History of the Tobacco Pipe in America

Posted by Sarah Seippel on

"A man told me that nobody who was in the war would ever object to anyone smoking." — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Before we can appreciate the history of the tobacco pipe in America, we must first understand its origin.  The first smoking pipes identified were from Egypt, dating back to 2000 BCE.  These pipes were found in tombs, most likely so that a mummified person could enjoy a good smoke in the afterlife.  It is unknown if their remains in the tombs were strictly religious or purely recreational, or perhaps a combination of the two.  As people moved around through exploration, the practice of smoking did as well.  Smoking pipes were later found in Roman, Greek, and Nordic tribe populations.  Clearly this practice was worldwide.

How did the tobacco pipe get to the “New World” then?  One may assume that it was the Europeans who brought it over during settlement; however, the Native Americans receive credit for this one because there had been using tobacco as far bac as 1500 BCE.  When Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Americas, he brought back reports of Native Americans smoking tobacco from a stone pipe.  These exploders spread this trend from Spain and Portugal to France, where it was referred to by its botanical name- Nicotiana Tabacum.

The Native Americans treating smoking as something religious, and the pipe was a holy object.  The narcotic effect of smoking and the indrawn and ascending smoke created a sense of communication, not only within the people of the community but also with their religious beliefs. In “New America”, tobacco was the economic lifeblood of the people.  Tobacco could be rolled into a cigar or took as a snuff, but pipe was soon adopted as a necessary means to smoke.  Fast forward to modern America, and pipe smoking is not only cool, it is intellectual, which in a sense only expands its social appeal.

Pipe smoking requires thought, dedication, and patience.  There is the art in loading the pipe and then lighting and tamping to produce just the right experience.  It is far more sophisticated than running to the convenience store and picking up a pack of Virginia Slims.  A common brand is the Burak pipe.  This pipe store was owned by Ed Burak of the Avenue of the Americans in New York City.  Although the act of smoking tobacco has declined in the United States from 42% to about 15% due to the increased awareness on its negative medical effects on the body, it is still regarded as classic activity of Americas history.

A Rare Find

Recently, our founder William Seippel had the experience of organizing and pricing a collection of antique tobacco pipes.  The collection consists of nearly three hundred pipes, some of which costs over a grand per pipe.  William cataloged each pipe, taking note of its creator and dimensions, as well as any marks on the piece.  The collection totals to around $65,000, and it can be viewed on WorthPoint.com.

Here is an example of one of the pipes from the collection:


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