Monday, February 27, 2017

A Most Unusual Table Pipe

The elephant in the room ... figuratively speaking 

Ben Rapaport

  (Illustrated by Daniel Beck. A lesser illustrated version of this article appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Pipes & Tobaccos magazine)

My passion is to preserve pipe history as revealed in the art of the pipe and, whenever possible, to document the connective tissue between the pipes of yesterday and today. When I pull at a thread pertaining to today’s pipe scene, it draws me further into the past. This story could be a metaphor for the book title of art historian Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things (2016). The known thing is the tobacco pipe, and the strange thing is the elephant, an iconographic pipe motif. Let me explain: the elephant has been molded, carved and incised on pipes—all kinds of pipes—more than any other configuration; it’s been a very lengthy relationship, and an overlooked bit of pipe lore, however absurd this premise seems. 

1684 drawing by the English artist, Francis Barlow

To substantiate this, follow me in a circuitous narrative through time as I cite numerous examples of pachydermist pipes in various formats and mediums. 

I’ll bypass the stylized elephant imagery on African wood, clay and cast-metal pipes—the elephant head motif was allowed only on pipes used by rulers, chiefs and their families—

Elephant Pipe Cameroun Art Africain terracotta Cameroon Tikar Bamum Bamileke

and the three-headed elephant symbolism (the Hindu god Erawan) on Laotian pipes. 

 In the Western world, elephants appeared as images on cigar box and chewing tobacco labels; on cigarette cards; as figural tobacco jars, cigar cutters, novelty cigarette holders, pipe tampers and pipes. 

Frederick Fairholt mentions clay pipes shaped like an elephant’s head (Tobacco: Its History and Associations, 1859).

“ The themes for these [clay] pipes are highly imaginative, strikingly colorful and beautifully executed. Many of them have an animal theme such as an elephant with a long extended trunk ...” 

(Richard Cumpston Jones, Saint-Omer and the British Connection, 2012). 
Prehistoric stone pipes of an elephant or mastodon—the Davenport elephant pipes—carved by the mound builders of Iowa, discovered in the late 1870s, are in the Putnam Davenport Academy of Sciences museum. 

Nineteenth-century European porcelain pipe bowls displayed images of the elephant; 

Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection (Photo: Darius Peckus)

wood pipes, meerschaum pipes 

Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection (Photo: Darius Peckus)

Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection (Photo: Darius Peckus)

Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection (Photo: Darius Peckus)

and cheroot holders bore the elegant head or full body of the elephant.

Catalog, Ludwig Hartmann & Eidam, Wien, ca. 1880

Catalog Au Pacha, Paris, late 1800s
Haida argilite pipes have depicted the elephant, and there’s the occasional Chinese expression in ivory. 

Briars exhibiting the elephant head were mass-produced for the American smoking public in the mid- to-late 20th century. French master pipe carver Paul Lanier was equally inspired...

Literature is replete with references to the more contemporary pipes. Mark Anderson writes about his father in Black Cloud: A Still Life (2001), “His favorite pipe was made of intricately carved briarwood intriguingly carved to the likeness of an elephant’s head in amazing detail, complete with large elephant ears, and little protruding miniature tusks honed from real ivory.” 

In Barbara Case- Speers’ Intercession (2001): “ the old boy walked over to his pipe rack and picked up a pipe that was a carved elephant’s head with ivory tusks. The pipe was quite a trophy.” 

“It was a meerschaum. The white stone was carved into an elephant’s head, trunk owing into the stem, and large ears folded against the body of the bowl” (Steven Savile et al. [eds.], Elemental, 2006). Following suit, several Turkish meerschaum carvers now offer similar pipes. 

A slightly different elephant-theme pipe trend continues apace today. BriarWorks of Nashville, Tennessee, calls Bo Nordh’s asymmetric elephant- foot briar, introduced in the late 1970s, “extremely avant-garde.” 

Either out of admiration for Nordh or for this increasingly popular shape, a large following of craftsmen—about 15 artisans so far, from Bang to Tsuge—are striving to echo Nordh’s design with their own distinctive versions in briar, in olive wood for Daniel Mustran and in morta for Darko Milovanović. 

