Century of Change, the European clay pipe, its final flourish and ultimate fall 1830-1940

Duco, D. H.

Paperback. 192 pp. Illustrated in b/w. Pijpenkabinet Foundation, Amsterdam. 2004.

The tobacco pipe seems to have disappeared rapidly during the last decades. A situation quite different from a century ago: spread throughout Europe, a dozen large factories made an annual production of clay pipes in quantities of millions to supply smokers with fashionable and innovative smoking implements. Don Duco, curator of the Pijpenkabinet Museum in Amsterdam, made this observation and captured this aspect of daily life in his latest book: Century of Change.
Century of Change is based on a source never used before: the sales catalogues of clay tobacco pipes, rare specimens of early printed advertising material. The book treats the period from 1830 to 1940, a century in which Duco observes a change in fashion among smokers that leads to an unprecedented boom in the pipe trade. Socially committed smokers created a huge demand for strikingly decorated pipes. French firms, in particular, supplied these pipes in thousands of different designs, of which the finest examples are illustrated in this book.

After 1880, the demand for pipes slackened and the industry declined. The author explains this decline by pointing out the economic and especially social factors that result in new consumer trends and smoking habits. Nevertheless, some firms manage to continue, despite the waning trade. They do so by introducing innovative techniques and modern designs, or, in other cases, by adopting cost-reducing semi-mechanical techniques. Many examples, from luxury streamlined pipes to simple export articles, are illustrated in this book, often for the very first time. Apart from the French firms mentioned, known and unknown producers from Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Holland and Germany are represented by their catalogues.

The book is a real eye-opener: in nearly 200 pages an article as common as a pipe proves to be unexpected in its design and informative as a source for social history. The illustrative material shows series of the most characteristic production of all the factories, professionally commented by the author. Pipe smokers will be astonished to view such extravagant ornamentation on the pipes of their ancestors. For historians and archaeologists the book is the only source that throws light onto this everyday utensil from the 19th and 20th century. And all people interested in the evolution from craft to early industrialisation, the development of design and publicity, will discover entirely new insights in this book.

This book records the appearance of a crafted product, from the highly artistic figural pipe to the humble bubble-blowing pipe. Nowadays, the clay pipe is only a museum exhibit, but the curator of the Amsterdam pipe museum proves once more that this simple item is imbued with a remarkable history.
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