Peterson's 2021 Pipe of the Year: The Iconic 4AB

Some pipe shapes are so inviting and attractive that they become iconic. Peterson's 4AB is such a shape, and it's return after decades of absence as the Peterson 2021 Pipe of the Year was an event to be noted.

"Iconic" is a big word to throw around. A great example of an iconic shape is the Churchwarden. It was there at the beginning of European pipe smoking, long, graceful, and attending the first generations of modern smokers. Its popularity was energetically revitalized with the Peter Jackson films of Tolkien's great trilogy. That event animated a newer generation and modern Churchwardens remain irrevocably desirable.

It's happened with more specific shapes as well, like the long, slender Billiards that Bing Crosby popularized. The Bing's Favorite Billiard remains among Savinelli's most popular shapes. However, for pipes to earn wide appreciation like that, their style, proportions, aesthetics, and sheer charisma must be immediately evident and exhilarating. Pipe smokers know one when they see one.

It takes more than celebrity endorsements or cues from popular culture, though that helps bring awareness to a wide audience. It doesn't happen often, but on rare occasions, a pipe miraculously brings all the essential elements together and resonates through generations.

... on rare occasions, a pipe miraculously brings all the essential elements together and resonates through generations

Such a pipe is the Peterson 4AB. It was among the first System pipes introduced by Charles Peterson. First released in 1896, it became one of the more popular shapes fashioned by Kapp & Peterson. That popularity exponentially increased when the shape was smoked by Basil Rathbone in 12 of his 14 Sherlock Holmes films, introducing it to a new generation. Few pipes reflect the quintessential Peterson presence to the extent of the 4AB.

This shape personifies Peterson's style. Its robust, angled shank rises from the straight-sided bowl to the sterling military mount, and its long, tapered stem languorously bends to the famous P-Lip button. The connection between Sherlock Holmes and Peterson pipes is well-ingrained in the pipe-smoking world, and this pipe is the reason. From 1942 to 1946, Basil Rathbone starred in 12 Sherlock Holmes movies smoking this pipe, and its impact was felt.

That's confirmed by Mark Irwin, author of The Peterson Pipe Book and one of the leading experts on the brand. "I think part of the reason that fans have been anxiously awaiting the 4AB is its connection to Sherlock Holmes," he says. Seamus Tighe was the manager at the Grafton shop in Dublin after the Basil Rathbone films were released, and "he said that anytime anybody visited the shop in the '40s and '50s, they'd say, 'I want that Sherlock Holmes pipe. Have you got that Sherlock Holmes pipe?' So Peterson's connection to Sherlock Holmes goes back to Basil Rathbone."

It's a shape that has been unavailable for generations, and it's been missed. No one is quite sure why it was discontinued. Perhaps sales fell off after a couple of decades; perhaps the manufacture of the stem became too difficult. But whatever the reason, it's been absent for a long time, and Peterson fans have been wishing for its return for some time.

Jim Amash, who is well known for his multitude of tobacco reviews under the handle, JimInks, has written that "For many years, I dreamed about owning the same model Rathbone smoked, though I didn't know what shape number it was until the early 2000s. It was a fruitless search to find that pipe, and I began to feel I would never own one." After Laudisi Enterprises acquired Peterson, Jim launched his own campaign to bring the 4AB back into production. At the West Coast pipe show, he ran into Shane Ireland, V.P. and Director of Smokingpipes, and told him that there were "a great many pipe smokers who have wanted one for years and that it would be a great service to the community." That sentiment was supported by the emails that began arriving about the 4AB. Jim had posted to various pipe forums about the pipe, and many others were equally interested and communicated the same request.

Josh Burgess, Director of Peterson, certainly noticed. "I think the week that we announced we were purchasing Peterson, we started getting emails from people: 'Please bring back the shape number four.' So, it was one that people had missed. They especially wanted this AB configuration of the shape. It was part of a family of shapes: straight-sided Billiards that are very distinctively Peterson. I think in the old days, Peterson folks referred to those as Dutch Billiards."

" ... straight-sided Billiards that are very distinctively Peterson ..."

