Tag Archives: Mike Leverette

A Peterson Dating Guide; a Rule of Thumb – Mike Leverette

Blog by Mike Leverette

Many years ago now, Mike Leverette sent me a copy of this document. I have had it on the hard drive since sometime late in 2006. I am sure there are newer iterations of the material but I have found this little piece very helpful. I am looking forward with expectation to the book that is being worked on now by Mark Irwin and others. It will certainly be a definitive work on Peterson Pipes. Until then I use the Peterson forum and refer to this article by Mike.

A Peterson Dating Guide; a Rule of Thumb

This guide first appeared in pipelore.net on August 26, 2006 by: Mike Leverette


The history of Ireland is an old and honorable one; steeped in warfare, family, racial and religious traditions. No other country can compete in comparison. However, the first couple of millennia of Irish history have no relevance to this dating guide. Should you wish to read more on the history of the Irish, I recommend “The Story of the Irish Race” by Seumas MacManus who gives a very vivid, and near as we can tell an accurate portrayal of their history.

History pertinent to our purposes began in the year 1865; the year Charles Peterson opened a small tobacco shop in Dublin. Later in 1875, Charles Peterson approached the Kapp brothers, Fredrich and Heinrich, with a new pipe design and with this, a very long-lived partnership was formed, Kapp & Peterson. This new pipe design is the now famous Peterson Patented System Smoking Pipe. By 1890, Kapp & Peterson was the most respected pipe and tobacco manufacturer in Ireland and rapidly gaining followers in England and America. In 1898 another of Peterson’s remarkable inventions became available, the Peterson-Lip (P-Lip) mouthpiece, also known as the Steck mouthpiece. So for the purpose of this dating guide, we will study Irish history, relevant to our pipe dating needs, from 1870s until now.
Before we start with this Peterson dating guide, an observation; the Kapp Brothers were making pipes as early as the 1850s and in many of the shapes we now associate with Peterson since the Kapp Brothers simply took their existing shapes and incorporated Charles Peterson’ s patented design into them. From their inception, Kapp & Peterson’s goal was to make a good smoking pipe that the ordinary, common working man could afford and we believe they have, very admirably, lived up to this.

Explanation of Title

The vagaries of Peterson’s processes do not allow for an accurate dating guide so this guide is a ‘rule-of-thumb’ guide only. For example; Peterson did not take up the old Country of Manufacture stamps as new ones were issued so depending on which one the various workers happen to pick up, the stamps can and do cross over the boundaries of the various Eras. Some of the pipes of the Sherlock Holmes Series of the 1980s have pre-Republic stamps, as well as other pipes produced in 2000. However, there will not be too many of these missed stamped pipes. For silver anomalies, see the section on silver marks.

Stamping of Bowls

During the years of Kapp and Peterson’s business operations, the country of Ireland has undergone several name changes and K&P’s stamping on their pipes reflects these changes. Knowing these changes, a Peterson pipe can be roughly dated and placed in “eras.”
• The Patent Era was between the years of K&P’s formation until the expiration of the patent; 1875 through approximately 1910. Though for our purposes we will list this era as 1875 through 1922. Peterson pipes made during the majority of this period had no “Country of Manufacture” (COM) stamped on them. However, later in this period, say around 1915/16, Peterson began stamping their pipes “Made in Ireland” in a block format.
• The Irish Free State was formed on 15 January 1922. So the Free State Era will be from 1922 through 1937. Peterson followed with a COM stamp of “Irish Free State” in either one or two lines, either parallel or perpendicular to the shanks axis and extremely close to the stem.
• Eire was formed on 29 December 1937. The Made in Eire Era will be from 1938 through roughly 1940? or 1941?. For dates with ?’s, see below. Peterson now stamped their pipes with “Made in Eire” in a circle format with “Made” and “Eire” in a circle with the “in” located in the center of the circle. This COM was used during the years of 1938 – 1940?/41?. Later they stamped their pipes with “Made in Ireland” in a circle format (1945?-1947?) and still later with “Made in Ireland” in a block format (1947?-1949). The “Made in Ireland” block format came in either one line or two lines.
• The Republic Era is from 1949 until the present. The Republic of Ireland was formed on 17 April 1949. From 1949 to present the stamp for this era is “Made in the Republic of Ireland” in a block format generally in three lines but two lines have been used with or without Republic being abbreviated.
•English made Peterson pipes actually spans between the pre-Republic and Republic eras. In 1895, Peterson opened a shop in London England that lasted until the late 1950s or early 1960s. So the English Era, for a simplified date, will be from 1895 through 1959. The stamps Peterson used in London and that we have seen are:
Made in England – block format
Made in England – circle format
Made in London
Made in London England
Simply, London England
Great Britain

Though there are a couple of more, the above will give one the general idea. We believe the earliest stamp of this era was the “Made in England” in a block format since Peterson was using the “Made in Ireland” block format at about the same time on their Irish production pipes. The “Made in England” circle format was used during the same time frame as the “Made in Eire” and “Made in Ireland” circle formats.

