In the Spotlight! Lead Tobacco Jar

We decided that in addition to our updates on the Historic England project, we’d like to use the blog to highlight some of the objects in our collection – to throw a “spotlight” on them.

Today the “spotlight” falls on an object that the NPA acquired in 1998. This tobacco box (Acc. No. LIVNP 1998.34.18) had originally been donated to Darlington Museum by Dr Kirk in May 1925, but was formally transferred to the Archive’s collection in 1998 when the collections in Darlington were, sadly, dispersed.

Lead tobacco box commemorating battles in the Crimean War (LIVNP 1998.34.18).

The box is rectangular and measures c13.5 x 14 x 10.5cm, and is made of lead.  There is also an inner lead lid to help press down on the tobacco that it would have held.  The box was produced by Stock and Son.  The registration mark on the base dates to 14 March 1856.  On the interior lid someone has scratched what appears to read “J Christie” – could this have been a former owner?

The box has suffered a little over the years and is slightly bent and battered, but most of the battle scenes on the sides of the box are well preserved.

Detail of one of the battle scenes (LIVNP 1998.34.18).

The lid has a lion finial and the names of four Crimean battles –Alma, fought on 20 September 1854, considered the first battle of the Crimean War;  Sebastopol, known as the Siege of Sebastopol between September 1854 until September 1855;  Balaklava, fought on 25 October 1854,  and Inkerman, fought on 5 November 1854.

Detail of the lid with lion finial (LIVNP 1998.34.18)

We are very pleased to have such an interesting item in our collection.  This object is currently on display at the Victoria Gallery and Museum in Liverpool.


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.

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.

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


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!

Scanning the day away! A view from the trenches…

dan_scanningHello there! My name is Daniel. I am an Etruscan archaeologist. Yet, on Wednesday of every week I work at the National Pipe Archive digitising all sorts of pipe related documentation. I have, so far, scanned my way through a small sample of David Atkinson’s notebooks (those discussed below) and A through to F of Adrian Oswald’s pipe makers mark index (more coming soon). The collections of the National Pipe Archive to be digitised are as varied as they are vast. I certainly have a lot to be getting on with…

At the outset I envisioned I was in for a tedious (although undoubtedly worthwhile) task. Yet, as I progressed it became more and more difficult not to become engrossed in the material I was scanning. Surprisingly, the task was more absorbing than tedious. The character and charm of every document (be it notes, correspondence, or drawings) emerges from their meticulous detail and careful arrangement. I am consistently impressed by the level of thought, commitment, and time expended by their authors to create such useful resources.

The scanning can be a challenge (in more ways than one) but it is gratifying to be a part of the project that aims to facilitate improved access to so impressive an archive. The knowledge of the archive is now not only being more efficiently preserved, but also more efficiently opened to those who would put such knowledge to good use. I think those who so thoroughly devoted themselves to their study of pipes would be immensely gratified to see their work shared so widely. To see it continue to make an impact. To see it function as a key component of the National Pipe Archive. To see it digitised.

The scanning is absorbing because each scanned item more easily shares another amazing resource.

I best get back to work…


“New Look” website goes live!

As of 1:30am this morning the “new look” Archive website went live.  OK, so there are a few teething problems and one or two items might need re-positioning, but we’re happy that it has a much more up-to-date look.  It now also provides the structure we need for our new “How to….” pages, which we will be uploading over the coming weeks.

As part of the Historic England funded project we are hoping to provide a “one-stop-shop” for pipe identification and recording.  The idea is that these new pages will provide guidance for the identification, dating, and processing of your pipe.  A sort of “all you ever wanted to know about pipes, but where afraid to ask” page.

In the days before word limits

As many masters and PhD students will be all to well aware, word limits are the bane of their lives, often leading to dilemmas over what to keep in and what leave out. However, searching through the NPA’s collections today we’ve come across the original manuscript of Iain C Walker PhD thesis Clay Tobacco Pipes, with particular reference to the Bristol Industry, which was submitted in 1973 (LIVNP 2014.01.034/035).  Quite a hefty tome when compared to Susan White’s PhD thesis, submitted in 2002 (LIVNP 2005.14.01), which was still well over the 100,000 word limit that is set for todays PhD students.

So bear a thought for those poor supervisors “back in the day” who had a little more reading to do than their modern day counterparts!

Walker’s 1973 PhD thesis (LIVNP 2014.01.034/035) compared to White’s 2002 PhD thesis (LIVNP 2005.14.01).
Iain C Walker PhD thesis 1973 (LIVNP 2014.01.034-035)

Atkinson’s Notebooks

Atkinson Notebooks (LIVNP 2012.02.216-232).

When David Atkinson sadly passed away at the end of 2011 he left behind a legacy of over 50 years of published pipe research as well as a large quantity of notes, correspondence, books and a huge reference collection of pipes that he had amassed over the years.  The National Pipe Archive (NPA) worked with members of David’s family to secure this collection for the benefit of future generations and in 2012 it was donated to the NPA.  Simply preparing a proper catalogue of the collection will be a major undertaking for the Archive, and one that may well take many years to complete.  In the meantime, we are compiling a brief overview of the range of material that the collection contains (Accession number LIVNP 2012.06), which should be available shortly.

One of the elements of the paper archive that is of particular interest, are 17 small hard backed notebooks containing drawings and information on pipes from various parts of the country.  The drawings of the bowl forms and marks are of good quality and provide a valuable reference source for anyone researching the products of a particular area.  There are two books covering Bristol pipes; four on Broseley, Shropshire; six on London; one on Salisbury/Malborough; one on Somerset; one on Sussex and two miscellaneous volumes.

As part of the current HE funded project we have digitised some of these notebooks.  We’ve scanned in the notebooks from Salisbury/Marlborough (LIVNP 2012.06.216); Sussex (LIVNP 2012.06.217) and Somerset (LIVNP 2012.06.218).  These will be available on the website very shortly.

Selected pages from Atkinson’s notebooks. Left is page 30 from the Marlborough and Salisbury notebook (LIVNP 2012.06.216) showing Jeffry Hunt marks c.1650-1680 from Norton St Philip and Devizes.  Right is page 13 from the Sussex notebook (LIVNP 2012.06.217) showing two IH marked pipes, possibly John Harman of Lewes (c. 1760-1780).


And we’re off……

Welcome to the new blogsite of the National Pipe Archive.  We’re going through a bit of a steep learning curve as we are new to the whole concept of blogging, so you may need to bear with us.

So what’s happening? we hear you ask.  Well, we have been lucky enough to receive some funding from Historic England to work on a project called Clay Tobacco Pipes for Field Archaeology.  The aim of project is to provide a single reference point for field archaeologists and others by drawing together and making available some of the key reference elements from the NPA and providing guidelines for dealing with pipe assemblages.  We hope to provide an easy-to-use digital resource to allow efficient, and sufficiently accurate, processing, identification and dating of clay pipes.

When’s all this likely to happen?  Well, we’re working on it.  Clearly this isn’t something that is going to happen overnight, but scanning of some of the material is already underway. So watch this space.

At the moment we’ve got this blog site linked to our current website – – be kind when you look at this, it’s not the best website you’ve ever seen or used but we are working on that too.  As part of the project the website will be overhauled, so bear with us.

We are all very excited about the project and looking forward to sharing with you some of the amazing resources the NPA has, so keeping checking back with us over the coming weeks and months.