In the eighteenth century, crudely-fashioned, white clay pipes with a ten-centimetre long, slightly curved stem, with a hole size less than six centimetres, or even smaller, ladle-like models were unearthed. People were amazed by their tiny size, and attributed their manufacture to fairies and elves, rather than humans. Scholars found these wild theories rather amusing and were more inclined to believe that these artefacts dated back to ancient times, although in actual fact they were much more recent, no earlier than 1570. As for their reduced size and tiny bowls, it was compatible with the high price of tobacco in England in the late sixteenth century. Although it could be believed that these pipes were the forebears of a vast production of pipes that would later spread from London all over Europe, it is not exactly so. Indeed, we need to seek elsewhere the origins of the proliferation of pipes all over Europe.
However, let’s go back to London, where pipes gradually grew in size as the price of tobacco fell and production improved. In that period London was rivaled by pipe manufacturing which had also been flourishing in Holland, producing pipes with larger bowls and short, medium or long stems, that is to say from 30 to 50 centimetres. For instance, the popular "Gouwenaar" pipe measured 80 centimetres. This pipe owed its name to the leading manufacturing city of origin, as it simply means “from Gouda”. Gradually, workshops sprang up in Scotland, Ireland, Bavaria and other German states, Flanders, Sweden, Austria and France, all dedicated to the production of one-piece white clay pipes, based on the models that English soldiers had brought back home from America and perfected in Holland. However, Europe is vast, and if we travel to Eastern Europe we will find that something different was happening there, in the area under the rule of the Ottoman Empire that extended from the Balkans to Hungary in the early seventeenth century.
In Turkey, in limited circles people had already become acquainted with pipe smoking by 1599, but a more precise date for its introduction could be said to be around 1605. It is believed that the pipes initially resembled English models, as it was in fact English sailors who brought them to Turkey. These simple models were made of a white or grayish clay that were different from the ones made in Brosely or Gouda. They were small, again owing to the exorbitant price of tobacco at that time. However, it was not long before these early models diverged substantially from their English counterparts, and here we need to go back a few decades to meet a figure that we have already met in these articles.
It was Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake’s cousin, mariner, merchant, ship designer and as well as many other things who first brought tobacco to England in 1564. In that period Hawkins was crossing the Atlantic in small fleets of ships carrying slaves to be sold. It is believed that it is he who introduced into Africa (Gulf of Guinea) a type of pipe that had been used by the Native Americans in Florida and the Mississippi Delta. However, these pipes were not made in one piece like those crafted in London, but rather were two, detachable parts. The bowl was made of clay, which was attached to a short stem made of clay, which also served as the mouthpiece. It took this type of pipe a few decades to travel from the Gulf of Guinea to the Mediterranean coast, and then eastward, being adapted to local materials and customs. It was in Istanbul a few years later that the model of pipe based on the English version was introduced, and this model soon became dominant all over the Ottoman Empire.
The origins of the chibouk is based on the few records we have of it and recent archaeological excavations. The bowl was relatively large, and became larger as time went by. The pipe consisted of three parts: the bowl, mouthpiece, and a stem that connected them. The first models that were produced in the early 1600s may have been white or grey, based on the models that were imported, but the traditional clay chibouk as seen today was in various shades of terracotta red. The models changed according to location and period, more or less refined, and gradually developed into finely decorated artworks. Cane, which was already hollow, was the most obvious solution for the stem, but a refined clientele would have demanded something more sophisticated, and thus expert pipe makers sought ways to perfect the stem, by growing special trees to produce straight, flawless branches that could then be drilled through by skilled craftsmen. Other craftsmen decorated the stems that connected the bowl to the mouthpiece, which was made of finely wrought amber from the North Sea, another important feature of the chibouk.
If we compare the styles of the “English” and Ottoman pipe, it may be seen that although the bowls were different, the workmanship and materials were quite similar. However, the stem-mouthpiece of the former and the long stem that connected the mouthpiece with the bowl of the latter were markedly different in the use of material and technique, as well as the fact that the English model was brittle and fragile, whereas the Ottoman counterpart was more elastic and therefore relatively resilient. Nevertheless, whether in London or Istanbul, it was the more prosperous classes who owned long-stemmed pipes. This rather cumbersome object required space, peace and quiet, preferably with few interruptions from work, and in exchange provided a much cooler smoke. However, in the West the pipe’s length was limited by its fragility, whereas in the East it could measure up to three metres long. In any case, even when not exceedingly long, the pipe’s wooden stem was a clear advantage.
The chibouk, or other similar model, was crafted in several places in the Mediterranean region under Ottoman rule. Along the Bosphorous were two important centres of production, Istanbul and Burgas, the latter being one of the ancient names of a city near Edirne that is Lüleburgaz today, “Lüle” meaning “pipe”. Other important manufacturing centres were Giannitsa, in Macedonia, Sofia and Varna in Bulgaria, and the Birgau Valley in Transylvania, today in Romania. The chibouk was also produced in other large and small centres in the Balkans, and this model also made it presence felt beyond the border in the other part of Europe, the border being busy due to a series of military conflicts.
The borders of the Ottoman Empire extended a long way adjacent to the Balkan coastline under Venetian maritime rule, and there were important Eastern Mediterranean territories controlled by the city of St. Mark. It is likely that Venice had already been familiar with Ottoman pipes when pipe manufacturing was introduced in Chioggia around the 1630s. The models were quite different from the English ones, as the bowls were a reddish colour, which would become a characteristic ivory-yellow colour over the centuries, and a wooden stem in marasca, a wild cherry wood. It was a rougher version of the traditional Turkish pipe, as the length of the stem was reduced and thus the pipe was more practical to carry around. No longer was the mouthpiece made of amber. These pipes were highly appreciated by both the maritime and mainland population, as a solid, reliable pipe was highly important. Other manufacturing centres were established in Abruzzo, Puglia, and Calabria, and again the standard pipe was made of a terracotta bowl and wooden stem.
