Rotterdam’s ‘Papa Big Pipe’

Originally Published on August 7 2010

At the cusp of the 21st century, I discarded both my electric and manual typewriters, purchased a computer, stopped poring through books on the reference shelves of the local library in the hope of finding grist for my continuing research in pipe and tobacco lore, and turned my attention to the Worldwide Web, opting for pixels, rather than pencils. It soon became apparent to me that Google, the behemoth search engine on the commercially byzantine Internet, is a researcher’s friend, and Google Book Search (GBS), recently changed to Google Books, that singular collection of online digitized books, soon became my very best friend, my new fact-finder, my trusty 4-1-1. As every computer-adept user knows, GBS (not to be confused with the initials of Gary B. Schrier, my non-machine-programmable author-friend) is a wellspring of universal information, a veritable treasure-trove of data, facts, and stats for anyone seeking an historical tidbit or an arcane ort of interest. (Of course, being fickle, when the World Digital Library [WDL] is in full bloom, I just may kiss GBS goodbye, and make WDL my new, best friend.) My writing effort has always focused on pipes and tobacco, more specifically, pipes and tobacco of yore… and who said what, where, when, and why about both. So far, I have been lucky enough, most of the time, to fill the gaps and voids in my stories using the power and speed of my computer and the right search terms: a few keyboard strokes and, voilà, GBS almost always responds with lots of literary citations.

SEARCH OR SURF AND YE MAY FIND

I am not as robust a database as GBS, because it has much more information at its fingertips than I have in my library of tobacco-related books, and keyboarding a search term to find something noteworthy that I can write about is much, much easier than tediously poring over tables of contents, references, and indexes in hundreds of books. Why this public confession? Because I found something on GBS heretofore unfamiliar to me and I was surprised, no, unsettled, no, shocked. For years, I believed I knew the names of all the notable 19th century pipe people—they were few in number—and their names were always prominent in tobacco literature. But GBS proved me wrong by giving me access to the extensive body of work of Edmondo De Amicis, an Italian novelist, journalist, poet and short-story writer who traveled far and wide and wrote about what he saw, heard, and was told in the various cities and countries in Europe that he visited. Reading DeAmicis led me to associated GBS searches, the results of which I offer now.

There are many so-called famous (and infamous) pipe people whom we have encountered from time to time—I say much about this later—but I can’t think of anyone today as gregarious a piper as the person whom De Amicis heard about in Rotterdam. I find it odd, even uncharacteristic, that the worldwide press covered this person’s life and death, but among all the standard English-language tobacco and pipe books, only one gives him passing mention, so credit for this article goes to De Amicis for having written the message, and credit goes to GBS for making his message publicly accessible in digital form for creative reuse. I have played an atypical authoring role, that of being just the messenger.

A CELEBRITY UNIVERSALLY FETED

De Amicis mentions this individual in his two-volume travelogue Olanda (1875) translated into English by Maurice Saltire and published as Holland (1883). (There is also an 1894 edition by the same title translated by Helen Zimmern, and an 1880 edition, Holland and Its People, translated by Caroline Tilton, that reads slightly differently.) By all accounts, this person was a rather unique personality in pipe history, not only a puffer of the fragrant weed, but also a celebrator of its virtues, a gentleman who was quite the luminary in his time, as you are about to find out. The same or a similar story was reprised, chronologically, in Dottor Giuseppe Licata’s treatise, Il Tabacco (1884), in Frederic Rowland Martin’s The Last Words (Real and Traditional) of Distinguished Men and Women (1902), Charles Émile Roche’s Things Seen in Holland (1910), with an extract reprinted in Wilfred Partington, Smoke Rings and Roundelays (1924), in Blair Jaekel’s Windmills and Wooden Shoes (1912), Henrik De Leeuw’s Crossroads of the Zuider Zee (1938), in Roger Pilkington’s Small Boat Through Holland (1958), and in several journals of the period. “Father Great Pipe, and His Queer Funeral” was an essay in Hezekiah Butterworth’s Traveller Tales of South Africa (1900), narrated by a Dutchman in Cape Town. He begins: “I know of no true story that more clearly shows the power that a simple habit may gain over a man than that of Father Great Pipe who seems to have changed himself into one great pipe, soul and body, after smoking nearly one hundred years… He smoked and thought at first; then he smoked and dreamed, and then he simply smoked and smoked. He became very fat; he had simple pipes, as we may suppose, at first; then he used a great pipe, and puffed smoke like a smoke-house chimney.”

