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Past and Present Pipe History | Then Versus Now

Past and Present Pipe History | Then Versus Now

Where were the first pipes smoked?

According to archaeologists, the first pipes were found in Egypt circa 2000 B.C. and were made of copper. The pipes were found in the tombs, buried with the mummies for the afterlife. However, the purpose of these pipes is inconclusive, whether it was purely for recreational or for religious ceremonies. Romans, Celts, Greeks, and Nordic tribes picked up tobacco pipe smoking, and carried this tradition with them for centuries.


How did pipe smoking reach Europe?

Christopher Columbus is the one to thank for bringing tobacco with him back to England when he left the “New World.” However, it wasn’t until diplomats and adventurers started a pipe-smoking trend, that it started to become popular in England in the mid-16th century. Jean Nicot was another contributor to the pipe smoking revolution by introducing the medicinal purposes of the tobacco leaf. The word nicotine can be contributed to Jean Nicot himself. Sherlock Holmes made the “calabash” pipe popular, with its long stem and mellow smoke. The first calabash pipes were made from the calabash gourd with a meerschaum lining.


When did pipe smoking become popular in America?

Native Americans were the first pipe smokers in America. They used pipes, or calumets, in their religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. During these religious ceremonies, smoking the pipe acted as a channel of communication between humans and sacred beings. The “buzz” you get from smoking, due to the nicotine, was a signal that the communication channel was working. As for medicinal purposes, tobacco was used to cure toothaches, earaches, act as a painkiller, and as an antiseptic.


Materials (Past and Current)

The first pipes in 16th century England were made out of a dense clay material, which burned very hot. As time went on, pipes became more detailed and were being made with better materials. For example, Meerschaum is made of white clay from mineral deposits, and was immensely popular because engravings could be carved into them, making them more unique. However, the meerschaum pipes would burn too hot, and they couldn’t be held at the base; they had to be held at the stem, or else you would burn your fingers. After the fall of meerschaum a century later, pipes made from briar would be introduced and would reign the most popular material to this day.


Pipe Shapes (Past and Current)

There are thousands of shapes of tobacco pipes made from briar today, and they can be divided into nine families - Apple, Billiard, Bulldog, Calabash, Canadian, Dublin, Freehand, Sitter, and Curiosity. The Apple pipe is a rounded pipe, hence the name, and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The Billiard pipe has a taller, cylindrical, smooth bowl that is the same length as the shank. The Bulldog pipe varies in shape and size, but its name comes from the squat bowl, resembling the mushed face of a bulldog. The Calabash pipe gets its name from the gourd it is made out of. The Calabash pipe was popularized by Sherlock Holmes himself. Although Calabash pipes are now made with wood, the pipe is more associated with its cone shape and curved stem than its material. The Canadian pipe is known for its long shank and tall, smooth bowl, resembling the Billiard pipe. The Dublin pipe is known for its cone-shaped, tapered bowl, which gives the tobacco a unique taste. The Freehand pipe is shaped like it sounds; the artist shapes the bowl in whichever unique likeness he prefers. The Sitter pipe is known for its flat bottom, which allows it to “sit” when it’s not being smoked. Lastly, the Curiosity pipe is much like the Freehand pipe in the sense that it’s oddly shaped, and doesn’t fit into one particular category.


Final Thoughts

The history of the pipe is essential for understanding its popularity. Pipe smoking didn’t become popular until someone of importance tried it, thereby starting a trend that would outlive them. Nowadays, pipe smoking can be attributed to its chivalrous roots, and is seen as an art of manliness. Understanding the history of pipes and how they were used in various cultures leads us to believe that a pipe is more than just an object, it’s a way of life.




Alexander, J. B. (2020, July 10). History of Pipe Smoking and Pipe Tobacco. Holt's. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from 

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2007, March 29). Sacred Pipe | American Indian Culture. Britannica. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from 

Ellie. (2018, April 12). A Brief History of Tobacco Pipes. Havana House. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from

Hilton, M. J. (2000). A Social and Cultural History of Smoking. Britannica. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from

I, R. (2021, March 12). Tobacco Pipe Shapes & Materials Guide. Bespoke Unit. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from




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