Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Diana the Huntress Amber Masterpiece

 In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt, the moon and childbirth, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals.

Diana as the Huntress, by Giampietrino.

It inspired some of the most talented painters through the ages,

Diane the Huntress, 1560, School of Fontainebleau, Le Louvre, Paris


Diana the huntress  by Jean Goujon, 1550-1554, Louvre Museum, Paris

and jewellers...

A chariot clock depicting the goddess. France, c. 1796.

And here is an extraordinary cheroot in amber of two different colors representing Diana the Huntress. 

Diana the Huntress, XIXth century. Dimension : 43,5 cm long / +/- 12,5 cm high

Provenance : Baron Eugène Fould collection.

This unique piece has been recently taken in photo in a book on amber named "Ambre, mémoire du temps" Edition Thalia, written by Camille Coppinger.

It is the only tobacco object in amber of that size known and repertoried in all books on tobacco objects.

Copyright Delalande Antiques

Monday, July 20, 2015

Japanese Kiseru-Zutsu

A kiseru, a kiseru-zutsu and a tabako-ire
The kiseru by Myoju, 19th century
The tabako-ire of leather, tooled with exotic designs after Spanish originals, with a copper mae-kanagu in the form of a resting deer, the reverse of shibuichi carved and pierced with maple leaves; the kizeru-zutsu of stag-antler, carved in relief with putti among exotic plants after European leather designs, partly lacquered and gilt; with bamboo and shibuichi kiseru carved with Shoki and oni, signed Akitoshi (Myoju) with seal Gyokufu; and coral ojime carved in relief with a dragon; with wood storage box. The tabako-ire 9.2cm x 14.5cm (3 5/8inx 5¾in); the kizeru-zutsu 22.2cm (8¾in) long. Courtesy Bonham's Auctions.

An inlaid black lacquer kiseruzutsu
By Ikeda Taishin, (1825-1903), 19th century
Of muso-zutsu form, bearing a roiro-nuri ground, lacquered and inlaid with a carp swimming among aquatic plants in swirling water, two small turtles applied in metal above, forming the cord attachment, the fish of iron, the plants and water of gold takamaki-e and the turtles of brass and shibuichi with gold eyes; signed Taishin; with wood storage box. 24.7cm (9¾in).

A tsuishu (carved red-lacquer) kiseruzutsu (pipe case)

By Matsuki Hokei, 19th century
Of muso-zutsu form, carved all over in low relief with a continuous scene of geese amid a mass of wild flowers and plants by a stream, the rim and cord attachment of shakudo, signed Hokei saku. 21.5cm (8½in).

An ivory kiseruzutsu (pipe case)
By Baiko, late 19th century
Of muso-zutsu form, carved in relief with a European leather design of a winged child holding a bow beneath another holding aloft a large feather, amid fruit and falling leaves, continued on the reverse, carved with a bird in flight above a leaping squirrel; signed in seal form Baiko. 21cm (8¼in) long.
A stag-antler kiseruzutsu
By Ozaki Kokusai (1835-1892), Shiba, Tokyo, 19th century
Of muso-zutsu form, bearing a shaped panel, carved in relief with a formalised dragon among clouds, the top carved in relief with two medallions of a kongo (thunderbolt) with jewel and floral mon (family crest), the cord attachment formed by a shishi head, its mane forming a band around the neck, signed in relief Kokusai; with wood storage box. 21.5cm (8½in)

An unusually large walrus ivory pipecase By Mitsuyuki (late 19th century)

Of aikuchi-zutsu form, carved in very high relief with numerous villagers at various pursuits, the upper part similarly carved with sen'nin, signed Mitsuyuki 9 1/4in (23.5cm)

A walrus ivory pipe case
By Yamada, Edo period (19th century)
The muso zutsu pipe case boldly carved with a carver kneeling and looking on in disbelief as his sculpture of a Nio guardian comes to life, the figures executed in katakiribori and takabori, signed on the inner scabbard Yamada and sealed Gyokuho
9 1/4in (23.4cm) long

A walrus tusk kiseruzutsu
By Ikeda Taishin (1825-1903), late 19th century
Of otoshi-zutsu type, in the form of a bean pod, lacquered in gold and coloured takamakie with a large cricket beneath a trailing kiri plant, signed Taishin.
21.6cm (8½in).

A woven rattan kiseruzutsu (pipe case)
By Rosetsu, late 19th century
Of muso-zutsu form, inlaid with a goose among wind-blown reeds, in kurogaki wood and stained bone, the mounting and cord attachment of gold; signed in seal form on an inlaid tablet Rosetsu. 20.3cm (8in) long.

