A Brief History of Tobacco Smoking Pipes


Humans have smoked different herbs in a variety of unique ways throughout history, and the tobacco pipe has easily been one of the most popular. Although pipes are usually associated with Europe a few centuries ago, the long and fascinating history of these pipes can be a bit spotty, but there is evidence to suggest that pipes for smoking were used in ancient Egypt all those thousands of years ago. With so much interesting ground to cover over time, in this article we thought we’d go into the history of these pipes, from the ancient world to now. And you never know – you might even want to get your hands on a pipe afterward to be a part of history!

The origins of the tobacco pipe

Tobacco pipes have been found in archaeological remains all over the world, with evidence that the Romans, Celts, Greeks and Nordics smoked herbal products over the course of hundreds of years – or more! Our understanding of how pipes were used in these cultures is still patchy, however, and the best understanding of the origins of pipes, and tobacco specifically, lies with Native Americans. When cultivated by Native Americans, tobacco was used as part of ceremonies for medicinal purposes, where it was shared between people symbolise reconciliation between tribes. It was only after these rituals were observed by Christopher Columbus – who then brought tobacco leaves and seeds back with him to Europe – that tobacco smoking became noticed elsewhere. It was during the mid-16th-centurythat tobacco was introduced to France, Portugal and England where it was very quickly popularised by diplomats and adventurers. As with the Native Americans, pipe smoking was the first way tobacco was consumed in Europe, with clay pipes most commonly used by those who indulged. This form of clay was referred to as ‘Koalin’ or ‘China Clay,’ named after the location where the clay was extracted from.

Pipes and materials in Western culture

The clay pipes that were in vogue were hugely popular, but clay, as a fine but dense material, created clean smoke but would burn hot. As pipe smoking grew in popularity across Europe, custom designs became common on clay pipes, and marking the beginning of pipes as an art. The mid 18th-century saw meerschaum introduced as a material in pipe-making, a mineral found in Turkey that differentiated itself from clay with its unique colouring. Tobacco pipe bowls were eventually crafted out of materials such as briar wood, corncob, and rose-wood, while less common materials included dense woods such as cherry, olive, maple, and minerals such as such as catlinite and soapstone. Most of these materials require a separate stem, which is often made out of mouldable materials like Ebonite, Lucite andBakelite. In addition to the adoption of new materials, the invention of the windshield pipe by Alfred Dunhill in the early twentieth century occurred even at a time when cigarettes were slowly being adopted by the masses.

Pipes today

Although pipes are rarely used by people outside the home, there are still pockets of people who admire the craftmanship that goes into creating pipes. Despite not many people smoking with pipes on a regular basis, the evolution of pipes can be witnessed in many museums around the world, and its importance in history will forever mark these interesting smoking tools as special.