"The story behind that name," says Mark Irwin, "I've pieced together from conversations with Arno van Goor of the Dutch Pipe Smoker blog, so it's anecdotal. The Dutch Billiard name actually came about because Irish troops were fighting against the Brits in the Second Boer War and when they came home, they would go into the shops — there were four or five of them at that time in Dublin — and say, hey, I want a Dutch Billiard. It was a straight-sided Billiard and Charles Peterson wasn't alone in carving it; you can see it in the Barling catalog and some of the other catalogs of the era. But Peterson's was distinctive, just like all of their classic shapes, because they're kind of on steroids with that big shank that they need for the moisture reservoir. Peterson themselves first named it that. The first time you see it in print is in a Peterson catalog in the '40s or maybe the '50s. In their ephemera, they didn't name their pipe shapes too often."

The reason that experience in South Africa initiated this interest was because of the pipes smoked by President Paul Kruger, whose background and language was Dutch and for whom the Oom-Paul shape was named. "His friends ordered a Peterson O1.A for him for his birthday," says Mark, "from a French Tobacconist in Johannesburg, with the South African Transvaal crest carved on the front of it. And so of course Peterson said, sure, we'll make one. I mean, his friends paid money for it. Well, back in those days, smoking was such a big deal that it made it into lots and lots of the newspapers, including some photographs of the pipe in its case with its extra stem."

"... in those days, smoking was such a big deal that it made it into lots and lots of the newspapers ..."

Peterson made a duplicate to display in their shop window, and because Kruger wasn't someone to be admired, they took some criticism for it. "They came under some political censure because people said, 'Why are you making a pipe for this guy?' The British government didn't particularly care for him. But the fact is that he was in so many Western European newspapers that everybody knew the pipe and that Kapp & Peterson made it. So that's where the name Dutch Billiard comes from." Kruger's was a larger version than the 4AB, but the shape was famous long before Basil Rathbone.

It's a long history for a particular pipe. The 4AB has been famous through many generations and has now been resurrected as the 2021 Pipe of the Year through a two-year effort on the part of Peterson.

It's a bent Billiard, its bowl rising with straight sides, the same as the 4S, which is the pipe seen in the Thinking Man Peterson logo, but the AB designation pertains to the long tapered stem rather than the saddle stem of that image. That tapered stem, however, is not a simple affair. It's a longer stem, with a subtle expansion near its center, just below the bend, which is more difficult to achieve than one might think. In fact, the stem is so rare that Peterson had to reverse-engineer it from photos. They had not a single physical example to work with.

"It has to do with the way it's bent and tapered," says Mark Irwin. It's a vulcanite stem that "flares out a little bit in the middle. Kapp & Peterson got away from vulcanite stems when Tom Palmer was Director because their salesmen didn't like the way they oxidized in the stores." It was a period when "everything was coming up acrylic by any of the factory makers, and even some of the artisans, although I'm pleased that most of the artisans have gone back to ebonite these days."

... the stem is so rare that Peterson had to reverse-engineer it from photos

Giacomo Penzo, who was an established artisan in Italy before joining Peterson in 2019, accepted the task of recreating the 4AB. Mark Irwin assisted by providing materials. "I sent scale drawings from the 1937 catalog and other items. And I know they worked really hard on the stem, which of all the areas of old vintage Petersons, the stems and the stem bends are probably least like pipes they've done since. And Giacomo just did a dead ringer of the 1937 shape. He did a superb job. And of course, it's not just him. It's a whole collaborative group."

"There were lots of questions about where on the stem to sort of place the visual weight," says Josh. "If you look at some of the old drawings of the 4AB, you'll notice that there's a sort of bulge in the stem so the taper is more evident as it approaches the button, and then it tapers again as it reaches to the base of the stem. One particularly tricky aspect was deciding where to place that expansion, and Giacomo got it just right. If I had to identify a major challenge with these, it would be the stem and particularly getting that visual weight right."

Because no samples of the shape existed and no one in the factory had worked on this stem, says Josh, "the stem had to be based on drawings. We worked with Mark and went back to early catalogs. At one point we even took an image and shrunk it down to superimpose it over an image in one of the movie posters with Basil Rathbone. In the end, I think we got it just right. Like all of the iconic Peterson shapes, there's been some evolution over the years, but I think Giacomo, who did most of the design work on the stem, really nailed it on this one."

This pipe is the first Pipe of the Year to feature Charles Peterson's original System engineering, including a moisture reservoir, military mount, graduated-bore mouthpiece, tenon extension (also known as a chimney), and a P-Lip bit. It's as close to Peterson's 1896 vision as possible, but it benefits from modern finishing techniques, which have improved noticeably. A new staining process provides excellent color and color retention, as well as improved consistency and a better final finish.

