A “Drop from the Clouds”

In the nineteenth century, clay tobacco pipe manufacturers were producing pipes in a variety of shapes trying to come up with a design that would mark their product out as the latest “must have” for the discerning smoker.  Kings, Queens and other famous people of the day were immortalised in clay but occasionally memorable events also received this treatment.

The Mason Collection is a recent acquisition to the National Pipe Archive’s holdings, comprising mainly decorated nineteenth-century pieces, including one that has immortalised an event that first took place in 1888 at Alexandra Palace (Fig. 1).

Baldwin Balloon pipe LIVNP2017.02.01

The pipe in question is in the shape of a hot-air balloon which is covered with a criss-cross of rope work.  Trailing from the balloon are a number of ropes that come together at the bottom, forming a sort of a platform.  On the smokers left there is a depiction of a man hanging from a small umbrella-shaped parachute.  On the smokers right, a band around the balloon reads BALDWIN.

Sadly, we do not know which pipe maker produced this pipe, but the event he was commemorating was widely reported in the National Press.  The event revolves around a man known as Professor Baldwin, “an American daredevil”, who has been credited with being the father of the modern parachute.  However, it would appear that the “American” part of this description of him is a bit of a red herring.  There were at least two Americans with the same surname – a Thomas Scott Baldwin and a William Ivy Baldwin – both of whom had a circus background, and both of whom performed an act involving jumping from a hot-air balloon with a parachute.  However, notice of the Baldwin’s death following an unsuccessful descent in 1905, describes him as the “well known English aeronaut ‘Professor Baldwin’” (Waikato Times, Sept 4, 1905, Issue 6808).

The first reference to Professor Baldwin and his famous balloon dates from August 3, 1888, when The Times newspaper began publishing advertisements for an event to be held at Alexandra Palace which read;

Tomorrow and Bank Holiday, Professor Baldwin, at 6 p.m., will illustrate his great scientific discovery, having succeeded in making an umbrella with sufficient surface resistance to land passengers from an aerial ship at any height.

On the same day an advertisement said …

…Professor Baldwin proves the possibility of his invention by jumping out of a balloon 1,000ft from the ground and will drop 200ft, through space before opening the umbrella.

and that he will…

…make the ascent from and descend in the park in such a manner that every visitor can see him the whole time of this marvellous, stirring, but scientific experiment… to make a special drop from the clouds.

These advertisements were placed in The Times on a number of days in the run up to the event.  At the same time, other events were being promoted, including advertisements for balloon ascents at Crystal Palace and South Kensington, so balloon flights were clearly all the rage and very popular spectacles at the time.  What made Professor Baldwin’s event different, and more exciting, was that he was going to throw himself out of his balloon!

The authorities were clearly concerned about this since, on July 27, 1888, a question was raised in the House of Lords.  The Earl of Milltown wanted to know if;

the attention of the Home Office has been directed to an announcement in the newspapers that a Professor Baldwin will, at the Alexandra Palace, on Saturday next, jump out of a balloon 1,000 feet above the ground; whether it is believed that the announcement is genuine, and if so whether measures will be taken to prevent so dangerous and demoralizing an exhibition. (The Times, July 27, 1888. Issue 32449, page 8).

The response from Home Office was to ensure that there was a police presence at the event and they were to “report upon its [the performance] character and result from personal observation”.  The event itself was reported in The Times on July 30, 1888 (The Times July 30, 1888, issue 32451, page 6)., when it stated that;

On Saturday evening a daring aeronautical feat was performed in the grounds of the Alexandra Palace, at Muswell-hill, in the presence of many thousands of spectators.

Professor Baldwin apparently addressed the crowd to reassure them that all was well.  The plan was to ascend to 1, 000ft and then jump from the balloon, dropping about 100ft before opening his umbrella.  He told the crowd that …

…if he found that he was being carried where he should not be able to descend within view of the spectators assembled in the grounds, he would leave the balloon when it reached a height of five or six hundred feet. So as to insure his descent being visible to them.

All he then asked for was silence while he gave the final orders to guarantee that everything would then “go right”!

