The History Of Tobacco Pipes

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Long before Europeans arrived in the New World, Native Americans were smoking ceremonial pipes. A less well-known fact, however, is that the history of tobacco pipes can be traced back to 2000 BC in ancient Egypt where bits of pipes and tobacco were buried in mummies. Just 500 years after those ceremonial burials and long before explorers crossed the Atlantic Ocean; Native Americans were already celebrating their own ceremonies with tobacco pipes. This was 2000 years before Christopher Columbus made his first voyage.

Although little is known about the ancient Egyptians’ use of tobacco, there is evidence to show that the Greek physician Hypocrites as an herbal remedy for female ailments prescribed tobacco around 300 AD, and Herodutus described its use among the Scyths in 500 BC. After being adopted by the Greek and Roman cultures, the use of tobacco pipes spread to Celtic, Nordic, and Germanic tribes.

Columbus discovered tobacco in 1492 and carried it back to the Old World where it became a popular remedy for various ailments. Jean Nicot then introduced it to France where it was used by royalty to treat headache, and its use spread rapidly.


In the 1600s, pipe tobacco was used to pay debts, to barter, to seal deals, and to honor treaties. In fact, tobacco became almost like money in the colonies. At one time, the settlement of Jamestown was exporting over one million pounds of tobacco every year, creating robust revenue and taxes for the colonial economy.

Until the advent of tobacco in the 16th century, pipes in Europe had been used for smoking cannabis from Asia, India, and the Middle East. In the 19th century, however, tobacco pipes were used in Asia to smoke a mixture of opium and tobacco. The addictive concoction led first to societal problems in China and eventually to the Opium Wars.

In 1586, the first known protest of tobacco occurred when the “Ten Revised Commandments” in Switzerland banned smoking. Approximately thirty years later, Norway and Denmark took measures that are even more drastic and punished smokers on ships by keelhauling them. Turkey, China, and Russia followed suit by using capital punishment to deter smoking. All of these countries, however, soon lowered their resistance when they realized the exorbitant taxes that could be raised by the sale of smoking tobacco.


Early pipes were made from a variety of materials, such as carved wood, tree limbs, gourds, and corncobs. Around the end of the 16th century, chalk pipes, and then iron pipes, were mass produced for seagoing voyagers. In 1720, meerschaum, a white mineral found floating on the Black Sea, was discovered, and meerschaum pipes became the coveted standard among smokers until the briar pipe was developed in France a century later. Bigger and longer tobacco pipes remained popular until around 1920.

Today pipes range from simple, machine-made wooden models to valuable pieces of art designed by master craftsmen. Common materials include meerschaum briar, clay, and corncob; other woods, such as cherry, olive, oak, and maple, are seen less frequently. New and antique tobacco pipes are still prized and sought after by both smokers and collectors, and many are quite valuable. Pipe-related paraphernalia, such as tins and advertisements, are among the most popular vintage collectibles of the 21st century.

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