Daily Archives: April 5, 2014

A Book Review – Tobacco, Pipes and the Pleasures of Pipe Smoking


IMG_5918 This beautifully illustrated little book was produced in Canada to be given as a gift to pipe smokers by the – Turmac Tabakmaatschappij Canada Ltd. In their introductory preface they declare their intent to give it as a gift to be enjoyed as much as they enjoyed collecting all the stories and anecdotes about pipes and pipe smoking. They end their paragraph with the words; “We hope that it will add new pleasure and meaning to your pipe smoking”.

On the inside fly page there are these words: “I keep a friend in my pocket… my pipe. When I sit out on the porch at the cottage and the evening is quiet, I like to take my friend out of my pocket, tamp in bright, golden shreds of tobacco, and light up.

Then, when the bowl glows red in the dusk, when the bit tastes warm, and fragrant wisps of smoke trail in the still air, peace comes to me and my friendly pipe.”

The book is a short 35 page overview of the field of pipes, tobaccos and pipe smoking itself. It is not divided into chapters but rather into sections. Virtually every page is filled with beautiful photos, engravings and pen drawings of pipe history. A wide variety of photos of pipes grace the pages – from ancient clay to modern clay, from briar to meerschaum.

The book begins with a brief history of tobacco and the art of smoking it. It development is traced across the continents on both sides of the Atlantic, or Pacific as the case may be! There is a quick walk through Columbus and the discovery of tobacco and its use among the indigenous population of the Americas. The name tobacco comes from what these people called their smoking tubes – Tobaga. It later morphed into our now well known term tobacco. The text quickly moves to Sir Walter Raleigh’s impact on the use of tobacco in the British Isles. The entire history is brief and well written. It moves through 8 pages and covers a broad scope of history in a way that is a pleasure to read – interspersed with quotations from early journals and drawings and photos from the time periods discussed.

From there the book turns to the history of the pipe itself. In a section entitled “From Coconut to Seafoam”, the authors give a brief introduction of the materials that have been used in making pipes. The section moves through the materials in quick order in a compact and entertainingly written piece. It begins with the coconut used in Nargilehs in the orient to clay, porcelain, iron, steel, bone, stone, silver, copper and bamboo and finally to the meerschaum and then the briar. The section then develops longer treatments on each of the major materials – clay, porcelain, meerschaum and finally briar.

I found it particularly interesting to read the well written discovery of the meerschaum pipe. A Budapest Shoemaker named Carl Kovac was the first man to carve a meer pipe. This section reads like a well written short story.

There is a short section on Pipe Smoking and Fine Art in which the writers quickly summarize the presence of the pipe in fine art. Again it is not the breadth that gives the subject its interest but the choice of what to cover. In a short paragraph the Dutch masters, Rembrandt and Honore Daumier are all mentioned.

The section on the pipe ends with a description of the briar pipe and its development from burl to pipe. In a succinct section the process of pipe making is delineated with enough information to be entertaining and informative.

From the discussion of the pipe the book turns to discussing what we smoke in our pipes. IN very short and descriptive sentences tobacco growth and processing is covered with a brief glimpse of Virginia, Burley and Oriental tobaccos and how they are processed to the leaf we smoke.
The next section is pictured below and is entitled “A Guide to Tobacco Blending”. The descriptions are well written and concise. I don’t think I have ever read this kind of compact and clear writing that is also entertaining and direct.
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Once the details on various blends are explored the text turns to the art of choosing a tobacco. I had to laugh when I first opened the book and found the tobacco placard below inserted at this point in the story. It was almost like a bookmark and of course is one of the blends that gifter of the book manufactures.
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The section on choosing a pipe was fascinating reading. Again in the style of English that is clear and pointed the authors give the major things to keep in mind when choosing a pipe of a particular shape and finish. They provided the following diagram as a part of the book that is helpful.
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The last sections of the book can be summarized as tips for pipe smokers and includes all the information necessary to load and light a pipe as well as what is necessary to take care of it as you use it in the course of your life. There are tips on how to have and maintain a dry smoke, how to care for the cake in your pipe – proper reaming procedures etc are diagrammed to help the pipe smoker visualize how to keep their pipe functional and delivering the best possible smoke that it is able to deliver. It also includes a section on accessories that are necessary for having a great smoke. These include pipe cleaners, liquid pipe cleaner, humidors, tobacco pouches, ash trays, pipe tools, pipe racks and of course the pipe collection!

The closing paragraphs of the book bear quoting. They give both a great conclusion to the book and a clear picture of the writing style of the book. It is that which captured me the first time I read it and that which keeps me coming back. I quote:

“ A day can never be completely without brightness as long as there is a glowing pipe in hand, nor can a man be alone, for in a good pipe there is companionship, its warmth is like a glowing hearth where in there is deep understanding and peace.

You like the friendliness of a man with a pipe and what better compliment to a friendship than for a man to offer you some of his own special tobacco. Just this one simple act will tell you he is gracious, reliable, unselfish and, above all, considerate.

A good pipe and a good tobacco say good things of a man. And the good things that it does are many: it gives heart to the man at work, it accompanies his leisure hours and brightens his fireside at night.

His cares, his worries drift away in the air, weariness floats away and disappears, it brings hope for the days ahead and the contentment of well-being. It is a brightener of conversation, the maker of friendship.

In its aroma there is comradeship, and in the goodness of its taste there is unending pleasure.
Indeed a simple pleasure with deep satisfaction, and priced so that a man may enjoy the contentment of hours, if he has but two silver quarters.”

I think that well summarizes the beauty and pleasure of this small book. If you can find a copy you will not do wrong to buy it whatever the cost. It is a treat to read and has the ability to lift you from the mundane of your days. The following drawing in on the end piece of the book.
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