As one can see this is pretty straightforward but there have been inconsistencies within this method of stamping. Peterson was never very energetic in removing their old stamps from the work stations so the older stamps can and did cross-over into the newer Era’s.

The explanation for the question marks in the 1940’s dates is, during the Second World War briar was hard to come by for obvious reasons, so no one can say for sure what years Peterson produced briar pipes and how many briar pipes were produced in those years. Why the switch from “Made in Eire” to “Made in Ireland” is anyone’s guess since the country was still technically Eire until 1949. As a point of interest and due to the shortage of briar, Peterson did make clay and Bog Oak pipes during the war years though they had ceased clay pipe production in the Patent Era and Bog Oak production back in the early 1930s.

P1 The “Made in Ireland” block format (above) can be another headache in dating Peterson pipes since this stamp was used in the late Patent Era as well as the late 1940s. So for a guide we must take into consideration the style of lettering Peterson used on their pipes. From the start of the Patent Era until somewhere in the early 1930s, Peterson used the “Old Style” lettering that used a forked tail “P” in Peterson.

P2From then until now, Peterson used the more familiar script “P” (above) intermixed with a plain block letter “P.” Later in the 1970s, Peterson began production of “commemorative” pipes, often referred to as “replica” or “retro” pipes and these will also have the old style lettering but according to the pipes that we own and have seen, most of these will have a small difference in the original forked tail “P”. Again, there appears to be a cross-over with the old style forked tail and the later forked tail P’s(below). However, these commemorative pipes generally have a silver band with hallmarks so one can date these pipes by the hallmark.

P3Also, we must address the stamp “A Peterson Product.” During the last few years of the Pre-Republic era and throughout the Republic era, Peterson began stamping their other lines, such as Shamrocks and Killarneys, with “A Peterson Product” over the COM stamp. So a pipe stamped thusly will have been made say from 1948 to the present with the COM stamp identifying it as a pre-Republic or a Republic pipe.

Silver Band Dating

Silver hallmarks are placed on the silver after an assay office, in Peterson’s case, the Dublin Assay Office, has verified that the silver content is indeed sterling, in other words 925 parts of silver per 1000 parts of the metal. The silver hallmarks on Peterson pipes are a group of three marks, each in an escutcheon; the first is a seated Hibernia denoting Dublin Ireland, the second is a harp denoting the silver fineness, and the third is a letter denoting the year. The style of letter and the shape of the escutcheon the letter is in, will determine the year in which the assay office stamped the metal band and not necessarily the year the pipe was made. Peterson orders these bands by the thousands and sends them to the assay office for hallmarking. The assay office will stamp the date of the year in which they received the bands and it may be a year or two or three before Peterson’s employees happen to place one of these bands on a pipe though generally the bands are placed on a pipe in the year they were stamped. The Dublin hallmarks can be found in any book on silver markings or on one of several websites.

For the one year, 1987, the Dublin Assay Office added a fourth mark to commemorate the City of Dublin’s founding in 988. However, the Peterson pipes we have and have seen with silver dates of 1987 and 1988 generally do not have this fourth mark.

Here again, we must add a “maybe” to the above hallmarks. On 1 June 1976, certain countries attended an international conference on silver markings and decided to adopt an entirely different mark for sterling silver. This mark is an Arabian numeral, 925, located between the scales of a balance beam and in Peterson’s case may or may not have the Hibernia and Harp marks to either side. These particular pipes can only be said to date between 1976 and the present, and were stamped as such for shipment to the different countries involved in the conference. For pipes shipped to all other countries, Peterson still uses the old style hallmarks. Peterson pipes with a sterling silver band that does not have hallmarks could have been made for the United States market since the United States only requires sterling silver to be stamped “sterling silver” or “sterling.”

Before we close this section on silver hallmarks, we must address the marks that many people refer to as hallmarks. Peterson uses three marks on some of their pipes that are not silver hallmarks but are rather another Peterson logo (below). These marks are:
• A Shamrock for the many shamrocks found in Ireland
• A Prone Fox representing the famous fox hunts in Ireland’s history, and
• A Stone Tower for the many hundreds of stone towers spotted throughout Ireland
P4 Again these are not genuine silver hallmarks: Also many of the newer pipe smokers think that Kapp & Peterson’s official logo of “K&P,” each in a shield shaped escutcheon, are hallmarks but, of course, they are not. They are simply Kapp & Peterson’s initials.

