Today marks the 121st anniversary of Charles Peterson's final System patent, dated September 3rd, 1898. Peterson's 3-part System design remains one of the most important pipe inventions since the advent of the briar pipe, a fact supported by over a century of unchanged design. Today's System pipes are engineered much the same way as they were in Charles Peterson's day. To celebrate what's become known as System Day, I'd like to walk you down memory lane and take a closer look at some of the System advertisements and catalog entries uncovered over the years.
By closely inspecting each of these adverts, we can learn a little more about the brand and its greatest contribution to pipesmoking. Each of these entries has a story to tell. With a little help from Mark Irwin, famed Peterson guru and co-author of the fantastic new book The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, I'll walk you through 100 years of Peterson System adverts, telling you a little about why each is important, and what collectively they tell us about our favorite Irish pipemaker.
One thing to note before we begin: When it came to advertising, Peterson never produced much literature or marketing materials, confining themselves to an annual Christmas ad in most Irish papers, and even that came to a halt in the mid 20th century. Thus, many of these adverts are documentation from distributor and retailer catalogs and brochures; however, as we'll learn, these resources may actually be more telling than literature from Peterson itself.
Let's dig in, shall we?
Advertisement for Peterson Patent Pipes, featuring Mr. Young Strong Man (Kapp & Peterson Catalog, 1896)
This advertisement comes from the first Kapp & Peterson catalog from 1896. Curiously, it focuses on the strength of the System's military mount and push fit mouthpiece. Mark and I agree that "It's fascinating to learn that K&P was aware that potential customers might think army mount or space-fitting army mounts might be thought not as strong as the navy mount (traditional tenon/mortise) pipes." Indeed, it's a misconception that's still quite prominent in some pipe circles today. Peterson tackled this issue head on by using the one Mr. Young (who, let's face it, could be a role model to us all) to demonstrate the strength of the System's push-fit stem. While I wouldn't recommend hanging a 56lb weight on the stummel of your System pipe, I have to admit the message is compelling and supported by facts, such as the fact that an army mount is perhaps even stronger than a traditional mount in that it's banded and reinforced with metal. Indeed, in talking with Mark, we discussed several instances of old System pipes with cracked mortises at the shank face or even broken pieces of briar lodged under the ferrule, but these issues were unknown to the owner and caused no problems due to the mount.
What's more, the advert also includes a bit of long forgotten lore, a tip which I only recently discovered in my own research: the advice to twist the mouthpiece so the reservoir tilts up when setting the pipe down. Not only does twisting the stem create a natural pipe rest, preventing your pipe from spilling ash all over the table or desk, but it also prevents any moisture collected within the condensation chamber from flowing back into the bowl.
Christmas Advertisement for Peterson's Patent Pipe, featuring the Cuffe Lane factory address (The Leader, 1902)
After the illustration of Mr. Young and his insanely strong jaw, this 1900s ad may seem a bit lackluster. But there's still plenty to glean from such a humble and modest ad. For one thing, the small, quarter-page ad, published in the no longer extant Irish newspaper The Leader, underlines the strong sense of Irish community that's defined Peterson since its inception. Briar pipes were just gaining popularity when Charles Peterson began working for the Kapps. When he took over production and management of K&P, common business sense would've encouraged him to hire French artisans who were already familiar with working briar. Peterson, however, chose to employ and train local Irish men and women. It's part of what made Peterson what Mark calls "A Job for Life." While Peterson would advertise to big markets overseas, they still wanted their product to be seen by Irish men and women reading the Irish paper.
The ad also showcases some of the old nomenclature of Peterson's stem designs. The "A" stamped on the mouthpiece corresponds to a saddle stem on an army-fit pipe. These designations haven't been formally used in a customer-facing capacity since the mid-twentieth century, which makes them additional pieces of forgotten Peterson lore for most.
Advertisement for Peterson's Patent Pipe, featuring the Thinking Man (Irish Times 1909)
First appearing in 1906, The Thinking Man was integral to Peterson's marketing efforts early on, and remains a brand icon today. According to Mark, "The original engraving for the Thinking Man features an older man with wire-framed glasses slightly akimbo and smoking a Patent 4S dutch billiard. The story handed down, according to veteran employees at Sallynoggin, is that the portrait was of a famous professor at Trinity College." Since its first appearance in 1906, the Thinking Man and his signature slogan — "The Thinking Man Smokes A Peterson's Pipe" — have appeared on brochures, newspaper advertisements, pipe boxes, and catalogs. A more painterly version, made in the 1920s, was even used for the frontispiece of Mark's book, The Peterson Pipe.
It's curious to me that the angle was "A Thinking Man smokes a Peterson pipe." Not a smart man, or a handsome man, or even a wealthy man, but a thinking man. The intentional diction used in the slogan speaks volumes about Peterson's own brand image and how they wanted customers to view their products — i.e. with an association with one who contemplates on his decisions and acts with wisdom.
