124. Rediscovering Charles Peterson’s NAP Patent System

“Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig Ort”—
Blessings of Patrick’s Festival Upon You!
The Mystery of the NAP

As the Chicagoland book launch for The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson draws near, there are a few things I’d like to share in celebration. The first concerns Charles Peterson’s second Patent System (that’s right, there were two), the NAP.

The NAP Patent System is the most intriguing unsolved mystery my co-author Gary Malmberg and I uncovered in the writing the book. Even if no one else knows or remembers, Pete Geeks know that in 1898, Charles Peterson finalized the P-Lip Patent System. But what even many of them don’t know is that just six years later, on January 2nd, 1904, the inventor, artisan woodturner and entrepeneur applied for a new System mouthpiece patent, the “NAP,” which was granted eighteen months later and then advertised in the mammoth 1906 catalog.

Gary and I had seen a NAP Patent at Sallynoggin in 2013, and in subsequent research Mario Lubinski provided photographs from his personal collection of vintage amber NAP mouthpieces. Overwhelmed by everything else we had to accomplish in our short research trip, the question nevertheless haunted us:  Why did Charles Peterson pursue a second patent for his System? How did it smoke? Why didn’t the company pursue it? All we could do at the time was document our findings and move on.

All that changed last fall when Gary acquired an Irish Free State NAP System 2, shape 312, with an obviously well-used mouthpiece. “I found that smoking this NAP lip is not even remotely like smoking a P-Lip, nor like smoking a fishtail,” Gary wrote me. “It is better than both.”

 

 Origin of the Name

The word “NAP” in all caps, baffled us, but with other more pressing matters to contend with, we simply noted it and let it pass. Had we been to the race track, of course, we would have known. NAP comes from British (and Irish) horse-racing slang. 1 According to Wikipedia, “A tipster is someone who regularly provides information (tip) on the likely outcomes of sporting events . . . . A tip that is considered to be a racing certainty . . . is also called a nap [often capitalized as NAP] and tipsters in newspapers will tend to indicate the “nap.” . . . Nap (derived from the card game Napoleon) indicates this is the tipster’s most confident selection of the day.” Hence, when Charles Peterson named his new patent mouthpiece a “NAP,” he was saying in words his customers would understand that it was certain to be a winner.

Peterson seems to have a spent a little time at the track himself, from one humorous cabinet photograph reproduced in The Peterson Pipe and preserved in Sallynoggin. In the photograph, he and his brother John are seated outdoors smoking their House pipes. A horse is seated (yes, seated on a chair) on the right, smoking his own House—or horse—pipe, with the legend KAPP & PETERSON running down the stem as it is being lit by Peterson’s lovely second wife Annie.

For whatever reasons, the certainty that the NAP mouthpiece would be a winner did not come to pass, although a fair number of NAP mouthpieces seem to have been made. The Peterson museum preserves a small, sterling-mount amber NAP Kaffir (horn-shaped) pipe with the NAP Patent stamp on the sterling band:


 

The Irish Free State NAP System

Mario Lubinski also had a handful of full-length vintage amber mouthpieces mounted on mid-1980s Petersons. But as it was not possible for us to fly to Italy at that point and beg his permission to smoke them (right), we had to be content to simply report what we knew of it in the book.

So it came as a considerable surprise to me several years down the road when Gary (who is, after all, the Indiana Jones of the Peterson world) discovered one made of vulcanite, no less, underneath a basket of deadly vipers in an old valise left in the lumber room at Paro Taktsang, Bhutan. (Okay, that part about where he discovered it isn’t, strictly speaking, true.)

The existence of an IFS NAP System, hallmarked P for 1930-31, is not incontrovertible proof that the mouthpiece was still in production at that date, but given its wear, it is certainly possible it was original with the pipe.  The NAP System is not mentioned in the 1937 catalog, but as the Depression was at its height and the catalog presented only selected shapes, it is quite possible the NAP was still in production. Gary’s 312 pipe, a 2nd Grade System, is described in that catalog as “a very substantial quality Briar with Hall marked Silver Mounts and fine quality Vulcanite mouthpiece.” The tenon of Gary’s NAP is in fact threaded for a missing “chimney” or tenon extension, as it should be for an IFS 2nd Grade System (what later would become the Premier).

