The Mystery of the Gourd Calabash and Calabash

Posted by Steve Emecz on

An extract from Sherlock Holmes As A Pipe Smoker - by Thomas Gwinner

A Gourd Calabash is a pipe consisting of a meerschaum bowl and a gourd body, often large in size and with a typical shape. A Calabash is a wood interpretation of it, sometimes with a meerschaum lining. The calabash pipe in either variant later became one of the major icons associated with Sherlock Holmes, mainly because early portrayers, particularly William Gillette and Basil Rathbone, made the artistic decision to use something large and easily recognized as a pipe. In addition, a full bent pipe did not hide the actor’s face. It is also said that a straight pipe hinders the actor’s pronunciation. However, this paper’s author could not find any illustration showing either actor smoking a gourd calabash or calabash. The only two pictures of Holmes’ imaginary gourd calabash and probable calabash are two stills from the 1943 film Sherlock Holmes in Washington and the 1944 film The Spider Woman.


The 1944 film The Spider Woman features Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Denis Hoey as Lestrade. In this scene, Lestrade intends to snag Holmes’ calabash after his death as a souvenir.



Instead of a picture showing Gillette or Rathbone smoking a calabash, here is Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes in the 1976 film Sherlock Holmes in New York.



But even more famous than the gourd calabash or calabash was the full bent pipe which is identified in the essay quoted below as a Peterson 4AB.



In the essay The Pipes of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes: A Virtual Essay. Part I: “The Game’s afoot,” posted on 17 February, 2014. We find detailed information on this pipe on page 21. It is unclear whether Luca di Piazza, who says that he is “behind this website”, is either author or editor of this essay.

The Peterson 4AB, one of Kapp & Peterson’s original shapes (found in both their 1896 and 1905 catalogs) was in production in 1943 and can be found on p. 21 of the 1937 Black & Silver Peterson catalog. We know it’s a 4AB, the top-of-the-line System with sterling mount, because the 309/359 (2nd and 3rd grades) of this shape were at that time only produced with the “A” or Army stem (p. 18 of the 1937 catalog).

The full bent pipe, regardless of its bowl shape, has become, over the course of time, the second most frequently used pipe shape in illustrations of Sherlock Holmes. Two examples can be seen at

Below is a statistical table of all references regarding the material of Holmes’ pipes in the canon. Please note that every reference mentioning pipe and tobacco simultaneously, or even in addition to these, daily time and place of smoking, will be included as multiple entry into the respective statistical table. Continually smoking the same pipe in one or more references is only accounted for once. 



In conclusion, it is clear that only three pipes smoked by Holmes are specifically referred to in the canon. These three are referred to as “his or the … pipe” and not as “one of his…” suggesting that Holmes owned one pipe of each material only.

One original illustration by Sidney Paget in The Blue Carbuncle (BG, I, 451) shows four pipes on Holmes’ pipe rack. This leaves us with the speculative question of how many pipes have to be added to these three or four pipes due to numerous references to unspecified pipes in the canon. While it can be taken for granted that the number of pipes of the average pipe smoker changes constantly over the years due to discarded and newly acquired ones, there seems to be no significant change in the number of Holmes’ pipes over the years 1887-1927 (according to the earliest publication date of the first and last written reference to a pipe in the canon).

The low number of eight specific pipe entries in our statistical table is definitely insufficient for a conclusive interpretation. However, it cannot be denied that the clay pipe is mentioned five times equaling 62.5% of all specific pipe references.


Sherlock Holmes As A Pipe Smoker is also available from:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK    Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Numerous general references to Holmes’ cigar, cigarette, and pipe smoking habits have been published in the past. In addition, a few thoroughly researched articles on single aspects of Holmes’ pipes or tobaccos are available. This monograph, in contrast, presents a complete analysis of all pipe smoking references relating to Sherlock Holmes, as given in the fifty-six short stories and four novels of the canon, as well as in its original illustrations. By original illustrations we mean illustrations for first English editions.

References to Holmes’ tobacco consumption using cigarettes, cigars, and snuff tobacco are not discussed. In addition, references to pipe smoking of persons other than Sherlock Holmes in the canon, except for Dr. Watson’s “Arcadia” tobacco mixture which Holmes smoked at least once, are not examined.

Based on the strict definition given above, 62 text references in regard to pipes and 19 text references in regard to tobacco in 42 cases of the canon, as well as 22 original illustrations of 19 cases, have been identified. Our search has been done manually without any computer-aided search tools. However, all references have been double- checked with relevant internet search engines.

Our analysis of these references is divided into four parts: pipes, tobaccos, place and daily time of smoking. For all references to pipes in the original illustrations showing a sufficient clear picture of a specified pipe, a close existing pipe model is presented. For the reader’s convenience, all pipe-related references in the canon’s text and its original illustrations are listed in the appendix.

Tobacco smoking was introduced to England by colonist captains and sailors during the second half of the sixteenth century. They brought with them pipes, tobacco seeds and plants, as well as finished products, thus making tobacco smoking more widely known in English society. Several monographs and articles discussing tobacco smoking can be found in the Victorian era. These treatises on tobacco culture and fashion, also frequently referred to in contemporary popular novels, made tobacco smoking more popular among the growing middle- and lower class in English society. During the historical period in which the Sherlock Holmes tales are set, pipe smoking was already well established.


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