At the Chicago show when I was oogling (that is, unfortunately, the correct word) the two Supreme Sandblasts Smokingpipes had on its table—a 9s System and a Sherlock Holmes Watson—Gary Hamilton and myself began asking Sykes about the Supreme grade but got sidetracked. When I got back from the show, I followed up with Sykes and the information he shared was so fascinating that I felt sure you would enjoy it, as well as a quick history of the Supreme grade at K&P—or at least, what I know of it so far. Before reading the interview with Sykes, you should take a look at the short video Sykes and Kaz Walters (Laudisi’s National Account Manager) made when the Supreme grade was relaunched in the spring of 2019:
Sykes: We grade bowls into various grades, one of those is ‘for sandblasting.’ This was one of our first big changes, to insert graded sandblasts where previously there was only one sandblast grade and it wasn’t very good. And of course we wanted to be really, really picky on what gets the Supreme stamp, whether for smooth or sandblasts.
After bowls are graded ‘for sandblasting,’ we then blast them and grade them into four buckets, plus rejects. The overwhelming majority are just basic sandblasts. The next level up, which we unimaginatively call SB+, we use for nicer series, like Newgrange, Deluxe System Sandblast, special series like Rua, etc. After that comes PSB, which get stamped PSB. And then SB Supreme at the top. grading ratios are roughly 83% SB, 12% SB+, 3% PSB and 0.25% SBS, with a couple percent rejected because things go wrong.
The first SBS, a gold band 120 finished with a light application of oil
Mark: How are the SBS bowls finished? Do you use oil, Irish pixie dust or what?
Sykes: We’re not using oil; we were in some early tests, but we abandoned that part of the process because it made them darker than we preferred. The SB Supreme bowls are blasted along with other bowls being blasted. When they’re used, they’re fitted and mounted. Then they’re blasted again very lightly to just clean them up from production. Then they’re buffed gently to give them a little shine and to lay on a thin layer of wax.
Mark: How many SBS Systems have you made so far?
Sykes: Only five—yes 5—of the Supreme System Sandblasts, with a couple more in production now.
Mark: How does that fit in with the Sherlock Holmes and Classic Range Supremes?
Sykes: We’ve graded out 83 Supreme Sandblast bowls so far. Of those released, 49 have been Classic Range, 19 Sherlock Holmes, 5 Systems and the remainder still in production.
Mark: Silver vs. gold?
Sykes: There’s been 18 gold bands so far, the rest sterling.
Mark: So how many Supremes out of all the bowls sandblasted?
Sykes: We got 83 Supreme Sandblasts out of a total of just over 29,000 bowls sandblasted since the beginning of 2020, or about a quarter of a percent.
PSB Pub Pipe
For reference, PSB [Peterson Special Blast] represents about 3.5% of our sandblasts—about 1,000 bowls out of 29,000—for reference. We’ve made about 120 Deluxe System PSB out of about 800 PSBs total, most of them being Deluxe Classic and Sherlock Holmes. The numbers don’t match up because the blasting numbers go back to when we began and we have some unused inventory on hand.
Accordingly, there will never be a lot of Supreme Sandblasted pipes and they’ll never be something that can be ordered.
One thing that Josh and I have really tried to drive over the past three years is the idea that Peterson can make artisan quality sandblasts in a factory environment and that these are just as interesting as very good smooth pipes, though perhaps a little bit less scarce and a little bit less expensive.
Mark: How many smooth Supremes have been released so far?
The amazing 53 Lovat Supreme Smooth gold band
Sykes: We’ve made fewer than 20 Smooth Supremes in the past 3 years. For reference, we’ve graded 12 bowls into Supreme Smooth in the past couple of years out of over 120,000 bowls graded total. They’re stupidly rare: about 1 in every 10,000 bowls. In comparison, Sandblast Supreme (of all grading, not just sandblast) is 6 for every 10,000 graded.
