Saturday, February 27, 2021

Clay Pipes


A couple of days ago, on my post about stooping, Ellen commented, "You are at war with yourself. One part of you loves to bring stuff home and the other part hates clutter."

That is completely true. Yesterday, after cleaning out that dark space under the stairs, I submitted all the information needed to arrange a hazardous waste pickup by the council. In other words, I inched forward on getting some stuff out of the house.

But as I was walking home from work, I found this (above)! A box full of antique clay smoking pipes, lying on the sidewalk in the same place where I found the bottles and the wet books. Someone is definitely having a clear-out, but I couldn't believe they'd just throw these pipes away. When I saw the box on its side, the pipes strewn across the sidewalk, I actually exclaimed out loud, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!"

Though not uncommon, clay pipes like this are quite old, going at least as far back as the Victorians and sometimes hundreds of years earlier. They featured long stems, and were inexpensive and made to be disposable. They're often found in the Thames by mudlarkers, but usually not on a sidewalk in West Hampstead!

It's much more common to find broken pieces of stem than it is to find a cup. I've found some stems myself, and years ago, my friend Sally gave me a cup that she bought from an antique dealer at Greenwich Market -- so I'd have at least one. Now look at them all!

I scooped the pipes back into the box and brought it home, so I could examine them more closely. The box was numbered -- 17 -- and there was a note inside: "17/ Pipes 13, 1/2 of 1882." Perhaps these are inventory or lot numbers, or is 1882 a year? Who knows.


Most commonly, clay pipes feature a simple cup with maybe some ribs or basic patterns around the outside. But some of the ones in this box are really unusual. Here's one that looks like a grinning man with a big nose.


This one has a stag's head, with a sun or a radiating eye above it...


...and this one has a sort of faux wood-grain texture.


This one may be my favorite, with images of giraffes on the cup. On one side of the stem it says "The Giraffe," and on the other is part of an address, "-ton Place, SE." The Giraffe was a pub on Penton Place in Kennington, in southeast London. I feel certain this pipe must have come from there.

Anyway, I have no idea what to do with them all. I can't even say for sure that they're all old or authentic -- people do make modern versions -- but I think they are. I wrote to the Museum of London asking them if they'd like to take a look. I don't know whether any of these are so unusual they're worthy of special preservation.

If not, maybe I can sell them on eBay or donate them to a pipe-collector's club. I just want them to wind up in the right hands, and not go out with the trash!

59 comments:

Frances said...

What an interesting find. You should keep going past the place where you found them.....you never know what else might turn up! I had a look on Ebay; they are hardly worth the trouble of putting them up for sale!
Enjoy the sun today. It is my son's birthday. Zoom with the family later. Last year we were out for lunch with them all.

e said...

Cool find and I hope they find a home in which they are appreciated.

northsider said...

Great pipe collection. I would say they are Victorian. I have often found these pipes broken when repairing field drains and in old gardens. Notice one of them is from Cork. Irish Navvies perhaps. Any canals nearby?

Yorkshire Pudding said...

What a brilliant find Steve! I sometimes find little bits of clay pipes when digging my vegetable plot but never anything like these beauties. And how spooky that the grinning man looks so much like you!

Ursula said...

Oh, Steve! Should I ever be reduced to the gutter, not a star in sight, I'll make sure it's in your vicinity. You'll take me home, rinse me off, take a photo and show me off to your esteemed readership as your latest find. How much do you charge for your now vacant occupancy of your understairs cupboard? I'll pay in kind.

U

Debby said...

Good for you!!!! You recognize importance in a throwaway world. To the right person, those will be valued. You care enough to look for that person. The world would benefit from more like you.

Jennifer said...

You should save them and give them as little souvenir gifts to your friends!

gz said...

That is a find! Valuable in historic terms

Bob said...

Those are fantastic. I think I'd take the best of the lot and have them placed in a shadow box to display.

Dianne said...

Wow, what a great find. I'm in Wisconsin and so far away from an ocean , but I love to beach hunt when I can. London must be a wonderful place for a treasure-seeker. I'm a tad envious. Well, more than a TAD! lol

Moving with Mitchell said...

Well, I too would have brought home that box. That's a treasure! The grinning man looks like Punch of Punch and Judy. If a museum isn't interested, I'd find a way to display (shadow box) the most unusual ... or I'd sell them and retire in style.

Ms. Moon said...

If the museum isn't interested in any of them, definitely try to sell them! Listen to me giving you advice. Do what you like with this incredible find, Steve. And good for you!

Vivian Swift said...

Steve Reed, single-handedly rescuing material culture. You could arrange them in a shadow box picture frame if you had to keep them, but yes, pt them for sale on line and find them good homes.

You don't look anything like the grinning man. That Punch, isn't it?

robin andrea said...

That is such a cool and interesting find. I am looking forward to hearing what the Museum of London has to say about it.

Red said...

Well, they could go under your stairwell since it's empty now...and clean!

The Bug said...

What an excellent find!I wouldn’t have been able to resist either.

Ellen D. said...

You find the oddest things! Who would have thought?! Hope you can find them a home!

Blondi Blathers said...

Those pipes are quite the find, Steve!
I've often wondered how anyone can part with some of the obvious family heirlooms at weekend garage sales. Those are treasures! But I now realize that when they've travelled out here for a weekend to clear out the home of someone who's died unexpectedly, and they have to get back to work on Monday in another city halfway across the country, and they already have a full house of their own stuff, they don't have much choice. From the outside it looks like they don't appreciate what they've got, but I bet there's often more to it than that. And it's good for the rest of us! -Kate

Allison said...