Dating by Series

Dating by series or numbers is an area in which we are having a difficult time of establishing. For instance, the 300 series are all shapes used during the Patent Era and we believe Peterson started using this number system when the original patent expired. In the case of the 300 series and without looking at the COM stamp or silver hallmark, one can only say that they were made between 1910 and today. The 300 series was not in Peterson’s 1905 catalogue.

Though we are still trying to find the start dates of many series, here are some that we are pretty positive about:
• Centennial Edition – 1975 (for K&P’s Centennial)
• Great Explorers Series – 2002
• Harp Series – 2002
• Mark Twain Numbered Edition – 1979 (numbered 1 through 400)
• Mark Twain 2nd Numbered Edition – 1981 (numbered 1 through 1000) Mark Twain Un-numbered Edition – 1983 to c1989 (There must be a fourth production of Mark Twain pipes for there a couple of men who own Mark Twain pipes with a silver date of 1998; we are still trying to pin down the dates of this fourth production.)
• Emerald – c1985 to 2003
• Millennium Edition – 1988 (for the City of Dublin’s founding)
• Sherlock Holmes Series – 1987 to c1989
• Return of Sherlock Holmes Series – c1991
• Sherlock Holmes Meerschaums – 2006

Peterson Clay, Bog Oak and Cherry Wood Pipes
Peterson Clay, Bog Oak and Cherry Wood pipes were offered in the Patent Era with or without a formed case, as also offered with their briar and meerschaum pipes.

Peterson made clay pipes during the Patent Era with only two shapes being offered and depicted in their 1905 catalogue. During this period their clay pipes were stamped/molded “Peterson Patent” and could be purchased with either a silver or nickel band. How long and in what years Peterson made these clays is not known but as stated above two shapes were offered in their 1905 catalogue. Then during World War II, Peterson again made clay pipes due to the understandable shortage of briar. The clays of this period are stamped “Peterson System” and were only offered with nickel bands. This later production of clay pipes ended with the closing of Peterson’s London Shop in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Also during World War II, Peterson again made bog oak pipes and again, this was due to the shortage of briar. They had previously ceased production of bog oak pipes in the 1930s during the Irish Free State Era. On the subject of bog oak pipes, Peterson’s bog oaks will always have a metal band with either amber (early production only) or vulcanite stems and will have the appropriate COM stamp. As with their clay pipes, Peterson offered a silver or nickel band on their early bog oak pipes of the Patent Era and just a nickel band on their WWII bog oak pipes.

Peterson made pipes of cherry wood during their Patent Era in both the smooth finish and the bark-left-on finish; and as with their clay pipes, Peterson used both amber and vulcanite stems and choice of silver or nickel bands. And like their clay pipes of the Patent Era, the introduction and termination dates are not known. Peterson Cherry Wood pipes were offered with or without a meerschaum lining.

Metal Ferrules of Military Mounted Pipes

As pipes get older, wear will, with all the handling, cleaning and polishing, take its toll on the nomenclature which will eventually disappear, thus, making it harder to determine the age of your Peterson. A good thorough cleaning of old hand oils, dirt and ash will sometimes bring out a faint outline of the nomenclature but sometimes the nomenclature has completely worn away and even this cleaning will not bring it back. So where do we go from here to determine the pipe’s age? The shape of the metal ferrule on Peterson pipes with the military mount will give you some hint though not a precise date.

During the Patent Era, the metal ferrules of Peterson military mounts will have a more ‘acorn-ish’ shape, that is, the bend will have a larger radius as it turns down to meet the stem. This larger radius gradually(?) changes to a smaller radius, more abrupt bend, during the Irish Free State Era and even more abruptly after World War Two when the bend takes on the modern day shape.

The metal ferrules on Peterson clay pipes during the Patent Era are angular while their clay pipes of World War Two will have the bend shape as do most of the Peterson pipes from then until now.

As with everything pertaining to the dating of Peterson pipes, this method can only give us a hint to the age of the pipe but it is better than nothing at all. The years of these changes in the metal ferrule shape are, we are sure, lost to the ages. However, someone with a larger number of Peterson pipes than we may be able to check the silver dates for more precise age boundaries. Well, this is a very short dating guide and we hope that you will be able to date more accurately your favorite Peterson with this information.

When Mike sent this to me it had the following addition at the bottom of the page:
This guide was first posted in Pipe Lore on August 26, 2006 by Mike Leverette. Should you have a correction or addition to any of the above, please do comment.

A Peterson Pipe Finds Its Way Home

I don’t think I have ever had a pipe I gave a way or sold come back to me years later. Usually they are gone from my radar. I have a record of the pipes I have sold but rarely record the ones I give away. They are gifts and as such the moment they leave my hand they are no longer on my radar. There has been times when I wished they would come home but never truly expected it to happen. That is until yesterday!