I was looking at a small handful of Supreme Smooths today and one really lovely Squire with a gold band got downgraded because a small spot became visible while it was being worked. Jonathan et al are very protective of the grade.
Mark: And we’re all so glad they are. That’s what makes the grade . . . supreme.
A LOOK BACK AT THE SUPREME LINE
As Sykes told me at some point in our interview, “Supreme” has meant different things at different times in Kapp & Peterson’s history, but it’s never included sandblast until 2019. How far back the Supreme line goes is, at least for now, anybody’s guess. On International Pipe Smoking Day a few years ago, I posted about the earliest pipe “sock” I’ve encountered, which is really a waxed paper:
It probably dates from the Irish Free State era, given the box it came in and the shapes it illustrates. Whether it means to imply that K&P was stamping pipes SUPREME at that point I have no idea. If you have an IFS pipe with the SUPREME stamp, do comment so we can insert a photo and revise our understanding of the line.
I have also speculated that the Dublin & London was K&P’s supreme line for many years, or perhaps it was the supreme line for markets outside the US while Supreme was used for the rest of the world, which may be possible given the box and sock of the D&L at the time which use the words “supreme briar.”
The first occurrence of a line stamped SUPREME that I know about came in the 1953 Rogers Imports Ltd. catalog. As were almost all Peterson pipes at the time, this Supreme was unmounted. You can see the stamp in the illustration above. It’s not the one currently in use. The Supreme, like the D&L and other high-grade lines in the 1950s output, was, however, a true “Sub-System” with a P-Lip graduated airway and a screw-in bone tenon extension (or chimney) which required some fascinating mortise drilling to accommodate it. Like the D&L and subsequent highest-grades in the catalog it was in a natural finish.
The next mention in the ephemera occurs in the landmark 1975 Orange catalog, which contains the Supremes most of us have seen and many of us owned: the thin gold band with a rich mahogany allowing a brilliant black grain to show through (very like the Centenary pipes of 1975) and a P-Lip or fishtail mouthpiece.
I find it nearly impossible to believe that Supremes weren’t made from the late 1950s through the mid-1970s, so if anyone reads this and thinks he might have one, please do make a comment.
Just three years after the 1975 catalog we see the same configuration in the Peterson-Glass catalog for the European market.
I suspect the Supreme stamp currently in use was created sometime in the early 1970s. You can just barely make it out in the Peterson-Glass illustration. It’s much clearer in this 408 prince with its definitive Irish bend, which probably dates from the early 1980s.
Pre-Laudisi System Supremes have always been much scarcer than those in the Classic Range, perhaps because of the amount of gold necessary for the ferrule . There aren’t any indications of them in any of the ephemera. The one above, a 4s, is hallmarked for 1980.
This illustration of the charming 82s dates from a 1988 Hollco-Rohr catalog and shows off the Supreme stamp really well. The same catalog features a gold band spigot with the “F” mount.
The final catalog of the Dublin era, which appeared in 2010, continued the same silver or gold, P-Lip or fishtail, but went to a more “natural” looking finish, a semi-matte light brown.
I don’t know how far into the 2010s the Supreme stamp was used, but I did bring back a 106 from Sallynoggin with the stamp and hallmarked 2013. Having said that, of course there’s no way of knowing how many Supremes were produced in the Dublin era. I suspect that then as now there were very, very few.Bringing us back to the present, the SUPREME stamp was applied to sandblasts in the Classic as well as System ranges beginning in 2019. The blast on this 20FB is the most spectacular I’ve seen on a System so far. While the 20FB (304 in Standard/Premier) is a small pipe, the rolling waves on this make it for my money one of the most sensational pipes ever blasted at the factory.
I said at the outset I was oogling that 9s SBS System. I didn’t bring it home from Chicago, but somehow it eventually found its way to me. Shades of Disney’s 1963 Incredible Journey? Perhaps.
“Lassie, come home!”
Thanks to Sykes Wilford
& to Laudisi for photos of current Supremes