As well, his name popped up in many diverse newspapers and journals: The Cass City Enterprise, a Cass City, Michigan, newspaper, February 16, 1882, “Father Greatpipe and his Curious Will,” and reappeared in The Cass City Chronicle, July 8, 1927, “Prepared to ‘Smoke’”; with the title, “The King of Smokers,” he was feted in the Daily Alta California, February 5, 1878; noted in the Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, Volume XI, 1877–1878; received honorable mention as “the great pipe” in The Western Lancet, March 1878; cited as “A Jolly Old Smoker” in The Louisville Medical News, Volumes V. and VI.—1878; again under the title, “The Smoker’s Will,” in the Gettysburg Compiler, November 4, 1884; The Evening Telegram–New York, January 5, 1882, devoted a column to “Smoking in Holland. The Peculiarities of a Will Left By a Rich Merchant”; the Sunday Herald, and Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, March 17, 1895, hailed “Pop Big-Pipe. The Queer Will of a Famous Dutch Smoker Who Died at Ninety-Eight”; in “Some Marvelous Smoking Records,” The Carroll (Iowa) Herald, March 7, 1906; “Some Famous Smokers,” the San Francisco Call, April 1, 1906; in “Strange as it Seems,” John Hix’s column in Auburn, New York’s The Citizen-Advertiser, November 2, 1931, appeared a caricature of this person smoking a pipe with the caption “The Champion Smoker of All Time”; he was honorably mentioned in an article by Eleanor Boykin, James Thurber, and Robert M. Coates, “Ye Filthie Weed” (The New Yorker, September 19, 1931) in which it was stated that George Arents, the indomitable tobacco literature collector, was made aware of his existence; The Milwaukee Sentinel, November 9, 1952, carried an article by E.V. Durling, “Look No Further, Men, Here’s Your ‘Model’ Wife” in which the writer claims that for 60 years this person was without his pipe only when he slept and ate. Strange at it may seem he was center-stage, of all places, in The Essays of Virginia Woolf (Volume 3, 1919–1924).

In The Soverane Herbe. A History of Tobacco (1901), W.A. Penn wrote: “No one has ever disputed the right of ________ [I reveal his name shortly], who flourished about forty years ago, to the title of the ‘King of Smokers.’” He was listed as one of the “Fumadores famosos” (famous smokers) in Alrededor del Mundo (July 6–December 28, 1905). And in Tobacco Advertising. The Great Seduction (1996), author Dr. Gerard S. Petrone calls him “The Smoking King of Holland.” Pretty convincing evidence of his worldly reputation, and if I mined GBS further, I’m sure that I’d find many more citations acknowledging the man.

Considering all this notoriety from both sides of the Pond—and from as far away as New Zealand (honorable mention in “Who Smoked First?” in the Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXIX, Issue 9670, July 30, 1919)—either the whole world had been seduced into believing one hellova’ smoker’s scheme, or this person was a smoking superstar who fully lived by the mantra: “it is better to smoke here than hereafter.” From all the evidence, I concluded that he was real, so I thought it a worthy story to resuscitate, to bring that person back to life, and I hope the readers enjoy this (seemingly) plausible account. It’s not so far-fetched. By the late 18th century, pipe smoking had become ubiquitous in Holland. John L. Stoddard, Stoddard’s Lectures, Volume VII (1898), had this to say: “The Hollanders are inveterate smokers. The boatmen, it is said, measure distances by smoke and reckon, not so many miles from place to place, but so many pipes. Some Dutchmen, it is alleged, go to sleep at night with their pipes between their lips, so that they may find them there the first thing in the morning, and light them before rising to the duties and trials of another day. Tobacco smoke is, therefore, called their second breath, and a cigar the sixth finger of their hands.” A few years later, W.A. Penn echoed this view, having considered the Dutch “great pipe-smokers.” And a century later, Mike Dash, in Tulipomania (1999), declared: “By 1636 pipe smoking was so prevalent among the Dutch that it was practically a national characteristic… Smokers smoked almost constantly, not least because the doctors of the period touted tobacco as a potent medicine, capable of protecting against the plague and curing everything from toothache to worms.”