The pipe that came home has been there and back again! Its residence with me began when I visited Mike Glukler in Aldergrove many years ago. Periodically I would visit and look through the pipes he had for sale through Briar Blues. This time I looked through and was drawn to a Peterson Special in a rusticated Dublin shape. I checked it out and the purchased it. I brought it home with me and smoked it a couple of times but never quite enjoyed it enough to make it a regular in my rotation. So it sat neglected for a while. On day I was going through my rack and deciding which pipes to sell and which to keep and I came across this one. I almost put it in the “to be sold pile” but instead I cut a new fishtail stem for it. I smoked it more often then.

I have always had a curiosity about the estate pipes that I purchase. I want to find out as much as possible about them. In the case of this Peterson that meant I would contact Mike Leverette. I wanted to get an idea of what I had in my hands. I wanted to know a bit about the age and details of the pipe. Mike was excited when he heard about this pipe. He said he had never seen a Special in this shape. I sent him photos of it and he sent back replies about it that were very helpful to me. I had it in the rack and smoked it occasionally with the new fishtail stem but never truly seemed to reach for it that often.

Through my work I would travel to Atlanta several times a year and stay for a week or more at a time. I always took along pipes and tobacco that I would gift to other pipemen that I would call and meet for a bowl and a chat. I met John Offerdahl and Mike Hagley on some of those trips. But I would always get together with Mike Leverette. He would drive up from his home to Atlanta where I was staying in a hotel by the airport and we would have lunch or dinner together. We would talk about all kind of things – history, Vikings, architecture, pipes, history, pipes. WE kept in touch by email and phone over the years and when he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery we talked and afterwards we met together. When I was diagnosed with cancer and was scheduled for surgery we talked and met together. Mike was my friend and a kindred spirit in terms of pipes, history, writing and many other things. If you have a picture in your mind of two old gents sitting together over dinner chatting and later adjourning to the open space near my hotel to smoke our pipes and talk some more you have the right image in your mind. I always enjoyed those visits. Several times John Offerdahl would join us for dinner and a pipe. I have missed those visits and conversations since Mike died.

LTR: John Offerdahl, your’s truly, Mike Leverette

LTR: John Offerdahl, your’s truly, Mike Leverette

It was on one of those trips, quite a few years ago now, that I gave that Peterson’s Special Dublin to Mike when I visited him in Atlanta, Georgia. I remember sitting in an Italian restaurant near the hotel and each of us pulled out our gift pipe and tobacco to exchange. It had become a bit of a ritual with us. We would exchange our gifts before even opening the menu! I remember on this particular occasion Mike gave me two old sandblasted Barling Canadians that needed to be restemmed and a tin of Virginia Flake tobacco. My gift to him was wrapped like most of my presents (at least that is what my daughters tell me) in a grocery bag. When he opened it and took out the Pete Dublin the look on his face was a mixture of surprise and excitement. He turned it over in his hands and read the stamping and commented on the history of the pipe. He took it apart and looked down the long shank and examined the stem. He loved that pipe a lot. I had included a tin of Latakia Flake for him as it was a favourite of his.

We finished our dinner that evening and went back to the hotel and adjourned to the bench out front. He loaded up the pipe with some of his own tobacco and I loaded mine. He smoked it and thoroughly enjoyed the smoke. I am sure there was much more that went on that evening but this is what my memory brings up. That evening was in the pre-cancer days for both of us so we did not have a care in the world or a worry on our minds. I remember a bit of the conversation that evening – we spoke of the route of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. Mike had done a lot of work on that in a paper he sent me and he wanted some feedback. It was a great evening and we talked and smoked until the sun went down. We parted company that evening both richer for the conversation and friendship. That was the last I saw of the Dublin.

Now jump ahead about 12 or more years. I was on the phone with a buddy who is selling Mike’s pipes for Mike’s widow, Jeanette. We were talking about the pipes in the lot that he was selling. There were several of them that he wanted to send me to recondition and document the process I used on them. As we talked I asked him in passing about the Peterson Special Dublin. I was curious as to what happened to that pipe after Mike died. I told him a bit of the story I have written above. He laughed and said that he happened to have that pipe in his hand at just that moment. I asked him about its condition and what he thought of it. It was at that point he offered to send it back to me. He would call Jeanette and tell her about our conversation and then ask her about the pipe coming back to me. She told him she was more than happy to have it come home! He let me know that it would be shipped out to me soon!

I knew it was coming but not when. Today I came home from work and found a package waiting for me. It was addressed from my buddy in Texas. I excitedly opened it and carefully unwrapped “Mike’s Pipe”. It had come home to Canada. As a kindness my friend had include a small bag of HH Dark Flake tobacco for me to try. I know he had said it was too strong for his liking but the funny thing is I think it is just the tobacco that Mike would have loved. I took the pipe down to my work table and gave it a thorough examination. It was actually in great shape. The cake was minimal, just the way I like it. The finish was in excellent shape with no dings or scratches. There was a little darkening and dust on the rim but that would clean up easily. The stem had some oxidation around the P stamp and on the underside as well (to be honest I think this was there when I gave it to Mike, or at least it looked like I remembered it). There was some small tooth chatter on the top of the stem and on the underside just ahead of the button and the shelf, but none of it was too deep. I decided to clean up the pipe right then. The next three photos show the pipe as it looked when I took it from the box.




