Pipe smoking was regarded as one of life's civilized pleasures in Victorian England, and gave rise to a vast range of accessories - Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Pipes and Racks


Pipe-smoking was regarded as one of life's civilized pleasures in Victorian England, and gave rise to a vast range of accessories.

 In Victorian times, the gentleman's study would usually have contained a rack of pipes and various smoking accoutrements.  These items were often decorative as well as practical, and smoking equipment has become highly popular with today's collectors.

 The mid 19th century was the golden age of smoking.  Pipes were at the peak of their popularity and cigars and cigarettes were just catching on.  Consequently, craftsmen and manufacturers were busy making an impressive array of smoking requisites.

  Traditionally, pipes were made of clay, which was cheap and also quite a good insulating material, holding the burning tobacco without scorching the fingers.

 Other materials became popular in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly porcelain (which was first used for pipes in Germany in about 1750), briar (a hard root wood brought from France to England in the 1860s and now the normal material for pipes), and another German import meerschaum.

 Meerschaum (German for 'sea foam') is the name given to a soft, white, porous mineral found most abundantly on the shores of the Black Sea.  It has good insulating properties and can be elaborately carved.

 Pipes made from it were enormously popular for about a century (roughly 1760 to 1860) until briar rapidly took over as the standard material.

 Pipes were often richly carved with a head, a coat of arms or even a loving couple on the bowl.

  There was also a fashion for 'puzzle pipes'.  These were made out of one continuous piece of clay, which formed the bowl at one end and the mouthpiece at the other.  The length in between was coiled into an intriguing mass of twists and turns.  The pipe was then glazed, fired and finally painted, often to make the piece resemble a snake.

 Even more adventurous were the glass pipes made in Bristol.  These, however, were purely ornamental.

 Apart from pipes, the smoker had at his disposal a fascinating array of accessories.

 Dedicated smokers would normally have a rack for their pipes, especially if they smoked the type known as a churchwarden (or 'yard of clay'), whose long stem made it fragile.

 Alongside this would be the tobacco jar, and the smoker would carry a small tobacco box and a stopper for compacting the tobacco.


You don't have to be a smoker to collect smoking antiques, for they can give pleasure to anyone who appreciates fine craftsmanship.

 Some collectors are interested in any item from pipe racks to tobacco jars, while others concentrate on a particular type of pipe.

 For those interested in clay pipes the possibilities are enormous, for it was the most common material from the 16th century, when tobacco was introduced to Europe, until the 19th century.

 Early pipes had flat bases so that they could stand upright on a table.  Long-stemmed clay pipes, known as aldermen, were popular in Queen Anne's reign at the start of the 18th century. In about 1780 a spur was added to the bowl of the pipe.

 Pipes with a long curved stem, which were commonly known as churchwardens, became popular in the 19th century.

 A specialized field that appeals to many collectors is that of novelty clay pipes which were made at St Omer in France. Those with pipe bowls modelled into grotesque faces, skulls and animal heads are highly popular and keenly sought after.
Porcelain pipes date from about 1750 and were first made in Germany.

 The bowls are often exquisitely moulded and decorated.  The mouthpiece was generally of horn or amber.

 Meerschaum pipe-bowls appeared in about 1760.  They were often lavishly carved and were expensive at the time.

 The meerschaum came from Turkey but was crafted in Germany and Austria.  Indeed, Vienna at one time had 50 master carvers, each with numerous assistants.

 Until the 1850s bowls were large and the stems were of wood or ivory; later in the century bowls became smaller and stems were often of amber.

 These pipes were sold in shaped leather cases with a padded interior.  They are more valuable today if they still have their original case.

 The metal mount joining the mouthpiece to the stem was usually of white metal (similar to pewter) or silver and was sometimes elaborately engraved.  Generally speaking, the more elaborate the carving on the bowl the later the date of the pipe.

 Briar pipes did not appear until 1859, when in France it was discovered that the root of this shrub (known there as bruyere) was hard enough not to burn. Prior to this discovery there were no wooden pipes.

 In the 1890s pipes were made shaped like revolvers - the butt of the handle was the pipe-bowl and the tip of the barrel was the mouthpiece. Novelty pipes such as this and other unusual examples from around the world are particularly collectable.

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