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Home > News, Articles & Multimedia > Blog Entry > Up in Smoke: From the Calabash to the Hookah, Collectible Tobacco Pipes Abound

Up in Smoke: From the Calabash to the Hookah, Collectible Tobacco Pipes Abound

by Terry Akins (04/04/13).

Arab man smoking pipe, late 1800s.

Tobacco use has taken many forms over the last five hundred-plus years, from cigars to cigarettes, plugs and snuff. But none offer up as many collecting possibilities as the tobacco pipe.

Use of the tobacco pipe has been in and out of fashion since first gaining stature in the 17th century. It fell out of popularity as cigars, cigarettes and snuff became prevalent in the courts of Europe, as well as among the common man. As new materials became available in the 18th century, pipe artisans and craftsmen were inspired to create collectible works of art to meet the needs of a more style-driven consumer.

Pipe smoking has bridged every society and class over the decades. Famous 20th-century American popular culture icons include, Albert Einstein, Bing Crosby, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway, not mention fictional men of esteem such as Sherlock Holmes, Santa Claus and Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

The use of tobacco pipes declined in the second half of the 20th century as the health risks of smoking became apparent. However, in recent years pipe-smoking clubs have been a growing trend at colleges and universities worldwide. With this tobacco pipe renaissance, the collectability and price of smoking pipes has begun to rise. As a result, certain pipes and pipe makers are becoming recognized as valuable collectibles; names such as Dunhill, Peterson, GBD and Caminetto, to name a few.

Some of the things to consider when selecting a pipe are the shape, imprint, color, stripes, carvings, mouthpiece, finish, liner and packaging. There are many types of pipes and the use varies according to the tradition behind that pipe type, which we will get to soon. But first, a little about where and how pipes were developed.

History of Pipe Smoking
Egyptologists discovered what looked like specks of tobacco clinging to the fibers while studying the mummified remains of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses the Great (reign 1213 BCE) in Paris, 1976. There has been much debate about the earliest origins of the smoking and use of tobacco since then. However, the American Heritage Book of Indians states that “Tobacco was nearly everywhere in the Americas by 1 BC. Between 470 and 630 AD, the Mayans began moving as far as the Mississippi Valley spreading their custom to the neighboring tribes.”

This Sioux medicine pipe was picked up by Louis Rott after the Battle of Little Muddy Creek on May 7, 1877. This is on the high end of pipe collecting, selling for $23,900 at auction in May of 2011.

The Imperial Tobacco Canada website states that the first pictorial record of smoking is a pottery vessel found in Uaxactun, Guatemala, that dates from before the 11th century. On it, a Mayan is depicted smoking a roll of tobacco leaves tied with a string. Columbus was given the gift of tobacco by Arawak and Taino Indians in 1492 but he threw it away. Some of his sailors took up the habit and began to spread it worldwide.

Ceremonies and Use
The Native Indian pipe ceremony is a type of prayer that connects the physical and spiritual worlds. The fire in the pipe represents the sun, which is the source of life and tobacco represents the world with roots that go deep into the earth. As the smoke rises, the energies of the universe and ultimately the Creator, bond between earthly and spiritual realms. Other uses for smoking have been medicinal. In Greece, Hypocrites used it to cure female ailments and later, French scholar Jean Nicot, introduced it to French royalty as a way to cure sneezing and headaches.

Bought in Canada in 2003, this Native American wooden peace pipe resides at the other end of the spectrum, selling for $12.33 on eBay UK.

Pipe Materials
Since its inception, tobacco pipes have been made from nearly every material available. Artisans started experimenting with materials such as stone, wood, pottery, stoneware, amber, antler horn, bone, gutta-perch, gold and silver. Most Native American peace pipes were created using pipestone and wood. Pipestone is a clay-like compacted stone in which a hole was carved out on the side, heated and hardened over fire to make the bowl. The stem was created by hollowing out a piece of wood which was attached to the bowl in order to complete the pipe. Other pipes were made from argillite, limestone and catlinite. Craftsmen in Alaska, Greenland and Siberia often used walrus tusks, while early Europeans used tin or iron to make “trade pipes,” aptly named because they would trade the pipes for goods.

