The clay tobacco pipe case : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

The clay tobacco pipe case


Three tortoiseshell 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 — 9.25 in. (24 cm.) long (4)
Estimate £600–800
Price Realized £625

  An ingenious European tobacco trifle

by Ben Rapaport

Illustrations provided by Christie’s Images 2010

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 sharpen 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.


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

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 handmade 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,

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 9.5 in. (24 cm.) long Estimate £800–1,200 Price Realized £2,750

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
9.5 in. (24 cm.) long
Estimate £800–1,200
Price Realized £2,750

leather, papier mâché, raffia and wood—held the kiseru (tobacco pipe). 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 stimulus 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 American 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.

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Category: Feature Article, Winter 2014

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