Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Art of Clay Pipe Manufacturing


Clay is found in pockets created by the decomposition of primary limestones. Depending on the conditions, clay will be extracted in open air quarries or mined through wells and galleries. The clay is carried away in baskets (Fig 2).

Clay is mixed with water in large vats (Fig 3, Fig 6, Fig 8) for 15 days before it is left out to dry for another 15 days to obtain a more homogeneous compound.

At that time and appropriately hydrated the clay is loaded in large mixers (Fig 17) operated by horses (Fig 16).

The prepared clay is spread on boards and well beaten to mix and temper it and make it more plastic.



The clay is ready for use and is divided into small pieces of sufficient size to make a pipe. These pieces are rolled by hand into the rough shape of a pipe (the blanks) of appropriate length and thickness (Fig 19). The blanks are laid aside for one day or two till sufficiently dry for molding. The molder takes the roll of clay and forms the bore by inserting a long needle (iron wire Fig 18, Fig 20, Fig 21) through the center of the stem guiding it with the fingers of the left hand to insure its being exactly in the center.

The blank still containing the needle is then placed inside the brass mold (Fig 23) which consists of two pieces, each piece being impressed with the shape of half of the pipe,

The mold is next placed in a vice fixed to the bench and the two pieces are firmly pressed together (Fig 24, Fig 25, Fig 26).

By pressing the iron stopper (Fig 27), a piece of metal formed in the shape of the inside of the bowl, inside the opening of the mold and tapping it up and down, the inside of the bowl is shaped.

When the stopper is removed, the piercing rod is pushed inward to connect the bowl with the stem hole. Then the mold is opened, the pipe is removed and excess clay (mold lines) is trimmed.

The pipe are next taken to the drying room till perfectly dry and hard, the needle being left in the stem to prevent bending or warping during drying.

The pipe (Fig 28) is now ready to be placed in a sagger, a cylindrical container of refractory clay (Fig 30, Fig 31, Fig 34).


The saggers are arranged in the kiln in such a manner that the flames may not come in contact with the pipes. (Fig 35, Fig 36, Fig 37, Fig 38). The wood fire is lit that generates temperatures from 400 F to 600 F for about 15 hours.

This plate offers a closer view of the saggers and a section showing the spacial organization of the clay pipes to be fired.

Before the saggers are removed and the pipes taken out, the kiln is allowed to cool for about twenty four hours.

Each firing typically produced a few thousand pipes.





Here is a two-part metal mould (most often of cast iron) used in the process of making a clay pipe bowl. Note the finished bowl and two tools used in the procedure.




This clay pipe mold and stopper were used in the manufacture of a football (American soccer) pipe. It is marked "115" on the stem. It was used by John Pollock & Co., Manchester, England (Photo provided by Paul Jung).





Smooth English clay pipe and fluted clay pipe most probably from Scotland.

Found at the Maison Perthuis, 1682-1759, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

Starting in the XVIth century, after the discovery of the New World, pipe smoking and snuff spread throughout Europe. In the Americas, the large number of pipes discovered as well as the inventory records of merchants of that time, bear witness to the importance of the practice of smoking at the Place Royale. A small point of land wedged between Cap Diamant and the St. Lawrence River, Place-Royale is the well-protected, strategic natural haven where Samuel de Champlain chose to build his habitation upon his arrival in the new land on July 3, 1608. This dwelling place constitutes the first permanent French settlement in America.


 Over time the smooth finish of the earlier pipes (as seen in the center of the display) evolved into a wide range of models. A French catalog in 1894 refers to 1,600 different models. Pipes found in collections today confirm such an extreme diversity:

Clay pipes read like an encyclopedia of popular political caricatures ( Robespierre, a controversial French figure in the years following the fall of the French monarchy who was accused of plotting a coup d'état in 1794; Thiers, a French literary statesman whose bloody repression of the Parisian uprisal of March 18, 1871 cost thousands of parisians their lives), illustrates legends shared around the fireplace (Jacob, Robin Hood, Noe) and even mythological gods (Jupiter, Saturn). A number of pipes were decorated with flowers, leaves, fruits, insects, fish, frogs, skeletons and skulls, caryatids and chimeras.





Painted clay pipe of Polichinelle by Gambier, France (4" h).





Dantan was a famous French sculptor working for the firm of Gambier in Paris in the mid 19th century. He created a pipe with his own head on it, thus preserving his reputation for posterity. Dantan, a master pipe designer, created many of the humorous designs that made Gambier famous.




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