The House of Pipes: Long gone, but not forgotten : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

The House of Pipes: Long gone, but not forgotten

by Ben Rapaport

There are lots of House of Pipes tobacco stores in the USA, but I want to shine a light on the House of Pipes, a museum little-known outside of Britain that had a welcoming beginning, a tragic midlife and a denouement at public auction. Located in the sleepy village of Bramber, West Sussex, it was the first and only museum of its type founded and funded by one individual: Anthony “Tony” Irving. When the Victorian Fauna Museum, then known as the Potter’s Museum, closed in November 1972 after 92 years, the plan became to reopen this museum with a new mission.

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Irving was an inveterate collector who claimed to have acquired pipes at the rate of 1,000 per year for more than 25 years, and he wanted a place to display his extensive collection of smoking utensils and memorabilia valued at an estimated £250,000. (Irving later placed a value on his collection at £1,500,000 [The Chronicle Archives, January–December 1985, https://tinyurl.com/ycw6tadh].) Besides myriad pipes from around the world, the collection also included pipe tampers, cigarette cards and holders, tobacco silks, spittoons, tobacco scales, a tobacco cutting machine, ashtrays, cigar bands, advertisements, embroidery, prints, matches, match safes, tobacco jars, lighters, more than 100 Victorian tasseled smoking hats and a host of other related items. In a word, it was a veritable trove.

But no good deed goes unpunished. During the evening of May 14, 1985, looters penetrated the museum through the tiled roof and stole a substantial quantity of the more significant pieces. The robbers knew what to look for, and those items never resurfaced. Of course, it didn’t help the police when Irving admitted that he retained no formal records or illustrations of what he had purchased since he had begun collecting in 1948, exactly how many pipes were stolen and their individual or collective values, and he had no personal property insurance. Having suffered from congenital dyslexia and a speech impediment throughout his life, and now disheartened and somewhat impoverished, he had no choice but to close the museum in October 1989. Before it shuttered, some 850,000 visitors had passed through its portal.

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Irving passed away several years later without much fanfare. In the annals of pipe history, the House of Pipes remains the only public British museum owned and operated by a devoted pipe collector who was wholly dedicated to the utensils of smoke and its associated artifacts.

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Category: Spring 2018

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