The lost art of pipe smoking has slowly but surely been climbing back into vogue. For many, smokers and nonsmokers alike, the sweet aroma of burning pipe tobacco takes them back to fond memories of their childhood, playing on the floor while their grandfather puffs away in his rocking chair. For others, the sweet smell reminds them of Sherlock Holmes, Gandalf the Grey, or other literary heroes. Some people see anyone under the age of eighty with a briar pipe clenched between their teeth and assume it’s another hipster who calls himself a mixologist and insists music can’t be appreciated unless it’s on vinyl. Regardless of how many Portlandians reach for the pipe as a fashion accessory, pipe smoking will likely stand the test of time, outlasting cigarettes and cementing its place at your local tobacconist between the Camachos and Cohibas.
Pipe smoking may be experiencing a resurgence, but it is the oldest method of smoking tobacco. First enjoyed by Native Americans in the sixteenth century, tobacco pipes remained the most widespread way to enjoy the vice until cigarettes were popularized by British soldiers during the Crimean war. Even after cigarettes became fashionable in Europe, it was not until after World War I that the world seemed to trade their pipes in for machine rolled cigarettes.
Tobacco has been a staple crop of the Americas since before Europeans colonized the continents. As soon as quality American leaves began to be shipped across the Atlantic, tobacco has been as cherished by the soldier as dry gunpowder. Tobacco contains Nicotine: a stimulant. It is no secret to anyone who has stood a post or sat in a fighting hole to appreciate why soldiers crave stimulants. Almost immediately, the pipe became a loyal companion to the world’s combatants. Whether standing in the trenches or on the deck of a man-of-war, tobacco pipes were a staple of military service. As seen in Peter Jackson’s 2018 masterpiece They Shall Not Grow Old, the troops of World War I were rarely without a pipe in their mouth. The World War II flicks of the 1940s and 50s emphasize the popularity of Lucky Strikes and other rationed cigarettes, but a brief dive into wartime photographs reveal the pipe never left. Tobacco pipes remained popular throughout Korea and Vietnam as well. It is much easier to store loose tobacco and a pipe than a soft-pack filled with paper cigarettes in the austere conditions of battlefields. The newest generation of warfighters have shown an ever-increasing interest in the world of pipe smoking.
Pipes, like cigars, can seem both enticing and intimidating. No one is sure where to begin, and no one wants to look like a fool when they walk into the local cigar shop without a clue of what to ask for. And like cigars, the only way to learn is to jump in headfirst. There is an overwhelming variety of pipe tobaccos out there, ranging from a few dollars for a bag to a over one hundred dollars for a small tin− don’t let the snobs fool you, all pipe tobacco is worth smoking but not all of it is worth buying. Begin by sampling a few cheaper blends. Decide if you prefer English blends (no added flavoring and typically containing oriental tobaccos) or Aromatics (lightly flavored), from there the world is your oyster. As far as pipes go, the price variation is even more severe. I always tell people to pick up a Missouri Meerschaum Corn Cob (under $20) because they’re cheap, smoke great, and Popeye smoked one. If you have something against corn then pick up an estate pipe that you like the look of, but don’t spend more than $100. Be patient learning how to smoke your pipe. It will take a few tries before you can smoke it smoothly without re-lights. Enjoy the process.
Pipe smoking is far more calming than any other form of tobacco use. Despite being a stimulant, the slow nature of pipe smoking forces your mind to slow down. It has always been the working man’s means to meditation. The process of packing, lighting, and smoking a deep bowl of burley is a sure way to ease your mind and let you contemplate the things you hadn’t even been aware were plaguing you. Pipe smoking is the philosopher’s hobby and the warrior’s way to introspection. Worried pipe smoking is too pretentious a hobby? I’ll leave you with this−
Upon his retirement, Chesty Puller exclaimed all he would need for the remainder of his life was his wife’s cooking and a daily tin of pipe tobacco.
-Mac, Pipes & Pages