Pipes and pipe smoking can be more than a simple habit. Some people collect pipes, and Sir Walter Raleigh even took his pipe with him when he was beheaded in 1618.
It makes sense to become attached to something that can be such a big part of your daily life and have such a long and rich history. Both tobacco and pipes have been around for thousands of years. They have been present in cultures from all over the world.
Keep reading as we learn more about pipe smoking, all the way from its early days.
History of Smoking Tobacco
While tobacco is not the only smokable substance, it is by far the most popular and the most widely available. It was cultivated across the Americas as far back as 1500 B.C. Native Americans, meaning any of the peoples who lived on the American continents, had various uses for the plant.
The Aztecs, for example, thought of tobacco as the incarnation of their goddess Cihuacoatl. They saw tobacco gourds and pouches as symbols of divinity.
Other Native American tribes smoked tobacco during ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. The pipe took center stage during a number of ceremonies since Native Americans saw it as the primary source of communication between spirits and human beings.
In other parts of the world, ancient peoples were finding their own ways to smoke, but they were not yet smoking tobacco. Before explorers like Christopher Columbus brought the tobacco crop back to Europe, those outside of the Americas were unaware of the smoking potential of tobacco.
In its earliest days in Europe, tobacco was often used in its powdered form and snuffed. Diplomats and travelers, however, popularized smoking it and helped to kickstart pipe making in earnest.
These days, there are many different types of tobacco you can use in pipe smoking, and sometimes they’re even blended together. Some types, like burley tobacco, are also used in cigarettes and are very light. Others, like Turkish tobaccos, are oily, spicy, and nutty.
History of Tobacco Pipes
The oldest pipes discovered were found inside Egyptian tombs and can be dated as far back as 2000 B.C. They were made from copper, but it’s unclear to historians if smoking tobacco was a recreational activity or only for ritual use.
Early pipes have also been found in Europe dating to around 500 B.C. These were made from wooden stems or reeds.
Civilizations like Greece and Rome as well as the Celtic and Nordic people all had their own versions of pipes as well.
After Christopher Columbus introduced tobacco to Europe and it became popular in the mid-16th century, people started committing to the craft of the tobacco pipe. The first models were made from a type of clay called “China Clay,” named for where the clay came from. This material was fine but dense, but the clay pot itself got hot when smoked.
In the mid-18th century, craftsmen started using a clay-like mineral called meerschaum for pipes. It’s found chiefly in Turkey, and many were attracted to it because it was easy to carve. Tobacco pipes started to become decorated and artistic. Meerschaum, however, had a similar problem to clay: it got hot.
Tobacco pipes finally began to be made from briar wood, which is still the most popular material today. Some pipes, however, have a combination of materials. Reeds, bamboo, wood, or amber used to be common for the stems and mouthpieces of pipes. Today, they’re often made from more easily molded materials like acrylic or soft plastic. Amber, for one, was too expensive and hard to clean.
Many different shapes and styles of pipes have popped up over the decades. The many difference, however, usually comes down to whether the pipe has a straight or a curved stem and the shape of the bowl.
The Calabash pipe, made from a Calabash gourd, is one of the most recognizable shapes. It has a large chamber under the bowl and rose to fame because this was the pipe of choice for Sherlock Holmes.
The Cultural Impact of the Tobacco Pipe
Sherlock Holmes wasn’t the only major figure, fictional or otherwise, to smoke a pipe or to become associated with one. As pipes and pipe smoking increased in popularity, they became an accessory of philosophers, writers, and thinkers. Names famous to history, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Sigmund Freud, smoked a pipe.
Believe it or not, pipe smoking also made its way into several colloquialisms. It especially popped up in the French language around the time of the first World War. The tobacco pipe had become a staple possession of many soldiers, and it made its way into their sayings as well. Aller au casse-pipe, for example, literally translates to “to go to the broken pipe” and means “to go to war.” Casser sa pipe literally translates to “to break his pipe” and means “to die.”
Pipe Smoking Today
Regardless of other methods of smoking tobacco, some still favor smoking a pipe. Many companies still enjoy a large number of pipe sales and garner interest in their tobacco products.
Pipe tobacco tends to be moister than other tobaccos, as well as more fresh and flavorful. With so many varieties in tobacco, it becomes an endlessly interesting hobby that can be just as compelling and nuanced as learning about wine.
Pipe Smoking: A Lifestyle Choice
Many become just as committed to their pipes as they do to other entrenched hobbies. They find their favorite blends of tobacco, or they try and collect several different types of pipes. It’s not simply a hurried cigarette on the sidewalk. There’s a certain elegance to pipe smoking. It comes with a long history, and it can define a lifestyle.
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