From the early days of tobacco smoking, clay tobacco pipes have played a key role. North American native peoples fashioned pipes from many materials – stone, wood and also clay. Some examples of native American clay pipes are shown here. The early European settlers saw tobacco as a one of the many interesting New World plants and right up there with adding the newly discovered tomato to the bacon and lettuce sandwich, pipe and cigar smoking became the rage in the early 17th century prompting the rise of a clay pipe manufacturing industry.
The small bowl of the Elizabethan era clay pipes is commonly attributed to the scarcity of tobacco. Clay pipe bowls grew larger as the availability of tobacco rose and the cost of tobacco dropped.
By the mid-eighteenth century millions of clay pipes were produced annually all over Europe and in the American colonies. Examples of Dutch pipes are still found today around New York. One of our customers sent us photos of an early Dutch clay pipe he uncovered in the Hudson River a couple of years ago. His pipe looks almost identical to the Dutch Gouda style pipe we sell at Pipeshoppe.com.
Certainly briar pipes were common by the mid-19th century and by the 20th century had replaced the clay pipe as the smoking instrument of choice. Yet the lore of the clay pipe endures and even in the coffeehouses of 1920s Vienna, long pipes with clay bowls were the fashionable choice of pipe smokers.
Why smoke a clay pipe?
Clay tobacco pipes have been an integral part of the pipe smoking experience since the early 1700s and they are making a strong comeback with today’s pipe smokers. Clay pipes have a strong following among period reenacters, but also among pipe enthusiasts who want to enjoy a smoke the old fashioned way. A few clay pipes also help expand the pipe smokers collection of smoking instruments and any collector will tell you, “You can never have too many pipes.”
Today, many of our pipes find their way into the rucksacks and suttler tents of Revolutionary War, Civil War, and other period reenactments. Having a connection with history helps us keep the present in perspective. Having a clay pipe not only brings the past into our present it helps slow down the moment. Pipe smoking is relaxing by its nature and smoking a clay pipe requires an even more deliberate and refined relaxation to be truly enjoyed. One really needs to set aside other pursuits when enjoying a clay pipe. A clay doesn’t lend itself well to being clenched in the jaw while doing various chores. Take it from me, eating clay pipe shards takes away from the joy of raking leaves on a windy fall day.
So you will want to sit or walk comfortably when engaging in a nice smoke with your clay pipe. Taking a stroll is totally fine. Reading a book while smoking your clay pipe is more than acceptable, it’s to be encouraged. Why you want a clay pipe is really a matter of enjoyment and personal satisfaction. Unwind at the end of a hard day or crazy week with a bowl or two in a plain (or fancy) clay pipe and let the worries of your world drift away with the rising smoke.