I used a Bic lighter and passed the flame over the tooth chatter on the top and underside of the stem. I then sanded it lightly with 1500 grit micromesh to make the tooth marks very visible. I used 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth ridges and remnants left after the heat of the lighter raised the dents. I wet sanded it with the 1500 grit micromesh to smooth out the scratches left by the 220 grit. I also decided to add some white to the stamping on the stem. I use a whiteout pen to do that. I apply the whiteout heavily to the stamping and once it is dried I sand it off with the 1500 grit micromesh sanding pad.





The next series of three photos show the progress of polishing the stem with the micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit. The recoloured stamping is also visible. At this point in the process I scrubbed the top of the bowl with warm water and a tooth brush. The darkening and light build up was easily removed by this method. I then buffed the stem with White Diamond to give it a final polish and lightly buffed the bowl. I buffed the stem with carnauba to protect it from oxidizing and then took the pipe back to my table. I gave the bowl a coat of Halcyon II wax and hand buffed it with a shoe brush. I have found that this keeps the rustication crisp and fresh where a buff on the buffer can flatten the rustication and change the feel in the hand.




The next series of four photos show the rejuvenated pipe. The stem is a bright black and the tooth marks are gone. The bowl and internals are also cleaned and the pipe is ready to load up with the HH Dark Flake and smoke. This pipe will always be “Mike’s Pipe” to me. I raise the bowl in his honour!





Eavesdropping on a Conversation on Manzanita and Mountain Laurel Pipes – Robert Perkins & Mike Leverette

Over the years I have kept this interchange between Robert Perkins and Mike Leverette on my hard drive on the computer. I found it enjoyable and educational at the same time. I wrote Robert and asked for permission to pass this interchange on to readers of this blog. Robert Perkins is a pipe maker http://www.RMPerkins.com and Mike Leverette was a friend and mentor to me with regard to the pipe and its history. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of Mike and wish I could give him a call.

Here is the interchange between them:

Robert Perkins

You see, when imported briar started getting scarce during WWII, US pipemakers started looking for alternatives, and they were basically split into two camps: those who started using manzanita and those who started using mountain laurel.

Ever hear of a pipemaker called Breezewood? Well, Breezewood was one of the companies using mountain laurel as a substitute for Mediterranean briar, just like Monterey Pipes was one of the companies using manzanita, or “Mission Briar”.


Breezewood quietly closed its doors after the war because, as it turns out, all parts of the mountain laurel (Important: Not Manzanita) are “dangerously poisonous“.

Mountain laurel contains a powerful neurotoxin that, when ingested, causes convulsions, paralysis, and death within a matter of about six hours.

And somewhere along the way — I’m guessing way too late in the game for some — folks using mountain laurel as a substitute for Mediterranean briar figured this out.

I’m just gonna bet money that people started getting sick, maybe even dying: people growing and harvesting mountain laurel, people in pipe factories breathing all that mountain laurel dust, and possibly even folks who smoked those mountain laurel pipes, later on down the line.

People caught on. Maybe there were even some items in the news. And suddenly US pipemakers couldn’t put enough distance between themselves and mountain laurel pipe production fast enough.

The phrase “Imported Briar” became all the rage, and never again did US pipemakers attempt to grow or harvest briar — any kind of briar — ever again.

Just for the sake of reference, though, I should point out that nearly every single product on the market, right up until the 70s contained lead, asbestos, and so on. Heck, doctors used to put mercury thermometers in our mouths and not think a thing about it. A lot of this stuff, we just didn’t know any better.

But anyway, manzanita got caught up in all of this mess. It’s not poisonous, and it makes a fine smoking pipe, but who would want to take the risk, after that mountain laurel fiasco, huh?

You see, it’s kinda like mushrooms and toadstools. Nobody wants to pick mushrooms when there’s the significant risk that you might pick a few toadstools by mistake.

Why not just make soup and let other people worry about which one is a mushroom and which one is a toadstool?

Something like that, anyway.

So, just to recap, here:
* mountain laurel is poisonous;
* manzanita is NOT poisonous (somehow I feel like I am not emphasizing that enough)
* and after the war, the use of manzanita briar ended and the phrase “Imported Briar” became popular because US pipemakers had to disassociate themselves from the wartime practice of using mountain laurel as a substitute for Mediterranean briar.

So what do you think? Does that sound plausible?

And where is my deerstalker hat and my calabash pipe? I think I deserve a smoke.

