Peterson of Dublin

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Alan Schwartz
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. [1997]

Looking Forward

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

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29 Responses

  • Interesting Peterson refurbished its brand emphasizing its collections in 1997. A few years ago, I enjoyed
    this emphasis by buying one of their Around the World pipes honoring various nations — I went for Ireland,
    a bulldog shape. Also, it’s clear the “big curved pipes” have endured afterall, so Twain, Hemingway, etc. were
    correct in that. Good 1997 recap. I’ve been to Trinity College to see, among other things, the Book of Kells,
    but missed the pipe shop completely, to my great regret.

  • I got a Peterson pipe a year ago. It was a Darwin, rustic pipe from a German online shop. I liked the style of the pipe. The price wasn’t very expensive and I decided to buy it. My first impression upon opening the box was that the pipe was quite heavy and large. Would that work for me? I had some doubts at the beginning, but I was eager to try. After a couple of months it became my favorite pipe. It is an excellent smoker and its performance with English and oriental mixtures is superb. It became more or less what I have now in mind when I think of a nice pipe. Later on I bought one from the Sherlock Holmes series: the horn shaped Mycroft. It is a nice pipe, much lighter than the Darwin and good in performance, although I find Darwin superior. These two are the pipes I enjoy most and I am looking forward to buying some others.
    Something that I was wondering is about Peterson tobaccos. I can’t find much of them in Switzerland. I have a feeling that they aren’t much into Oriental/English style that I like most.

  • My previous post seems to have disappeared, so I’ll keep this short; no amount of advertising or attempted lionising of the men who contributed to the lamentable demise of a once-respected pipemaker will convince those who have bought a lemon, that it was in fact a wonderful pipe steeped in tradition.

  • @thehappypiper – Do you have to piss on every PipeSMOKE archive article we publish? You made negative comments on last month’s as well. I find your screen name to be ironic as you don’t seem to be too happy at all.

  • Kevin, I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but this so-called article is nothing more than a fluff piece, an advertisement, unworthy of a website which puports to support pipesmokers. You can chase advertising revenue all you like, but do not expect us to sit back and pretend everthing is alright when it’s not. Those individuals characterised as geniuses and heroes, have presided over the near-catastrophic demise of a once-great marque. You know this. Umless you believe The First Amendent only applies so long as it does not affect shareholder value, it behoves you to accept the fact that many hardworking, dedicated pipesmokers have purchase inferior pipes from this company in recent years. To pretend otherwise is unworthy of this embattled community

  • It’s the first I’ve heard of it. All I ever see posted is tons of compliments and how much people love their Peterson Pipes. There are many people that are hardcore Peterson fanatics. If the company was so horrible, how could they still be in business after all of these years (153 to be exact), and have so many stout devotees? Again, I want to point out that the article is 17-years old, and you’re asserting “recent years”, with your conspiracy-theory, stick-it-to-the-Man attitude, which is confusing to me. You seem to be quite a malcontent, Mr. UnhappyPiper. You consider any Company Profile Article a “fluff piece”. You posted the same comment on the A&C Petersen profile article last month. You should start your own website where you publish company profiles and tell everyone what a crappy companies they are. You never know. You might get a lot of readers. Lastly, I had no idea whatsoever that the pipe community was embattled by its very own suppliers. I am aware of the never-ending legislative hurdles, but that has nothing to do with a 153-year old pipe factory.

  • HappyPiper, if you dont like Peterson’s Pipes, don’t buy them. It’s very easy to speak with your wallet.

  • I enjoy each of my Petersons, they are great smokes. Hey thehappypiper: if you don’t like Petersons – don’t smoke them. If you don’t like the forum or magazine – then don’t read or participate. Simple.

  • FWIW, I love my Pete’s. Most are newer too. And to start a flame war on an old article? Well..that’s just old fashioned trolling. let it go…

  • I am not sure what is the point of discussion.
    1. Is it that if a name of a pipe manufacturer or tobacco manufacturer in an article is a form of advertisement?
    2. Is it that the article in question is contrary to the gentleman’s opinion that the company has gone down hill?
    3. Is it that the commenter believes that an old article is not worthy to be reprinted?
    4. Is it that the commenter has an issue with Peterson Pipes?
    I do not consider the article to be an advertisement. It would be an advertisement if the company in question or its distributor “PAID” or provided compensation to Kevin to print the article. If this were the case then I would trust Kevin’s journalistic ethics to tell us so.
    Many of the companies that make the products we consume have changed over the last century. No company has been static if so, they do not survive. It is as simple as that. Change is inevitable.
    I saw this article when it was originally printed in “Pipe Smoke” magazine over 15+ years ago. The new smokers may not be familiar with it. I think Kevin is doing a service to the new smoker in providing it. This article is clearly represented as one from 1997 to 2000. It may not reflect the Peterson of today.
    I am not a Peterson fanboy. I have had and still have their pipes in my collection. Being a Sherlock Holmes fan, I have several of their SH series. I have always found them hard to break-in and do not personally like the P-lip. I do like the fishtail stems on several of my pipes. However that is my personal preference and I would not trash such a pipe manufacturer out of hand.
    We pipe smokers have enough trash talk and bad things happening from outside our community and should not be doing it to each other. Read the article, accept it for what it is, a window on the past and move on. You vote for your products with your pocketbook.
    OK, I will get off of my soapbox.

