The Wizards of Oddities, Yesterday and Today
By Ben Rapaport, Spring 2022
Obviously, this title borrows from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Oddity: a strange or peculiar person, thing or trait, the quality of being peculiar, offbeat, eccentric, or oddball. I use oddity as synonymous with rarity, curiosity, singularity, or conversation piece. This narrative is about some unfamiliar tobacco pipes of the past, some atypical pipes of today, and the possible historical linkage between them. It’s not a Homer-Simpson-simple, slam-dunk, defensible explanation. It’s an interpretive study that I believe is worthy of consideration.
Throughout the history of tobacco pipe-making there have always been more than a few oddities, some Rube-Goldberg-like contraptions, contrivances, and gadgets, rather unconventional-looking smoking utensils. Taste is subjective, personal preferences and aesthetic judgments vary, so, reader, we may not agree on what is an odd-looking pipe, or what is/is not a conventional or traditional tobacco pipe. The pipes in this article are not Steve Martin “wild and crazy”; they are creative, but a bit outré for my taste.
The best global portrait of pipes is “Tobacco-Pipes and Smoking Apparatus” (The Practical Magazine, 1873):
Chinese, Japanese, Philippine Islanders, Madagascans, Central Africans, Algerine Arabs, Mexicans, Paraguayans, Siamese, Tahitians, South American Indians, Mongols, Malays, Tartars, Turcomans, as well as the nations of Europe, and the chief nations of Southern Asia, all have their smoking pipes, plain or ornate, as the case may be, and made of wood, reeds, bamboo, bone, ivory, stone, earthenware, glass, porcelain, amber, agate, jade, precious metals and common metals—according to the civilization of the country and the pecuniary means of the smoker.
And this from T. B. Cooper, “The Story of the Tobacco Pipe” (The Reliquary and Illustrated Archæologist, 1907):
In every clime and country the fumes of tobacco are inhaled through some kind of tube, and a collection of the world’s pipes would contain more types of peculiarity than there are nations or tribes upon the face of earth. Little more than a century ago a nation’s pipes were, as a rule, made of the most suitable and available material found in their respective countries, and some peoples of necessity still adopt what seem to us very curious and strange devices.
Whoever produced them seem to have focused on their outward appearance, perhaps their eye-appeal, with absolutely no concern for their smoking quality. Inspiration or ingenuity or some other motivation prompted their creation, but it’s unknowable whether they were made for a pipe smoker or for display in a showcase. For example, the convoluted Prattware puzzle pipes and English and Venetian glass pipes were not intended to be smoked. The porcelain pipe was popular for almost 200 years in France, Germany and Austria-Hungary. It’s non-porous, so it did not breathe, and was impractical to use, so the experts called it a tongue-burner, a dreadful smoke, a fetid cauldron, and a perambulating chimney. All-metal pipes? They were once popular in England, France, and Germany, and they’re still being made, but they are no longer “all metal.” (Think Kirsten and Falcon system pipes.) The utensils native to certain cultures, collectively called ethnographic pipes—such as the hookah, the Japanese kiseru, and our own Catlinite (Pipestone) pipes—may seem odd to us, but were/are still legitimate utensils for smoking tobacco.
Here is one example of an early, out-of-the-ordinary pipe! Considering its age, the materials employed, and the fitted case, I can only conclude that it must have been crafted for someone of royalty.
Let me put the subject of odd, different, unusual pipes into perspective. “The talents of the draftsman, the potter, the sculptor, the turner, the polisher, the painter, the gilder, and the gold and the silver smith, are all called into requisition by the modern pipe manufacturer” (“Tobacco Pipes,” Scientific American, March 6, 1869). It’s less true today, given that many of these talents are no longer engaged in the manufacture of pipes. Chauncey Thomas takes issue with some of these contrivances: “All fancy types of pipes are apt to be no good whatever” (“Smoking the Pipe,” The Technical World Magazine, 1907).
What follows are a few pipe oddities to illuminate their material, configuration or size. They all are, for sure, different than we might expect in a smoking pipe.
