The first pipes created in Europe date back to the late 1500's and were handmade from clay. The clay selected for pipe making was generally kaolin, a off-white mineral of aluminum silicate blended with very fine sand. Kaolin turned out to be easily molded but still robust enough to prevent the fire getting to the smokers body or clothing.

By the mid nineteenth century, clay pipes represented the most common pipe in America. As a matter of fact, clay pipes were so abundant and cheap that tobacco companies provided a free pipe with the purchase of some of their tobaccos. The clay pipe industry would prosper for almost 4 centuries, in fact they are still manufactured in small quantities to this day.

The clay pipe is the most common pipe ever to have been manufactured, as it was easy for large numbers to be molded and mass produced. They were constructed in a two piece mold of wood or iron. The dampened clay was pushed into the mold by hand, removed to dry out in the open, then hardened in the kiln with extreme heat. Low-quality clay pipes were really constructed from porcelain slip poured into a mold. These were porous, of very low quality, and gave unwanted flavors to the smoke. Superior clay pipes, on the other hand, were manufactured in a labor-intensive operation that called for beating all air out of the clay, hand-rolling each pipe prior to molding it, piercing with a fine wire and then careful firing.

The majority of clay pipes were very characterless in design and decoration. The longer-stemmed churchwarden pipes dominated the day in earlier times, whilst the simple elbow shaped bowl and shank were more common in the nineteenth century. Traditionally, clay pipes are un-glazed, however the French maker Gambier made the finest and most adorned pipes in history. These figurative pipes were highly ornamental works of art, illustrated with busts of noblemen, heroes and other celebrated personalities.

Clay pipes were also manufactured and utilised in other places. For instance, in Africa tribes broadened their tribal art onto pipes. Employing local clays treated with tiny pebbles and shells, the fire hardened clayware displayed stylised art of wild animals, geometric decorations and human forms. The Middle Eastern peoples were inclined towards very smooth terracotta Chibouks fitted with very long stems. This long stem enabled the smoker to sit on the floor whilst he savored his smoke. The long stem also piped the smoke across a longer distance, cooling off the potent tasting Turkish or Oriental tobacco.

Clay pipe advocates lay claim that, opposed to other materials, a superior clay pipe affords a pure smoke, without any flavor addition from the pipe bowl.