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The Smoking Pipe- What A History!

Updated on September 7, 2014

Things of immense beauty

A few examples of pipes I once owned. Sadly, I had to sell my collection when times were hard.
A few examples of pipes I once owned. Sadly, I had to sell my collection when times were hard. | Source

Rich in History, Flavor and Aroma

It stands to reason there are quite a few of us who remember our Grandfather or maybe Dad smoking his favorite pipe. He’s there on the porch just before sunset, the occasional flies buzzing around while he enjoys some lemonade or iced tea after a long day working on the field or the car, or perhaps hours in the factory. Surely there are quite a few of us recalling the bonding moments when he would have us fill his pipe for him, patiently teaching the right way to do just that before he would light it and fill the area with the sweet aroma only a quality pipe tobacco can provide. If your nose was good enough, you could detect a hint of the apple he kept in the tobacco pouch placed there to retain the moistness of the tobacco.

Surely there are plenty of us gentlemen of today who may have picked up the habit (it isn’t a habit when it comes to pipes, but an art), striving to maintain a piece of an era gone by. But it isn’t quite so easy today as it was so long ago, as the pipe of today incites accusations of pretentiousness much in the same way a walking cane might. The cigar enjoyed a faint resurgence in popularity due to, well, whatever, but the pipe somehow fell into the miasma of nostalgia along with Christmas movie classics and Sunday drives out to the Amish country. But is the pipe accepted as it once was? Not a chance. Even those hungrily puffing away at their cigarettes at the smoking area far away from civilization give an evil eye to the pipe smoker, should he be there. But then, there are those amongst the crowd who find the aroma enticing and sweet, reminding them of some elder they were fond of.

Yet, only those who truly know the art can appreciate that there’s more to smoking a pipe than just, well, smoking the pipe. The smoking pipe enjoys a vast tradition going back a long, long time and lounges in an art rich with fun shapes and styles of pipes, a vast array of tobacco choices, the right ways and wrong ways that give credence to those who know what they are doing, and of course we cannot forget all the accessories and accoutrements that come with the art. The pipe lighters are unique, new and antique, and the tampers used to properly pack the tobacco are works of art all their own. Then, there is the luxuriant tobacco pouch sitting near the pipe furniture proudly displaying a remarkable and awe inspiring collection.

But who is keeping the art and tradition alive today? There are still quite a few, apparently, should one take the time to do a search. There are numerous pipe makers out there creating amazing works of art, and there are those pipe making companies who have been doing it for generations. Dunhill, the Rolls Royce of the pipe world, is still creating wonderful pipes, each of which fetches hundreds a piece. Peterson is still there, as well as GBD and, thankfully, Caminetto. I have to suppose Dr. Grabo is out there, too, although I’m not sure why.

But yes, there can run into the hundreds in cost and value. Fine pipes are collected by many even if they don’t smoke, as the pipe is still quite collectible and desired by many. The Estate Pipe, or used pipe, can retain a value of significance even when smoked through for decades. In fact, a properly smoked pipe that has been smoked through for years upon years is seen as immensely valuable. It is now unique and harbors a history, particularly the ones that are Meerschaum rather than Briar. Oh, and it should be noted the white pipes are NOT made of ivory, but a soft natural material known as Meerschaum. It is a mineral, not hacked from the animal kingdom.

Alas, the pipe requires patience and time, and that doesn’t fit into the world of today. It takes some time to fill the pipe, and it could burn for a lot longer than any cigarette. The pipe is for those moments when the passing of time is allowed to roll along gently, with the setting of the sun and the rise of the stars. It’s to be enjoyed for what it is; it isn’t there for scratching the itch of the nicotine fix. Crackheads do not smoke a Caminetto or Dunhill.

We do enjoy a few images when we visualize a pipe being smoked. We can see General MacArthur smoking his corncob pipe while looking over the insanity of war, or we see Hugh Hefner enjoying his pipe while leering at the nubile ladies. Of course there is the grandfatherly image of Bing Crosby enjoying a thin, straight pipe, or the implied wisdom of the pipe smoked by Sherlock Holmes. There are the fantasy lovers of the generations seeing that Churchwarden pipe (very long and slender) smoked by their wizard of choice. For many, Gandalf comes to mind. And who could possibly forget Popeye!

