As we approach BBC Sherlock Series 4 we may well once again see him as a pipe smoker, but despite all the portrayals with pipes, he was far from a connoisseur as author Thomas Gwinner explains.

His few pipes were probably of lower quality and he treated them badly by “charging and re-charging” and “knocking out the ashes of his after-breakfast pipe and slowly refilling it,” as we can learn from references in "Silver Blaze" (BG, II, 261) and "Thor Bridge" (BG, II, 590). This means that Holmes had the bad habit of occasionally instantly re-packing and re-lighting his pipe right after the previous smoke instead of letting it cool down for one day as is widely recommended.

In "The Man with the Twisted Lip" (BG, I, 381), we are told that Holmes consumed one ounce of shag tobacco in a night by using only one old briar pipe. In addition, he was not fond of fine tobacco but addicted to the strongest non-aromatic tobacco with high nicotine content.

Holmes possibly stored tobacco in a Persian slipper

In Holmes’ day, his favorite “strongest shag” was probably a cheap and strong tobacco high in nicotine content. In addition, Holmes had the unusual habit of storing his tobacco in the toe-end of a Persian slipper which, according to Baring-Gould, “ was most probably hung by means of a ring to a hook on the wall to the right of the fireplace (BG, I, 96)”. Such hot and open storage dried out the tobacco and it, therefore, burnt very fast in an overheated bowl, a threat that Holmes certainly faced.

His other habit of “smoking his before breakfast pipe was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantel-piece” (The Engineer's Thumb, BG, II, 211) carried the failure of an enjoyable smoke too far. One could even say that Holmes hardly practiced the gentle art of pipe-smoking, but rather satisfied his need for nicotine using a pipe device.

In addition, for Holmes, strong tobacco was frequently a necessary stimulant as he mulled over a problem.

Was Sherlock a social smoker?

Having presented answers concerning Holmes’ pipes, tobaccos, places and times of consumption, two final questions remain unanswered. Did Holmes prefer to smoke his pipe alone, or was he a social smoker?

If the latter, with whom did he mainly smoke? Although we do not deal with this question in a separate chapter, we would like to disclose the result of our research using two statistical tables. Here again, the same smoke in two or more references is only counted once, and starting to smoke his pipe alone but continuing in company is accounted for in double entries.

Total % Alone % In Company %

46 100.0 7 15.2 39 84.8

In Company Total % With Watson % With Others %

39 100.0 32 82.1 7 17.9

These figures, drawn from the canon’s text, give us insight into sherlock holmes’ favorite combination of pipe, tobacco, daily smoking time, and place of most enjoyed consumption. We are also able to say that Holmes preferred smoking in Watson’s company.

Sherlock Holmes’ favorite combination of pipe, tobacco, daily time and place, as well as whether he preferred to smoke alone or in company: A straight “Dublin” shaped black clay pipe, packed with a very strong shag-cut “Black Cavendish” made of Virginia, smoked together with Watson in the morning in front of the fireplace in the sitting-room of his Baker Street home.

The book

"Sherlock Holmes as a Pipe Smoker" is available from all good bookstores including The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. The author is very grateful to Mr. Harry Tsai, an undergraduate student in the Department of Applied Foreign Languages at Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology in Zhongli, Taiwan, for producing the Holmes and Watson montage.