This week, some very special objects from the J.B. Priestley Archive: Priestley’s tobacco pipes! We have over seventy pipes, plus the paraphenalia needed for using them: tobacco tins and pouches, matchbooks, and a bowl for pipes Priestley was currently using.
The pipes and paraphenalia are important because pipe smoking is crucial to understanding Priestley: as an individual, throughout his writing, and as part of his public image.
Smoking was one of Priestley’s greatest pleasures in life: “I don’t know anything in this lower world of taste and smell that has given me so much pleasure as tobacco” (Rain upon Godshill, 1939).
More than that, though, he argued that, “Man, the creature who knows he must die, who has dreams larger than his destiny … needs an ally. (Woman I include here in Man). Mine has been tobacco. Even without it I have too often been impatient and intolerant. Without it I should have been insufferable. You may retort that I am insufferable anyhow, but, with a pipe nicely going, I do not believe you” (The Moments, 1966).
Naturally, pipes, tobacco and tobacconists crop up all the time in Priestley’s writings. In Delight, for instance, he wrote about the delight of trying new blends of tobacco and of “lying in a hot bath, smoking a pipe … lost in steam, the fumes of Latakia and the vaguest dreams …”. He often used pipesmoking in his fiction as an indicator of dreamy, good-humoured characters, think of Jess Oakroyd, Adam Stewart or Mr Smeeth …
However, managing a pipe is a complicated business, a hobby which requires care, thought and the aforesaid paraphenalia. Priestley often advised on these matters in his writings.
His pipes became an iconic part of Priestley the celebrity. Chosen Pipe Smoker of the Year 1979, Priestley is often seen with his pipes in portraits and other images. Here we see him with another famous pipesmoker and Yorkshireman, prime minister Harold Wilson.
Historian Mark Mason of the J.B. Priestley Society is working with us to clean and identify the pipes. Eventually we hope to have a full catalogue (there are, apparently, many interesting kinds in Priestley’s large collection) and to match them up with those appearing in photographs and in Priestley’s writings.
Sources: I am indebted to Mark Mason for much of the above, which originally appeared as a post on the Special Collections blog.