock 9BC Typical Measurements:
Length: 5.20 in./132.08 mm.
Weight: 2.24 oz./63.50 g.
Bowl Height: 2.12 in./53.85 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.65 in./41.91 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.73 in./18.54 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.58 in./40.13 mm.
Mouthpiece: Vulcanite P-Lip, Traditional Bend
POY 2020 Smooth Typical Measurements:
Length: 5.73 in./ 145.6 mm.
Weight: 2.15 oz./60.5 g.
Bowl Height: 2.13 in./54.10 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.69 in./42.9 mm.
Chamber Diameter: 0.73 in./19.50 mm.
Outside Diameter: 1.57 in./39.80 mm.
Mouthpiece: Vulcanite P-Lip, Somewhere Between Contemporary & Traditional
Finally, the POY2020 is not an exact replica. As informed PFs know, even with some of the Antique Collections this has never really been the company’s way of doing things. Like Sir Thomas Beecham, Otto Klemperer and other late romantic classical conductors, K&P has always been concerned to translate an original composition (in this case their own) into an idiom relevant to the present. And for the POY2020, I think that has turned out all to the good—as I hope you’ll see below.
WHAT IT IS
For the first time since the late 1970s, Peterson is issuing a regular production pipe with a leather pipe bag, although you’ll remember they’ve done this for the SPC 20th Anniversary pipes and a few of the super-high grades in the new era. What’s cool about this bag is that, like many artisan-made pipes these days, it’s suede leather.
The pipe box, while not specially-made like in the Dublin era, may still be new to you—it’s heavier than the ones they were using until fairly recently and embossed with the white logo and a diamond pattern with the Peterson “P” that’s quite fetching.
There’s also a great “Chat With the Smoker” pipe box brochure with an essay on the 9BC and what Peterson set about to accomplish with the POY as well as educational information on hallmarks, a System demonstrator, a shape chart and something new—“the Eras of Peterson” (wow, what a cool idea! who thought of that?).
The sterling band continues the current understated practice, placing a good-sized “Peterson” in script over DUBLIN in smaller caps, with hallmarks placed on the bottom side of the band.
Both of the samples I looked at were hallmarked “I” for 2019, and not “J” for 2020. This was probably because they were already at work on the pipes before the pandemic, as the only time in Peterson history that I can recall an intentional earlier-than-production hallmark was when Conor Palmer was trying to push everything out to market by January 1st. Since the pipes are stamped PIPE OF THE YEAR and 2020, this isn’t an issue, just something interesting.
It’s nice to have all the bowl stamps grouped together on the bottom of the bowl. It makes sense as well as being out of the smoker’s eyesight when smoking:
Bowl shape 9 is a Charles Peterson-designed Patent shape which appeared in the 1896 catalog and has been in continuous production ever since as one of the largest billiards K&P has made.
“Like the 2019 POY,” writes Josh Burgess, managing director of Peterson, “I think this is a reimagining of a classic—a modern take on an original shape. In that sense, it was an interesting project to work on. We began by comparing the old 9BC to the shape 9 that still appears in the catalogue today as the XL90, 307, and 9s.
The Early Republic 9BC Shamrock used in working on the POY 2020
XL90 – 307 – 9s
“As we did so, three differences became really apparent between the new shape and the original: 1. The old 9BC had a bit more pronounced cheeking where the bowl meets the shank. 2. The bowl on the old 9BC was a bit taller and more egg-like. The current 9 has a low center of gravity and doesn’t taper quite as much near the rim. 3. The shank on the old 9 is a bit more curvaceous and less severe.”
Shank top and bottom, PSB
“So our in-house Pipe Specialist, Giacomo Penzo, went to work recreating the shape for us. He made three samples with very slight variations. Giacomo, Jonathan Fields (our production manager), Glen Whelan (our sales director), and I had a long debate about which we liked best and finally settled upon the design that became the 2020 POY.”
The 9BC was a pipe shape made for Rogers Imports Ltd.
for the US market and first appeared in their 1953 shape chart.