Those who know little or nothing of this could ever appreciate the care and skill going into making a quality pipe. These are not hacked out of an apple to smoke some cheap homegrown; rather, they are carefully and skillfully carved from Briar, which is a shrub (sometimes referred to as a Heath Tree) growing in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Often, only the roots are used and even then, many will not start working the wood until it has aged for decades or even centuries!

There are so many different shapes and each shape and style has a grand name, and there are just as many tobaccos. The darker tobaccos are richer in flavor and burn cool while the lighter ones burn hot and can be poignant. Most seasoned pipe smokers find a blend they prefer and will take the time to blend the tobaccos on their own, ensuring it is done properly.

To many pipe smokers, the pipe is a piece of functional art and/or jewelry, similar to a watch or a fine pen. One would be hard-pressed to find a man carrying a Mont Blanc Meisterstück pen and wearing a Rolex and hear he doesn’t smoke a seasoned Dunhill, or at least did at one point in time. Some things just go together. Oh, and he isn’t carrying a simple Bic lighter, but one specifically designed for his pipe. As will be mentioned below, even the pipe lighter has a fascinating history.

Sadly, it seems the pipe is fading into the shadows of history to make way for the high-tech world of today. It is going the way of the hand-written letter written in proper cursive (an art rarely taught today, which is tragic), the analog clock, the percolator and the true Fedora. For the love of all that is good and decent, a decent pocketknife, once carried by all gentlemen, is now seen as a threat to society, confiscated on sight. But many of us have an older man in our lives, or did, who opens a small chest that smells of cedar and pipe tobacco, containing fascinating treasure. Therein lies a medal from his time in service, a comb glistening with Brylcreem, a whittling knife, a fountain pen and dry inkwell, a feather once worn in his Fedora, and a beautiful and well smoked pipe.

Even if this aspect of history has fallen prey to the times much in the same way as the incandescent light bulb, may we never forget it had a place in history for a long, long time. The smoking pipe was once a major part of the landscape, its unique fragrance mingled with the candle wax and whale oil. It is truly a part of who we once were. To forget that would be a shame.

How It Was Done Properly

While the health puritans will say what they will, there are those who still find the smoking pipe an enjoyable pastime as well as a rich tradition going back umpteen generations. But there very well may be at least as many people who have picked up the pipe and then gave it up for the more convenient cigars and cigarettes, with the inability to keep it properly lit much to blame. While it is true that keeping a pipe properly lit requires more attention than the rolled cigar or cigarette, but cigars and cigarettes help lend to the secret as to why. Basically, it is because they’re properly packed. Filling and packing the pipe is the simple little point that so many novice pipe smokers fail to understand. So, knowing how to pack the pipe and then light it properly could make all the difference for those considering the hobby and for those who want to try again.

  • Don’t place wads of tobacco into the pipe bowl. It’s far better to loosely intersperse the tobacco into the bowl rather than drop in clogged pinches of it. The packing should be uniform from top to bottom or else there’s the potential for hot spots that can damage the pipe, or it simply going out. Sprinkle it in and gently pack as it fills, until there’s a firm but slightly spongy feel to it. Then put it to your mouth and draw on it. It should as if there’s something in there, but it should not be so tight that the draw is laborious. This will take a little practice to find that sweet spot.
  • The pipe tamper is essential. This pipe smoking tool is likely the key element missed by most people who try the pipe and quit. In fact, most who tried and gave up frustrated are completely unaware of the pipe tamper. The pipe tamper is an essential tool that aids in the packing process (and it should be noted that tampers can be glorious works of art). It is used to pack the tobacco even more once the tobacco is lit. It may be as simple as looking like a nail or be quite fancy, but it is basically a tool with a foot of some sort that tamps the tobacco down.
  • Once the tobacco is properly packed, it is time to light it. A pipe lighter is recommended because the pipe lighter directs the flame directly towards the tobacco, whereas other lighters place the edges of the bowl at risk. Matches are nice, too, but not nearly as convenient. Hold the pipe comfortably and place the flame to the tobacco, gently drawing the flame in to get the burn going. Do this until the tobacco is burning well and evenly, and drawing through a rich smoke that doesn’t seem too hot. If it is hot, the packing may be too loose. If drawing through is laborious, it may be packed too tight.
  • The time has come for the tamper. Once the pipe is lit, continue to gently draw the smoke while gently tamping the burning tobacco with the tamper. When the tobacco was first lit, notice that it rises up some while burning. Tamping it back down will repack the tobacco after it has been burned; this is now the completion of the packing process and what was so often missed by novice smokers. Tamping after lighting will create a firm top of the packed tobacco. While it is a good idea to continue drawing on the pipe to keep it lit, it may go out at this stage of the process.
  • Once again, light the pipe. Now that the pipe is properly and completely packed and tampered down, light it again as before. Direct the flame into the pipe’s bowl and gently draw on the pipe until the desired effect is achieved. This will create a more uniform burn and, provided the smoker is not ceasing the draw for any length of time, the pipe should remain lit for as long as the smoker desires.
  • Know that not all tobaccos are the same. Experience will show that different tobaccos burn differently. This is not a problem but part of the joy of the hobby. Darker, moister tobaccos do not burn as hot or as fast as lighter colored, drier tobaccos. Many smokers find a mix they’re happy with, while some may prefer lighter or richer tobaccos. Keep this in mind when packing the pipe, as darker, richer tobaccos may not require to be as tightly packed as lighter tobaccos.

