As both of my loyal readers know, I love finding stuff in our yard. Old pieces of stoneware, redware, china and glass all get squirrelled away in our basement in containers of "treasures," as my kids like to call them. For the most part, these items went into the ground in the 18th and 19th centuries as trash, and they emerged in the 21st century as trash in most people's eyes. To me, however, they are little glimpses of our home's past, so I can't bear to throw them in the garbage.
Since most of what I find would barely qualify as a shard, I am always particularly interested in finding items that I can actually identify. High on my treasure list are parts of clay pipes. Anyone who was ever visited Colonial Williamsburg has probably seen these accessories casually placed atop a priceless Chippendale desk in the Governor's Palace, clenched in the teeth of a hard-core reenactor, or on sale for a very reasonable $9.99 in the gift shops. The pipes are usually made of smooth white clay, with long (7" to 16") stems. Apocryphally, the pipes would be passed around in a tavern, and each person would break off the end of the pipe stem to give themselves a clean piece to hold in their mouths. Given how generally unsanitary life in the 18th century was, I'm a little skeptical of that history. In a world where baths were an annual event and sewage flowed freely in the streets even in the nice parts of town, I'm guessing that a little spit swapping was low on the list of concerns for most people (n.b. - a quick look on the interwebs busts the myth of the hygienic pipe stem break - tobacco pipes in public establishments were cleaned and dried in iron pipe kilns. I see these kilns at auction from time to time, and they always sell at a level that is way too rich for my blood). Anyway, here's what I'm talking about.
|Reproduction Clay Tobacco Pipes|
Anyway, about five years ago I turned up the first piece of clay pipe stem in our garden, which I thought was very exciting. I now find little segments of stem a couple of times a year. Even better, when I was excavating underneath our Greek Revival-era entry hall a few years ago, I dug up two pipe bowls and a fairly long segment of stem, which are pretty damn cool, at least to the extent that something inherently uncool can be cool
Our most recent pipe find was a few months ago, when we were replacing the front of our house. Tucked onto a beam between the first and second floors of the house was a nice long segment of pipe stem. With no obvious way for the stem to have fallen onto the beam (not even a proximate rodent hole through which Amos the Mouse might have dragged it), I wonder if it might have been tucked in during construction of the house, probably by someone annoyed to have had his pipe break while he was hard at work.
Amos the Mouse
Here's an interesting tidbit - these pipes are still considered to be viable smoking paraphernalia, so if you want to buy one from The Period House (who are selling them along with the aid of the germophobic stem-breaking story), you need to confirm that you are over 18 years of age. Who knew?
So, kids, before you sneak out to buy that 16" reproduction clay tobacco pipe, give some thought to this verse from a 1719 anti-tobacco poem attributed to Thomas D'Urfey, "The Indian Weed":
The pipe that is so lilly white,
Wherein so many take delight.
It's broken with a touch,
Man's life is such;
Think of this when you take tobacco!
Maybe not as catchy as "Just Say No!", but definitely ahead of its time in message.
|A Hand of Connecticut Tobacco on our Fireplace|