College Class Pipes

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College Class Pipes
A brief treatise by avid collector, Brian Robertson

“Arthur held a heavy buldog Yale class pipe in his hand, the pipe had a large 'Y' on the front, flanked on each side by numerals,,,,,1907”
-- from Eugene O'Neill's play, Ah, Wilderness!

A grouping of Glokar branded BBB Class pipes: Two Cornells, a Princeton, and a University of Michigan, courtesy Brian Robertson collection
A grouping of Yale Class pipes from the Owl Shop, courtesy Brian Robertson collection

Introduction and Origins of The Class Pipe Tradition

This photo dated June 17th, 1935 shows Yale graduates smoking clay pipes, which were afterward broken and ground into the dirt to symbolize their passage from their "Bright" college days. Other Eastern Colleges had similar traditions. Courtesy Brian Robertson
Princeton Class Day, June 17, 1935, showing the tradition of seniors smashing clay pipes against the school's cannon. Courtesy Brian Robertson

Around 1900 and slightly earlier, pipe smoking on college campuses, by faculty and students, seems to have been the tobacco implement of choice. From the 1890's until at least the early 1940's , the pipe was the "big man on campus". My research indicates that several Eastern colleges in the late 1800's had a single "class pipe" that was smoked during a school ceremony, marking the end of a school year. Emulating early western movie scenes, the pipe was passed among faculty and chosen ranking students, not unlike the native American "peace pipe" shown in those same films. Some colleges even had a pipe annually used in a ritual, not a "class pipe", but literally referred to as "the peace pipe". This "peace pipe” was smoked by the warring "tribes" of the senior and junior classes, symbolically ending their conflict as the seniors graduated.

During a period when pipe smoking registered among the principle pastimes cultivated by students, a yet to be credited marketing genius came up with the idea to place a silver letter on the outward facing bowl of a pipe . Young men couldn't wait to have someone remark "oh, you must be a Yale man", or Princeton, or Harvard, etc.. Then around 1900, Mr. Lew L. Stoddard came up with an idea that would change the fad into a tradition. He put a student’s class year on the pipe, along with the school initial. Student class pride and rivalries were fierce, so this was an excellent way of displaying "class pride". In a 1908 ad, Mr. Stoddard claims to be "the originator of numerals on the class pipe". In a recently found earlier ad Mr. Stoddard claims to be the originator of the "class pipe", and he may well be. Yale university may have been the first college to adopt the "student class pipe". In a 1900 newspaper article it is reported that Yale students would adopt a class pipe instead of their usual class cane, which I have to assume was the current tradition of the period. It appears this was not done as a substitute for the original single class pipe, used in the year end ritual, but the beginning of a new tradition for students.

As the popularity of the class pipe grew, more local pipe shops and tobacconists added class pipe offerings to students. In many cases campuses elected students to "class pipe committees" to seek out new designs for each year. The samples would then be voted on, and students would place orders on the winning design. In a 1912 article this process was mentioned as taking place at Purdue University in Indiana. Ads for class pipes from around the same period have been seen as far west as Idaho University. I recall reading a mention of a West Point class pipe (circa 1907), that had raised letters and numerals upon a silver shield. The cadet would need a strong jaw, and perhaps wear a glove to protect his hand from being burned after a couple of bowls had been smoked in such a design.

Many pipe shops offered "class pipes" across the country. They would charge a fee for the school letter, and an additional fee for each numeral. The famous Yale University Owl Shop was one of these shops, and the venerable J. Middleton shop of Philadelphia was a nationwide source for class pipes.

Clues to Matching a particular pipe to its College or University

1915 Cornell University Student Paper Pipe Shop Ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
LL Stoddard Class Pipe ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
New Haven Drug store ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
Circa 1920 Yale Class Pipe & Pennant Comic Post Card. Similar versions with a "B" and "BROWN", and also without any school designation have also been seen. Courtesy Briarn Robertson
RE Jolly ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
Strand Class Pipe Ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
Class Pipe Ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
Class Pipe Ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
1918 Princeton Glokar, captured as it may have looked in the school paper in 1918, courtesy Brian Roberston
1933 Columbia University Student Newspaper Ad including options and prices for lettering, numerals, and pipe brands, courtesy Brian Robertson
1920 Columbia University Student Newspaper Class Pipe Ad, courtesy Brian Robertson
1925 Cornell Smoker Pamphlet, featuring a Class Pipe, courtesy Brian Robertson
1937 Princeton Student Newspaper Price Albert Ad, with a Class Pipe reference, courtesy Brian Robertson
Sadly, a broken 1920 New York University WDC Milano Class Pipe, courtesy Brian Robertson