I have taken only slight liberties with the De Amicis narrative to keep it relatively short without excluding any of the colorful details surrounding this individual. As you read, you may also conclude that in both life and death this man was quite the character. In Volume I, De Amicis offers a portrait of a wealthy Rotterdam gentleman, Mynheer (Dutch for mister or sir) Van Klaës, known familiarly to the locals as Papa Groote Pyp, Papa Big Pipe, in the Zimmern translation; Tilton translated the Italian as Father Great-pipe, and Saltire translated it as Father Big Pipe. Whichever is the most accurate translation, De Amicis characterized Van Klaës accurately, because he was, by all accounts, rotund and, more important, an inveterate—more aptly, a marathon—pipe smoker and pipe collector. He smoked, it was claimed, about 150 grams of tobacco daily. As a gratuitous comment, DeAmicis noted that if he had begun smoking at age 18, consuming tobacco at that daily rate, by the time he died (as best I can determine, in 1872) at age 98, he probably had lit up some 4,383 kilograms (9,642.6 pounds) of pipe tobacco! And extrapolating from that number, had he limited his indulgence to only 100 grams of tobacco a day, he might have lived to the advanced age of 120 instead of passing from the scene at a mere 98…or a premature 81. (Tobacco News, Winter 1964–1965, announced that he had died at the age of 81 in 1871, and Penn also claimed his death at age 81. The Popular Science Monthly, Volume 1, May to October 1872, reported that he had “… just died in his eightieth year.” Quite confusing is that both Dr. David B. Moyer in his The Tobacco Reference Guide (2000) and GLOBALink, an American Cancer Society Web site, indicate that Van Klaës was a 17th century pipe smoker, but this claim is way off the mark.)

As De Amicis tells it, Van Klaës was a venerable man of simple habits, a kind heart, of philanthropic bent and, to some who read about his modus vivendi, more than a bit eccentric. He made his fortune in India as a tradesman and, using that wealth, built a large mansion near Rotterdam and filled it with an large and variegated collection of pipes from around the globe, representative pipes from every country and every era, from early African devices used for smoking hemp to exquisite European meerschaum and amber tobacco pipes created by the best carvers of the period. Here’s Penn’s summary: “His den was a museum of nicotian relics, containing specimens of every kind of tobacco smoked in the world and every kind of pipe through which the nations draw inspiration.” The following is a more detailed description of the collection:

[H]e had the clumsy bowl and thick stem of Sir Walter Raleigh’s short clay, thence down through all known varieties of fashion and manufacture—wooden, porcelain, metallic—to the modern meerschaum and brier-root. He had the black, earthen pipe of Nubia, the pipe of horn puffed by the Kaffre, the Chinaman’s tiny bowls of brass for deadly opium, the red Indian’s tomahawk-pipe, and the superb, machine-like hookahs of India. Nargile and jasmine-sticks from Egypt, dainty-carved sea-foam of Trebizond, Irish dudeens, Broseleys a yard long, and Leyden straws of twice that length—Van Klaes had them all.[i]

Here is another account of his collecting penchant:

There died lately in Holland an estimable Dutch gentleman, of sufficient means to justify him in keeping and entertaining an expensive hobby, whose greatest delight was to collect tobacco-pipes. From the common clay pipe, a yard long, such as was affected by the Dutch in days gone by, and which still does duty in English tap-rooms, where English boors and workingmen congregate, to the most costly meerschaum or unsurpassable hookah, every variety of the pipe, in every variety of material, found its way to his smoking-room. The art of carving and engraving, as well as that of painting, lends itself, if asked, to the tobacco-pipe as well as to the fan or the snuff-box, or any other article of use and luxury; and some of the Dutchman’s pipes were as veritable gems as if they had ben statuary or jewelry. He might, it is true, have done better with his money, but then he might have done worse, and in that juste milieu and equilibrium between good and bad—let us leave his memory and his hobby.[ii]

But assembling the collection was not as important as what he did with it and how he shared it. He opened his palace/museum to the public, welcomed visitors with a detailed tutorial about the collection and, on their departure, presented each with a pouch filled with tobacco, cigars, and a velvet-bound catalog of the collection.

