Saturday, July 26, 2014

Custer's Last Stand


Custer three months before his death

This is definitely a pipe made in the USA for Americans. New York City's Viennese-born Carl Kutschera carved "Custer's Last Stand," 

a dramatic centerpiece measuring 17.75" l. x 7.25" h., sometime in the early 1900s. It was offered for sale in 1975-1976 in various antique journals for a firm-fixed price of $8,500!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Human Skull by August Fischer

Is there any doubt that this particular motif, however morbid, is the finest example of an anatomically accurate representation of the human skull, ideally suited for use in a medical lecture? Moreover, the hand's veins, fingernails and cuticles are precisely executed. The dimensions are 30" l., and 7" h. 

The long, intricately hand-turned and -filed, multi-part amber mouthpiece in stark contrast with the pristine white of the bowl results in a dramatic combination. The pipe was carved by August Fischer, Orchard Park, New York, for the Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Here is a cased cheroot holder offered at auction on September 10, 2010 at the Rock Island Auction Company, Rock Island, Illinois. Rather than craft our own description, we include a verbatim description by the company cataloger:

"Measuring 6 1/4" long from bowl to stem, 5" tall and 1 4/5" wide, the main section of the holder is constructed with a meerschaum bowl mounted into the front of a single piece of natural meerschaum, which shows a curvature along the underside that matches in contour with the stem.

[Note from admin: this is a single meerschaum block where the carver has purposefullly removed the wax to prevent coloration of the sculpture when the pipe is smoked, preserving the natural white color of the meerschaum and offering a striking contrast with the base as it acquires the golden brown color] 


The main body is three dimensionally carved in a scene of Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt, standing atop a rock outcropping covered in floral blooms, posed as though preparing to nock an arrow on a bow (note: bow and arrow are absent), with a quiver on her back and her dress partially undone to free her drawing arm. Arrayed around her are a woman in dress and sandals, holding the leads of a pair of lop eared hounds, 2 nymphs dressed in laurels, and a large stag. In Greek myth, all these things were presented to Artemis as gifts by her father Zeus, along with the bow and arrow and eternal celibacy.

Apollo and Artemis. Tondo of an Attic red-figure cup, circa  BC

The overall tone of the coloration is signature meerschaum, with the underside of the pipe showing a mixed orange color, the carved sections showing a bone white with yellow and orange accents overall, darker and deeper near the front until you reach the bowl, which is near black with streaks of red. The stem is carved orange amber, 5" long, which matches up with the main body excellently. With a leather covered, velvet and silk lined case from Franz Heiss & Son of Vienna, Austria, a late 19th Century carving firm and participant in the Chicago World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893." 

Aerial view of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

According to the House, it sold for the tidy sum of $9,500 plus $1,852.50 (buyer's premium + taxes, fees, etc.).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

La Cinquantenaire, Pipe d'Etalage by Gambier 1849

The French clay pipes known as "pipes d'étalage" have a foyer between 6 and 10 inches (15 to 25cm) high. They were never intended for use as a smoking device, they were awarded as in-store showpieces to the most worthy among the retailers.

In 1849, at the Exposition de la Seconde République (aka l'Exposition Nationale des produits de l'industrie agricole et manufacturière) in Paris, the famous clay pipe manufacturer Gambier presented this pipe d'étalage commonly known as La Cinquantenaire

It honors and celebrates the three members of the team of workers responsible for manufacturing clay pipes.

Height: 6.2 inches (16 cm)

the roller ("rouleur"),

the "tramasseuse",

and the apprentice (seated under the coat of arms).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Norwegian Pipe Models with Acanthus Ornamentation

by Hakon Kierulf

This article does not focus on a particular antique meerschaum pipe, but on meerschaum pipe bowls in the typical Norwegian style decorated with acanthus ornamentation. All the photographs are by the author.

The Norwegian Pipe Model

The true origin of a specific pipe model that is considered typically Norwegian will never be fully known, but its design and configuration are supposedly from around the turn of the eighteenth century (Pritchett 1890, 25). It is a fairly simple configuration cut from a flat, narrow block without any distinctive separation between the bowl and the shank.

Side view of a typical, plain, meerschaum pipe
bowl in typical Norwegian form; the identity of the ‘AR’ of
Christiana (Oslo) is not known.

Viewed from the front or from above, it has straight or nearly straight, parallel sides. Viewed from either side, it appears quadrangular, but rather than four similarly proportioned angles, the lower side is most often curved. The sides are even or almost even, as are the ends. The upper ends are sharp-edged, each end having a hole, the nearest for insertion of a pipe stem, the farthest being the tobacco bowl. The lower edges are usually graded or have softer forms. Originally, this particular pipe was made of wood, usually birch, much later of briar and, to a certain extent, of block and imitation meerschaum. The most common variety was undecorated, but some were, and some even had silver mounts.