Bamboo pipecase
By Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891)
Of muso-zutsu form, folded at both ends, lacquered and inlaid with a grasshopper on a creeping plant, with details in pewter and with fastening bands at either end, signed Zeshin
8 1/4in (21cm)

A boxwood kiseruzutsu 
By Morita Soko (1879-1942), Tokyo, early 20th century
Of otoshi-zutsu type, in the form of a bean pod, of elegant shape, delicately carved to show the contours of the beans within and carved in relief with three leaves and tendrils attached to a curling stalk which forms the cord attachment, signed Soko with inlaid red-lacquer seal Morita.
20.7cm (8 1/8in).

A boxwood pipe case
by Seishu, Edo/Meiji period (19th century)
Of senryu zutsu type carved as a female figure standing on a Chinese lion, her long-sleeved robe slipping off her shoulder exposing her right breast, her long hair tied at the back in the manner of a Heian beauty, signed Seishu

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Clay Tobacco Pipe Case: an Ingenious European Tobacco Trifle

By Ben Rapaport 
originally published in Pipes & Tobaccco Magazine 
Winter 2014

 Of all the accessories in the taxonomy of tobacco and pipe-related collectibles—the generally accepted term is tobacciana—jars, boxes, humidors, bags, pouches, racks, tampers (or, in the Queen’s English, tobacco- stoppers), tongs, tins and pails, et al., there is one lonely, near-forgotten accessory, not exactly an outcast, but one that gets hardly a peep in print. It’s the tobacco pipe case, particularly those made for the clay tobacco pipe. It’s what Peter Whittington considers an “undiscovered antique” in his 1973 illustrated book of the same name. Strange, indeed, that in England, where the clay tobacco pipe was popular for a couple centuries, within the 1,600-odd pages of advertisements, articles, editorials, monographs and reports in Cope’s Tobacco Plant, A Monthly Periodical, Interesting to the Manufacturer, the Dealer, and the Smoker that ran from to March 1870 to January 1881, there’s not a solitary mention of this accessory.

There is the occasional, vintage article that gives ever-so-slight attention to it: Wendell D. Garrett, “Paraphernalia of Smokers and Snuffers” (Antiques, January 1968), and “Smoking Accessories” (Encyclopedia of Antiques, 1976). The most informative, in my view, is W. Sanders Fiske, “Tobacco Pipe Cases” (Connoisseur, December 1973), just enough information to whet the appetite of someone curious, but not enough to sate the appetite of a truly inquisitive investigator. In his introductory paragraph, Fiske wrote:

 “The objects now described and illustrated appear to have been overlooked alike by the collector and historian, and yet these cases, many of them wonderful examples of craftsmanship, were once in use by large numbers of people.” And in the following paragraph he assessed the contemporary literature about tobacco utensils: “But in all this vast mass of material references to tobacco pipe cases are of the greatest rarity.”

The tobacco pipe case has not received the attention worthy of a serious treatise or monograph in any consumer-oriented tobacco or pipe magazine ... until now. I believe that it’s time to shed more than a little light on this once-important, uniquely European, utilitarian smoking appliance or, nicotian nécessaire, that Englishman Willard Emerson Keyes in “Old-Time Tobacco Requisites” (The Magazine Antiques, July 1931) chose to identify by its French name, etui, rather than by its English name. First, it’s necessary to mention some other cases that were made to protect tobacco pipes.

All sorts of pipe cases for all sorts of pipes

I’ll start with a bit of obtuse but relevant humor from Down Under in an otherwise serious essay. According to Carl Lumholtz (“A Residence Among The Natives of Australia,” Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Vol. XXI, No. 1, 1889), the aborigines had a different idea about where to store a pipe: “My companions who, of course, had neither pockets nor pipe cases, were in some difficulty as to where they could best keep the clay pipes I had given them, but they soon found a safe place for their pipes by putting them, instead of the peg, through the hole in their nose.” On a more serious note, here’s a British definition of a pipe case from P.L. Simmonds, A Dictionary of Trade Products ... (1858): “A smoker’s pocket-case for holding a short meerschaum or clay tobacco-pipe,” and a very similar one from an American dictionary of the same era, “smoker’s pocket-case for carrying a tobacco- pipe.”

In ye really olden days, finished clay pipes at the factory destined for distributors, wholesalers or retailers were hand-packed in wood shavings and nestled in pine cases. For this reason, I dispute Dan Antony’s claim in “How to Identify a Clay Tobacco Pipe”: “An expensive clay pipe usually came with a customized case to protect it.” Not so! Those who made clay pipes only made clay pipes, not pipe cases. The cases mentioned in this discussion were usually hand-made to order by other artisans long after the clay pipe left the factory. The “authentic” pipe case was also identified as a pipe tube. Those who are unfamiliar with the pipe smoker’s lexicon have loosely used “pipe case” to identify the old-style, wall-mounted clay pipe box, the modern pipe rack, single and multipurpose pipe holders, pipe chests and similar pipe furniture.
It’s really hard to determine precisely when the concept for such a device was developed, but it probably followed in lockstep with the introduction of the clay pipe. When it became popular, pipe cases were in plain view at the Great Exhibition: “Electro-plated and nickel-silver snuff, tobacco, and pipe-boxes, pipe- cases, &c. Silver, electro-plated, and nickel-silver fusee-boxes. Brass and japanned pipe and tobacco-boxes, and tobacco pipe-cases, &c., in various styles” (Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue, Vol. II, London, 1851, 627).


