A Look into Famous Pipe-Smoker, Sherlock Holmes

The original illustration of Sherlock Holmes smoking a pipe.

 Sherlock Holmes is arguably Britain’s most beloved fictional detective, and whilst he may not be the first, he is certainly the most well-known. The Guinness World Records has even listed him as the ‘most portrayed movie character’ in the entire history, gracing our screens in numerous television, movie and game adaptions throughout the years. He is widely recognised as a British cultural icon; his character and the Victorian environment he inhabited has had a great effect on both the genre of mystery writing and popular culture as a whole.

 Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a British author who has gone down as one of the most famous in British history, Sherlock Holmes is a detective who was known for his outstanding abilities in observation, forensic science and reasoning that he used on his many cases, including some for the infamous Scotland Yard. The character first appeared in 1887 in The Strand Magazine, Doyle’s tales of Holmes and his trusty companion soon became a widely anticipated instalment. Doyle created an outstanding number of stories that included Holmes, totalling up to four novels and 56 short stories, where his adventures took him and Dr Watson on an adventure through the Victorian age.

 In addition to his outstanding detective skills, Holmes is known for some other factors including his love of a good pipe. In Victorian England, tobacco smoking was considered both a pleasurable pastime and a therapeutic process. Predominantly a male habit, it comes as no surprise that Doyle painted our beloved detective as a regular smoker of cigarettes, cigars and most preferably from pipes. He was even known to snuff tobacco, on occasion, from a jewel snuff-box; illustrating a habit that was popular during the Victorian age.

 In the 1880s, cigarette production began on a mass scale and promised instant relief from respiratory problems, as well as providing a means for recreational use. Smoking, during this time, was renowned for its mind-refreshing element, a useful side-effect for the avid detective. Holmes would use his pipe during his contemplative moments, and thus re-enforced the pipe as a symbol of intellectual thought. Whilst the cigarettes would be reserved for moments of agitation when Holmes would pace across the drawing room, and cigars were connected with his times away from work when he enjoyed a meal or was drinking a glass of brandy. Dr Watson was even known to enjoy pipe-smoking, and on occasion would even partake in a cigar, but never a cigarette- thus indicating the similarities and differences between this two characters.

Sherlock owned three pipes for his smoking; one made from clay, one from briar-wood and the other from cherry-wood. Clay was perhaps his favourite of all the pipes because of its ability to provide a ‘pure’ smoke, and these types of pipes are currently relatively rare in the use of pipe-smoking. The briar-wood pipe is a perhaps the most popular type of pipe sold nowadays. It is a popular material for pipes because of its natural resistance to fire, and its ability to absorb moisture. Yet, Sherlock is often depicted in silhouette portraiture with the easily identifiable calabash pipe, which is not mentioned in any of the original stories.

Holmes is the epitome of masculinity of the late-Victorian England, a smart intellect that valued good male friendships, qualities that could arguably be symbolised by the pipe. If you fancy channelling your inner Holmes, take a look through our selection of pipes, including our fine range of Dunhill pipes that are highly sought after.

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