The Acanthus Décor
The acanthus motif derives from the Mediterranean vegetable family, Acanthus. Through the ages, two species, Acanthus spinosus and Acanthus mollis,

Acanthus mollis.

with their large, floppy leaves and prominent veins, have been used as ornamental design. The Greeks used this motif c500-600 years B.C.; the Romans adopted it at the time of Emperor Augustus (63 B.C.–14 A.C.), and since that era it has been part of European art history. 

The time from when the acanthus, as a carved ornament, was used in Norway lies in a hazy mist, as does the origin of much earlier designs. The existence of primitively carved tendrils is documented as far back as 800 B.C. (Magerøy, 1983, 43, 148–222). Through time, influenced by the European Renaissance in the 16th century, artists employed simple acanthus ornamental décor in church interiors and, to some extent, on profane furniture and everyday objects. But it was not until the Baroque trend arrived in Norway in the seventeenth century that the acanthus became a popular and widespread design applied in woodcarving, in ironwork, in the traditional Norwegian rose painting of house interiors or on furniture, and on assorted utensils. From then on it spread and became popular throughout the country. Although allowance for woodcarving was reserved for members of the town guilds, it was, nevertheless, also employed by district locals. 

In Norway, woodcarving is divided into three main schools: Karveskurd (cut carving), e.g., patterns with triangular cuts; Flatskurd (relief carving with an almost even surface); and Krillskurd (deep, three- dimensional, plastic carving). Cut carving was also used for pipe making, but in the context of acanthus is of no interest, whereas the other two are. 

Districts, counties and valleys came to adopt and develop different carving styles. Flatskurd was common in the county of Telemark, while Krillskurd, especially in the nineteenth century, dominated in Gudbrandsdalen, because tradesmen in the towns of Trondhjem and Christiania - the former name of Oslo - through advertisements, encouraged local farmers to carve first-class souvenirs, such as pipe bowls, for the tourist trade. Merchants established workshops in which competent woodcarvers from the districts were engaged; moreover, carving schools were established to fulfill this purpose (Sveen, 2004, 18–19, 43, 49, 64, 96).

Early Norwegian Tobacco Pipes
The first written documentation of the use of tobacco in Norway, one of the poorest countries in Europe, prior to and in the beginning of the twentieth century, stems from a criminal case in 1612 in the town of Bergen (Gierløff 1928, 57). Due to the country’s seafaring traditions and contact with England and Holland, tobacco, pipe smoking and clay pipes probably arrived much earlier from the west. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, meerschaum pipes exhibiting typical German models - with long stems and flexible mouthpieces - became fairly common among the more wealthy families. Tobacco was expensive, yet it was smoked at all levels of society, but meerschaum pipes never became commodities for ordinary people. Norway had a long tradition of making everyday utensils in wood; hence, wood copies of imported meerschaum pipes were produced, as well as the earlier-mentioned Norwegian model.

Meerschaum Pipe Makers of Norway
Not only did Norway have an established tradition of using wood as a popular material, but it also had a tradition for embellishing wooden utensils with exquisitely carved designs. Meerschaum pipes were imported in the beginning, but local wood-turners and wood-carvers, whose names are now long forgotten, started making pipe bowls in birch. Some of these pipe makers decorated their pipes with relief-carved motifs or various traditional designs, and the acanthus was one of the very popular designs.

Pipe production on a larger scale did not occur in Norway until the wood turner and carver Gudbrand Larsen (1815– 1902) from the municipality of Ringsaker in Hedemark County started his pipe factory in the small town of Lillehammer in 1844. Sometime earlier, he had visited Eskesehir, Turkey and established contact with raw meerschaum exporters. This was his incentive to make meerschaum pipes. As a wood-carver, Larsen knew the acanthus design very well, as did his carver-employees, among whom Jehans Odde (1836–1899), August Larsen, Gudbrand’s son (1856–1914), and Lars Prestmoen (1871– 1957) are the most famous. They were exceptionally competent carvers of miniature objects who, from time to time, carved extraordinary and beautiful motifs on the pipes, but their production was principally focused on pipes meant for smoking, not as gifts for special occasions. Quite a number of the pipes from their hands exhibited some degree of decoration, and the acanthus was the most significant. These carvers, working in G. Larsen’s factory never signed their pipes. The pipes bore only the stamped factory name. From 1844 forward, this Lillehammer factory dominated the Norwegian pipe- making market, but supposedly some local, independent carvers also carved meerschaum pipes before as well as after the factory was established.

Acanthus-ornamented Meerschaum Pipes of the Norwegian Model
Meerschaum pipes, the bigger the better and, when ornamented and silver-mounted, yet better, symbolized the status of their owners. Tobacco, meerschaum and silver demonstrated that the owner was a wealthy man. Neither of the two pipes shown in this article is large, but both are representative of the Norwegian ornamented model in meerschaum.