Mike Leverette replied

Robert, my take on this subject is:

When briar was first used for pipes, everyone heralded it as the ultimate pipe wood and actually went wild over briar. In less than ten years from the first English maker to use briar, there were over a dozen briar pipe makers in London alone and all exclaiming the virtues of briar. Even the great salesman, Alfred Dunhill, exclaimed over the properties briar. So I believe everyone has, more or less, become brainwashed that briar is the only wood worth using for pipes. Surely, it is a great wood for pipes which I cannot say anything against but there are other great woods out there as well. We have been told many times over the past decade or so that briar is best for pipe making because it is A) ‘fire resistant,’ it is B) ‘very hard wood,’ it has C) ‘extremely tight grain,’ etc.

A) “Fire Resistant” – briar is wood and wood burns; there is no ‘fire resistance’ to it!
B) “Very hard wood” – yes it is hard, yet there are many woods out there which are harder per any hardness scale one wishes to use.
C) “Extremely tight grain” – again I agree. Briar has some tight grain, interesting grain and even beautiful grain. Yet there are woods out there with just as beautiful grain as briar.

The two alternative woods mentioned in this topic, manzanita and mountain laurel have been used for centuries, first by the American Indian and then the pioneers. Mountain Laurel was a favorite pipe making wood of soldiers on both sides during the War of Northern Aggression. Yes, before you ask, there were more wood pipes smoked in that war than clay pipes. Actually, the soldiers would make pipes from any wood handy but preferred mountain laurel. I am sure that the local population were using briar long before the fabled pilgrimage to Napoleon’s place of captivity, or was it his birth place? A very interesting article on pipes of other woods is Ben Rapaport’s article “Un-Briars: The Antecedents of Erica Arborea,” Spring 2001 issue of “Pipes and Tobaccos” in which Ben lists 29 different woods used for pipe making through the centuries.

Anyway, to stop preaching and return to the topic, brainwashed is too harsh a word for here but we have been treated to literature, word-of-mouth, etc about briar being the best and only wood for pipes to the point that immediately after WWII, everyone hasten to get briar pipes back on the market; hence forgetting about the two war-time substitutes.

Then again – – –
I wrote the above two days ago while waiting to be activated. During this time I have heard another pipe smoker state that he thought the pipes made from the two alternative woods, manzanita and mountain laurel, were placed into production so fast (because of the sudden stoppage in briar supply) that they were not cured properly which led to pipe smokers having problems with the pipes made from these woods. Therefore, the pipe smoking community of that day wished only for the imported briar after the war. This also makes a lot of sense!

Happy Puffing

Two Alternative Pipe Woods – Robert M. Leverette

Blog by Robert Mike Leverette

A dear friend of mine penned this article on alternative pipe woods before he died. I know it has been posed elsewhere but I wanted to pass on what he has written as I have found it informative and helpful as I navigate alternative woods. In honour of Mike’s memory I post this article that he wrote 21 Dec. 2006.

Throughout tobacco history, there has been a bewildering number of materials used for making pipes.  Among these materials are; stone, clay, porcelain, glass, various metals and of course woods, such as briar; the burl of the Erica Arborea or White Heath.  Woods of different species have been used for centuries from reeds used by the American Indian, as well as, young boys for their first smoking experiences, (such as my first reed pipe I made and smoked when only 13 years old in 1952) to many different hard woods.  Some of the well known woods used as alternatives to briar are wild olive and black thorn by Johann Slabert, bog oak by Peterson and Morta by Trever Talbert, Rosewood by the Exotic Pipe Company and now peach root pipes by modern Russian makers.

Several alternative woods are discussed in “Pipes In Other Woods” by T. C. Fuller (Fuller 2005) with pipes of some of these woods found on his web site www.tcfullerpipes.com.  Mr. Fuller lists the following woods along with some of his observations:  Cherry; Apple; Olive; Hawthorn root; Maple burl; Black Palm; Myrtle; Walnut; Curly Ash; Ebony; and Pawlonia.  Mr. Fuller states that his olive wood pipes sweated tobacco juices by quoting a friend of his;
“He has smoked the pipe extensively and had this to say about it: “This particular olive has very thin walls.  During the pipe’s breaking in, I noticed that residue was seeping through its walls, (…).”

I have not had an olive wood pipe to sweat, maybe because I like my tobaccos on the dry side.  Mr. Fuller and I have had the same experience with Black Walnut; it gives a pleasing nutty flavor to your smoke.
Another excellent article on alternative woods is Ben Rapaport’s “Un-Briars” (Rapaport 2001) in which he lists 29 woods, from Acacia to Walnut, used primarily by early European pipe makers and peoples who, by my thoughts, are probably still using these woods for personal pipes.