Pipes and Cigars, on their website, offers a series of briars called “Nørding Hunter Elephant Pipes.” Chacom has produced an “Elephant” series of pipes. Alexey Florov’s highest-grade briars are labeled “Elephant Slonim” and bear the stamp of an elephant; slon is elephant in Russian. Budding pipemaker Josh Remy posted his briar rendition of an elephant pipe’s head with ears (!). 


And a few pipemakers have often reprised the Oliphant pipe shape resembling an elephant’s tusk, first designed by Sixten Ivarsson.

So there’s ample evidence that the elephant has been a popular pipe motif for more than a century. 

To me, it makes sense because the elephant symbolizes great strength, wit, longevity, happiness, royalty, good luck and ambition. Its trunk symbolically suggests a number of manly characteristics: honor, courage, stability, patience, reliability, dignity. Some say that accenting an art object with elephant tusks— genuine or faux—signifies wisdom, moderation and eternity. No surprise that on I read, “Pipes made to represent an elephant’s foot or ear bring good luck.”

Now to table pipes. The simplest definition of a table or tabletop pipe is one that has a base that rests on any level surface, and has one or more hoses (tubes or stems), each with an accompanying mouthpiece. In practice, several people simultaneously smoke, provided they all would enjoy the same tobacco. The Middle East and the Asian sub- continent are the regions where shared puffing in a water pipe—a table pipe of sorts—is very popular. It’s known by various names: narghile (Persian), hookah and kalian (Arabic). 

According to Wikipedia, it is “a single or multi-stemmed instrument for vaporizing and smoking favored tobacco, called shisha, whose vapor or smoke is passed through a water basin—often glass-based—before inhalation.” The construct of the “water basin” can be ornamental—glass, silver, copper, brass or ceramic—or a simple, hollowed-out coconut husk. “[ the hose] varies in length, according to the taste of the owner, from three feet to twenty, and is generally made of fine leather, wrought so as to be quite air-tight and flexible” (“Manners & Customs of all Nations: Tobacco Pipes,” The Mirror, Vol. XVI, 1830). The chillum, the hookah bowl, when cast in metal, not clay, was often shaped as an elephant’s head. Western observers called the hookah and its many variants the hubbly bubbly. Nowadays hookah bars and hookah lounges have become popular smoking venues. 

In the last century, the table pipe was quite popular. Adolph Frankau’s Catalogue No. XX (1912) included three different “Gibraltar” table pipes in briar and the “Captain Shaw” 
table pipe in cherrywood. 

Courtesy John J. Adler &
Briar Books Press

Courtesy John J. Adler &
Briar Books Press

France produced several briar variants in the early 1900s. Austria made them in block meerschaum in the 1950s; Tanganyika Meerschaum Corp. of Tanzania made them in meerschaum in the 1970s. Remember the vintage KBB “Good Night Pipe,” 

Dunhill Shell Desk Pipe, Vauen Lounge Pipe, Savinelli Kalumet? 

Savinelli Made In Italy Pipe Measurements: Bowl Height: 3” Bowl Width: 2.1” to 3.25” Chamber Diameter: .8” Chamber Depth: 1.7” Pipe Weight: 142g Pipe comes with 2 hoses.

The only accessory for these was a flexible hose ... for one smoker. ( this format is not yet passe, because about 10 years ago, briar master Kurt Huhn custom-made a rusticated Volcano 1 table pipe as a special request from a German client.) 

Further back in time, in the mid-to- late 1800s, an equivalent expression was adopted and embraced by the Western world, particularly in France and England. A number of craftsmen produced table pipes in meerschaum, porcelain, ceramics 

Jasperware table pipe with apertures for two smokers. Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection

and precious metals.

Commemorative silver pipe, finely chiseled, representing a column on top of a mound, decorated with attributes of war in gilded bronze (armor, drums, cannons, armor rifles, flags and fasces). The base of the column bears the inscription "Columna Pacis-1815" and initials intertwined in heraldry "VIF.
Auctioned at MIllon & Associes, Paris, June 2011.

