Soon after John Rolfe’s 1612 experiment with a new strain of tobacco at Jamestown, the crop became the commodity that ensured the colony’s economic survival. By 1614, Virginia tobacco was in high demand in the English market, as was the paraphernalia to properly smoke it. Beyond the ubiquitous clay pipe, the consumer also needed a means to loosely pack, or tamp, tobacco in the small bowl to ensure an even light and draw. While many appropriated sticks, broken pipe stems, and other narrow objects for this purpose, more conspicuous consumers carried a purpose-made pipe tamp.
Pipe tamps, or tampers, came in a variety of materials and sizes, and were often highly decorative. Figural pipe tamps, like the one seen here, were typically made from iron, pewter, or copper alloy. The dress of this figure is illustrative of Stuart-Period (1603-1714) attire, narrowing its manufacture to the 17th century. While the example from Jamestown was found in a mixed plowzone context, an identical tamp was found in a 1617-1650 context at the nearby Flowerdew Hundred site.
Other examples of this particular tamp have been found through England, with only one minor variation between them. On each tamp the figure is holding a smoking pipe in his right hand. Of the five other examples found in Virginia and England, each figure is holding a different object in his left hand. These objects include a tankard, a walking stick, and one other unidentified objects. Unfortunately, the example from Jamestown is missing its left arm, and we will never know what he once held.