In the early 18th century, bulbous- shaped, meerschaum pipe bowls, accompanied by long wood stems, often came with a fitted, wood-reinforced, protective cover configured to expose only the top of the bowl— called a smoking case—described in this fashion: “A similar cover for the bowl of a pipe to protect it from the fingers when in use, as when a meerschaum is being carefully colored, to keep the fingers from touching the bowl” (“pipe-case,” The Century Dictionary, Vol. VII, 1889, 4505). Around 1850 or so, when the meerschaum evolved into a more portable pipe, most all carvers and, later, briar and Redmanol pipe manufacturers, supplied a form-fitting case of leather-covered (pine) wood with a snap lock to protect not only the contents, but also for convenient portability. 

According to Whitney and Smith, The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1889), this format was defined as “A case or box lined with a soft material to protect a valuable pipe when not in use.” Depending on the manufacturer, that soft material might have been any of a number of different linings: chamois, plush, satin, silk or velvet. To get a sense of its once-in-vogue popularity, according to The Encyclopædia Britannica of 1894, in Ruhla, Germany, a major center of pipe manufacture, in the late 1870s, the annual average production of these leather pipe cases was 144,000!

Varia for the kiseru-zutsu

At a much earlier time, a precisely designed and configured pipe case that is no longer produced was once de rigueur in Japan. It was the kiseru-zutsu for the Japanese pipe smoker; this one- or two-part, in-line case made from many assorted materials—among them stag antler, bone, woven cane, ivory, lacquer, leather, papier mâché, raffia and wood—held the kiseru (tobacco pipe). 

Lacquer and bone kiseru-zutsus

As Seymour Thower reported in “Netsukés: Their Makers, Use, and Meaning” (The Magazine of Art, Vol. 12, 1889): “About this time, the simultaneous introduction by the Dutch of tobacco and ivory [to Japan] gave a great stim- ulus to the carving industry, causing universal demand for pipe-cases, tobacco-pouches, and for netsukés ...” There is, today, a dedicated, international following for the kiseru and the zutsu, and there is much in print on their history and fabrication. (The zutsu is, in the opinion of some collectors, attributed to the Dutch.)


John Seymour Lindsay reports: “Among articles of tin ware of the early nineteenth century is the pipe case. This accommodates a short clay pipe of the cutty variety, and in form takes the lines of a pipe and is similar to the earlier Dutch cases of wood,” discussed later (Iron and Brass Implements of the English and Amecan House, 1964, 69). Thanks to John Speirs of Boston, he devised a design (U.S. Patent No. 60,078, Nov. 27, 1866) for a “new and useful or improved Fire-Proof Pipe Case ... of tinned iron or other proper metal or material ...” Some 20 years later, on Jan. 6, 1885, U.S. Patent No. 310, 287 was issued to Charles and Henry Kock of New York, for a hinged “pipe-case” of similar construction to that of Speirs’ patent. The Dutch also made plain brass pipe cases that lack the finesse and beauty of their wooden counterparts, described in this article. 

In the early 1900s, the Monarch Service Co. of Boston was one of several firms that manufactured various “metal pipe cases,” advertising them as “... adjustable with extension device to fit various shapes and length of Clay Pipes,” “clean–odorless–sanitary,” “protection for your wife, your family, and especially your pipe. While they closely resemble a revolver they are really beautiful.” The typically encountered tin pipe case manufactured in some quantity in the United States was used to promote beers, pubs, fraternal orders and the like. They bore embossed advertisements, such as “Compliments of Frank Jones Brewing Co., Portsmouth, New Hampshire,” “Hanley’s Peerless Ale” and “Aleppo Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S. [Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine], C.P. Sherman/ Pawtucket, R.I.” The most unusual case in tin, to date, was sold in December 2011 by Dan Morphy Auctions, LLC; it was a green-painted case lettered “Army and Navy Pipe,” with crossed cannons in a circle. Tin pipe cases typically interest the collector of Breweriana and those who collect vintage three-dimensional advertising objects.