Local tradition seems to have maintained all the relevant particulars of his last days on earth. As he was about to celebrate his 98th (or maybe his 81st?) birthday, he had a premonition about his end. He summoned his pipe-smoking notary, Piet, and declared: “Fill my pipe and yours. I am going to die,” or as De Leeuw recounted in his book: “My dear Piet, my time is about up. Fill your pipe and mine. I am about ready to ‘kick the bucket,’ so let’s get down to business and write my will.” The notary lit both pipes, and Van Klaës began dictating his last will and testament. In his will, he bequeathed to his relatives, friends and charities a large proportion of his estate, and then he specified how he was to be buried, a request that has been interpreted differently in various sources. This is the most complete account:

I wish that all my friends who are smokers shall be specially invited to my funeral. Each of them shall receive a package of tobacco and two pipes, and they are requested to smoke uninterruptedly during the funeral ceremonies. My body shall be enclosed in a coffin lined with the wood of my old cigar boxes. Beside me in the casket shall be laid my favorite meerschaum, a box of matches, and a package of tobacco. When my body is lowered into the grave, every person present is requested to pass by and cast upon it the ashes from his pipe.” These touching requests, it is said, were faithfully complied with. His friends attended in prodigious numbers; and, at the funeral, the smoke was so dense that a horn had to be blown to enable the mourners to find the door.[iii]

As the story traveled across Europe and America, it was embellished, but not by much. A variant account of his dying request in “Minor Matters and Things” (Appletons’ Journal of Literature, Science and Art, No. 172-Vol. VIII, 1872) reads: “…his coffin be lined throughout with pieces of Havana cigar-boxes; that packages of ‘French caporal’ and ‘dry-cut, Dutch golden leaf’ should be put below his feet, and that his specially-loved and most companionable pipe should be laid ready as his hand; thus signifying that he did not despair of indulging himself, when he passed into another world, in what had been his perpetual solace here.” In Blair Jaekel’s Windmills and Wooden Shoes (1912), there is this: “The will stipulated further that all who wished to partake of its benefits must smoke ‘without interruption during the entire ceremony.’” Penn added an interesting tidbit to that of Stoddard: “In accordance with his will, all the smokers of Rotterdam were invited to the funeral, and, instead of the old-fashioned mourning-rings, each was presented with 10 pounds of good tobacco and two pipes bearing Van Klaes’ arms,” and “All the mourners smoked during the funeral service, and at the words, ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ shook the ashes out of their pipes on to the coffin-lid. By a further bequest a sum of money was provided for the distribution every year of 10 pounds of tobacco among the poor of Rotterdam.” He left his cook, Gertrude, a comfortable income on the condition that she try to overcome her aversion to tobacco. It was noted that she accompanied the procession, a cigarette in her mouth. Van Klaës departed life with much fumigatory fanfare; he expired, lit pipe in mouth, having puffed his life away, his soul having departed in a cloud of smoke. His will was rigorously carried out according to his wishes. The funeral was splendid, veiled in a thick cloud of smoke, the largest Rotterdam had ever witnessed. As De Amicis adds: “The poor blessed the memory of the charitable gentleman, and all the country resounded with his praises as it now rings with his fame.” From all I read, however, Holland never erected a monument or a statue to him.

FACT, FICTION, OR FANTASY?

A quaint, heart-felt, human-interest story… but I had reservations and doubt. A good writer desirous of maintaining a reputation for accurate reporting is guided by persistence and perseverance, always seeking corroborative evidence, always fact-finding to support the story he weaves. I turned, once again, to my best friend and keyed in several different search terms. GBS came through with a snippet from Notes and Queries, August 17, 1872, in which a certain Cuthbert Bede, referring to the August 1872 issue of Cope’s Tobacco Plant, wrote: “The entire story is therein denounced as fiction, and a reward of 100l, is offered to—‘any person or persons who shall afford such information as shall lead to the identification of Mynheer Van Klaes, the Smoking King of Rotterdam, and establish the correctness of the history propounded by the Daily Telegraph.’” Whoa! Bede writes this in August 1872, yet De Amicis sings Van Klaës’s praises a decade later as did others following his example. Something ain’t right! There is the obvious issue of chronology and the question of how did this story stay alive so long in the intervening period without a single Dutch hoax-buster of record?

