Blowing smoke: clay pipes, advertising and other things in the 19th century

As the study of human history, it comes as no surprise that archaeology can be an exercise in contradictions. Humans are, after all, complex and paradoxical creatures. From a material culture perspective, one of the most obvious and frustrating incongruities lies in the dissonance between a profession with classification at the heart of its investigative method and a subject – a world – that defies easy classification. People, and the things we create, the objects we use, are not easy to put into tidy little boxes, however much we might like to do so.

This is particularly obvious when it comes to understanding the role of objects in the past, specifically, the different ways in which we have used them. Many of the artefacts we find in the archaeological record are likely to have had more than one function during their ‘uselife’. Sometimes this is a result of re-use: a teacup repurposed as a measuring cup, a beer bottle base used as a preserving jar, a coin turned into jewellery. Sometimes an artefact can have several different purposes, depending on how you look at them and why they are being used: ointments with both medical and cosmetic qualities, for example, or coffee cans that are as much souvenirs as they are objects for drinking out of. Children’s ceramics that were simultaneously intended to be vessels for children to eat off and objects which reinforced educational and social ideals.

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Artefacts with more than one use. Left: souvenir cups, functioning as both drinking vessels and mementos. Right: alcohol bottles with the tops cut off to turn them into preserving jars. Image: J. Garland & G. Jackson, K. Bone.

Another good example of this is the humble clay pipe, an object which, on the surface, has a fairly definitive and obvious purpose – smoking tobacco (or flammable substance of your choice, I suppose). Yet there are numerous recorded instances in the past of clay pipes being used for activities that have nothing to do with smoking. Archaeological investigations in the United States have discovered clay pipe stems converted into penny whistles through the addition of drilled holes, while other accounts describe the use of stems as hair curlers (when warmed, of course), gardening aids (for killing bugs in carnations, specifically) and even murder weapons (Walker 1976). One record recounted the use of clay pipes as a prop in dancing, “where about a dozen pipes were laid close together on the floor and the dancer placed the toe of his boot between them while keeping time to the music” (Walker 1976: 125). Our own New Zealand newspapers advertise their use as bubble-blowing instruments for children and the occasional adult (Observer 17/05/1902: 7). There’s even an excellent and somewhat disturbing illustration of their use in the application of horse enemas for the treatment of ‘lilac passion’ in the 17th century (I kid you not).

A selection of alternative uses for clay smoking pipes. The expression on the horse's face is priceless. Images:

A selection of alternative uses for clay smoking pipes (the expression on the horse’s face is priceless). Images: Auckland Star  19/11/1936: 26,Observer 17/05/1902: 7, Society for Clay Pipe Research 1984.

With the exception of the bubble blowing, which used new pipes, all of these alternative uses were, presumably, carried out after the pipe in question had been smoked (although in the case of the horse enemas, all bets are off). They’re cases of re-use, the 19th century (or earlier) recycling of an object that was no longer wanted or needed for its original purpose. We see this with quite a few artefact types, but most often with glass bottles and jars (we’ve talked about it a little on the blog before). There’s another use for clay pipes, however, that relates directly to their nature as a highly visible and easily available object on which any motif, slogan or name can be displayed. This function was exploited by people in the 19th century for all kinds of political, social and commercial objectives including, as is evident in Christchurch’s archaeological record, advertising.

We recently found a large assemblage of clay pipes on one of our sites in central Christchurch, including fourteen pipes bearing an oval mark with HEYWOOD / LYTTELTON / NZ impressed on the bowls. The mark refers to the business of Mr Joseph Martin Heywood, general commission agent, insurance agent, customs agent, goods transporter and all around 19th century entrepreneur. Heywood first set himself up in business as a general commission agent in Lyttelton in 1851 in partnership with Messrs. Tippetts and Silk, which I think sounds like the name for a detective agency and my co-worker argues sounds like a tailor’s shop (crime fighting tailors?; CCL 2013). The partnership dissolved, and Heywood went on to expand his business into Christchurch: in addition to his premises on Norwich Quay in Lyttelton he also had a building on the corner of Colombo Street and Cathedral Square in the city (Star 22/10/1897: 2, Press 19/12/1908: 8). His business interests expanded as well, going from ‘general commission agent’ to operating a customs house and a ‘cartage’ company, involved with the storage and transportation of goods between Lyttelton and Christchurch. He was exceedingly successful, securing the railway contract for the delivery of goods between the two towns in 1879 and holding it until 1896 (Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903).

