The Lesser-Known Clay Pipe
When I first had the idea to do a brief blog post about clay pipes, I soon realized that it is actually a huge subject that could fill many books (and actually has). This particular post is not meant to be a concrete piece of history, nor is it intended to classify all clay pipes and tobaccos. Still, a brief bit of fun is in order. Most of us have smoked briar pipes, some smoke meerschaum; there is the occasional cherry-wood pipe or noble cob thrown into the mix, but what about the common clay? For starters, there is little debate that there were more pipes made out of clay than any other material, since it was the vessel of choice (and mass market) from c1500-c1900. Briar came into popularity in the latter part of the 19th century.
The example shown here is lesser known to most of us. It's a simple clay bowl that could be made out of stoneware (in this case), redware, or pretty much any clay that you could dig up just under the good soil in the back yard. Some fancy pipes have a light glaze on them, but the majority of these were either unglazed or polished in spot-areas from natural ash glazing or salt glazing. An obvious advantage to a bowl like this is that the stem (normally the part that breaks) could be a simple reed (as is the case here), turkey or goose feather, or a hollowed stick from the likes of a cherry or walnut tree. Pipes made in this way were very easy to transport. The bowls could be kept in a box or bag and the wooden stems would be kept separate to take up less space. This particular design looks like a typical detailed stoneware pipe from the 1800s. Since the style changed very little, it's rather difficult (if not impossible) to determine if this pipe was made two decades ago or two centuries ago.
That's why I like it. This style of pipe was often traded to Native Americans - as many goods were - along with tobacco. Many a re-enactor has a pipe like this in his tricorn, felt hat, or in a leather pouch with a twist or rope of tobacco (which was much easier to store than ribbon). Cutting off a coin of tobacco (Samuel Gawith Brown Bogie in this case) and breaking it up into ribbons to fill the clay takes me back to a past time when men sat around a campfire roasting meat, talking in a tavern, or simply enjoying their tobacco alone with their thoughts.