What’s In A Name?


 The first pipe I bought had a shallow, apple-shaped bowl and a longish stem.

It was not a fine piece, bought as it was from Woolworth’s tobacco kiosk when they had such a thing.  As I remember, it was probably purchased on price (around £1) more than the suitability of its shape in my mouth.

Now I know that this shape is a variation on an ‘Apple’ called a ‘Prince’, a relatively recent design in pipe terms.  It was designed by Dunhill in the 1920s for HRH The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII).  Despite being a rotten King (not a view necessarily shared by everyone – Ed.), the POW was the most stylish man of his day (see below).  A brief flick through photos will show his care and attention to detail in suits, shirts and shoes.

 prince of wales advert

He was of small, slender build and knew exactly what suited him and this particular small, elegant pipe looked just right in his mouth.

Not in mine.

For the early pipe smoker, shape was not really a consideration.  As the pipe developed simultaneously in various cultures, the shape was either governed by necessity and material, such as  African pipes made from gourds, or by ritual, such as Native American pipes, serving a dual purpose as peace pipe and tomahawk.


In the UK, early Elizabethan clay pipes’ tiny bowls were governed by the high price of tobacco.  Initially the bowls tilted far forward, closer in shape to a tube with an acorn swelling on the end. As the price of tobacco dropped and as the habit became more popular, the bowls grew in size and, to keep the greater quantity of tobacco in, developed until they were almost 90 degrees to the stem. The length of the clay stem, we imagine, was an attempt to cool the smoke, a feature that continues into today’s Churchwarden pipes, and the canted-forward bowl lives on in the ‘Cutty’ shape, itself developed from the short clays favoured by sailors. 

cutty & clay

 The briar pipe as we know it was really a French innovation (hurts, doesn’t it?) and came about through a combination of circumstances.  According to Alfred Dunhill’s The Pipe Book of 1924, the briar was discovered by a French pipe maker on holiday in Corsica sometime around 1840.  Having accidentally broken his Meerschaum, he commissioned a pipe from the local, hard briar-root or bruyere.  Such was the success of his wooden pipe that he sent ebauchons, or blocks, of plateau briar back to France.  The Jura town of St Claude (where to this day we still have many of our pipes made – Ed.) was already the centre for making pipe stems from olive wood and horn.  Lathe turning was the winter trade of St Claude as it became too cold for agriculture, plus it was served by two mountain torrents which were harnessed to provide power for spinning lathes and polishing wheels.  The first lathe-turned pipes came from St Claude and gradually took over from other wooden, turned items manufactured there. By 1924, Dunhill writes, pipes were  the town’s main industry, turning out 30million pipes a year. 


If we put aside freehands and the modern Danish pipes and their successors (we can talk about them another time) then it is probable that the majority of our classic pipe shapes derive from the lathes of St Claude. We have mentioned the Apple, and there is no empirical evidence for any of this – as shape development is organic and folk-arty – but we assume the regularly-shaped Billiard evolved from the lathe-turning St Claude.

Bille is an old French word for stick,  but the fact that the ‘stick’ is attached to the polished, round bowl of the pipe, it is too appealing not to assume that this is why the pipe, like the cue and the ball, became the billiard.

 Some of the shape of the pipe is governed by the root, the pattern and grain.  Give a billiard a taller bowl and it becomes a chimney…a squatter one, a pot. Bend it: it’s a Bent Billiard.  A longer stem, it becomes a Canadian, but with a shorter, saddle mouthpiece, a Lovat. 

We will talk about the details of some of these shapes in future pipe-musings but, in the meantime, make sure that the one you put in your mouth suits you. If I were six foot three with the face and demeanour of James Stewart, an elegant Canadian would be just the thing, but at five foot nine and with a grumpy demeanour, a Bulldog suits me just fine.

So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Pipe Shapes

 ‘Cocky Dunhill’  Nov 2013

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2 Responses to What’s In A Name?

  1. avatar Mr B J Davies says:

    I would like to know is it possible to buy a small wood turning lathe to make my own wooden pipes ?.

    • avatar Garrick says:

      Brian, small lathes do exist, and pipe bowls can be turned on them, but remember that briar is a very dense and hard wood, so turning the bowls can be hard work. The trickiest bit is not finding the lathe, but the tools to hold the briar at desired angles for carving and drilling. Try ebay, or search on Google. We sell pipe making kits, which comprise of pre-drilled briar blocks with a straight or bent stem, which are ideal starting points. Good luck and let us know how you get on!

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