A Collector’s View of Classic Smoking Pipes

The Native Americans were the first people to smoke tobacco in pipes in the eastern woodlands of North American between 500 BCE and 500 CE. Indigenous tobacco in clay or stone platform pipes were used and bowls became more sculptural over time. Learn more about the history of classic smoking pipes.

Calumet and Early Pipes

The Calumet is a decorated, ceremonial pipe smoked to bring rain to parched lands or to bring the wrath of God down unto enemies. The peace pipe, with a wooden shank, was often decorated with feathers or quillwork. What set it apart from other calumets was the bowl, often carved from catlinite, named for 19th-century painter George Catlin. 

European Pipes

Some of the European pipes evolved out of clay called kaolin, mineral potters often use the same material to make fine china. Thousands of pipe makers took root in England and Holland while back in America, clay pipes were common and inexpensive enough to be given away to customers. Wood became a fast favorite of pipe makers with hard woods such as walnut, cherry, rosewood and maple setting the precedent. Germany, Austria and Hungary became known for carved, wood pipes such as the U-shaped Ulmer and Debrecen styles. Germans also enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the creation of porcelain pipes, which appeared around the end of the 18th century. Similar to U-shaped Ulmer pipes, porcelain pipes were initially hand painted. 

Evolution of Meerschaum

Meerschaum pipes were first carved in Germany but the material was a soft, whitish stone from Turkey. The brand became prized for its absorbent stone that took in tars and oils from tobacco, resulting in a smooth smoking experience. Vienna became known as the meerschaum-carving capital of the world by the 19th-century, well versed in making U- and L-shaped pipes with intricate, detailed carvings of animals and mermaids, among other designs. Some meerschaum pipes featured bas-reliefs on the sides, others were more finely polished using techniques closely guarded.


The last great pipe material is briarwood, with French roots from the tree-heath bush, which grows along the Mediterranean shore. The wood is hard as a rock that does not lend itself to carving as intricate as meerschaum but artisans have carved beautiful faces into briarwood pipes anyways. The most classic and traditional of all pipes, the shapes include names like pear, billiard, pot, Dublin, bulldog and prince. Many briarwood pipes are sanded and polished until the grain glistens but is also popular to sandblast the outside of the pipe to create a mottled effect.

Other Noteable Pipes

The corncob (Missouri meerschaum) was made famous by General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. The calabash also deserves mentioning which was made from curving African gourd and a bowl carved from meerschaum. The calabash is synonymous with Sherlock Holmes due to its appearance in the film series starring Basil Rathbone. 

Stop by our website to find the perfect pipe and accessories to fit your lifestyle and collection. We carry the finest artisan crafted pipes on the market. Feel free to call us with questions or to receive help in your search.

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