Pipe smoking somehow seems even more enjoyable when combined with Christmas. Many of us select our most cherished pipes for our Christmas celebrations, and reserve our rarest tobacco, like that tin of super-aged, high-sugar Virginia beckoning from the back of the closet, the one that's just too luxurious for everyday life. But when we smoke that tobacco in a favorite pipe on Christmas, with loved ones laughing throughout the house and pie in the oven, all of the frenetic discord randoming through the universe softly calibrates into perfectly tuned harmony.
And the nostalgia itself is irresistible. If we're lucky, we may have a pipe that was given to us on some previous Christmas, marking that event in our memories and bringing that particular Christmas back to us through the aroma and flavors and tendrils of rising smoke from our pipes. Memories of Christmases past are somehow clarified through the simple act of smoking a pipe.
It's natural for even those uninterested in pipes to associate them with Christmas. Pipe smoking and Christmas have been intertwined since Washington Irving wrote of Sinterklass in A History of New York in 1809, and more so when in 1823 Clement Clark Moore penned the lines, "The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath."
Pipe smoking and Christmas have been intertwined since Washington Irving wrote of Sinterklass
Thomas Nast's illustrations of Santa Claus further strengthened the connection with the elf almost always smoking a clay pipe, but clays were already part of Christmas and end-of-year celebrations. Large clays have been discovered archeologically, their bowls large enough for communal celebrations, to be passed around and shared, then thrown into a fireplace to mark the end of the year. According to Richard Hacker's book, The Christmas Pipe (page 14), it was common in the 17th century to light a new pipe on Christmas or New Year's Day, smoke it, and discard the pipe to symbolize the end of another year and the beginning of a new one. "Even throughout the 1940s," writes Hacker, "a few of the old-time pipe clubs in Europe and the United States continued this ancient ritual."
Briar Joins the Christmas Celebrations
With the popularity of briar, clay pipes became less common, but briars continued with the association of the holiday and the pastime. Dunhill, perhaps unsurprisingly, provided special foil-wrapped tobacco packages in their 1914 Christmas catalog, and tobacconists promoted pipes as excellent Christmas gifts, as did later pipe companies like Kirsten, Dr. Grabow, and Mello-Pure (Hacker, page 20).
The oldest registered pipe manufacturer in England, BBB, offered "End-of-Year" pipes for decades, but modern, limited-edition Christmas pipes became more widespread with Comoy's, which introduced Christmas pipes in 1976, Stanwell in 1979, and Dunhill in 1980.
Dunhill is especially known for opulent Christmas offerings, the pipes housed in sumptuous, book-like packaging and accompanied by specially designed silver tampers. From 1993 to 2004, Dunhill Christmas pipes were thematically united by the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," in 2005 in an edition of 400 pipes in white book boxes celebrating Wilson A. Bentley, the first photographer to record the structure of a snowflake, from 2006-2010 by Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," and from 2011 to the present by "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," by E.T.A. Hoffman.
Other workshops have participated with limited Christmas editions as well, including Ben Wade, Boswell, Chacom, Caminetto, Butz-Choquin, Barling, Barontini, Ardor, Brigham, Savinelli, and others. Zenith ceramic pipes also provided Christmas editions. Artisans such as Alberto Bonfigilioli, Jeff Gracik, Brad Pohlmann, Tom Eltang, and Stephen Downie have participated with Christmas pipes. Mark Tinsky is perhaps the most prolific artisan in terms of Christmas editions, having provided these special pipes every year since 1983 and contributing again this year, making it the 38th consecutive Tinsky Christmas pipe.
Peterson of Dublin, however, has been particularly dedicated to the Christmas tradition. Ever since 2009, Peterson has released Christmas pipes. In years past, Peterson has tended to restrict its Christmas offerings to classic Peterson shapes in a singularly festive finish. This year is different, with three finishes and 14 shapes in the entire range of the enormously popular Sherlock Holmes series. Yes, the Christmas pipes are here and available as of Tuesday, September 14, and while September may seem a little early to be talking about them, we pipe smokers know that it takes careful planning when we hope for a gift of a pipe.
Christmas pipes are here and available as of Tuesday, September 14
The Difficulty of Pipe Gifting
Pipe smokers rarely receive a pipe for Christmas, and that may be because pipe smoking is a skill, like juggling or woodworking, and we of necessity have to become quite practiced and knowledgeable, which may be intimidating to our loved ones. As we explore pipe smoking and its many details, we invariably talk with our families about what we're learning and the results we've achieved. We've all seen their eyes glaze over as we relate the various techniques we've explored and the experimentation we've done to make fine tobaccos perform wonderfully in our carefully chosen pipes.
Christmas 2021 Sherlock Holmes Heritage Hansom
To the uninitiated, it seems hopelessly complex, and our families probably decide that it's impossible for them to choose a pipe for someone so particular and educated on the subject. They decide that only we can choose a pipe we will like. They wouldn't presume to gift us with specialized woodworking tools they know nothing about or well-balanced juggling pins they don't understand, determining that only we can rightly choose the correct tools for our advanced passions.
And they're probably not wrong. Receiving any pipe is a joyful experience, but for long-term enjoyment, it's best to have one in a shape we enjoy by a maker we trust, an imposing task for those who have not succumbed to the attraction of pipes. That leaves us to strategize, to leave hints, and to hope for the best. If we're to have a Christmas pipe, we most often must find it for ourselves.
