Among all smoking pipes the water pipe is a special one. The use of a bottle filled with liquid to cool and purify the smoke is a remarkable discovery, used in regions with high summer temperatures such as the Middle East. The system is rather simple. The pipe bowl has a stem that ends in the water reservoir. Above the water level a second stem leads to the smoking tube. When drawing on the mouthpiece, a vacuum is created in the bottle and fresh smoke comes from the bowl through the water.
Water pipes are known from Europe as well as Africa and Asia. The European examples are inspired on Turkish-Egyptian originals. The reservoir is usually made of glass, often coloured and decorated with glass-on-glass paintings in bright enamel colours. From the middle of the nineteenth century thousands of these pipes came from Vienna to West-Europe. Often only the bottles survived.
In Turkey the water pipe can be just functional or extremely elaborate. For the water container glass is most common. When travelling to the east the water pipe is more exotic as well as more simple. As water container all kinds of objects can be uses, from a coconut to bronze or ceramic vases.
In Africa the water pipe has a design on its own. From Ethiopia an example is known having a water container from pig's-bladder. The Tabwa in Tanzania, and especially women, smoke a water pipe made from the calabash fruit.
In China the water pipe is worked out completely differently. The small metal water pipe is placed in a box and accompanied by a tobacco jar and all utensils for smoking: a needle, a brush and a pair of pincers. The metal is normally pakton, the Chinese silver with a high nickel alloy, sometimes embellished with email cloisonné or sharkskin. Rarely they are made in silver.
Luxurious is a water pipe made from red copper with silver inlays. The cylindrical shape refers to the bamboo counterparts that are quite general among the poor smokers, but rarely survive.
Another variety is a porcelain jar fitted as a water pipe. At present these pipes are produced for tourists in high quantities.
All objects on this page are part of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum
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