Peterson Today (March 2011) – An Interview with Tom Palmer, Managing Director of Peterson of Dublin

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Recently Tom Palmer,the managing director of Peterson of Dublin, was approached to ask if he would give consideration to answering some enthusiast's questions, relevant to current Peterson pipes and production. He subsequently responded to say that he would be pleased to do so.

The following is a synopsis of the interview questions and answers put to Mr Palmer by Jim Lilley co-founder of the International Peterson Pipe Club.

Question 1. Many Peterson pipesters have been disappointed with their smoking experience because their pipes gurgle a lot. It is suggested that the draft holes on some may be too small, at 2mm and with the practice of drilling all the mortices for 9mm filters now. It has been suggested that difference will cause moisture to gather around the entrance to the hole in the tenon.
It seems a pity that this can't be addressed before the pipes leave the factory. However we do recognise that when you only have 25 people on the floor turning out 2000 pipes a week, attention to detail will suffer. Is there any hope that future production could increase the draft hole sizes to improve the draw on, in particular, the entry level classic pipes?

Answer to question1. Yes we have had this complaint before---it is rare but not new. We will try your suggestion of increasing the size of the draft hole.

Question 2. One of the most common complaints in the last few years has been the dipping/treatment of certain series of pipes,resulting in the ingress of the composite mixture into the pipe bowls, which produces an unpleasant chemical taste for the initial few smokes of the pipes breaking in period. Some reports suggest that this practice may have ceased recently,can you confirm this please?

Answer to question2. For about 2 years we have being putting a cork into the bowl of all classic pipes to prevent stain seeping into the bowl , so this problem should not exist for any classic pipe made in the last 2 years. We still use the old way for system pipes.

Question 3. Another recurring complaint , is the constant reference by many owners to Peterson pipes having an unacceptable number of bowl fills. Even out with the entry level pipes, there is a perception that the briar quality on certain series has started to deteriorate further in the last couple of years. Would you care to comment?

Answer to question3. At the outset can I say that about 95 % of all smokers pipes have fills---some manufacturers may be better at hiding them than others. We grade bowls into 7 different qualities with only the very top---Straight Grain and Supreme s , De Luxe Systems etc. having no fills and ,working its way down the grading scale some bowls may have as little as 2 minor fills and lower qualities some more. The ultimate price of the pipe is dictated by whichever one of these grades it is taken from and in addition the extent to which we have used silver or gold in mounting that pipe. Peterson is priced in the middle to top of the pipe market where most smokers look for a quality product that is reasonably priced. If we could organise our business just selling Straight Grains there would be a hell of a lot less Peterson pipe smokers in the world. The irony is that , as a general rule, the lower the quality of the bowl the more labour intensive it is but it is also the pipe we earn the least revenue from !!

Question 4. Lacquer finishes on bowls are another major complaint. Many enthusiasts would prefer that fewer pipes had the bowls coated with what is perceived to be shiny varnish and a means of hiding flaws and fills. Many prefer a more natural finish to show off the wood grain?

Answer to question 4. About 80% of our production is non lacquered pipes but there is a market for the more glossy finish ---it is all about taste, price and personal preference. And of course I understand that a lot of smokers prefer to have a hand stained pipe showing nice grain. At Peterson we believe that we produce pipes to suit all tastes and most price points.

Question 5. Another major issue which has become highly topical, is the difficulties which seem peculiar to Peterson, in the sourcing of the briar for the pipe production. Not just for the basic entry level pipes, but for the various ranges. Many prospective purchasers have expressed great disappointment in not getting firm confirmation of delivery of pipes being ordered within a reasonable period. Some have reported waiting for 12 months or so. No other pipe brand seems to have such briar sourcing problems at this time?

Answer to question 5. We are having problems getting briar in sufficient quality and quantity to meet demand. In my 20 years in this business the demand for Peterson pipes has never been higher----we are definitely seeing new pipe smokers and we have opened many new markets in the last 10 years where pipe smoking is becoming increasingly popular. As a company we have taken on new staff---50% of our manufacturing staff are under 30 years of age but it takes at least 6 months for a new employee to become efficient and learn the skills. As you will appreciate pipe making is a craft and not an assembly line type of production. I can only talk for my company but demand is simply incredible at the moment and our bowl suppliers are having difficulties servicing our needs. We have started with new suppliers but in fairness to them they also need time to increase their production capabilities. At this moment in time our production is fully booked until the end of September.

Question 6. In light of recent comments that have come from Peterson's themselves, regarding a backlog which has been caused by it becoming increasingly difficult to source quality Briar, will Peterson be taking steps to ensure that new stocks are being planted for future generations. Are the supplies sustainable?

Answer to question 6. The best thing we can do to ensure continuity of supply is to place large orders with our suppliers which will give them the confidence to source the briar for our bowls. Again over the years the number of factories turning bowls has reduced and we are heavily dependant on a few key suppliers.

Question 7. I've gathered recently , that not only that the quality briar required is becoming more scarce, but also employing people willing to dig it up, they appear to becoming fewer each year. Can this situation be sustained? We understand that the briar is coming from Spain. How is the briar selected prior to turning in Spain?

Answer to question 7. Our bowls are mainly from Italy , Spain and Algeria and Morocco through Spain. The selection is done by the turners in those countries but more importantly we grade everything sent to us to ensure it conforms to our standards before we accept delivery.

Question 8. Finally, there is a feeling amongst the Peterson enthusiasts that the issue of so many new series is starting to impact adversely on the quality and production of pipes in the last couple of years. Would you care to comment?

Answer to question 8. I sincerely doubt that ! New products or series are eagerly awaited every year by our distributors. In fact I believe that Peterson offers more new lines than any other manufacturer in the world !!

The feedback we get is extremely positive from retailers and smokers alike. On the general question of quality I can guarantee you that each and every pipe that we make gets the same care and attention. That is not to say that everyone is perfect---they are a handmade product from a natural raw material and therefore 100% perfection is by definition impossible. But I would also like to say that our returns run at an annualised figure of 1% of our total production. This I am sure you will agree is not bad !!!!

Tom, I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this inquisition by the Peterson enthusiast and collector fraternity. Your honest and forthright responses are very much appreciated. I for one certainly appreciate getting the answers straight from the 'Horses Mouth'.On behalf of all of the Pete Nuts throughout the world,a big thank you to you and your staff for the pleasure you bring to us though your wonderful products.

Jim Lilley.