Selection of Heywood pipes found on one site in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Selection of Heywood pipes found on one site in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

We’ve found pipes with his mark on them on a couple of sites in the city, dating from the 1860s to the 1880s. All of them refer to the Lyttelton store, suggesting to me that this was the premises most closely associated with Heywood or the one from which the pipes were sold (although they could easily have been sold from the Christchurch store). At least one advertisement for the Norwich Quay store lists “pipes, meerschaum washed (Heywood’s)” available for purchase, telling us that, although the ones we’ve found aren’t meerschaum, Heywood definitely sold pipes bearing his name in his store (Lyttelton Times 31/07/1861).

A close up of the Heywood / Lyttelton mark found on the pipes. Image: J. Garland.

A close up of the Heywood / Lyttelton mark found on the pipes. Image: J. Garland.

All the pipes that we’ve found with the Heywood mark were also made by Charles Crop, a prolific London pipe maker, making it likely that Heywood commissioned pipes exclusively from the one manufacturer. It’s not likely to have cost him very much: one price catalogue from 1875 for D. MacDougall and Co. gives a price of 2 pence for a gross extra (12 dozen or 144) of “pipes stamped with name on bowl or stem” (Sudbury 1978: 106). He also wasn’t the only one to do it. We’ve featured pipes bearing the mark of Twentyman and Cousin and Trent Brothers here on the blog before. This suggests to me that not only was this a common thing for pipe-makers to offer, but it was a relatively common thing for Christchurch businesses to commission and use clay smoking pipes as a means of advertising for their own companies. Not just Christchurch businesses, either: we’ve found at least one pipe with the name of an Australian tobacconist business on it as well.

Two clay pipes marked with the names of local Christchurch retailers. Image: J. Garland.

Pipes marked with the names of Trent Brothers and Twentyman & Cousin, local Christchurch businesses. Image: J. Garland.

It’s not that surprising, when you think about it. As a cheap and disposable item (one of the 19th century’s first truly disposable objects), clay pipes provided an excellent medium for advertising a range of products and businesses throughout the European world. They were everywhere: pipe smoking was exceedingly popular during the 19th century, and was one of the few activities that crossed almost all social and status boundaries in society. Anyone could smoke a pipe. They were highly visible: marks or decoration on the front of a pipe bowl would be seen by anyone in conversation with or even just sight of the smoker, while marks on the back of the bowl were in the eyeline of the smokers themselves. Even their fleeting existence was an advantage: being disposable items allowed advertisers to not only continue to sell or distribute them, again and again, but also to change or update their marks, emblems or decoration as they wished.

They were most often used to advertise the associated paraphernalia of smoking, as one would expect, from tobacco and tobacconists’ shops to the pipe makers themselves (Walker 1976). Increasingly, though, as the 19th century unfolded, they were used to advertise the general businesses of merchants and agents, locally and internationally, and it’s interesting that this is the only type that we’ve found in Christchurch. All three of our locally commissioned pipe examples relate to businesses that have nothing to do with the smoking industry itself. Heywood had many fingers in many pies, but none of them were specifically related to tobacco, while Trent Brothers operated a chicory farm and Twentyman and Cousin were wholesale and retail ironmongers. I suspect that this simply reflects the fact that by the time these businesses were operating, the value of pipes as merchandise had begun to equal their value as smoking paraphernalia, resulting in their commissioning by a wider variety of business types.

There are all kinds of directions we could go in with these pipes and what they tell us. The use of mass-produced disposable items as an advertising medium is both something that relates to the modern day (basically the 19th century equivalent of the tote-bag?), as well as to the rise of modern consumerist culture and the huge role advertising played in the development and maintenance of that culture. As commissioned objects they tie into the increasingly globalised nature of international trade and goods production, representing in physical forms the relationship that existed between colonial businesses and British manufacturers. Their simultaneous function as an implement of smoking and a form of advertising also has implications for how we look at and understand the role of objects in our lives, both in the past and in the modern day. They fulfil certain purposes in our own lives, but they’re also part of wider social and cultural phenomena that we may not even think about which shape, and have shaped, the world around us.

Jessie Garland

References

CCL (Christchurch City Libraries), 2015. [online] Available at www.christchurchcitylibraries.com. 

Cyclopedia Company Ltd., 1903. Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Canterbury Provincial Distict. Cyclopedia Company Ltd., Christchurch. [online] Available at www.nzetc.victoria.ac.nz.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. 

Observer. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. 

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. 

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. 

Sudbury, B., 1978. Additional Notes on Alternative Uses for Clay Tobacco Pipes and Tobacco Pipe Fragments. Historical Archaeology, Vol. 12: 105-107.

Walker, I., 1976. Alternative Uses for Clay Tobacco Pipes and Tobacco Pipe Fragments. Historical Archaeology, Vol. 10: 124-127.

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