The Pipe Archive is fortunate in having examples of some very early clay pipes amongst their collections and these provided the focal point for a small group of pipe researchers who recently visited from the Netherlands. Of the many early pipes from the very beginning of the 17th century that were available to study, two took their eye – both from London and both part of the Elkin Collection (LIVNP 2012.04).
The first, and probably one of the earliest marked pipes in our collection, is an example with a heart-shaped heel bearing the initials RC. It is likely that this pipe was made by Robert Cotton, one of the first pipemakers documented in Britain, who sailed to Jamestown, Virginia, in April 1608. Once he arrived in America, Cotton set up a workshop that produced a distinctive series of pipes, examples of which have been found during the recent excavations there.
The second pipe is perhaps Dutch rather than English and is decorated all around the stem with a series of small stamps and decorative bands of milling. There is also a small symbol stamp on the base of the heel and this must have been an impressive piece when complete.
It is very difficult to differentiate between pipes produced in England and the Netherlands during the late 16th and very early 17th centuries. This is partly due to the fact that a number of early English pipemakers fled to the Netherlands as a result of religious persecution, where they set up new pipe making workshops. It is hoped that the on-going research into these early pipes will help to shed a little more light on what was happening during these early days of pipe production.