  • Anytime you see or hear someone invoking the First Amendment in response to something put out by a private person or entity, you can be sure there’s not much more than smoke between that person’s ears. HappyPiper: the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply solely to protect us from GOVERNMENT taking action against us for our speech. As private citizens, we are (mostly) free to react in any way we choose to speech that emanates from the mouths (or keyboards) of others. As for the Petersons, I have two, both good smokers, and I second Kevin’s experience in that all I have ever heard about Petersons has been positive or complimentary. You are certainly entitled to your opinions — bully for you — and so are we. If you consider it your purpose in life to be an internet troll, roaming the web to dampen the enthusiasm of strangers, then you have picked the wrong tree up which to bark. Pipe smokers are an ever-pleasant lot who can rebuff any negativity simply by applying match to bowl, and we do so regularly. Happy trails to you, but now it’s time for you to move on.

  • I’ll chime in on this silly little debate…I know I should just lets sleeping dogs lie but I won’t…Thanks to the influence of several folks including my great grandpa and great guys like Jim Lilly I have a lot of Peterson Pipes (a lot being subjective in that I don’t have as many as Jim Lilly has but more than I had last week). I have about fifteen pre-republic Petes and about twice that many post-republic Petes and about half of those are new purchases in the last 10 years or so.
    Is there a difference in the way they are made? Probably….were the older ones dig stained? Probably not…Do the newer ones have more interesting shapes and designs? Yep they do? Do they all smoke great? Sure do! Do I love the P-Lip and the Fishtail, vulcanite and acrylic….yep, yep, yep and yep. Do I like talking with other Pete enthusiasts like Jim on Facebook and in forums? Yep. Do I enjoy the wonderful customer service you get when you call the folks in Dublin and ask a question? I sure do! And do i take a lot of crap for all of my Peterson affection? Yep again. So if ya don’t like it don’t smoke it.
    I also love Stanwell Pipes with a passion. Was I disappointed when they closed up shop and moved to Italy? Sure I was…it was the end of an era…Do I still buy Stanwell pipes? Sure I do…they are still great pipes made by people who love the craft and I take great pleasure in their product….too bad too many pipe smokers get a burr under their saddle about things that just don’t matter.
    And now I will step down off my soap box

  • The one pipe smoker I know who was loud in his criticism of Peterson pipes publicly recanted a couple of years ago. 🙂

  • I personally smoke Peterson’s (among others) and I professionally spend a lot of money on Peterson products to sell in my tobacco shop. I do all of this because their pipes are well made, their tobaccos are complex and I feel good about embracing my Irish heritage. And, yes, I do find it kinda cool that Twain, Hemingway and Roosevelt all smoked Peterson.

  • All of my Peterson Pipes have either been good or great smokes. No lemons in the bunch. Old and new, I have enjoyed all of them. I favor the p-lips over the fishtails, but I wouldn’t part with any of them!

  • I have but one question for Happy Piper:
    Who are you referring to when mentioning: “the men who contributed to the lamentable demise of a once-respected pipemaker” ? O’Neill, who I always thought was a woman ? Palmer, who probably saved Peterson from an untimely death in 1994 ? Kevin and Alan, who are re-publishing a 17 year old article ?
    Now, my personal experience with Peterson pipes. Granted, my collection only includes about a dozen or so. Of which two pre-republics, several high-end Rosslares and then a few mid and lower range specimens.
    The lower range pipes are not any better or worse than any other pipe priced in that range. I’m talking about pipes like the Donegal, Kinsale and Aran series. Dip stained with little fills and the occasional off center drill hole are to be expected for pipes in this price range. I have seen it with pretty much any large scale pipe manufacturer. And yet most, if not all, of them are still excellent smokers and find their way into my pipe bag regularly.
    I consider my Rosslares (2), Irish Harps (2), Flame Grain (2) and Silver Spigots (1) to be my higher end pipes. As one would expect of a pipe at this price point, they are flawless. Well drilled, without fills and tight fitting tenons, they provide excellent smokes quite consistently.
    One amusing tidbit perhaps comparing old vs new ? I have a 1947 specimen in a 408 shape with a P-Lip. Interstingly enough, one can clearly see a fill on the left hand side of the bowl. Whether that was done by a previous owner during a restoration or whether it was part of the pipe as it left the factory is unbeknownst to me. But is it possible at least that Peterson always has produced bowls with small fills ? Even back in its heyday before the 1994 take-over by “the men who contributed to the lamentable demise of a once-respected pipemaker”, assuming that’s what Happy Piper referenced ?
    Food for thought. Happy (pipe)-smoking.

  • I have a few Peterson pipes, and I love them all. And I will continue to buy Peterson five for whatever era I can get them. They are great smoking pipes, and thoroughly enjoyable. As for the article, I found an interesting piece and it is fascinating to see how this man turned the company around and positioned it for the 21st-century. Long life to Petersons! May they continue producing pipes that smokers enjoy.