The water pipe had morphed into a relatively quotidian utensil, one in which traditional tobacco was smoked in the conventional way: blowing smoke rings, not bubbles. The largest table pipes of that era were colossal meerschaum masterpieces: a high relief carved pastoral scene executed by Austrian carver Franz Hiess for Vienna’s 1873 World Exhibition (Weltausstellung

and one crafted by the Kaldenberg Company, New York, for the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, depicting Lady Justice. 

Both were configured for four participant smokers. I know nothing about the first and something about the second: “ then they stop before a prodigious meerschaum-pipe in the form of a temple over two feet high with the most elaborate carvings upon it, and four long tubes attached to it, so that it may be placed in the middle of a table and smoked by four persons at the one time” (“At the Exhibition: A Few Curiosities” Appleton’s Journal, Vol. Fifteenth, June 3, 1876). 

All this background information sets the stage to introduce one very particular table pipe—the keynote of this narrative—that has fascinated me, and I have followed its fortune. The firm of Charles Edwards, a London silversmith, was established in 1865. His hallmark was a stamped “C.E” in a shield. By the late 19th century he was manufacturing tea services, chocolate and mustard pots, sugar bowls, cream jugs, drinking cups, menu holders, 

Silver, cast, chased, chiseled and punched, gilt interior
England, London, 1877
Charles Edwards

and table pipes; two of his table pipes were later at auction in London. 

Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection (Photo: Darius Peckus)

On Dec. 11, 1980, in the Sotheby’s Belgravia auction “Good English and Foreign Silver and Plated Wares, and Objects of Vertu from 1835,” lot 153 was described as follows: “A BIZARRE PIPE, formed as a shaggy elephant of grotesquely vestigial body, with textured hide, ivory tusks (one detached), and agate eyes, 

Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection (Photo: Darius Peckus)

the creature’s forehead applied with a shield enameled in pink, blue, green and orange with the initials ‘A.A.A.J.’ and ‘J’ in monogram, its trunk with screw-on nozzle, the hinged cover as a crouching tiger with red cabochon eyes, its pierced coat showing traces of gilding, 

Courtesy Sarunas Peckus Collection (Photo: Darius Peckus)

24 cm long, maker’s mark of Charles Edwards, London, 1885, the shield same maker’s and date, 1058 gm; 34 oz.”  estimate was £500–800 ($1,155– 1,849 at the time of sale); it sold for £1,000/$2,324.

When one is searching for unusual antique pipes, lightning often strikes at least twice. Almost 30 years later, on July 2, 2008, in a Bonhams New Bond Street auction catalog, “European Sculpture and Works of Art,” appeared lot 241: “A Victorian silver bizarre pipe,by Charles Edwards, London 1885, formed as a [sic] elephant head on legs with textured hide and ivory tusks, the hinged cover formed as ... a tiger savaging the elephants [sic] head, and its pierced coat gilded, gem set and glass eyes, to both, height 14.5cm, length 23cm, weight 33.75oz.” 

Courtesy Isobel Cockerell, Bonhams, London

A footnote in this catalog reads: “A similar example was sold at Sotheby’s, 11th December 1980, ex lot 153; this pipe was applied with a silver and enamel shield to its forehead. It would appear that the above lot would also have had an applied shield, now lacking.” 

No auction estimate was included, but it sold for £10,800 ($15,795), a tenfold increase over the Sotheby’s lot. The two are nearly identical, except that the Sotheby’s pipe is described as having a multicolor enamel shield, and the silver having a textured hide. 

 How does this pipe function? Raising the hinged lid—the “crouching tiger”—reveals a meerschaum bowl, and slits in the elephant’s body allow the smoke to escape. 

To make his complete, author Dr. Sarunas Peckus attached the necessary adjunct to the 
elephant’s trunk, a flexible hose with an amber mouthpiece.
Why an elephant with a surmounted tiger? I can’t speak to the tiger, and the elephant is not native to England, but there is evidence of elephant symbolism that might have begun as early as 1255, when Louis IX of France gifted an elephant to England’s King Henry III.