The balloon itself was described as having “no car” but only a cross-bar with a large ring or loop attached.  When the balloon ascended Baldwin held on to the ring, with his feet resting on the ropes of the balloon, with his “umbrella” hanging by his side (Fig.2).  He came down in a little over one and a half minutes, to everyone’s relief.  It was clearly a spectacle although The Times raised the question as to the scientific value of the event!

From the Illustrated London News for July 1888 showing Baldwin’s ascent and descent.

Whoever was responsible for producing the pipe as souvenirs to commemorate this event, which could then be sold to the vast crowds, was clearly on to a good thing, as this spectacle was to be repeated every Thursday and Saturday evening!

These performances clearly went on for some time since in December 1888 an article published in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser in Australia reported that Saturday 20 October 1888 had been the last performance of the summer season.  On this occasion the balloon was reported to have reached a height of 8,800 feet before Baldwin finally “severed his connection with the balloon and began to descend” this time taking eight minutes to safely reach the ground.  It was also announced that Mr Baldwin was about to go to Australia but planned to return to the Palace on “Whit Monday in next year”.

Baldwin had been enticed to visit Australasia by William Edward Akroyd, JP, a visiting landowner from New Zealand who had met Baldwin in England.  His first jump in New Zealand took place at Dunedin on January 21, 1889 (Anon 2012).  Baldwin was making improvements and refinements to the balloon all the time and during an event in Auckland later in 1898, he explained that the;

biscuit-coloured balloon is made of India silk, it is covered with a varnish preparation, and is enclosed in a linen netting. It has 15,000 [cubic] feet capacity, and weighs 110lb. The parachute is also made of India silk, but it is not oiled. It weighs 30lb and resembles the top of an ordinary umbrella, except that there are neither ribs nor handle. It is 20 feet in diameter, and has a fringe or sail round the edge to assist me in balancing. From the umbrella-like covering there depend [hang down] a number of ropes, 20 feet in length attached to a loop 20 feet in diameter. There is another ring attached to a cord at the end of the balloon, which I call a ‘boatswain’s chair’. I sit on this and have hold of a cord calculated to stand a strain of 100 lb, so that when I throw myself off the chair the cord is broken, and I am free from the balloon. I then descend with the parachute, which at first is closed. It opens out gradually as the air rushes inside and is fully spread by the time I have dropped 300 or 400 feet … I steer the parachute at an incline of about 30 degrees in still air . . . [coming] down at the rate of ten miles an hour or 14 feet per second. (Anon 2012).

The success of his performances took him around the world and by 1905 he was in America where he sadly met his end.  In September 1905 it was reported that;

The well-known English aeronaut, “Professor” Baldwin, has met with his death under shocking circumstances.  At a fete at Granville, in Ohio, one of the attractions was to be the ascent of Baldwin, and the explosion of dynamite in mid-air.  To the horror of the spectators, fifteen thousand of whom were gazing upwards at the balloon, the dynamite exploded before Baldwin had lowered it to its proper depth.  The unfortunate aeronaut and his balloon were blown to atoms. (Waikato Times, 4 Sept 1905, Issue 6808).

The unusual pipe in the Archive’s collection provides a fascinating reminder of Baldwin and his early experiments with parachutes.  The design was most likely made to coincide with his initial season of descents in 1888, but could then have carried on in production for a number of years as a souvenir for his dare-devil events around the World.


“Professor Baldwin’s Performance”, The Times, 6 Aug. 1888, p. 6. The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9PTLD5 [Accessed 7 Mar. 2019].

“Personal, &c”, The Times, 3 Aug. 1888, p. 1. The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9PUoV2. [Accessed 7 Mar. 2019].

“Parliamentary Notices”, The Times, 27 July 1888, p. 8. The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9PVPc3 [Accessed 7 Mar. 2019].

“Leaping From A Balloon”, The Times, 30 July 1888, p. 6. The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9PVbU7 [Accessed 7 Mar. 2019].

