Tuesday, May 8, 2012

One of a kind: La Pipe Dieppoise

Piasa auction catalog, lot 215, “Collection Musée de la SEITA,” September 18, 2009, 19. Photo courtesy Piasa.
                                     Photo reproductions by David S. Stein

The annals of contemporary pipe history are replete with praise and accolades for the high quality and finesse of modern briar pipes from a select handful of English, Italian, Scandinavian and, more recently, American, Japanese, Russian and Polish craftsmen. This preoccupation with modern briar pipe makers for their individual skills and pipe finery is admirable, warranted and deserved ... but there’s not that same kind of buzz, fuss, zeal, passion or hysteria in the U.S. today for briars made in France.


Strange, indeed, however, is the fact that France has been, by all written accounts, an instrumental and prominent force in the advancement of every kind of tobacco pipe ever developed. France has been a significant player in the trade since the earliest years, maintaining a prominent position in the world of quality pipe making, yet has remained in the shadows far too long. 

A graceful and unusual early Twentieth Century briar from France.
Courtesy Museum Chacom, St. CLaude, France.

This country has not only been continuously involved in the pipe industry—from its rudimentary beginnings to its modern, mature state— but France has always had a strong influence on pipe concepts, formats, manufacturing techniques, and artistic effects; frankly, as I see it, France ought to be considered “the mother of all pipes.” It’s time to acknowledge, better, to herald France for its enduring involvement in pipe design and com- position, so I intend to present a fair picture of these facts, to celebrate the unnoticed and to unveil one particular pipe unique to this country. 

Cheroot holder, iris flower bud unfurling its petals, 6.5" l., 3" h.,
Gold MedalJ. Sommer, Paris, ca. 1900. (Courtesy of a Private Collector)

France may not be the national bruyère brand du jour today, but one has to question how the tobacco pipe, from its inception, could have morphed in so many ways and so often through time without the country’s past contributions. One also has to wonder where, without France, the briar pipe trade would be now.


In the lengthy and evolutionary development of the tobacco pipe to its general format as we know it today, France has played a very significant, but not a well-documented, role. 

To begin, I am not in total agreement with the respected E.R. Billings, who wrote in Tobacco: Its History, Varieties, Culture... (1875):

“The French also make pipes of agate, amber, crystal, Cornelian and ivory, as well as the various kinds of pure or mixed metals. Many of the French and German pipes while they are beautiful in design and made of the most costly materials are often exceedingly grotesque, representing often the most ludicrous scenes and all possible attitudes.”
Billings could not have been referring to the French pipe specifically addressed in this essay, a pipe made of a “most costly material,” a pipe far from “exceedingly grotesque” in appearance. 

An anonymous writer viewed French pipes in a very positive light, this from “Tobacco-Pipes,” (Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature Science and Arts, Volume V, Nos. 105-130, January-June 1856): 

“As they do with everything they undertake, they have brought the elements of art to bear both upon the design and the ornamentation of their pipes.” 

This was published in 1856 when Saint-Claude was just a fledgling briar pipe center, so this writer must have been referring to earlier French pipes made from other substances. 

The historian Frederick Fairholt (Tobacco [1859]) concurred. 

Tobacco, its History and Association, Frederick Fairholt (1859)
French pipes...

“... are fashioned in elegant shapes from masses of agate, amber, crystal, carnelian, and ivory, as well as the various kinds of pure or mixed metals. Pipes fashioned of every practical material, and upon which unwearied labour and exquisite taste have been bestowed, are to be met with in the stores of the Parisian dealers .... The commonest French pipe is a well-finished article, with a graceful bowl and a well-proportioned stem ....” 

Or just consider the opinion of a more contemporary author, Alfred Dunhill (The Pipe Book [1924]): 

“The French makers excel in pipes of graceful design and execution, subjects of topical interest often being chosen.”

Stop and think a moment about the influence of France on pipe evolution. Here are the undisputed facts. At a time, in the 18th century, the French porcelain factories of Vincennes and Sèvres produced some magnificent, molded, polychrome-colored porcelain pipe bowls that compared very favorably to those of Meissen and Nymphenburg, Germany. Quoting Fairholt again: 

 “Numbers of the better class of French pipes are manufactured of porcelain, and some are adorned with enamelled portraits and beautiful heads, executed in a style that puts to shame the works of our average miniature painters.” 

As every pipe smoker knows, in the middle of that same century, in the Jura Mountains in southeastern France, the municipality of Saint- Claude, 

Saint-Claude, Jura, late XIXth century
quite often identified as the “capitol of pipemakers” was all the rage because of a newly discovered medium for pipes: briar. Heck, the French invented the briar pipe. (Come to think of it, their very early, assorted carved wood pipes weren’t too shabby either.) 

Atelier de Pipiers, Calibrage et Ebauchage, late XIXth century

And not to be forgotten is the fact that the French were the first to use silver-tipped albatross wing bones as pipe stem extensions. 