  • I only have one Peterson. It smokes okay. Not my favorite, but I wouldn’t denounce an entire brand based on one testing. Maybe I’ll have to purchase another for a follow up experiment.

  • I have had a 50% failure rate on my Peterson’s. I only own two of them but they are both replacements after the bowls on the first ones cracked on me after one or two smokes. This is the only brand I have ever had this problem with. The first of them came from my favorite online pipe retailer and the second came from my (somewhat) local pipe shop. In both cases, my pipes were immediately replaced with apologies and the replacements have been fantastic pipes overall. I bought them both around the same time and don’t know if there was an issue with the briar they were getting at the time or not. If so, it isn’t really fair to blame Peterson for the briar itself unless they knowingly used bad wood which I do not believe to be the case. Regardless, though I had issues with my Peterson’s, the situation was immediately rectified and I would have absolutely no concerns with buying another as I really enjoy the ones I have now. I don’t buy many pipes because I just can’t afford many but I have about 15 or so right now from a variety of manufacturers which works well for me. I will certainly buy more in time and I plan to buy more Peterson’s at some point. I really enjoy seeing articles from the past and I enjoyed seeing this one. Thanks Kevin! As for Peterson going downhill? I have not been smoking pipes long enough to have any idea at all.

  • I also have a few Pete’s ranging from an early Shamrock to a new 2014 Killarney and while i have read many questioning the quality in recent years I have never had an issue. I know that a dissatisfied customer will contact 10x the people a satisfied customer will and I truly feel that this is the case here. Unfortunately this is the culture we have become, where a lot of the time it is simply the group that makes the most noise, gets the most press and the uninformed think them right. Kudos to all fellow posters for taking the time to make your options heard.

  • This is a welcome reprint of an older article that I also read many years ago. What a great History this company has and it continues to grow with all of their new styles and also reproduced shapes from over a hundred years ago. Peterson has pipes in every conceivable price range for the new smoker/collector to the seasoned high end collector/smoker that are amazingly unique and successful for future growth of the Company. Personally I believe that Peterson has some of the finest briar and pipe makers of any company today. When you see some of the incredible birds eye grained bowls or magnificent straight grains that they produce with superbly crafted silver work it is amazing. Hopefully they will continue to be successful for another hundred plus years. I love my Peterson pipes and the history that goes along with them.

  • My Petes are older models, but fine pipes. If their alternative was to go the way of the great London pipe makers, then I guess I’m glad the company was in the hands of those who could move them into the next century. Would it be nice if all the old marquees were still producing as they once did? Well yes, but that Era is gone. I’m grateful for what remains.

  • The first pipe I ever bought was a little full-bent Peterson System 314, which survived total (unintentional!) abuse while I tried to learn how to smoke a pipe in the pre-internet age. The only other I have is a small Peterson 31 which is a superb flake pipe. I have many other pipes of various brands, from factory-made to artisan and the two Petes hold their own very well. I’m not particularly a fan of many of the Peterson shapes and styles, which is a personal thing, but there are some models which I really like and will own at some point. I confess I have an oxidisation issue on the Pete stems, despite frequent care and applications of Obsidian oil, which is why (I suppose) they sell replacement stems, but that’s just a minor irritation. To my mind Peterson pipes are similar to those of any number of other factory-made brands such as Stanwell (which I love) and Savinelli (which I also like). Full range of shapes and styles, generally well-made, and models scaling from low-end to high-class, ‘luxury’ status. The proof of the pudding with Peterson really is in the eating; 153 years and how many hundreds of thousands pipes sold?! ‘Nuff said. Also, there will always be the occasional output from any produyction process, but Peterson sound like they have great customer service to deal with those issues and consistently produce sufficiently high-quality goods to thrive. Some achievement.
    Personally, I love the archive articles and think that running them is inspired. They’re fascinating, showing us a world that – although relatively recent – is accelerating away like the USS Enterprise at warp factor 9 (I’m NOT a Trekkie, so I don’t know if that speadd actually exists! I just liked the analogy.). Most of us lived through the 1970/80s and definitely 1990s; these articles remind us what it was like or show us what we missed first time around. More please, Kevin!

  • Relative to the discussion (?) between thehappypiper and Kevin: I currently own a Peterson pipe, one of three I have owned. It is one of three because the first two were returned and replaced by Peterson, due to the fact that they decided to eat themselves from the inside out. That’s right, burnout. And in both cases the burnout was in a different location within the bowl. After sending me the third pipe I was told that it was evident that I was an inept pipe smoker and had no idea how to break in a new pipe. I was also told that they would not replace this pipe again if it burned out. This third pipe, surprise of surprises, also burned out – in a different area inside the bowl. This is not to say that Peterson pipes are inferior in any way, or that I am a novice pipe smoker (56 years), but there is certainly something rotten here, and it is not my technique. I truly would love to own and smoke a Peterson, but I hesitate to make that considerable investment in hopes of getting something that I could smoke for years.

  • Really ,from a strictly literary viewpoint,The Peterson article was a Piece of history.To suggest that it was advertising shows a lack of literary understanding as well as smoking! My only Peterson (303)is my favourite by far