130. The POY 2019 Chubby Rhodesian & “A Chat with the Smoker”

Something old, something new! For the first POY of the Laudisi era, Peterson has created something remarkable: a P-Lip celebration of a fan favorite from the shape catalog accompanied by a return of the classic “A Chat with the Smoker” pipe-box brochure, created specifically for this release.

The Shape

The shape is one Pete Freeks have adored for years: the classic 999. If you haven’t already, you can read about its history here. The shape includes three major bowl variants (if you don’t count the Sculpted briar and Aboriginal meer versions of the early 1980s) and too many bending styles to count, although the shape most collectors think of as the classic 999 is the chubby P-Lip that debuted in the 1937 catalog. While the shape—known today as the chubby rhodesian—was found in many English shape charts of the 1930s–50s, what makes it an iconic Peterson is its massive shank weight and P-Lip. The combined alchemy results in what is arguably the chubbiest shape in Peterson’s catalog.

This is the 22nd year of Peterson’s annual commemorative, which began in 1997. It is also the first to be issued exclusively with a P-Lip, which is no small cause for celebration (recall the 2015 Founder’s Edition oom paul was produced with fishtail and P-Lip mouthpieces).

The Name

Sometimes Peterson will coin a name to accompany a shape, but not often. In the case of the 999, it was always called the john bull, since the company reserved the name rhodesian for what we now refer to as a bent bulldog. I don’t usually preach in these posts but I will take a liberty, having been an English teacher for 25 years, and with a conviction that Pete smokers are thinking men, after all.

Gary B. Schrier, the Peterson book’s editor and publisher, taught us that when referring to a billiard, a bulldog or a lovat one doesn’t capitalize the words because they are common nouns. To be consistent, therefore, when referring to rhodesian, hungarian, zulu, or john bull as pipe shapes, these should also be in lower case.

Is there an exception to the rule? Yes, when the words are used in a title or a catalog, as in “The 2019 POY 999 John Bull,” or when the words “Rhodesian Bent 80s” appear as a caption underneath the illustration of a pipe. End of lesson.

 

The Pipe Box Brochure

On late-night TV commercials in the 1970s there was always someone saying “But wait—there’s more!” And indeed there is. Inside each POY2019 pipe box there’s a new “Chat With the Smoker” brochure.

The “Chat” is one of those great Peterson traditions that began in the 1896 catalog and slowly evolved, moving from catalog to pipe boxes as early as the Irish Free State era (1922-1937),  then in subsequent revisions at least six times over the years until its last appear in the mid-1980s.

Like its predecessors, the new “Chat” includes a cutaway illustration of the System, a basic chart of available shapes and a guarantee. It goes beyond its predecessors by including a factually-correct historical time line and a specific “chat” about the history of the 2019 POY shape.

 

A Closer Look

This is the best-looking range of finishes the POY has seen since its earliest issues, due in part to in-house rustication and in part to how the sterling band makes the shape scintillate in various finishes. It’s also the first time, as far as I know, that the POY has been issued with a natural finish. In previous years, the highest-grade bowls usually found their way into the Italian Kapp-Royal line.

Joe Kenny, factory manager, told me that only eight naturals have been produced, numbered 999-1000, 1000-1000, 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000, 4-1000, 5-1000, and 6-1000. Tony Whelan, Jr., said that the catalog shape number is 661, making it a departure from the D shape group of the POYs of the past several years.

The pipes are hallmarked with the actual year of issue (which was not the case with the 2018 POY): “I” for 2019 (which not coincidentally matches the hallmark stamp we chose for the back of the Peterson book dust jacket).

Bowl stamps are done by hand, Peterson in script over OF DUBLIN arched over PIPE OF THE YEAR over the number of the piece in the sequence of 1000. The last several years were reduced to 500 pieces, if you recall. The 1000 pieces this year, Kenny told me, include all five finishes: natural, smooth, ebony, rusticated and sandblast, so that each pipe, no matter what finish, is numbered. Nice.