At about the same time, the factories of Vienna, Budapest and several other Austro-Hungarian cities were slowly losing their lead in the meerschaum pipe trade to other continental cities in the west; France rapidly surpassed Germany, Italy and England in production and exportation of meerschaum pipes and cheroot holders, and proliferated many more retail outlets throughout the country than the number of retail shops in the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany. 

So it’s no surprise to read the following from “Report on Tobacco Pipes” (Journal of the Society of Arts, Dec. 13, 1872): 

“France alone can furnish for each of her provinces pipes of which the forms can be counted by thousands, in wood, in metal, in porcelain, in meerschaum, in clay, &c.”


All this said, however, an important chapter in the chronicle of France’s tobacco pipes needs to be added. This absent chapter is about a little-known pipe format—the ivory pipe—that has not had its story told anywhere until now. In northwestern France, on the English Channel, some 160 miles from Saint-Claude, is Dieppe, a locale less familiar to the pipe smoker and collector. 

In this charming, quaint town, once Normandy’s largest port—now famous for its sea scallops—ivory was the “it” product. Dieppe was as important a center of ivory carving—although established much earlier—as Saint-Claude was the European epicenter of briar-pipe making, but the pipes the Dieppois produced did not have as huge an impact as the seismic shift that the briar created for the devotees of pipe smoking, yet nary a paragraph has been penned in any language about what this one small French town contributed to pipe art and craft. (Surprisingly, Saint-Claude also had a thriving but less substantial and little-known ivory-carving trade.)


The name Dieppe derives from the Viking word djupa, meaning “deep.” Dieppe is also referred to as the Viking town. At the beginning of the 10th century AD, the Viking explorers found on this stretch of coast the draught they needed to beach boats such as the Gokstadskipet,

Gokstadskipet, Vikingskipmuseet, Oslo
After the conquest of England in 1066 by the duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror,

William the Conqueror, Bayeux Tapestry, Bayeux, France
who sailed with his army to Sussex,

Invasion of England by William the Conqueror, Bayeux Tapestry, Bayeux, France

and deposed King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings,  

King Harold is shown plucking the arrow from his eye, Bayeux Tapestry, France
Dieppe developed as one of the most important ports between Normandy and England. 

In the twelfth century, the port enjoyed an increasing prosperity, and a dungeon was built west of the city in 1188, later to become a powerful fortress. Claimed by both Richard the Lionheart,

Effigy of Richard I of England in the church of Fontevraud Abbey
and Philippe Auguste,

Philippe II dit Philippe-Auguste, Roi de France (1165-1223) by Louis-Félix Amiel (1802-1864). Versailles, musée national du château et des Trianons.
the town was devastated in 1195.

In addition, "Dieppe played an important role in the Hundred Years' War. Raiders and privateers launched a victorious raid on Southampton in 1399. Taken by the English in 1420, the town was retaken by the Frenchman Charles des Marets in October 1435. By that time, new fortifications were built around the port, and the castle was reinforced. 

During the sixteenth century, early Italian-style bastioned defenses were added to protect the eastern bridgehead/suburb of Pollet on the right side of the river Béthune, and to defend the suburb of Pollet west of the castle. 

Dieppe was then an important harbor for French privateers such as the famous Jean Ango,

Jean Ango

and the Florentine Giovanni da Verrazano,  

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485–1528)

who sailed the Dauphine equipped by Jean Ango and named for the Dauphin of France, Francis III, Duke of Brittany. He sailed to the east coast of North America and in April 1524 discovered the site that would become New York, to which he gave the name Land of Angoulême

1527 map by Visconte Maggiolo showing the east coast of North America with "Tera Florida" at the top and "Lavoradore" (Labrador) at the bottom. The information came from Giovanni da Verrazzano's voyage in 1524.(Biblioteca Ambrosiana Milan.)
Vauban (1633-1707),a Marshal of France and the foremost military engineer of his age, famed for his skill in both designing fortifications and breaking through them, who advised Louis XIV on how to consolidate France's borders, designed in 1681 a project to reinforce Dieppe's defenses. ("Vauban and the French Military under Louis XIV", Jean-Denis Lepage).

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1703

Jean Ango (1480-1551), a native of Dieppe, took over his father's business and was one of the first French corsairs to challenge the monopoly of Spain and Portugal when he ventured into the spice trade with Africa and India. Jean Ango had acquired his immense fortune in 1522 when one of his captains, Jean Fleury stole the fabulous treasure of Guatimozin, the last Aztec emperor, that Cortès was shipping back from Mexico to his emperor Charles Quint

He set up a trading post called Petit Dieppe on the West African coast of Gambia sometime around 1365. Jean Ango was often referred to as the "Medici of Dieppe": the boldness of his enterprises, the energy and independence of his character, the splendor of his luxury and expenditure, his ardent and enlightened passion for art mirrored that of his King, and friend, Francois Ier. As Francois Ier's primary financier, he contributed to freeing his King after the defeat of Pavie, by providing a large part of the ransom demanded by Charles Quint...