The above steps should help make a marked difference for those who find the pipe interesting but don’t know how to proceed. The pipe smoker new to the hobby should keep in mind that the packing process is not a chore to be endured, but a pleasurable part of the process. A cigarette is merely a fix; lit and then smoked and then discarded. The cigar gives a bit more pleasure and variety, but requires little need other than the lighter and cigar cutter. But the pipe is a process of pleasure; there is the pipe, the tamper, the lighter, the unique tobaccos and several other accoutrements that come with the package. They’re an enjoyable pastime, a pleasure, a hobby of sorts, and a part of a human tradition going back to simpler and yet harsher times when such distractions made a big difference. Enjoying a pipe brings one into that fold. Soon after that, one is enjoying the artistry of those who make the pipes, the tampers, the pipe furniture and so much more, and then the pleasure escalates to something else- the feeling that one is part of some exclusive membership that others just don’t understand. So for those of you who like the idea, let the health nuts ramble on while you join the historical ranks of one of humanity’s simpler and innocent pleasures.

Each, One of a Kind

Collectible and Valuable

Since the smoking pipe that was once quite common has now become more of a unique sight, it has become quite the collector’s item. To be specific, not only is the smoking pipe a collector’s item, but the various accoutrements that go with the pipe have become collectibles, too. Not only are these items collectible, but functional, and can be both simultaneously. It is a pleasurable note that pipes can easily retain tremendous value even after being smoked through for numerous years. This is not the proverbial uncirculated coin or pristine Beanie Baby; the smoking pipe is a functioning work of art that’s meant to be used for what it is made. But there are a few things collectors should know when considering creating a pipe collection or adding to it.

  • Certain pipe maker brand names are more valuable than others. Like many name brand collectibles, pipes have certain names recognized with collectible value, while others rarely are. Steadfast names such as Dunhill, Peterson, GBD, Caminetto and a list of others are proper to watch for, while a new Dr. Grabow fresh off the corner store rack may not be worth much. However, an old and unique Dr. Grabow may be worth more than a beaten and damaged Dunhill, so age and condition do matter.
  • There are more pipe makers than most could easily count. There are so many individual pipe makers, artists really, that precious few serious collectors would dare claim they know of them all. Not only are there innumerable amounts of the artists, but their works are so unique to them. Some pipe makers create simple, functional pipes while others create amazing works of fantasy meant to delight virtually all the senses. A search engine query for pipe makers or smoking pipe artists would produce hours of enjoyment for the pipe aficionado.
  • It isn’t just the pipes that are collectible. There are all those pipes out there, but they don’t function alone. Part of the fun in smoking a pipe as well as collecting them is all the stuff that goes with it. A search engine query for the pipe tamper would surely surprise all but the most experienced pipe collector. The tamper is merely a tool that compresses the tobacco in the pipe bowl; a simple broad-headed nail could do the trick and often does. But the creativity of so many artists has been captured by the possibilities within the tamper, with a stunning work of artistic beauty being the result. Pipe lighters also have a broad range of choices and styles, including the historic pipe lighters popular before the invention of the match. They were iron or brass bowls of various shapes and sizes (referred to as the smoker’s brazier), coming with a pair of tongs so the smoker could pick glowing coals from a fire and keep them within these bowls in order to use them to light their pipes. One of these pipe lighters in fine shape would fetch a fine price, providing the collector of today recognized the antique pipe lighters for what they were.
  • The tobaccos are at least as varied. What with the various Virginia Burleys, the Black Cavendish, The Oriental Mountain Latakia, the Brocken and the Perique along with subtle and gracious hints of cherry, walnut, whiskey, vanilla, and even blackberry, combined with cut assortments nearly as sundry as the flavors, styles, origins and even methods of growth and harvest, pipe tobacco surely offers the smoker the broadest assortments. What are mentioned above are mere hints all the various sorts of pipe tobaccos out there. For the serious collectors, tobacco jars run the gamut in terms of styles, materials, and ranges of luxury. Some have found the various one ounce tins many high-end tobaccos come in to be either collector’s items, or perhaps a mere place to store pins, paper clips, and other small doodads.
  • The pipe furniture. Pipe furniture, which can range from a simple pipe rest for one pipe to elaborate cabinetry designed to hold perhaps dozens of pipes in slots and racks designed specifically for the smoking pipe (usually limited to the classic shapes) can be practical but also stunningly beautiful. Pipe stands are often made of the finest woods and stained perfectly, often featuring carving skills of experienced artists and craftsmen. Pipe furniture, much like the pipes and all the other accessories, run a seemingly endless string of choices for the collector.

