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The allure of clay pipes

Over the spring and summer, I have been watching the AMC show Turn on my Netflix account. It is a show about George Washington’s spies during the Revolutionary War. No, it’s true, I don’t have a life and I have nothing better to do, so I watch shows on my computer. I enjoy the show and especially the actor Samuel Roukin who plays, in my opinion, the most annoying character on television. He’s great but what holds my interest the most are the scenes inside the taverns where you can see extras smoking various styles of colonial clay pipes.

The new 15" colonial tavern pipe
The new 15″ colonial tavern pipe

In this time of rapid change, disturbing unpredictability and unsettling new realities, the draw of an idealized version of the past is nearly irresistible. Even going back a year would be freedom incarnate, a mask-less wonderland. But aside from the lack of indoor plumbing and no email, the late 1770s has some major attraction, at least for me. After all, as a purveyor of clay tobacco pipes, I would probably fit in quite nicely.

As to the pipes themselves, the 15″ long colonial tavern pipe once offered by the pottery at Williamsburg and now an exclusive Penn Valley Pipes standard item is the essential tavern pipe for the Revolutionary War reenactor. An equally fine example of the colonial-era clay pipe is the Dutch Gouda style pipe that was used as far back as the early to mid 17th century particularly in the New York City, Hudson Valley area by the Dutch settlers.

Six inch colonial clay pipe

Some of our most popular Old German Clay Pipes also fit the colonial-era style. The large-bowl #4 which comes in both white and black versions is a typical tavern pipe and one that will offer a long smoke on a pleasant evening out-on-the-town, once upon a time. Another pipe worthy of attention is the Old German #29. This pipe has a long stem and a medium-size bowl and is an 18th-century pipe in the European tradition. The slender and smaller bowled Old German #5 is another tavern-style pipe that has been one of our most asked for clay pipes.

Markus Fohr #5
The Old German Clay Pipe #5 is an excellent example of an early clay tavern pipe

Whenever the harsh realities of the world begin to intrude on my already rattled brain, I pick up one of my trusty clay tavern pipes, fill it with my favorite tobacco and sit back and tune into the next episode of Turn. It works for me, maybe it will work for you.

Be Safe,

2 thoughts on “The allure of clay pipes

  • Don Martosko

    How do I smoke a clay pipe without burning my fingers? Those things get pretty hot. I’ve made my bones smoking a cheap clay pipe that I picked up at a thrift shop, but I have a clay pipe that my grandfather bought in Czechoslovakia in the early 1900s. It’s still unsmoked, but I’d like to put it to use, once I know exactly what I’m doing. I have to admit, I pipes are quite different from briars.

    • KC Ellis

      Hi Don,
      Yes, clay does get hot. Generally, you will want to hold the pipe along the stem instead of the bowl. With a longer stem pipe like the #4, #5 or the churchwarden style pipes the heat won’t be as much of a problem because it will easier to hold the pipe without getting your fingers too close to the bowl.

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