A Brief History of Marked European Clay Tobacco Pipes

Impressed into clay tobacco pipes are bits of data that have fueled endless research avenues since the earliest days of archaeology on historic sites excavated on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This crowdsourced database focuses on just one bit – the remains of the marks of the pipe maker or a preferred symbol permanently affixed to the product. Few makers incorporated dates into their marks, though the practice of marking pipes probably initially coincided with the establishment of the London tobacco pipe guild in 1619 and continued into the 19th century (Noël Hume 2003-4).

Archaeologists analyze multiple clues to date and identify the pipe maker including a careful combination of archaeological site context, bowl style and form, pipe stem bore diameter, style and placement of the mark itself, and place of manufacture.

For this cataloguing system, we suggest using Oswald’s (1975:37-42, figure 3G and 4G) Simplified General Typology for attempting to type pipe bowls that are complete enough to match the forms he provides. While we recommend this reference as the most comprehensive, some archaeologists (including the DAACS initiative) prefer Atkinson and Oswald’s (1969:7-12, figure 1 and figure 2) London-derived typology for its detailed approach to 17th-century pipes. Because most historical archaeologists can locate a copy of Noël Hume’s Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America (1969:302, figure 97) within arm’s reach, this is the most frequently used though admittedly simplified bowl typology. We ask that if you have a nearly complete bowl from which a type can be determined, to use the Oswald 1975 typology, but there is also a field to record reference to another typology, should you prefer. When using bowl typologies, we also acknowledge Noël Hume’s caveat (1969:304) that we suspect remains as valid today as it was 45 years ago: “There is, unfortunately, a great deal that we do not yet know about the so-called evolution of bowls and stems, and there is reason to suspect that present stylistic and dating criteria have been oversimplified.”

Tobacco pipe makers’ marks appear in a variety of locations on the bowl including on the back, front, and sides, on the base, and on the sides of the spur or heel. Marks also appear on pipe stems. Marks were produced by molds that left incuse (negative) or relief (raised) impressions (Oswald 1975:62-91). In the first half of the 17th century, for both English and Dutch pipes, marks generally appear on the flat base of the heel. In the second half of the 17th century, marks were increasingly placed straddling heels or spurs, on bowls, and on stems. From the late 17th through late 18th century, “marks are more commonly seen in the form of either a moulded cartouche on the right or left side of the bowl, as initials moulded into the sides of the heel/spur or as an abbreviated name stamped on the stem” (Gaulton 1999). In the 18th century, stems marks could straddle either side, form ornamental bands, or be stamped in circles. By the 19th century, stem marks appear in rectangular blocks often with maker in addition to the town of manufacture (Noël Hume 1969:305). “In the case of Dutch pipes from the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they are distinguished from the English pipes not only by their bowl shape and presence of rouletting around the rim, but also because pipemakers continued to mark their pipes on the heel, often using minuscule marks” (Gaulton 1999).

Oswald (1975:62) provides a few important caveats when embarking on a study of pipe makers’ marks. First, keep in mind, most pipes were unmarked. This included nearly 99 percent of pipes manufactured in the early 17th century, though this estimate diminishes to about 40 percent of all pipes in the 19th century. And even if your pipe bears a complete mark, identification can be difficult to impossible because of the redundancy of pipe makers’ initials and the incomplete nature of pipe manufacture lists. Oswald’s (1975:128-207) publication remains the most comprehensive compilation of pipe makers in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

Our primary motivation the creation of this data collection tool is to reinvigorate the middle-aged study of marked pipes and to bring new questions to bear on old collections using new data collection and analysis tools.

Web Resources

Clay Tobacco Pipe Maker’s Marks from London

DAACS – The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery

DAACS Tobacco Pipe Cataloguing Manual

Database of Tobacco Pipes (and other artifacts) from Chesapeake Sites

Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Marked Clay Tobacco Pipes from Ferryland, Newfoundland

Tobacco Pipes from Mount Vernon’s Midden

Dutch Clay Pipes from Gouda

Further Reading

Atkinson, David and Adrian Oswald
1969      London Clay Tobacco Pipes. The Museum of London, London.

Ayto, Eric G.
1979      Clay Tobacco Pipes. Shire Publications, Ltd., Aylesbury.

Jackson, R.G. and R.H. Price
1974      Bristol Clay Pipes: A Study of Makers and their Marks. Bristol City Museum: Research Monograph 1. Bristol City Museum, Bristol.

Noël Hume, Audrey
1970      English Clay Tobacco Pipes bearing the Royal Arms from Williamsburg, Virginia. Post-Medieval Archaeology 4:141-146.

Noël Hume, Ivor
1969      A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA.

2003-4 Hunting for a Little Ladle. Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Winter. . Accessed 29 December 2014.

Oswald, Adrian
1960      The Archaeology and Economic History of English Clay Tobacco Pipes. The Museum of London, London.

1975      Clay Pipes for the Archaeologist. British Archaeological Reports 14. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.

The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe, edited by Peter Davey, BAR International Series, 13 volumes 1979-1994.

For example:

Atkinson, David and Adrian Oswald 1980      The Dating and Typology of Clay Pipes Bearing the Royal Arms. The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe III. Britain: the North and West, pp. 363-391. BAR British Series 78. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.

Rutter, J. A. and P. J. Davey 1980      Clay Pipes from Chester. The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe III. Britain: the North and West, pp. 41-272. BAR British Series 78. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.

Walker, Iain C.
1966      TD Pipes – A Preliminary Study. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia 20(4):86-102.

1971      The Bristol Clay Tobacco Pipe Industry. Bristol Corporation, Bristol.

1977      Clay Tobacco-Pipes, with Particular Reference to the Bristol Industry. Parks Canada, Ottawa.