The city of Debrecen, located in the Northern Great Plain region of Hungary east of Budapest, had a long history of close relations with the Ottoman Empire. In 1680 a potter’s guild was founded, and it is likely that pipes were already being made in that period, and certainly they are present in the following century. Moreover, “Debrecen" is also a well-known name for those who appreciate Hungarian pipes, as the bowl has a particular shape. This type of pipe with a wooden stem attached to a clay bowl could also be found in other parts of Western Europe. For example, the city of Höhr, near Cologne, was a well-known centre for the pottery industry, and by the early 1600s workshops had already been set up to reproduce cheap versions of Dutch models. Later on in the same century, manufacturing extended to producing an Ottoman line of pipe models, that is to say with a terracotta bowl and detachable stem in cherry wood.
While on the subject of wooden stems, it is worth mentioning a passage from a book entitled “Tobacco”, by Don Benedetto Stella, which was published in Rome in 1669: "From England and from Holland other tubes, or pipes of clay have come here, and are truly practical as they are in two pieces, that is to say a bowl in clay to which is attached a stem made of cane, metal, glass, wood, or any other material, which fits precisely in the smaller hole, and through which the smoke is sucked, giving a round, smooth taste”. These few lines certainly provide a great amount of information. The pipe was considered “practical” precisely because it was in two parts that were easily assembled. The bowl, which was said to come from England or Holland, was certainly more Western in style than that of chibouk. Indeed, one of the models recalls the modern day briar pipe. However, the most interesting thing is that the second component could be made of wood, cane, metal and glass or any other material. Indeed, the second half of the seventeenth century was a time of experimentation with material and styles. There were those who produced the traditional white clay pipe, while others worked on a terracotta bowl with wooden stem. In either case, improvements were sought at every stage of production, from the choice, composition, preparation and manufacture of raw material to moulding or modelling on the potter’s wheel, firing, decoration, cultivation and preparation of the wooden stems, as well as seeking a snug fit between stem and bowl. Others, well aware of the limitations of clay, whether white or not, sought other materials.
Everyone sooner or later realised how fragile clay pipes were and were resigned to this. However, for soldiers on the battlefield or the cavalry, it was a different matter, as they had to try and protect their pipes in some way. Thus, as early as during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), special pipes were made in iron, lead or silver, in particular for the Austrian and German army. For the sophisticated traveler, two-piece or even telescopic silver pipes were available. However, this was not such a successful solution, as apart from leaving a metallic taste, the pipes tended to overheat rapidly only after a few puffs had been taken.
From the early 1600s, several pipe makers had experimented with wooden bowls, as wood had been so resilient and elastic when used for stems on Ottoman pipes. The only problem was that when overheated, wood could catch fire. What was the solution? Stella’s book, when describing some wooden pipes, gives us a clue: "So that these pipes do not catch fire, the inside part is encrusted with a certain substance that resists fire”. Indeed, the inside of the pipe could be treated with chalk, clay, tin or other materials. The production of these wholly wooden models was limited for a long time, although in densely forested areas such as Germany or Hungary the craft was well-established. Although the possibility to line the inside of the pipe was considered, albeit with some complications, pipe makers still continued their search for the most suitable wood that would least easily catch fire. This type of wood was usually the densest, hardest, and thus the most difficult to shape, such as oak, beech wood, cherry wood, elm, alder, walnut and boxwood. It was even better if the wood came from the roots, and if it was prepared, cleaned and seasoned. The trials were all made on a local basis, but in this way techniques were refined and consolidated. On 22th May, 1695 a certain Schaemer and a certain Fassbinder, weaver and cooper respectively, who lived in Geislingen, applied to the Council of the nearby city of Ulm, a German city in Baden-Württemberg, to become official makers of wooden pipes. Their application was turned down, but we have a record of how progress was being made in the field of pipe making in that city on the Rhine.
Meanwhile, new materials were emerging thanks to busy traders and the intense activity of secret workshops. At a certain point during the 1600s someone had attempted to fashion a bowl for a chibouk out of a remarkable, extremely lightweight substance that was mined in Eskisehir, on the Anatolian Plateau between Istanbul and Ankara. The result was so interesting that pipes made of Meerschaum swiftly caught on in the Ottoman Empire. Thus, in the late 1600s, exclusive circles in various countries in Western Europe became familiar with the material known as “sea-foam”. Another well-known material in these circles was a fascinating ceramic substance imported from China in the form of figurines, objects, and precious tableware, whose manufacturing technique was wholly mysterious. Numerous manufacturers of ceramics and esteemed alchemists sought to discover the secret formula and techniques, spurred on by their patrons and sponsors. However, the solution to this white Chinese mystery was still to come.
In the late 1600s the two different pipes, the one-piece white clay pipe in the West and the three-piece pipe in the East made of different materials were dominant, and sometimes even interacted. They would soon face fierce competition under many aspects which would, however, adapt and re-interpret the developments that had marked the history of pipe making up to that time.
Plate from “Tobacco” by Don Benedetto Stella, published in Rome, 1669. On the right, two clay bowls that would be fitted onto a stem (left) which could be made of different types of material. The central pipe featuring an animal carving on the bowl does not refer to the passage quoted here.