This late 19th century amber figural pipe was at auction in June 2020 with an estimate of $2,500—$3,000 (Global Auction Company, Gardena, CA)
The pipe has a thin briar lining, but the cigar and cigarette holder do not. Bakelite is formed from a condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde, a flammable chemical! It’s toxic. What was this manufacturer thinking?
Now I turn to the format known variously as a double-, dual-, two- or twin-bowl tobacco pipe. The term is mentioned at various times throughout history, the pipe assuming various shapes, engaging various mediums. There’s ample evidence of the existence of double- and multi-bowl pipes and I believe that they’ve always been a one-off smoking utensil to anyone who has smoked a conventional one-bowl tobacco pipe. The earliest mention of any type of double-bowl pipe that I found is from Columbus’s time: “Father Romana Pano, chaplain to Christopher Columbus, who was left behind on the Island of Hayti, in 1496, tell us that the Indians there delighted in smoking the leaf of the Cohoba, or Gioia, or Yoli, which is simply our tobacco plant, through pipes with a species of double bowl, and that they called the blowing of the smoke through the nose, making Tabaco” (Dr. G.L.M. Strauss et al., England’s Workshops, 1894).
It’s been suggested in the early 1800s in America, apprentice or journeyman pipe makers made multiple-bowl clay pipes as a form of advertising, just as other tradesmen advertised their products in the windows of their establishments or hung signs outside that depicted their products. The 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed a plethora of patents for atypical tobacco pipes, and many are illustrated in Paul Jung’s magnum opus, 19th Century Patents, Designs and Trademarks for Tobacco Pipes, and Related Material Issued by the U.S. Patent Office, 1858-1899 (1987); some 500 applications are reproduced with their drawings.
Many patents were issued whose design was essentially a bowl within a bowl or a two-bowl construct. I list three. U.S. Patent No. 74,050 was awarded to James Cook of Massachusetts in 1869: “The inner cylindrical bowl is screwed into the outer bowl, and the smoke is drawn into the chamber surrounding the former, passing through holes in the lower part of the inner bowl.” The 1870 patent petition of George Hardingham of Middlesex was rather novel:
The object of my Invention is to construct a pipe in such a manner that it may be used either for the smoking of cut tobacco or of cigars. For this purpose I form the pipe with two bowls or cavities, branching from one mouth tube or stem, one of these bowls being suitable for holding tobacco, and the other for receiving the end of a cigar (Great Britain Patent Office, Specifications of Inventions, 1870).
In 1872, a certain John Crop submitted a patent for approval to the Commissioner of Patents, London, for “Improvements in Tobacco Pipes”:
My invention has for its object a simple and convenient arrangement for enabling charcoal to be employed for absorbing the nicotine and other impurities given off from tobacco when smoking the same, and consists in making the bowl of the pipe in the form of a V divided down the centre, and represent in appearance a double bowl having two open cavities, one for containing the tobacco and the other the charcoal… (English Patents of Inventions, 1872)
And in October 1900, John F. Kennefick received U.S. Patent 682,470 for a pipe described as “…having a main bowl, a supplemental bowl removably secured therein, the adjacent walls of the main and supplemental bowls being spaced apart to form an air-chamber and a perforate flange extending between the upper edges of the main and supplemental bowls.” There are many others of this type, but you get the idea.
Describing Amerindian Pipestone pipes, John G. Wood (The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of the World, 1880) noted: “Some of these pipe heads have two bowls, one in front of the other.” The 1897 Report of the National Museum included this: “The great difference in form of the double-stemmed or double-bowled pipe or in double pipes of any kind found in America would indicate that they were not made according to any fixed rule, but rather to suit individual fancy.”
The first European so-called double-bowl pipes appeared in the late 1700s with the German wood and porcelain gesteckpfeife consisting of an upper bowl for tobacco and a lower bowl, the abguss (reservoir), for the collected tar and tobacco juices, In the next 100 or so years, other odd and unusual pipes began making their appearance that assumed this unconventional concept of more than one bowl.