“Professor Baldwin’s Balloon Ascent”, Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, Tue 4 Dec 1888, p.4, National Library of Australia,  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/18955745 [accessed 7 Mar 2019].

“Balloon disaster”, Waikato Times, Volume LVI, Issue 6808, 4 September 1905, Past Papers National Library of New Zealandhttps://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WT19050904.2.23.3 [Accessed 7 Mar 2019]

Anon, 2012 ‘Up, Up and Away’, Otago Daily Times, Saturday 5 May 2012. https://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/and-away [Accessed 7 Mar 2019]



In the spotlight! Skull Pipes

In the nineteenth century the French manufacturers, such as Fiolet and Gambier, were masters at creating ornate figural pipes.  Often these pipes had coloured enamels applied to the white pipe clay – a characteristic that is especially common on French clay pipes, but never found on the English ones.  Over time, and as a result of continually being smoked, the pipe clay itself discoloured, but the coloured enamels stayed as bright and as vibrant as when they were applied so that they stood out in strong contrast with the background.  Some of these French pipes were very intricate, with lots of undercutting in the designs that required the use of a more elaborate multi-part mould rather than the usual mould with two halves that was used in England.

Enamelled Dumeril pipe produced in a multi-part mould – sadly not in the Archives Collection (Photograph by D A Higgins).

A number of these French pipes were of morbid or deathly subjects that included skulls and skeletons.  As with many of the French designs, these were copied by the English manufacturers and remained popular into the early years of the twentieth century.

This Halloween’s issue of In the Spotlight highlights just two of the many French figural pipes that the Archive has in its collection. The first was produced by Gambier and depicts a skull.  Not only has this pipe been enamelled but the eyes have been inset with spooky looking artificial gem stones.  This particular pipe has been quite heavily smoked so the white enamel detail can clearly be seen.

Skull pipe produced by Gambier with white enamel and inset eyes.

The second is the full figure of a skeleton and was produce by Dumeril of St Omer.  This is also enamelled, although it has not been as heavily smoked as the Gambier skull.  Not only do we have a full skeleton but behind his head is the figure of a bat!  He’s also smoking a pipe – I wonder if it is a skull pipe?

Full skeleton pipe by Dumeril of St Omer, with white enamel detail.

In the Spotlight! Early Pipes

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).

Chairman of the Académie Internationale de la Pipe, studying hard!
Searching the archives for early pipes.

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.

Robert Cotton pipe from the Elkin Collection (LIVNP 2012.04.30)
Detail of the RC mark (LIVNP 2012.04.30)

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.

Possible early Dutch pipe from the Elkins Collection (LIVNP 2012.04.30)

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.

How to….. pages go live!

Hot off the Press!  Today we are at the CIfA conference in Newcastle to officially launch the HOW TO… pages of our website

Our stand at the CIfA conference – everything you want or need to know about pipes!

Our new HOW TO… pages take you through all the steps of what to do when you’ve found a pipe and want to know all about it.  Our pages tell you how to … get help with excavation, illustration and reporting, as well as how to…. identify the likely maker and place of production.

Our main HOW TO… page.

In addition to the HOW TO… pages there is also a useful glossary of pipe terms, which we will update from time to time

All our guidelines are also available to download as a PDF.

We hope that these pages will be helpful but if you can’t find what you are looking for, then don’t forget that you can always email us a question or query on NCTPA@talktalk.net

One of our Trustees – Harold Mytum from University of Liverpool – showing off the new HOW TO… pages.

You can also use our site to check out what digital resources we have from your area either through a Find by Location page or on our Resources page.  Keep an eye on these pages because we are adding to them all the time.

Now back to it – people to see, pipe queries to answer!




Waifs and Strays!

Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire is a 17th century house built by George Vernon, which is now in the safe keeping of the National Trust.  Anyone who has watch the BBC’s Price and Prejudice may recognise it, as it was used for the filming of the interior shots.

Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire

Next to Sudbury Hall is the Museum of Childhood with its reconstructed Victorian schoolroom and nursery filled with old toys and games.  The museum is currently rationalising their collection and came across a small number of smoking related items.  These didn’t really fit in with the childhood theme of the museum so they were looking for someone to give their waifs and strays a new home.  That’s where the National Pipe Archive stepped in.