 

At last, we had a chance to try Charles Peterson’s invention for ourselves—doubtless the first to do so in the 21st century.

 

Smoking Characteristics of the NAP

Our preliminary findings suggest the NAP mouthpiece smokes quite differently from either a P-Lip or a traditional mouthpiece.  As the US patent document and the diagram in the 1906 catalog (seen on Sparkplug’s blanket above) show, smoke does not pass directly onto the tip of the tongue like a traditional mouthpiece. Nor does it pass above the tongue’s tip and across the palate like a P-Lip. Instead, smoke is drawn into the lateral vent cut in the button, then radiates from five points at 36º of separation, like spokes from a hub. 2 As I can attest from several trials with it, smoke is most noticeably first felt from the two side ports, then from the three central vertical ports made by the ridges of the button extending above and below the lateral vent.

Like the original System, the NAP stem contains a graduated bore airhole with typical System drilling (1.5mm at the button to 5mm at the tenon).  It was made by Charles Peterson to function with the existing Patent System reservoir as well. This means that it will smoke drier than traditional mouthpieces, as it does not collect moisture during smoking, which is instead deposited in the System reservoir.

Writes Gary: “I’ve had a few experiential epiphanies during my smoking career: when I smoked my first decent pipe that cost more than $5 (a $15 Stanwell second in 1965); when I smoked my first Dunhill with an antique rounded lip; when I smoked my first pipe with a proper fishtail (with a gently concave lip end surface); and now when I have experienced a NAP lip. Of these epiphanies the last is the most profound. In my half century of pipe smoking I have always used my tongue to control air flow and block excessive smoke. But the NAP lip is another matter. The tongue cannot possibly block the flow of smoke, but the flow is so efficiently slowed and dispersed by the NAP shape the tongue is no longer necessary as a valve. I had to train myself to smoke, not in spurts, but in a slow continuous flow.”

The NAP is, as may be inferred from Gary’s experience, a significantly easier draw than the P-Lip, and because the smoke radiates, seems by design to be made for sipping. But because of its radial distribution, the smoke has a softer, richer feel and taste than the P-Lip. While smoking cadences vary according to the smoker, as a rule of thumb the P-Lip may be said to command a longer draught-like pull than the soft sipping typical of a well-channeled artisan mouthpiece. In contradistinction, the NAP combines the dryness and full flavor profile of the P-Lip with the easy sipping of a well-made fishtail, yet adds a uniquely soft and lush Mundgefühl or mouth-feel, as beer and wine aficionados might say.

 

Cleaning the NAP Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece must be cleaned by passing the pipe cleaner through the tenon-end and out to the button. It won’t pass through the “jaws” of the lateral opening, but this area is easily cleaned by passing the cleaner through it.

Clenching is, of course, an important component in any mouthpiece design. Neither Gary nor myself had any difficulty in this regard, because the shelf created by the ridges is ample, extending above and below the end of the stem. 3

In conclusion, our experience with the mouthpiece has been so positive that we believe it warrants further study, and to this end have commissioned Silver Gray, one of great artisan pipe makers on the US scene, to make a few reproductions of it after the Chicagoland show. * With the cooperation of Peterson, who has graciously agreed to supply the bowls and tenon extensions, we’re in the planning stages of creating a focus or vetting group, comprised of a dozen or so pipe smokers with expertise from various parts of the hobby to see whether the NAP might indeed, be a boil-over (that’s a long shot winner for you non-horsey types).

Stay Tuned for more on the NAP!

    Silver Gray won “Best Pipe in Show” at the 2018 West Coast Pipe Show for this stunner:

I cannot, cannot get over the plateau on the bottom of the bowl and the organic way in which this entire composition grows out of it. It has what my friend Charles Mundungus calls a piercing beauty. You can check out Silver’s pipes here and here.

    1 Kapp & Peterson goes a long way back with the ponies: Tony Whelan, Sr. told Dermot Ward that there was a time at the famous Listowel Races in Kerry when “every second fellow’d have a System pipe” (The Peterson Pipe, 146).