Receiving any pipe is a joyful experience
That may be why after-Christmas pipe sales are so brisk. When another Christmas passes without a new pipe, we decide to take care of the matter personally. However, there's nothing like receiving the perfect pipe as a gift, and for that to happen, careful planning and preparation are required, often taking weeks or months to make sure our loved ones know precisely what we're hoping for.
That means that we must first decide for ourselves, and that alone can take time. We like to think about potential pipes; they are rarely impulse-purchase items. Christmas pipes of necessity must be released months in advance of the season so that we can explore the possibilities and determine what's right for our individual preferences. And we must let our families know exactly what we hope for, where to find it, and how to acquire it. These things can't occur the weekend before Christmas; we need plenty of lead time lest we once again find ourselves browsing the after-Christmas inventories of our favorite shops and guiltily ordering the pipe that, sadly, was not under the tree.
The Peterson 2021 Christmas Pipe Backstory
Pipe companies understand this process and work hard to provide Christmas pipes with enough time for us to maneuver through the difficult path to a new pipe. It's isn't simply a matter of sending them to retail stores ahead of the Christmas season; these projects must be planned well in advance. Peterson, for example, has been working on the 2021 edition for more than two years.
Peterson ... has been working on the 2021 edition for more than two years
"It was Ted Swearingen's idea," says Josh Burgess, managing director of Peterson. Ted is our Chief Operating Officer here at Laudisi Enterprises, which currently stewards Peterson. "Ted's idea was to do a Sherlock Holmes Christmas pipe. He proposed it in 2019 at the Dortmund show. We had finished our setup for the show but it wasn't open yet, so we were getting ready, and the subject of Christmas pipes came up. Ted pitched this idea for doing copper-mounted Sherlock shapes. We all immediately conjured mental images of Victorian Christmases and Sherlock and Watson smoking pipes. We really liked the marriage of those themes, with the Christmas aesthetic we had established in 2018 of the copper mount. It's festive in a really Peterson kind of way. It features the sort of metalwork that we're known for, but with copper for Christmas."
This is the first year that Peterson Christmas pipes have been released with more than one finish. "We'll have black sandblasts," says Josh, "and the Heritage finish, which is a smooth, dark burgundy finish. And we'll also have a rustic offering, which is the red-and-black, rusticated finish that is found on the Sherlock series and lines like the Donegal Rocky."
Peterson's rustication has been refined over the past few years, revealing a gnarly, aggressive texture that fills the hand with tactile responsiveness and is endlessly interesting under the finger pads. This technique had been advanced in large part by the efforts of Wojciech Blaszczak, who moved to Ireland from Poland and began working at Peterson in 2015, moving into the manufacturing aspects about two years ago. Whenever you see a recent Peterson rustication, it's more than likely that Wojciech crafted the texture.
Wojciech was taught the Peterson rustication technique but wanted to make alterations. "I had to find my own way to do it," he says, "so it's a little bit different than before." It was on the Donegal Rocky series that he started to refine and deepen the finish. "I do it a little bit deeper than before. With the Donegal Rocky, I was thinking it should be like a rock. So I started it a little bit deeper, which I think is better than before, more interesting. The rustic finish before was a little bit similar to sandblasting, so I decided to carve deeper so it looks and feels more rocky."
The texture is carved with a drill bit on a drill press while Wojciech rotates the stummel. Finding the right depth at the correct seemingly random angles is an artform, different for each pipe. "I don't want to do it very deeply because it doesn't look good, just like too shallow doesn't look good. And it isn't good for the pipe to go too deep. But if I have a big pipe, I can carve deeper. Some pipes are very small, so I use a smaller drill bit and am careful about the depth. But overall, the rustic looks much better if you do it a little bit deeper. You have to find that: not too deep and not too shallow. The effect is almost like using a chisel."
Finding the right depth at the correct seemingly random angles is an artform
Peterson is rightfully proud of its sandblasting as well, which has been refined with better equipment and extensive training, resulting in deeper blasting and more impressive texture. Never before has the Peterson Christmas series been available in so many potential permutations.
Christmas 2021 Sherlock Holmes Rusticated Pipes
"Traditionally," says Josh Burgess, "Sherlock shapes have been available exclusively with vulcanite P-Lips, but for Christmas this year they'll have black acrylic fishtails, so we're switching things up a bit there." It makes for a traditionally festive color palette in combination with the copper mounts.
"It's just really exciting to take the Christmas aesthetic and merge it with the Sherlock pipes," says Josh. "Sherlock shapes were designed by Peterson employees starting in the late 1980s. We invented these shapes. They're Peterson originals."
The Sherlock Holmes line has been a favorite in the Peterson catalog since 1987 when the first was released to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, the first novel in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Inspired by people, places, or artifacts from the stories, the Sherlock Holmes collection became more and more popular and has now reached 14 shapes, all of which are represented in the 2021 Christmas series.
It's an exciting time to be a Peterson enthusiast. Never have so many choices for a Peterson yuletide pipe been possible. Everyone has a favorite Sherlock shape, and with festive copper mounts, they've achieved a distinctive aesthetic that will continue to hold meaning year-round. It may be time to start dropping hints for our families. Imagine unwrapping a Peterson Christmas pipe from under the tree. Strangely, it may be possible to magnify the appreciation we already have for the holiday season. There's something about pipes and Christmas that is irresistible.