By John K. Offerdahl 

Some may find my two hobbies, or perhaps I should call them obsessions, to be quite far apart. Dissimilar. Almost at odds. And certainly two huge drains to my meager librarian’s income. I’m a pipe enthusiast (and dabbler at pipe making), and an orchid grower. 

Today I received a wonderful box in the mail, postmarked in Virginia. I knew, of course, what was inside. For years I’ve been trying to obtain the orchid plant Paraphalaenopsis denevei, a Malasian species which I had once been told was now extinct. One of the first orchids I ever bought, in 1980, was this species. However, through some long searching – the search has lasted about 8 years, I found not only a nursery able to supply me with two of these exquisite, exotic plants, but able to do so for about $100. In the orchid world this is a bargain price. My plants are only a couple of months past living somewhere in Malasia (so I guess they are NOT extinct, even in the wild). 

When I picked up the box, held it in my hands unopened, I felt the same excitement that I’ve felt when, for example, I received my first true high grade pipe, Jan Zeman’s beautiful Dorado. In neither case was opening the box a let down, anticlimactic, or in any way less than thrilling experience. They arrived in what is called “bare root” condition, meaning that some moist moss was wrapped around the roots but they were not in pots. I carefully removed them from the box, looked them over, and smiled. The plants arrived in fine condition. This, too, was a feeling not at all unlike Dorado’s arrival from New Zealand. 

I selected clay orchid pots as the plants’ new homes.  The potting medium had been readied before the arrival, knowing that they should come today. And again I was struck by a pipe similarity as I carefully potted my new beauties. The medium I used was a mix of orchid bark and sphagnum moss which I “blended” myself. A bit was added to the bottom of each pot, about a third filled, before the plant was put in. Next the plant was carefully placed on the medium and more mixture added, almost filling the pot before being tamped down around the roots in a way to provide support for the plants without actually choking the roots. Finally, the last third of the pot was filled and carefully tamped in to create a surface even with the base of the plants. One third, followed by one third, followed by one third. Sound familiar? 

And now these lovelies are resting among their new family, almost all species (and a few hybrids) of the Phalaenopsis alliance, my favorite orchids. In a similar way, Dorado was given a new home among the other pipes of my pipe collection, which just happens to include about a dozen other Jan Zeman pipes. 

The daily care of an orchid is a process which is slow and takes patience. Each plant, just as each pipe, has its own needs and so must be tended to as an individual. They need to be kept clean, given just the right amount of light and water, occasional fertilizer, and love. The grower must check them for disturbances caused by insect, fungal, and light damage (yes, too much light can harm an orchid just as too much light can harm a fine ebonite stem) and cared for if any signs of problems may appear. The care is given slowly, patiently, and very carefully. 

A well cared-for orchid, though, rewards the owner just as does a well cared-for pipe. Sure, the rewards come in a different way. With a pipe that has been loved as it deserves the reward comes with each smoke. A clean, well tended pipe gives a cool, sweet smoke which lasts until the last bit of tobacco burns away to ash. When the smoke is finished, having been savored, sipped, and enjoyed, the feeling upon reflection is one of absolute satisfaction. I’ve never gotten less from Dorado, and expect I never will. An orchid provides a similar, though slower, reward by offering a flower, or several flowers, or even a delightful, long spray of blooms, perhaps even a fragrance from those blooms. The flowers can last literally for months; in fact, some orchids are almost perpetually in flower when large enough and healthy enough. And the reward is, again, one which, with reflection, provides a world of satisfaction. 

Now, obviously I can’t work on carving a pipe while around these lovely plants but I can enjoy a good smoke while admiring them. And I don’t personally need to see a flower to feel satisfied. I can discover a new leaf coming – a Phalaenopsis only grows one or two new leaves in a year – or just from finding the tiniest beginning of a flower stem growing from the side of a plant. I can load a pipe and enjoy it while tending to the orchids, or while simply sitting and looking at them. 

Thus, for me, I find a world of parallels between my pipes and my plants. There is the search for just the right one. There is the relaxed pleasure of taking care of either a pipe or a plant. And there is the bliss of the reward given me by either, telling me that I have done right by both.

AuthorOlie Sylvester

The heavily guarded underground libraries at the headquarters in Auburn, Georgia contain numerous secret histories of the world, waiting to be uncovered. As I'm sure you are aware, all history is in some way related to the tobacco pipe and in most cases, the pipe changed the presumed course of each event. 

One little known fact of the pipe world is the exisitence of two very different pipes, often confused: the opera pipe and the rodeo pipe. Many folks confuse these very different pipes and even use the terms interchangeably, and therefore, wrongly. There is a supposition that an opera pipe and a rodeo pipe are any pipe containing an oval bowl. This is simply not the case. 

It was thought that in both instances, the fellow attending either the opera or the rodeo required a low profile pipe for carrying in the jacket pocket when not in use. While this is a wonderfully artistic invention of either a single person or possibly the Jungian collective unconscious, it is far from the solid and sturdy ground of the land we call truth. 