 Wood—and more—for the European clay

Now to the central focus of this treatise, a forward-sloping case to transport the clay tobacco pipe, most often made of wood and typologically classified as treenware, an aggregate term for small, hand-crafted, wooden objects. Cases were produced in a short length for a cutty, fairy or elfin clay pipe, and in a longer length for a churchwarden or alderman, but not for the oversized cadger pipe. Their relative lengths could be thought of in another way:

a short case for the pocket and a long one for leisurely use at the inn, pub or at home. The period of their manufacture and popular use was from the early to mid-17th century to about the middle of the 19th century. A poem in Barten Holyday’s Jacobean-era allegory, Technogamia; or The Marriage of the Arts (1618), supports the early use of pipe cases. The first two lines read: “Tobacco is a Lawyer/His pipes do love Long Cases.” (As an aside, it was reported that Sir Walter Raleigh kept his clay pipe in a leather case.) 

Today, wooden pipe cases are collector items, but yesterday they served a very practical purpose and, as one observer of the period commented, such a case “... probably belonged to a man with ideas of hygiene ahead of his time.” The late Georg A. Brongers, once the curator of the Niemeyer Museum in Groningen, the Netherlands, described the clay pipe case in his book Nicotiana Tabacum (1964), calling it a pipe-holder:

The method for carrying pipes was made more perfect when the pipeholder [sic] appeared. This was the casing which tightly enveloped the whole pipe. The oldest known pipe-holders date from the beginning of the 18th century and we know of many dated specimens. Because the shapes of pipes changed, these holders disappeared abut the first quarter of the 19th century. The normal length of these pipe-holders varied from 15 to 25 centimetres [c. 6 inches– c. 10 inches], but in the Province of Friesland there are some specimens, about 60 centimetres [c. 23.5 inches] long. These were specially intended for bridegroom’s pipes.
The two Western-world countries most noted for producing the clay pipe case were England and Holland, each country having its own unique designs and degree of diversity in materials. This is easily explained. The Dutch borrowed the art of pipe- making from the English, so it probably followed that they also borrowed the idea of the pipe case; after all, the Dutch, like the English, were an avid clay pipe-smoking people, and it’s been reported that Holland used to ship more than 10,000 clay pipes each year to its European personnel located in Asia. 

Lot 689
Three fruitwood pipe cases, English or Dutch, 18th century. Carved as pistols, one
detailed with a guard and trigger, another with chip-carved stem and brass finial
with a face on the butt and the third with chip-carving and a lead finial.
10 in. (25 cm.) long (3) Estimate £700 - 1,000 Price Realized £750

In Wood, Volume 14, 1949, “The best English cases, like the Dutch and German, were often of boxwood or of walnut ...” (151). The English patented several different pipe cases over the course of many years, cases in wood and in pedestrian metals—brass or painted tin—generally configured in an oblong or rectangular shape as a combination pipe case with a storage compartment for tobacco and matches. One of the earliest British patents for “cases for carrying pipes and tobacco” was Patent Number 2898, Nov. 19, 1864, awarded to a certain William Palmer Jr. Another English patent was awarded to R. Phelps (Number 2891) on July 16, 1879, “Cases for cigars, pipes, matches and other similar articles,” the drawing for which was “... a case for a tobacco pipe having a curved stem.” And some of these cases could be much more complex than this definition, to wit, Patent Number 1474, from Benjamin Wade of Leeds, York County, England, awarded on April 22, 1875, for:

 An improved combined pipe- case, tobacco-stopper, and pipe brush. The pipe-case is constructed with a longitudinal recess for the reception of the pipe-brush, which is combined with the pipe-stopper by being affixed to one end of a wire, to the other end of which the tobacco-stopper is connected. The brush and the whole length of the wire lie in the recess in the pipe- case, against the end of which the stopper abuts (Chronological and Descriptive Index of Patents Applied for and Patents Granted for the Year 1875, London, 1876, 311).

And it seems ironic that at least in early England, where the prevailing attitude was that it was hardly worth the trouble to decorate a clay pipe, the wood case, often richly ornamented, made up that deficiency. English cases were generally made of birch or sycamore, sometimes crudely hollowed out like a dugout canoe, and having no aesthetic appeal, but there is also the occasional better case inlaid in dots or incised with the owner’s initials. Sarah Yates remarked in Smoking Accessories. A Collector’s Guide  (2000): “English cases are generally much simpler, and plainer in style,” to which I add “than those made on the continent.” Austrian, Flemish, French (Brittany and Saint-Claude) and Ger- man wood turners, coopers and general woodworkers produced more than a few striking boxwood examples, often terminated at the hinged opening with a fanciful or grotesque figural bust.