This sort of collecting can provide so much joy and satisfaction to the collector, but for those just starting out, be warned. Like coins, stamps, and so many other collectibles, pipes and their accessories can prove to be daunting in price. A new Dunhill can easily approach four figures in price, and so could an old Dunhill that’s been smoked through for years. Used pipes (often called Estate Pipes) are also heavily sought by collectors as mentioned above, so they’re something to be watched for by the serious collector. Also, for those new to the world of pipes and their ways, please take note that the white pipes often seen carved into beautiful shapes are NOT made of ivory. Instead, these are made from a white, soft mineral known as Meerschaum. While most pipes are made of briar, many are also porcelain, brass, steel, and as you know, corn cobs, among other workable materials. All of these facts and so many more make the smoking pipe a great way to enjoy a passion for collecting.

Different Lighters

The Various Pipe Lighters

While one may wonder if the art and pleasure of smoking a pipe appears to be going the way of the Dodo (a hasty notion prompted by the fact that we simply don’t see so many pipe smokers out and about anymore), one can find the options for the pipe smoker to enjoy the leisure far more expansive than ever before. Because the pleasure of enjoying a fine smoke in a good pipe has been around for so long, aesthetic endeavor has found its way in, giving the smoker beautiful pipes and many, many beautiful accessories.

The pipes themselves can present a myriad of shapes, colors, styles, finishes, and even materials from which they are made. The same can be said of some of the accessories, such as the tamper (the tool used to pack the tobacco in the pipe’s bowl), the tobacco pouch, and even the tobacco within that pouch can come from a wide assortment of choices, often from all over the world. All of these things can be pretty or ascetic, beautiful or merely functional, and they all come in a wide variety of styles. But if there is one thing these items have in common as compared to another thing in the accessory pile is that they are inert. The pipe is a mere vessel, as is the pouch, regardless of how beautiful they are to the beholder. Pipe tobaccos come in so many varieties that counting them is a chore, but they too are a simple and inert material. The one thing in the pipe smoker’s pocket that requires mechanical function and precise engineering is his lighter. Then, like his other smoking materials, his lighter is unlike the lighters of other smokers.

Lighters can be like any of the other materials within the pipe smoker’s collection, in that they can be basic or stunning, merely functional or quite luxurious, and ranging in price from a few bucks to several hundred dollars. Yes, a high-end lighter can rival one’s power bill in terms of cost. But, one of the primary differences between the lighter in the pipe smoker’s pocket and that of the cigar or cigarette smoker is that a pipe lighter is unlike any of the others in a fundamental manner. There is indeed a pipe lighter; a design and function specifically geared towards the unique paradigm of the pipe and its needs.

