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!
Introduction and Origins of The Class Pipe Tradition
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
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.
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.
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
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.