Josh continues: “Connoisseurs of vintage Petersons might note that the stem on the POY is just a bit longer than it was on the 9BC. We were cognizant of that in the design phase. When we cut back the stem length to match the original, something was lost. It was technically true to the 9BC model that we were working from. But something of the spirit of the shape was lost when we tried to be more literally accurate. So we allowed for the extra length to produce a better pipe.”
As much as I like the bowl and finishing, I will have to add that it’s the mouthpiece that, as in the past several years, has disappointed me. The button lacks the crisp upper & lower shelves it needs for clenching. The “Chat” mouthpiece illustration has a “traditional” bend, one very much like the one seen in the Rogers 1953 shape chart (more bent than the old Shamrock seen above in fact). But the two samples carry the “contemporary” bend, which can be clenched, but aren’t very comfortable. The fact that the mouthpiece is also almost a half-inch longer than the original is also a bit disappointing, since the whole point of the old “BC” was to be both tapered (B) and short (C). I wonder whether it didn’t look right at the short length because they were attempting the contemporary rather than a traditional bend? Everyone will have his or her own opinion on this, and it’s certainly no deal-breaker for me.
Those who have read The Peterson Pipe: the Story of Kapp & Peterson or followed this blog for long will know that shape origin stories are few and far between. I’ve done some detective work on the 120 dublin and the 11 (312) bent billiard, which have evolved over the years, but actually knowing who the people were behind the creation of a shape and what they were trying to accomplish is not something we have usually known, which also makes this year’s pipe something special.
Giocomo Penzo, Peterson’s Pipe Specialist
The fact that K&P have hired someone of Giocomo Penzo’s credentials and experience to work alongside Jonathan Fields is an altogether remarkable thing to me. While master craftsmen like Paddy Larrigan came up through the ranks, the fact that Peterson lost its bowl-turning capabilities in the mid-1980s has meant that there has been no one there with Giocomo’s kind of skill set since the mid-1990s. This is in no way to slight the remarkable work Jonathan and his crew do—they are all well-versed in their craft and have been excited to bring back in-house blasting and rustication. Adding someone who can design and execute new shapes is just another recent feather in the Sallynoggin cap.
“I’ve been smoking my POY for about a month now,” Josh told me, “and I’m really pleased with how it’s performing. It’s lightweight and comfortable in the jaw, has a really pleasing sandblast, and delivers a nice, long smoke. I think those who choose to buy one will be really pleased.”
Many thanks to Josh Burgess at K&P
Samples for photography & measurement courtesy Kapp & Peterson
Photo of Giocomo Penzo by Federica Bruno
Recent stock photos of Professor and 9 shapes courtesy Smokingpipes.com
Ad from THE ULSTER HERALD, February 4th, 1905.
*It’s especially confusing given the fact that since Laudisi assumed the helm, many of Peterson’s pipes have had “contemporary” cradling rather than “traditional” clenching stem bends—rather like the fashion of men’s shirts without pockets—and running counter to Charles Peterson’s understanding that a pipe should, above all, be comfortable and versatile. Think Italian tightly-tailored suit vs. “Manly Man” suits of 1950s men’s fashion, which had so many pockets you were never without a place for pipe, pouch, pen, cigars and even a folded newspaper. It is possible that the bowl of recent Professor shapes has changed slightly from the original—I really can’t say without having one in front of me. I know several of the shapes are being fraised by a new outsourcer and many of them are quite troublesome to traditionalists like myself. Not that a new shape is always a bad thing—think of the transformation of the “English” dublin 120 of 1906 to its more robust, Peterson-infused example from the 1950s to the present. Or shape 11 (the 312), which was lithe and supple in its Patent original shape but assumed an altogether chubbier and more rotund cheeking in the version from the 1930s through the late 1950s or early 1960s. Both were improvements, in my opinion. But the goal should (again, in my opinion) always be to maintain the best of the old while improving on it wherever possible.