From CarolineGrigson’s article, “ the surprising historyof Britain’s elephants”

The elephant appears on English banners, standards and flags. The coat of arms of the cities of Coventry and Oxford include an elephant, 

Oxford City Council Official Coat of Arms recorded at the heraldic visitation on 12 August 1634

and that of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers includes two large elephants and a smaller elephant with a castle on its back. Elephant & Castle is a district in London where the Elephant Park, the Elephant & Castle Pub, and the Elephant Hotel are located. 

Elephant & Castle late 1800's. Reproduced by permission of Historic England

More on point, the world-famous collection of some 7,000 tobacco-related objects amassed in the late 19th century by William Bragge of Birmingham, England, which he exhibited around the British Isles and cataloged in Bibliotheca Nicotiana (1880), includes “One Hookah Base, of Del pottery, blue and white, with elephant’s head” and “Water-pipe, bronze; in form of elephant with prolonged trunk; ears and trappings gilded.” Any of the aforementioned images, or the “costly and beautifully-ornamented cocoanut and lac Hookahs” on display in the Turkish Court and in the Indian department at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 (Dickinsons’ Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854), 

The Great Exhibition of 1851

or the “lordly and highly ornamented hookahs” at London’s International Exhibition of 1862 (Old and New London, 1863) might have been Edwards’ inspiration. 

London’s International Exhibition of 1862

Is the Edwards table pipe a conversation piece, an oddity or simply a “bizarre” smoking apparatus, as both auction houses claimed? The reader can decide. In a sense, a tobacco pipe, however long, rigid or flexible its stem, that is not continuously held by hand can be a relaxed, cool—albeit awkward and not very practical—smoking experience. 

In years past, Dr. Peckus had conducted several well-organized, educational antique-pipe presentations at the annual CPCC Pipe & Tobacciana Show. If he decides to exhibit again, perhaps the CPCC event organizer can influence him to assemble—forgive me—a trunk show of his extensive collection that will include this distinctive table pipe: the elephant in the room. An amazing story! 

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Facetious Carnival Barker

(Informed by a conversation with the owner of this pipe)

Among famous fictional carnival barkers of the 20th century are the unforgettable Gabby Gilfoil played by W.C. Fields,

W. C. Fields as carnival sideshow barker Gabby Gilfoil in a scene from the 1927 Paramount Pictures film Two Flaming Youths.

in the 1927 Paramount Pictures comedy silent film Two Flaming Youths,

 and Billy Bigelow

 John Raitt as Billy Bigelow with Jan Clayton in 1945 original Broadway production of Carousel

the protagonist of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic stage musical Carousel

Original Broadway posters (1945)

Bigelow was an Americanized version of Liliom, the protagonist of Hungarian author Ferenc Molnár's non-musical play Liliom in 1909. 

Liliom original cast, Hungary, 1909

Carnivals have been around for centuries and were often the scene of excessive consumption of alcohol, abusive language and occasional degrading acts, a temporary but much needed release from the constraints of societal rules and norms. 

Time to let off the steam before Lent arrives with all its proscriptions and repentence...

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, Pieter Brueghel l'Ancien (1559)

Just imagine a carnival hawker sets up his magical box in a carnival. He is dressed befitting his calling. By his side, sits the obligatory monkey to attract the crowds and his apprentice, possibly his son, is checking out the magical hat. 

Courtesy of the Sarunas Peckus Collection

On the other side of the box customers are lined up, simple country folk, who paid good money to have a chance to peek into the box and be wowed by its mysterious content.  

Courtesy of the Sarunas Peckus Collection

What could possibly be behind this door? roll the drums...

Courtesy of the Sarunas Peckus Collection
The reveal shows... 

Courtesy of the Sarunas Peckus Collection

Nothing more than a simple county bumpkin taking his obligatory constitutional.

The olden day carvers undoubtedly had a great sense of humor in executing their craft. Whether this pipe was a commission or just the whim of the carver is just conjecture...

Courtesy of the Sarunas Peckus Collection