In the late-19th century, some prisoners in the Boer War carved their own pipes, some of which were double-bowled and lined with tin. Currently, a few of today’s European artisans have crafted their own versions of twin- or double-bowl briars. Did they get the idea to reintroduce the twin-bowl influenced by some antecedent? Historically, twin-bowl pipes were much more prevalent throughout sub-Sahara Africa during the same timeframe as those being manufactured in Western Europe, and they are still in use in many African countries. All African pipe designs are indigenous, not influenced by the pipes that Europeans smoked. (Remember that Europeans introduced tobacco to the peoples of Africa.) I have no proof that the connection between twin-bowl pipes of yesteryear and today is Africa, not Europe. There’s no verifiable symbiotic relationship between Africa’s double-bowl wood pipes and today’s contemporary twin-bowl briars. Maybe it’s mere coincidence, maybe not; maybe it’s an enigma, maybe not, but I find the African connection more likely than the European connection, so I have included examples of the African variety and the reader can make his own conclusion.
Among indigenous-ethnographic tobacco pipes there are different shapes, different sizes, and different engaged substances, and they vary widely throughout Africa. “That country, named Unyoro [East Central Africa], is governed by a despot, and it exhibits a degree of order and civilization unknown to the northern tribes. They are excellent smiths, they draw wire and make good knives; cultivate the ground with great care, grow tobacco, and indulge in the use of double pipes, two bowls being united to a single stem, and they are thus enabled to smoke two qualities of tobacco at one time” (“The Tribes of the Nile River,” The African Repository, Vol. XLII, 1866). In documenting annual international exhibitions (Journal of the Society of Arts, December 13, 1872), “Report on Tobacco Pipes” lists all sorts of pipes from every corner of the globe and, for Africa, the Report singles out “North African pipes with two bowls.” “In one kind of tobacco pipe there is a simple bowl which is fastened on to the pipe stem, and which contains the tobacco. On this is laid a second and larger bowl which fits tightly over the tobacco. It is perforated at the top, and contains live embers from the fire. This second and removable bowl is fitted with a small handle so that it can be easily removed” (Harry Hamilton Johnston, The Uganda Protectorate, 1902). The following comment from that same year is not much different than what some pipers say about the multi-bowl briar pipe today: “The Zulus have a similar two-bowl pipe, made of wood and lined with tin. How these queer instruments originated it is difficult to say. Perhaps the smoker’s appetite is so inordinate that one bowl does not suffice, or it may be a patent method of blending the fumes of various kinds of tobacco” (W. A. Penn, The Soverane Herbe, 1902). “In the British African colonies smokers use a pipe with a double bowl and double stem in order that they may blend the fumes of two kinds of tobacco rather than the tobaccos themselves” (The Volta Review, April 1910). If these references to African ethnographic pipes confuse you, you might sympathize with the question posed in Chapter X, “Exit Africa” (Cope’s Mixture Selected from His Tobacco Plant, 1893): “Why—let us ask at a venture—why do Tobacco pipes require two stems in the Gaboon, but two bowls (my emphasis) in the northern part of the same continent?”
From Africa to America, and from generic wood pipes to the modern briar. This segment is more instructive. Early 1900s ads did not distinguish between, or naively conflated a pipe configured as a bowl within a bowl and a pipe that had two discrete bowls. The Turco-America Glass Pipe, Rochester, NY, produced a double bowl pipe, the inner with vents that allowed the tobacco to burn “down to the last grain.” A similar anti-nicotine design in briar was the Sherlock Holmes Pipe from the H. R. Sherlock Co., Chicago. Neither pipe had two physical bowls. Dunhill’s 1928 catalog included a double-bowled briar in the category “Pipes of Unusual Shapes.” In Popular Science Monthly magazine (October 1939) was an illustration of a “Double-Bowl, Single-Stem Pipe for Two-Fisted Smokers” sold by an unidentified New York City tobacco shop; the design “…originated with the artist who draws the popular newspaper cartoon Smokey Stover.” The Dawes (a favorite pipe of Civil War General and Vice President to Calvin Coolidge, Charles G. Dawes) was the “C. H. Lyon Smoking Pipe,” Patent No. 1,468,306, issued in September 1923, based on the principle of an outer and inner bowl, the condensation chamber. The November 2018 Hake’s Auction (York, PA) included a Lyon pipe; the ad on the original box read: “The Pipe that Gen. Dawes Smokes. …Moisten the inside bottom of cold chamber before filling pipe the first time.”
