A closer look at the famous Peterson Standard System Pipe

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By Jim Lilley

System Pipes, Jim Lilley collection
System Pipe 309, Jim Lilley collection

Perhaps the most notable design from the Kapp and Peterson factory was Peterson's famed 'Dry

System' pipes. The original patent was issued in Great Britain and Ireland on Aug. 8, 1890, Featuring a small reservoir intended to collect moisture before it reaches the smoker, the 'System Pipe' makes for a cool smoke that minimizes tongue bite, the bane of every pipe smoker. Indeed, it is on this ground breaking design that the worldwide reputation of Peterson grew.
In 1898 another of Peterson's innovative pipe inventions became available and was also patented. the Peterson-Lip (P-Lip) mouthpiece, designed to offset the inhaled smoke to the roof of the mouth,thus avoiding tongue bite.
The famous P lip stem incorporated into the system pipes mouthpiece directs the smoke flow through a small hole at the top of the stem to the roof of the mouth.

Generally when pipe smokers get together and discuss the system pipes they are divided as to whether they like or dislike them,in particular the P lip stem which has many detractors. The main criticism being that in directing the smoke to the top or roof of the mouth, this can become tender and sore after a while through the concentration of hot smoke.
The cleaning and maintenance of the System pipes also appears to be problematic to some pipesters. Often the criticism is in regard to the 'infamous' pipe cleaner test,ie can a pipe cleaner be passed down the stem opening and out the opposite end easily and without obstruction. Of course smaller pipes are more problematic than the larger ones,coupled to the stem shape being more angular in full bent examples. I have never really found this to be too much of a problem as I will use the smaller finer pipe cleaners such as those made by Falcon,which seem to pass easily.

Personally I enjoy my System Pipes, to me they epitomise the true essence of Petersons heritage and style. Being a habitual clench-er I find the P lip ideal 'anchorage' for dangling from my mouth,particularly as the majority of my pipes are bent s. I suspect that the majority of my weekly pipe smoking activity is with 'Systems',I love em!
The Peterson System pipes are the standard bearers of the Peterson pipe family, famous for the excellent smoking pleasure they provide.

Often imitated but never equaled, the Peterson System smokes dry, cool and sweet, thanks to the scientific effectiveness of the original design. The heart of the System is the unique graduated bore in the mouthpiece. This makes the suction applied by the smoker 15 times weaker by the time it reaches the tobacco chamber. The result is that all the moisture flows into the reservoir and, thus cannot reach the smoker's mouth.

The Peterson Lip further enhances the effectiveness of the graduated bore by directing the flow of smoke upwards and away from the tongue. This achieves a uniquely even distribution of smoke and virtually eliminates any chance of tongue-bite or bitterness.

Furthermore, the shape is contoured so that the tongue rests comfortably in the depression under the opening. Each "P-Lip" mouthpiece is made from Vulcanite.

For the Peterson System pipes to work properly, the stem/tenon has to have an extension, the tip of which will pass by the draft hole from the bowl and into the sump. Upon the smoker drawing in smoke, this extension then directs the smoke down and around the sump to dispense a lot of the moisture before the smoke enters the extension and stem. On the System Standards and other less expensive systems, this extension with be made of Vulcanite turned integrally with the stem. On the more expensive System pipes this extension will be made of metal which screws into the Vulcanite stem. This extension on the earlier pipes will be of brass and the newer pipes will be of aluminium. Most smokers not knowing this function of the metal extension, assumes that it is a condenser/stinger and will remove it as they do with the metal condensers of Kaywoodie, etc. Should you have a System pipe with this metal extension, do not remove it for it will make the System function properly and give you a dryer smoke.

Another feature of the Peterson System pipe that helps in removing moisture is the stem itself. It will have a relatively small draft hole entrance at the extension which will open out rapidly and then closes back down near the bit. Of course these varying diameters have smooth transitions. The idea behind this is; the smoke leaving the smaller diameter and entering the larger diameter will expand and slow down, thus dropping more moisture before entering your mouth.

To some people the cleaning of system pipes can appear to be problematic,in fact they are in most cases easy to clean. A pipe cleaner dipped in alcohol will do a fine job of removing any dried tobacco juices in the mouthpiece or shank. If there is any difficulty with the pipe cleaner accessing the narrow P-lip,I would suggest using the finer narrow pipe cleaners made by Falcon, which are still widely available. The sump pit on a system pipe can be cleaned with a Q-Tip swab or piece of rolled up paper towel, likewise preferably dipped in alcohol before use. If you suspect the sump pit contains a significant amount of liquid, remove the mouthpiece, dump the liquid, and reassemble. I would recommend running a pipe cleaner down the stem, as far as it will go, immediately after finishing a bowl, but disassembly and thorough cleaning can wait until the next day or any other convenient time.

Most of the standard systems are made from good quality briar. All are fitted with nickel mounts and army style mouthpiece. There are fourteen models to choose from, with a choice of highly polished or rustic finish. Nearly all are bent s,except for one straight model (Reference 31).

As well as the traditional Walnut finish,there are also additional colour choices with Red and Ebony.

I have included some photos of examples from my own collection to help illustrate the diversity of shape and finish of choices available.

See the main Peterson article.