242. Einstein and “The Thinking Man”
Kapp & Peterson is the only pipe maker I’m aware of that’s ever employed a philosophical advertising slogan, one they actively used from 1905 until the 1980s: “The Thinking Man Smokes A Peterson Pipe.” For many pipemen, sooner or later the slogan will trigger a memory of Socrates’s words: the unexamined life is not worth living (ὁ … ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ). To apply to pipe smoking the idea of the pursuit of wisdom through query and logical reasoning is surely one mark of Charles Peterson’s genius. Another is his application of it to the Patent System, which says something about himself (he declared himself a Free Thinker in the Irish Census) as well as his work.
Aside from Socrates, the greatest example of the thinking man in world culture has to be Albert Einstein, the theoretical physicist (1879-1955). Everyone knows his Special Theory of Relativity—E = mc2—Energy equals mass times the speed of light (in a vacuum) squared. We’ve all learned, as Chuck Stanion says, “that space and time are not individual phenomena; they are interconnected elements of a four-dimensional space/time continuum.” And long before we leave school we know Einstein’s maxim that “Mass and energy are merely different manifestations of the same thing.” Of course, you could’ve deduced that simply by watching the tobacco burn in your pipe, right?
There have been other great scientists before and since, but I suspect Einstein has become such an exemplar of the thinking man has to do with more than his genius. It also involves his humanity, humility and wisdom. He admired and almost met Mahatma Gandhi; he was a violinist who could perform Mozart and Beethoven sonatas; he was well-read in philosophy and the arts and deeply democratic in his views. Of course he won the Nobel Prize. He campaigned for world disarmament, believing the arms race in his day was not merely economically damaging but spiritually devastating. And of course, he smoked a pipe.Rick Newcombe, the “Apostle of Pipes” as I like to call him, points out Einstein’s increasing importance to us as pipe smokers in his classic essay from Reason magazine:
The end of the last century saw the birth of two Germans who will be famous for eternity: Adolf Hitler, the bloodthirsty dictator, and Albert Einstein, the peace-loving genius scientist. Both men held strong views on the subject of smoking, and it is worth examining their opinions . . . . Hitler was a zealot about many things, so it is not surprising to discover that he was an extremist on the subject of smoking. He was a militant anti-smoker. He regarded smoking as vile and disgusting. According to Time magazine, “Adolf Hitler was a fanatical opponent of tobacco.” He was fond of proclaiming that women of the Third Reich did not smoke at all, even though many of them did. Richard Klein, in his fascinating book Cigarettes Are Sublime, wrote that Hitler was “a fanatically superstitious hater of tobacco smoke.”
Einstein, on the other hand, was very passionate about his pipe smoking. During one lecture, he ran out of pipe tobacco and borrowed some cigarettes from his students so he could crumple the tobacco into his pipe. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I believe we’ve made a great discovery!” But later, he decided that his conclusion was premature. He learned firsthand that cigarette tobacco is quite different from pipe tobacco. It lacks the aroma, the fullness and the taste of pipe tobacco. However, what appealed most to the great scientist was the entire ritual—carefully choosing from a variety of pipes and tobaccos, delicately loading the briar, puffing and tamping, and the associated contemplation. He said pipe smoking helped him relax and gain perspective. “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs,” he said in 1950 at age 71 when he became a lifetime member of the Montreal Pipe Smokers Club. 1
Einstein’s Dunhill apple, given to his friend Gina Plunguian, who in turn donated it to the Smithsonian.
Isn’t it fascinating that the Smithsonian has gone on record to say that the single most popular object in their Modern Physics Collection is one of Einstein’s battered and well-beloved pipes? 2 In an article from Smithsonian Magazine, the author conjectures that “The pipe may have been a crucial tool . . . in the formation of his theories.” It makes one pause and wonder if maybe deep down most people understand the pipe is a very good thing—maybe not for everyone, but certainly for the wise among us, and who doesn’t have that aspiration?
The beautiful 2005 Dunhill 5101, released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Special Theory of Relativity
In 2005, Dunhill made a limited edition shape 5101 homage pipe presented in one of their book-style cases, dressing it up in the Shell finish with a sterling band laser-engraved with the classic formula.
It may sound like one of the tongue-in-cheek fictions I sometimes promulgate on the blog (like the Irish Illuminati), but it’s a fact that Einstein smoked Revelation, an old-fashioned American OTC blend from Philip Morris. Comprised of Burley, Kentucky, Latakia, Perique and Virginia, the original is no longer in production, although Sutliff is said to make a very close Match version. Steve Fallon (“Pipestud”)—my favorite reviewer at TobaccoReviews.com—says of the original PM version that it is “light on the palate, tasty, nicotine laden and doesn’t bite a bit.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to appreciate such older-style blends, like MacBaren’s Mixture Flake, St. Bruno and Erinmore. I may have to look for some Revelation in the near future.
Einstein’s c. 1945 Davidoff square-shank billiard
A second famous pipe owned by Einstein is a Davidoff square-shank billiard, c. 1945, which auctioned at Christie’s in 2017 for £52,500—a little over $73,000. According to the description, it was probably one seen in the 1945 photos of Einstein with Soviet spy Konenkova, with whom he was involved (not knowing she was a spy). Sophie Hodges, Christie’s specialist, says that “Wherever Einstein was, be it Berlin or Switzerland, his pipe was his constant companion.” And of course you know the story that Einstein sadly accepted his doctor’s advice to give up pipe smoking, but continued to clench it, empty, in moments of meditation. Even a genius can take bad advice, it seems.
The Great Thinking Man with the Thinking Man’s great pipe: a Peterson De Luxe System 12B
Aside from the Dunhill and the Davidoff, there is a third remarkable pipe seen in photographs of Einstein: his Peterson De Luxe System 11B. The photo is dated 1933. The bowl is too elongated to be Mark Twain’s 14B and too big to be shape 12, which was a tad larger than the 12 1/2 (which remains in production). This identification is just my opinion of course, so take a look at your own System 11 / 312s, and compare Einstein’s pipe to those seen back in posts 151, 71 and 79. I think you may agree.
The 11B from the 1906 K&P Catalog. Notice how narrow the gap is between tenon and mortise
in the space-fitting stem.
More than most men of his generation, Einstein understood his pipe in its multiple roles as a vehicle for the enjoyment of smoking, a companion for contemplation and relaxation, and an able assistant in thinking.1 You can read the complete essay online here, but I guarantee you will want to read Newcombe’s books as well. “Put That in Your Pipe” is the first essay from In Search of Pipe Dreams, available here. His second book, Still Searching for Pipe Dreams, can be found here. I’ve been after Rick to complete his trilogy for a few years now, and I think he’s making progress.
2 According to the director of the Kerry County Museum in Tralee, Ireland, the same phenomenon can be observed regarding the life of Tom Crean, the great Irish explorer. Visitors go to the Tom Crean Room and immediately ask to see Crean’s pipe. The director says she’d love to have a replica to display.
Excerpts from “Put That in Your Pipe”
and permission to reprint Julia Suits’s “Hitler Lecturing Dunhill”
courtesy Rick Newcombe
Dunhill 5101 Shell photos courtesy Smokingpipes.com
BANNER: A blackboard used by Albert Einstein in a 1931 lecture in Oxford. The last three lines give numerical values for the density (ρ), radius (P), and age of the universe. The blackboard is on permanent display in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. Recent spectroscopic analysis by Chas. Mundungus has revealed Einstein’s chalk drawing of the K&P System 11B, carbon-dated to about 30 minutes before he gave the lecture and argued by Dr. Mundungus to have been the point of Einstein’s lecture.
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