For serious pipe-smoking, the briar should always be your first choice. However, if on occasion you desire a novel experience, try reaching for one of the more unusual pipes, such as a clay pipe, a calabash, a corncob, a churchwarden, or even a water pipe. These are some of the most readily available types, although the variety of possible pipes and pipe materials must be counted as almost endless.
Smokers throughout the world have at one time or another used pipes made of bamboo, bone, bronze, glass, horn, iron, ivory (both walrus and elephant), nutshells, silver, steel, and stone, to name but a few. Most of these pipe materials would give a disappointing smoke. However, modern pipe smokers have found that a few of the more unusual pipe types do provide a satisfactory smoke, and add diversity to the smoker’s shelf as well.
The calabash pipe is made from the neck of a gourd, a plant whose family includes the cucumber, the melon, and the squash.
The gourds- from which these pipes are fashioned usually come from South Africa, where the calabash originated. When the Dutch founded Cape Town in 1652, they discovered the natives busily smoking hemp in homemade gourd pipes. The natives would clean out the gourd, let it dry thoroughly, and then use it as a pipe.
Calabash pipes became popular because they are beautiful and of an unusual shape. The calabash gourd makes an ideal pipe because of its light weight, its large air space, which yields a cool smoke, and its tendency to color well.
The calabash pipe
After being cut, the gourd is usually fitted with a meerschaum insert, called a “cup” or “top bowl.” Since nature forms the gourd, no two calabash pipes are ever exactly alike, and each pipe must be hand-made. The meerschaum insert is fitted into a cork ring to insure air-tight connection. The connection between the shank and the curved vulcanite stem also calls for careful hand fitting.
While a gourd is growing, the cultivator aids in the formation of its gracefully curved neck by gradually training the neck to the correct form. This is done by placing Under the gourd a flat board in which pegs are inserted, pegs that hold the neck in a prescribed position. These pegs are then moved, little by little, so as to force the neck into the curve desired.
After the gourd is harvested and its neck removed, the flesh inside the neck is scraped away. The outside of the gourd is then sanded and polished with fine abrasive, and the gourd is dried in the sun. Only then is it fitted with stem and bowl.
The large air space beneath the bowl cools the smoke and prevents juices from entering the stem and the smoker’s mouth. Indeed, the graceful, lightweight calabash provides one of the coolest smokes possible—and its unique shape makes it an ideal reading or fireside pipe.
Washington, Missouri, is the home of the corncob pipe. Washington resembles any other small town on the banks of the Missouri River except that it turns out about 15,000,000 pipes a year, all made of corncobs. The corncob-pipe industry has helped support farmers in the area ever since 1869, when a local farmer first thought of the lowly corncob as a cheap, expendable, and available pipe material.
Over the years, local farmers have developed a special type of corn, known as “Collier” corn, with an exceptionally large and firm cob. The plant is large, the stalk measuring two inches in diameter and taking one hundred and twenty days to mature instead of the usual ninety. The farmers bring the cobs to the pipe factory and sell the kernels separately.
Before the cobs can be worked, they have to dry for at least two years. Cobs smaller than two inches in diameter are rejected. The outside of each cob is smoothed out by machine; the soft spots are filled with plaster of Paris, fitted with a stem or reed, and varnished. The modern corncob has many different bowl finishes and a variety of shanks and stems.
The corncob pipe should be smoked slowly and allowed to dry thoroughly between smokes, to give many months, or even years, of pleasant smoking. As with any type of pipe, the smoker should have several and smoke them in rotation.
There are as many corncob-pipe styles as there are styles of briar pipes. Some smokers prefer corncobs to all other pipe materials except briar. In general, corncobs make a satisfying change-of-pace pipe and provide a pleasant diversion.