131. Pete Spotting at the 2019 Chicago Show

It’s been a little over two weeks since the Chicagoland Pipe Show, and I don’t think I’ve recovered yet. There was just so much to do in such a short space of time. I imagine that’s everyone’s experience, and like everyone else there’s two great things I love about going: first, when I find pipes I’m interested in (Petes, naturally); and second, when I get to talk to folks who like the pipes I like and want to talk about them. And that’s what Sundays seem to be all about at the Chicago show. Everyone slows down, looks up from the dealer tables and finally says, “Oh, hey—good to see you!”

On my first trip to show in 2012, I only had two Peterson conversations the entire weekend: one quite fortuitously with Pete Rothenberg, a great estate dealer who sold me a 14S Deluxe and a 308 Premier, both of which needed restoration—the former now a celebrity, being photographed for the Peterson book (and I think living in Dun Laoghaire), and the latter resting comfortably in the rack next to a 356.  Incidentally, Pete also helped us document the difference between “Peterson’s” and “Peterson’s Ltd.—of New York,” which is a fun sidebar in the book.

But the best Peterson conversation I had was at the Friday night buffet. My wife and I were timidly sitting at a table with six complete strangers and I found out the gentleman next to me smoked a Peterson System, a 307 Standard, if I remember correctly. He didn’t own many pipes, and like us it was his first Chicago show. Unlike so many of those attending the show, he didn’t have a collection of 300+ Charatans or Castellos, he owned not a single Ivarsson, had no great Pre-Transition Barling stories to tell, no Patent Dunhill to show me, and in fact, I think he said the System was the most expensive pipe he owned.

I’m not trying to be a reverse-snob, as I’ve learned a lot from those enthusiastic about the pipes mentioned above, and I know how they feel, because it’s how I feel about Peterson. I just felt a kinship with this guy, because spending money on any pipe is always a big deal for me.  So—on to Peterson spotting.

Just like last year, it was my wife who found the $10 rarity, an undocumented Peterson line that I’ll share with you when I do the restoration this summer. But at the same table there were four new/old stock XL Rustic Standard Systems from 1981-84 by the looks of the boxes they were in. And as I studied them, I had one of those “light-bulb” moments: they were Mark Twain Systems! Or rather, they were MT Systems converted to Rustic Standard Systems.

I also marveled at the stem work, which you should take a look at, as it represents a high-water mark in Peterson’s production. The company only made these wide-flaring army mounts for about ten years, 1979 to maybe 1989, with wider tenon-mortise diameters (and hence larger reservoirs) and wider buttons than would be the case in later years. (You can see the chamber is stained, by the way, but the mortise is bare wood).

Thirty-five years old and they looked (as you can see) like they were made yesterday. Original boxes, brochures and socks. $90. I don’t like to talk about my own pipes on the blog, but yes, that one made it home with me (and the next day Glen Whelan of Peterson opened his pipe bag and guess what he pulled out? One of the same pipes.)

But the really great Pete sighting of the show came when fellow Pete Nut Andy Camire said he’d brought three Paddy Larrigan signed pieces—and would I like to see them? See them? I wanted to photograph them, and here they are.

If I remember Andy’s story correctly, these pipes were made by Paddy for Al Rosenfield, who was visiting the factory in 1987 (you can see a photo of Al and Paddy from Paddy’s scrapbook, probably taken when Al acquired these pipes, on page 37 of the book).

I would hazard a guess that the gold-band XL305 (the Sherlock Holmes Original) and the Dublin Millennium were commissioned as a set on that visit. I didn’t get the gold hallmarks on the pipes (and I don’t think the XL305 even had a hallmark), but the third pipe in the group Rosenfield brought back, a shape 11 / 312 sterling spigot, is hallmarked “B” for 1987. The gorgeous dublin would be part of the 988 / 1988 Dublin Millennium commemoratives, so it all hangs together.

I also wanted you to see three Paddy Larrigan stamps, because in the book we illustrate one back in the Identification Guide, from a Deerstalker SH pipe owned by Michael Grady.

I also wanted to document the ultra-rare HAND CUT stamp Paddy liked to use on the Cumberland mouthpiece. And don’t forget the SPECIAL stamp seen underneath the PETERSON’S over DUBLIN on the stummels, the sign of a one-off or custom-made Pete.

One additional highlight is the way Larrigan’s deep chestnut over black works with the cumberland and gold. This is the only instance of the deep chestnut stain I’ve seen on a Peterson. Last year’s “annual” spigot line, the System Spigot, which was so haphazardly marketed, is very close, and I remember being startled by the color when I first saw them. Just takes your breath away.

Paddy probably didn’t turn these bowls, but selected them and hand cut the mouthpieces. His brother Liam would have turned the gold and sterling, then Paddy stained and finished them. Of course, he did design the Original SH bowl here and I’ll bet he designed the dublin as well. Andy told me the spigot seen above is the finest straight-grain Peterson he’s ever seen.

Andy also brought two vintage Petes, the 493-squat bulldog, which was much smaller than I thought it would be. I hadn’t realized these were made as early as the Irish Free State era (1922-1937), but seeing is believing!

He also brought the very rare, very cool square-shank billiard 688. I wish we’d had this pipe to photograph for the book, but you can see it now. It had two more numbers in earlier catalogs, but the 688 number is seen in a 1941George Yale catalog, along with some other great Petes just before Peterson imports to the US quit for the duration of WWII.

Another rarity was brought by co-author Gary Malmberg, what is apparently a prototype design by Zenith pipes for Peterson, a double-walled porcelain bent billiard. I actually got to smoke it, and as you’d expect, if your cadence is slow and steady, it’s a cool, if fragile, smoker.

Last and certainly tremendously exciting for us Pete Freek, Peterson was in the house! Josh Burgess and Glen Whelan set out two or three tables—something that hasn’t been done at the Chicago show in anyone’s memory. I’ll have to ask Tom Palmer if he remembers ever going to one.

Prominently displayed were the first two new lines from Laudisi-era Peterson, the Rosslare Rusticated and the Aran Rusticated.

But “first in show” of new Petes went to two of only ten natural POY 2019 john bull 999 shapes made. While the new POY will be described in the marketing as the “999 Chubby Rhodesian,” between us, you and I can call it by its historical Peterson name: the john bull. And no, that’s not a typographical error—remember that shape names are not proper nouns.  But more about this first-ever P-Lip in the POY series next time!



The 2019 POY Chubby Rhodesian

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