|By Larry LeMasters
Pipe tampers, known as pipe stoppers in England, are used to pack or “tamper” tobacco in a pipe. Some pipe tampers come as part of a pipe tool, which is designed to aid in the packing, smoking, emptying, and cleaning of tobacco pipes. Typical pipe tools consist of a pick, a reamer, and a tamper.
A pipe tamper is a blunt instrument, shaped like a nail top or wooden dowel end, with a flat head used for tamping down tobacco when a pipe bowl is being packed. Normally, tobacco is compressed in a pipe’s bowl, using a tamper, three times in the successful filling of a pipe. A pipe tamper also crushes the tobacco ash tightly together, which aids in relighting the pipe.
An ingenious, pipe smoker in England, who was tired of having his pipe improperly tamped, invented pipe tampers, according to historical myths, around 1660 CE. The production of pipe tampers took off during the English Industrial Revolution that began in the early 1800s when new mechanization allowed manufacturers to mass produce pipe tampers.
Tampers are made from almost every material known to man, including pewter, brass, animal teeth, porcelain, ivory, mother-of-pearl, and silver. And pipe tampers come in a cornucopia of motifs, including women’s legs, donkeys, shoes, animals, and phallic symbols, giving collectors hundreds of different designs and material choices to choose from.
You might wonder why smokers pay so much for a pipe tamper and why collectors pay even more for antique ones that simply sit in a collection. The answer is simple—pipe smokers consider a pipe a “manly” pastime where the ritual of smoking is as important as the act of smoking. And the ritual involves taking care of your pipes with a quality pipe tool and a solid, sometimes beautiful, tamper.
Reproduction pipe tampers, especially in pewter, have flooded the secondary markets in recent years. Let the buyer beware!