Although millions of pipes were manufactured between 1600 and 1925, four materials emerged as the most reliable pipe making materials; clay, wood, porcelain and meerschaum. In the 1600s the clay pipe was introduced in England and quickly gained popularity throughout Europe. Americans colonists imported clay pipes until the American Revolution and afterwards began to manufacture their own. Porcelain pipes were produced in Germany in the 1700s and later manufactured Austria–Hungary and Denmark. The 18th and 19th centuries brought wood pipes of every known variety, but one made of the heath shrub (erica arborea), native to the Mediterranean coast and commonly known as briar, became the most popular worldwide. The American corncob pipe was invented after the Civil War, and still being manufactured as a novelty item today.

Types of Pipes

The following is a list of the most common types of pipes:

A nice example of Calabash pipe, with light coloring on the gourd and featuring a meerschaum bowl. It was bought for $61 in 2007 on eBay.

Calabash Pipe: A curved pipe with a meerschaum bowl, also called the “Sherlock Pipe” because it was used in illustrations in Sherlock Holmes stories and depicted in film, even though Arthur Conan Doyle never describes Holmes’ pipe as a Calabash. Meerschaum is a mineral that has gone by the names Venus of the Sea, White Goddess, sepiolite, sea foam or sea froth. While meerschaum can be found in the U.S. and it commercially mined in Nairobi, the best comes from Anatolia, Turkey.

A Native American Indian inlaid calumet peace pipe. The two paper labels state: “rare 1850 to 1860 calumet with cut-a-way stem and catlinite bowl with lead inlay rings around the bowl” and “From the South Dakota area, probably Sioux origin.” It was purchased at auction for $2,250.99 in 2010.

Calumet Pipe: Also known as the ceremonial “Peace Pipe,” which is used by some Native American tribes such as the Sioux, Iroquois and Cherokee. It has ritual and religious importance in many tribes.

An Afghan wooden chibouk pipe from the second half of the 19th century. It is 49 centimeters long and has features an octagonal stem. It sold on eBay for $55 in 2010.

Chibouk Pipe: This is a very long stemmed pipe, usually from 4 to 5 feet in length. The name stems from the French word Chibouque and is used in the Turkish and Iranien cultures.

This hookah, standing a little more than 5 feet tall, was originally purchased in Egypt and features beautiful inlay in the brass and four hoses. It brought $279 on eBay in 2011.

Hookah Pipe: Also known as a “water pipe,” which originates from Persia and India. The pipe varies in design from single stem to multi-stemmed varieties in which flavored tobacco called mu‘assel or shisha’ smoke is passed through a water basin before inhalation.

An antique Japanese senryu-type pipe, together with a brass and bamboo kiseru holder, depicting 12 carved animals. It sold on eBay for $233.50.

Kiseru Pipe: A traditional Japanese pipe that is typically made with a metal mouthpiece and bamboo or wood shaft. Since this type of pipe has long metal ends the Kabukimono Samurai often carried it as weapons in the Japanese Edo period.

This antique Hindu Brahmin sadhu baba chillum pipe, made of clay, sold in 2008 for $99.99 in 2008.

Chillum Pipe: Also known as “Chilam.” This type of pipe is a straight conical pipe that is usually made of clay. It was used by Hindu monks, known as Sadhus, in 18th-century India. This type of smoking became popular worldwide in the 1960s.

A selection of modern handmade wooden medwakh pipe for dokha, you can have one for $11.99.

Midwakh Pipe: Also spelled “medwakh,” it originates in Arabia. This is a small and narrow pipe that is filled with dokha,’ an aromatic tobacco that consists of bark herbs and aromatic leaf. This type of smoking remains popular today and is four times stronger than most commercial cigarettes.

A new Moroccan sebsi pipe made of apricot wood and three bowls. It comes with a leather pouch for storage. It can be had for $19.99.

Sebsi Pipe: Also spelled “Sibsi,” it is a traditional Moroccan smoking pipe that is very narrow and can be as long as 18 inches. The head of the pipe, which is called the skuff or shkaff, is usually made of clay and the stem is typically made of wood.


Terry Akins began her media career as a Los Angeles celebrity hairstylist and makeup artist. Starting with beauty products and blog, Terry quickly found a following and discovered a new career. She added to her portfolio by writing a music blog for the Examiner from her home in Tennessee. Branching out via client request, her portfolio now includes articles about children, parenting, fashion and construction. She currently moves between the cities of Los Angeles, Calif., and Jackson, Tenn.

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