Francis I of France (1494 - 1547)Jean Clouet
Soon thereafter, Dieppe’s maritime and artistic history involved elephant ivory along with spices and fruit. (Ivory also came from India and China, but African ivory was considered finer, whiter and firmer.) Developing and flourishing a skilled trade of ivory carving and seamanship, the town claimed to be the first to introduce ivory into France, and so Dieppe became synonymous with ivory.

Little did they know that they were following in the footsteps of their ancestors...

as French archeologist J. de Laporterie discovered in 1894 when he explored the "Grotte du Pape", a cave near Brassempouy, a small village in the département of Landes in southwest France, less than 500 miles from Dieppe. J. de Laporterie discovered several fragments of female statuettes, including the Venus of Brassempouy.

The Venus of Brassempouy (also referred to as the "Lady with the Hood") was carved from mammoth ivory over 25,000 years ago during the Upper Palaeolithic period. It is the earliest known realistic representation of a human face and hairstyle,

3.65 cm high, 2.2 cm deep and 1.9 cm wide. Musée d'Archéologie Nationale at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris
and most likely it was carved with a flint burin such as the one found in the same cave,

6.9 × 2.6 × 1.2 cm (2.7 × 1 × 0.5 in) Weight : 27.3 g (0.96 oz)
Musée de Toulouse, France
In the 15th and 16th centuries, ivory carving was not popular, but craftsmen continued to settle in Dieppe, and gradually it became the center that revitalized ivory carving. The work was sufficiently profitable to support more than 300 artists in the mid- to late 17th century as the craft reached extraordinary heights. France’s most important ivory-carving centers were at both Dieppe and Paris. (It was said that the ivory work of Paris differed from that of Dieppe in that it was less elaborately carved, and articles of smooth and highly polished surfaces are distinguished as Parisian wares. In a word, finished ivory products from Paris, though beautiful, leave the impression of manufactured goods, rather than handicrafts from an artist’s workshop, or in the words of one: “Carving is the spécíalité of the Dieppe workshops, while that of Paris is polishing.”

During the 18th century, ivory carvers continued to delight the royal court in Versailles,

Flore, the goddess of Spring in Roman mythology, by Belleteste, a renowned ivory carver from Dieppe. Dim: H. 12.3 cm ; l. 5.5 cm ; P. 3 cm ( H. 5", W. 2.2" , D. 1.2"). This statue was commissioned by Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1764 as a present for Mme de Campan. Of modest origin, Mme de Campan was placed at an early age by her father in educated circles where she distinguished herself by becoming fluent in French, English and Italian at the age of fifteen. Her reputation and accomplishments attracted the attention of the Queen, who would later appoint her reader to the three daughters of Louis XV in 1768 and choose her as her lady in waiting in 1786. The statue originally in the collections of Versailles now resides at the Château-Musée of Dieppe.
and by the early 19th century, there were more ivory craftsmen in France than in any other European country; by 1840 there were 11 factories producing ivory goods. Ivory recovered its popularity when, in 1816, the influx of the English, eager for continental curiosities, caused a demand for Dieppe’s near-forgotten specialty, and it continued uninterrupted in the Art Nouveau style of decorative arts at the end of the 19th century. 

Martin Meredith (Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa [2001]) reports: 

”Dieppe produced dynasties of master carvers famous for their statuette and ship models. French royalty patronized the ivoiriers. The work from members of the Dieppe school won great acclaim at the Paris Exhibition in 1834. Dieppe ivory quality and popularity waned beginning in the 1870s, and by the end of the century only eight carvers remained active.”

Working feverishly, these unrivaled Dieppe carvers produced masterpieces, large,

Bacchus et Ariane, BLARD Jacques Nicolas Théodore (workshop) ; NICOLE Antoine François Victoire, CLEMENCE Adrien Nicolas, 2nd quarter of 19th century, Dieppe, Château-Musée
 and small, decorative art objects, 

Jean Ango, by F.Queneuil and Colette workshop, Damas blade by Jean-Louis Hurlin

Cupid, 19th century ivory from Dieppe, Derek Greengrass Antiques

thousands of utilitarian consumer items known as “tabletterie”—turned ivory or wood articles—ship models, 

Le Joinville, BELLETESTE Louis Charles Vincent, 1st quarter of 19th century, Dieppe, Château-Musée
mirrors, brooches, crucifixes, napkin rings, pendants, aide memoir cases, daggers, bangles, needlework tools, candlesticks, chess sets, combs, seals,

Dieppe Ivory Seal
religious and secular sculptures, billiard balls, sun dials, trinkets, toys, umbrella handles, cigar cases, snuff rasps, 

Ivory rasp with winged Mercury, Musée du Château, Dieppe
boxes, clay pipe cases, pipe tampers— and the subject of this story, tobacco pipes. 

