Collecting Period Pipes

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Testa di lupo, pipa in schiuma con bocchino in tartarugato

Although pipe smoking is no longer very popular, it certainly is the oldest way of smoking. Smoking a pipe, unlike cigarettes and cigars, involves an object, the pipe, which so important to the smoker, that we could say there is a "feeling" between them. Every pipe smoker is to some degree a collector. The simple fact that one cannot always smoke the same pipe forces the smoker to have at least a sufficient number to permit their rotation, allowing them to cool down and rest. Generally, this is exactly how a collection begins: buying different, traditional and non-traditional, models. But if we are interested in talking about pipes as art objects we have to look at the sculpted pipes made in the eighteenth century usually of meerschaum or those made of porcelain, white and red clay and other, often precious, materials. Today, these pipes are no longer smoked as they have become real collectors' items. In Europe, the diffusion of pipes was a result of the discovery of America and the importation of tobacco from the New World. Here, we will briefly review the principle materials that have been used to make pipes. Clay pipes are without doubt the oldest. Clay is a porous material that sweetens tobacco, which used to be strong and tart. The first specialized factories date to the second half of the sixteenth century and were located in England and Ireland. These pipes, as one can see in many of the age's etchings, had a small bowl (tobacco was still a rare and expensive commodity) and a long horizontal stem.
photo 2 In the 17th and 18th centuries, these pipes began to spread throughout the European continent and especially to Holland (Gouda), Germany and France (Dunkerque, Rouen, St-Omer and, in the following century, the famous Gambier in Givet). During the last century, red clay models were also produced in Turkey (tschibuc) and in Italy (napoletane and chiggiote). Wooden pipes date to the 18th and 19th century. In continental Europe (Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Czechoslovakia), wood (boxwood, cherry wood and elm) was used to make pipes that were adorned with horn ornaments, covers and bands. Typical of this period are the German Ulm pipes, round-shaped and resembling flattened water flasks and the Czechoslovakian Schemnitzs with a high and narrow, iron-covered bowl. The turning point came in the second half of the 18th century in St. Claude,
the town in the French Jura where the discovery of briar literally revolutionized the concept of the pipe. The porcelain pipes produced between the 18th and 19th century were also Central European. More solid and resistant than clay, ceramic pipes were soon made in molds, dried, and fired in ovens. The second firing produced the external glaze and the exquisite painted decorations that witness the period's refined elegance. They were completed with cherry shanks, horn mouthpieces and, often, silver trimmings. The best known were those made by Meissen and Nyon. The most famous pipes, however, are made of meerschaum, a porous rock composed of hydrous magnesium silicate that can be found in veins, similar to those of coal, and is still mined in Turkey (Anatolia). The term derives from the high German word "skum," meaning whitish foam, and evokes the foam of sea waves. It is called meerschaum in both German and English. Its use for the manufacture of pipes seems to date back to the Turkish occupation of Hungary. At that time, in fact, the Turks used it to filter perfumes. The Hungarians, who discovered that it sweetened tobacco, started using it to make pipes at the beginning of the 18th century.
The many peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made Vienna the indisputable center of meerschaum pipes. At first, meerschaum pipes were very simple: smooth and with a metallic lid, at times made of silver. Soon, however, sculpted masterpieces representing the most diverse scenes began being produced. The mouthpieces were made of horn or amber, a beautiful and precious material, but very fragile. The pipes were protected by carrying cases, sheathed in silk or leather, and shaped to the pipe's contours. As has already been mentioned, meerschaum pipes were mainly produced in Vienna, but pipes made in France, England and Italy during the Austro-Hungarian Empire also exist. A few words of advice to collectors. It is extremely useful to catalog the period pipes that one owns, summarizing the data and characteristics that cannot be remembered by heart. A well-kept catalog will also allow one's sons and nephews to know the importance of the collection. photo 3