Writing and publishing books is hard, especially for those not affiliated with large publishers. Writing a book about pipes is really hard, and there's only a very small audience to appreciate the achievement; however, when such a book is as well researched, well written, and well laid out as The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, it's going to get attention in the larger world of publishing despite its esoteric subject matter.
Mark Irwin and Gary Malmberg's book, The Peterson Pipe, published by Briar Books Press, has recently been honored with such an award by the Independent Publisher Book Awards, better known as the IPPY. IPPYs are awarded annually to recognize excellence in independent publishing titles from around the world. Eligible are university titles, independent publishers, and self-published books. In 2020, the Independent Publisher Book Awards received over 4900 submissions across 85 categories, and The Peterson Pipe was awarded the IPPY gold medal for "Best First Book — Non-Fiction." For a book with such a narrow interest as the history of a single pipe manufacturer to be so recognized is an event to be celebrated by all in our hobby.
Since its publication last year, I've encouraged anyone interested in learning more about Kapp & Peterson, or pipe collecting in general, to read The Peterson Pipe. It's a comprehensive resource and has fundamentally changed the way I think about Peterson pipes and the brand at large. In my early days of pipe collecting, I shied away from Peterson pipes, specifically System pipes, because I never really understood the history and mechanics of Charles Peterson's patented design. This book changed my perspective; with detailed oral histories, anecdotes, stunning photographs, and a user-friendly, exhaustive index and appendix, The Peterson Pipe made me a Peterson collector.
Recently, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with my friend Mark Irwin, one of the book's authors, to discuss the book and the award, and to give us some background about how he became an enthusiast willing to invest thousands of hours into the research and writing for the most comprehensive title about Peterson pipes ever conceived.
Funnily enough, Mark never intended to write the book. Being a Peterson collector and decades-long enthusiast, he offered to liaise and gather information for others to write the book. "I thought I'd help some guys get it together," Mark said. "There was a guy in Scotland and a guy in California, and there was a truck driver. I told them, 'You guys need to write the book, and I'll help you put it all together.'" But it didn't work out that way. Deep into the research process, these enthusiasts dropped out, many due to unforeseen health issues, and Mark was left ankle deep in Peterson research. "At that point," Mark says, "I said, okay, we need to do this."
He may have not planned on writing the book, but Mark was certainly well equipped and qualified to spearhead such a massive project. Mark first encountered Peterson pipes in the '80s. At the time, he smoked mostly basket pipes, along with a cherished Jobey Stromboli which he purchased for $13. One day, while working as a radio dispatcher, he was at a local coffee shop and fell into conversation with the proprietor, who happened to be a writer and Peterson smoker. Smoking wasn't prohibited in public spaces at the time, and the man noticed Mark's pipe. "He asked me, 'You don't have a Peterson?'" Mark recounts. "'Man, you're not a pipe smoker unless you have a Peterson.'"
Seeking his initiation into the world of Kapp & Peterson, Mark accompanied the proprietor and his wife to Norman, just south of Oklahoma City, to a great tobacconist called The Tobacco Barn. "When we got there," Mark says, "I already knew I wanted a Peterson, and they had maybe three or four. This guy kept showing me these things called Straight Grains, which cost between $300 and $400. Now, I was a guy who bought $12 basket pipes and a $13 Jobey, but I ended up buying a Peterson 309, because it was just calling out to me. I can't explain it."
Over the years, I just keep looking for Peterson information, looking for it and not finding it. Then I discovered that there were these Peterson authorities in the internet age who knew something about the questions I wanted answered, but then this guy died or that guy died, and I started wondering, 'Who's going to write their story?'
Catalyzed by that one interaction, Mark quickly developed an appreciation for Peterson pipes, thanks in no small part to the rapport he developed with the owners of his local pipe shop. Mark's local tobacconist was run by an Irish couple. The owner was a second generation immigrant whose parents were from Ireland. "So you'd go into the shop," Mark says, "and not only were they Irish, but they had a lot of Petersons. I was too poor to do anything but buy a ton of tobacco, but there was always paper ephemera on the counter, and every once in a while there'd be that Peterson brochure."
