Characteristics of Corn Cob Pipes
If you're new to pipe smoking and happen to meet more experienced pipe smokers, don't be surprised to find a corn cob pipe rattling around somewhere within reach of their automobile's driver's seat. The same goes for a few in their study or den, one in their kitchen, a couple in their garage, or even one in their pocket or lunch pail, if they often work outdoors. This is one of the strengths of the cob pipe: it is relatively simple and inexpensive to produce, which means it is also relatively simple and inexpensive to wind up having one or a few everywhere you might have use for one.
The basket pipe is inexpensive too, of course, but each travels a different course to get there. The basket pipe is cheap because it is a briar pipe that didn't make the cut to be anything with a higher price tag. The corn cob pipe is inexpensive because that is part of its nature, and the nature of the materials it is made from. You can grow more corn every year, but a briar's burl takes decades to become something of much use to a pipe maker. The latter also requires a lot more in the way of tooling to turn into something pipe-shaped.
That said, the corn of a well-made corn cob pipe isn't just any corn. There are two big names to remember when considering a cob pipe — Missouri Meerschaum and Old Dominion — and in both of these makers' cases, only special breeds of corn are used. Missouri Meerschaum has been growing their own type of corn for ages, just for the purpose of making cob pipes. Old Dominion, on the other hand, started with a flour mill and farm raising a rare heirloom breed of Indian corn, which just happened to also be very well suited to making a good cob. Between the two, Missouri Meerschaum makes the more utilitarian pipe, with wooden shanks and acrylic mouthpieces, while Old Dominion, though being by far the younger company, makes the more historical cob pipe, consisting only of the corncob bowl and a slender length of stiff, hollow reed for the stem.
Why Buy Corn Cob Pipes?
If you want a pipe that needs no breaking in or building up of cake, and that smokes sweet from the start, that's one reason to buy a corn cob pipe. Another would be that you (probably) won't weep if you permanently misplace, fatally mishandle, or otherwise prematurely bring an end to your time with a cob pipe. They smoke nice, weigh little, and are in general quite enjoyable — but they aren't a big investment, financially speaking.
Corn cobs make a perfect testing platform when you want to try some unusual, or just-simply new pipe tobacco. You don't have to worry about ghosting them, unlike how you might with a favorite briar, and a fresh cob will not affect the trial smoke with the ghosts of any past smokes, either. Want a pipe you can take out in a canoe, without it breaking your heart when you drop it in the river just upstream of something marked "Abandon All Hope Falls?" Corn cob. Want a pipe you can leave on the dashboard for about nine hours of direct sunlight without worrying about what might have happened to the finish or the stem? Corn cob.
So corn cobs are good for a number of purposes; that's the long and short of it. Maybe they're a little better than good because they also don't cost you much.
- For a more extensive article with advice on smoking cob pipes, you may want to read over The Complete Corncob Primer, over on Pipedia. (Do note that the Primer was written before the advent of the Old Dominion brand, which is why they are not mentioned there.)
- For more background on Old Dominion pipes, a write-up of their history is available on their own website. Ditto, for the history of Missouri Meerschaum.