•By Ben Rapaport • Pipes from the Dr. Sarunas Peckus collection;
photography by Darius Peckus•
There are good pipes …
and there are great pipes!
Personally, I get great satisfaction in a story told, a case argued, a puzzle untangled. This is one of those occasions. As a student of pipe history, I have a theory that the earliest tobacco pipes of wood, clay, porcelain and meerschaum that originated in one country were eventually either wholly adopted, i.e., replicated, or were adapted, i.e., slightly modified in shape or style, in neighboring countries. Sure, there were the expected individual, regional or national alterations that each craftsman applied to pipes to exhibit his unique skills or the ever-so-slight changes in a pipe’s format to suit his clients’ tastes. But there are always exceptions to every rule, right?
In the recorded annals of pipe history, few configurations or mediums are singularly distinctive or unique enough to be considered stellar contributions to pipe art. In my opinion, to qualify, such pipes must be archetypes or they must meet certain criteria, that is, formats that have not been produced elsewhere, formats that are, stylistically, one of a kind, formats that, today, are considered a nation’s symbolic offering to the pantheon of pipes. Of all the tobacco pipes—every conceivable shape, size and substance from around the globe—made for smoking tobacco, I strongly believe that only four warrant this special designation: (1) France’s Dieppe ivory pipe; (2) Japan’s kiseru; (3) Great Britain’s Jasperware (Wedgwood) pipe bowls; and (4) Germany’s Ulmer pipe, hereinafter identified as the Ulmer. Knowledgeable museum curators, antiques appraisers or pipe collectors in any of these respective countries would respond that, today, their particular pipe is the pride of their nation. Why? They were not ubiquitous; they were dirt-cheap to buy in their day, but their market values have soared of late; they are beloved by many, but they’re surely not everyone’s favorites; and, most important, they are endangered treasures that should rightfully be the preserve of national museums and archives, not the stuff of public auctions, antiques fairs, boot sales and flea markets.
Yet I would be remiss if I did not give honorable mention to China, which, some would argue, ought to be the fifth member of this special coterie. Her countrymen invented two utensils in two distinct formats to ingest smoke: the water pipe and the opium pipe. However unique their respective designs, both pipes were used for chandu, the black pill, Chinese molasses, dried latex, that treaclelike substance known by so many other street names. The poppy is a member of the family of Papaveraceae, not the family of Solaneceae within which is the genus Nicotiana. Furthermore, of late, shoddy Oriental reproductions of both have infested the West, so they do not qualify based on the aforementioned criteria, and neither pipe, however strikingly handsome, is a player in this essay. (And, as an aside, a few pipe collectors might argue that England’s colorful blown-glass pipes [from Bristol and Nailsea] should rightfully be considered a member of this elite group, but I would reason that these are not in the same league, because they were whimsies, not tobacco pipes; others might be less complimentary and call them Imperial kitsch or schlock.)
I have previously written about the kiseru and the Dieppe pipe in this magazine, and about Jasperware pipe bowls in another magazine, but the reader need not be familiar with these three pipes to appreciate the Ulmer pipe, whose development is detailed in this essay. The Ulmer is somewhat misunderstood, yet it has much appeal to not only antique pipe collectors, but also to those who like it, because they like tobacco pipes made of any wood. Strange, indeed, that so little has been published about what I consider the über-pipe of all wood pipes, a true design original. I am always searching for documentation that sheds light on or provides a better understanding of a pipe’s past, but following the Ulmer’s trail—in any language—has been rather bleak, finding a tidbit rather than a trove. Two publications, a slim pamphlet (Adolph Häberle, Die berühmten Ulmer Maserpfeifenköpfe in ihrer kultur- und wirtschaftsgeschichtlichen Bedeutung ), and an illustrated collector’s guide (Anton Manger, Die berühmten Ulmer Maserpfeifen. Geschichtliches und Kulturgeschichtliches über die Pfeifenherstellung in Ulm mit über 130 Abbildungen ), are the sum total of German literary output. Incidentally, I visited Manger in 2001, and I was overwhelmed by what I saw. He had already amassed an outstanding collection of more than 100 different specimens and, as he reminds me in our frequent email exchanges, he’s still hunting for more. In my considered view, Manger is der Mann mit the most-est, the Meister of the Maserpfeifenkopf … Europe’s King of the Kloben (kloben is explained later).
