A Book Review – The Pipe by Georges Herment


Blog by Steve Laug

1433852Beyond its simple cover, this book has a subtitle that is very 19th century— “a serious yet diverting treatise on the history of the pipe and all its appurtenances, as well as a factual withal philosophical discussion of the pleasure art of selecting pipes, smoking, and caring for them.”

I picked this older copy of Herment’s book up in a thrift shop in the US on a trip to visit family and friends in the late 1990’s. It was one of the first pipe books that I found and started me on the hunt for other books to add to my tobacciana collection of books. This one was printed by Simon and Schuster in 1972. It was a reprint of the original print in 1954, 1955. It was originally sold for $2.95 and when I bought it used it cost me $4.95

Herment’s Introduction, originally written in 1954 gives a sense of what he wished to achieve in his writing of this book. It also gives a sense of the spirit in which it is to be read. I quote his Introduction in full:

“At the risk of disappointing the reader on the very threshold of this book, we feel it our duty to warn him that it has been written in the manner of a poem, by a flash of happy inspiration.” p.xi.

“As may well be the case with a poem, twenty years of meditation and brooding have scarcely been sufficient incubation to produce these few pages. In the light of these observations it will be easier to grasp what follows:” p.xi.

“Treated in a purely technical style, a subject such as ours could not have failed to rebuff the simple amateur. On the other hand the veteran or professional smoker would have considered it too superficial to satisfy his requirements, not full enough to fulfill his desires.” p.xi.TOC1

“Thanks to a complete and exhaustive knowledge of the subject, after year of experience and research, we have been able to conceive this work in its fullest scope and present it to the reader just as the spirit came to us – current calamo. Such has been our aim. Have we attained it? The reader, be he veteran or amateur, must be the judge. – G.H.” p.xi.

As I have done in previous reviews I have included a copy of the Table of Contents to the left. I always read that when I am beginning a book to understand the logic of the book. In this case Herment has given us a good view of the way he treats the topic of the pipe. He divides his book into 5 parts with each pipe covering a different aspect of the pipe. The book is also illustrated with line drawings throughout.

PART 1 starts where most of the pipe books that I have read start – with the history and manufacture of the pipe. The difference is that it does not begin with the discovery and bringing of tobacco back to Europe. It does not go into the growing or manufacture of pipe tobacco. It merely looks at the pipe itself. He includes 8 short chapters that cover the topic at hand.

Herment begins with a chapter on definitions and diagrams and explanations before going into the rest of the section. The diagrams and definitions set the playing field for a common discussion of the author with the readers. He points out key points that he will unpack in the rest of the book.

From there he works through the various materials used in making pipes. He discusses clay, porcelain, meerschaum, wood (rosewood, cherrywood), other materials such as bone and Moorish copper tubing with wooden bowls before finally discussing briar. He singles out briar for special attention because of it being the focus of the book he is writing. The author’s style of writing is refreshingly crisp and quick. He moves rapidly, yet thoroughly through the topics he has chosen to discuss.

Each short chapter in PART 1 gives not only a description of the pipe but details on how the materials are fashioned and worked to become the object that we now call a pipe. It is a concise description that gives details of construction, shaping and manufacture of pipes.

PART 2 is dedicated to the pipe and all of the necessary and tangential accessories that have been manufactured for the pipe smoker. He presents the material in seven chapters that detail the topic at hand. He looks at the briar itself and describes the different pipe shapes that have been manufactured. He includes a shape chart and names for each shape. He also looks at the drilling and shape of the bowls, the materials used for the stems and how those stems were inserted in the shank of the pipe. He gives a really well written description on the parts and function of the pipe.

The second chapter in this part is dedicated to anti-nicotine contraptions. This chapter is by far one of the most interesting as it spells out some of the creative means that were developed to minimize the nicotine from the tobacco.

The remainder of the chapters, other than the one on snuffboxes, explores the various accoutrements of pipesmoking beginning with the tobacco that is smoked in the pipe and ending with the rack to hold the pipe.

PART 3 is all about smoking and caring for a pipe. This part is composed of nine chapters that take the reader from the proper packing of a pipe, lighting it, smoking it, emptying it out, cleaning the bowl and stem (each smoke, thorough cleaning and disassembling the pipe and cleaning), seasoning the pipe and finally reaming it. Herment has some really interesting concepts in each of these sections. Some of them have long since ceased to be used but are fascinating to read about. For instance in the chapter on lighting the pipe he uses a method that I had not seen until I read it here. A piece of paper is put on top of the bowl and filled with tobacco and pressed into the bowl. The paper is twisted at the top forming a fuse and that is lit. As the paper burns the tobacco is evenly lit – or at least it is according to Herment.

Part 4 covers the issues of the Pipe and Health. In this chapter the author shows that the opinions on tobacco are evenly divided between those who see it as a health risk and those who see moderate use as inconsequential or giving stress relief. It is an interesting read to see how far our culture has departed from this kind of even presentation of the facts. He also gives anecdotal accounts of how tobacco was used for relieving constipation (enema) and to act as a vermifuge. It is a fascinating read.

Part 5 is the final part and includes some final questions and a conclusion. The final questions were not what I expected when I turned to this chapter. What the chapter covers is the longevity of the pipe – will it be with us forever. Herment says that yes. Here is the direct quote at the conclusion of his discussion:

“We have said that the pipe is eternal. Its outward shape may change, may evolve, may possibly modernize, but the principle of the bowl-mouthpiece remains forever immutable.” p.162

And another quote

“But while virgin, the pipe remains a Sleeping Beauty. It is not until the first whiff of smoke has risen from the bowl that its true life begins. So let us awaken it – and when awake may it prove to be the true Pipe of Peace, reminding us that we are all brothers.” p.162.

To me that would have been a great end to the book but the author adds a Conclusion. To me the final sentences are typical of the style that is found throughout the book. I quote it here to close this review.

“One would think less of drowning a dog than of throwing a pipe in the dustbin – but then a dead dog cannot be awakened, but there will always be found men everywhere who will awaken the pipe.” p.164.

I heartily recommend this book. I have read it many times over the years since I bought. It is amusing, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable. I learn, laugh and reflect on the turns of phrase that Herment seems to have captured. He knows the pipe and when I have read his book I feel like I know him.

Amazon.com lists copies of the book for sale as does Google books. Purchase one and I don’t think you will be disappointed.

3 thoughts on “A Book Review – The Pipe by Georges Herment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.