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The Man Behind the Cloth ~ Peggy Mallen

When I started to read about the history of Simonis cloth, I couldn’t help but wonder how they survived for the last 333 years!

Yes, you heard me correctly…333 years. Think about it—it was the 17th Century in a mid-size community, Verviers, Belgium where it all started. They probably had knights in armor with swords and metal helmets and jousting. Well maybe not, but it could lead to a great history lesson.

This community, Verviers, the center of the wool industry, was renowned for its production of high-quality wool in the year 1680—and, still is today. Initially, they made wool textiles for many uses but one little known fact is that in the 1860s they made uniform cloth for Union and Confederate soldiers. Unfortunately, the exact date for the initial production of billiard cloth is not known because of a factory fire in 1982 where the company archives were destroyed. Nonetheless, for over two centuries, generations of technicians and skilled workers have been producing Simonis billiard cloth, which is world-famous.

photo: Churchill Photography

photo: Churchill Photography

Other companies have tried to imitate this high-quality cloth, but none have been successful. Simonis is a global company, but the man behind the United States entity and the focus of this article is Ivan Lee of Iwan Simonis Incorporated. I had the honor of asking Ivan a few questions to give us insight on his history since, not only does he head his family business in the U.S., but he is also Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Billiard Congress of America (BCA), a position he has held for the fifth time in nine years.

Ivan was born in Boston—the seventh of seven children and grew up in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan on his grandfather’s farm. He comes from humble beginnings where they raised hogs and chickens, but he had also worked in the saw mills, and revealed that he owned a chainsaw at the age of 12. He went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude in Business Administration at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Ivan started making cues for the late Ray Schuler in 1989.

Ray Schuler (1931-2002) was a renowned pool player and cue maker. Schuler cues are still widely used by top players worldwide including several of the recent inductees into the BCA Hall of Fame. Ray had a carom table in his shop and many of the best carom players were always available to play with Ivan. This is where he learned three-cushion billiards and artistic billiards—on Ray’s table.

In case you haven’t heard the term “Artistic Billiards,” it is a carom billiards discipline in which players compete at performing 76 preset shots of varying difficulty with a total point value of 500. I would imagine this is a game for a highly- skilled, advanced player which speaks volumes about Ivan’s pool-playing abilities. In 2012, the company, Iwan Simonis Incorporated, acquired another best-of-class complimentary company to their portfolio, SALUC S.A./Belgium, the leader in phenolic Aramith billiard balls and Aramith Fusion billiard tables.

Ivan stated, “The cloth and ball products are perfectly complimentary and both have tremendous brand recognition and loyalty—it was a natural fit. We are no longer just about cloth, Iwan Simonis Incorporated is the U.S. entity that embodies Simonis business.”

I’m still amazed Simonis has been a leader in wool cloth production for 333 years…after a company does anything for that long they are destined to be the master. Ivan Lee of Iwan Simonis Inc., has a fascinating family and business story to tell. I’ve only touched a few of the highlights and I appreciated this opportunity to get to know more about the man behind the cloth.

Photo: Ed Schipul/Flickr

Editor: Dana Gornall

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