Beginning in early 2000, while working for a cigar and pipe shop near campus while attending college, I started considering the prospect of establishing a business to sell pipes on the internet. I incorporated Laudisi Enterprises that May, registered Smokingpipes.com that June, and we sold our first pipe that November.
Twenty years and lots and lots of pipes and pipe tobacco later, Smokingpipes occupies a special place in the world of pipes. The company around Smokingpipes — Laudisi — has grown to include a handful of companies, all related to pipes and pipe tobacco. They are Laudisi Distribution Group (created in 2012), Cornell & Diehl (acquired in 2014), and, of course, Kapp & Peterson, Ltd. (acquired in 2018).
So, why all this preamble? Because we wanted to embark on several special projects in 2020 to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We had done anniversary pipes before (Claudio Cavicchi for our 10th anniversary, and Tom Eltang did it for our 15th ), but limiting it to one maker seemed, well, insufficient for the 20th Anniversary. And besides, we really, really enjoy working with factories, pipe workshops, and pipe artisans who do interesting things. Why limit ourselves to one?
Ted Swearingen, Shane Ireland and I decided that these anniversary projects would be with factories and artisans with whom the company — and we — are particularly close. And each project would constitute pipes that personally interested us. Accordingly, these projects were, perhaps unusually for Smokingpipes, more self-indulgent than in the past: We did things we particularly liked. More generally, we know that our personal preferences aren't necessarily reflective of those of the wider body of pipesmokers, but celebrating one's 20th anniversary is a necessarily personal exercise and the pipes should reflect that. Besides, it's my birthday party and I get to choose the theme.
We selected a handful of factories and artisans to work with (we'll announce them as the pipes become available throughout the year) and focused on particularly interesting concepts representing particularly interesting craftspeople in the form of pipes that we ourselves would enjoy smoking.
As plans progressed, on the other side of the Atlantic, Josh Burgess, Jonathan Fields, Giacomo Penzo and others at the Peterson factory in Dublin were busy upgrading Peterson's sandblasting operations. Josh and I talked with lots of artisan pipemakers, and we finally opted for an approach similar to that of artisans — from Tom Eltang to Jeff Gracik to Michael Parks — but bigger, to maintain a continuous flow of sandblasting (Peterson blasts more pipes in a week than most artisan pipemakers do in five years: the process needs to run pretty much all of the time).
By the end of last July, the new sandblasting rig was in place and folks at the factory started dialing in the sundry variables — media, pressure, time, nozzle size. Good results were immediate, but they improved quickly over the ensuing month. By mid-September, Peterson started grading its sandblasts, much as it (and every other pipe factory) grades smooth pipes, based on the quality of grain and the cleanliness of the wood.
Frankly, we were delighted with the results. The blasts consistently improved and some are staggeringly good. We'd already decided that Peterson's contribution to the Smokingpipes 20th Anniversary project would be a silver spigot — silversmithing being so core to Peterson's identity — but we decided to pair some really extraordinary sandblasts with silver spigots (and in some cases, silver spigots and silver caps).
From mid-September to late November, Peterson sandblasted some 3,000 bowls, separated into four grades depending on the quality of the grain structure and the depth of the blast (so, for example, the Premier System Sandblasts use a nicer grade of sandblast than System Standard Sandblasts). For this project, we insisted on sandblasts with character. For us that meant prioritizing depth of blast and cragginess over perfect regularity. Accordingly, William Murray, who does all of Peterson's grading, began selecting bowls from only the two highest briar grades, with a particular focus on depth and strong grain structure
From there, Josh, Glen Whelan (Sales Director for Peterson) and I refined the selections to the most interesting 80 sandblasted stummels, in a wide variety of Peterson shapes, presented in a classic black stain with black acrylic stems. All 80 feature a sterling silver spigot mount (hallmarked for 2019, since these were made in the waning months of that year) and 10 also integrate a sterling silver rim cap.
Perhaps because my enthusiasm for this project continued to amplify, I asked Claudio Albieri to make the pipe socks, in black, with logos for both Peterson and Smokingpipes. Each pipe has been numbered out of 80 and includes a card signed by Glen Whelan and Jonathan Fields.
I hope you like these special Petersons as much as I do.
And this is but the first of the tantalizing projects we've planned for the year. We're going to have fun with it. A special event like this gives us the opportunity — at some level — to just play; to do things that we might not otherwise consider, and to partner with companies and people we particularly like working with. It may seem a little self-indulgent. Sure, we get that. But, seriously, it's our birthday and we feel justified in a little self-indulgence of our pipe fantasies.
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