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A Look into Famous Pipe-Smoker, Sherlock

By Brad N April 01, 2020

A Look into Famous Pipe-Smoker, Sherlock

There is no other literary character that has stayed embedded permanently in our imagination like Sherlock Holmes. This fierce and cunning detective in prose was known to use morphine and cocaine during Victorian times. Drugs like these, together with laudanum and opium, were sold legally. People of this era took such detrimental drugs for recreation and self-medication. Holmes was also an enthusiastic drinker of superb liquors and an obsessive smoker.

Holmes believed that he had an overactive brain that required regular stimulation, which came in the form of a case or a specific narcotic. He could very well be diagnosed as a patient with Asperger syndrome or ADHD or even both. According to him, his craving for mental euphoria was brought about by his dismal daily routine. 

Sherlock’s Obsession for Smoking

Back in England’s Victorian Era, the habit of smoking tobacco was considered therapeutic and pleasurable, as long as it wasn’t excessive. The men were the only ones who smoked a cigar or a pipe. The British developed an overwhelming fondness for cigarettes right after the Crimean War. By the late 19th century, almost all of Britain smoked. 

Holmes liked smoking because it refreshed his mind. He usually smoked cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. The detective loved pipes the most. He used a slipper or a scuttle as storage for his cigars and placed them beside the fireplace in his famous apartment at 221B Baker St. On occasion, he would even snuff some tobacco from his jeweled snuff box. 

Holmes always smoked a pipe whenever he felt like contemplating. Whenever he was agitated, he paced and smoked cigarettes. Whenever he drank brandy or after a delicious meal, he preferred Cuban cigars. 

Holmes was known for having three pipes — cherry wood, clay, and briarwood. It is speculated that the detective’s favorite was the clay pipe, which was first cited in “A Study in Scarlet.” 

Holmes was extremely curious about different tobacco brands and their use as proof. He specifically talked about his fascination for tobacco ashes in “In the Sign of Four.” Holmes was very knowledgeable about the differences between the types of tobacco, as well as the ashes they produce. With his knowhow and passion, he was able to narrow down the pool of suspects and eventually arrive at the identity of the culprit. 

The Love for Pipes

The Love for Pipes

Holmes had the right reasons for choosing his three favorite pipes.

Briarwood is an extremely well-known material for modern pipes. It is usually obtained from the Mediterranean heather’s root burl. This pipe material absorbs moisture, which makes it fire-resistant. It is also an ideal material for making pipes. The natural aroma it emits during smoking makes the experience more pleasant. 

Making a pipe from briarwood depends on the wood’s grain, so it is mostly in the hands of crafters and not machines. The root burl’s heart is called the ébauchon, which is the common source of the woodblocks for the pipe. A more exceptional grain can be cut out from the root burl’s outer part. The resulting block is called the plateau, which is used for high-grade handmade pipes. 

Clay pipes became popular and more affordable from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They were presented with tobacco during the 16th century. This made clay pipes the main tool for smoking tobacco. Clay pipes are not usually finished or glazed. Their white coloration makes them distinguishable. 

There is a spur under every clay pipe’s bowl derived from its molding. A clay pipe is unique because of its cutty shape. Long-stemmed clay pipes are said to be inexpensive but quite difficult to smoke because their stems become hot. 

Cherry wood is a non-briar type of wood that is rare for making pipes. If you use a cherry wood pipe longer than you should, you could burn it. This pipe’s material is less porous and softer than other types of wood, so cherry wood pipes are only for irregular, gentle use. 

The Calabash Pipe

Holmes became seared into our minds as someone who dons a deerstalker’s cap and an Inverness cape while holding a calabash pipe

The pipe was named after the calabash gourd. To make the calabash pipe, the gourd needs to be dried first. Its hull is then hollowed out. The shape of the calabash pipe is achieved by subjecting the gourd in a special process as the fruit grows. 

The farmer manipulates how much the gourd’s neck bends by giving the right pressure. This manipulation happens gradually during the gourd’s early growth stages. 

The bowl of a calabash pipe is usually made of porcelain or meerschaum. Since these pipes are expensive, laborious, and time-consuming, they are also more expensive to purchase than other types of smoking pipes

A calabash pipe is big. It wasn’t used to complete the image of Holmes until William Gillette portrayed the role back in 1899. The actor wanted the audience to see the pipe he was holding, but he also needed a pipe that hung very low so it wouldn’t blow thick smoke in his eyes or block his face. 

The calabash pipe is the symbol of Holmes’ huge ego and matching acumen. It also represents the detective’s deep, pensive disposition. 

The Habit

The Habit

Holmes was known to prefer strong, aromatic tobacco with his calabash pipe. Through careful discernment of certain experts on the books, it was concluded that he also smoked with the company of only one significant person. He enjoyed having breakfast pipe-smoking with his dear friend, Dr. Watson.

Through the years, Holmes has turned into a figure of a type of late Victorian masculinity in England. This unique blended trait is characterized by blatant chauvinism, overwhelming masculinity, physical skill, and genuine male companionship. 

The shrewd detective who loves to smoke has made his mark not only with his powers of deduction but also through his passion for narcotics, pipes, and tobacco.

What are your thoughts on the pipe-smoking of Sherlock Holmes? Feel free to share them below.


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