In early February the Archive’s curator visited Sudbury and met Sue Fraser  and Helen Subden, Collections Assistants, to pick-up seven objects for re-homing. It was a fun visit – it’s not every day you get to have a cup of tea in the butler’s pantry!  The Hall was undergoing some work in preparation for opening to the public over the half-term holiday, but it was still a beautiful building – if you’ve not visited before, you should!

As well as being able to help by offering the surplus objects a good home, what has made the objects even more special from the Archive’s point of view is that many of them fill gaps that are poorly represented in our collection of pipes and other smoking related items.  So, the objects – what where they?

LIVNP 2017.01.01 – A giant ‘cadger’ pipe, with the bowl depicting a large glass building, probably the Great Exhibition building of 1851.  Pipes with this design were first produced for sale at the exhibition itself, but remained popular for years afterwards and were produced into the early twentieth century.  We have a number of cadger pipes in our collection but this one is unusual in that it has been decorated with coloured paint, although not amazingly well, it has to be said.  These large pipes were most likely to have been novelties rather than produced with the intention of being smoked, although it is evident from the staining in some examples that people have clearly tried!

Decorated Cadger (LIVNP 2017.01.01)

LIVNP 2017.01.02 – A short-stemmed “cutty” pipe with the lettering MINERS PIPE moulded along the sides of the stem, which was the pattern name for this particular style of pipe.  This example hasn’t been smoked.  This is a common style of pipe that would have been produced by a number of the larger pipe making firms during the later 19th and early 20th centuries.

Miners Pipe (LIVNP 2017.01.02)

LIVNP 2017.01.03 – A Bryant and May match box containing seven incredibly large matches.  These were called a Motor Match and were for “motor-car, cycle and launch lamps” and were first advertised in 1904.  It states on the box that these will “flame for 20 seconds and keep alight in the strongest wind”.  With heads this size, we are not at all surprised by that statement!

Bryan & May “Motor Match” (LIVNP 2017.01.04)

LIVNP 2017.01.04 – This item comprises a group of 11 very long “safety” matches.

Very long safety matches (LIVNP 2017.01.04)

LIVNP 2017.01.05 – A late Victorian or Edwardian novelty brass vesta case with a striker on one side.  It is a rather unusual shape – almost “tooth” or “tusk-like” – with a rather charming pig on the top.

Pig vesta case (LIVNP 2017.01.05)

LIVNP 2017.01.06 – A silver vesta case marked with a Birmingham hallmark for 1912 and the maker’s initials JR.  This case has a panel ready for the addition of a monogram but it remains blank, so the original owner remains a mystery.

Silver vesta case (LIVNP 2017.01.06)

Finally, LIVNP 2017.01.07 – A heavy non-ferrous metal cover for a large match box with silver coloured inlaid decoration in the form of a bird in a tree surrounded with other foliage.

Inlaid matchbox cover (LIVNP 2017.01.07)

All of these items make a most welcome addition to our collections and we are very grateful to the National Trust Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall for passing them on to us.


In the Spotlight! A Royal Souvenir

Since the Queen has been celebrating her 65 years of reign this week, we thought that a Royal Spotlight item would be appropriate.

Pipe and Royal Tobacco Packets in “home-made” presentation box (LIVNP 2012.04).

This pipe and its associated packet of tobacco is part of the Elkin Collection (LIVNP 2012.04).  The original box, if it had one, has not survived, but a “home-made” presentation box has been created from an old cigar box.  The pipe itself is a standard early 20th-century design and the packet of tobacco is now empty,  but printed in gold with the Royal Coat of Arms and the lettering FROM H.M. THE KING 31ST OCTOBER 1913, which confirms the Royal connection.

The label in the lid of the box reads:

This pipe & Tobacco was given to all the workmen who was employed on the refronting of Buckingham Palace which was completed in 6 weeks. When a dinner was given to all the workmen employed on the job & each one was presented with pipe & tobacco from his Majesty King George 5th.                                               31st of October 1913

It has been signed by S.C. Kesby.