Lot 709
A George II fruitwood and pewter-inlaid pipe case, dated 1740. Chip-carved and incised with a heart, a crowned “G.R.” cypher, a face and other motifs, the pewter inlay of a pair of initials “I.B.” and a heart, 11.5 in. (29 cm.) long.
Estimate £500 - 800 Price Realized £625 

The Dutch elevated the pipe case to a yet higher art form. Their finest were crafted in assorted soft and hard woods, such as birch, boxwood, ebony, holly, mahogany, olivewood, pear, sycamore and walnut, often ornately carved and trimmed with brass or pewter décor, piqué, intri- cately inlaid brass-, copper- or silver-wire geometrical designs, inset gemstones, mother-of-pearl and other elaborately applied ornamentation. Fairholt (Tobacco [1859]) offered: “The old Dutchmen had an affection for their pipes, and carried them in wooden cases more or less ornamented.” George Manson, in Smoking: A World of Curious Facts, Queer fancies, and Lively Anecdotes About Pipes, Tobacco, and Cigars (1891) related: “The Dutch loved their mahogany pipes so much that they carried them in ornamented wooden cases, which were sometimes inlaid with brass on which was engraved some proverb or scriptural motto.” According to E.L.L., “Pipes and Tobacco” (The National Magazine, Vol. VI, 1859): “The Dutch put their clay pipes into cases, for all the world like those of our modern smokers, excepting that they opened different ...” And William Elliot Griffis recounted in The American in Holland (1899) what he called a remarkably rich Dutch smoker’s outfit: “Here are pipe-cases, stoves to hold fire for lighting pipes, and tobacco boxes in all forms ...” It has been reported that the Dutch province Zeeland was known for the frequent use of pipe cases as part of the local costume. The trousers of a Zeeland pipe smoker had a special pocket to hold the case. According to Amin Jaffer: “Asian-made pipe cases are usually attributed to the Dutch, who were commonly identified with pipe-smoking and are sometimes depicted enjoying the pleasures of the pipe. Pipe cases made in Asia under Dutch patronage are usually configured to hold two pipes and are found in a range of materials, including lacquer, tortoiseshell, ebony and ivory” (Luxury Goods from India. The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, 2002, 51).

Lot 695
A Dutch boxwood pipe case, 18th century. Carved with the face of a bearded man, possibly a Turk, with bone eyes and pierced stem,. 9 in. (23 cm.) long, and a Dutch fruitwood pipe case carved with the head of a man in a hat with a pierced stem, 19th Century, 111⁄4 in. (28.5 cm.) long
Estimate £500 - 800 Price Realized £562.50

And in many other primary sources, this same phenomenon is recounted. George Wharton Edwards (Holland of Today, 1919) described a prototypical Dutch pipe smoker: “He had a fine boxwood carved pipe-case sticking out of his coat pocket, from which he presently extracted a well- colored clay pipe, filled and lighted it and clenched it tightly between his misfit teeth.” (Edwards, American illustrator, impressionist painter, and author of travel books, knew his tobacco history. He’s best remembered among tobacco bibliophiles for the drawings and decorations that accompanied the quaint poem of Scotsman Ralph Erskine, published in 1890, Thus Think and Smoke Tobacco: A Rhyme (XVII Century), considered the most exquisite smokiana-collectible book ever—decorated cloth covers, card-stock, gilt-edged—from the presses of the Frederick A. Stokes Co.) 

Lot 701
A collection of Dutch and Dutch-East-Indies wood and brass-mounted pipe cases, 18th century, including two silver mounted cases decorated with piqué work, one with the inscribed name ‘HARDING COCKER’, and a pipe case all in brass. Longest: 121⁄2 in. (32 cm.) Estimate £500 - 800  Price Realized £875

From all the evidence I have found, although the French produced myriad clay tobacco pipes in their day, when compared to their British and Dutch clay-pipe-smoking brethren, they manufactured very few pipe cases. Nonetheless, they did use them, as was reported in this magazine article, “Tobacco-Pipes” (Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature Science and Arts, Volume V, January–June 1856):

"The commonest French [clay] pipe is a well-finished article, with a graceful bowl and a well-proportioned stem; and its owner keeps it in a case, reveres it for its blackened hue and pungent odour, and grows attached to it from long use."

Other mediums and configurations

Without doubt, the very best of breed in pipe cases, whether from England or Holland, were those made for the wealthy smoker in expensive materials, such as ivory (probably hand- made in the Dutch East Indies), lacquer ware, silver (an English specialty of limited production), 

Five engraved with family or military crests including one of the 1st Life Guards, another by an Edinburgh maker, circa 1880, engraved with the crest and motto of Peareth of Unsworh House, Gateshead, one engraved with flowers and one plain, most unmarked
4¾ in. (12 cm.) long on average (7)

Estimate £500 - £800 ($778 - $1,244) Price Realized £1,125  ($1,765)

Tula (or niello, an alloy made of silver, lead and copper, adding a certain amount of sulfur) and tortoiseshell, spectacular utensils that required diligence and deftness to create. Some were made with two or three internal compartments, some were specially fitted with a long, metal wire brush or pointy rod for shank cleaning—often called a pricker— and others had a mounted combination lock to protect the contents.

