Thursday, February 9, 2017

Majestic Table Pipes of the XIXth Century

 by Ben Rapaport
The largest table pipes in recorded history were two colossal special-event meerschaum masterpieces of the late 19th century, both probably carved  in and having made their debut in the 1870s. 
The first appeared at the 1873 World Exhibition (Weltausstellung) in Vienna, Austria, an expo to showcase the power of the Empire.  
The Project was not only supported by the political sphere, 
it was also backed by agricultural and industrial entrepreneurs who saw it as an opportunity to present to the world the results of the recent economic boom. 
The Empire wanted to establish itself as a cosmopolitan nation and a strong player of international business. Its motto was Kultur und Erziehung (Culture and Education).  
 This first exposition in a German-speaking country was considered considered a colossal failure, as it lost the equivalent of 160 million euros because of a devastating combination of the  world’s first truly international financial crisis and Vienna’s last cholera epidemic.  

The pipe was discovered purely by accident in a random search of the Internet. The only illustration of this pipe is from a newspaper, Allgemeine Illustrirte Weltausstellungs-Zeitung, Wien (Vienna), Band 4, Nummer 6, 24 Juli 1873.

The pipe is best described as a high-relief-carved pastoral or bucolic scene of a young shepherd standing at the top of a rise that is covered with flowers, roots, and branches tending to his small flock of goats, cows, and sheep. 
This massive, intricately detailed meerschaum portrait is surmounted on a footed metal base that is circumscribed with high-relief-carved heads of various farm animals. 
The caption reads:  "Salon-Stehpfeife aus Meerschaum mit Bronze-Montirung für vier Personen aus der hof-Meerschaum, Bernstein- und Drechsslerwaaren-Fabrik von Franz Hiess" (literally translated: A salon standing pipe of meerschaum with a bronze mounting for four persons from the meerschaum, amber, and turner goods factory of Franz Hiess). 
Hiess is considered one of the most prolific and skilled Austrian carvers of the 19th century. Sadly, no details accompany this illustration as to its overall size, motif and symbolism.

The second table pipe was crafted by the Kaldenberg Company, New York, for the 1876 International Exhibition, Philadelphia, the very next recognized world exposition. 
According to "The Centennial Exhibition, Described and Illustrated" (1876): "The articles on exhibition varied in size and finish from the plain pipe-bowl with briar-wood stem, to the immense amber-tipped meerschaum, covered all over with artistically-carved Venuses, Cupids, etc. One exhibitor showed, in addition to pipes, amber cut into a variety of ornaments, among which was an exquisitely designed.

This massive centerpiece, a table pipe in meerschaum, was produced by the Kaldenberg Company of New York City for the International Exhibition at Philadelphia, 1876. This is a chromolithograph representation of Lady Justice and other symbolic figures from the book, "Treasures of Art, Industry and Manufacture Represented in the American Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia" (1876). Its dimensions are 19.5" h., 14.75" w.

A near-exact description of this pipe (with a bit of exaggeration) is found in "At the Exhibition" (Appleton's Journal, Volume Fifteenth, January 1 to June 24, 1876), and this is proof-positive that this pipe was present at the exhibition: "Then they stop before a prodigious meerschaum-pipe in the form of a temple over two feet high with the most elaborate carvings upon it, and four long tubes attached to it, so that it may be placed in the middle of a table and smoked by four persons at the one time."

There is another brief written record of this masterpiece, thanks to the Internet and the perseverance of the two administrators. It is found in a New York Times article, February 25, 1883, "The Smoker's Favorite." The article describes a number of antique smoking pipes, and devotes one paragraph to this particular pipe:

"Of that class is a pipe made by a well-known City manufacturer purchased by an Italian nobleman for the King of Italy for $1,500. (This nobleman must have approached Kaldenberg and made this offer some seven years after it was on public display.) It is called a society pipe, and it can be smoked by four persons at a time. As a work of art, it is typical of the grandeur of America. It is pyramidal in form, 26 inches high, and at the four corners of the base are graceful figures personifying agriculture, commerce, architecture, and engineering. A sheaf of wheat, an anchor, a Corinthian column, and a bog-wheel, respectively, rest near each figure. Above are four cupids, whose paraphernalia indicate a weakness for sculpture, painting, music, and poetry. The carvings are delicately and fantastically wrought throughout the structure, and on the apex is a beautiful goddess of liberty, representing also the power and justice of America. The pedestal, 10 inches in height, is draped with velvet and the Italian colors, and hung with foliage of meerschaum, caught with amber rings. There is a vase at each corner of the pedestal for the tobacco, and long elastic tubes with amber mouthpieces, enable the four smokers to walk around the room while smoking if they care not to sit still. Before the pipe goes to Italy there may be a change in the story it tells by the substitution of a figure of Victor Emmanuel in place of the goddess of liberty, but that is not a foregone conclusion."

If it has survived the ravages of time, its whereabouts, today, is unknown.

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