Dieppe specialized in micro- carving, the delicate skill of executing deeply cut wreaths of flowers, cupids and scrollwork into objects characterized as little masterpieces of taste, art and patience, and the finest ivory pipes in Europe were those carved in this town. They also manufactured an array of similar items in horn and bone. As well, although unsubstantiated, they were reputed to have engraved the revolver handles for the Wild West’s most famous cowboys and, as a sideline, made custom-made syringes for local nuns and other ladies without husbands. 

Dieppe was also known for its expert lace tatters, and their influence on ivory carving is readily apparent. As an aside, it’s been reported that American seamen learned the art of whale-ivory carving from the Dieppe artisans.


Ivory is delicate and graceful, one of the most beautiful and sought-after decorative materials in the world market, having been carved as ornaments and other objects since perhaps prehistoric times. Ivory is a solid, white, translucent substance, distinguish- able from bone by its more beautiful texture. Working with ivory requires skill, much thought, due diligence and experience. It is much harder to carve than meerschaum, is neither as brittle as bone nor as solid as stone, cannot easily be bent, tends to swell, shrinks when dried, loses color over time from exposure to dirt and dampness, turns yellow with age and, in extreme conditions, it can warp and split; all these attributes are certainly disadvantages of using it to make a smoking pipe. More often than not, in the past, ivory was principally used for mouthpieces of finer meerschaum and briar pipes. The Chinese also used ivory as a pipe mouthpiece and frequently inserted a copper tube into it to protect the ivory from cracking. Japanese craftsmen used ivory as toggles (ojime) to fasten the tobacco pouch and pipe case, allowing both to hang from the sash (obi) of the kimono. And the more expensive or exotic European pipe bowls made of materials such as silver, coquilla nut, porcelain and horn were joined to intricately carved and richly ornamented ivory stems. Ivory played yet another role in smoking pipes. 

Piasa auction catalog, lot 46, “Collection Musée de la SEITA,” September 18, 2009, 19. Photo courtesy Piasa.

In Stephenson and Churchill, Medical Botany, Volume I (1831) was this observation regarding the adhesive nature of smoking a clay pipe: 

“... the thin tender skin of that part of the under lip on which the pipe rests, is torn off, and the end of the pipe now coming in contact with a raw surface, frets and irritates it, until at length it becomes a truly cancerous sore: pipes should therefore be waxed, or used with an ivory covering.”

The aforementioned notwithstanding, I offer a partial definition of a tobacco pipe from John Ogilvie, The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language (1883): 

“In form and mate- rial it varies much in different countries—clay, meerschaum, porcelain, wood, stone, metal, horn, ivory, &c., being all employed for making pipes in whole or in part”

 In its day, ivory pipes may have been more appreciated for tactility than for taste, yet ivory was and still is engaged in pipes or as a pipe. It’s not unusual to encounter, particularly today, a contemporary briar pipe with an ivory shank ring or band; a few innovative artisans inset bits of ivory to accessorize or accent a briar pipe’s bowl or stem. Other examples with which the reader may be acquainted are a contemporary-looking pipe with a band of inked scrimshaw carving circumscribing the bowl, made in the Far East and found in Hong Kong gift shops; the ivory opium pipe; the synthetic, or faux, ivory pipes in circulation today; the Ecuadorian Tagua ivory pipe (it’s really a palm nut resembling animal ivory in color and texture); a variety of primitive African ethno- graphic pipes that typically consist of some elephant ivory components; and, last, a walrus or the rarer narwhal tusk pipe carved by the Eskimo, Inuit, Siberian Chukchi or Laplander. Carved ivory pipes with elaborately incised graphic scenes from these peoples were a very popular export in the late 19th century; in particular, the Inuit carved ivory pipes and traded them to whalers for English and American tobacco. Real bragging rights in antique pipe collecting circles is ownership of a genuine mastodon or mammoth ivory pipe, such as the one illustrated on the spine of the dust jacket and in Plate VI of the 1924 edition of Dunhill’s The Pipe Book. Simply put, ivory pipes have materialized in different parts of our world as national and regional expressions. From a practical standpoint, in most things, form normally follows function, but with ivory pipes, form, instead, followed art.

Ludwig Hartmann, one of the finer meerschaum carving establishments in Vienna, displayed a “tobacco-pipe of ivory” at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London in 1851. Of course, this is not surprising, because Robert Ellis, the compiler of The Official and Illustrated Catalogue of the exhibition, wrote: “In the department of turnery and carving in wood, bone, pearl, meerschaum, amber, ivory, and tortoise-shell, Vienna occupies an eminent position.” They are occasionally found in a few European museums, but whether from Dieppe carvers or from the deft hand of other European artisans, they are all widows and orphans for their lack of provenance. 

