Clay Tobacco Pipes
My son and I really enjoy beach-combing. We have spent hours at a time on beaches finding stones, shells, old pottery, worn glass… We have several carrier bags full of stuff we’ve found on beaches. One day, we’ll do something with it all.
After forbidding him to take home a cow femur he found and deciding that we already have loads of pre-Fire of London roof tiles, I said that we should concentrate purely on finding clay pipes. From the the 17th century in London, people would use clay pipes to smoke tobacco in the same way as people smoke cigarettes today. The pipes were ‘disposable’, bought mainly for one use only, then tossed away. Seemingly, they threw most of them into the Thames because in certain places the beach is littered with them.
Finding the stems of clay tobacco pipes is incredibly easy as their linear, smooth shape makes them stand out against the stones.
After we found about 30 stems of varying size and quality, I told him we should now just concentrate on finding the pipe bowls or fragments of bowls. This is much harder to do, mainly because they are more delicate and easily crushed, but we found some pretty good ones.
The rarest is finding an intact pipe bowl still connected to the pipe. We’ve only found two before. My son was lucky this time. He first found a nice, plain one.
Then he found the very first decorated one we’ve ever seen. Though it’s a bit worn, it’s rather remarkable. Make sure to look at the big versions of the photos so you can see the detail.
Then that was it. We continued looking and found the odd bowl fragment or stem, but no relatively intact pipes. We even moved locations. Still nothing. I was in the middle of saying, ‘Well, I don’t think we’re going to find anything better than that one.’ When I looked down and saw a little face staring up at me. She doesn’t have a stem connected, but isn’t she beautiful?!
I don’t know enough about clay tobacco pipes to know when any of these were made, but the plain ones seem to be from between 1660-1760. The decorated ones are later, but I’m not sure how much later. Clay pipes were being made and used into the early 20th century- though the lovely little head seems to be late-19th century. I can’t find an example of her anywhere online. For more info on clay pipes make sure to visit DawnMist who seems to know more about clay pipes than anyone around!