Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Storied Bull Head

This large bull head is on the cover of the Wiener Kunst Auction as Lot 307. It is a super-sized, high-relief-carved 19th-century figural pipe with amber horns. To get a sense of its size, its height is 33 cm (almost 13 inches).  

Around the shank is a circumscribed ribbon of bas-relief-carved cowboys on horses lassoing bulls.

In “The Presidents in Meerschaum” (The New York Times, March 9, 1889), there is a comment regarding a particular Demuth meerschaum pipe exhibited at the Exposition Universelle, 1889:


“It is said to be the largest pipe in the world, the bowl having been cut out from the largest piece of meerschaum ever found. It is a calf’s head, 11 inches high, 13 inches long, and 15 inches from tip to tip of the horns; the entire pipe is 35 inches long, the stem, of 23 inches, being made of 75 pieces of amber.” Demuth received a gold medal for this pipe. 

The design is from a painting

Head of a Bull by Marie-Rosalie Bonheur, (16 March 1822 – 25 May 1899), animalière and sculptor

by Rosa Bonheur.

Photograph of Rosa Bonheur by André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, c. 1863

This bowl was once a centerpiece component of the “Half-and-Half” pipe collection assembled by the American Tobacco Company in the late 1800s—early 1900s, and exhibited at its Richmond, VA  plant. 

When the plant closed in 1957, it donated the collection to the city’s Valentine Museum

The John Wickham House/Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA; from a c. 1920

Portions of the collection were on exhibit from time to time between then and early 1991 when the Valentine decided to deaccession the collection. 

The Austrian Tobacco Museum, Vienna, purchased it later that year . It left the series of Presidential pipes (see the Facebook album, “Presidential Meerschaum Pipes”) in the hope that an American collector would buy them as a group. This Austrian museum shuttered in 2002. In October of that year, a large portion of this museum’s European holdings (pipes and accessories sourced to European craftsmen) and the entire “”Half-and-Half” collection was sold (Wiener Kunst Auktionen Nr. 41, October 22-23, 2002). 

Sadly, sometime between 1991 and 2002, the extraordinary, multifaceted, long amber stem and mouthpiece that was original to this pipe bowl had been misplaced, lost, or destroyed, because the bowl was on the auction block without its stem. The hammer price was 5,000 Euros, or about $5,500. 

After a long journey, it is believed that this bowl now resides in a private European collection.  

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