By G. L. Pease
It seems, at first thought, a bit unfair to present such a short review of such an imposing book as the second edition of Gary Schrier’s History of the Calabash Pipe, but since I’d encourage you to get a copy of the book and spend your time with it rather than reading what I think about, it, a short review is exactly what I’ll offer. In fact, I could probably sleep with, "If you’re a calabash collector, or a pipe smoker with even a vague interest in the things, or just someone with a love of craft and history, this volume deserves its place in your library." You could stop reading here, order your copy, and sit by the postbox, anxiously awaiting its arrival. But, here’s a little more.
First, this is not really light reading, nor should it be. It’s not a fluff piece about the imposing gourd and meerschaum pipe that many incorrectly associate with Sherlock Holmes (a subject addressed in Chapter 13). Schrier has devoted over ten years to the research and writing of his dissertation, taking the subject very seriously, and it shows. To date, no one has approached the calabash pipe with greater depth or such breadth.
But, neither is it dry, ponderous or inaccessible. It’s a truly enjoyable read, especially for those of us whose interest in our pastime extends beyond the instruments themselves, and reaches into the fascinating histories that our pipes symbolize. Much has been said about the briar, too little about the Calabash. Schrier sets out to right that wrong, and does so admirably, with discussions of the dramatic pipe’s history, its construction, insight into the botany and cultivation of the humble gourd that makes the calabash pipe possible, and a look at its makers and collectors. Too, there are reference sections on makers’ marks and hallmarks to help with identification, and a chapter of questions and answers.
The book itself is beautifully printed, and richly illustrated; most of its 390 pages are adorned with wonderful images, modern and historic. Flipping through its pages is a visual treat, and it’s a great way to start with it, but that’s only the beginning. Schrier’s History of the Calabash Pipe is not an afternoon’s read, but something to linger over and enjoy in all its glory. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: It will be noted that I took some of the photographs in the book–most notably, those illustrating the collection of John Fabris. Some cynics might feel that I may be recommending it to my own profit. For those cynics, let me make clear that I receive no compensation from the book’s sales; my recommendation is based solely on its merit as an excellent treatise on the calabash pipe. -glp