Portrait of Gary Malmberg by Myles Donnovan
Those marketing materials and ephemera captivated Mark as a pipe smoker and catalyzed his early curiosity of Peterson pipes, specifically. With a brand that, at the time, was over 100 years old, Mark quickly discovered that some bits of information were near impossible to find. "Over the years," Mark says, "I just keep looking for Peterson information, looking for it and not finding it. Then I discovered that there were these Peterson authorities in the internet age who knew something about the questions I wanted answered, but then this guy died or that guy died, and I started wondering, 'Who's going to write their story?' Because, again, it was not my intention to write the book."
But in the end, Mark did write the book, albeit not alone. The Peterson Pipe's co-author, Gary Malmberg, was instrumental in the research and documentation of Peterson pipes through the Patent era. "The book never would have happened without Gary Malmberg," Mark says. "Gary was already investigating K&P's history through the Patent era; he's the one who discovered that Peterson pipes weren't hallmarked from 1938-68, which he discerned from a spreadsheet containing more than 800 sterling-mounted vintage Petes. We confirmed this on our research trip with oral histories and stories of how that happened."
Indeed, Gary and Mark co-wrote the book. Gary wrote the first drafts of chapters one through four, and helped Mark write chapter five and the identification guide. Mark wrote the remainder of the chapters, the oral histories, and rewrote earlier chapters to lend the text a consistent, recognizable voice. In this rewriting process, Mark's editor and publisher, Gary Schrier, was invaluable. "He was a fierce, uncompromising editor. I didn't think I'd live through the rewrites at first. But by the end, I knew that if I wrote another pipe book, I couldn't find any editor on the planet better suited to my personality and needs."
Even with Schrier's edits, Mark and Gary Malmberg both agree that the book would never have won an award without its hidden third author, Mark's wife Marie. "Marie probably spent as many or more clock hours on the book as Gary or me, working out usability issues and display, learning and relearning layout and design with InDesign and cleaning up images. Gary and I gave her the physical gold medal on its ribbon from the IPPYs."
As an academic librarian and library scientist, Marie approached the layout and design of the book not solely from the point of view of aesthetics, but with a deep appreciation for user experience and functionality. "Marie had usability questions, and using her expertise of how books are laid out, she structured the book so that people who are not cover-to-cover readers, readers who are just interested in specific aspects or answers to specific questions, could easily flip through it and find what they want." Because of Marie's keen eye for user experience, and her smart and intuitive organization of the text, images, indexes, and appendices, The Peterson Pipe functions exactly as she intended.
When I first read the book, I was searching for answers to specific questions, mainly about System pipes and Kapp & Peterson's early history. I used the table of contents and indexes to locate those specific chapters, and within just a few hours, I had full, complete answers to my questions. I closed the book and walked away with a detailed description of how System pipes worked, including how to clean, maintain, and smoke them, as well as a great overview of Peterson's origins. We live in an age of instant gratification, when the answers to nearly any question are but a quick Google search away. Marie understood this, and she organized and structured the book to provide a similar experience. As a research tool, it's among the most user friendly and logical offline resources I've come across.
That said, eventually, I did read the book from cover to cover. In my initial research, I quickly discovered the nuance and complexity of Peterson's history and evolution, which can be fully appreciated only through a traditional full reading. It's quite a large book, but Gary's and Mark's accessible yet factual writing style, their exhaustive footnotes, and Marie's architecture and well laid out graphical supplements, made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience, one that educated and entertained for hours on end.