"I think the finishing on this year's pipes," says Mark, "is the best I have ever seen from Peterson. Everybody at Peterson has been working really hard. I'm looking at a natural right now, and a PSB, and am pretty knocked out. I mean everything, the stamps, the drilling, the silverwork, it's always been good, but they just get better and better."

"... the finishing on this year's pipes," says Mark, "is the best I have ever seen from Peterson ..."

The 2021 pipes were released in seven finishes:

  • Rusticated
  • Sandblasted
  • Terracotta
  • Heritage
  • Ebony
  • PSB (Peterson Sandblast)
  • Natural

It should be noted that the Ebony, PSB, and Natural finishes are very rare, and though 500 Pipes of the Year have been made, very few bowls of the quality necessary for these finishes presented themselves.

"This is now the third classic shape that we have resurrected for the Pipe of the Year," says Josh. Traditionalism is an important hallmark of Peterson pipes, and the company values its history. "We are very much looking to the inspirations of our past, and with the modern resources that we have today." Peterson continues improving its techniques while honoring its historical experience.

The Peterson System revolutionized smoking and attracted the attention of pipe smokers worldwide, and the engineering of the System necessitated the famous Peterson style, with its muscular transitions, robust shanks, and tubular profiles. It's an aesthetic that has been maintained and admired for more than 125 years and is exemplified by the 2021 Pipe of the Year. For a return to the origins of the Peterson pipe, the 4AB is an irresistible window into the early years of Charles Peterson's vision for the future of pipe smoking.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Film History Interview Peterson


    • D. on December 3, 2021
    • I enjoyed reading this article, and I own Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes complete collection on dvd (I will be smoking some CRINGLE FLAKE in my 4ABs as I revisit them). I was lucky to purchase two of these resurrected beauties, I could have squeezed the trigger on a Terracotta, but I'm trying to prune my pipe collection of oxidizing vulcanite stems. I just couldn't resist grabbing a couple. I'll just make sure to keep the stem out of direct sunlight, not to get them wet, or feed them after Gizmo from Gremlins. I also purchased Mark's recent Sherlock Holmes book release and anticipate his rerelease of "Pipe Smoking In Middle Earth" revised edition. I told myself that I was done buying.pipes and tobacco until this time next year, but if Vauen were to strike a deal with Warner Bros. and resurrect the original LOTR pipes...then Ramen and Natural Light it is.

    • Dan on December 4, 2021
    • Great article, Chuck. Yeah, I managed to nab a Heritage #87 and a PSB #227. Though I wasn't fortunate enough to aquire the #221, I did get Miss Hudson's crusty old boyfriend's address a could doors down.

    • Dan on December 4, 2021
    • *a couple doors down.

    • Jaron on December 4, 2021
    • The 4AB release is a dream come true for me! Thank you so much Smokingpipes for caring for a community of Pete fans!I was able to get 435 rusticated! My only request is that you resurrect this shape into the regular line. It’s just such a good pipe, I want it to continue to be smoked by generations to come!

    • Rob Guttridge on December 4, 2021
    • Chuck, you have been doing such a splendid job with your writing these last several months (on historical pipe smokers and other topics) that you make us all proud to be your readers, and make those of us who are sometime writers envious of the quality and frequency of your postings. Thank you!

    • Fred Brown on December 5, 2021
    • Another superb piece of writing, Chuck. I just missed the release of the 4AB. Ugh! I'll be watching for a re-release, hopefully soon. And some Cringle. Missed it too. I'm not as fast on the giddy-up as I once was.

    • Joseph Kirkland on December 5, 2021
    • KUDOS, Chuck. Another great, well-written article.Thank you.

    • John on December 5, 2021
    • I’m in the camp that finds this shape unnatractive. The stem is too thick for the stummel making the whole piece unbalanced. The vertical walls of the pipe make it feel “incorrect” with the curving stem. It is very cool that Laudisi brought back the shape, however.

    • Jesse Silver on December 5, 2021
    • Excellent article! I'm very happy to see Jim's decades long dream of owning a 4AB fulfilled not once, but six times!The discussion about the term "Dutch" is very interesting. In film work, when we "Dutch" a shot it means that we're tilting the camera angle so that the horizon is not horizontal, which results in giving the image a more dramatic edgy look. Quite the opposite from the word's use with regard to pipe shapes.