In Two Travelers in Europe by Adelaide Susan Hall (1898), an ivory pipe of unknown origin was spotted at a Budapest exposition: “Among the exhibits of modern workmanship, was an ivory pipe. On its bowl, sixteen inches in length, were carved the heads of the Emperor and Empress. Standing upon the lid of the bowl, was the figure of Hungaria with drawn sword. On the back, connecting with the stem, were five mounted knights in full regalia, the very spurs on their heels brought out in the most delicate carving.” Even without a picture, the words suggest that this pipe was exceptionally sumptuous, and though markedly different, stylistically, than those illustrated in this article, the unidentified artisan, if not an endowed Dieppois, may have apprenticed in Dieppe.


The historian Louis Le Vavasseur de Masseville, in his Histoire Sommaire de Normandie (1688–1702), wrote: “Les Dieppois de surpasser toutes les autres villes du monde pour la délicatesse des ouvrages d’ivoire.” True, perhaps, but not very illuminative. 

Here is what the British vice consul at Dieppe posted in the Board of Trade Journal of Tariff and Trade Notices, and Miscellaneous Commercial Information, Volume X, January 1891: “There is a handicraft at Dieppe which commenced about 200 years ago, and which is but too little known elsewhere, namely the art of carving ivory. The exquisite delicacy of the carving is, in many instances, surprising; indeed the talent of some of the artists entitles them to rank with genuine sculptors .... The ivory work of the Chinese, Japanese, and Indian is well carved and worked, and is in many respects very fine, but it is not comparable with the composition and elegance of execution of models by the best working sculptors of Dieppe.” 

More than a century later, not much else about Dieppe ivory carving or its ivory pipes is known. Paradoxically, the French have written much about another tobacco
implement, la Râpe à Tabac (the snuff rasp), particularly those of ivory produced in Dieppe, but nary a word about what should be considered a more fascinating objet d’art, the ivory pipe. 

Perhaps rasps were more interesting baubles and pipes were less appealing, or better records were maintained on the former. It was time to see what I could find in publications from the country of origin. 

I consulted Encyclopédie du Tabac et des Fumeurs (1975), the book of knowledge on everything tobacco; there is a section titled “ivoiriers, dieppois, Les,” but it’s all about snuff rasps. I checked several retrospective catalogs published in conjunction with pipe exhibitions: nothing found in Le Tabac. L’Art et la Curiosité, a 1937 exposition at le Musée Galliéra, Paris, or in L’Herbe a la Reine dans l’Art et dans l’Histoire, a SEITA-sponsored exhibit in that same year. 

In the S.T. Dupont-sponsored 1976 exhibition at the Bibliothèque Forney, Paris, Trésors et Histoire de la Pipe à Tabac, four ivory pipes from private collections were listed, but these were not illustrated and too briefly described to reveal anything noteworthy.

There’s one image of a Dieppe ivory pipe bowl in J.–Ch. Rhein, L’Art de la Pipe (1978), but, sadly, no descriptive text. 

J.-Ch. Rhein, L’Art de la Pipe (Genève, 1978), n.p. Permission for reproduction courtesy of J.-Ch. Rhein

And no Dieppe ivory pipe is illustrated in Tabac Miroir du Temps, a traveling SEITA Museum, Paris, exhibit in 1980. A further check of several illustrated catalogs from the SEITA Museum, and from the Collection of Baroness Alice de Rothschild at the Bibliothèque Municipale, Grasse, France, revealed nothing useful about the several Dieppe ivory pipes in their respective collections. No clues, no insight in my search so far. 

Sad is the fact that most pipe historian-authors—I, among them— save one Frenchman, have not given Dieppe the recognition that it right- fully deserves. That one person was the late André Paul Bastien, author of La Pipe (1973). Briefly acknowledging the ivory industry of Dieppe, Bastien’s view, loosely translated, is: “In this production ... of the tobacco boxes and snuff rasps that are authentic masterpieces and of the pipes richly wrought, the custom spread among rich merchants and important dignitaries to offer a pipe as a gift.” 

In his illustrated book on antiquarian tobacco utensils, Les Objets du Fumeur (1971), Michel Belloncle dismisses the ivory pipe: “Et en ivoire sculpté (tuyau en deux parties), est une multitude des petits personnages.” (And in carved ivory [mouthpiece in two parts] is a multitude of small characters.) 

In Pierre Faveton’s Autour du Tabac (1988) appears a handsomely sculpted ivory pipe attributed to the Lausanne, Switzerland, Pipe Museum, but my review of the book Il Museo della Pipa di Losanna/Pipes au Coeur/The Lausanne Pipe Museum (1989) found no such pipe illustrated. 