Dale Harrison in “Back to Basics: A journey through the jargon of the pipe,” Pipes and tobaccos, Winter 2008, advised: “Unusual pipe styles with equally unusual monikers, such as the Ulmer, can be especially mysterious for those new to pipes.” Well, I am outing the Ulmer so that it’s no longer a mystery to subscribers of this magazine. I mentioned it in passing in “Un-Briars” Pipes and tobaccos, Spring 2001. Now it’s time to tell a more complete story, or rather, as complete as one can; it is not, by any means, a deep-dive report as have been some of my past contributions to P&T. What follows, dear reader, has not been mined from www.ulmer.com!
Ulm, a city with a colorful history
If the conversation is about gothic architecture, the city of Ulm enters the discussion, because its cathedral has the highest church spire in the world. If the conversation is about complex musical instruments in Europe, Ulm is center-stage, because its cathedral has the largest organ in the country—6,564 pipes—according to published reports. Historic Ulm, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, situated on the Danube River near the mouth of the Iller River, founded in the mid-ninth century, thrived as a medieval trading and textile manufacturing center and, according to the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1911, is “famous for its vegetables (especially asparagus), barley, beer, pipe-bowls and sweet cakes (Ulmer Zuckerbrot).” (Parenthetically, Ulm is famous for at least one more thing: the iconic pipe smoker Albert Einstein was born in that city in 1879. And, here’s a bit of coincidental trivia: Since 1995, Christopher Ulmer is the plant manager of Killinger Pfeifen, Freiberg, Germany, a company that manufactures organ pipes and reeds.)
Helen Zimmern said this about her visit to this city (“Ulm,” The English Illustrated Magazine, 1885–1886): “… in respect of wood-carving, [Ulm] may claim to stand first in all Germany.” Then she volunteered, “The introduction of machinery has interfered with its ancient trade of spinning, and of all its former specialties it only retains that in carved wooden pipe-heads of the huge type familiar in representations of the typical German, and known as ‘Ulm-heads.’” She added: “In the tower [of the cathedral of Ulm], too, is kept a typical ‘Ulm-head,’ the largest tobacco-pipe ever made …” (Could this have been, perhaps, a private hidey-hole for a pipe-smoking priest?) Whether a Zimmern fact or fiction, it is more than coincidental that a corroborative comment (of sorts) mentioning this same (cathedral’s) “Ulm-head” is found in “Traditions Relating to Ulm Cathedral” (The American Architect and Building News, Volume XIX, January-June, 1886), a trade journal: “Tradition telleth that a student from Tübingen once smoked it empty after a steady pull of nine hours.”
The Ulmer was also celebrated in fiction. Here is Berthold Auerbach, Aloys (1877): “But the most distinguished mark of a grown-up lad is the tobacco pipe. So there they stood with their speckled Ulm bowls, silver-mounted and hung with silver chains.” And this from his “The Pipe of War” (R.H. and Elizabeth Stoddard, Readings and Recitations from Modern Authors, 1884):
He had the finest pipe in the village; and we must regard it more closely, as it is destined to play an important part in this history. The head was of Ulm manufacture, marbleized so that you might fancy the strangest figures looking at it. The lid was of silver, shaped like a helmet, and so bright that you could see your face in it and that twice over,—once upside-down and once right side up. At the lower edge also, as well as at the stock, the head was tipped with silver. A double silver chain served as the cord, and secured the short stem as well as the long, crooked, many-jointed mouthpiece. Was not that a splendid pipe?
And this quatrain from “The Last Postillion” by German poet and novelist Joseph Victor von Scheffel (1826-1886) that I am ill-equipped to decipher: “On yellow coat in moonlight cold, Thurn Taxis’ buttons shine: He smokes tobacco ages old, From Ulm pipe brown and fine.” Finally, the impression from someone traveling through Ulm who, by the choice of words, must have seen an Ulmer in use (A Professional Gentleman [pseud.], “A Six Weeks’ Tour on the Continent” , a book review in The Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c. for the Year 1828): “A pipe, the tube of which would answer for a cudgel, and whose bowl is as big as a breakfast-cup, seldom leaves the mouth of the owner.”
