Clay tobacco pipes from the nineteenth and early twentieth century are characterised by a short stem and a bowl elaborately decorated in relief. This fashion was introduced in France and was soon adapted by other production centres.
In Holland this type of pipe has never been that popular. The Dutch smoker was too traditional, and besides the pipe makers in Gouda had insufficient fantasy while the mould makers lacked the ability. To be able to offer at least a selection of these figural pipes, the more important Gouda makers bought press moulds for the French styled pipes in Belgium and France.
In France, however, the decorated pipe became a true rage. The decoration is worked out in hundreds of unexpected depictions. The best products were embellished with colourful enamel paint that makes the pipes conspicuous. When being smoked, the white pipe coloured from yellow to deep brown and as a result the appearance changed completely. Dark smoked clays became a status on its own.
The subjects strongly vary. Next to politically engaged decorations, historical depictions and representations from daily life occur. In the beginning the subjects are strongly related to cultural and social life, and the figural pipes were smoked to express the personal interest and social engagement. By the end of the nineteenth century the interest for figurals goes over to the less educated smokers, so the subject becomes less meaningful, more ordinary. The amusing pipe is just for fun, the smoker does not intend to express a deeper message.
The figural pipe disappears in the first quarter of the twentieth century when the cheap, mass produced briar pipes have a more luxurious appearance to the smokers.
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