Monday, March 19, 2012

Pipes Expressing National Pride and Identity (Part I)

Hakon Kierulf. Member, International Academy of the Pipe

The meerschaum pipes of the model called long pipe and used in Norway in former days—whether imported or produced in the country—were usually equipped with silver lids and silver mountings for the pipe stem, and were quite simple in appearance. 


Photo: Hakon Kierulf, 2007
Exquisitely carved pipes were rather seldom encountered in Norway. The leading or, rather, the only Norwegian meerschaum pipe factory, G. Larsen, Lillehammer, was founded in 1844 by the wood carver and drechsler, Gudbrand Larsen; it closed in 1977. 

The company had some very competent carvers, three of whom ought to be recognized: Jehans Odde (1836–1899), August Larsen (1856–1913), and Lars Prestmoen (1871–1957). Just as their colleagues in Austria and Germany, these three and most other Norwegian carvers did not sign their pipes, whereof it is very difficult to attribute any particular pipe to them.   


When Norwegian knife collectors enlarge their collections, old pipes do now and then turn up as barter objects. This happened some decades ago with a pipe bowl of the typical Norwegian model with eminent carvings. 

The Norwegian model can best be described as being made from one compact block of meerschaum, flat on both sides, with two openings on the top, the one in front for tobacco and the other for the pipe stem. This pipe bowl has a smoking case stamped inside with the logo of G. Larsen, and the company name is stamped on the brim of the pipe. It bears a silver hallmark “NT 830.” Lars Prestmoen, the youngest and, today, the most well known of the artisans working at Larsen’s; he was also an excellent knife-maker, and believed to be the person who crafted this pipe bowl.

Illustrated below is the pipe bowl in question. On each side are carved bas-relief images. On the right side is the carver’s rendition of a famous painting by Knut Bergslien (1827–1908), shown above, a scene from an old Norse history of the two “birch legs,” Torstein Skeivla and Skjervald Skrukka, carrying Håkon Håkonsønn (later, King Haakon IV [1204–1263]) as a child northwards from his father’s enemies in Oslo to safety in Trondheim. (The name birch legs was given to the followers of his grandfather, King Sverre, because they wrapped birch bark, instead of textile, around their legs.)

Photo: Per Thoresen, 2007
The bas-relief carving on the left side (above) illustrates three men in a rather small rowing boat fighting off attacking ice bears by using a knife, a spear and an oar.
Below is a representation of the painting by the Frenchman, François Auguste Biard, “Fight with Ice Bears” (ca. 1839). One version belongs to the art museum in Leipzig, Germany; another belongs to The North Norwegian Art Museum in Tromsø, Norway.


Photo: Per Thoresen, 2007

On the front of the pipe bowl, seen below, is a emblem of a lion holding an axe, somewhat like the Norwegian national one, and there are acanthus leaves and tendrils as well.


After 400 years in a union with Denmark and then 91 years in a union with Sweden, Norway achieved independence in 1905. The Norwegian arctic and polar expeditions and adventures at the turn of the 19th century and in the following decades heightened the country’s pride and self- esteem. 
This pipe bowl was obviously a symbol and a way to exhibit this new found national pride. The engraving on the silver lid is, no doubt, that of the first owner—the initials are “C.O.D.”; he had probably acquired it on the date engraved on the cover, “1898.”  


Photo: Per Thoresen, 2007
Its history, otherwise, was unknown until it turned up in the Norwegian knife milieu.


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