Then too, there is the article by Chuck Stanion “From Beechwood to Briar” (Stanion 2001) in which, by giving the history of Stanwell pipes, he writes of Poul Nielsen making pipes of Beechwood in 1942 due to the war shortage of briar.  These Beechwood pipes were under the name of Kyringe pipes.

Why haven’t these woods, or at least a few of these woods, gained as much popularity as has briar?  The general consensus is that they are not as durable as briar.  Well, what is it about briar that gives its durability?  Again the general consensus is briar owes its durability to its hardness but we all know there are woods mentioned above that are harder than briar by the Janka and other scales.

There are two woods that I think can compete with the durability of briar, or at least, very close, and they are Manzanita and Mountain Laurel.  A briar pipe may last several life times while pipes of these two woods may last half a life time shorter, but only if  they are taken care of as lovingly as briar pipes.  Both of these woods were used in the United States during World War II when briar was impossible to obtain.  Pipes of these two woods that I have come across are excellent smokers and are in excellent condition considering that over sixty years have elapsed since they were made. I expect they will last for many more years.  These two alternative woods are more thoroughly reviewed below.

Manzanita or Mission Briar

Though Manzanita was used for pipes during World War II and for a couple of years after that conflict; Wikipedia does not list smoking pipes as one of its usages.  Wikipedia gives the following description for the wood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manzanita):
“The Manzanitas are a subgenus of the genus Arctostaphylos. They are evergreen present in the chaparral biome of western North America, where they occur from southern British Columbia in Canada, Washington to California and New Mexico in the United States, and throughout much of northern and central Mexico. They are characterized by smooth, orange or red bark and stiff, twisting branches. There are about 60 species of manzanita, ranging from ground-hugging coastal and mountain species to small trees up to 6m tall. Manzanitas bloom in the winter to early spring and carry berries in spring and summer. The berries and flowers of most species are edible, though not particularly tasty.”

Bill Feuerbach in his excellent article on the history of “S. M. Frank & Co., Inc.” (Feuerbach 1977) had this to say about Manzanita:
“During World War II, getting briar imported into this country was not easy. Italian and French briar couldn’t be had until very late in the war. Kaywoodie was able to import 1400 5-gross bags of briar (about 1,000,000 blocks) out of North Africa in 1943 after the German army was defeated there. Early in 1941, Kaywoodie embarked on a project of domestically grown briar wood, called Mission Briar. This wood is botanically the same as Mediterranean briar. The Pacific Briarwood Company, a KBB subsidiary, began harvesting the burl type wood growing on the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. However, the smoking characteristics were not quite as good and the project was abandoned after the war.”

We do know that there were at least three brands of pipes using Mission Briar, a marketing ploy for manzanita to capitalize on the name briar.  They were; Kaywoodie, Monterey and Reiss Premium pipes.  Though Mr. Feuerbach does not actually say that Kaywoodie pipes were made from Mission Briar during those years, it is implied in his history.  Monterey Pipes were also owned and made by Kaywoodie.  Within my collection, I have two Monterey Specimen Grain Mission Briar pipes; a bulldog and a billiard; both great smokers though I am not a fan of metal condensers; thus leaving me at a loss to understand his comment, “However, the smoking characteristics were not quite as good (…).”  Maybe it is just my old abused pallette coming into play!

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel was also used for pipes during the war and for a couple of years after that conflict; and again, Wikipedia does not list smoking pipes as one of its usages.  Wikipedia gives the following description for the wood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Laurel):

“Kalmia latifolia (Mountain-laurel) is a flowering plant in the family Ericaceae, native to the eastern United States, from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. It is an evergreen shrub growing to 3-9 m tall. The leaves are 3-12 cm long and 1-4 cm wide. Its flowers are star-shaped, ranging from red to pink to white, and occurring in clusters. It blooms between May and June. All parts of the plant are poisonous.  The plant is naturally found on rocky slopes and mountainous forest areas. The plant often grows in large thickets, covering large areas of forest floor.  It is also known as Ivybush, Calico Bush, Spoonwood (because native Americans used to make their spoons out of it), Sheep Laurel, Lambkill and Clamoun.”

Though Wikipedia states that “All parts of the plant are poisonous,” other botanical sources state that only the leaves are poisonous, and here poisonous would be in reference to cattle and sheep eating the leaves with fatalities depending on the quantity consumed.  The milk from cows will also be toxic, though not necessarily fatal, to humans drinking said beverage.

