Once a staple of well-accessorized Harvard gentlemen, pipes are returning as a popular alternative to unhealthy cigarettes and stinky stogies for some retro students. A private habit for some, conspicuous consumption for others, pipe-smoking is uniting tobacco lovers Square-wide.
"It's definitely a machismo thing," says one junior, "and it's calming. Doing something [like smoking a pipe] helps stop what's stressing you."
A couple years ago, a friend told Jason St. John '00 that "it would be cool if you had one of those Sherlock Holmes pipes." St. John now smokes them a couple times a month, always with friends. He's never encountered a negative reaction to his habit, and, he says, "I've even been complimented and thanked while smoking on Weeks Bridge."
Paul J. Macdonald, whose family has owned the historical establishment Leavitt and Pearce (est. 1883) for the past 15 years, says that "every fall, a fresh batch of freshmen come in," many with the assumption that a Harvard man smokes a pipe. (Not all of his customers are male, of course, though his female customers are mostly European women.) Macdonald sees it as a rite of passage, one that is often quickly discarded due to the amount of patience and work one must put into his or her pipe. It's amusingly easy, after all, to spot a novice pipe-smoker from their frustration in keeping the durn thing lit. For neophytes frustrated by packing, cleaning and storing their pipes, Leavitt and Pearce publishes a how-to pamphlet.
Even harder than packing a new pipe can be finding a place on campus to smoke it, since College policy prohibits smoking in both common areas and student rooms of all Houses. While it's not entirely convenient for cigar or cigarette smokers to go outside to get their fix, it's particularly difficult for pipe smokers, who must carry more paraphernalia than will fit into a carton of cigarettes. The above-mentioned junior admitted that he smokes infrequently because of the hassle of finding a proper location. St. John says that he "tough[s] it out with the rest" of the smokers outside. Years ago, Leavitt and Pearce used to fill this need, Macdonald says, allowing only those who had "earned their right" to frequent the store. De facto, freshmen never made the cut.
Despite the logistical disadvantages, pipes are a relatively inexpensive habit. An adequate starter pipe will run about $35, but a true connoisseur sucks only from collectible pipes (starting at $200). Leavitt and Pearce's house tobacco, Black and Gold, costs $2 per ounce. So this exam period, consider a pipe instead of the celebratory cigar.
--B. C. Wilkinson