Lot 707
Three tortoise shell snuff boxes
18th century and later
Comprising one brass mounted with a terrapin shell cover, another plain with silver mounts and domed base and cover, a third oval with a silver inscription plaque reading ‘RICHD ROBINS 1759’ 4 in. (10 cm.) wide
And a rare tortoiseshell double pipe case with unmarked silver mounts, early 18th Century -- 91⁄4 in. (24 cm.) long (4)
Estimate £600-800 Price Realized £625
 How old might a particular case be? A fundamental determinant of dating its age, but not necessarily its provenance, is its outward configuration, and the shape of the pipe determined that configuration. Cases for 17th century clay pipes were unventilated, closed at both ends, constructed with sliding shutters. The typical 18th century case had a hinged lid at the bowl end; others were made with a ventilation hole at the mouthpiece end. The reason is obvious. When the style of the clay pipe changed to include a spur, or heel, at the base of the bowl, some say after 1700, the case with the shutter could not slide over the bowl, hence the need for a different case configuration.

Wood pipe cases for clays, at least not anything similar to those illustrated in this article, were not manufactured in the United States, and neither of the two largest importer- retailers, the William Demuth Company of New York, or George Zorn & Company of Philadelphia, stocked European-made wood pipe cases for the American market, because the clay tobacco pipe never really caught on big-time in this country.

Collectibility then and now

In the Birmingham Daily Post, Dec. 16, 1870, appeared “The Pipes of All Peoples,” a descriptive review of a public exhibition in that city of the William Bragge Collection. The writer had this to say, having taken notice of the display of Dutch smokiana:

"Here too, are elaborately carved pipe-cases, in wood and ivory, inlaid with metal, coloured, and gilt, in ivory and lac, to contain the pipes, which once a year only, were taken by the Dutch traders into jealous Japan ... In carving, what clever examples of this are to be found on the lids of pipe-cases formed of ivory and wood, from the simplest ornament, up to the most complicated artistic combinations in some of the more impor- tant examples."

I have no incontrovertible evidence as to who might have the largest private collection of cases today, or if anyone can make that claim, but among his some 7,000 items of smoking paraphernalia, Bragge, the foremost 19th century collector of all things pipeish, acknowledged 49 of them in his book, Bibliotheca Nicotiana. A Catalogue of Books about Tobacco, Together with a Catalogue of Objects (1880). According to “the Bragge Collection” (Cope’s Tobacco Plant, December 1880):

“The museum [his collection] contains not only pipes, but pipe cases. The earliest with a date on it is made of ebony, and belonged to ‘Nicolas Foorsee, Anno 1626.’ There are all sorts of devices on these cases. Thus, one shows a group of Virginian Indians, whilst another is presided over by the Archangel Michael and Satan.” 

The inscribed date is probably authentic; 1626 is within the generally accepted period of the use and popularity of such cases.

There is, as well, an obscure snippet in print about a particular German and his penchant for pipe cases, someone more famous than Bragge from an earlier time. He was the Pots- dam Führer, that inveterate puffer who allegedly smoked as many as 30 pipes at a sitting in the Tabagie-room in his Potsdam or his Berlin schloss. From “Some Notes on the Tobacco College of King Frederick William [Friedrich Wilhelm, 1688–1740] The First of Prussia” (Once a Week, Volume V, June to December 1861):

"The pipes—of which there is still a complete collection in the Museum of Arts at Berlin—were short and of common Dutch clay, and kept in simple cases of wood. Those (the cases) of the king’s pipes were mounted with silver, and were besides adorned with some neat carvings."

Those in hot pursuit of pipe cases get lucky once in a while and find the odd, the rare and the unusual, such as this one in the shape of a flintlock pistol:

“Inside this carved wooden holder, shaped like a flintlock pistol, is an earlier clay pipe  with a long mouthpiece. The pipe was probably made in England between 1660 and 1690.The later wooden case may be there to protect the clay pipe. Made sometime inthe 1700s, the butt of the pistol has been shaped to resemble a woman’s headand neck.” Courtesy Science Museum, London
Auction hammer prices

European clay pipe cases appear now and then at antique fairs and shows, more often in Continental auctions, and occasionally on eBay. In May 2004, at the Christie’s, London, sale of the private collection of antique pipes, tobacco jars and books of Alfred Dunhill, four fine- quality treen pipe cases had no takers, but a few years later this view would prove to be false. If the European auction is the current pulse on prices for tobacciana collectibles, then the SEITA Museum collection auctioned at Piasa, Paris, in September 2009, is as good a guide as any I know. Five Dutch ornamental wood pipe cases were on the block, with estimates from 150€ to 800€; in September 2009, €1 = approx. $1.45. Final prices for four of the five ranged from 161€ to 682€ plus a buyer’s premium. Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C., sold two Dutch pipe cases in its March 2010 auction: (a) “brass-mounted wooden case with brass studs, inlaid and wrapped brass wire decoration, hinge engraved 1770, 9-1/4 in. Two splits in base of wooden bowl, one brass collar loose at top of stem, polish residue,” $300, and (b) “brass edging on hinged lid, brass ring around stem, brass mouth tip, 18th century, 7-3/4 in. Excellent condition with normal wear, polished surface,” $300.

