I have been busy in the ‘clay pipe corner’ of the LAARC since my last update. Along with Fiona and Sigrid, I have been working through more bags and boxes of clay tobacco pipes. Most of the pipes we are working on are regrouped in logical sequences: similar initials, symbols, decorations and stamps. They were regrouped in that way for study at Liverpool University. For example, all pipes with crowns, dots or suns were grouped together. All pipes with the same initials were put in the same bag. Now, here at the LAARC, the work consists of matching the loose pipes with their original site label, some attributed more than 30 years ago. The pipes will eventually be put back with their original site boxes. But before that happens, all of the pipes will be reviewed and some will be selected for the Museum of London’s Pipe Reference Collection. During this process, we are making notes on decorations, initials and stamps and recording our findings to eventually create a comprehensive database. We need good light for this and the use of a magnifying glass has proved extremely useful to record the initials and to help us distinguish between a T and an F – not easy with 400 years old pipes!
Last week I was in the LAARC with Sigrid and we had a lot of fun working through those pipes with clearly legible initials as you can see in the photo below.
We have found nicely decorated stems with inscriptions in the most recent bags which Jacqui Pearce, Museum of London Archaeology’s clay pipe and ceramics specialist will certainly identify easily and may add to the Reference Collection.
I am beginning to wonder if the original number of 800 pipes is accurate since more and more bags keep appearing; I guess we will have to count them…and see if there are not in fact 8000!
Finally, some of you may know that clay tobacco pipes were not solely used for smoking but also for blowing bubbles! They were used by children over the past few centuries and were only replaced by colourful plastic imitations after WWII. While looking through the boxes of pipes, I wondered if the clay pipes for blowing bubbles were visually different to the tobacco variety. It seems they are of a lower quality; but are they easily recognisable? That’s a question I will have to ask Jacqui next time I see her!
Click here for a photo of a child using a pipe to blow bubbles.