Refurbishing a Peterson Bullcap that Doesn’t Exist

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
– Philip K. Dick

Today’s post is a bit of a head-scratcher, not for the intricacies of the refurbishment, which went rather smoothly, but for the mystery surrounding the pipe’s provenance. If one handles enough estate pipes, inevitably one comes across a pipe that defies easy identification. I’ve dealt with a few of these mystery pipes but never one clearly marked as a product of a major pipe producer.

This Peterson Irish Made briar was part of a lot of pipes I purchased at a local antique market. I actually finished the cleanup some months ago but have been putting off writing it up in the hopes of uncovering more information about it. I’ve now exhausted my resources on this one, so here it is!

This is how the pipe looked when I first brought it to the worktable. It was generally dirty, with a film of tars on the rim, a heavily tarnished shank band and an oxidized P-lip stem. Looking beyond the layer of dirt and grease, though, the briar looked to be in decent shape, and the pipe overall had a rather long, elegant profile.

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The pipe is rich with stamps – The shank band is marked “K&P” over a trio of hallmarks consisting of Hibernia, Harp, and the letter N. More on these in a bit.

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The left shank of the stummel is stamped “K&P” over “IRISH MADE”. The underside of the shank is marked “A PETERSON’S PRODUCT” over “MADE IN IRELAND”. The right shank carries a shape number, “222”.

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Try as I might, I couldn’t find any reference to a Shape 222 in any of the online Peterson databases. In the end, I sent an email to Mark Irwin at Peterson Pipe Notes to see if he could shed some light on the origins of the pipe. Mark consulted with his writing partner, Gary Malmberg, and sent the following response:

Gary Malmberg wrote back: “An erect capitol N with serifs simply does not exist on our hallmark date chart. Ergo this pipe cannot exist.”

Of course it does, so what can we say? This shape is normally stamped 412 and called a Bullcap by Peterson in both the 1937 and 1947 shape charts. The [Made in Ireland] COM stamp, unfortunately, doesn’t corroborate anything for us here, as your information regarding its use is incorrect—as you’ll see in the book. That stamp was used in every decade of production after 1917 or so.

The ferrule is unusual in having the maker’s mark K&P over non-existent Irish hallmarks. There really isn’t a capital N with serifs. Ever. Nor do we have any record of a shape 222. So, as Mr. Holmes would say, “eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth.”

The pipe was therefore made before 1937, somewhere between 1922 and the mid-1930s. The K&P over IRISH MADE stamp was used at that time for pipes sold in the store in Dublin but not for sale internationally and later was commonly used for all the army mount, non-System lines.

I’ll give you a minute to digest all of Mark’s information, as there’s a lot there to process – a Pre-Republic “between-the-wars” Peterson pipe with a non-existent hallmark, in a known shape but stamped with an unrecorded shape number. There are still a few questions surrounding this Bullcap, but they will likely remain unanswered. Many thanks to Mark Irwin for his help on this one!

Having established as much background information as I think is possible, I moved on to the actual refurbishment. The stem went into a bath of Oxyclean and warm water to raise and soften the oxidation and other grime on the vulcanite. While it soaked, I used a scrap of 0000 steel wool to remove decades of tarnish and grime from the shank band. The second pic below give a better look at the mystery hallmarks.

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I reamed the old cake from the tobacco chamber, and tidied things up with some sandpaper wrapped around a marker. The interior of the chamber was in good condition, but the cake had completely blocked the draft hole.

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I used a few drill bits, turned by hand, to open up the airway before cleaning up the remaining dirt and tar using pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol.

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I scraped the worst of the rim tar off with my pen knife and discovered a scorch mark a the seven o’clock position (front left edge in the pics below). To remove the damaged briar and tidy up the look of the rim, I sanded a bevel into the inner edge – a departure from the original factory lines, but better looking than burnt briar.

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While I was wiping down the exterior of the stummel with alcohol on a cotton pad, the shank band slipped off into my hand. I set it aside while I gave the stummel an overall light sanding with a scrap of fine-grit sanding sponge. This smoothed out a lifetime of small handling marks without removing much briar.

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Setting the stummel aside for a bit, I rescued the stem from its bath and scrubbed away the now soft oxidation with 0000 steel wool and Magic Eraser. It took an impressive pile of pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol to get the stem’s airway clear.

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I removed the last stubborn bits of oxidation from the stem by sanding with 220 and 320 grit sandpapers, followed by the fine-grit sanding sponge.

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After wet-sanding to 2000-grit, I refreshed the briar with an application of a diluted wash of Fiebing’s Saddle Tan leather dye followed by a wipe of mineral oil.

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I let the oil sit on the pipe for a few minutes before buffing away the excess with a bit of old towel. When the briar was dry, I glued the shank band back in place, using a dab of CA glue to hold it firmly in position.

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All that was left now was to take the pipe to the buffer for a run of White Diamond compound and a few coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the revitalized pipe.

Like most pipes from the early Twentieth Century, this Peterson Bullcap is now considered to be on the small side. Though six inches long, the chamber measures a relatively diminutive 3/4″ bore by about an inch deep – perfect for short smokes or particularly strong tobaccos.

I haven’t quite decided what I’ll do with this pipe. I’m tempted to hold onto it for my own collection (the mystery behind the hallmarks and shape number is quite appealing), but I know I’ll probably never smoke it. If you are a lover of smaller pipes and would like to add this 1920’s Pete to your rack and rotation, you can reach me by email at dadspipesrestorations@gmail.com.

Thanks for joining me for an other estate restoration. Until next time, Happy Piping!

Here’s the finished pipe.

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