Having mentioned ivory and internal compartments earlier, I cite an auction of pipes and accessories belonging to the late J. Trevor Barton (dubbed “the Pipe Man” by Portobello Road vendors) at Christie’s, South Kensington, London, on Sept. 22, 2010. In it were several grouped lots of Dutch and English clay pipe cases in fruitwood and boxwood that hammered between $850 and $1,400. Lot 707, consisting of a rare 18th century tortoiseshell double- pipe case—could there be a pipe case rarer than one made of tortoise- shell?—and four other tortoiseshell items, sold at only $972. 

The premier wood case in the collection was Lot 712: “A Dutch dated boxwood pipe case mid-17th century. Carved with a pair of lions, a pair of birds, hearts and foliage and inscribed ‘ANNO 1649’, brass hinge 9 1⁄2 in. long” that hammered an extraordinary $4,315! 

Lot 712
A Dutch dated boxwood pipe case, Mid-17th century
Carved with a pair of lions, a pair of birds, hearts and foliage and inscribed ‘ANNO 1649’, brass hinge, 91⁄2 in. (24 cm.) long
Estimate £800-1,200 Price Realized £2,750

But the crown jewel of pipe cases was Lot 633:

"A fine Sinhalese ivory double- pipe case, Sri Lanka, 17th century. The hinged end surmounted by a lion, the hasp and hinge in engraved brass, the body with applied pierced carved panels of foliage and on the reverse putti amongst foliage all over gilt foil or mica and a wood carcase [sic], 21 inches long."

Lot 633
A fine Sinhalese ivory double-pipe case
Sri Lanka, 17th century
The hinged end surmounted by a lion, the hasp and hinge in engraved brass, the body with applied pierced carved panels of foliage and on the reverse putti amongst foliage all over gilt foil or mica and a wood carcase 21 in (53 cm.) long
Estimate £8,000-12,000 Price Realized £51,650

A bit of background about this type of case. In the aforementioned book, Luxury Goods from India, a similar case is illustrated, and there is one in the Victoria and Albert 
Museum, London

Carved Ivory on wood Mid 17th century pipe case, Sri Lanka, Victoria and Albert 
Museum, London

and others in the DeMoriaan Museum, Gouda, the Netherlands, indicating that several comparable cases were produced in India under Dutch patronage. In the Christie’s June 17, 2010 press release “This September: Pipe Up and Bid at Christie’s,” there was this: “The Asian portion not only includes Chi- nese opium pipes, but also a beautiful ivory pipe case from Sri Lanka, finely pierced and carved with foli- age, surmounted by a carved lion (estimate: £1,000-1,500)...” Three months later, the catalog estimate was far, far higher, £8,000–£12,000 ($12,000–$18,000); in my considered opinion, I thought it was way off mark. I was wrong by at least a marathoner’s mile. The winning bidder shelled out a land- mark price for this most item in the auction: a whopping £51,650 ($80,316)! 

Lot 633
A fine Sinhalese ivory double-pipe case
Sri Lanka, 17th century

In November 2010, another segment of Barton’s huge collection was sold at Christie’s; one lot of eight pipe cases—a few of boxwood and others of Dutch East Indies style with brass and copper mounts—sold at $1,609. These relatively recent auction prices certainly reflect a continuing interest in this unusual accoutrement for the pipe, but the auction block is not the only source for this trifle. In November 2010, one lucky Internet-sleuthing eBay buyer snagged an early 19th century Dutch wood case with brass and cop- per décor overlay in fine condition for a mere £94.60 (about $150). And this is not to be construed as a testimonial, but the Antique Pipe Co.  always has a few fine examples in wood for sale. On March 9, 2011, Piasa, at l’Hôtel Drouot, Paris, in its auction of Objets Scientifiques & Tabacologie, offered several brass, copper and wood clay tobacco pipe cases from France and Holland.

Lot 633
A fine Sinhalese ivory double-pipe case
Sri Lanka, 17th century

Last, what goes around eventually comes around, even with antiques. On Oct. 16, 2013, three years after the Barton auction in London, Christie’s, Paris, conducted Sale 3579, Le Cabinet des Curiosites de Jacques et Galila Hollander. In it was that pricey ivory pipe case, described only as “rare étui en ivoire et sa pipe” [rare ivory pipe case and its pipe], Sri Lanka, 17th century,” with an estimate of 25,000€– 35,000€ ($33,950–$47,530). On this occasion, the hammer struck an unbelievable 115,500€, or $156,848! A point of clarification. There was no pipe included in the original sale in London, but in this auction, a long iron trade pipe was added which surely could not have influenced a winning bid that had tripled the estimate and was twice the hammer price in 2010. An Incredible pipe accessory, for sure, at an even more incredible price!