When one lights a cigar or cigarette, the lighting of that product is quite basic (although the cigar smoker needs to work in a few factors, such as a complete burn and so forth), while lighting a pipe, although also basic, is quite different. An upright flame easily lights the cigar or cigarette; not so with the pipe, particularly if one does not desire to damage the outside of the bowl. Sure, one can tilt their usual lighter into the bowl, but this can be awkward with some lighters that do better with a maintained attitude; an upright stance where fuel does not rush towards the flame or, in the case of some Zippo lighters, onto the users hand. Lighter fluid seeping onto the fingers of someone holding an open flame in the same hand can be more than awkward. Further, anyone knows the proper tool is designed for a specific job. One does not drive a screw with a hammer. Because the pipe works the way it does, with the tobacco being down inside the bowl, the lighter must accommodate these dynamics effectively.

The solution isn’t complex; the lighter merely needs to divert the flame from emerging directly from the top of the upright lighter and have it come out one side, often at a 45 or even 90 degree angle. This is really the only major difference of the pipe lighter compared to others, but this one difference is a major one. The difference between a half-inch socket and a one quarter-inch socket is a fraction of an inch, but this difference makes or breaks the functionality of that socket. That illustrates how important it is that the pipe lighter projects the flame from the side as opposed to the top, and there are reasons for this.

Because the tobacco is down within the bowl, the flame must be directed towards the tobacco without placing continual risk on the edge of the wooden, finished bowl. By using a lighter not best suited to the pipe, serious damage will eventually occur to the pipe, distracting from its appearance and eventually shrinking the life of the pipe. What with some pipes approaching four figures in price, this does not make sense to risk. Further, there is the mere human-engineering factor; the fact that one doesn’t want to awkwardly hurl one’s elbow to the sky in order to light the pipe. Also, the pipe lighter improves on the simple function of the match. A simple match allows one to place the flame directly over a bowl and draw the flame down in to ignite the tobacco. But since the match is so vulnerable to the slightest breeze, the pipe lighter acts on the same principle but improves on it with a continuous flow of fuel, and since the point where the flame emerges can be placed down within the bowl, the edge of the bowl blocks the wind. Voila, the tobacco is lit and the pipe is unaffected by that direct flame.

All right, so that explains the basic function of the pipe lighter; now for the myriad of choices available to the smoker. There are some nice, yet inexpensive choices for the pipe smoker, and a few of them are quite classic. For example, Zippo, which is a famous name in lighters, modified the typical design of their lighter by adding what appears to be an O-ring, or a barrier around the area where the flame emerges from the lighter. This simple modification turns this tried-and-true lighter into a pipe lighter by creating a situation where the flame is encased in the metal of the lighter where the flame can be positioned perfectly to ignite the tobacco without risking the pipe itself. This is another example proving that the best ideas are often the simplest of ideas.

Other pipe lighters range in cost, material, craftsmanship and luxury, but still merely offer the flame to emerge from one side. There are several lighter making companies, such as Colibri, Corona, Old Boy, Dunhill, and Imco, just to name a few. The Imco might cost ten to fifteen dollars, but work great and provide years of use as well as look appealing enough. Your author uses one of these. Other pipe lighters easily dip into the hundreds in terms of cost, and they fall into the range of functional jewelry, much in the same way as a fine pen or watch. Your Parker pen or Timex watch is relatively inexpensive, but your Waterman pen and Citizen watch challenge most budgets. The working man who smokes a pipe may overlook the Dunhill or Colibri pipe lighter because of cost, but rest assured he would treasure the item should he receive it as a gift. They’re hardy and they’re usually guaranteed, but they are pricy.

Just like other lighters, the pipe lighter might provide the flame in different ways, such as that of a flint or an electric spark, and a basic fuel such as that of the Zippo, or a butane propellant from a can. If you use a butane propellant to refill your lighter, keep in mind that it is best to bleed and empty the lighter before refilling, as this good habit keeps the propellant from going stale and debilitating function and reliability. If you’re refillable lighter tends to flicker when lit, your propellant is getting stale.

A few nice additions often coming with a pipe lighter and found on many models are the pipe-specific motifs emblazoned on the side, sometimes featuring a pipe, but sometimes featuring a montage of various pipe shapes. Then, in order to be both creative and functional, many pipe lighters come with other pipe tools built in to the lighter, complete with a tamper and pick inserted somewhere on the pipe lighter. These extra tools might either fold out or pull out entirely, depending on the model. This offers awesome function, efficiency, and a great way to show exclusivity within this particular field of smoking. Truly, a fine quality pipe lighter complete with its own pipe tools and then pretty enough to enjoy company with a fine watch would undoubtedly be among a fellow’s finer possessions.