In Eppe Ramazzotti and Bernard Mamy’s Pipes et Fumeurs de Pipes (1975), the grandest book of all time about antique pipes, one outstanding Dieppe ivory pipe in a private collection is illustrated; it’s a beauty, yet in his own words, Ramazzotti, an author and expert pipe collector, considered ivory pipes merely “pipes insolites” (strange or unusual pipes):

(Literally translated): Unusual and rare ivory pipe, the bowl of an eagle squatting; under the eagle, a hand holding a cornucopia attaches to an ivory pipe stem carved with lovers and flowers, total length: 40 cm, length of stem: 16 cm. Dieppe, France, eighteenth century.

Seeking more definitive or, hopefully, more substantive information, I queried a few French collectors of antique pipes, and they were unaware of any records as to who might have carved them or when they were carved. 

The Château-Musée de Dieppe retains more than 1,000 ivory objects produced in the town and a typical carver’s reconstructed workshop strewn with miniature-like tools: files, gauges and saws, constant reminders of the town’s once-prosperous trade with Africa and of its once-prosperous cottage industry. In August 2009, Pierre Ickowicz, the museum’s conservateur en chef wrote this to me: “I am sorry to tell you that the Museum does not hold any ivory pipes, but a lot of artifacts that have to do with tobacco: tobacco graters, boxes, snuff boxes, etc.”


Well, that’s all I had found that the French wrote about these pipes, so I looked to England’s William Bragge, the most famous 19th century British antique pipe collector. He owned a Dieppe pipe complete with an accompanying ivory stem ... a very rare find, indeed. 

In his Bibliotheca Nicotiana (1880) is the following catalog entry:

FRANCE–SEVRES (A.f.): [4.] Pipe, ivory; bowl, 6 ␣ in. high; female bust with lace collar, surmounted by foli- age of vine; an eagle’s head below; stem carved in spirals; 29in. long.

It is evident that Bragge was a trifle confused: he noted Sèvres, a center of French porcelain manufacture, rather than Dieppe, as the provenance. This is easily explained and excusable. With so little background information then, as now, our misfortune—the misfortune of every pipe collector who admires and s for one of these masterpieces—is that it is impossible to precisely or roughly date the execution of these bowls, given that Dieppe had been carving ivory since the mid-1400s and continued in an almost unbroken line. 

The ivory pipes that I have examined are not signed. (I suspect that whether signed or not, an astute student of the Dieppe ivory trade might be able to attribute a pipe to a specific artist, but I am not one of these.) H. Baschet wrote in Notes and Queries, July- December 1857: 

“I lived a few years in Dieppe, and was often in communication with ivory carvers of that place, and am led to suppose that no record was ever kept of any principal artists engaged in that profession.” 

More than 50 years later, the names of a host of Dieppe ivory carvers appeared in George Frederick Kunz’s Ivory and the Elephant in Art, in Archaeology, and in Science (1916). Unfortunately, their individual skills and specialties are not revealed in this book.

There’s a certain sameness to all the bowls illustrated in this essay, and the reader may conclude that they may have produced by the same master- carver. Perhaps. I certainly would not challenge this conclusion. The mystery is why do all these bowls exhibit this rather repetitive motif of a woman’s head ... what is the symbolism?

Who was she, what did she represent? Mythological figure, national heroine, woman of royalty, political activist, crusader, reformer, local personage? 

The answer was partially revealed, the mystery partially solved, in La Fleur du Mal, the catalog of an antiquarian tobacciana exhibition in Paris in 1994 hosted by the renowned Parisian antiques dealer, a specialist in maritime and tobacco artifacts, Dominique Delalande. His written description of a Dieppe ivory bowl that was not illustrated fit this lady near perfectly. Delalande claimed that the bowl was the artist’s conception of “Ariane, séductrice de Bacchus,” the seductress of Bacchus (Ariadne and Dionysus in Greek), the daughter of King Minos (celebrated in a painting by Titian, 

Titian self-portrait, c.1567; Museo del Prado, Madrid

 a ballet by Albert Roussel and an opera by Massenet). 

This seemed about right to me, and why should I question it—the grapes, the vines and the leaves, similar to the customary décor wreathed and wrapped around the head of the pipe bust of that bacchanalian Roman pagan god of wine that has often been expressed in both meerschaum and wood. Delalande knows his pipes, and he’s the only person, so far, to posit an identity of the woman, but he offers no opinion about the eagle’s head. What had the creator(s) in mind? In Roman mythology the eagle was the ensign of the Roman legion and a symbol of power. Then again, that head might not be of an eagle, but of a gryphon, the winged lion with an eagle’s head; it too represented strength and valor. Here’s my jocular stab at the link between Ariane and the eagle (or gryphon). Could the message have been to smoke and drink strong wine? Consume tobacco and legions of wine? Fight hard ... drink hard ... smoke hard? Maybe the warning from King Solomon: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging.” 