Lot 633
A fine Sinhalese ivory double-pipe case
Sri Lanka, 17th century

In closing

All these pipe cases considered, it is easy to conclude that wood’s influence on tobacco and smokers is much more omnipresent than just its contribution to the briar pipe. Without wood, as Edward H. Pinto claims: “... tobacco might never have been used in Europe either for snuff or smoking.” Beyond tampers and jars, beyond cabinets, racks and humidors that are everywhere nowadays, and although in places the clay is still a popular smoke, the pipe case never followed with the times. It became a thing of the past, just another pipe smoker’s gizmo that could not be repurposed.

Truth be told, those who collect ’em probably care not a whit about clay pipes! It’s the case that captivates. After all, far more intricate and detailed than what it stored, for anyone interested in fine craftsmanship and unpretentious beauty, the pipe case has its own story to tell, created by anonymous and long-forgotten contributors, an object that has long passed from the scene like so many other now-impractical, smoking- related accouterments: braziers; lucifers; match strikers and safes; snuff mulls and rasps; smoking chairs, jackets and hats; spill jars and spittoons. Times change, customs and habits change, and yesteryear’s utensils customarily fall into disuse.

As editors Christina E. Erneling and David Martel Johnson (The Mind as a Scientific Object. Between Brain and Culture [2005]) report: 

“Engineers create things that are useful from a human point of view, typi- cally things that are useful in particular times and places, not everywhere in the universe. For example, in the eighteenth century, artisans (who may be regarded as small-scale engineers) built pipe holders .... Now that smoking is in decline—especially clay-pipe smoking—pipe holders are no longer needed and have become valuable antiques.” How true! It’s an interesting bit of comparative history that 200 years ago, so many unnamed, inspired artisans advanced the art of wood carving, engraving, incising and etching, a labor-intensive effort to produce a relatively costly, imaginative and refined device designed with a singular purpose: to house the humble, plain, expendable throw-away clay pipe.

Today, according to Ernst Voges, Tobacco Encyclopedia, two definitions of a pipe case prevail. It is either a “pocket-sized container, normally made of leather or plastic with a zip fastener opening, made to hold one or two pipes,” or a “wooden case covered in leather used to hold meerschaum pipes.” There is a vast assortment from many manufacturers of the former, but very few manufacturers offer the latter; most are from Turkish meerschaum pipe carvers. In this century, the pipe accessory product line is markedly different: pipe holsters with belt clips for single pipes and pipe travel cases, usually made in assorted finishes of smooth, supple leather to patterned leopard skin, configured to store as many as 12 pipes, often called deridingly, in smoker’s argot, a man bag or a pipe purse. None of today’s pipe-smoking accoutrements, however, meet the test of art as craft, or craft as art, such as yesteryear’s wooden clay tobacco pipe case.

If the reader appreciates the natural beauty of carved woodware, if the clay tobacco pipe case resonates, if there is a desire to learn about or see more illustrations of pipe cases, Pinto is, unquestionably, the premier authority on treenware. I commend any of his several books: Treen or Small Woodware Throughout the Ages (1949); The Pinto Collection of Wooden Bygones: A Short Guide With Illustrations (1958); Wooden Bygones of Smoking and Snuff Taking (1961); and Treen and Other Wooden Bygones. An Encyclopedia and Social History (1969). Every Pinto treatise includes some interesting details on smoking- related paraphernalia; each illustrates a selection of better wood pipe cases. Another good reference that might be found on the reference shelf at the local library is Owen Evan-Thomas, Domestic Utensils of Wood, From XVIth to XIXth Century (1932 and later editions); Chapter X is “Pipes, Pipe Cases and Pipe Stoppers.”

There are at least two adages that apply to this story. One is that great things often come in small packages, and the other is that one can supposedly judge a book by its cover. But as to the significance and substance of pipe cases, I am reminded of a bit of Argentine folk wisdom I overheard some 50 years ago that I consider spot on. Roughly translated, it is: “Mount a golden saddle on a burro, and it still is a burro.” Metaphorically, these cases, especially those of carved wood, were designed for fitness of purpose, time- less beauty of form, finished with a love of old-time craftsmanship, and far more expensive than the dispos- able commodity, the humble clay pipe, that they housed ... in essence, the pipe case was, symbolically, the golden saddle on a burro.

All photos © Christie’s Images Limited 2011. From the Christie’s auction, The Trever Barton Collection of Unusual Smoking Pipes, London, Sept. 22, 2010.