Famous Pipe Smokers: Sherlock Holmes
What with the new movie out, I think it was time for our "famous pipe smoker" to be the original "world's greatest detective" (though I always thought Batman OUGHT to smoke a pipe too).
This is the image we think of with Sherlock Holmes:
And it was mainly inspired by this guy:
Basil Rathbone, the definitive Sherlock Holmes actor and a real-life famous pipe smoker as well.
Anyways, Sherlock Holmes was mostly famous for being a pipe smoker, but there is a great amount of ignorance as to which pipes he really smoked. Many people assume, because some later actors often showed him as such, that Holmes smoked one of those big Calabash pipes. In fact, Holmes NEVER smoked one of those, in the original novels.
His favorite pipe appeared to be a plain clay pipe, the sort that someone without very much money or without very much care might have smoked back in the 19th century. He also owned a cherrywood and a few briarwood pipes. The cherrywood was apparently what he smoked when he was feeling cantankerous.
Holmes smoked plain black shag for tobacco, in contrast to Watson who smoked a much more sophisticated blend called Arcadia.
Now, all of this means something. Back in the 19th century it would all have been a kind of secret code, that most gentlemen and pipe smokers (and the two were one and the same, really) could have understood.
Let me explain: anytime prior to World War I, the British Upper Classes would have primarily smoked Meerschaum pipes (a Calabash, for example, is part Meerschaum). These were very fine pipes, imported from turkey, and quite expensive. Also, without out a doubt the best quality smoke there was. Their tobacco would have been bought from places like Fox & Sons, and other high class stores, with special blends using a mixture of imported tobaccos.
The lower classes, on the other hand, smoked wooden pipes. Briars are today made with very sophisticated measures and you can can have very fine (and expensive!) briar pipes, but back then this wasn't so. Dunhill was the first person to make Briar pipes into something high quality that a gentleman could smoke, and that wouldn't be until decades later.
So all of this said to the reader a number of things:
-Holmes was very "bohemian"
-Holmes may not actually have been of good breeding
-Holmes was not someone who took great care to maximize the smoking experience; in the stories they also mention that he rarely cleaned his pipes, and that he stuffed his tobacco in a slipper; this would have made the tobacco smoke very hot and dry, burning fast, and combined with the un-clean pipes would have made his smoke stink to high heaven.
In short, Holmes has been utterly over-rated as a pipe smoker, ever since certain actors started to use the much more gentlemanly Calabash. Its all a whitewash, and Sherlock Holmes may have been many things, but he was certainly not the World's Greatest Pipe Smoker.
I haven't seen the new movie yet. I don't know if Downey Jr.'s Holmes smokes a pipe or not. I certainly hope so, though I fear the politically correct thought-police may have revised even that. But if he does smoke a pipe, I hope they show him smoking in the rough and careless way that he does in the novels.
Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Altadis' Byzantium