Pure meerschaum derives its eventual color from tobacco smoke, as is shown in the illustration,

Unusual, almost pentagonal, Norwegian meerschaum model with achanthus decoration in krillskurd.

the first example of these pipe bowls. It measures 6.6 cm in length, 5.1 cm. in height, and 3 cm. in breadth. Its silhouette, somewhat unusual for the Norwegian model, is almost pentagonal, and its top edges are graded. Otherwise, it has the typical features of the model. It is decorated on the sides, front and bottom with acanthus leaves, and there is also a flower on the underside. The carving is done artistically with deep cuts, giving the acanthus an animated look typical of Krillskurd, the Gudbrandsdal acanthus style. It has a few surface cracks, and it has been smoked, although not long enough to change its colour uniformly and completely. Rather small in size, and of the simple Norwegian model, yet of meerschaum and exhibiting a relative high standard of carving, the pipe probably belonged to a man of some means. It is stamped ‘G. Larsen’ and it dates from about the second half of the nineteenth century.

The ornamentation on the silver-mounted pipe bowl,

Silver-mounted Norwegian meerschaum pipe model with acanthus leaf decoration in flatskurd.

is also acanthus, but more Flatskurd-like, i.e., Telemark acanthus. Its measurements are 6.7cm. in height, 8.2cm. in length, and 3.2cm. in breadth. It has some minor cracks,
has not taken on any colour, and the meerschaum quality is questionable, i.e., whether it is block or pressed meerschaum. Its silver mountings bear no incised stamp or maker’s mark. This bowl, however, is also stamped ‘G. Larsen’ which must be taken as a grant for the quality of the silver. The mark S-830 is, per the Norwegian Silver Act of 1891, a required stamp on all silverware produced for sale. Nothing precise can be said regarding dating. It was most probably produced in the last half of the nineteenth century, and without any silver stamps, it is possible that it was made before 1891, although it does not have the older, required silver stamp. Due to its origin, the pipe material, silver and carving, this pipe bowl was obviously bought and smoked by a man of a certain high standard of society.
Both pipes have acanthus ornaments but of slightly different styles although carved at the same factory in Lillehammer, the gateway to the Gudbrandsdalen valley where the Krillskurd style was dominant. The fact that Flatskurd carving was employed at G. Larsen shows that pipes were carved at the factory without any affiliation to local traditions, but according to the prospective buyer’s taste and purse. Although the two styles in question originated in different areas, both were popular and also used by local unnamed pipe carvers elsewhere in Norway, depending on their manner and carving competence.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

1920's Banjo Player in Paris

Henry Ossawa Tanner was an African American artist born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Tanner studied under Thomas Eakins, a teacher who challenged and succcessfully changed the core of what was then art school education. Eakins encouraged students to study from live models rather than static casts.  

Tanner moved to Paris in 1891 and in 1896, he showed in the Paris Salon for the first time.

Henry Ossawa Tanner - The Arch - 1896 -  Brooklyn Museum

Among sources of inspiration for Tanner, while in Paris, was the banjo player from back home...

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, 1893. Oil on canvas, 49" × 35½". Hampton University Museum.

And with artists like Tanner, Paris,in the early 20th century, was transported back to Africa...

Picasso, 1907, Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, New York City

Until the Roaring Twenties, Paris continued to celebrated African, Carribean and Latin American cultures with flamboyance...

Man Ray, Black and White, 1927

banjo playing at La Boule Blanche...

Brassai, "at the Boule Blanche", c.1931

At the same time a parisian artist crafted this marvel of amber, meerschaum and ivory...

Courtesy Private Collection

As a vibrant and joyful expression of such heady days...

Courtesy Private Collection

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hopewell Pipes (1-400 AD)

In 1848, the newly established Smithsonian Institution, chose as its first publication Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley,

an archeological study of the prehistoric indigenous mound builders of North America by Edwin Hamilton Davis,

and Ephraim George Squier.

the result of the first XIXth century "scientific" exploration of North America's heritage,

In the altar mound, No. 8, "Mound City" a treasure trove of pipes was unearthed. Mound City is located along the Ohio River in Pulaski County, Illinois

John Egan and Dr. Dickeson’s Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley
Detail of 'Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley' (1850) by John Egan, showing excavations beneath a mound.

among the artifacts excavated were stone carvings of exceptional artistry,

cf Fig 138. Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley

mica ornaments of powerful significance,

Carved mica hand, Hopewell Mounds

pipe bowls representing human heads with deep scarification,


artfully shaped "platform" pipes,

animals roaming the woods and rivers at that time,

and other fauna...


Fifty years later the excavation of the Adena Mound in Ohio would unearth another extraordinry pipe masterpiece from the earlier native american Adena culture (800 BC - AD 100).

All photos of pipes courtesy Ohio Historical Society