Typed label from the lid of the box explaining the contents (LIVNP 2012.04).

In 1913 a decision was made to re-face the front of Buckingham Palace and Sir Aston Webb was commissioned to create a new design for the façade in Portland stone.  The stone was prepared in advance and numbered prior to delivery to Buckingham Palace.  The actual re-facing work was carried out by Messrs Leslie and Co, under the direction of Mr Shingleton, the managing director.  The work was reported in the press and an article in the New Zealand Herald, on 28 October 1913 noted that there were over 1,000 workmen employed and that they were working by day and night.  It was also reports that the “old dirty facing of French stone was being hacked away till the workmen came to the red brick, and then the find new Portland stone will be put in place”.

When the work was complete a special meal was given for all those involved at the King’s Hall at the Holborn Restaurant.  This too was reported on in The Times (1 November 1913), which tells us that men “came in their best clothes” and that a “substantial British dinner” was served.    It also noted that there was an “abundant supply of good ale”.  After the meal “pipes and tobacco were then passed round.  The packets containing the tobacco were ornamented with the Royal Arms in gilt, below which was printed “From H. M. the King, 31st October 1913; and the pipes were clays of special pattern.  Both packets and pipes were greatly appreciated as mementoes of the occasion”.

The clay pipe of “special pattern” and the Royal tobacco packet (LIVNP 2012.04).

But who was S. C. Kesby, who signed the note in the box lid and, presumably, a recipient of this gift?  The only S.C. Kesby that can be found in the 1911 census is Sidney Charles Kesby, who was a 31 year old restaurant waiter living near the King’s Hall.  Given the unusual name, his occupation and where he lived, it seems likely that Sidney was one of the waiting staff at the king’s meal, who also received a pipe and tobacco as a souvenir of the occasion.


Have you missed us?

If it is not too late – Happy New Year!  We’ve been a bit quiet on here lately and you may have thought we were not up to much, but things have been very busy.  Back in November the Archive was invited by the Académie Internationale de la Pipe to give a paper at their conference, which was being held in Japan at the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Tokyo. This was the perfect opportunity, and setting, for us to present a report on how  the Historic England project that we have been working on has been progressing, and to highlight some of the Archive’s collections.

Members of the Archive giving an update on the Historic England Project (Photo. B. van der Lingen).

The whole smoking culture in Japan is very different from here.  The pipes look completely different – called Kiseru – and the tobacco is also very different, being incredibly finely shredded.

As part of the conference we were very lucky to have been given the opportunity to visit a traditional kiseru maker in Tsubame.

Last traditional Kiseru maker with a show pipe outside his workshop in Tsubame, Japan (Photo D. Higgins).

He makes his pipes out of metal.  The basic pattern is cut out of metal and then the maker painstakingly hammers them into shape.  In order to help us understand the process he had a series of different stages of the process laid out for us.  Gradually the pipe emerges from a flat piece of metal into a full formed pipe.

Different stages of making a metal kiseru – from a flat cut out to a finished pipe. (Photo S. White).

The whole process is far too time consuming for him to show us the production of a pipe from start to finish during the short time we had with him, but he did allow us to film him at work (see the video below).  This gave a chance to get a feel for how it was done.

Video of a Tsubame kiseru maker.

Some Kiseru are made completely out of metal, but others have a metal bowl and metal mouthpiece section, with a simple bamboo stem in between.  We have two such examples in the Archive’s collection.

The first example is from the Cole Collection (LIVNP 2014.03.099).  This pipe has not been hand crafted as the examples we saw in Tsubame, but has been cast.  Both the bowl and the mouthpiece have intertwined animals.  The stem is made of bamboo.


The second example is from the Orlik Collection (LIVNP 2016.13.01). This pipe also has a bamboo stem and but this time the bowl and mouthpiece are made of silver, which has been engraved with flowers.


Since we have been back we have been working hard on the Archive website; putting up lots more pages with even more pipe information.  There is still more to come and now we are back, regular posts will resume.