Since we’re discussing the age-old pastime of pipe smoking, let us stroll down Memory Lane, go right on History and then take it all the way to Legend to gander at the pipe lighters of decades and even centuries ago, and they were there. What follows is quite fascinating, since a good bet would be that fewer than five percent of all pipe aficionados reading this would have known this before now. These pipe lighters were for the specific use of lighting a pipe (although using it to ignite any other smoke was quite appropriate) and they precede the days of the old-style friction match. Yes, dear reader, you read that right; these antiques would be a treasure to behold in any pipe smokers possession, and would be a fascinating conversation piece, since originals are likely centuries old.

If you saw one of these antique pipe lighters and were unfamiliar with what it was (such would be the case for the vast majority of us), you could be challenged all day to guess what the item was and you would never get it. That’s because the item, these pipe lighters used so long ago, appear to be more of a decanter or small candy dish than anything else. These pipe lighters were often called pipe lighters, but they also bore a name that was more appropriate, often called a smoker’s brazier.

Before the days of a match or a modern lighter, the smoker needed to light their pipe or cigarette with embers from the fireplace or the stove, often using a small tong to grasp an ember to lay it in place to ignite the tobacco. So the smokers of those golden days designed a small (and often ornate) container for these embers, allowing one to have the embers on hand without placing risk to the table or their lap. These little braziers would be containers for embers, allowing one to grasp an ember with a tong and then place it into the pipe to ignite the tobacco. As said, the uninitiated would never recognize the item for what it was, since they often look like little cream decanters, candy dishes, or something similar. They were a small, shallow bowl or dish, usually iron, steel, brass, silver, or something similar, even earthenware, often little more than four inches in diameter, and often (but not always) complete with a handle. They may rest on a few small feet or a pedestal, while some had no such appendage but instead sat down on a separate vase-like receptacle.

Here we go again, with an item designed to be a specific tool and provide a specific function, yet replete with so many varieties of aesthetic appeal. The bowls were often round, but could be square, oval, octagonal and so forth, and a few even looked like a scoop, facilitating easy retrieval of the desired embers. They were beaded, fluted, scalloped, and otherwise decorated in so many ways, according to the sphere of artistic ability on the part of the craftsman. What adds to this dramatic flair of artistic value is that these items, the originals anyway, are quite old. The newer ones date back to the mid-1800’s.

Their history suggests they were first made as long ago as the 1600’s but fell back from popularity sometime in the 1800’s, when the friction matches common even today came into being. Some evidence suggests many were still made long after the sulfur friction match blossomed in popularity, likely out of nostalgia, but during the time of modernization (causing a loss of the wooden embers to other fuels warming the stove and fireplace, such as whale oil, giving a dramatic sense of antiquity) they drifted into obscurity. This explains why so few people would recognize them for what they are, lending so much nostalgic amusement and joy to any pipe smoker lucky enough to possess an original one.

These ancient precursors to the lighters of today give credence to the history and widespread frequency of the pipe and those who smoked it, lending more weight to the other artistic and modern accessories as well as the pretentiousness often assigned to pipe smoking, rather than the low-brow demonizing attributed to the smokers of cigarettes. The health gurus of today will say what they will, but the sheer amount of smoking items offered to the pipe smoker as well as the rich history of these items lends to the viewpoint that pipe smoking and our host of methods to enjoy it is among the simple pleasures enjoyed by mortal humanity through the ages.

Tampers Tampers Tampers

Tampers are Important Tools

Like the watch or the fountain pen being functional works of art, there is another functional work of art lesser known but by those initiated by the bite on the tongue from the smoke of a pipe. This unique work of art is the pipe tamper. The pipe tamper is merely a small, handheld tool used to pack the tobacco into the bowl in order to gain the proper packing of the tobacco to burn properly. In fact, for many who have attempted to take on the pipe but failed, did so because they misunderstood the concept and requirement of proper packing of the tobacco. The trick is that the tobacco cannot be packed too loosely in the bowl, or too tight, for neither error will allow the tobacco to burn. Take a look at a cigar or cigarette; these are quite firm to the touch because the tobacco is tightly packed within the cylinder, but they allow a draw through the tight weave. It’s a moment of amusing smugness on the part of the pipe smoker that they know a secret that’s baffled those who sought their fold yet failed to recognize the concept. Yea, for those who do not achieve the enlightenment of cosmic nuance cannot appreciate the structure of mysticism; so it is with dilettantes who fail to recognize a properly packed pipe when they feel it on the tip of the finger or thumb.

