277. Sherlock Holmes Discovers the System – 1990 (Revised)

Revised April 21, 2022.

As all Thinking Men (most Pete Geeks) know, the first Sherlock Holmes shape from the Late Republic era appeared in 1987, marking the centenary of Conan Doyle’s Study in Scarlet. That calabash shape (“the Original,” later designated the XL12), was issued in a beautiful saddle / fishtail for just a few years and was also used as a short-lived company logo and some advertising, then disappeared with the rollout of the more familiar tapered P-Lip we see now, probably beginning with the issue of the seven-day set in 1989. In 1992, the Return of Sherlock Holmes seven-day set began its slow roll-out, commencing in 1992 and ending in 1997. Sandwiched in between, something unexpected happened—Sherlock Holmes discovered the System.

SH System Window Poster

There were only two SH System pipes—what I thought was the XL11 and the Baskerville. I’ve been late coming to the calabash 05 and XL5 / XL305 / XL315 / XL11 party (all the same shape, the 05 being the smaller version). After seeing an XL305 Standard System in Sherlock Holmes’ piperack in one of the early episodes of the Jeremy Brett series, I sat up, took notice, and realized I needed to change my smoking habits. Brian 500s, as he has often done, helped me out and soon I was contently puffing on my very own XL315, enjoying how comfortable it cradles in hand because of the the bell flare and how perfect the chamber is for virginias, vaburs, vapers and vaperkys.

The SH System Original next to a recent XL5S Deluxe System

Somehow a few weeks back I chanced onto an NOS Ebony version of the SH System and when it arrived I found myself, not dumb-founded perhaps, but certainly surprised. It isn’t the Original / XL11 at all but the smaller 05(b) Calabash! Above is a comparison of the SH Original 05 and the XL5S Deluxe Dark System. The latter is the same size and shape as its SH counterpart, the XL11, as measurements of bowl height and outer width confirm. The Ebony SH is also not the SH Original Junior, which can be measured from one at SPC. It is in fact the 05, as comparison with a recent 05 System shows (taking into account the variation due to papering):

SH Original Measurements                         Recent 05 System
Bowl Height: 2.08 in / 52.8mm                      1.99 in /50.55 mm
Outer Diameter: 1.47 in / 37.4 mm                1.45 in /36.83 mm
Chamber Diameter: 0.80 in / 20.4 mm           0.81 in /20.6 mm
Chamber Depth:  1.57 in / 39.9 mm               1.52 in /38.61 mm

The Point-of-Sale Counter Brochure

Why Kapp & Peterson decided to go with a System version of the first two SH pipes in 1990 just a year before the original set was completed is anyone’s guess, but it was a stroke of genius as far as Sherlockians and System fans are concerned. As Pete Geeks are so often fans of the Great Detective and fans of the Great Detective so often find their way to Peterson pipes, it’s a notion worth exploring. The System appeared in 1891 and was aggressively marketed by Arthur Colton in London, who made sure that reviews appeared in all the leading magazines of the day (as can be seen in the testimonials taken from those magazines in the 1896 K&P catalog). As we’ve seen in earlier posts, people on the street heard the word (or song) and the word was Peterson.

Fast-forward to the early 1930s, when Christopher Morley and his friends invented the “genre” (if it can be called that) of writing about the Holmes stories as though they are factual. Holmesians since have analyzed all manner of phenomena within the Canon. The two annotated versions of SH, one by William S. Baring-Gould and one by Leslie S. Klinger, weightily testify to how serious the game can be, how engaging it is to play and how many famous people have played it. Certainly in this alternate reality it would come as no surprise, given Holmes’s omnivorous habits as a reader of all London publications, to find him aware of the System. In fact, it’s impossible not to think of him as smoking several of them. Certainly Basil Rathbone drew that conclusion at about the same time that Morley popularized the idea. It would appeal to Holmes, of course, on a number of levels, from its logic to its science to its innovation to its smoking properties to its durability, comfort and overall appeal to the Thinker.

It’s also a mystery why they chose the 05 and not the XL5, although that may perhaps be explained because the 05 and the Baskerville stummels match in height, making their mortises identical (as proven by measuring the two pipes above). Side by side, they simply make a great matched pair. Even though the wood on my Baskerville isn’t as nice as most I’ve seen (it has a few fills as you can see from the red spots) and the Original SH System Ebony wouldn’t be my first choice of finish, you can see they go together, like, well, Holmes and Watson. These were also the first two shapes in the Original seven-day set.  But what really makes these Systems pop (and you’ve already noticed)  is the taper-flared P-Lip. Extraordinary, right?

SH System stem: Baskerville (left) and Original (right)

While the bend is a bit different on the two bowls, the stem is the same. I’ve angled the Baskerville just a bit so you can see just how incredible the lines are. I love this stem even more than the amazing “Comfort Lip” on the 301 short dutch from the late 1970s. This is simply my idea of Pete stem heaven: the uber-wide tapered AB flare showing off just how thick it has to be to accommodate that K&P marvel, the graduated-bore airway that no one, not even artisans, has ever used,* and of course the aluminum tenon extension.  The System P-Lip tapered stem doesn’t get any better than this.


Sébastien Canévet, CPG, has documented that the Sherlock Holmes Original, Sherlock Holmes Original System and Sherlock Holmes Original Junior pipes are different sizes:

SH Original
Bowl height: 57mm
Bowl Width: 41mm
Chamber Depth: 44mm
Chamber Width: 22mm

SH Original Junior
Bowl height: 48mm
Bowl Width: 36mm
Chamber Depth: 37 mm
Chamber Width: 20mm

SH Original System
Bowl height: 54mm
Bowl Width: 38mm
Chamber Depth: 41mm
Chamber Width: 18mm


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*According to one of my senseis, Chuck Stanion, who explained to me that K&P’s stem drilling is nothing like how contemporary artisans drill their airways. He says the System bore not only works but is unique.

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