Advertisement for Peterson's System Pipe (Phillipp Weisse & Sohns, 1925)
This ad from a Phillipp Weisse & Sohns brochure (1925), produced during the Irish Free State era, demonstrates that even in the late twenties, Peterson already maintained an impressive variety of shapes, including a handful of new paneled straight shapes that would reappear in later catalogs. Many people believe the straight System to be a modern invention, but Peterson listed straight System pipes in their catalogs as early as 1896. As you might expect, these straight variations function a little differently from their bent counterparts. According to Mark, "The design of the straight System depends on the bore running under the tobacco chamber, necessitating a shallow-bowl geometry." In this way, straight System pipes are essentially mini-Calabashes, the reservoir located directly under the tobacco chamber. While the smoking properties and maintenance requirements vary from the bent System, the design — complete with a military mount, graduated bore stem, and P-Lip button — still works quite well.
Also of note is the cross-section illustration of the System pipe in the top-left corner. Through the 1980s, real life demonstrators (actual System pipes that were cut in half) were found in every brick-and-mortar tobacconist that carried Peterson pipes. They were an important part of educating customers on just how the System works, and as we'll see in forthcoming ads, integral to the marque's brand language in advertisements to this day.
Advertisement for Peterson's System Pipe (Rogers Imports, Ltd, 1939)
Take this 1939 ad from Rogers Imports, for example. Nearly half of the page is taken up by an illustrated demonstrator pipe, detailing the System pipe's patented engineering with key features highlighted. Together with two paragraphs of copy, the top two-thirds of the ad aims at educating potential customers on the benefits and durability of the System pipe. What's more, the copy itself does an excellent job at describing one of the least understood aspects of the System engineering: the graduated bore mouthpiece. The graduated bore mouthpiece tapers from a 5mm opening at the tenon to 1.55mm at the P-Lip button. According to this piece of literature, as well as many others throughout the System's history, "The proportion of the graduation makes suction applied at the mouthpiece fifteen times weaker at the base of the pipe than at the mouthpiece." So the graduated bore essentially slows the speed of the smoke as it leaves the tobacco chamber and allows it to pool in the reservoir before entering the stem.
The ad speaks to the System pipe's durability in what may be my favorite line from all the advertisements featured in this article: "Here is a pipe that has proven itself in the toughest testing ground of all — the world of pipe smokers." The tone of the statement as well as the context underlines the System pipe's role as a rugged field tool, which if properly maintained, can continue to perform optimally for decades. And not only had the System pipe proven itself in such a tough testing ground by the '30s, it continues to rank among the most popular pipe brands in the world.
Rogers Imports were the sole US agents for Peterson pipes from 1939 to the late '60s. They manufactured brochures exclusively for the US market and were instrumental in helping Peterson's popularity in the US.
Advertisement for Peterson Pipes, Detail View ("Arresting Developments," 1945)
Compared to the more overt advertisements and educational brochures, it might be easy to glance over this vintage Peterson ad from the '40s. There is no shape chart, no demonstrator cut-away; there's not even a line of traditional copy. But that subtlety is what makes it not only effective but important to Peterson's brand image. Directly behind the subject of this illustration hangs an ad for Peterson pipes that reads, "A Peterson pipe is a good pipe." Aside from the obvious System pipe hanging from the subject's lips, the tagline is the only mention of Peterson in the entire image; yet the subject pays it no mind. He already knows a Peterson pipe is a good pipe, as he's enjoying one presently. He can instead turn his attention to other things, like savoring his tobacco and reading the daily paper.
Advertisement for Peterson's System Pipe (Rogers Imports, Ltd, 1950s)
In this brochure page from Rogers Imports, we find an example of Peterson's longstanding spirit of collaboration: the Auld Erin series, which was "made for Rogers by Kapp & Peterson, London and Dublin, by special arrangement with the factory." While Rogers did much to stimulate interest in System pipes in the US, Peterson's enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate with their distributors and retailers no doubt shared a part in that success.
Inspecting the rest of the advertisement, once again we see the demonstrator illustration reappear, along with a short synopsis of the benefits of the System design, including one particular point I'm not sure I've mentioned before: "...the Peterson time-tried system—its proportioned smoke passages and special reservoir—trap all moisture, prevent tobacco grains and tars from entering the mouth." The System is often lauded for its ability to wick moisture away from the smoke, but it also prevents crumbs of tobacco or dottle from entering the mouth. I can't tell you how many times my sloppy packing technique led me to suck up tobacco crumbs during the charring and first subsequent lights of my pipe. The System's ability to catch dottle and tobacco crumbs is a seriously underrated feature.