The pipe tamper likely started out as Spartan as the roof nail. In fact, it was likely identical to the roof nail, or a horseshoe nail. In fact, the pipe company Brebbia sells a pipe tamper called a horseshoe nail for about a buck, since this is a great, cheap tamper. The one end of the tamper has the foot used to tamp the tobacco, while the other end has a tapered scraper used to pull out old and burned tobacco. It really couldn’t be any simpler. But, tampers can be lustrous works of art, too; a work of art limited only by function and then the sphere of the artist’s imagination.

The tamper has a ‘foot’, as mentioned before, which is the end used to tamp or stomp down the tobacco. Then, the rest is simply the staff or handle held by the hand to do the work. Now, there are tampers equipped with a scraper and a pick used to clean the bowl, but that’s about it when it comes to accessories. Voila, it is quite that simple, which is why Brebbia’s horseshoe nail is perfect for the job. But because the civilized mind adores all things aesthetic, this tool gives license to a new venue for the artistic mind, and then we have tampers made of beautiful materials and carved or formed into eye-catching shapes, colors, and sizes.

Often, gorgeous tampers are lathed from many rare or exotic woods, such as cocobolo or you name the pretty wood, often fitted with a small boot of Briar to pound the mound of tobacco. Because Briar is such a hard wood, which makes it perfect for the pipe (many other woods couldn’t hold up to the heat) many tamper artisans use a small piece of Briar to make the boot in order to protect the rest of the tamper from the extreme heat of a burning bowl of tobacco. Or, the entire tamper may be of Briar, as this lovely little wood lends itself perfectly to such a work of art, in part because of the beautiful grain. Other stunning tampers have been machined from brass, bronze or steel, giving the masculine beauty of a luxuriant tool, often carved or engraved to accentuate the appeal and capture attention. Further, many tampers have been created from a surplus of semi-precious stones, creating stunning and beautiful tools made unique by the singularity of the material.

There are very beautiful tampers made from various resins, which allow the artist to instill their imaginations into the resin and create beautiful designs, as well as unique shapes of the tamper that feel good in the hand. Often, these tampers are fitted with a brass or steel boot, and sometimes may be fitted with a pick that screws into the opposite end of the tamper, hiding the pick until it is needed. The shaft of the tamper, by using these sorts of easily manipulated materials, can be virtually any color, blend of colors, and created with a wide array of subtle yet original shapes worked into the workable template of the cylinder.

Tampers can also be made to resemble something intriguing yet common, making it statuesque. There have been tampers made to look like a baseball bat, with the end near the handle being the tamper boot, as you could imagine. There have been tampers made of brass or pewter and looking like a woman’s leg, complete with garter and high heel shoe. The boot of the tamper is not the shoe, but above the garter by the thigh. There have been unique tampers looking like an entire miniature statue standing on top of the functional boot, although these often look quite fragile.

Because the pipe itself is often a work of art, finished to function and be pleasant to the eye, one’s pipe tools should be the same. Usually, one’s tobacco pouch is a pretty leather pouch, warm to the touch. Lighters are often pretty pieces of functional jewelry, with many lighters escalating to hundreds of dollars apiece. So, if one is smoking a Dunhill Root Briar Rusticated Half-Bent Dublin carried in a leather pouch paired with the finest Latakia or Burley tobaccos lit with a Coliqui lighter worth more than the average car payment, it doesn’t make sense to tamp the tobacco with a Brebbia pipe nail. Complete the assortment with all that performs and beguiles, including a beautiful tamper. There is no doubt an attractive tamper would easily be a conversation piece.


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      a very extensive article on pipes and pipe smoking. I was once a pipe smoker, many years ago. I was one of those who could never get a pipe broken in properly.

      My mother told me a story about my father and her.

      My dad and grandfather were pipe smokers. She overheard dad telling her stepfather that "I could never get a pipe broken in properly because as soon as I did Ethel(my mother)would boil it in water." Mom thought she was doing something good by sanitizing it.

      voted up and shared.


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