A Primer on Peterson Pipes

By Chuck Wright
We all know the story of the Kapp brothers and Charles Peterson so I won’t bore you with it. Most are also familiar with the Peterson system pipes, so the same will hold true there. I intend to focus on the classic Peterson pipes beginning with the entry level pipes like the Aran, Irish-Made Army, and then working up to the higher grades.

I wish to thank Mike Leverette and James Lilley from whom I will liberally borrow information. As a confirmed Peterson nut, I have always been surprised at the lack of accurate historical information and Peterson’s lack of record keeping. It seems they just wonder along, changing series names, dropping a series, starting a new series and not keeping track of when they did it. When I first started collecting Peterson pipes, I wanted to know all I could about them.
I received a lot of contradictory information from various sources and was left in a quandary as to who and what to believe. Then I discovered “The Peterson Pipe Project” and many things became clearer. Unfortunately, that resource never reached it’s full potential and has just about died on the vine with Mr. Leverette’s passing. We now have the ongoing work of Jim Lilley to use as a reference. Peterson pipes have been around for more than 145 years now. That’s impressive compared to some other brands that began in the mid 19th century. Many of the shapes they have today can be traced back to those origins.
Entry level Peterson’s, such as the Aran, Donagal Rocky, Kildare, Killarney and Sterling Silver series, can all be bought at retail for less than $100, and make a decent introduction to the brand. Some people dislike the long break-in period that these pipes seem to take, sometimes 20 bowls or more, but once they are broken in, they are a fine smoking pipe.
One needs to try to see and handle these pipes before purchasing because there have been fit and finish issues, especially with pipes made in the 1980’s and on into the1990’s. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in quality control in the newer made pipes I’ve bought. You can expect to find fills and/or pits in these lower grade pipes. Peterson is one of the best at hiding fills. You may think you have an unusually fill free Aran, but somewhere down the road a pink or black fill will make itself known. Again, these are entry level pipes and one cannot expect a perfect straight grained pipe for $100.

Peterson Donagal Rocky 120
Peterson Donagal Rocky 120

Moving up to Premier quality – again, one can expect fills and pits but only minor ones in these pipes. Usually there are very few, maybe only one or two pinpoint sized flaws. The briar is of a higher grade and you can expect a pipe that will break in somewhat more quickly the the lesser grades. The shapes are the same as the lesser quality pipes but the smoking experience is enhanced. One can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $125 to $175 for these pipes, depending on the shape and size.
Peterson Sandblasted 307 Premier
Peterson Sandblasted 307 Premier

Now we get into the “good” stuff, the Deluxe series and above. Don’t bother looking for fills or pits in these pipes. There aren’t any. This includes the Deluxe System, Deluxe Classic, Army Spigot, Celtic Natural, Rosslare Natural, Grafton, Hinged Cap Natural and Silver Caps. You may find small root marks in these pipes but no putty. These are about as good as it gets from Peterson as far as pipes that can be found on a somewhat regular basis. Retail prices on these pipes can range from about $150 to $250.
9S Deluxe Peterson
9S Deluxe Peterson

Moving on to the top of the line pipes, we have the Straight Grains that may or may not be mounted with sterling silver or 9ct. gold. Also, there are the Supreme pipes that may have sterling silver or gold mounts or may be plain. There are also the gold and silver spigots. These pipes are flawless both in fit and finish and, except for the straight grains, possess beautiful birds-eye grain. They are usually furnished with a light contrasting stain that darkens with use. Depending on the size and precious metals used, these pipes will run as high as $900.
Peterson Pre-Republic Supreme
Peterson Pre-Republic Supreme

Peterson also produces what they refer to as Series pipes. The Great Explorer series is a set of four pipes dedicated to Admunson, Shakleton, Scott and Crean. They are rather large pipes with acrylic stems. The Writer series pipes are dedicated to the likes of Yeats, Wilde, Joyce and Shaw.
The new Mark Twain set consists of a new Mark Twain pipe and a poker. The poker, although not a cob, is meant to honor Huck Finn. The Castle series pays homage to some of the historic castles in Ireland. The River series for it’s rivers. The list goes on and on.
Peterson Mark Twain Set
Peterson Mark Twain Set

All in all, Peterson makes pipes for every budget, from the beginner to the experienced pipe smoker and collector.
You can visit The Peterson Pipe Project at http://thepetersonpipeproject.blogspot.com and Jim Lilley’s The Peterson Pipe Collector at http://thepetersoncollector.blogspot.com/
Peterson’s home page is http://www.peterson.ie/pipes/index.html
Sit back, select your favorite Pete, load it up and enjoy. That’s what I’m about to do. Let’s see, I think some FVF in the silver mounted 999 Classic will do just fine.
– Chuck Wright

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17 Responses

  • Very good essay, I think they are superb pipes. I didn’t know about the fills and pits on the “lower” priced pipes which causes me to be wary when I go to the pipe store and look at those models. Very good information indeed.

  • Chuck, thanks for adding a few more pieces to the Peterson Puzzle. Both neophyte and veteran find it daunting to make sense of the vast Peterson offerings; but your fine article brings a much needed bit of organization to the bewildering and expansive line.

