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Sherlock Holmes' Pipe - Or Was It

"Salvador Muir" (2019-08-17)

I'm sure we've all seen the famous calabash pipe, favoured by Sherlock Holmes. You know, streamin lates movies the curly calabash with it's distinctive shape? It's just as much a part of Sherlock Holmes as his deerstalker hat and magnifying glass.

The original calabash pipes are made from the calabash gourd. The African variety is regarded as the best to use, as the European (usually Greek) calabash gourds rarely have the right shape favoured by the pipe makers.

The main part of the calabash pipe is the top, bent stem of the African calabash gourd. The actual bowl, in which the tobacco is smoked, is an insert, often of meerschaum or porcelain. Which is inserted into the hollowed out gourd stem, with the aid of a cork gasket.

A ferrule, of wood, or plastic, or other suitable material, is inserted into the narrow part of the gourd stem. This is to take the bent vulcanite pipe stem which is the part which goes into the mouth of the smoker. If that stem were to be inserted directly into the gourd there would be a good chance of cracking or breaking it.

Some calabash pipes are decorated with silver bands, even a silver cover around the top of the bowl. So we can see that these pipes are pretty labour-intensive. Making them expensive these days.

Calabash pipes smoke cooler and drier than many other types of pipe, because it's construction means that the smoke passes from the bottom of the actual smoking bowl into the empty space of the gourd beneath, which takes away a lot of the heat and strength of the smoke.

Now, where Sherlock Holmes comes in. The construction of the calabash pipe gives it a low centre of gravity. This allows the smoker to easily hold the pipe in the mouth alone. Actors would take advantage of this property, as it allowed them to depict their character smoking a pipe while leaving the hands free for other "business". Think of Basil Rathbone and William Gillette, who both played Sherlock Holmes.

In fact Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never actually wrote of Sherlock Holmes smoking a calabash pipe, and Sidney Paget in his illustrations usually had Holmes smoking a long-stemmed (churchwarden) pipe.

We know that Sherlock Holmes himself preferred very strong, harsh tobacco, and would probably never have given the calabash the time of day, due to it's mellowing effect upon the smoking mixture.