The 17mm (0.67 in.) wide sterling band is what absolutely “makes” the pipe, in one friend’s estimation. It’s a full 5mm wider than the band on last year’s beautiful POY gaslight.

There is a precedent for this in Peterson design language is there, if you know where to look. The new 999 has a “dawn-of-the-age-of-briar” look, as you can see by comparing with with the wide band on this X 160 B Long from the 1906 catalog [wouldn’t this be a great antique reproduction?]:

Having just been to a screening of Peterson Jackson’s They Won’t Grow Old, the astounding tour-de-force of documentary film images from the trenches of the Great War (1914-18), with a pipe sticking out of every third soldier’s mouth, I think the rationale behind these wide bands at the time was purely functional. Smokers needed their briars to take a pounding and the bands created extra strength between tenon and mortise.

 

The Side-by-Side Comparison

Probably the first thing old-timers will do is compare the new POY with the classic 999, and I don’t blame them, since I’m one of them. The bowl itself is close enough to the classic john bull 999 that if, with eyes closed, you held one and then the other in your palm, I’m not sure you could feel the difference.

Like the 2015 POY, which was modeled on the 1906 “Jap” but not physically identical, the POY2019 999 is probably best understood as an homage or rethinking of the original. I’ve talked to two devoted Peterson 999 fans with different opinions on this. One is disappointed that it isn’t an exact reproduction of the earlier chubby john bull and one is pleased that it isn’t.

I can see both points of view, but when I look at the photo above I lean toward the opinion of the friend who believes this version is something new and fresh and a great addition to the shape chart. She loves the extra-wide sterling band, thinking it adds a lot of visual charm: “The band tells you right away it’s not supposed to be an exact reproduction, but meant to carry the idea forward to a new generation of smokers. If I wanted a 1950s john bull, I know where to get one. I don’t think that’s the point here. Peterson isn’t saying this is an antique reproduction, after all, but something new.”

I couldn’t help getting my caliper out to see the differences, because that kind of information usually helps me think about a pipe in relation to my own smoking preferences. I have three old 999s in my rotation: a Premier, a Kildare Natural and a Shamrock, all dating from the 1950s. As their measurements are nearly identical (apart from the stem bends), I chose the banded Shamrock for comparison:

POY Natural 4/1000                                     Shamrock 999, c. 1953–57

Length: 5.79 in. / 147.07 mm.                        5.35 in. / 136 mm.
Button thickness: 0.23 in. / 5.9 mm.               0.19 in. / 4.9 mm.
Button width: 0.62 / 15.7 mm.                        0.55 in. / 14.1 mm
Weight: 2.10 oz./59.53 g.                               2.00 oz. / 56.7 gr.
Bowl Height: 1.69 in./42.93 mm.                   1.60 in. / 40.8 mm.
Bowl Diameter: 1.79 in./45.47 mm.               1.68 in. / 42.9 mm.
Stummel Width: 0.92 in. / 23.3 mm.              0.95 in. 24.1 mm.
Chamber Depth: 1.25 in./ 31.8 mm.               1.25 in. / 31.8 mm
Chamber Diameter: 0.83 in./21.30 mm.         0.70 in. / 18 mm.
Stem Material: Vulcanite                                Vulcanite

Notes.

Length. The length of the two pipes, especially in this shape, depends on the stem bend. The new POY could easily—and profitably, to my mind—be 5-10mm shorter simply by giving it a deeper bend just behind the button. I say this because one of the great things about most of the old 999 john bulls is precisely their clever bend: try one with the bend and one without and you’ll see that little bend isn’t there for ornament. It’s there because it creates more stability, more ease in clinching. This partly has to do with lightening the felt weight, what’s called the “moment arm” in physics:

In layman’s terms you can experience the difference for yourself (try it!) by clinching two pipes of equal weight between your teeth, one straight and one bent. The bent will feel much lighter.

