English Tobacco Pipe

Project details

  • Date

     January 31, 2015

  • Task

     Study Collection

  • Category

     Tobacco

  • Object number –
  • Material – Clay
  • Place of Origin – England
  • Date –
  • Context – Pit 1
  • Location – Archaearium
  • Category – Tobacco

By the late 1500s, smoking tobacco was a popular pastime among England’s upper class. It had been introduced into the country by English explorers returning from the Americas (Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, and others). In 1598 a German traveler in England noted, “the English are constantly smoking Tobacco … they have pipes on purpose made of clay, into the farther end of which they put the herb.”  Early clay pipes typically had a small bowl because the tobacco of the time had a strong biting taste and was expensive.

This tobacco pipe found in Pit 1 from a ca. 1610 context has a bulbous bowl with a milled edge opening. The heel is tear-shaped, and the maker has made a rouletted line across it as a distinguishing mark.
It was probably made in London from white ball clay mined from Poole, Dorset, on the southern coast of England — the preferred clay for tobacco pipes up until the 19th Century. Such clay fired up white and hard and is called white ball clay after the practice of forming the mined clay into large balls that could be easily rolled onto wagons for shipment.  English pipe clay was also exported to the Netherlands for the Dutch pipemaking industry, reportedly established after 1608 by political refugees from England. Some of these early pipemakers may indeed have been — like many of the first colonists to Jamestown — English veterans of the Dutch war of independence from Spain.

Pipemaking was a lower class trade requiring minimal investment in tools, materials, and training. Pipes were inexpensive but easily breakable, so that pipes were produced and sold in great quantities. Archaeologists may have found evidence of the ingenuity required when a pipe broke in the remote outpost: One colonist in the fort was apparently so desperate for a pipe that he fashioned one out of brick!