What’s In a Name? Dublin & Corncob

I first remember seeing a Dublin being smoked by a farmer at a cattle market. I watched as he rubbed out, then filled it with a golden flake, then clenched it between strong teeth, puffing out billows of fragrant smoke as he leaned against the cowpens, considering the livestock.. I liked the way the pipe jutted straight out, the slight, canted tilt to the gently flared bowl. The shape was elegant, yet sturdy. A classic.

farmer smoking pipe

 

I can only guess that the origins of the shape were Irish, the clue being in the title. I recently bought a very slightly used Peterson Millennium Dublin online from an Irish tobacconist. A fine example it is too, silver banded and hallmarked for Dublin’s own millennium. I also mislaid a straight grain Dublin I inherited from my old man, smooth and perfectly caked with age –the pipe, not him. The stem was vulcanite, softer to the bite than most of the acrylic stems that are now made. It was the best smoking pipe I had and I commissioned a replacement from Northern Briars.  The resulting pipe is a little heavier, with a thicker bowl. The straight grain is fantastic, almost tiger-striped, and it is breaking in nicely. It is not the same pipe I lost, but then, they never are; each block of briar seems to have its own characteristics and their smoking qualities continue to develop.

The Dublin, like the Cutty, is one pipe shape that shows its ancestry from the shape of clay pipes, and lays claim to be one of the oldest of pipe shapes.  A Dublin with a flattened, oval stem and a quarter bend becomes a Zulu, and does indeed have a similarity with some African pipes (see also the Rhodesian, a semi-bent Bulldog often with a round, rather than diamond stem) I also have a bent Dublin, a ‘Four Dot’ from the maker Sasieni, who were an early offshoot from Dunhill. It has the same combination of elegance and sturdiness, its weight lessened by a saddle bit. These shapes shift and change over the years and I have recently seen extreme examples of freehand Dublins by Danish carvers and by the Italians, Savinelli.

extreme dublin

Modern, niche American pipemakers favour the shape, using the classic lines to embellish with rustication and coloured stems.  English master pipemaker, Chris Askwith makes a trademark short Dublin ‘nosewarmer’ called an Anvil. It is clear that as long as there is pipesmoke, the Dublin will always be a favourite shape amongst the makers.

While these musings on the pipe are neither strictly academic nor doggedly alphabetical, I have noticed recently the resurgence of another historical shape: the Corncob.

corn-cob-pipe

This is often thought of as somehow an inferior pipe, probably on account of its very economical price. This is not so. Before the prevalence of briar, pipe smoking had always adapted to the materials locally available. Clay was always an obvious choice. In Europe, Meerschaum was a perfect pipe material, lightweight, absorbent and soft enough to carve (for an in-depth look at the history of meerschaum pipes see this earlier blog post. During the World Wars soldiers carved pipes and used spent cartridges to afix mouthpieces in the style now known as ‘military mounts’. In Cornwall, pipes have been found that were adapted from lobster claws and similarly, tobacco abundant Mid-Westerners in the US adapted the dried out cobs of their corn harvest for the business of smoking.

military mount

While the cob is never going to be the prettiest of pipes, its homespun look is perfectly suited to the overalls of the American farmer or outdoorsman. What made it respectable, was its adoption by US General Douglas MacArthur, who was rarely photographed without his massive corncob clenched between his teeth. MacArthur’s cob was Churchill’s cigar – an instrument through which dominance and masculinity could be channelled. It could be used for prodding, pointing at maps and gesticulating, filling cabinets of war with its fragrance while soothing the troubled brow of the warrior with ‘Vitamin N’. MacArthur’s corncob was a giant (every bit as oversized as Winston’s Havana) – it looks huge to modern eyes, yet is also show-off testament to the bounty of tobacco available to the free American (as opposed to the UK under rationing which is probably why our pipes have traditionally remained smaller).

general macarthur

Corn Cob pipes are still readily available in the UK from Carey’s Pipe & Tobacco Shop and are made in the USA by Missouri Meerschaum amongst others, who have been making them since 1869.  They even still make “The General”, the monster magnum corn-ucopia favoured by MacArthur.  In America, the cob is still so popular among the pipe smoking fraternity, pipe clubs and fellow smokers regularly hold a ‘Corn Cob Tuesday’ to swap notes and tobacco.

The advantages of this budget-priced classic are as follows: they do not need breaking in, smoking well from the first fill.  They do not ‘ghost’: for those smokers who switch between aromatics and English blends, the flavours do not stay in the pipe for the following smoke – a bonus, now that we have such a variety available from tobacconists and blenders such as Carey’s. And, while all around us gets more expensive, they are cheap – a corncob is the blue denim work wear of the pipe world.

Perhaps the only disadvantages of a corn cob are that ‘you get what you pay for’ in terms of the longevity of the pipe – let’s just say you don’t often see them mentioned in wills or displayed in antique shops – and that some people don’t like the ‘neutral’ smoke they give, preferring instead the unique character undertones one finds particularly with briars or meerschaums…

So, whether you go Saville Row and commission a straight grained briar Dublin, or pull on dungarees and chew on an American utility cob, it’s all part of the pleasure uniquely available to the pipe smoker.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Cocky Dunhill, April 2014

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2 Responses to What’s In a Name? Dublin & Corncob

  1. avatar Mitch Hamby says:

    Can some explain how to put more bend in a Carey pipe stem.

    • avatar Marcus says:

      OK, so we wouldn’t normally recommend this as it requires lots of heat and therefore a high degree of safety. However, if one was to try it the most effective way is to immerse the stem in some hot oil for a few minutes and then use maybe 2 metal pipes around which you can bend the stem to the required degree. Once happy, immerse into ice cold water and the stem will retain its new shape. But as I said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as their is always the chance of burning oneself or breaking the stem!

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