The Renaissance of Pipe Smoking

Philip Assad

When I tell people that I believe pipe smoking is a remedy for many modern ills, I get some pretty diverse reactions. Smoking pipes aren’t as popular now as they were 5,000 years ago, so it may be justifiable to call me old-fashioned, but old isn’t always bad. Allow me to persuade you that we’re talking about much more than a piece of wood with holes in it. We’re talking about a simple practice that strengthens relationships, improves a man’s disposition, and is just plain fun! I’d also like to contest that we are on the brink of a renaissance for pipe smoking. Get ready to bust out your grandfather’s old briar!

History and Fascination

At sixteen years of age, I was already fascinated by pipe smoking. When a family friend brought home a few Peterson pipes after a trip to Dublin, I was taken, and it was over. Hook, line, and sinker, as the saying goes. I didn’t know just how deeply it would influence me, but as soon as I witnessed this family friend sitting about a table with seminary graduates, doctors, and businessmen, calmly smoking and carrying on in a most civilized way, I knew there was something special about those pipes with their silver bands and their deep, dark grains.

The history of the smoking pipe is older and more vast than can be approached by such a short article, but tobacco has been smoked since approximately 5000-3000BC. It’s believed that the first practice of smoking was in South America where the tobacco leaf finds it’s origin, but since then it has spread to the farthest reaches of the world. It was used as a medicine by some ancient civilizations, to treat things such as coughs and the common cold…the placebo effect may or may not have had a role to play there.

Redeeming Vice

What about a man’s character could possibly be improved by pipe smoking?

"I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs." – Albert Einstein

Other than a pipe and some tobacco, the act of smoking a pipe requires a few things of the smoker. It begs for careful thought, pleads for contemplation, and kindly asks for company. These are things which are priceless in a culture dominated by the fast-paced devouring of media, and ambitions that aspire only to the dollar. Though we are social by nature, the postmodern world we live in has ascribed to independence a greater value than to fellowship. So anything that slows us down and forces us to submit to our own nature of sociality, spending time with others in respectful conversation, is a great thing indeed.

"But tobacco is bad for you!" sound the cries of a thousand concerned mothers. There is no case to be made for the positive health benefits of smoking, sad to say. However, as Samuel Clemens once said:

"You are always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured…in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking…And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime…I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices." – Mark Twain

Certainly one’s health is important, and so as with any petty vice, in order to be good men we must exercise moderation and restraint at times. At other times, though, damn the restraint and have a smoke! We men are risk-takers by design! That’s why we climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, and ride motorcycles. The important thing is to balance the risks we take with good sense. You wouldn’t go bungee jumping without a bungee, or ride a motorcycle with your eyes closed, so one shouldn’t smoke without understanding the risks, and using good sense and self-control to moderate them.

The Renaissance of the Pipe

It’s not a coincidence that I became fascinated with pipe smoking when I did, nor is it a coincidence that you are reading this article. Our generation of men was born on the cusp of a technological revolution which, with it’s promises of independence and ultra-convenient connection, has sometimes left us lonely and socially confused. Pipe smoking is a remedy for many modern ills, including the sickness of social disparity. Having spoken with smoking pipe factory managers, retailers, and wholesalers across the world, and having engaged in conversation with customers and acquaintances from every walk of life, all signs point to a renaissance of the smoking pipe. Internet trends and consumer spending reports offer evidence of this claim, but far more important are the longings of many who have lost contact with their fellow men, and see pipe smoking as an avenue by which they might reconnect. Much as we have returned to shaving like our grandfathers, we’re returning to smoke like them as well. So the rebirth takes place as countless men and women decide that they want to reengage in true face-to-face conversation once again.

Be a part of it! It’s not every day that we have an opportunity to influence the great big impersonal world on which we spend our existence. If only in some small way, taking the time to sit back with a pipe, light up, and talk to some friends about something important is a chance to do just that.

Philip Assad is a Syrian-American pipe and tobacco expert, writer, and Managing Partner at The Pipe Guys. Check them out for pipes, tobacco, articles and more!

10 Responses

  • Great article. I think many of us harken back to a time of simplicity of living. When small things in life brought great pleasure; reading a good book, listening to good music, watching nature while enjoying a slower pace of life. The pipe always brings me back to that time. Not just in nostalga, but in being in that moment of calm and peace.

  • Fine words. It is indeed quite pleasurable to sit, pack a pipe and enjoy the moments of tranquility I get from it.

  • Have had a chance to get to know an artist couple and stay at their home in NYC. She’s a sound/video artist and
    teacher and he is an avant guard synthesizer and instrumental composer (Guggenheim fellowship and many
    CD’s, concerts, film work, etc. etc.) They’ve known my wife for years, and they are hospitable and welcoming,
    but the guy and I really bonded over pipes. He has beautiful meerschaums and I mostly have more ordinary briars,
    but our best conversations have been smoking. For some reason, this provides a bridge otherwise lacking.

  • Well said. I’ve personally found that the meditative quality of the time I spend smoking a pipe is well worth the slightly elevated risks associated with the habit.

  • That was a great read Kevin, thanks. It is unfortunate that our Renaissance will be stymied by the lack of places to smoke publicly. That doesn’t stop us of course, it just limits where we can enjoy our hobby.

  • Great reading, too bad so many categorize the hobby of pipesmoking with other much more damaging vices.

  • I couldn’t agree more. When priorities seem to be turned upside down so often and petty rules dominate whilst bigger issues go unnoticed or undealt with, it seems that it is a great pity that pipe people are judged unfairly and undeservedly. A private choice is just that, unless it impinges on people’s privacy or health. I fully respect those who do not agree with smoking and who wish not to partake in it. However, to legislate in ignorance and whilst following a current political trend or fashion seems to be like using the proverbial sledgehammer to crack an egg. There are indeed health risks, probably in just about anything we consume, when moderation and self-control go out the window. It is just that I feel politics plays such an intrusive role these days that we none of us can escape it. I do hope that common sense can prevail and that people’s liberties can be respected. For my part, pipe smoking has been central to my personal way of life for a good couple of decades now and I would like to think that I can ‘Live in peace with my pipe’ for a bit longer!
    So, enjoy your pipe today wherever you are. If in company with fellow smokers, enjoy it even more in this rather wonderful piping fraternity!

  • You know,i have to fully agree with you on this one phil. I do have a tad to add to it though, assuming your generation is the one before mine, or even my own generation. either way I’m a millennial (1991 baby) so I went through the change of our entire social lives when I was just a teenager, and it killed me, and much of my(our?) generation. I know that I don’t speak for just myself when I say that we have lost touch with our humanity in today’s world and men my age, like you said, are shaving like there grandfathers, and smoking like them as well. Well I believe that that is due to our longing for a simpler time where our lives aren’t so dictated by technology and time-clocks, but are dictated by fellowship and family. so we reach for those straight razors and pipes, put on our suspenders and groom our mustaches to lament for a time lost, and to fight for its return. many smokes to ya, Rorie mac