Part of greater comfort of the older 999s also has to do with the flatter upper shelf compared to the more convex shelf of the new pipe—something Peterson is aware of and will be working to improve in the not-too-distant-future, I’ve heard.

Button and Stem. The smoker’s teeth and mouth are an integral part of how she reacts and interacts with any mouthpiece, and of course reaction to any mouthpiece varies by user. Having said that, it may be useful to know that Peterson’s pre-formed mouthpieces (which is to say all of them since the early 1990s) stay around 4.8-5 mm [but check out the 4.5mm on some of the Rosslare Rusticateds!]. Some people think this is too thick and some don’t mind.

What seems to be more important to those accustomed to P-Lips is whether or not the top shelf is flat or convex and how wide that shelf is. Some of the smaller shapes in the catalog, for instance, have widths of 12-12.5 mm, which I find my teeth simply can’t accommodate. My favorite P-Lips all date from the early 1980s, the 301 for instance measuring 17.2 mm wide and 5 mm thick, but with that fantastic bend just beyond the shelf.

So for me, I expect the new POY is going to feel a little thick and difficult to clinch, especially given the extra felt-length of the mouthpiece. But this observation is subjective, and for those who don’t do any or very little clinching—and that includes many collectors—it’s a moot point.

But let’s take a moment’s pause here for two lovely words: P-Lip. Vulcanite. There, I said it. How incredible that the POY has returned to vulcanite—the last POY with a vulcanite stem was 2013 (discounting the 2015 FE oom paul). And it’s the first POY with a P-Lip (again discounting the exception to the rule, the 2015 FE, which slipped the wool over everyone’s eyes by simultaneously being issued as a special commemorative and a POY).

Weight. The weight between the two shapes is accounted for by the sterling band and variable wood density.

Bowl. The bowls are physically almost identical, the only noticeable difference coming in the curve running down the front of each. The older shape has more of a bullmoose, up-and-down look to it, the new POY sloping in similar to the current production 999. Steve Dundish sent me this visual reference:

Chamber. The chamber of the new POY, not surprisingly, is wider than the old 999s. Much of this has to do, I suspect, with fashion, as chambers at Peterson didn’t routinely exceed 20 mm. until the Dublin Era’s XL Sherlock Holmes and special collection shapes of the 1990s and later. Visually this makes the older 999 look chubbier, because the smaller chamber results in walls that are about 3-5mm wider, depending on the sanding.

As far as smoking properties go, again, this is the individual smoker’s call. For me, this type of wide, shallow chamber is great for English, oriental, burley, aromatic and most anything but virginia and va/pers. And I’d say the same for the older 999: the bowl just isn’t made [for me] to smoke va and va/pers. But I have tins and tins of great tobaccos that are perfect for this kind of chamber: Bengal Slices, Penzance, MacBaren Mixture, HH Burley Flake, Solani ABF, and several others.

The only reason to go like this on about any pipe’s chamber is self-awareness, to know what works best for you and what won’t see much use, given the tobaccos you enjoy.

Finishes. If there were any POYs in previous years issued in a natural finish, I need someone to speak up, because I never saw one. As stated earlier, I saw the natural bowls cut in earlier POY shapes issued in the Kapp-Royal line, but never in the POY.

Final Thoughts

When you read the Peterson book (or as you’re reading it) take note of how important the company’s times of transition have been. It seems like every sea change has brought new innovation, fresh thinking and exciting new pipes. I’ve seen and smoked the Laudisi-era’s new Aran Rusticated and Rosslare Rusticated, and in case you can’t tell by now, I’ll just say it: I’m looking forward to breaking in one of the POY2019s.

(Hey man, nice shot. That’s the Peterson book’s 1947 shape chart in the background
of this publicity photo from Smokingpipes.eu
and the 999 is in the lower left corner!)

 

 

thanks to Peterson, as always
photographs courtesy
Chas. Mundungus
and courtesy Laudisi and Smokingpipes.com

 

[No, this isn’t a paid product endorsement.
I just liked the ad and miss the days
of the old strut cards.]

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