The Ulmer’s reign
Ulm is that singular place where the Ulmer, locally identified as Ulmer Maserholzpfeife (mottled wood pipe), or Ulmer Kloben (lump or block), was designed and first fabricated. In that Spring 2001 P&T article, I reported that maserholz was the German word for “any type of veined, streaked, speckled, gnarled, burred, knotted, mottled or grained bird’s-eye wood” that was used to make a pipe. All other tobacco pipes produced in that town that exhibited any of these visible surface characteristics were simply identified as Ulmer Holzpfeifen (Ulmer wood pipes). Other wood pipes produced in Central Europe took on various configurations, some similar, others markedly different from the Ulmer, and were collectively called Ungarnpfeife, or Hungarian-style pipes; the three most popular configurations were the Debrecen (a city in Hungary), the Kalmasch (stylistically similar to a chibouk, shaped like a kettle, cauldron or inverted bell), and the Ragoczy (believed to have been named after a prince of Transylvania).
The Ulmer’s design has been dated to 1733 and attributed to a certain wood turner, Johann Jakob Glöckle (alternatively spelled Glöckler or Glöcklen):
Joh. Jakob Glöckle, ein Weber feines Handwerks (6. März 1702, gest. 3. Juli 1785), begann um 1733 Kleinigkeiten aus Holz zu schnitzeln und geriet dabei auch auf Rauchtabaks-pfeifenköpfe aus Masern. Dies der Ursprung der in Ulm Glöckles-Köpf, im Ausland „Ulmer-Köpf” genannten Pfeifen (K. Statistischen Landesamt, Beschreibung des Oberamts Ulm, Stuttgart, Zweiter Band, 1897, 338).
Joh. Jakob Glöckle, a weaver of fine handcrafts (born March 6, 1702, died July 3, 1785), began around 1733 to carve trifles out of wood and, thereby, also prospered with tobacco-smoking pipe heads from veined wood. This became the origin in Ulm of the Glöckles-Head, and in foreign countries, the so-called Ulmer-Head.
Here is what has also been reported: “Das sehr gute Gewerbe wurde 1733 von dem Ulmer Weber Jak. Glöcklen gegründet, dessen Pfeifenköpfe sehr gesucht wurden” (Beschreibung des Oberamts Ulm, 1836, 95). (The very good trade was founded by Jak. Glöcklen of Ulm in 1733, whose pipe heads are very much sought after.) One hundred years later, Wolfgang Merkle in Gewerbe und Handel der Stadt Ulm (1988), called him “Der Begründer des Ulmer Pfeifenmacherhandwerks” (literally, the Originator of Ulm Pipemaker Handcrafts). Or, as another historian put it:
… Johann Jakob Glöckle, hatte 1733 eine besonders schöne Pfeife, die Ulmer Maserpfeife, kreiert, die schnell über die Grenzen Ulms hinaus Verbreitung fand. Der Pfeifenkopf wurde aus Wurzelholz ausgesuchter Bäume und Sträucher, wie u.a. Ahorn und Walnussbaum, hergestellt (Hans Eugen Specker, Ulm in 19. Jahrhundert, 1990, 114).
… [I]n 1733, Johann Jakob Glöckle had created an especially beautiful pipe, the Ulmer veined wood pipe, that quickly circulated beyond the borders of Ulm. The pipe head was fabricated out of root wood, selected trees and shrubs, such as maple and walnut.
Greater fame, however, was garnered by another carver, Johann Jakob Gmünder, who advertised in the local press as a “Tabaks-Pfeiffen-Köpfe-Fabrikant in Ulm.”
The Ulmer was later manufactured in at least one other German town, Schwäbisch-Gmünd, but, wherever produced, this distinctive configuration would continue to be attributed to Ulm and to Glöckle. The scope of production is unknown, because there was no pipemaker’s guild and, factually, the earliest Ulm wood turners carved pipes when they needed to supplement their income. By 1789, about 20 Ulmer pipemakers were actively engaged in that city; the number increased to around 45 makers between 1797 and 1812. Starting with Glöckle’s prototype and for the next 120 years or so, the Ulmer was extremely popular among pipe smokers, but then the Ulmer was supplanted at about the middle of the 19th century by the increasingly popular porcelain pipe, the surge in meerschaum pipe production and the acceptance of a new innovation, the cigar, as an alternative mode of smoking. According to archival information, in 1870, only two Ulmer pipe smiths were active in Germany.
Please read the rest of this article in the pages of P&T magazine or in our online digital edition).
Category: Spring 2012