Advertisement for Peterson System Pipes in Catalog (Iwan Ries, 1968)
Fast-forward to the 1960s and you'll see that the design language is very much the same. Well, in Peterson's shapes at least. I'm not sure what's going on with all the sand, driftwood, and is that a plastic mallard? If you can look past the lakeshore aesthetic of the imagery, you'll notice similarities between these listed shapes and those illustrated in the first ads in this article. The tubular nature of the transition, generous bends, and muscular shanks are all design cues we see thriving not only in Peterson's early years, but through the decades. Take the army mounts, for example. Depicted here are two of Peterson's most common mounts: the Beveled Mount (dome-shaped floc of nickel or sterling used on Standard/Premier System pipes) and the Plain Mount (the more faced-off sterling silver mounts used on De Luxe System Pipes with S stems). If you compare those mounts to the ones illustrated in early catalogs and brochures, you'll see just how little that design language has changed, even in the details.
Advertisement for Peterson System Pipes in Distributor Color Catalog (Associated Import, 1978)
In the late '60s, the US distribution of Peterson pipes transitioned from Rogers Imports to Associated Import, which Peterson would later purchase in 1979. In this advertisement, published a year before Peterson bought the distributor, we continue to see the Peterson slogan, "The Thinking Man Smokes a Peterson," as well as a nice shape range showcasing many different finishes, including sandblasts. Prior to WWII, Peterson sandblasts were quite rare; the marque even discontinued the production of sandblasted pipes during the war, resuming the process around 1949. That's more than twenty years prior to this ad, but oh well, it's still a fun fact.
Also, notice the plug for the short-lived Silver Cap System pipe, which combined two vintage Peterson styles: the robust shape 9 (which dates as far back as 1896) and a sterling silver windcap and chain (first seen in Peterson's 1906 catalog). Even in the late '70s, Peterson was such a historic and established brand that they were able to look to their past for innovation. They needn't conjure up some newfangled contraption to draw the eye of collectors; they needed only to consult their archives and revive their own vintage shapes for a new generation — something Peterson continues to do today with Amber Stem Spigots and the limited re-release of certain shapes like the John Bull. The mention of Dunmoor pipes, a line previously exclusive to Iwan Ries, also underlines that spirit of collaboration we discussed earlier, a core brand value that continues to this day.
Advertisement in Distributor Pages for Peterson's System Pipe, featuring meerschaum Systems (1984)
These distributor pages from 1984 not only showcase the System Standard, the Premier System, and the De Luxe System quite nicely, but there's also a plug for Peterson meerschaum System pipes. While meerschaum Peterson pipes are quite rare today, they actually comprised a large percentage of the marque's early production. According to Mark, Peterson "made block meerschaums in all Patent System and many Classic Range shapes from 1896 until about 1929." In 1968, we began seeing block meerschaum System pipes reappear, produced by Manxman on the Isle of Man. That revival was so successful that "by '78 Peterson had bought the Isle of Man company and moved its operations to their Dublin factory."
Advertisement for Peterson's System Pipes (Hollco-Rohr, 1998)
Hollco-Rohr became Peterson's US distributor following James Crean's sale of the Peterson-owned Associated Imports. With improvements in picture quality, we're able to see more detail in the pipes, making this System ad from the distributor a great illustration of the uniquely rugged aesthetic that's come to define Peterson's rusticated finishes, such as the non-System Donegal Rocky. What's more, you can also see documentation of Paddy Larrigan's Dublin with Briar Circle System pipes, which are quite rare finds.
Peterson seems to have changed dramatically in the past 120 years. But have they really? From the military mounts, to the moisture-collecting reservoirs, to the graduated bore stems, to the patented P-Lip bits, the marque's iconic design aesthetic and overall engineering of their System pipes have remained constants. Their unique Irish culture and willingness to collaborate with retailers and distributors remain strong. 121 years after Charles Peterson secured his final patent, the Irish marque is, no doubt, a modern company, but its legacy and future remain tied to its foundation, to the System pipe. And if history is any indication, that's not likely to change anytime soon.
If you'd like to know more about System Pipes or Peterson in general, I can't recommend Mark Irwin and Gary Malmberg's book enough. The Peterson Pipe completely changed the way I think about the brand, and has inspired entirely new collections for me, not to mention new friendships. All the information I've shared with you today either came directly from The Peterson Pipe, or was deeply informed by an essay Mark wrote in 2017 entitled "What People Don't Know about Peterson: Thoughts Toward A Brand Guideline." Likewise, all of the images and advertisements for this post came from Mark's vast archives and were used with permission (thank you again, Mark); for more of those, be sure to follow Mark's blog, Peterson Pipe Notes, where you'll even find additional resources and information that didn't make it into the book. I hope you all have enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, and may you all enjoy your Peterson pipes in celebration of System Day.