Much has been shown and written in the last hundred years and more to cloud the facts about what the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tell of Sherlock Holmes, and one of the most miscarried topics is that of his various uses of tobacco and most particularly his pipe(s). The Sherlock Holmes of the stories had a pipe-rack to hold all his pipes in ‘A Case of Identity’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ while in ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’ he had a litter of pipes on the mantelpiece. In ‘The Red-Headed League’, ‘A Case of Identity’, ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, not by name though most likely ‘The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,’ ‘The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton’, ‘The Valley of Fear,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’ Holmes smoked an old, unsavoury, and oily black clay pipe, which was “to him as a counsellor” and “companion of his deepest meditations.” In ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches’ it was a “long cherrywood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood.” In ‘The Sign of Four’, ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Priory School’ Holmes smoked an amber-stemmed, briar-root pipe. The curve-stemmed pipe made famous by William Gillette (on stage) and Frederic Dorr Steele (in Collier’s Magazine) among others known as the Calabash or Meerschaum pipe is never mentioned in the stories nor is it drawn by Sidney Paget or any other in the Strand Magazine.
Calabash pipe by Frotz at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Sherlock Holmes with straight-stemmed pipe by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) (Strand Magazine) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Other forms of tobacco use are herein summarised. As it is told by Watson, Holmes rarely smoked cigars, but he was in the regular habit of offering them to others. On only three occasions (in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House,’ ‘The Adventure of the Gold Pince-Nez,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans’) is it recorded that Holmes actually enjoyed a cigar, but we may presume that Holmes often joined in when he did offer cigars to others. Those times when cigars are smoked is generally during a relaxed conversation either in the course of or at the conclusion of an investigation. In nine stories, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ ‘A Case of Identity,’ ‘The Final Problem,’ ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ ‘The Adventure of the Empty House,’ ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,’ ‘The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,’ ‘The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective,’ usually in the middle of an investigation, the reader is told that Holmes smoked a cigarette. Several other occasions find Holmes smoking though the medium holding the tobacco is not described.
Of course, these various forms of tobacco must have been kept close at hand to be retrieved when needed. In ‘A Case of Identity’ Holmes offers Watson snuff from a fancy box given by the King of Bohemia though a pinch is never mentioned passing either of their lips. From ‘The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,’ Holmes often smoked a “before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece.” The mantelpiece was also where he kept his tobacco in the toe-end of a Persian slipper next the jack-knife transfixing his unanswered correspondence. His cigars were kept in the coal-scuttle, which is something like a pail typically for holding coal for a coal-fired stove. In ‘The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone’ these facts become a bit jumbled. For travelling purposes, Holmes carried a case of either cigars or cigarettes in ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery,’ ‘Silver Blaze,’ ‘The Adventure of the Cardboard Box,’ ‘The Final Problem’ (though in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ he described it as a box), and ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.’
Coal-scuttle by Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Some of the clues that helped Holmes involved tobacco. In ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes deduced Watson had found his hiding place because he saw Watson’s Oxford Street brand of cigarette stub where he had thrown it outside before entering the hut. In ‘The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez,’ he found it necessary to use the cigarettes of his client because he was smoking ‘with extraordinary rapidity’ for reasons set forth in the plot. It is also important to keep in mind the filter placed in the mouth end of the cigarette in use today was not commonplace in those days, and in ‘The Red Circle’ Holmes deduces an important clue from the shortness of a cigarette butt. Holmes often finds clues from remnants left behind: the type of ash, whether the cigar end was cut or bitten off, and the sharpness of the knife used, whether or not a holder was employed. Lest we forget, in ‘The Sign of Four’ and again in ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery,’ Holmes mentions that he penned a monograph titled “Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.” In which he enumerates a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash.
These instances, when detailed, seem more often occurred than is depicted in today’s politically correct world. Many others, including Watson, enjoyed tobacco throughout the stories, but these are the bare essentials involving Sherlock Holmes.