Pipe Smoking—The Beginning
“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis
As many of you know, I smoke a pipe. And while I really don’t mention it a lot on this blog, if you were to visit me we would, more likely than not, find ourselves sitting outside having a nice conversation and I’d be smoking a pipe. I might even offer you one, if you’re so inclined.
What I’d like to do is write a little series on pipe smoking. Perhaps some “how to’s” and what not. Who knows? I might even start a YouTube channel about it.
But one thing I’d like to try to do is tie pipe smoking together with theology and biblical study. A lot of people find the two—pipe smoking and spiritual commitment—diametrically opposed to one another. But as we saw in the Lewis quote above, it can be quite helpful and shouldn’t be seen as opposites. In fact, I’d say the two are more aligned than one might think.
Where to begin?
I think I should start at the beginning, quite naturally, with my first remembrance of a pipe. That prestigious honor goes to my paternal grandfather, Ralph Gillespie. I remember being very young, still in grade school, sitting with him outside in his front yard. He’d be sitting in a lawn chair watching the people passing by. Some would greet him, “Good evening, Mr. Gillespie,” “Hello, Ralph,” “Good to see you,” and everyone would wave. He’d always wave back and answer them, “Good to see you, too,” “Hello, Ian,” “Good evening, Mrs. Fitzgerald.”
As much as that was a staple—grandpa sitting outside watching people pass by—so was the pipe in his mouth. I remembered he had different colored pipes—a white one stands out in my mind—and they were all billiards (i.e., straight pipes) of average length.
Now, I’m not so sure about which tobacco he smoked (some aromatic blend of cherry or vanilla) or his routine of cleaning and rotating his pipes (he had three or four) but I remember quite vividly the sight, sound, and smell of grandpa smoking a pipe.1
Fast-forward several years to my thirty-somethings.
A friend of mine smoked a pipe and one evening he threw away a pipe bag containing two or three pipes, a BIC lighter, some tobacco, etc. The bag had gotten soaked in a recent rainstorm and ruined everything.
Or so he thought.
I rummaged through his bag and discovered one of the pipes—a freehand Dr. Grabow that one might find at a supermarket—wasn’t all that bad. It was practically dry. I let the pipe air out for a couple of days and then took it to my local pipe and cigar shop. I asked the young man at the counter, “So…how do I smoke this thing?”
“Just a minute,” he said and then went to the back room. After a few moments, he came back with a letter size piece of paper on all the how-to’s of pipe smoking (I think it may have actually been about a page and a half of instruction). I bought some of their best selling tobacco (I learned later that this was Lane Limited’s 1Q) and some pipe cleaners. He threw in some matches and a pipe nail.2 I went home and started reading.
Sometime later I purchased my first pipe—a little no-name ¼ bent sandblasted pot shaped “basket” pipe.3 I even tried some “better” tobaccos made by Mac Baren.4
And then the knowledge came.
Not because of the pipe and tobacco (or maybe it was) but because I started learning more about pipe smoking. I subscribed to magazine aptly titled Pipes and Tobacco.5 It’s one of the few magazines that I read cover to cover. Within it’s pages I discovered a whole world and history around pipe smoking that continues today. I learned about different pipe makers—Peterson, Savinelli, Dunhill, Stanwell, etc.—and tobacconists—Orlik, G.L. Pease, Samuel Gawith, Kramer’s, etc. Sometimes, the same people who make pipes also have their own tobaccos—Peterson, Savinelli, Dunhill, etc.
And from that, I started looking into higher grade pipes. And one of the makers that really caught my attention was Peterson. What I liked about Peterson pipes was their “System” pipe. The Peterson System pipe was a revelation in the pipe smoking world. Charles Peterson created a pipe with an extra chamber in the stummel that collects the moisture that occurs when smoking a pipe. The stem of the System pipe was modified, too. Instead of having the opening at the end of the stem (sometimes called a “fishtail”), the Peterson stem (or “P-Lip”) has the hole at the top of the stem. These alterations create a cooler, dryer smoking experience. Charles Peterson patented his designs in the late 19th century and his System pipes remain a cornerstone of the Peterson brand.
The first Peterson System pipe I purchased was a rusticated version of the shape number 317. And after that, I was well on my way to becoming a seasoned pipe smoker.
I remember having some coffee one evening with that friend who threw away his pipe bag. I was showing him some technique for loading his pipe with tobacco and he had such a proud look on his face. “The student has become the teacher,” he said behind his big, broad smile.
Next time we’ll look at different reasons for smoking a pipe.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. Something else I remember is Santa Claus smoking a pipe. You might even find some old advertisement depicting this. In fact, the original version of the poem, Twas the Night before Christmas, attributed to Clement C. Moore, contained these words, “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.”
2. This is a very rudimentary tool that looks just like a large nail with the point flattened out and rounded at the end. That end is used to scoop out the ash and any remaining tobacco (known as “dottle”) and the head of the nail is used to tamp down the tobacco while you smoke it.
3. When a pipe is made it goes through all kinds of quality controls. Sometimes, when the pipe doesn’t make the cut for whatever reason—the draft hole is askew, pits or other blemishes appear in the stummel, etc.—the manufacturer won’t even put their name on it. It’s just stamped “Italy” or “Briar” or something. They reduce the price considerably and sell them in bulk. When the shop owner gets these pipes, they usually put them in a wicker basket, thus the name, “basket” pipe.
4. I have “better” in quotes because some people may not think Mac Baren is a better tobacco than Lane Limited and visa versa. We’ll see as we continue in these articles that pipe smoking is a very individual thing and we all can only speak from our own preferences and experiences.
5. Another great resource is the Pipedia web page.