The Bede snippet was an unexpected curveball, and here GBS failed me, because it does not include the whole universe of all possible information, at least not yet; it has no digitized version of The Daily Telegraph or the complete 11-year run of Cope’s Tobacco Plant. I had to search through my copy of Cope’s Tobacco Plant to find that story. In the June 1872 issue of Cope’s Tobacco Plant I found a lengthy, complimentary poem by H. Lloyd about Van Klaës, “The King of Smokers.” Here are just three of the 27 stanzas:

He was the King of Smokers, all

His chroniclers do sing:

And thro’ that blissful land of pipes

His praises loudly rung:

I wish my fate had been to be

His chief pipe in Waiting.

***

He had a thousand pipes—that is,

As near as I can guess—

I’m not particular to one,

And to say, “more or less;”

Some new ones, and some old ones, made

In days of Good Queen Bess.

 ***

Some black, some white, some wood, some clay,

Some meerschaum, and some brass;

Some red, some brown, some big, some small,

Some iron, silver, glass;

Some long, some short, some thick, some thin—

All left, but one, alas!

Then I read the August 1872 edition of Cope’s Tobacco Plant, and there it was: “The ‘King of Smokers’ a Hoax.” I quote the singular paragraph that is the basis for Bede’s allegation that Van Klaës was a hoax; it is from a “letter of one of the most famous [unidentified] bibliographers—[not biographer]—in Europe, dated from the chief city [unidentified] of the Netherlands”:

I wonder that any one could credit the story of Mynheer Van Klaes, of Rotterdam, which was invented and circulated by some journal last year, apparently to test the remarkable credulity which prevails amongst the people of some other countries in matters relating to Holland… The statement about Van Klaes is the grossest fable ever invented about my country; and, in order that you may not suppose that in saying this I am actuated only by national pride or prejudice, I will offer £50 sterling to be paid to any person who shall prove that there is any truth in the story… The existence of Mr. Klaes is entirely and absolutely mythical. No such name, precisely, as Van Klaes is to be found in Holland; and if there had been such a man as is described he would certainly have had a Christian name as well as a surname. My own conviction is that the story is an imitation or corruption of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle.

That bibliographer’s assertion is hardly proof-positive that Van Klaës was fictional; he simply denies his existence, although there may be some merit to the charge that “…he would certainly have had a Christian name as well as a surname.” In everything I read, he was identified only as Mr. Van Klaës, or Klaës; alternately, Klaes or Claes can be either a first or a last name. Although I encountered no commentary from a Dutchman to corroborate or refute his existence, the aforementioned Stoddard, an American writer and lecturer who, like the Italian De Amicis, gained popularity through his travelogues, reported in Lectures: “In one of the streets of Rotterdam, I was shown the home of the greatest smoker that the world has known. Mein-heer Van Klaes, as he was called…” There is this in Jos. Bechtinger, Der Hinkende Teufel im Ostindischen Archipel (1873): “…in Rotterdam unlängst erstorbene (Juli 1872) Holländer Van Klaës, der seine Schoppen täglich trank und 150 Grammen Taback täglich verrauchte.” (…in Rotterdam the Dutchman Van Klaës who had died in July 1872 drank his glass of beer daily and smoked his 150 grams of tobacco daily.) Would this not be at least slight evidence that Van Klaës did exist? And then to add to the controversy, an anonymous poet wrote an extended post-mortem epitaph that appeared in an essay on death (John Davenport, Curiositates Eroticæ Physiologiæ; or, Tabooed Subjects Freely Treated [1875]) that bears the title: “Epitah [sic] to the Memory of Mynheer Van Klaes, An Inveterate Smoker”:

Peace to the ashes of Mynheer Van Klaes,

Who smok’d four tons of ‘bacca in his days,

Who swallow’d half a million quarts of beer,

And look’d quite jolly in his 80th year.

Till death, at last, the brave old Dutchman snatches,

And coffins him with pipes, cigars, and matches.

Two articles of faith composed his creed—

Beer was his idol, and his god the weed.

The poor old man, before he went away,

Took a long pull from his old pipe of clay;

And laying back his head, so white and hoary,

Ascended to the very gates of glory.

But when St. Peter asked for his diploma,

He offered ‘bacca of approved aroma.