Currently, I use the book as a physical hardback search engine for all things Peterson. Having read the book from these two different perspectives, diving into specific chapters as well as reading it from cover to cover, I'm so familiar with the organization and structure now that someone can come into my office and ask a question about Peterson, and within five minutes, I can give them the answer, using all the appendices and indexes, as well as my own bookmarks, to quickly locate the appropriate chapters or footnotes. Simply put, it's an unmatched research tool for any serious pipe enthusiast, and a boon to anyone interested in collecting Peterson pipes.
Marie had usability questions, and using her expertise of how books are laid out, she structured the book so that people who are not cover-to-cover readers, readers who are just interested in specific aspects or answers to specific questions, could easily flip through it and find what they want.
Considering the wealth of information in this book, its intuitive design, and user-friendly organization, it's no surprise that The Peterson Pipe won an IPPY. In fact, Mark seems to agree:
"I knew, when Marie turned in the second chapter and our editor and publisher, Gary Schrier, sent back a very enthusiastic response, that we had something. Previously I'd send him a draft, and he'd go, 'Ah, that's crap. You need to do that again.' But when he saw her design work, he said, 'Wow, this is going to be a book. This is going to be something fantastic.' It was about that time that we decided that we had to enter it into a competition. It's so well made that, when we entered it, I wondered if it would win because of the subject matter. But the IPPYs are very politically inclusive; because of the nature of independent publishing, they can be very edgy.
"So I was surprised that it won because of the subject, but I wasn't surprised because of the quality of our collaboration. I think that was my hope from the very beginning: That I could share not just my enthusiasm for these pipes, but that of everyone who you see in the acknowledgements. I wanted to get as many people involved as possible. I wrote specifically to several of my heroes and heroines and asked if they would participate. It was great to get all of that wisdom and all of that lore together in one place."
Caricature of Irwin, Peterson, Malmberg by Larry Gosser.
Unfortunately, due to printing costs, Mark doubts that the book will see a reprint. At $60 retail, it's no mass market paperback, but considering its structural quality — not even touching on the content — it feels like a book worth well over $100. From my experience, an equivalent hardback Art History book would cost $200 to $300. Still, Mark and Gary Schrier worry that a second run just wouldn't be economically viable; luckily, they may have another idea to continue the Peterson conversation.
Mark is currently in talks with his publisher at Briar Books Press to produce a pocket version of the Peterson book. "If we're not going to reprint it, we've been talking about a kind of collector's paperback that would incorporate the research and reference material from my blog, as well as the essentials, the heart of the book, all into a field guide of sorts." If you're unfamiliar with Mark's blog, Peterson Pipe Notes, it started as a way for Mark to share information and resources that he knew ultimately wouldn't make it into the book, but it's evolved over the years to include reviews of new lines, analyses of shapes and shape histories, new historical findings, and new oral histories of those who work at Peterson. Having a condensed version of that blog, as well as the meat and bones of The Peterson Pipe, all in one package surely would be a boon to collectors.
If we're not going to reprint it, we've been talking about a kind of collector's paperback that would incorporate the research and reference material from my blog, as well as the essentials, the heart of the book, all into a field guide of sorts.
While Mark's still working out the details of what, specifically, the field guide would include, he's excited to begin working on it. "There are a lot of people who might be willing to pay $30 for my book, though it wouldn't be nearly as graphically intense, but it would have all the essential information for people who are interested in collecting Peterson pipes or simply want to know more about the different shapes. In the big book, there wasn't room to talk much about shape histories, and even two years on from The Peterson Pipe, I know a lot more than I did then."
Researching pipe makers and writing about pipe makers is an underappreciated scholarship, but intrepid enthusiasts like Mark have already proven that it can and should be taken seriously. Out of nearly 5000 submissions, The Peterson Pipe won an IPPY gold medal for "Best First Book — Non-Fiction." Congratulations to Mark, Gary, and Marie, as well as the talented folks over at Briar Books Press, on the outstanding achievement. We're excited to see what comes next.
Research in Sallynoggin, Ireland, 2013