Put That in Your Pipe!

Smoking, whether with a pipe or without is a habit that comes loaded with meaning. Sometimes anyway, although I’m sure a sociologist or anthropologist can read meaning into someone smoking a pack of Benson and Hedges from the corner shop. It might come loaded with almost as much meaning as, perhaps, smoking a peace-pipe in a Native American culture, or smoking…something… in Amsterdam.

The Pipe Museum in Amsterdam is a museum that was recommended to me when I put out the call for places to visit when I was planning my trip to the Dutch Capital. All I can say is that you guys have excellent taste in quirky museums!

A figue smoking

The Pipe Museum explores the world-wide culture of pipe smoking, as I said earlier; smoking is one of those things that comes loaded with meaning, with cultural baggage, with –probably- a nasty cough. One of the reasons for this is the universality of the act of smoking. At some point, smoking makes an appearance in every culture on the planet, and this smoking, usually involves a pipe.

Oddly, this isn’t the first time I’ve explored a museum dedicated to smoking… there’s a secret museum in the basement of a cigar shop in London with some very interesting historical links.

Usually I like to explore museums at my own pace, and stumble upon things as I work my way through the galleries. Rarely do I opt for the tour. I’m not sure why. With the pipe museum, the tour is the only way to get much out of our visit – there aren’t (m)any labels! The museum person in me was freaking out a little bit when I noticed the lack of ready information.

And not just about the health hazards of smoking. The museum focussed squarely on the pipes rather than their use.

Yes, the pipes are nice to look at, and yes, with a little effort you can work out where they might have originated – but! – what about the things that aren’t familiar? What if there’s something absolutely fascinating about the novelty pipe head that completely passes me by because I don’t understand?!

And how on earth would you go about smoking a pipe like this?

An long, looped pipe with a coiled stem
How on earth would you smoke this?

(It turns out, this is just decorative, an artisan showing off)

As you can tell, I like to know what I’m looking at.

Mostly, anyway.

A little mystery never hurt anyone. Unlike second hand smoke…

The tour guide, however, was a revelation. Almost literally. He was able to tease out all the little stories about the pipes, and was able to switch between Dutch, English German, French almost at the drop of a hat. His linguistic skills were putting the museum and its collection in the shade! As I think back on my visit, it’s not the sheer amount of pipes that sticks with me, it was the guide’s mastery of languages. I couldn’t help but wonder how many more he spoke.

But the real trick was, none of the visitors felt left out. I was there with a few other people, and we all spoke different languages. Naturally this would be difficult for any tour guide to manage, but the gentleman at the museum managed to keep everyone entertained without breaking his flow.

It was seriously impressive.

If you would like to visit and experience one of those incredible tours, head along to the Pipe Museum’s website.

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