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When is a tobacco pipe an antique? An appraiser would state that any item is an antique when it is more than 100 years old. Using this definition, briar and Calabash pipes would qualify as antiques, because the former were being produced in France starting about 1850, and the latter were introduced into the smoking world around 1900. However, in the strictest sense, both are considered vintage pipes in today's collector argot, because both of these pipe formats continue to be produced and remain in popular use today.

Antique pipes, on the other hand, were made long ago by artisans whose skills and talent are not found anywhere today. Moreover, they used many materials that are not engaged in pipe making today! A dedicated antique pipe collector would state that there was a golden era of antique pipes and it began much before 1850. The era of the antique pipe began soon after the discovery and spread of tobacco throughout Europe in the 1500s as tobacco supplanted the smoking of assorted herbs and weeds. And this 175-year era, from about 1750 to 1925, produced the finest specimens of hand-made and, later, machine-made, tobacco pipes in assorted mediums in, as chronologically introduced, clay, porcelain, assorted woods, and meerschaum. (Although the corn cob pipe was introduced just after our Civil War, it is not an art form.) Hosts of skilled artisans and craftsmen across Europe and in the United States intricately carved, etched, molded, and painted exemplars in these mediums--with one exception, porcelains were not produced in the USA, they were imported from Europe as finished products--with a level of precision, detail, finesse, and intricacy that defies duplication today. And in the Orient, during the same time frame, the Chinese were crafting lushly artistic opium pipes in various materials, and the Japanese offered the smoking public their version of a pipe, the kiseru. Then there is the world of ethnographica. In sub-Saharan Africa, chieftains’ pipes were being made in cast bronze in the Cameroons, and in other locales, pipes of terracotta and wood. In North America, pipes were being handcrafted in pipestone, steatite, argillite, and ivory.

Although fewer follow this collecting field today than in years past, there has always been an interest in those marvels of meerschaum and other materials, and we offer one citation from a century ago that vividly demonstrates this fascination. It is from "The Pharmaceutical Era," Vol. 35, June 21,1906, p. 599, “Here and There”: One of the specially attractive exhibits which will interest visitors at the Tobacco Exposition next September will be that of fine briar and meerschaum pipes. A special feature will be a mammoth meerschaum pipe, exquisitely carved, and valued at upward of a thousand dollars. This pipe is 2-1/2 feet in length and 12 inches in height. The stem is 12 inches in length, and was cut from a solid piece of block amber. The carving upon this pipe represents the Battle of Nancy, and consists of ten full-length figures and two horses, together with a section of a ruined castle and a number of trees and vines. The artist who did the carving was engaged upon the work a greater part of his time for a year and a half.”

The world of antique pipes continues to be a fascinating place full of surprising materials, shapes, styles, sizes and configurations and, depending on where the pipes were produced, can be encountered in a broad range of embellishments and accents in precious and semi-precious stones, silver and gold filigree, amber, ivory, horn, bone, and tortoiseshell. Collecting these objets d’art is a serious avocation, a pursuit of the elusive, the rare, the odd, the outré in pipes with myriad depictions of people, landscapes, mythological figures, and the occasional bizarre, metamorphic, erotic and pornographic motif.

Parenthetically, we are aware that, nowadays, to pipe smokers, the briar rules...it reigns supreme. Talented artisans around the globe are crafting exquisite pipes in this hard wood with flair and fancy but, by comparison and in general, briars are machine- or hand-made, not hand-carved, plain, not ornate, simple, not intricate or complex, composed of one medium, not multiple mediums. The pipes illustrated in these several photo albums are from another era and from myriad places in Europe and in the United States. The briar is, indeed, the pipe of today, and we defer to others to praise and laud that medium, while we relish and are enhanced by all the other materials of long-bygone times engaged in the fabrication of tobacco pipes.

We welcome you to this indefinable, broad, wonderful world of antique smoking pipes, with myriad color and black and white images—and detailed background information—of every sort of pipe imaginable, illustrating why so many people find that collecting them, from the miniature cigar, cheroot and cigarette holders to the munificent and majestic centerpieces that celebrate and commemorate historic events is a worthy endeavor. It is, after all, multimedia art and exquisite craftsmanship in three dimensions. We hope that you will enjoy and learn much from their illuminative exposure… and take pleasure from this visual experience. Moreover, we encourage your participation to chime in with your thoughts and ideas to make The Tobacco Pipe Artistory a premier art venue on the Web.

Visitors: take notice of the following disclaimer. The images of all the pipes appearing on these several pages, although not copyrighted, are intended as "information" only. These images fall into two categories: either they have been approved for display in this exhibition by the respective sources that own the rights to said property or to the image of said property (i.e., auction houses, private collectors, authors, antiques dealers, and museums), and they have formally authorized their one-time use in this manner, or they are from public-domain open sources, such as the Internet. No image appearing on this site is intended for commercial or any other use or purpose. We respectfully request that, as with the treatment and disposition of all intellectual property, there be no uploading and distribution of these images via the Internet or via any other means without our written permission.

Furthermore, should you choose to contribute images of antique pipes, we welcome them, but respectfully request that said image(s) be accompanied by two written components: (1) owner of the image or of the pipe be identified, and (2) as detailed a description as possible be included. The administrators should not be obliged to conduct the research necessary to describe what the pipe or cheroot holder depicts or illustrates.