Let us begin with the oval bowled, so called, opera pipe. The oval bowl is indeed fashioned in a low profile, but not for the opera. Many documents found in the libraries shed light on its earliest formation, in the United Kingdom. The oval bowl was conceived (to hide the pipe, lit or without flame in the pocket) for a group of discerning pipe smokers with the job title of au pair. The term is French and generally means "equal to." An au pair is typically a young woman who watches the children of another family and stays with that host family. Some allowance wages are given to the au pair in exchange for taking care of the children. 

Au pairs are notoriously savvy pipe smokers, however, in the earlier days of au pairs, pipe smoking was not usually allowed around the children. Au pairs are not only known for their love of pipes but are also known to be quite inventive. While the identity of the first au pair who contracted the first oval bowled pipe remains a point of contention, a large volume of supporting documentation shows notes from au pairs to famous pipe makers of their day requesting, "the au pair pipe, the same as you made for..." Diagrams accompanying the notes invariably show the oval bowl. 

Consider this letter from one au pair to another: "...the design makes great sense. I can finally, easily hide my pipe should unexpected company descend upon me and the children. I detest the stares I would receive from the uninitiated. You should consider wearing a similar jacket to mine, regularly, which contains the smoke, should you need to conceal your lovely little au pair pipe while still with flame. I am in great debt, not only to the brilliant pipe maker, but also to the crafty tailor who has fashioned this smoking jacket of mine. I will send you the patterns posthaste!" 

Take note, in this one correspondence we see the blossoming of two terms: the au pair pipe, which later morphed into the opera pipe (au pair, au paira, o-per-a, opera) as well as the smoking jacket. 

So there we see that the modern day opera pipe is truly, an au pair pipe. Once the modern vernacular tightens its grip on a term, it rarely lets loose and often contaminates other objects or terms in it's vicinity. 

This is what happened to the rodeo pipe. Once the idea of an opera pipe "for going to an opera" was falsely established, it spread quickly and without regard to the great au pair pipe smoking tradition. The term rodeo pipe, already established in the mid-western United States, would fall victim to a false association with the mis-named opera pipe. 

As it turns out, we can attest the misunderstanding of the rodeo pipe to what some would call true love. Documentation in the libraries of contains memoirs of a famous pipe collector and a story of a gift from his wife. 

As the collector's birthday grew near, his beloved wife questioned him as to which pipe he preferred of those advertised in the circulars of the day. After much deliberation, the collector pointed to a pipe he much desired in that age-old printed showcase we all know and love, the
Uptown's Catalog

Unfortunately the collector was in a bit of a hurry and rushed out of the room just after indicating his choice. The wife inquired, "I didn't quite see, which one dear?" and on his way out of doors and towards his horse, he said, "The rodeo pipe my love, the rodeo pipe." 

With this information, the lovely and thoughtful woman had to make some decisions. Which one of the pipes on this page must be a rodeo pipe? The opera pipe was a widely misused moniker by this time. She decided that a rodeo pipe must be one and the same, so that the rodeo enthusiast might keep it in his jacket. After presenting what she believed to be a rodeo pipe to pipe collector for his birthday, they shared words until the story was clear, and hence brought them both much joy and laughter. 

The collector, wishing to relive the heartwarming story often, referred to his new gift always as, his rodeo pipe. Not considering the consequences, the collector used this term openly and often in public, and even at his local pipe club. Eventually, many other folks in his surroundings and certainly his kin, all knew of an oval bowled pipe as an opera pipe or a rodeo pipe. These terms henceforth became synonymous very soon far and wide. 

The pipe that the collector had actually pointed out that day, was a rodeo pipe. A rodeo pipe is a pipe fashioned in the shape of any animal typically seen at a rodeo, but usually a horse (although many rodeo pipes were fashioned into bulls and calves.) The problem with the generic term is obvious but those problems go deeper still. Depending on your locale, the rodeo you attend may have very small ponies, as in Shetland, or very large horses, as in Clydesdale. Because of all of this confusion, the collector of the rodeo pipe would have many, many options. 

—Olie Sylvester 
Baron, International Oom Paul Society of Non-Typicals

The following is a report brought to us by the worlds only rodeo pipe expert who also holds the position of
 Librarian and Curator of The Oom Paul Historical Library, Museum, and Archives, none other than Mr. John K. Offerdahl.

The Rodeo Pipe

by John K. Offerdahl, Librarian and Curator 
The Oom Paul Historical Library, Museum, and Archives 

It is, in fact, a rather unfortunate misunderstanding which has led some pipe aficionados to believe that the Opera pipe and the Rodeo pipe are similar. This misunderstanding is, indeed, one of many which involve the increasingly rare but absolutely magnificent family of tobacco smoking pipes known as the “Rodeo”. 

My effort to end this misunderstanding must, of course, begin with a recounting of the history of the design form. My esteemed compatriot, Mr. Sylvester, has done a fine job of telling the history of the Opera, nee “Au Pair”, pipe, including a fine elucidation of the bastardization of the name from the original. This bastardization, sadly, has led to what many consider to be the “sissification of what was once merely a ladies’ pipe into a form now used by mostly brow-beaten, spineless, opera-attending husbands” [Bowie, 64]. 

