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.
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.
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?