On being told no smoking was allowed—

No place within to blow a white cloud.

Then, thanking the Apostle quite polite,

He’d smoke outside, if he could find a light.

Not here, but lower down they keep a fire,

And far more Lucifers than he’d require.

Well, if no smoking, any chance for beer?

No, nothing but water without spirits here.

Further to epitaphs, I’m more than a little dubious about the credibility of the following. Thirty years after Davenport’s lengthy eulogy, according to Charles C. Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature (1905), “the greatest smoker in Europe died at Rotterdam…,” and he had requested the following epitaph to be placed on his tombstone:

Here Lies

TOM KLAES,

The Greatest Smoker in Europe.

He Broke His Pipe

July 4, 1872.

Mourned by his family and

all tobacco merchants.

STRANGER, SMOKE FOR HIM!

Where did Bombaugh find a precise date when I could not? And Tom Klaes? Methinks not, but it’s an apt epitaph for sure.

Well, at this point, I decided that the trail about Papa Big Pipe should end in a draw. No one seems to know how the story got started, who started it, how long he lived or when he died, and whether it was all an exaggerated hoax or exacting history. If he was a myth, well, some myths make the world a more enchanted place. From what I had read, it’s apparent that many believed him to be real… a few did not. I’d like to believe that at a time in the past such a person may have lived and loved his pipes, and shared that love with others. If he was real, he was not a hero, but he was close, maybe a local celebrity or idol. It’s still a rather tall tobacco tale, yet it was perpetuated and recounted here and there, time and time again, for some 75 years. Considering what we smokers have to put up with nowadays, it’s still a great story, because it appeals to our senses and who, more than we who smoke pipes, ought to believe in his existence?

TODAY’S AWARDS AND ACCOLADES

Throughout the latter years of the 20th century and certainly in the 21st, many here and abroad have been the recipient of various awards or peer recognition, all members of a burgeoning pantheon of notable pipe enthusiasts. Here are the most well known forms of public appreciation having a certain cachet in some circles:

  • Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club’s degree of “Doctor of Pipes” (“Lifetime

Achievement Award” for “having greatly assisted the hobby…”)

  • The British Pipesmokers’ Council’s “Pipe Smoker of the Year” (In 2004, after 39

           consecutive years of picking a worthy individual, tobaccophobiacs killed this one)

  • “Distinguished Pipe Man”
  • Germany’s Internationale Kollegium’s “Pipe Knight of the Year,” and
  • The short-lived “Certified Kapnismologist” (“one who studies or who makes an

             art of the business of smoking”)

In February 2007, Blogonomicon, whose mantra is “Because You May Never Know What Trivial Bit of Information May Ultimately Prove To Be Vitally Important,” began naming notables as “Pipe Smoker of the Week” on its Web site, but by April of that year, this cloned idea withered and died.

There are, as well, a few organizations into which one can be inducted:

  • “The Honorable Society of Pipe Smokers”—not to be confused with the Virginia-based pipe club that bears the same name—once sponsored by Tinder Box (awarded to “…gentle folk of good character and breeding who enjoy the pleasures of fine briar and meerschaum smoking instruments”)
  • La Confrèrie des Maîtres Pipiers de Saint-Claude” (the Brotherhood of Master Pipe Makers)
  • The International Academy of the Pipe, and
  • The long-defunct “Pipe Smoker’s Hall of Fame” (for “…outstanding accomplishments and a devotion to pipes”)

