Pipe Gifts to Our Presidents

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Pipe Gifts to Our Presidents

by Ben Rapaport, March 2022

Exclusive to Pipedia

For years it has been the custom for foreign dignitaries and American citizens to shower U. S. leaders with presents, ranging from the extravagant, Queen Victoria’s gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes, a desk carved of timber from the British ship H.M. S. Resolute, to the bizarre, Ethiopia’s gift to President Theodore Roosevelt of a zebra and a lion. There have been gifts of a very personal nature, such as clothing and jewelry, and a more personal item, such as tobacco pipes.

Most 19th-century presidents who smoked loved their cigars or the chew. Those who smoked a pipe, according to their biographies, were Martin van Buren and William Henry Harrison. The last century saw a couple of U. S. Presidents—and at least one dignitary—who were known pipe smokers, President Warren G. Harding and French General Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander during World War One. Harding was President from March 1921 to August 1923; General Foch served in uniform until 1923 when he died. The two were contemporaries, but all they had in common was that they both smoked a pipe…and both received gift pipes. General Foch died the year that Herbert Hoover assumed the office of the presidency in 1929. (Read Chuck Stanion’s “Herbert Hoover: Pipe Smoker... and Perhaps Worst President in History” [smokingpipes.com]).

Harding was feted at least twice. “The De Luxe Pipes of President Harding,” (The Retail Tobacconist, February 23, 1922): “The pipe which President Harding was smoking with such evident enjoyment when he entered the rooms of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., recently was one of a set of four presented to him a few weeks ago by Alfred Dunhill, of England. The roots used for the President’s pipes were 100 years old, the choicest among the Mediterranean bruyere from which pipes of this class are made. The President’s set is one of the finest in the United States. There are two straight-grain and two shell bowls, and the workmanship is exquisite.” The leather case was gold-stamped: “To Warren G. Harding, President of the United States, From Alfred Dunhill of London, 1921.”

Then from The Piper of Penang, “Demuth Collection of Presidents of United States in Meerschaum” (Tobacco, July 31, 1924): “In June 1923, Arthur H. Diamant, Illustrious Potentate of New York’s Mecca Temple [The Shriners] presented President Warren G. Harding—a lifetime member of the National Order of Pipe Smokers—a set of seven assorted WDC Milano briars in a red, plush-lined, leather case whose gold plate was inscribed: “Presented to Noble Warren G. Harding, President of the United States by Mecca Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S. June 1923. …This presentation was unusually interesting, inasmuch as the Chief Executive of the Nation had publicly announced this preference for the pipe, and that this was recognized to the extent of having an organization such as the Shriners select the pipe as a worthy gift for the President of the United States.”

“A Set of W.D.C. Pipes Were Sent to Marshal Foch” (The Retail Tobacconist, December 1, 1921): “…a special set of W.D.C. pipes de-luxe was especially manufactured by William Demuth & Co., and presented to Marshal Foch, the generalissimo in supreme command of the allied armies in the world war, was not known in tobacco trade circles generally until recently.” An exhibit of those pipes and his portrait were on display on 34th Street, in New York City. General Foch’s letter to Demuth was translated as follows:


“I have just received the fine pipes that Messrs. Demuth of New York had the kindness to offer me, and which you shipped to me. This courtesy on the part of American friends of France is thoroughly appreciated by me. I would ask you to be kind enough to convey to them my most sincere thanks and appreciation.

“With the assurance of my distinguished consideration and esteem, I remain,”

Very truly yours,
F. Foch

Paris, France

The president who was the recipient of many tobacco gifts was the cigar-smoking Calvin Coolidge when he became President following Harding’s death in 1925. “What Are You Sending to President Coolidge?” (Tobacco, July 2, 1925):

Among some recent gifts to President Coolidge are mentioned: cigars of many brands and varieties, cigarettes of all descriptions, tobaccos of numerous sorts, tobacco pouches in great array, hand carved briar pipes, machine made briars, cigar holders, cigarette holders in amber, meerschaum, both gold and silver mounted, cigar lighters for the pocket, for the car, for the home—the White House bungalow—ash trays so the rugs in the red room will remain immaculate; humidors to keep the cigars in excellent order; pipe racks for the hand carved briars, and a most unusual presentation in all manner of personal apparel, household effects, and so on which comes to the President from his many personal and political admirers the world around!

Chuck Stanion wrote about the most prominent 20th-century Presidential puffer, our 38th President: “Gerald Ford, the Pipe Smoking President” (smokingpipes.com, July 2, 2021) in which he indicated that President Ford’s “…collection of pipes numbered 35.” The list of public gifts to President Ford (fordlibrarymuseum.gov) does not include any of his pipes. Richard Hacker claimed that Ford preferred “a small, easy to carry pipe” and favored Field & Stream and Walnut. An online post states that Ford’s favorite pipes were Kaywoodie and that he smoked Edgeworth and Half & Half; this assertion could not be corroborated. Ford was the last president to indulge in a pipe in public on a regular basis. He bought his pipes and tobacco; he was never gifted any.

“Tobacco: The Best Gift You Can Give” (Tobacco Business, September 2016) asserted that “… despite all the negative publicity and virulent anti-smoking campaigns, tobacco products remain the best possible gift for smokers.” I suspect that the reason Ford got no tobacco freebies is because the industry then, as now, had wisely concluded that it was a politically-incorrect gift. Our historical record is that pipes were important gifts—symbols of alliance and friendship—among Native American tribes, a ritual that has long ago ended. Today’s tobacco trade recognizes that it’s best to keep a low “gift-giving” profile. In the final analysis, maybe Dunhill had the right marketing strategy, because it’s still in business and the Demuth Company is not.