Sherlock Holmes and the Calabash Pipe
"Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest,” said he. “Nothing has more individuality, save perhaps watches and bootlaces.” – The Adventure of the Yellow Face, Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes’ notorious calabash pipe is an iconic representation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s affinity for pipe smoking. His novels inspire millions of people, and are still being read today because of the mysterious, thrilling events and detection work that take place. The infamy behind Sherlock Holmes’ calabash pipe, however, was not a part of the original writings of Doyle. In the books, it mentions Holmes smoking three small pipes, but it never mentions the huge calabash pipe that he is so famous for. In fact, the calabash pipe wasn’t introduced until 1899 when William Gillette proudly displayed it as a prop in a stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Since then, the calabash pipe is seen as an iconic artifact that is associated with Sherlock Holmes.
Gillette chose a calabash pipe due to its lengthy stem and large stature. The curved stem enabled the pipe to swing low, out of Gillette’s face, so he could see the crowd. The sheer breadth of the pipe was for the audience, so they could see it from far away.
However, there is a lot more to the calabash pipe in the portrayal of Sherlock Holmes than meets the eye. For instance, the largeness of the pipe is said to represent Holmes’ vast intellect and immense ego. The largeness also contributes to the “depths of his contemplative nature” (Gyles, n.d.). The larger the bowl, the longer it takes to smoke and pack the pipe. For disciplined smokers, this is seen as a wonderful process that is to be treasured. It emits a sense of tranquility and serenity as one takes up the ritual of smoking the pipe. The purpose is not for a quick nicotine buzz, but rather the intricacy of the routine itself.
Sherlock Holmes’ turns to his pipe “at moments of intense introspection” (Gyles, n.d.). Throughout the novels, Holmes’ uses the pipe as a tool to help him think as he’s trying to find suspects and unearth mysteries. This simple act is what made the calabash pipe so appealing for pipe smokers.
When you picture Sherlock Holmes, you picture the calabash pipe. The calabash pipe is like a reflection of his personality, which is what a pipe is for most pipe smokers. The use of his pipe in times of need is indicative of his love for the ritual and hobby itself. A pipe is a way to escape your current reality and dive into a state of mind that allows you to be free and let your thoughts flood you. I also believe the frequent tobacco use was a reflection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself and his love for pipe smoking.
Holmes’ partner, Dr. Watson, was known for smoking tobacco as well, and regularly puffed on pipes and cigars. Holmes, on the other hand, was known for engaging in all sorts of tobacco-smoking activities, from pipes to cigars to cigarettes. The frequent use of tobacco throughout the novels lends itself to becoming useful during a case when Holmes’ finds the suspect based on cigarette ash that had been tampered with. In the novels, Holmes actually states that he can identify over 140 different types of tobacco purely based on ash, which would have been extremely useful during that time (Russ, n.d.).
I think the popularity of the calabash pipe is truly for those who enjoy the introspective, mysterious nature of pipe smoking. Any pipe will give you this sensation; however, it is the shape and function of the calabash pipe that draws in the select few. It’s a gaudy pipe, and definitely not a subtle one. Yet, the tedious ritual of packing and smoking it has grown into a highly sought after pursuit for the intellectual. The infamous nature of the calabash pipe has become an icon around the world as a symbol of chivalry and methodical introspection. Doyle’s portrayal of pipe smoking was almost identical to that of his own nature. His similarities between himself and Sherlock Holmes ignited a series of stories that would live on beyond his time, inspiring people all over the world.
Gyles, D. (n.d.). The Calabash. Geist. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from https://www.geist.com/blogs/notes-from-the-ashtray/the-calabash/
Russ. (n.d.). Russ' Views On Sherlock Holmes. Pipes and Cigars. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from https://www.pipesandcigars.com/faq/on-sherlock-holmes/1818123/