  • Regarding pits and fills, I used to believe that any pipe below $125 would have them. That was when I could but a 307 System Standard for $60. I’ve had to revise that upwards to $250 now because of the natural esclation of costs. When I first started buying Peterson’s, Tony Whelan the shop supervisor, told me that they may get 3 to 5 bowls out of 1000 that would qualify as a Supreme Grade. He told me two weeks ago they don’t see any now and have only about 50 pieces that will qualify as Supremes.
    The way to save money and still get the Peterson experience is to buy sandblasted or rustic pipes where the fills and/or pits are hidden.

  • I have owned four different Peterson pipes over the years. They were all bent system types. They all looked very Irish and old fashioned, which is what attracted me to them to begin with. I don’t remember which models they were now.
    They also all eventually showed fills, except for the Sherlock Holmes pipe from that series.
    That is the only one that I have kept, although I don’t smoke it very often.
    The reason that I don’t is that it smokes wet, just as all the others did. What I mean by wet is that they gurgle a lot.
    For instance, my other pipes usually take between one and three pipe cleaners per bowl to keep them smoking dry. The Petersons can take six + cleaners. I don’t know why that would be. I smoke them the same way, using the same tobacco. I just find it very bothersome.
    The point of this is that I just stay away from the brand now. If I ever do decide to buy another Peterson, it will probably be an older estate pipe with a straight stem.

  • good article. i’ve been smoking petes (and other brands too)for around 50 years. i’ve never had a complaint about hard to break-in. i suspect the problems of long break-in and wet smokes are exacerbated by aromatic blends. beleive it or not the best smoking pipe i ever bought was an irish second. i still have it and several other irish 2nds that i cherish as old friends- the fills are still tight i’d buy more if i could find ’em- i think pete quit the 2nds around mid 1980’s. if you find one- snap it up, if it’s unsmoked it’ll break-in almost instantly, and will be a source of many great smokes. only drawback i’ve found is that they will have FT bits. if you are happy with a pete but want the PL bit, the folks in dublin will fix you up. i’ve had them replace a number of FT bits with PL bits (which i prefer).

  • In reply to maxpeters. I agree that petersons tend to gurgle and smoke wet. Heaven forbid you lay a system pipe down while smoking and all the contents of the system trap empty into the draft hole, believe me the first puff is memorable!!! Our savior however comes in the form of “Nording’s” Eric’s keystones. These small clay like stones are great. I fill the system trap with them and they absorb all of the juice and the pipe smokes so dry I never have to use a pipe cleaner, except to clean the pipe after use. I am back to smoking my original Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes pipes and they smoke wonderfully. I also use the keystones in the rest of my pipes and they really make a difference. Just put a few in the bottom of the bowl and load up.

  • I’ve read the complaint the Peterson System pipes gurgle on a few occaisions. I have never experienced it myself except with the Premier and Deluxe series that have the screw-in condenser. The gurgling stopped the instant I removed the condenser. Peterson has a new style aluminum condenser now that doesn’t have the three small holes on the side, just one larger hole in the tip and they don’t gurgle.

  • Thankx for the info Chuck.
    Very informative, considering I have no understanding of Peterson Pipes.
    I do however appreciate them.
    I like the way they look, and I love that Poker in the Mark Twin set.
    I have one question…
    I think the problem I have had with Peterson’s is the P-lip bits, and ignorance.
    Do you think I would enjoy a standard bit over a P-lip?
    I chewed both of my Petes almost beyond recognition.
    I’m happy to say they have both found a very good home.
    I haven’t given up on Peterson’s, contemplating obtaining a poker. (no P-lip)

  • Lawrence, if you like a regular bit on other brands, I would say the regular bit on a Peterson would satisfy. Peterson told me that only about 20% of their pipes are furnished with the P-lip so finding one without it should be easy.

  • Does anyone know what the word “vintage” carved under the peterson name on the bowl of a pipe refer to? I have looked every site and no one makes any mention of it. Where does it stand in the quality range of peterson? Help anyone?

  • Great Article on Petersons. Great pipe at a great price. Simple but highly effective design resulting in a great smoke. I have a question: Does anyone know if they are still making the 80S Donegal Rocky in fishtail? All I see these days on line, is the 80S Donegal Rocky in the P-lip. Try as I might, I simply can not get used to the P-lip. Seems like too much of the bit is in my mouth, if you know what I mean. The few P-lip Petersons that I do own, I have had to file down the bit to bring it to something resembling the fishtail. I love the bowl design on the Peterson 80S Donegal Rocky, but can not live with the bit. Does anyone else have an issue with the P-lip? Thanks.

  • Kashmir, as far as I know, all Donagal Rocky’s have P-lips. To get away from them, one needs to up-grade to a spigot. They have acrylic fish tail bits. I don’t have a problem with P-lips but I undersatnd those who do. Ovwer the years, I bought altered P-lips that have been filed down to resemble a regular bit. I’ve had to use a rat tailand safe edge files or a Dremal tool to form a proper vee in the bit. It is a little time consuming but I’ve came away with a proper looking product in the end.