Long before diplomat Jean Nicot (hence nicotine) brought tobacco to the French court in the mid-16th century, people were putting tobacco into pipes and smoking it. The custom was perhaps never as popular as it was during the 1800s. Pat Gargano, manager of the pipe store Barclay-Rex, in New York City, says that of the many pipes available in that period, four types were probably most common.
Clay pipes are among the oldest kinds of pipes. Typically long-stemmed, they burn cooler than, for example, briar pipes. Clay itself is non-flammable and because clay pipes are easily cleaned, they lend themselves to use with a variety of different tobaccos without the lingering residue of prior tobaccos compromising flavour. They are also comparatively inexpensive and were popular among the working class.
An American phenomenon, corn cob pipes enjoyed enormous popularity in the 19th century, and for many of the same reasons that made clay pipes popular: they burn cool, they're easy to clean, and -- of particular importance to smokers who may have lived far from town -- the material to make them was readily available and virtually free.
Made from the hard, durable root of Mediterranean Heath trees, which are grown primarily in Italy, Greece and Algeria, briar pipes gained widespread recognition in the late 19th century. The root, or burl, was boiled, cured and carved into pipes prized for their beauty. Briar pipes from the 1800s are highly valued as collectors items, and briar pipes are still manufactured and used today.
Perhaps the most exotic of pipe materials is meerschaum, a soft, milky-coloured mineral found in alluvial deposits in Turkey and, occasionally, even afloat on the Black Sea. Like briar pipes, those made of meerschaum also came into prominence in the late 1800s. Often carved elaborately, meerschaum pipes gradually change colour with years of use and handling.
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