Those who’ve read the history chapters in The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson will know that every time a change of ownership occurs or some great economic calamity affects the pipe-smoking world, Peterson undergoes a sea change in its day-to-day operations and then just gets back to business. . . as it has for 154 years now!
Changes have come quite slowly and methodically since Tom Palmer sold the company to Laudisi in June of 2018. The first change in operations visible to collectors came in April, 2019, with the re-introduction of in-house rustication in the Rosslare Classic Rusticated and Aran Rusticated lines. This was followed in May with the launch of the first-ever vulcanite-stemmed Pipe of the Year, a chubby rhodesian Pete Freeks celebrate as the “John Bull.”
An 01 Spigot
The company has now re-introduced in-house sandblasting to the workshop, and the results can be seen at many Peterson dealers. The company made the move to bring blasting back into the shop because they want their craftsmen to have personal control over what Peterson’s sandblast pipes look like, and being able to do this in-house is also a way to insure the quality levels as well as the design expectations are exactly where they want them at each tier throughout the catalog.
Above and below: first sandblasts, seen in the 1945 catalog
Like rustication, sandblasting was originally a way of recovering ebauchon bowls with pits or minor flaws and goes back to Dunhill’s early patented process in the late 1910s. Other English pipe production companies soon followed, as did Peterson with its Kapruf 1 line, which has been documented by Gary Malmberg, my co-author, as early as the Irish Free State era (1922-37).
Sandblasting was actually first mentioned in the 1940 “Emergency” catalog and first seen in the System range (Premier and Standard) and the Classic Range in the 1945 catalog pages reproduced above.
Seen above from the 1953 Rogers Imports catalog is K&P’s original gateway blast, the Auld Erin, which retailed at $2.50, while the Kapruf was listed in the same catalog at $7.50, three times that price. From the beginning, Peterson used a tiered model, releasing blasts in the upper ranges like the Kapruf and Premier System as well as gateway and Standard System ranges.
Jonathan Fields, factory manager, explaining stem bending to a guest
The 2019 blasting team in Sallynoggin is comprised of three craftsmen: Jonathan Fields (factory manager), Michail Galimov and William (Willie) Murray. Jonathan and Michail do the blasting, while Willie selects suitable bowls and grades them after blasting.
Willie Murray, grading sandblasted bowls
Joshua Burgess, managing director, writes:
During the first round of grading, Willie identifies bowls that are good candidates for blasting. Those basically go into a ‘to be blasted’ bucket. These are usually bowls that have a good grain structure, but it’s either the type of grain (like ring grain) that isn’t really visible on a smooth piece, or it has good grain but there is an aesthetic flaw that sandblasting will remove.
Once they come out of the sandblasting room, Willie sorts through them again both as a second QC check and to determine which lines the bowls are most suited for.
The standard-grade blast, seen here on a Cara 150
We’re basically thinking in three tiers. There are your standard sandblasts. These end up being used on lines like the Cara Sandblasted, Dracula Sandblasted, System Standard Sandblasted, &c.
A 338 upper-grade blast by Jonathan Field on a NAP Vintage-Amber Spigot (2019)
Then there’s a tier above that. These are really excellent sandblasts, but “good” in different ways. Sometimes, like on the 338 NAP amber spigot (seen above and below), it’s about the regularity of the grain. This piece has one of the best grain patterns that I’ve come across.
On other pieces, the grain is really craggy—think early to mid 20th-century English pipes. These usually end up in a higher tier of sandblasts as well. You’ll find blasts like this in Premier Systems and on up into the spigot range.
A Premier 314 Sandblast, equalling the classic English blasts of yesteryear
Finally, there are a few pieces that are extraordinary both for their cleanliness–having no aesthetic flaws in the briar–and the quality of grain. These pieces will become Supreme Sandblasts. The standards are really high to get into that tier, so there are only a very small number of pieces good enough to qualify.
I’ve been really pleased by the quality across the board. I’ve seen some Draculas and Caras come out of the factory that looked amazing. But a sandblast is a really personal thing—some people love the way sandblasted birds eye looks, while others want really craggy ring grain. I think customers are likely to be able to find a piece that’s just right for them across the range.
In the Peterson book, Paddy Larrigan recalls that in-house sandblasting had ceased when he went into service in the mid-1940s, but resumed shortly after, “when Mr. Brace, an Englishman, came over and showed us how” (p. 104). So what did it look like, in its everyday garden variety?
An Early Republic 1309 dutch billiard with classic “Larrigan bend,” c. 1950-55
This gorgeous 1309 Standard System dutch billiard—produced with the “1” prefix number for Canadian export to Genin, Trudeau & Co in the 1950s—is a good example of standard-grade Peterson sandblasting (both in-house and later on, outsourced) through most decades of the 20th century. The obverse side (seen above) would normally be most the striking and the one given the most attention to by the blaster, as it would be the side displayed in tobacconist’s shops because it shows bowl, stem and/or ferrule and band stamps.
The reverse side, seen above, almost always displays a wash of ever-widening rings ascending up from the base. This isn’t something most pipe smokers would notice or even be aware of until they begin to see it over and over again, which those of us who’ve smoked Petersons for 40+ years can attest. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just the way it was done and reflects the reasons behind the effect: to save the bowl, get it through production and out to market. This type of blasting is, fascinatingly, now a thing of the past as blasting has become something to be admired in and of itself and the process much more of an art form than a reclamation process.
“We did in-house sandblasting up to about 1980, then we sent it to England,” Tony Whelan, Jr., former factory manager and now something of a craftsman-Jedi in the factory, told me recently. Since 1980, some good, some bad and—yes—some ugly blasts have come down the pike, depending on the year and the range. Some of the outsourced work has been very fine indeed—the Rogha Naturals, for example, or the 2018 Arklow small-batch line for Smokingpipes. The former featured hand-picked, flawless natural bowls and the latter just had some flat-out fantastic blasting at gateway pricing.
The past twenty years or so has seen an incredible rise of interest in and enthusiasm for sandblast and rusticated finishes, not as less-expensive alternatives to smooth pipes, but as first choices for their physical beauty and tactile properties.
The in-house blasted Premier 314 pictured further up the page, for example, is everything a blast fan could desire in a premium System: deep crags and visual complexity highlighted by Peterson’s original System contrast stain. It looks like it could have served as the artist’s model for the 314 Premier seen in the earlier 1945 catalog illustration, although it’s actually a bit gnarlier, isn’t it?
This new Rosslare Classic B10 is a great example of what we can expect in middle-tier blasting. But whatever you’re looking for in a Peterson sandblast, I think it’s safe to say that it just got better.
Michail Galimov at the blasting booth
..and a 302 just out of the cabinet!
Factory photos courtesy Peterson
Thanks to Josh Burges and Peterson
and thanks also to Laudisi for their support
1 “Kapruf” = Kapp + rough. Just in case you wondered.