There are several clues that can be used to provide a degree of provenance in matching a class pipe with its corresponding college or university. An excellent method of determining a class pipe’s identity is researching college and university student newspapers. Many of the eastern college student newspapers have archives that can be viewed. For instance, if you have a pipe emblazoned with a "C" and a year, and you guess that it is a "Cornell" pipe, upon visiting newspaper archive you can search "class pipe (plus the year") or "class pipe committee (plus the year) ". The result in some cases will be an article actually describing the design of the chosen silver letters, and numerals. The article may even declare the brand of pipe, and its corresponding shape (straight or bent). This method is not always fruitful and oftentimes requires slogging through a long list of articles. It is heaven for the research geek. When I purchase a pipe at an estate sale, I simply ask to whom the pipe belongs. Usually I am told that it was their father's or grandfather's. I then ask, "did he go to college and which one?" I learned the hard way, you ask these questions after you have paid, and the pipe is in your pocket. Another clue is the source of the pipe. The Owl Shop has supplied, almost exclusively, the "Yale" pipes. The 1917 Brown University pipe was branded by a tobacconist that was practically on the campus. With others, a lucky google search of the tobacconist name on the pipes will sometimes turn up the store's location.

I bought a class pipe in Ann Arbor, Michigan at a garage sale that had numerous University of Michigan items. I asked where they all came from and was told by the seller that her husband's grandfather graduated from Michigan and the pipe had been his. Surprisingly, even eBay sellers have been helpful. After purchase, and tracking showing the pipe had shipped, I simply ask the seller, if they knew, or could find out any provenance regarding the purchased pipe. Several were selling for friends and provided school provenance.. A pipe that is pre 1910 can safely be assumed to have come from a large eastern college as it took some time for the "fad" to move west.

The Class Pipe Committee Process

The "class pipe committee" that was either appointed or elected were in charge of selecting or creating a new design annually. The committee would seek out several pipe shops and present their design. The pipe shops would look over the designs, suggest a current popular brand pipe and offer a discounted price on the pipe itself and a separate price for the design and numeral application. This "bargain arrangement" was contingent on a predetermined number of students ordering the class pipe. In several articles the number of required student orders seems to have been100. This appears to have been the general process from the early 1900's through the twenties. Around 1930, with the financial devastation of the Great Depression, class pipe references are scarce during this decade. I even ran across a class pipe selection being a Sasieni "sub-brand". Formerly, only top of the line pipes were selected. The tradition returned in the 1940's, but without previous earlier years interest.

This account appears in 1910 at Lehigh University, more or less at the heyday of this fine tradition. But perhaps it foretells it's eventual demise

The Waning of the Once Thriving Tradition

In my opinion the interest in the class pipe tradition slowly disappeared as a result of diminished pipe smoking on campuses, with the increased popularity of cigarette smoking following World War II. Simply put, in the 50's and 60's , the majority of young college men felt they had a "cooler" image while smoking a cigarette. By the early to mid 1960's, the class pipe tradition had essentially, vanished.

Author's Note:

I apologize for not saving my many google search sources for this information. At the time, I did not consider the countless hours I spent poking around on google would lead to documenting my hobby of collecting Class Pipes. I feel, while perhaps not worthy of a dedicated chapter in Pipe History, Class Pipes are at least worthy of a footnote. Brian Robertson

The Collection

WDC-Milano 1925 Amherst College Class Pipe, courtesy Brian Robertson collection

University Smoke Shop 1918 Class Pipe Ad, courtesy Brian Robertson

1911 University of Michigan Class pipe, a 1909 BBB Glokar, courtesy Brian Robertson
An unofficial, University of Michigan Class Pipe. It is unbranded, but has U.M stamped on the bottom of the bowl, along with the raised relief silver painted M, courtesy Brian Robertson

JRV Smokeshop Matchbook, Providence, R.I., courtesy Brian Robertson

1918 Princeton University Class pipe, a 1915 BBB Glokar, courtesy Brian Robertson

1919 Yale University Class Pipe stamped Comoy's LONDON MADE, courtesy Brian Robertson collection

LHS-Sterncraft 1954 Yale University Class Pipe, courtesy Brian Robertson collection

Note: We have been unable to find any information about the Percolator pipe. It appears to have room in the shank and stem for a very large filter, or perhaps a sponge.

Note: Carved Class Pipes were elected in the 1890's and seldom seen in the 1900's. Due to the inferior quality of the example above, it may be an unofficial one off.

Syracuse University Comoy Royal Falcon Class Pipe, Courtesy Brian Robertson collection

Circa 1950s Medico Alma Mater Class Pipe Ad, courtesy Brian Robertson

1914 Conrell University Class Pipe, which is a 1911 BBB Glokar, courtesy Brian Robertson

Fraternity Pipes

Fraternity Pipes

1910 BBB Glokar Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity pipe and information, courtesy Brian Robertson collection

1930s Kaywoodie Rocky Briar (model 1842) Phi Kappa Epsilon Fraternity Pipe, courtesy Brian Robertson collection
A grainy photo with a 1922 Class Pipe and "1919 Dartmouth Frat Party" written on the back, courtesy Brian Robertson

Note: Introduced in the 1940's, the Stembiter model featured a beveled area in front of the stem button with a hole that went all the way through the twin bore stem. The feature was touted to end "stem chewing", and in their ads targeted smokers with "strong teeth"