There were at least three pipe brands made from the Mountain Laurel; Trapwell, Breezewood and Custombilt.  Trapwell pipes were made by D & P Pipe Works beginning on or before 1943.  D & P Pipe Works, owned by D. P. Levitas (Ross 2005), began making pipes in 1938 (Wilczak and Colwell 1997) probably in New York City but relocated to Sparta, Alleghany County, North Carolina in 1943 (Sparta/Alleghany CoC 2006), in order to be closer to the huge population of Mountain Laurel in the area.  Later, this company changed their name to Sparta Pipe Works and still later to Sparta Industries.  I have one Trapwell World’s Best Briar  pipe in my collection, a small billiard, and here again, it is a great little smoker.  World’s Best Briar was their marketing ploy for Mountain Laurel.  Trapwell’s ‘trap’ is a highly complicated condensing system when compared to most regular metal condensers.  After the war, Trapwell pipes were made from regular briar wood, or “imported briar” until their demise.

According to a 1942 Life magazine advertisement, Breezewood pipes were made by The Breezewood Pipe Company, located at 630 Fifth Avenue, New York City, though Wilczak and Colwell state the Breezewood pipes were made by Kaufmann Brothers & Bondy (KB&B) beginning in 1941 (Wilczak and Colwell 1997).  The Breezewood Pipe Company may have been a subsidiary of KB&B.  To quote the 1942 Life magazine advertisement;  “There, deep in the Great Smoky Mountains, they found it – found an uncharted virgin forest of burls, great old burls that had been growing there uncounted years.  And from these old burls, pipes of astonishing lightness of weight are made – their name: Breezewood.”

At the present time, this is all I have been able to find on the history of Breezewood pipes.  Here again, the one Breezewood pipe, a small billiard, I have in my collection is a great little smoker.  I am not overly fond of metal condensers and this Breezewood pipe has a simple tube condenser similar to Dunhill’s “innertube.“

It would be pure speculation on my part, for I have found no history of such, but Dr. Grabows could also have been made from the Mountain Laurel burls during the early World War II years.  I can find no exact date but Mary Linkman and Company (MLC) moved their Dr. Grabow operations to Charlotte North Carolina probably sometime in the 1940s.  Later in 1955, MLC sold Dr. Grabow pipes to Sparta Pipe Works which may indicate a past relationship of Dr. Grabow pipes with Mountain Laurel.  {emphasis mine — RJM}

In the Autumn 97 – Winter 1998 issue of “The Pipe Smoker’s Ephemeris is a 1979 letter from Claude L. Stuart, owner of Tracy Mincer pipes, to Mr. Fred C. Janusek in which he writes the following;
“The “convertible” pipe was made during World War II when briar was not available and was made largely from scrap briar. The word “imported briar” was deleted from some of the Custombilt pipes from this period because some of the pipes were made from rhodium found in the southern part of the United States. This was used until briar again became available from the Mediterranean Sea area.”

Though Mountain Laurel is not a rhododendron, some people in the south refer to it by rhododendron and the above ‘rhodium’ is probably a misspelling of the word.

Comparisons – My Personal Observations

In comparing pipes of the two woods (Manzanita and Mountain Laurel), the manzanita pipes appear to be heavier in weight and darker in coloring than the mountain laurel pipes though both manzanita conditions could be from heavier smoking resulting in more tobacco juices absorbed in the wood.  Coloring of course could also depend on the stain used.  I readily admit that all of my pipes of these two woods were purchased on the estate pipe market, so I have no idea as to how much each pipe was smoked before they came into my possession.  They both smoke equally great with my briars in that department.  As to durability; pipes of these woods may not be as durable as briar but I am sure they will last a couple of life times if taken care of properly.

In comparing the grain of the two woods to that of briar, they have as pretty and as interesting grain as briar though the birds-eye is not as tight. Both the Mission Briar and the Mountain Laurel pipes smoke Latakia blends (my favorites), Virginia and Virginia-perique tobaccos as well as my briars and olive woods, but again, this could be due my pallette.  In summary, it is puzzling to me why Manzanita and Mountain Laurel loss so much favor in the pipe making world.  Makers bowing to the demand for briar can be the only answer though I am sure pipes of these woods would still sell to the dyed-in-the-wool pipe smokers and collectors of today.

References Cited:
Feuerbach III, Bill – 1977; http://www.smfrankcoinc.com/history/index.htm
Fuller, T. C.- 2005, April issue; “The Pipe Collector” See also, www.tcfullerpipes.com
Rapaport, Ben – 2001, Spring issue; “Pipes and Tobaccos”
Ross, Stephen A. – 2005, Spring issue; “The Doctor is In,” Pipes and Tobaccos
Sparta NC Chamber of Commerce – 2006; http://sparta-nc.com/chamber/history.htm
Stanion, Chuck – 2001, Summer issue; “Pipes and Tobaccos”
Wilczak, Herb and Tom Colwell – 1997; “Who Made That Pipe?”

I would like to express my appreciation to the following for their help:
Benjamin Rapaort; The Nicotian Network & Nexus (Antiquarian Tobbaciana Publication)
Jim Wagner with the Wyoming County NY Sheriff’s Department
James J. Shive of Legacy Consulting Services; Contract Archaeologist