The Rodeo pipe, on the other hand, has developed as the traditional pipe for a man’s man. The earliest known examples have been traced to the western United States, where rough riders, explorers, and cattlemen selected briars which would hold up for them under the worst conditions a man could encounter. Often it was necessary for these men to quickly set aside their pipe, usually stuffing it into their gun belt or under the horn of their saddle, so as to free both hands for roping, shooting, or fighting [O’Bashaun, 127]. 

Men who lived the rugged life were, when not actively pursuing outdoor activities, subject to long hours of little activity. It was during this free time, especially at night while by a campfire, that they began to challenge one another in carving their pipes into somewhat ornate shapes. These men carved what they knew, thus the likeness of their horse, or of the cattle they worked, was incorporated [Bowie, 77]. 

As frontier life calmed the rodeo show developed as a way for these men to still challenge their wrangling skills. It was at these shows where those outside of the lifestyle first took note of the pipes smoked by such unusual men. Unlike the gentrified Opera pipe, the Rodeo pipe, it was observed, typically had a deeper, conical bowl; the Rodeo is similar to the Opera only in that both may be quickly stashed away in a belt or a pocket. The Rodeo pipe’s name was permanently coined in 1891 by none less than Annie Oakley, who, when referring to her husband Francis “Frank” E. Butler, said, “Yep, he’s got a hot rodeo pipe and an even hotter shootin’ iron” [O’Bashaun, 129]. 

There are, of course, several main subtypes of the rodeo pipe which have developed over the past 100-plus years. The two most common forms remain, of course, those carved to resemble either the head of a horse or the head of a bull. Here it should be noted that while meerschaum pipes have been carved in these shapes as well, these are absolutely not Rodeo pipes [Bowie, 82] being far too fragile and delicate to survive the use typical of a true Rodeo. I will now examine the primary less typical forms of the Rodeo Pipe. 

 Tombstone is a larger, handsome Rodeo pipe, usually with silver ornamentation. Some consider it to not be a true Rodeo as they are made only in Canada (rather than the United States) by carver Julius Vesz, and carved of deadroot briar – hence the name Tombstone [Stummel, 187]. 

 Alamo is a Texas original Rodeo pipe. Often mesquite wood is used in place of briar, and the typical Alamo utilizes turquoise insets in the stem and even shank. The style used to be unpopular outside of Texas, though tourism has spread it. 

 West Virginian is a very unusual subspecies of the Rodeo pipe. Rather than being carved in the likeness of a horse or a bull it is carved as a sheep. Interestingly, it closely resembles an Opera pipe in that the bowl is generally ovate (even ovine). 

 Bulliard is a traditional Rodeo pipe where the bowl height and shank length are exactly equal. Generally this design is now smoked by city dwellers upon visits to dude ranches. Frequently they are purchased in ranch gift shops [Stummel, 189]. 

 Oom Tex is a full bent Rodeo pipe. It is believed that this form was first used by cattle ranchers who wanted to keep both hands free and so needed a pipe which would be comfortable when clenched in the teeth for long periods of time. The design was popularized by singing cowboy Tex Ritter, for whom it is named [Stummel, 193]. 

A newer variant of the Rodeo pipe is called the
 Bullhorn. Rather than resembling an actual animal, the Bullhorn closely resembles the horn of a Longhorn bull. While a very artistically accomplished shape, the Bullhorn is actually impractical for use as a rodeo pipe. It is difficult to light as the bowl can not be seen by the smoker, and the shape is such that the tobacco load may jar loose on a galloping horse, leading to either the horse or rider receiving a serious burn. 

It is unfortunate that my space here is limited. The Rodeo pipe is indeed a delightful variant of the tobacco pipe family, and one which rightfully deserves attention. My hope is that, having read this brief report, the reader will have gained a greater appreciation for this, the manliest of pipes. 


Bowie, Sam.
 Manly Pipes for Manly Men. Austin: Atlas Publishing, 1974. 

O’Bashaun, Pete.
 The Lore and the Lure of the Smoking Pipe. Dublin: Lucky Charms, 1963. 

Stummel, Frank “Drill Bit”.
 A History of the American Tobacco Smoking Pipe. Denver CO: Rocky Road, 1997. 

AuthorOlie Sylvester

This is a question which arises fairly frequently on various web discussion sites and so one I’ll address (again) here. I know that you are a father, just as I am, so perhaps you’ll easily relate to this thought: asking me to choose a favorite among my pipes is like asking me to choose a favorite among my children. Sorry, I just can’t do it. There are times when one pipe, or perhaps one shape, will be more in favor with me, just as there are times when one child, for whatever reason, is more on my mind than another. For example, right now I’m on a kick of looking for old, English-made bulldogs and Rhodesians. Yet none of those in my collection are any more loved than any other pipe, they are simply what I’m enjoying right now. 

John K. Offerdahl 
Librarian and Curator

The Oom Paul Historical Library, Museum, and Archives 

Write to us and tell us if you have a favorite pipe and why it's your favorite. Send us a picture of your favorite pipe or rotation. We want to hear from you!

AuthorOlie Sylvester