In time, BBB, Kaywoodie, WDC (“Campaign DE LUX”), and others released their own stylistic version of the Dawes, often calling theirs a Captain Warren. (No one seems to know who Warren was or how his name became associated with this shape, but it might have been Charles B. Warren whom cigar-smoking Coolidge nominated to be his Attorney General.) In any case, the Dawes had a flat, or setter, bottom, and the Captain Warren, better known as an underslung, introduced in the late 19th century, had a roundish bottom. Today, the origin of the Captain Warren is explained this way on tabaccheriatoto13.com, promoting a Ser Jacopo Captain Warren Historica 2016 Model: “The Captain Warren pipe line is inspired by the Nordic custom of creating a double chimney pipe. Original project by Leonardo Da Vinci. …Leonardo Da Vinci invented a double-walled briar pipe, cooled by the air that circulated in the air space.” In my opinion, that “air” is Madison-Avenue hot. So maybe yesterday’s Captain Warren should rightfully be called the LdV briar!
“The All-Meerschaum Twin-Bowl,” and the flame-grain “Twin-Bowl Kaywoodie” were in its product line in the 1950s. Neither pipe was configured with two discrete bowls; both pipes had removable meerschaum cup inserts. (See both at pipedia.org, “Collector’s Guide to Kaywoodie Pipes.”) At about the same time, Kaywoodie’s competitor, Medico, was merchandising a “double-dri pipe” with three extra interchangeable briar bowls.
Now to new-age briar pipes and what Man hath wrought (not a quote from the Book of Numbers). Øle Larsen may have been the first to introduce a twin-bowl briar in this country. New York City’s Wally Frank Ltd. was selling this Larsen in the early 1970s for $275. Had Øle designed this pipe for the inveterate, fence-straddler unable to choose between two blends? The next twin-bowl was an ingenious design of fellow Dane, Peter Stokkebye, stamped “Stereo.” Supposedly, the shank ring is a dial to select either bowl or both bowls simultaneously. Smokingpipes.com has a newer Stokkebye “dual-bowled” version for sale as of this writing…with an accompanying video.
Today, while several hundred independent artisans around the globe are making exceptional, one-of-a-kind briar pipes, fewer than ten have invested time, effort, and material to produce a twin-bowl briar, and the asking prices are not chump change.
If you rely on the Web for your pipe education, bespokeunit.com is as good as any online tutorial for some introductory information. Its “Different Tobacco Smoking Pipe Types: Shapes, Shapes, Styles, Designs & Materials” posits that pipes are divided into nine families, one of which is the “Curiosity Pipe Family,” pipes that have “…no real place to call home.” The twin-bowl is not included in this family, nor is it included in “Smoking Pipe Shapes Guide” (thepipeguys.com). It’s not identified in “A Complete Guide to Tobacco Pipe Shapes... Almost” (tobaccopipes.com). It’s not recognized in any current pipe-classification scheme, nor listed in any company’s pipe-shape chart. Collectively, they are not pipe pariahs; they are pipe outliers. Do these unique creations need to be recognized as a special group? I don’t think so because, individually, each is distinctive in form and character, each a stand-alone, each sui generis.
Seek and ye shall find many odd, unusual, and peculiar-looking pipes. In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears a whispered voice that says: “If you build it, they will come.” If you make it, will they buy? Like the CBS Radio program of the same name that ran from 1947 to 1952, that’s the $64 question.
I’ll close with this pragmatic observation: placing experimentation before tradition challenges the conventions of pipe design! Maybe the few progressive visionaries whose nontraditional pipes appear in this article are doing just that: challenging convention.