Although Sir A. C. Doyle may never have included a calabash among Sherlock Holmes collection of pipes, the pipe has over the years become synonymous with the cultural image of the consulting detective. I’ve owned a calabash, the one shown on the left, for several decades and I confess that the image of Basil Rathbone smoking one as Sherlock Holmes most certainly informed my decision to make the purchase. The odd thing is that among all the photos of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock, I could only find one where he appears to be smoking a calabash, whereas a full bent briar seems to be the most commonly used prop in his many films of the Sherlock series. Other actors, Jeremy Brett, Roger Moore, Tom Baker among others did indeed use a calabash in their portrayals.
Why the calabash? It really has nothing to do with film or literature at all. Its appeal is simply the magnificent marriage of gourd with block Meerschaum. A pipe smokers pipe par excellence. The pipe makes a striking image, the sensual curve of the gourd with an overflowing top of white block Meerschaum crafts the beauty of nature into an elegant design unlike any other pipe. This is not a knock around, everyday pipe. The calabash will not lend itself well to a workday standby where one simply grabs a pipe, fills it, lights it and carries on the business of the day, be it writing a blog, walking the dog, carrying out the trash or heading out to the parking lot for a quick smoke break. No, smoking a calabash requires a commitment, short term though it may be, a commitment nevertheless. This is the kind of pipe you sit with contemplating the deeper philosophical intricacies of existence, not a pipe you might run across on the campaign trail of, say Donald Trump, more the kind of pipe you take seriously, a worthy companion when reading an absorbing book. I don’t mean to imply the Hillary would be drawn to smoke a calabash, although, in truth, Bernie and I have never discussed which pipe styles the other candidate might prefer.
Recently, I run across Meerschaum bowls inserted in gourd shaped briar. These are indeed nice pipes. I also have a calabash shaped briar pipe given to me as a gift back in the early 1980s that was designed by Ed Burak of the old Connoisseur Pipe Shop and remains one of my most cherished and often smoked pipes, still nothing is comparable to an actual gourd calabash. Penn Valley Pipes is fortunate to have partnered with calabash maker Nefise Zisan of CPW Calabash Pipes to make African Gourd Calabash pipes available to our customers.
New calabash pipes
Calabash pipes of this quality are rare but worth the price to any serious collector of fine smoking instruments. We have two currently on display and we will be getting more over the summer. Long live the Calabash!