Clay pipes – and especially snapped off stems – – are a not-so-uncommon beachcomb find, especially in parts of the United Kingdom and from Canada’s Maritimes south to the shores of South Carolina. Such treasures link us directly to America’s American Indian and colonial settlement history.
The black clay pipe (found on a Chesapeake Bay beach) is a reed pipe where hollow reeds were placed in the opening and smoke is sucked through. The benefit of such pipes, popular among American Indians and adopted by colonialists, was that they could be easily replaced as they wore out or became coated with nicotine resin.
The long, brown intact pipe bowl on upper right was a fortuitous beach find since bowls are usually thinner and more delicate than stems. This one probably came from the 1774 shipwreck, the Severn, as it was found on a beach in Lewes, Delaware.
“Dutch” Clay Pipes
“Dutch” pipes (also made in England) were white or cream colored with long thin stems. It is amazing that the nicotine resin residue resulting from the burned tobacco did not quickly clog these stems up. Or perhaps it did, which would be one reason smokers snapped off and tossed the tip of the pipe stem after smoking. Also,these pipes were often provided as community pipes in makeshift saloons for patrons wanting a “pint and a puff.” Once done, they’d break off and toss the pipe tip, putting it back for the next patron to use. Some pipebowls – harder to find because they are thinner and, thus, more fragile – have intricate, beautifully molded designs on them. Pipe bowls and stems can be found on beaches worldwide but especially where there were older European, colonial and American Indian settlements.
Meershaum pipes are produced from a very rare mineral, which is a porous, light hard white clay only found in Meershaum Turkey. The pipe itself acts as a natural filter that absorbs the nicotine, which makes thepipes slowly change color to different shades of gold to dark brown. Meershaum pipes became terrifically popular amongst the wealthy and educated classes in America and throughout the UK and Europe during the 1800’s through the mid-twentieth century. Pipes bowls were often carved into decorative and/or commemorative pieces such as this pipe bowl of Queen Victoria.