Bacchus and Ariadne, Titian, (1523–24), National Gallery,London
On a more serious note, as one story version goes—and it’s a stretch, but it could be the link between Ariadne and the eagle (e.g., fly like an eagle)—is Joshua Benson’s article on the Internet, The Myth of Ariadne: Ariadne was on the shores of Naxos, mourning the loss of Theseus, and Bacchus was flying around with satyrs and maenads when he hears her crying and falls in love with her. The possibilities are endless, and it’s any- one’s guess, because the eagle (or gryphon) is still open for discussion. But, no matter if Delalande is wrong about the “who,” the “what” is not in question: her beauty is in the fine detail, the exacting and intricate fretwork, the delicately incised patterns, the myriad layers and the diminutive leaf patterns and sprays ... this is not mass production; this is distinctively individual artistry, skill and dexterity personified in a high-relief, three-dimensional, or sculpture-in-the-round, pipe bowl


Are ivory pipes in demand? They may not be of interest to pipe people, but they are to those who collect North American ethnographic art. To understand how some in the collector world value ivory pipes, I digress to highlight the American experience first with two examples.

The Donald Ellis Gallery, Ontario, Canada, an exhibitor at the Winter 2008 Antiques Show in New York, had several high-relief-carved Eskimo ivory pipes for sale between $6,000 and $12,500. 

Donald Ellis Gallery, Ontario, Canada, Winter Antique Show, New York

At Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Sept. 11, 2009, Lot Number 9, 

“a Bering Sea Eskimo Ivory Pipe, carved in three pieces; stem incised with bands of whales, loons, and whale tails; flared bowl designed with hatch marks along rim; pipe finished with a four-faced figure” 

had an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000, and a starting bid of $8,000. It sold for $9,500, or $11,162.50 with the buyer’s premium. Pipes of this genre ... and in this price range and much higher—can be had from time to time. (In my recollection there has never been a Dieppe ivory pipe bowl at auction in the U.S.)

Sept. 11, 2009, Lot Number 9, Courtesy of Cowan's Auctions
Crossing the Atlantic, the market situation is about the same. The tradition of this rare Dieppe art form is now lost, and with so few in circulation, when one appears at auction in sound condition—a once-in-a-blue-moon event—it commands a sky-high price; after all, they are national treasures. Five recent auction lots prove my point. 

At the public auction that took place on June 10, 2001 at the Orangerie of the Cheverny Castle, Lot 209 was described as a "richly sculpted ivory pipe with eagle, dragon and dog, representing the bust of a woman with laced collar -  Height 15 cm (6 inches) from a private collection in Orléans" and estimated 20,000 to 30,000 FF.

Auctioned by Philippe Rouillac

Tajan, Paris, in April 2003, Lot 261, a bowl, although listed as a pipe, “Pipe sculptée en ivoire de Dieppe, XVII XVIIIe” commanded 11,432 . 

Espace Tajan auction catalog, “Importante Collection de
Pipes Anciennes,” April 26, 2003, 15. Pipe sold through
Tajan auction, photo used by permission of Tajan.
In May 2004, Chenu– Scrive–Bérard, Lyon, auctioned Lot 466, a bowl, “Une Pipe sculptée en ivoire,” for 3,500 . 

Chenu-Scrive-Bérard auction catalog, “Tabacologie,” March 13–14, 2004, 9. Used by permission of Mr. Jean Chenu.

In April 2007, at Delorme Collin du Bocage, Paris, Lot 188, the bowl, listed as “Très rare pipe de Mariage,” sold for 6,800 . 

Delorme Collin du Bocage

The most recent opportunity was on Sept. 18, 2009, at Piasa, another Paris auction house. One of the 469 lots in the sale of the contents of Le Musée de la SEITA—the once-famous museum on the Left Bank that began assembling its tobacciana collection in 1937 and shuttered in 1990—was, unquestionably, the most striking example for sale: Lot 125, 6.57 inches in height, is loosely translated from the catalog:

Exceptional ivory pipe carved in the form of a bust of a woman wearing ruff and lace collars, headdress a crown of vines and foliage; necklaces of pearls adorn her neck and her hair, the bowl is continued with a head of an eagle and the cover evokes a crown; the stem is decorated with fruit and leaves. Beautiful workmanship. Dieppe, 18th– 19th Century. Height: 16.7 cm. Slight accidents and deficiencies.

Piasa auction catalog, lot 215, “Collection Musée de la SEITA,” September 18, 2009, 19. Photo courtesy Piasa.
This lot estimate was 5,000–7,000 (approx. $7,400–$10,290 on the auction date). So important was this auction, and so spectacular was Lot 125 that it was the only pipe illustrated in the Piasa auction announcement in the September 2009 issue of the monthly magazine Beaux Arts. The finalized price of this rare specimen: 6,568 , or approximately $9,700.