     2 A close reading and inspection of Charles Peterson’s NAP patent document will show that when he applied for the patent, he refrained some specifying how many vents (in addition to the two lateral ones) would be cut in production models. The drawings all show five, but the extant examples in amber and vulcanite mouthpieces have only three. You can download the patent here:

NAP System US Patent

     3 It is quite possible that Peterson used the original 1891 mouthpiece (pictured below) as the “canvas” from which he created the NAP lip:

 

 

 

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Nothing is more exciting and interesting than finding a treasure. This is one patent that really fits the description as an historical Peterson treasure. Over the years I have discovered some very strange and interesting buttons/lips on stems from times gone by and this one really takes the cake (no pun intended). I see the addendum to the yet unreleased Peterson Pipe Book already in the works. And as for the Silver Gray award winning pipe……nothing short of MAGNIFICENT. Congratulations to Silver.

    1. Hey Andy! Yes, I got my author’s copies of the book today, and the Briar Books Press website says it should be available in the next few weeks online. I’m looking forward to Silver’s reproductions of the NAP lip as well–it smokes differently than anything I’ve ever experienced.

  2. Wow! What a fantastic story! It sure whets my appetite for the book! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. It’s so much fun to share this with other enthusiasts, Jack–I feel blessed to be able do so.

  3. Hopefully the NAP will be made as an alternative and a standard on their pipes. Interested in trying it. Great article!

    1. Hey Charles. I think I can share a funny Peterson story in here in the comments, since really just you and I will read it. The new director at Peterson said he has a poster of the old NAP ad on his wall and everyday feels grateful he doesn’t have it to contend with!! LOL. I don’t know whether Peterson will ever be in a position to offer one again or not, but I’m in hopes something might be done for those so inclined at some point in the not-too-distant future.

  4. I love Silver Gray’s pipes. I don’t own one yet, but aqquiring one is on my list.

    The NAP button is very interesting. I wonder if they were just too expensive to produce, they look a little tricky. I may have to try to duplicate one for myself.

    1. Yes, I’m smitten with Silver’s work. I have a sandblast eskimo egg from her, and it’s a delight. If you’re going to the Chicago show, you should drop her a line, as she’s hard at work getting pipes made for it just now.

  5. Hmm, a little quick on the keypad….how about Acquiring instead of acquiring.

  6. Interesting, it spell corrected it that time…weird.

    1. No worries on spelling from my end. I turn off my spell-checker & then suffer the ire of my editor, thinking I know how to spell without the machine correcting every little thing for me.

  7. I love Silver’s Eskimo Egg…for me, I’d like a smooth….to start with anyway😬. I was not a fan of hawkbills until I saw her renditions. Nice contrast sandblasted on her pipes too. Very nice.
    P.S. I began the maiden voyage of my 2019 SPD #313 today with some Peterson 2018 SPD Tobacco. No 2019 SPD Tobacco….?dang deeming law?

    1. Hey John. I think the SPD and Holiday blends are a thing of the past. I’ll check with Tom Palmer, but he sold off the tobacco part of the business he’d taken 30 years to build up & I don’t know who the current owners are nor what their plans are. Stay tuned!

      1. I looked forward to W.O. Larsen’s yearly limited tobaccos also. Sadly, I think the “deeming law” did those in as well🙁 It seems like I read somewhere that C&D may have taken the reigns to produce Peterson blends, but I am not sure. It seems it would make some sense, since I believe Laudisi owns C&D and now, for sure, owns Peterson.

  8. Thank you for an intriguing and informative article. This is an exciting ‘rediscovery’ and it undoubtedly merits further attention and development. I loved the descriptive statements on the performance of smoke and the potential for a focus group on this unique patent. Mr. Gray (whose pipe, illustrated above, I loved) has a great opportunity for research and re-creation here.
    The pLip continually fosters debate and discussion amongst pipe smokers; I wonder what Nap will do…?
    Very much appreciated this article.
    Steven

    1. Steven, thank you! Knowing there are pipemen like you who find this as interesting as I do makes it a lot of fun.

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