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). Early clay pipes typically had a small bowl because the tobacco of the time had a strong biting taste and was expensive. This handy little pocket tool was used to tamp, light, and clean a tobacco pipe bowl and may have been especially helpful when tobacco was a novelty and pipe bowls were small. The rounded handle terminal can be used to push the tobacco down into the bowl; the flat edge of the tong can be used as a strike-a-light to create a spark against flint; and the tong can pick up embers by which to light the tobacco.
A smoker’s companion was not a necessary tool for a 17th-century pipe smoker. Many lit their tobacco pipes by using other tools to pick up embers or by holding the pipe close to a candle. But, for those who could afford these skillfully-made items, the smoker’s companion may have been a symbol of one’s status when pulled from a pocket and used.
The item pictured is one of only two smoker’s companions found at Jamestown. It dates ca. 1607-1610, indicating it may be one of the earliest found on an English colonial site in America. Smoker’s companions of this style have been found archaeologically on sites dating through the 18th century.