Oswald’s Mark Index

Adrian Oswald (1908-2001) was, arguably, one of the founding fathers of post-medieval archaeology in Britain and his early publications not only laid the foundation for modern clay pipe research but also placed the study of pipes firmly at the centre of this new discipline.

In 1938 Adrian, who had studied history at Oxford, became archaeological assistant for the City of London’s Guildhall Museum.  He was one of the first to recognise the significance of the capital’s post-medieval archaeology.  In a radio broadcast in 1950 he said:

“Early one autumn morning in 1947 I stood on a bombed site at Cripplegate in the City of London and saw our workmen, excavating on the site of the ancient house of Neville’s Inn, thrown out from cess pits of the time of the Great Fire, quantities of clay tobacco pipes with pottery of all kinds.  So began my curiosity in this subject.    Such was the humble beginning of my researches and now, three years later, my house has clay tobacco pipes dotted about all over the place, my letters on the subject go to all parts of the world and piles of manuscripts begin to paint the picture an old, almost forgotten industry”.

He also said:

“a clay pipe can talk confidentially to me and can nearly always tell me when it was made, often where it was made and sometimes who made it”.

Using his wide knowledge of post-medieval artefacts Adrian used stratigraphic groups and sequences to establish reliable typologies for pipe bowls.  His interests extended to include the social and economic background to the industry.

Following his retirement in 1964 he brought together his wealth of knowledge in Clay Pipes for the Archaeologist (BAR, British Series No. 14, Oxford, 1975), a seminal work which stands to this day as a standard reference work for all those interested in the study of pipes.

One of Adrian’s many research projects was his mark index.  This index pulls together all the examples Adrian could find of marked pipes.

The mark index is grouped in a logical way, as is only to be expected of something that Adrian did. It is arranged in alphabetical order by surname and then Christian name (for example AA, BA, CA, DA …..  AB, BB, CB, DB…. Etc.). For each set of initials there is a typed “index” page that gives details of each example such as possible maker, provenance etc. This page is typed on an old fashioned typewriter so Adrian could add more examples as he came across them.  There is then a series of drawings of these examples to accompany each “index” page.  The sheets of drawings, or tracings are then often either loose drawings that have been stuck to an A4 piece of paper, or a sheet of tracing paper that he could then add to. Each surname initial is bundled together either held together with a paperclip or kept in a plastic packet.

other-marks
Bundles of index sheets and accompanying drawings.

 Adrian’s drawings, by his own admission, were not the best, and they were often roughly traced from publications or photographs and were intended to give an indication of the bowl form rather than be an accurate depiction.  In 1991 Adrian gave the National Pipe Archive access to his mark index and a copy was made and bound in four volumes for the archive’s use.  These were later accessioned with the number LIVNP 1997.08.01-04.

Adrian continued to update his lists and indexes and produced a steady stream of publications until 1997, when failing health forced him to stop.  Following his death in 2001 the majority of his books and files were deposited for safekeeping with Richard Le Cheminant in London.

In 2014, following Richard Le Cheminant’s death, Adrian Oswald’s paper archive was transferred to the National Pipe Archive, in accordance with Adrian’s long term wish.  We are therefore in the fortunate position of having the original manuscript of the mark index together with all of the updates since 1991 (LIVNP 2014.01.192).  These updates include moulded marks, French and Dutch marks as well as groups of pipes that fall into broad types such as “heads”, “transport”, “advertising”, “floral” and “societies” etc.

typed-list
The “index” sheet for the section on head pipes.

 

drawings
The sheet of head pipes.  Each pipe, or group of pipes, is numbered.  In this case 1 to 13, which corresponds with the type “index” sheet at the start of this section.

 As part of the present Historic England funded project we made a start on digitising this mark index.  To date we have scanned the first part of the alphabetical list – A to F – which we hope to get live on the website within the next few days.  Time permitting, and within the confines of the current project, we are hopeful that we will be able to  not only digitise more of the mark index, but also some of Adrian’s other invaluable resources.  So watch this space!

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