Peterson of Dublin has started another Irish revolution, but with no manifestos or righting of wrongs. With a "declaration of independence" from the ways of yester year—not in quality, hut in concept—the 136-year-old company has recently positioned itself for the coming millennium. A carefully planned marketing strategy based on consumer research and testing, has enabled Peterson to design new collections for the smoking revolution of the ’90’s. Every way that pipes, cigars, and accessories suit a well-turned, affluent, and varied lifestyle has been thought out and developed, from cutting-edge contemporary artifacts to nostalgic recreations of glory days past. This is the story of a successful marketing campaign.
A Look Back
Maybe it was something in the air or in the stars that made 1865 a banner year for the smoking world. At this time, when the Petersen ancestor began his Danish tobacco factory, the famous Peterson pipe was but a gleam in its father’s eye, far away, across two seas, in Ireland. While that may be stretching it a bit, here’s the story. And, in the spirit of our times, it’s multicultural, and perhaps, even multiethnic.
The brothers Kapp—Friedrich and Heinrich—from Nuremburg, Germany, opened a smokeshop in Dublin in 1865 and sold briar and meerschaum pipes, tobacco, and smoker’s sundries. Within a few years, Charles Peterson, a Latvian from Riga, appeared on their doorstep with an invention; a curved pipe with a well beneath the bowl, south of the smokestream, a stem with a graduated bore, and a special extended lip with a small hole at the top. The well trapped moisture away from the main smokestream, thus avoiding the "curved pipe gurgle." The graduated bore encouraged the smoker to puff more lightly to get the same volume of smoke, and the special lip passed the smoke over rather than directly onto the tongue, avoiding "tongue bite."
Not only had Peterson built a better mouse trap, but he had a patent for it too. So, before long, the brothers Kapp joined forces with Peterson, as Kapp & Peterson, and were off and running in the decades before the turn of the century. Peterson pipes, both with and without "the system," sold to the great, the near great, and the not so great. Mark Twain owned a Peterson, as did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and certainly Joe Bloggs. When Doyle pictured Sherlock Holmes with a curved pipe, the moviemakers stuck a Peterson in Basil Rathbone’s fist.
The shop had the great fortune of a location directly across the street from the main entrance to Dublin’s famous Trinity College. (The store is still there.) In the days when every man—especially an academic one—had his pipe, the location was ideal. The likes of James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, Sean O’Casey, Oliver St. John Gogarty, members of the Abbey Theatre acting company, Maud Gonne (the great goddess of Yeats’s unfulfilled love), and even Lady Gregory, the patron saint of the Abbey, bought, smoked, and treasured K&P pipes.
A Peterson pipe became associated, by proximity, with "thinking men," in a country where it’s no shame to he both a man or woman of action as well as a thinker; where poets smoke pipes arid , pipemakers quote poetry. For more than half a century the company’s marketing copy line was, "Thinking Men Smoke Petersons."
Always a good pipe, and sometimes a great pipe, the Peterson reputation for quality and value has endured for over a century, up to the present day. However, the company faced a major challenge a few years ago, when sales began decreasing markedly. Smoking was on the decline in general, and in particular, Peterson had targeted a middle-age market of sedentary "thinkers," with whom the dukes and earls of yuppiedom did not identify.
So what if Mark Twain thought of his cleverest zingers with a Peterson clenched between his teeth, or that Teddy Roosevelt smoked a Peterson after the charge up San Juan Hill, or even that Ernest Hemingway relaxed with a Peterson while on safari, staring at the sunset glowing over Kilimanjaro? The fact was, those big curved pipes, and the small straight classics, did not gel with the exuberant and fast-paced Armani-suit-and-BMW lifestyle of today. 
A management shakeup was in order at Peterson and it happened in 1994, when a young, aggressive businessman with an accounting background, Tom Palmer, now Managing Director, bought the company. Palmer quickly proceeded to lure Bernadette O’Neill, a hip and even younger Marketing Manager with a business degree from Trinity, back to Dublin and away from a lucrative job in London. Together they energized a new vector for Peterson of Dublin, so successful that the "me toos" are tripping over each other to follow.
Feisty, congenial, with a Dublin lilt in his voice and a courtesy that offsets his "all business" dedication, Palmer is the prototype of the forty-something managerial class now acceding to power all over Europe—no weight is thrown around, no achievements boasted, but it’s all there and you know it.