    • William Malouf on December 5, 2021
    • Great Article! The 4AB is my absolute, hands down favorite Peterson! Many times I toyed with the idea of having an AB stem made for my vintage 309, but stopped myself in the hope that I would one day own a 4AB. When the announcement was made that these would be available as the 2021 POY, I was walking on air for the hours that led up to the launch. Now that #77 is on its way to me, all is right in this Pipe Dream!

    • John Sari on December 5, 2021
    • I missed out on the POY. I wish I grabbed one.

    • MOHD A on December 5, 2021
    • احتاج ان ارى إبداع وقد لم أرى اكثر إبداع من بايب بترسيون

    • MOHD A on December 5, 2021
    • اتطلع في مجموعة من بايبات وتباكو من إبداعات بيترسيون

    • MOHD A on December 5, 2021
    • اتطلع ان احصل على مجموعة فاخرة من منتجات بيترسيون من بايب وتباكو أرى أن هى علامة تجارية فاخرة تحتاج إلى ذواق

    • Phil Wiggins Glauser on December 5, 2021
    • Peterson Sweet Awesome Beautiful 🇮🇪🐏💙❤️🇨🇦🍁 A!!!

    • Jim Amash on December 8, 2021
    • That’s a great article, Chuck. Your organization and writing skills created a very concise piece with all the pertinent information with nothing left out. The hallmark of a great writer. I thank you for mentioning the part I had in getting the production of the 4AB started. I waited 47 years to own a 4AB, and Laudisi/ Peterson made it possible for my dream to become my reality. Your article gives overdue credit to the legacy and importance of the 4AB.

    • D. on December 9, 2021
    • I think the resurrection of the Dunhill LC, with it's swan neck features, would be a wonderful and marvelous thing. One can dream. Such a beautiful specimen.

    • Chip on December 18, 2021
    • I was not able to purchase a Peterson 2021 pipe of the year due to the fact that some people had to buy more than one, and yes I’m a sore loser. 😩

    • Jack+ on December 23, 2021
    • It's another great article, Chuck. I'm just sorry I missed the release. I sure hope Peterson realizes they could have a steady stream of purchases for this pipe and bring it back into the regular production like the Mark Twain pipe!

    • Dan on December 28, 2021
    • @Jack : With a #500 POTY release, it left a whole lot of pipe smokers shut out in the cold. After reading some blogs and forums out there on the subject, I cringed at the ugliness and discontent that some salty pipe smokers expressed. I can empathize. I think it will become a part of regular production someday (I hope) now that they have the shape nailed down and they sold like hotcakes. I just hope that they create an acrylic stem version like they did with the Sherlock Holmes 2021 Christmas pipes. I just have a slight anxiety to owning a pipe with a vulcanite stem, it's like watching your new car rack up the miles and waiting for something to go wrong with it (oxidation, a reminder of impermanence). Acrylic is lower maintenance for me. Happy New Year everybody🥂🎉🗽🎇!!!

    • Dan on December 28, 2021
    • *Jack (I don't know how the disappeared me)

    • Dan on December 28, 2021
    • * I guess I'll have to spell it out: @Jack -Plus, I hate getting a person's name wrong. The internet isn't letting me print the plus symbol.

    • Tampy on January 5, 2022
    • I'll be honest, I think an acrylic stem with a boxwood mount would be a perfect 4AB design for my taste and busy schedule. I have grown weary of polishing copper and silver mounts and treating my vulcanite stems. But, you know what they say about opinions...just my 2¢. I think the pipe looks awesome!

    • Brendan on March 12, 2022
    • I have been looking all over for one of these or for any 4ab really. I missed these, as I am newer to pipes, but man I wish I could have gotten one. I think it a shame that one of Peterson's most Iconic shapes hasnt been available. Then they finally bring it back and it is gone before I ever have the oppertunity to buy one before many who want one could get their hands on it. It seems silly not to sell one of your most iconic shapes. Just sayin. This could be the Bing of the Peterson line. Oh well, their loss - and ours.

    • Jim Donoghue on August 21, 2022
    • I would like to buy a Peterson pipe of the year buy not with the “P lip”. I want a “fishtail “ mouthpiece. Any suggestions…?Thank you

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