The exceptional carved ivory pipe below belongs to the collection of Daniel Mazaleyrat and was featured in "La Folie des pipes" by Jean Rebeyrolles (Flammarion, 2001, p 318).

Early XIXth century ivory pipe from Dieppe. Goldsmith : Jacques-Manuel Jeandet-
Briançon, 1860, Paris. Length : 59 cm, Bowl Height  : 13 cm, Daniel Mazaleyrat Collection

As Olive Milne Rae, “Old Dieppe Ivories” (The Connoisseur, Volume XXI, May-August, 1908) reported: 

“Today, of course, the spirit of the moyen age does not exist. The shop windows of the quaint old town are filled with a profusion of carved ivory—crucifixes, rosaries, toilet articles and many other useful and ornamental things which are, however, of no particular excellence of workmanship. The carvers, nowadays, are simply artisans who turn out their works by the gross, copying with varying degrees of precision the models before them; but in the old days they were artists of a very high order and consummate skill, as the specimens of their handiwork in the little museum of Dieppe abundantly show.” 

According to “A French Watering-Place” (The Nation: A Weekly Journal, Volume XV, From July 1 to Dec. 31, 1872): 

“Dieppe once was famous for its ivory carvings; but the traditions of this art are lost, and in the various ivory shops of the town you can now find only useful articles, which are pretty enough, but which have no artistic character.” 

More than a century later, in Susan Coolidge’s 1994 fictional classic, What Katy Did Next, a visitor to Dieppe observed: 

“Ivory wares are one of the chief industries of Dieppe. There were cases full, windows full, and counters full, of the most exquisite combs and brushes, some with elaborate monograms in silver and colours, and others plain; there were boxes and caskets of every size and shape, ornaments, fans, para- sol handles, looking glasses, frames for pictures large and small, almost all of which were for sale of various articles in ivory,” 

but not a pipe to be found in any case, window or counter!

Today, Annick Colette-Fremont, a fifth-generation ivory craftswoman, carrying on a family tradition started in 1880, is the last ivory carver in Dieppe,

The Colette store and workshop, 164 Rue Jean Ango, Dieppe
and while it is unlikely that she will be undertaking the daunting task of reproducing this once-famous ivory pipe, given the labor- and time-intensive effort required to finish a bowl and stem of equivalent luxury as was produced some 200-300 years ago, she will exercise the same skills demonstrated by her father and craftsmen and artists that preceded him for centuries and use the same tools...

Atelier de tourneur en ivoire, SAINGY Alexandre Bruno (sculpteur), H 19.5 cm ; W 30.3 cm; D 20.5 cm, © Châlons-en-Champagne, musée des beaux-arts et d'archéologie, © Service des musées de France, 2010

Moreover, in 1989, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, 115 countries decided to ban the international trade of ivory in the hope of restoring elephant populations to healthy levels, 

Méru ; musée de la Nacre et de la Tabletterie, France

so it’s unlikely that anyone in Dieppe, nowadays, would be crafting a pipe
using elephant tusk. 

Fossilized Walrus Ivory Tusk
Whether readers are just keen to see a Dieppe ivory pipe in the flesh at some convenient opportunity, or eventually own one of these superlative creations, these few illustrations certainly offer a veritable delight for the eye, distinctive, spectacular art compositions that seem too grand, too imposing, too opulent to be common tobacco vessels. Given the difficulty of carving ivory, the obvious conclusion is that to carve the Dieppe pipe was a titanic achievement. 

Maybe these pipes were not meant to be smoked, as Bastien had declared, and even if they were good smokers, which I doubt—the bowl is typically lined with clay and finished with metal trim—what sane person would ever consider lighting up one of these beauties? This is a pipe better seen than smoked! They are in a class all their own; unlike their crude ivory counterparts from Alaska, Siberia or Africa, they exude finesse, class, dexterity, precision, detail, elegance ... all the characteristics one demands and expects in an art object. And for this, we owe a debt of gratitude to one very special French town!

In my experienced opinion, the Dieppe ivory pipe is truly a luxurious objet d’art that would belong in the pipe hall of fame, if ever a pantheon for internationally preeminent smoking utensils were established. To some in the field of art, carving is sculpture, although the word sculpture is typically reserved for the great masters of art, while the word carver is assigned to those artists who execute subordinate decorations. So, I’ll grant that carved ivory objects are subordinate decorations, but these ivory master- works have forever changed the generally accepted view about a pipe being a mere vessel for tobacco.

In closing, I would argue that in a compare-and- contrast situation, if placed alongside any number of other tobacco pipes, irrespective of their age or country of origin—whether fine English briars, meerschaums from Vienna’s best carvers or Meissen porcelains—the Dieppe ivory pipe evokes the title of the classic fairytale originally written in 1740 by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Gallon de Villeneuve,

Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bête” (1946)

The ivory pipe is the beauty ... and all others the beast!

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