Over the thousands of years that humans have been using cannabis, it has been seen as holy incense, food, medicine, and so much more. Our ways of consuming it are so varied now, thanks to the growing legal market, that one doesn’t quite know where to begin.
However, ask any cannabis enthusiast about their fondest smoking memories, and you will almost always hear a tale of a really beautiful piece of glass. Cannabis culture and glassblowing are relatively new friends, but glass has a rich history of its own.
Glass – A brief history
The origins of primitive glass are found in the most primal of sources, volcanoes. In ancient times, man made razor-sharp arrowheads and tools from obsidian, a natural glass created by volcanic eruptions.
Glass working came from Mesopotamia around 1500 B.C.E., though glass beads have been found from as far back as 4000 B.C.E.. Hard to make, glass was made in molds at this time, mainly used in decoration and bottles for liquids.
In the late 1800’s, glass artists such as Louis Comfort Tiffany brought the art of stained and blown glass to a wider appeal, making lamps and art. Tiffany glass is still a sought after collectible.
The godfather of glasswork
The unquestioned godfather of modern glassblowing is a man named Bob Snodgrass. He fathered the color changing pipe making process of “fuming”, or coating the inside of the pipe with vaporized silver. He began making his glass pipes as he followed the Grateful Dead Tour.
Every winter, he was forced to find an area to settle down, and in 1990, a friend named Hugh Selkind suggested that Bob might enjoy staying in Eugene, Oregon. Hugh was Bob’s first student. The next year they traveled and sold every piece they could make, and as the years passed, his students multiplied. Soon, many moved and started shops of their own, but Oregon was to stay the birthplace of the modern glass artisan revival.
Enter Tommy Chong
Soon, another great man of pot, Tommy Chong, got into the game with his own line of pipes and bongs, and the scene soared to new heights. This celebrity status brought in larger shops and greater love of the hand crafted marvels, some of which would fetch prices of well over a thousand dollars. Both art and artifact, tool and trophy, the glass pieces were tied with our cannabis culture.
‘Operation Pipedream’ – WTF??
Then a storm came on the horizon in 2003, as Attorney General John Ashcroft launched “Operation Pipedreams”, a 12 million dollar effort to rid America of drug paraphernalia. Targeting large suppliers, they put Tommy Chong in federal prison for nine months, even though he didn’t run the company. 54 other people got probation and fines, and it seemed that the glory days were over… They weren’t.
Today, glass blown pipes and bongs are a multi-million dollar industry, from local artists to giant factories, but they are almost all still made by hand. With double bubblers, diffusers, spill-proof twists, and even ice chambers, glass is more amazing than ever.
Beyond the user-friendly advances, the craft itself has evolved with elaborate pieces that are so beautiful (and expensive) you almost don’t want to smoke out of them. Who am I kidding, I know I would! Check out some of today’s wild creations in the pictures throughout this article, and follow the link to a preview of a fantastic documentary about this amazing sub-culture of artists, featuring the story of the godfather of modern glassblowing, Bob Snodgrass.
Above all, the next time you pull out that beautiful piece of smoking equipment, remember: it’s more than a piece of glass; it’s a piece of our culture, a piece of history, and it’s a work of art.