London has the best cast offs. I'm surprised that any of them are not broken. Do you have wall space for a display rack for the ones that are really interesting?

Catalyst said...

Now that you have all of those pipes, perhaps your secret garden could use a cannabis sativa plant. ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž

Sharon said...

What a fascinating find! You will have to let us know what the museum says. I would thing the Museum of London would be a perfect home for them especially if they can link some of them to actual places in the city.
I had the strangest reaction when I opened your site and saw that first photo. I could swear I had seen that photo or one similar to it before. I still feel that way. How odd.

ellen abbott said...

oh Steve, this made me laugh. but it is a very cool find.

Linda Sue said...

SO JEALOUS!!! Those are magnificent and you did not even have to put on wellies and go knee deep is Thames mud!

37paddington said...

Those pipes are quite beautiful, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if you were to discover that they are quite valuable. Perhaps you should should choose 3-5 of your favorites before letting the rest go to a good home. They'd make an interesting mantel display.

crafty cat corner said...

My Grandad smoked a clay pipe all of his life. He used to come to stay with us sometimes to give my dad's sister a break. He would sit an puff this pipe whilst sitting under the budgie cage, how that budgie didn't die I'll never know. lol
I would think some of those could be worth a few pound. Wish I'd found them.
Briony
x

Sabine said...

What a find. I'd be intrigued about the one with Cork written on it (in your big picture).

Andrew said...

What a wonderful find. I have heard of them but I haven't seen them close up. It will be interesting to find out what you eventually do with them.

Fresca said...

I had no idea about those pipes until I watched “Detectorists”— one of the characters (amateur archaeologist) has a can he drops the pipe stems in when he finds them, which seems to be often.
I’d never seen nor heard of them till then.

Janie Junebug said...

What a cool find! I can't imagine throwing out antiques that are so interesting.

Love,
Janie

Steve Reed said...

I know -- I wonder what else has been put out at that curb that I've missed?! If I sold them I'd probably sell the whole box at once, rather than one by one.

Steve Reed said...

We'll see!

Steve Reed said...

There's also another one that says "Irish Cutty." Definitely an Irish connection.

Steve Reed said...

Even with the top of his head missing, I feel certain he has more hair than me.

Steve Reed said...

Ha! I've so far managed to resist bringing found PEOPLE home, but I suppose there's a first time for everything. :)

Steve Reed said...

I just can't imagine why someone would discard irreplaceable, historic items.

Steve Reed said...

I certainly have enough of them!

Steve Reed said...

I agree! Definitely not suitable for the rubbish bin.

Steve Reed said...

Yeah, if I keep any of them myself, that's what I'll probably do -- have them mounted and framed somehow.

Steve Reed said...

Beachcombing on the shores of the Thames is known as "mudlarking," and there's plenty of interesting stuff to be found there, from medieval pottery to modern plastic detritus. You need a license to mudlark, though.

Steve Reed said...

I think you're right about Punch! I didn't make that connection but that's definitely who it is. Selling them might buy me a hamburger but I don't think it will fund my retirement. LOL

Steve Reed said...

I don't know what else I'd do with them except list them on eBay. We'll see what happens!

Steve Reed said...

I think that is indeed Punch! They'd look good in a frame, wouldn't they?

Steve Reed said...

Me too. I imagine they get offers of lots and lots of stuff, so they may not be interested at all, but a few of these seem very special.

Steve Reed said...

That's true! I could just leave it there for the next tenant to deal with -- and probably put in the trash. So, yeah, not the best solution.

Steve Reed said...

We'll see how I can dispose of them! Stay tuned!

Steve Reed said...

I certainly never expected it!

Steve Reed said...

Yeah, you're right -- sometimes discarding things is simply borne of desperation, especially when there's a lot of stuff to deal with.

Steve Reed said...

A few of them are broken. They were literally spilled across the pavement, so I imagine they'd been treated roughly before I got to them. But you're right -- it's surprising that more of them weren't badly damaged.

Steve Reed said...

Ha! I do NOT need trouble with the cops, thank you very much. :)

Steve Reed said...

Hmmmmm...well, I guess it's not a very innovative photo. It probably looks like a lot of pictures you HAVE seen in one place or another!

Steve Reed said...

I thought of you and your remark immediately!

Steve Reed said...

Easiest mudlarking ever!

Steve Reed said...

If the museum wants any of them I would happily donate them, and if they don't I'll probably keep the most interesting ones and sell the rest in bulk on eBay. We'll see!

Steve Reed said...

Poor budgie! Second-hand smoke! I didn't realize people were still smoking clay pipes so recently. (Not THAT recent, I know, but probably in the '50s or '60s, right?)

Steve Reed said...

I haven't even emptied the box and studied them all in detail, but there seem to be a few with an Irish connection.

Steve Reed said...

Apparently clay pipes were also used during the Civil War in the USA, and I'd be surprised if they didn't make their way to Australia with the colonists.

Steve Reed said...

Yeah, the freakin' stems are EVERYWHERE, especially on the shores of the Thames.

Steve Reed said...

Me neither! If something has lasted so long, it seems to be deserving of more respect.

Margaret said...

Those are fascinating and beautiful!