Sunday, 4 January 2015

Clay pipes and anti-slavery

From the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, clay pipes were used somewhat as cigarettes are today: they offered a relatively inexpensive way of smoking, and the pipes were more or less disposable. However, some were more elaborate than others, with decorated bowls. On a recent walk along the Thames foreshore at Battersea with Jane of Jane's London - who makes lovely jewellery using pieces of antique clay pipe - I found a fragment of one such bowl. 



Only part of the design remains, and it has suffered from its time in the river. However, to one side of a central image (largely missing and impossible to decipher) is a naked man stood with chain around one leg. 

One possibility is that this design commemorated the end of slavery. Earlier pipes had featured the image of a man kneeling in chains, originally distributed on Wedgewood cameos with the anti-slavery slogan 'Am I not a man and a brother?'. The use of anti-slavery imagery on tobacco pipes was of course horribly ironic, since tobacco was largely produced on Virginian plantations using slave labour. 


Later pipes showed standing figures representing liberty: perhaps this is one of these, with the man standing, arms raised, as his chains fall away. With so much of the imagery missing, however, it is very difficult to draw firm conclusions: if anyone has further information or ideas, I would be very glad to hear them. (A larger image of the pipe bowl is available on Flickr.)



11 comments:

Ralph Hancock said...

It looks to me as if the man is still chained, with faint traces of links continuing up to where his hand would have been, and still kneeling, though the pose shown in the stamp below has been confused by bad copying. In liberation medallions such as this the man is shown standing straight and facing the front, not capering about as the bent leg here might seem to indicate.

Jane said...

Nice bit of research there Caroline. Well done ;-)

CarolineLD said...

Ralph, I've stared at that image so much, I'm not sure of anything any more! However, the leg which is fully visible appears to be upright, and there's a crescent-shape just above the knee which could be an open manacle. The raised arms are also suggestive. However, with the poor quality of the original and the subsequent damage, it's very difficult to tell. Thank you for the liberation image!

Ralph Hancock said...

As you say, there is very little to go on. I'd been guessing something like this, but could very well be wrong.

HughB said...

If that's what it is, it is apparently a rare find according to this site: https://www.blogger.com/blog-this.g?u=http://lincsdays.blogspot.com/2014/05/watkinson-clay-pipe-factory-in-market.html?spref%3Dbl&n=Lincolnshire+Days:+Watkinson+Clay+Pipe+Factory+in+Market+Rasen&t=George+Spencer+Watkinson+was+the+builder+of+the+Market+Rasen+Clay+pipe+factory,+which+he+built+in+1843.%C2%A0+The+factory+made+clay+smoking+pipes...
Oops! Not sure I posted that link properly...

CarolineLD said...

Thank you! Here's the corrected link.

Jenny Woolf said...

Fascinating. I think we lost an interesting folk tradition when clay pipes went out of fashion.

Ralph Hancock said...

The clay pipe featured in the BBC series A History of the World in 100 Objects is much closer to the original Wedgwood image, which is thought to have been designed by the wood engraver Thomas Bewick.

CarolineLD said...

That looks altogether much better quality than mine, Ralph!

Thank you for the annotated picture - I've added in some bits which are faint but seem to be there (with much squinting at the original). The arms do appear to be raised.

CarolineLD said...

To add to the mystery, over on Twitter The Clink Prison pointed out the similarity to the Hanoverian crest on photo number 8 here. To me, the figure looks more human - but it's hard to be sure with heraldic figures.

denis chenillet said...

Dear Caroline look at that Anti-slavery clay pipe on Ebay France http://www.ebay.fr/itm/391114038144?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649

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