How about something more humble, to be declared a famous smoker? More than 20 years ago, in The Ultimate Pipe Book, Rick Hacker’s drew attention to some notables in Chapter Eight, “Famous Pipe Smokers in History, Literature & Entertainment.” Since that time, it’s the Internet that offers assorted lists of this hobby’s “who’s who”; there are just too many to include, but here’s a sampling. According to the Smokers Association, a famous smoker is someone for “whom smoking is clearly a recognised part of their public image, or who are known for some unusual aspect of smoking.” There is a list of iconic smokers of cigars and cigarettes, names of those “… who act in a peculiar way about themselves smoking.” There is the gender-specific “Female Celebrity Smoking List,” and a “Male Celebrity Smoking List.” Better yet, there is the honorific title of “Famous Pipe Smoker.” On the Organization of Online Pipe Smokers Web site is its qualification: “…prominent people (in fields other than tobacco production or sales) who smoke(d) a pipe for enjoyment. This characterization is based on the person smoking a pipe for a long enough period in their lives that others noted their pipe-smoking or photographed them smoking a pipe.” A similar list of notables, from John Abbot to Robert Young, appears on http://forum.pipes.org. Joseph Cruse Johnson’s list of “Famous Pipe Smokers” includes “…numerous actors and celebrities… This is to all the men and even the women who have enjoyed pipe smoking.” The Web site of Don Duco’s Pijpenkabinet (Amsterdam) offers “Famous pipe smokers in other countries,” and the honorary title “Pijproker van het Jaar” to “…undisputed persons who are known to smoke a pipe in public.” Another “Famous Pipe Smokers” list includes “…a few people who have been known to take up the pipe once in a while, or who were very dedicated pipe smokers.” The Fedora Lounge has its own roster, and the Web site, Theophiliacs, takes this concept one step further afield, posting a “modest list of (relatively) famous Christian pipe smokers.” I suspect that the new Web site, PipesMagazine.com, may eventually generate its own slate of famous pipe smokers, because there is now a tag, “Famous Pipe Smokers,” on its home page. Augmenting these assorted lists are lots of “Famous Pipe Smoker” You Tube video clips. One can conclude that, nowadays, thanks to the Internet, a pipe smoker can become an instant, but disposable, celebrity, or the Web can make every smoker famous to at least 15 other people.

What’s my take on all these lists? Evidently, there are those, today, who believe that this type of public recognition, this elevation to pseudo-iconic stature, is warranted. Matter-of-factly, I doubt that any of these personalities sought fame as a pipe smoker! I certainly have no objection to such lists, but the selection criteria for nominees seem to be arbitrary and frivolous, not wholly based on fame as a pipe smoker. Some may say that I am too literal and nit-picky, but my take is that the people on these lists were/are famous and happen to smoke a pipe, but not famous for smoking a pipe. If you accept, for example, OOp’s, Johnson’s, or Duco’s criteria to qualify, I say that tons of folks who smoke a pipe could easily qualify for this level of approbation. And to take this concept of shake-n-bake fame, fortune, and fun to an extreme, on eBay, FunVersity™ offers a Doctor of Pipes diploma from Tobacco State University on archival-quality, acid-free paper to anyone seeking “authentic recognition of your undisputed virtuosity in Pipes” for a mere $19.95 with free shipping! Does it get any better than this?

VAN KLAËS, THE FIRST AMONG EQUALS

Admittedly, such honors and accolades were nonexistent during Van Klaës’s time, perhaps because no one saw the need to draw public attention to a pipe smoker or a pipe collector as someone of extraordinary talent, repute, or esteem. But, had there been such a list in his day, he certainly would have been an ideal contender. In his life and at his death he had garnered more attention than other noted nicotians, such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Jean Nicot. He won immortality of a sort, but not in the annals of tobacco lore. And no one since that time, to my knowledge, has ever come close to his enduring and widespread reputation. He was more than someone who was famous for one year, someone of good character and breeding, someone who smoked a pipe for enjoyment. His personal attributes, according to all written accounts, spanned the alphabet, from Altruistic to Zealous. It was said that the burghers of Rotterdam, famous for their long-bowled pipes, should have raised a monument of meerschaum to him. An entire nation glorified him, and for three quarters of a century, the writing world reprised his unique life style, particularly in print across the United States. In my view, Van Klaës was an alpha-to-omega role model and an inspiration for follow-on generations of pipe smokers and collectors. Andy Warhol may have made fame more famous, but Van Klaës spent more time in the limelight during life and after death than Warhol’s 15 minutes. Papa Big Pipe is dead. Long Live Papa Big Pipe!


Notes

[i] “Minor Matters and Things,” Appletons’ Journal of Literature, Science and Art, Volume Eighth, From No. 171 to No. 196 Inclusive, July 6, to December 28, 1872, 708.

[ii] “Hobbies and Hobby Riders,” American Bibliopolist, October 1872, 541.

[iii] John L. Stoddard, John L. Stoddard’s Lectures, Vol. VII (Boston, Balch Brothers Co., 1898), 76-77.


 

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