"Petersons are still made in most of the classic shapes that traditional pipe smokers want, like the classic curved ‘calabash’ with The System (Petersonians say this with reverence), and silver bands and ‘army mounts’ and spigots and all that," said Palmer in a recent interview. (An "army mount" is a tapered push-in mouthpiece that is narrower than the diameter of the pipe shank, usually reinforced by a silver cap shaped around the briar wood where it joins the mouthpiece. A "spigot" is a silver covering on the tapered tenon of the mouthpiece. The style evolved from the practice of soldiers in earlier centuries who repaired broken pipes by sliding a used cartridge case over the shank and re-inserting the mouthpiece—usually bone or wood—into the casing, after putting a hole for the tenon into the case head.) "But we are putting our marketing emphasis on collections that suit today’s youthful lifestyle."
The new Classic collection is a case in point; a line featuring pipes (naturally), handcrafted leather cigar cases, humidors (both for loose tobacco and cigars), elegant cutters, ashtrays, pipe tools, and lighters, all in elegant black, silver, and chrome. The set of two dress-black pipes with silver spigots and silver howl rims comes in a buttery, black leather box that holds the pipes, a lighter, a tobacco pouch, a pipe tool and a cigar cutter, and it has two compartments for the owner’s watch, ring and cufflinks. The big plus is that it was a concept first, thought through by a company that knows what smokers need and how they use it, then designed by top European designers, with today’s younger smoker in mind. Additionally, the cigar humidor and tobacco box provide perfect storage for precious commodities, and are elegantly hand turned, silver trimmed, and finished with many coats of deep, ebony lacquer, providing two pieces that will grace even the most elegant setting.
Her own youth, coupled with a decade of London experience engineering trend-shaping and developing marketing strategies aimed at younger consumers, has given Bernadette O’Neill a solid sense of what her generation finds compelling. O’Neill supervised all aspects of the development of the Classic collection’s coordinated items. Smartly dressed in a black suit, as if a part of the collection herself, O’Neill sits behind a glass-topped desk in her no-frills, no nonsense office—which looks more like a design studio, with artwork on easels and new project roughs pinned to the walls. "We looked at and literally tore apart everything else in the up-market price range made by our competitors, and we know that what we are producing is a better grade item all the way down the line," comments O’Neill. "The leather goods are from a bespoke leather manufacturer who usually makes one-of-a-kind items for royalty. The cigar accessories are our designs carried out by one of the best cutlers on the European continent. The pipes, of course, are made right here."
The Future of the Pipe
The concept Peterson will work with for the foreseeable future is collections," explains O’Neill. "We’ll introduce a new Classic Collection ’98. It’s in the prototype stages now, and no, you can’t see it!" The Sherlock Holmes Collection started in 1989, "before Tom Palmer and I were here, hut we’re continuing that with this new addition, The Return of Sherlock Holmes. These are all new shapes, variations on Victorian themes, some of them actually restorations of shapes Peterson was making in the 1880’s."
Escorted by factory manager Joe Kenny, we listen to a disquisition on grading by howl department manager Tony Whelan, and watch export manager Charlie Fitzpatrick display some of the Holmes line. PipeSMOKE is struck by the inventive re-interpretation of Victorian pipes using finish stains that the company actually used when Holmes stalked Moriarty around London. The shapes are generously proportioned, actually larger than most pipes of the period were. "That’s true," agrees Charlie, an affable gray-haired man with a twinkling eye who has worked for the company for many years—one of the custodians of tradition. "But most of these go to collectors in America and Germany, where they want large pipes."
"Anyway," O’Neill continues," the Sherlock Holmes collections are imaginative, not replicas of anything, just as Holmes was an original, not a copy. It’s mood, not history."
The Peterson tradition has long been associated with the fine silver work on their pipes, and continues in the new collections. PipeSMOKE watched while their in-house silver smith, David Blake, made the army mount and spigot on some pipes. The silver is guaranteed by official assay and comes in discs that are hand worked onto each pipe after a template is made of the individual pipe from softer boxwood. The silver is first shaped to form, then transferred and finished on the pipe itself. The craftsmanship, created with only a lathe and cold chisel as basic tools, is as fine as PipeSMOKE has ever seen. In a day when most of the major manufacturers use ready-made materials or outsource their silver tooling, it is gratifying to see the artisanal skill applied to a pipe that some lucky owner will cherish for a lifetime.
The blend of traditional skills and marketing savvy are readying Peterson of Dublin for the millennium in very high style. A revolution with the formula for success.
PipeSMOKE Summer 1997
Opening photo of Silver Mounted Army P-Lip courtesy of SmokingPipes.com