Pipe smoking in its heyday

pipe being smoked with lots of smoke

It was mainly older men who smoked pipes by the time of the mid-20th Century. It was almost a status symbol to be using a particular type of pipe and a tobacco. This page elaborates from the viewpoint of observers.


By the webmaster, based childhood observations and visits to museums

While I was growing up in the 1940s, pipe smoking was giving way to cigarette smoking, although pipes were still popular with older men.

What pipes were made of

The best pipes were made of wood and came in a range of shapes and woods. They could last for years. I was told that smokers could detect the change in taste of different woods and that older pipes retained the character of the flavour.

Box of wooden pipes, showing the range available in the 1920s

Box of a range of wooden pipes, photographed in the window of a tobacconists shop in the Black Country Museum, said to represent the 1920s.

Mouthpieces were usually made of horn or bone, as there were no man-made materials

Clay pipes

Cheaper pipes were mad entirely of white cla which chipped and broke easily.

Clay pipes, used as cheap alternatives to wooden pipes in the early to mid-1900s for smoking and for children to blow soap bubbles

Clay pipes, from my mother's effects

Clay pipes could be smoked, but their main use was as playthings for children. It was fun to dip the pipe into a bowl of soapy water, blow into it and watch the bubbles floating out. Not that the bubbles lasted for long, because there was no detergent and soap was a poor substitute.

Storing pipes at home: pipe racks

To accommodate the pipes of all the adults in the family, there were pipe racks in the older houses. These came in a range of lengths and were normally mounted on walls to double as ornaments. The pipe rack in the photo was in my mother's family for many years and was affectionately known by everyone as 'the monks'.

Pipe in a wall-mounted pipe rack

Pipe rack for mounted on a wall, holding a pipe

Shapes of pipes

Pipes came in a range of different shapes. As far as I could make out, the shorter the pipe, the hotter was the smoke as it entered the mouth, and the wider the bowl the more flavoursome was the smoke. Different tobaccos burnt hotter than others, so that also affected the choice of pipe shape.

Sherlock Holmes pipe shape

The iconic shape of Sherlock Holmes' pipe

Pipe cleaners

Pipe cleaners were lengths of stiff but flexible wire covered in a soft fabric. My mother used them as hair curlers.

Packaging of tobaccos

Smokers had their favourite tobacco brands. One was not like another to them, and a very large range was available. It was normally sold in branded tins, although I understand that it could be bought loose, although you couldn't be sure where that came from - see Peter Johnson's recollection of cigarette butts in cinemas!

Range of old tobacco brands, known as' shag'.

Range of tobacco brands, photographed from the window of a tobacconists shop in the Eastbourne Museum of Shops. (Shag is shredded coarse tobacco.)

Tap/click for a larger image to read the tobacco brands on the tins

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

Text and images are copyright

sources: early 20th century material      sources: ww2 home front and other material     contact
the webmaster/author/researcher/editor     privacy policy

Facebook link LinkedIn link